Joseph Ratliff Writer, Researcher, Thinker

Tag Archives: Life Is Too Short

In a Rhino, Everything

by Charles Eisenstein

(reprinted here with permission from the author)

I received the following email from a young woman, a student at an elite law school. I want to quote it in full, because it cuts so deep to core issues so many change agents face.


I don’t cry very often. But this week I cried twice. For the rhinos. It breaks my heart that they’re going extinct. In order to make myself feel better, I try to intellectualize this. It’s totally irrational, I say to myself, to be sad for the rhinos. Why not be sad for the fairy shrimp, going extinct right here in Southern California?

There are so many things to be sad about: police shootings, for example. Right now I’m writing a memo on what constitutes excessive force during arrest and when you type in excessive force and qualified immunity to Westlaw, more than 600,000 cases come up. These cases represent a tiny fraction of incidents with police brutality; far more go unreported or are never litigated. We have a police violence epidemic in this country. I could be sad about that. And here I am reading these cases—and it’s awful (the tasing, the shooting, the beating, the pepper spray, the sustained long term injuries, the easiness of getting out of excessive force charges) and I never cry.

And then I read some articles about the last, aging, white rhinos in zoos around the world and I fall to pieces. How can we have failed so badly? And you’re right Charles, it’s grief for the dying biosphere (I have long since stopped equating the environmental crisis with global warming, and I HATE it when people do that).

There’s this kid in my class who really gets under my skin. He says annoying things like, “I love it when I see pictures of McDonald’s in other countries, or African kids wearing Nikes, because it’s like we’ve won. Our culture is supreme.” I gave him a look when he said this. And he knows how I think because we’ve had conversations so he said, “I can’t help it, I’m pro-American.” And I said, “I’m pro-biosphere.” And he says, “I think we should only keep the animals that we need to survive.” And I’m so shocked by this stupidity that I’m rendered speechless. I literally couldn’t talk to him for a few minutes. I didn’t WANT to talk to him. I felt a little nauseous. Finally, I said, “I don’t think that’s possible.” And he said, “Well we can TRY.” Like it’s a good thing to try for. He gives me a panicky feeling because I think what if he’s right? What if the future just contains concrete with cows, pigs, chickens, and their shit? What would we do with all their shit? (Previously he has told me that he could never care for an animal, that an animal’s suffering has no effect on him).

The scariest thing about this kid is that he’s totally pro-carbon controls. He believes in global warming and that it’s a threat and that we should do something about it. I would prefer a climate change denier with a love for animals. Really, I would.

I’m really trying not to other him. I sat next to him in class this semester because I know I have something to learn from him. I try to be kind to him, even though the things he says make me ill. And it’s not from a place of moral purity either. I’m trying to understand this behavior, this kind of thinking, because if I never understand it I’ll never be able to confront it in a meaningful way. It’s a challenge, though. Sometimes I feel my innate snarkiness rising to the surface, but I know this is just a defense mechanism on my part. Any suggestions?

There’s something, though, besides grief. The grief is compounded by that horrible sense of helplessness. I feel like I have absolutely no control over the fate of the rhino. I do my work, you know? I made all A’s last semester… I’m disciplined. I’m studious. But I’m not doing anything real.


 

Like this young woman, I do not know why some tragedies penetrate me with grief while others do not. There are endless things to weep for. Because we cannot weep for each one that comes across our awareness, we might form emotional callouses just in order to function. And then from time to time something pierces those callouses, and all the other unmourned tragedies follow it through the breach. Sometimes, therefore, it is a seemingly tiny thing that brings me to tears or heart-wrenching agony: a parent shaming a two-year-old child, a woman unfairly fired out of sex discrimination. Or it could be a singular incident of brutality out of millions that gets under my skin. Each of them represents the rest. In fact, each contains the rest. Next time you travel to another planet and see caged wild animals there going extinct, you will know that planet also warehouses its elderly in nursing homes. A world in which the last white rhinos are aging in zoos is also, necessarily, a world of incarceration, war, racism, poverty, and ecocide. It is impossible for one to exist without the others. All are part of the same unholy matrix.

Because each of these contains the others, when we grieve one of them we grieve them all. It doesn’t matter if it is the rhinos or police brutality that pierces you. They are all expressions of the same underlying mythology: the story of a discrete and separate self in a desacralized world that is other. A level up from there live the usual systemic culprits: racism, usury-based capitalism, patriarchy, the industrial system, and so on.

Consider the classmate she describes. One would like to indulge in snarkiness and call him some clever variant of stupid or evil. Actually, he is blinkered by the story he lives in. I mean something deeper than the mythology of American exceptionalism, neoliberal development, and technological triumphalism. It goes all the way down to metaphysics. If you take for granted a universe of generic building blocks, devoid of the qualities of a self, devoid of an internal intelligence or evolutionary will, then our license to manipulate nature and materiality suffers no limit except for that posed by perverse unintended consequences that we can, in principle, predict and control with just a little more information and technological know-how. Why not, then, keep only the animals that are useful to us? In the story of separation, we are fundamentally separate from the rhinos. What happens to them needn’t affect us. Sentimentally it might, but not rationally. (And here we see how the dominant worldview pits sentiment against reason and heart against mind.)

The same goes for the biosphere as for the rhinos. In the story of separation, what happens to the biosphere needn’t affect us, except as a temporary practical matter until we develop the technology to make us independent of nature. That is the world of concrete and pig shit that my friend dreads. It is a myth, that story. In fact what happens to the rhinos does affect you and me. When you look at that picture, can’t you feel part of yourself going extinct too?

Here is why her observation that she would prefer an animal-loving climate change denier to this person rings true. Love violates the story of separation. Love is the expansion of self to include another, whose well-being becomes part of one’s own. The healing of our planet will not come without love for our planet. It certainly won’t come from technological solutions that seek to more competently deploy resources and manage consequences. That is the path toward biofuel plantations, nuclear power plants, and geoengineering schemes that threaten catastrophic consequences. If someone loves the rhinos, and loves the mangroves, and loves the forests, and loves the coral reefs, and loves the West Virginia mountaintops and the rain forests threatened by stripmines and the waters threatened by oil spills, it doesn’t matter if they believe in climate change, they will oppose every new coal mine, oil well, fracking project, and copper mine. Conversely, without love behind it, no carbon controls will make a difference in the long run.

If we want to change the minds of people like the woman’s classmate, head-on debate isn’t going to work. No one can logically persuade somebody to fall in love. We might be able to convince them to support one policy over another on utilitarian grounds, but engaging the planet as an instrument of our utility is what has gotten us into this mess to begin with. It reminds me of the “pragmatic” opponents of the Vietnam War and Iraq War who didn’t question war as a tool to promote American interests (nor did they question the concept of American interests), but who merely said that this particular war wasn’t working. The door to more war remained open. Similarly, when we say, “Let’s stop using fossil fuels or we’re screwed,” and adopt anthropocentric interest as our primary argument, there is little to say for the rhinos. Why not try to create a world of concrete and shit, if we can do it, with maybe a few parks for aesthetic relief?

Seeing the futility of overcoming such people through debate, I have turned toward deeper levels of engagement. Why would he and millions like him be attracted to the story of separation that seeks to exploit and manipulate the world? Maybe it has something to do with he himself feeling like an instrument, exploited, manipulated… He is in the same position that he wishes to put the animals and the planet. He feels out of control and near panic in the face of uncertainty. Therefore he wants to feel like he is in control, and humanity (as a proxy for the self) being in control of things feels good to him too. Not to psychoanalyze the poor guy, but if we are serious about changing the beliefs that drive ecocide (rather than gaining the psychological gratification of winning an argument) it is important to understand the experience of life behind those beliefs.

I think this young woman is therefore on the right track, showing him kindness while – and this is essential – not allowing herself to be dominated by him. In a worldview of winning and losing, no one will go out of their way to serve your interests unless you dominate them, force them, pay them. In its extreme, that world has no love, no real kindness, no generosity that isn’t a device to get more. That is why unforced kindness and generosity have the power to puncture the story of separation.

The situation is parallel to the challenge that altruism poses for conventional evolutionary biology. That is part of the “worldview of winning and losing,” and that worldview’s selfish genes are destined for the dustbin of history along with economic’s self-interested individuals and political narratives of dominance and nation-state competition. Looking at the deteriorating state of our society and the planet, that worldview that once held us as the obvious winners is no longer working very well. Will we cling to it all the more tightly, in fear and desperation, or will we let go?

The kindness my friend shows her classmate and the desire to understand his experience of the world translates onto the level of systems and politics. What is the story our opponents stand in, the perpetrators, the ones we want to blame? What kind of life experience attracts them to that story? What are the secret ways that it lives in ourselves? When we know what it is like to be them, we will be far more capable of disrupting the narratives that scaffold our world-destroying machine. This is called compassion. It isn’t a substitute for strategy and action. It illuminates new strategies and makes all action more effective, because we can target them at the deep causes rather than forever battling the symptoms.

What is it like to be a rhino? To be a policeman? A corporate executive, a terrorist, a killer? What is it like to be a river? These questions arise naturally in the story that Thich Nhat Hanh named interbeing, that holds us as interdependent on every level, even that of basic existence. It is the successor to the story of the separate self, and it opens us to compassion and grief alike.

The lens of interbeing also relieves the helplessness the woman speaks of at the end of her letter. Even as the crises of the world each contain the others in an unholy matrix, the same is true for the responses. To respond to any is to respond to all. I imagine myself talking to a rhino in a cage. She asks me, “What were you doing with your life, while I was going extinct?” If I answer her, “I was working to save the coral reefs,” or “I was helping to stop the navy from using whale-deafening sonar,” or “I spent my life trying to free men from death row,” then she is satisfied, and so am I. We both know that somehow, all of these endeavors are in service to the rhinos too. I can meet her gaze without shame.

In the story of interbeing, what happens to anything happens in some way to everything. We are free then to listen to what calls forth our passion, our care, and our gifts, whether the need that calls them seems large or small, consequential or invisible. Because each contains all, we can be peaceful in our fervor and patient in our urgency.

We can be peaceful in our fervor and patient in our urgency. We let in the grief, and compassion and clarity follow it in. We stand in awe of the intelligence that weaves it all together and orchestrates the mysterious causal pathways that link the rhinos to the prisons to the corals to the cancer wards. I leave you with some words from Chogyam Trungpa: “When you can hold the pain of the world in your heart without losing sight of the vastness of the Great Eastern Sun, then you will be able to make a proper cup of tea.”


 

Living Slowly and Deliberately

How to stop living for society’s cookies and instead live slowly and deliberately on your terms…

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream…
From Pink Floyd “Welcome to the Machine”

Part of living deliberately means you must begin to think differently than most of society.

This (thinking differently) scares most people. Most people stay within their comfort zones…

A simple example:

  • Waking up to an alarm clock (bad for your health),
  • Going to a job they hate (bad for your health),
  • Eating crappy food at lunch, in a hurry to get back to the job they hate (REALLY bad for your health),
  • Driving home in traffic (long commutes, bad for your health),
  • Returning home, tired, perhaps stressed out (bad for your … you get the idea),
  • Eating crappy food again while watching TV and maybe surfing the Internet (bad for…),
  • Going to bed late, to wake up again and do it all over (bad for…).

And this doesn’t factor in those people with families to support, with sons and daughters who are screaming for their Mom’s or Dad’s attention.

It doesn’t factor in the illusion that we “must” have “two income families” and let a daycare raise our children (big mistake) in order to survive.

But in the end, society has a cookie for you, if you’re good little boys and girls.

All of the sacrifices you make if you do even a few of the things in the list above, or similar things … and you get a small to medium paycheck.

Then various ripple effects begin to happen in exchange for the “cookie” of a paycheck in this oversimplified example…

You have bills to pay.

You have food to buy.

You have appointments to keep.

You have a smart phone in your hand.

You have urges for “shopping therapy.”

You have stuff to buy (for various purposes).

And on, and on…

Then, how much money do you have left? There is usually stress in the answer to that question. And even if there isn’t … if you make a “middle class” income or better, then stress follows with the ripple effect of “what to do next?”

All because of the cookie that society gives you … the paycheck.

Naturally, there are also other types of “societal cookies”…

  • Mass produced for the masses “disposable consumer stuff.”
  • Meaningless reality television programs (no, I’m not suggesting you go “anti-TV”v although some have).
  • Freebies, giveaways, and other useless garbage.
  • Celebrities who make fools of themselves in the name of meaningless “entertainment.”
  • Movie companies that keep re-hashing the “same movie” over and over again, and spinning that in such a way you keep buying the ticket.
  • News media that is nothing but junk food for the brain (ESPECIALLY when it tries to “help” you live your life).
  • Fast food, sodas, candies, cakes, pies, and other sweets that likely create cancer for you later in life, and contribute to most of the obesity in our society now.
  • Your front lawn and your back lawn (if they aren’t useful for producing food).
  • And on, and on…

You get these “cookies” as a normal part of being a good member of society. In the interest of keeping this blog post from becoming a book, I’m not going to dive into examples (like with the paycheck), but move on to why you need to stop living for these cookies.

Then, we’ll also cover some specific “how-to.”

Why You Need To Stop Living For “The Cookies”…

There is so much that the gift of life has to offer you already, so I would like you to think about exactly why you need more?

What do reality TV shows, freebie giveaways, “mass-produced for the masses” stuff and the like have in common?

Two things, actually:

1. They are disposable, or at least involve the concept of being disposable. This “throwaway mentality” in our culture only exists because we support it as consumers. It’s disturbing if you think about it. And if you’re living to be a consumer, you’re not living as a human being.

2. They are, when you think about it a bit, all mindless … and in some cases, bad for your health.

So here are several reasons why you have to stop living for these (and other) “cookies” that society offers…

  • You’re not living for yourself.
  • Usually they end up wasting your time and money.
  • They usually produce other “feedback loops,” that is, they require you purchase more “stuff,” or an endless loop of other stuff (which also has their own feedback loops) to use them.
  • They cause frustration.
  • The company that sold them to you does not care about you or your well-being (at all, ever).
  • BIG: Any entity, authority, or structure that operates as “the only way to live” or tells you “this is the right way to live” doesn’t intend on letting you think for yourself.
  • It’s time for you to start thinking and living for yourself instead.
  • It’s time to quit taking handouts from society, to quit wading through the vomit of society’s cookies, and to liberate yourself (and your mind) from the hideous “collective” that society wants to create (and force you to join).
  • In short, you’re not truly free until you can disassociate “pleasure” from society’s cookies. You need to associate “pain” with them instead.
  • And on, and on…

As you can see by now, I am suggesting a major shift in the way you view society as a whole.

For some of you, it will pass as “Yep, knew that already…” (although I would challenge, then why are you reading this?).

For still some of you, you’re wondering “Why on Earth would I suggest the major shifts that I will suggest in this post?”

Because of one word … indoctrination.

Yes, you’ve been indoctrinated into a way of living that suits the society, culture, and civilization it is suited for. That is not necessarily the way you “must” live.

In future posts, I will return to your individuality, your privacy (something you’re entitled to, not that you should have to fight for), and the lifestyle you think is best for you.

But for this post, it’s time for a little “how-to” to help you on the path to a life that YOU dictate, not some institution, authority, or society … at a pace that you control…

How You Can Start Living For Yourself Instead, Deliberately…

I am not going to dictate that everything I provide in these “how-to” sections will work for every single person at the same level. So, take what you will out of what I am about to outline here.

Let’s get started…

I would like you to consider 3 starting points that pertain to the theme of this post (society’s cookies):

1. I would like you to think about your job (or whatever it is you do for a living).

Do you work a lot of hours per week, because you think you have to? Who invented the 40 hour week anyway?

Do you really “work” for all 40 hours (or more) every single week?

The answers to those questions should tell you a lot about our culture in the United States.  Work for work’s sake, the mistrust of workers, and the “slave-ish” mentality. All of it is bad for your health.

Other cultures are much different (which doesn’t mean they are perfect, either, not the point). So, why do you do what you do?

Is it a job you hate?

Leave (on your terms, not mine). You’re throwing your life away (and it’s a short life). Why would you want to keep throwing your life away? If you’re health suffers, will your work life be leveraged to maintain that bad health?  (More doctor’s appointments, eating poorly, etc…)

Think about that. Make changes. Live deliberately, on your terms, and quit letting our overzealous, competition-oriented society TELL you how you must work.

On the flip side, there is the accountability for you, too…

You cannot blame your current circumstances wholly on society. Think critically about yourself, are you doing the best job you possibly can? If you need to “put food on the table” are you working on creating the circumstances that will allow that to happen (e.g. managing your money properly, see #2)?

Go to your library, get a card, and read self-help … help yourself to be the best person you can (and most resources at your library are free, which is good). And above all, do what you want to do for “work.”

The questions and the links will help you to form your own “blueprint” here (not direct how-to).

Next…

2. I would like you to think about the stuff you own.

Do you own too much? Like most people, you probably do.  But I would like you to start thinking about a concept called “minimalism.” Not the “art minimalism,” but the movement based around serious analysis of what you own.

I will include something I’ve written before on this topic:

On Minimalism

I’ve been asked… “Joe, what is minimalism to you?”

Here is the beginning of that answer (it’s a DEEP subject)…

It’s a mindset. You begin to think deeply about your life, the impact your life has on others, and how you can contribute. This, in addition to the traditional “less than 100 things” mindset for extreme minimalists (of which, I am not).

It’s a set of guiding beliefs. Minimalism isn’t “something you do,” it’s a lifestyle choice. Much like diets… it won’t work unless you totally commit your entire life to it.

It provides “relief” when you commit to it. You will, no doubt, feel very differently once you commit to the lifestyle choice it represents. I felt relief, because I no longer had to “buy stuff” just to feel good … instead I just felt good because I didn’t have to maintain and worry about stuff.

It’s more than “stuff.” Reducing the number of things you own is only one very small part of minimalism. Minimalism translates into other parts of your life, how you spend money, determining how much you need, reducing your carbon footprint, creativity, the environment and others.

And on, and on.

As you can see from this short post… minimalism is much more than just “living with less than 100 things,” which quite frankly, is an extreme minimalist mindset. I’m not comfortable with that currently.

What I have done is reduce (drastically) the number of items I own, giving away or selling my excess stuff that I felt I had to “keep” at one point… and no longer feel I need.

  • I think differently about my impact on the world.
  • I think differently about how I interact with others.
  • In short… I think the idea of minimalism made me think differently overall.

Could it do the same for you? Who knows?

But I’ve noticed that there are a few misconceptions about minimalism as a lifestyle choice. Most of these misconceptions seem to come from some “rules” about minimalism.

Let’s just clear the deck here … there are NO rules you have to follow when choosing to live as a minimalist. There isn’t a nice little box labeled “minimalism” where you can open the top and discover everything about the topic.

It means different things to different people … because we are all, well, different right?

For example … personally, I do NOT have less than 100 things … and I haven’t (yet) cut the cable, and I DO own a car.

But I do watch very little TV, I only drive where I have to (I ride a bike or walk elsewhere) … and I’ve cut back boxes and boxes of my “stuff” that I don’t use and have given most of it to Goodwill (I probably have less than about 800 things, but still working on it).

I also buy locally grown food from our farmer’s market, eat healthy, walk 3 miles every day with my wife at exercise pace, drink plenty of water etc…

And, I manage my time very well, answer email once or twice a day (if that), don’t have a “smart phone,” enjoy nature… etc…

These are the easiest examples of how there aren’t “rules” I have to follow to follow this lifestyle choice.

You DON’T have to follow any of them.

If you just go through your closet, and pull out 10 things right after reading this post and send them to the Goodwill, and then don’t replace them … then you’ve made a choice like a “minimalist” would.

If you decide to eliminate soda, ice cream, and pie from your diet… you’re well on your way.

But there are NO set guidelines, this is a lifestyle… NOT a rule book.

Labels like “minimalist” mean nothing… your lifestyle choices mean everything (to you and no one else). If there had to be a “rule” to follow, I’d make it that one.

Start today with this website http://mnmlist.com (Leo Babauta on minimalism) and work from there. If you continue exploring, you’ll run into the resources you need to decide. (A good book, and another good
site).

3. I would like you to think about media, marketing, and other influences.

Consumerism, anxiety, the next war that we’re entering … and OMG Ebola!

Where does all of that originate?

The mass media, marketing, and other influences like propaganda. Let’s face it; we live in a society that imposes itself on you.

Whatever is on the news is a crisis or junk food for the brain … so stop watching it. How? Just stop, now.

If you’re addicted to the news, there is a reason, it’s addicting. Stop watching it, cold turkey. The feelings and anxiety will go away after a short time.

And you really won’t miss as much as you think. Replace watching the news with another activity, like reading one of those books from the library.

Or don’t, as I said before, this isn’t about forcing you to do anything. I’ve linked to a PDF in the word “media” that explains “why” to stop.

Marketing and advertising are also imposing (and frankly, interrupting) your life.

So let’s get some things straight:

  • No, you’re not going to look like the person in the magazine ad.
  • Nope, you’re probably not going to lose as much weight in as short a period of time as that diet or workout infomercial told you.
  • If the drug you just saw an ad for was so good, it wouldn’t need to advertise on TV to get attention.
  • You will not earn $50,000 in a week, like that other ad you just watched online.
  • No, that thing isn’t free (unless you don’t value your time), and you will get marketed to as a result of filling out your personal information so “they” can send it to you (online or offline).
  • That social network you just signed up for, and filled out your profile on? Yeah, they offer that for “free” so you’ll give them your personal data and they can tailor advertising to you. How can
    you expect to live privately if you keep doing that?
  • Those surveys you fill out online? Yep, for marketing purposes. And yes, some of them DO sell your information to other parties. Junk mail anyone?
  • Heard of the term “big data”? It’s used to invade your privacy … period. We’re losing more and more of our privacy to these companies every day.
  • And on, and on…

Marketing and advertising will only get more and more invasive as digital technologies continue to improve. The good news is … you can do something about it.

Go to http://prism-break.org, a site created in the face of NSA spying that was discovered by Edward Snowden, and use the tools there. There are a ton of them to choose from, but the site does a good job of explaining them.

The “how-to” here in almost all cases is the same … stop paying attention to it.

Think critically before you fill out surveys, “free offers,” trial offers, and call the 800-number for late-night infomercials. The promises are psychologically designed to seem “easy to do,” or like “relief” for your problems.

Don’t fall for it.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins is a good place to start, to understand the psychology behind the advertising. There are obviously other books on the topic, but this one is the most clearly written that
I have read.

To finish this section, here are 5 things to do instead of consuming media…

1. Read, and actually finish a book this year (or more). Start with something deep and intellectually stimulating (like this for example).

2. Think. Just sit and think for an hour or two. Do nothing else, no distractions. Let your mind roam, but control the urge to do “media” stuff.

3. Write. Write 1500 words, right now. I don’t care what, just write them. Start a blog, and keep doing it, at least once a month (preferably more).

4. Talk to someone, face to face. Remember that? Talking to someone face to face? Yeah, quite a bit of the “real” world passes you by while your distracted with the social anesthetic of the digital world.

5. Connect with someone deeply, face to face. Don’t stop at talking, make one new friend … this year. You can do it. You’re not too shy, you just might not be used to this “developing relationships” thing.

Now, some starting points…

In this post, the theme was “How to stop living for society’s cookies.”

Some starting points for you to continue thinking about (in addition to the how-to provided in the previous section):

Critical thinking. We don’t do enough of it, so I would like you to take one opportunity over the next couple of weeks to think more critically about something.

This could be encountering a dramatic situation at home or work, and stopping yourself before you have a knee-jerk reaction to it. Instead, slow down, breath, and think about your reaction before issuing it.

Ask the most powerful question … “Why?” We’re conditioned from an early age to “just conform”, “just trust the government”, “just get a secure job”, and “just deal with it.” I used to follow that path. In fact, up until 2001, I was drinking ALL the “Kool-Aid” of the typical conditioned lifestyle. More here.

It’s funny how reflexive we are as humans… Someone offers something to you, for “free,” and you take it because “that’s polite.” I’m asking you to consider saying “no.”

In fact, say “no” a LOT more than you do now, to a LOT more things. It’s not rude, and you’re entitled to do it.

Only say “yes” to the things you truly want to do because you think it’s right for you. Forget the company or person doing the offering … YOU are the one with the power of decision, don’t give up that power.

If you do say “Yes,” anything that happens as a result of saying yes (even if you didn’t originally want to) is your responsibility to handle … period.

Again, these are only starting points on this theme, to get your thoughts moving in the right direction, there is much more on this topic (one blog post won’t cover it).

For reading, I will provide recommendations in related to the material covered.

In this issue, the books recommended will follow the idea of getting you to think outside of the common society and culture in which you, I, and everyone else have been indoctrinated.

As always, every recommendation is something I stand behind, and will always be a book I’ve read.

1. Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson

2. Against Civilization by John Zerzan (a collection of essays written by different people)

3. The True Believer by Eric Hoffer (also his book of essays, Between the Devil and the Dragon)

That should get you started (especially #3).

Look, we’re getting close to the end of 2015, and a lot of shit has happened this year.  Some very horrible like the Paris attacks, ISIS, the politicization of climate change etc…

But for you, right now, you have a chance to make things very positive. Quit paying attention to the news, get rid of your stuff, and change your circumstances if you’re not living the life you want.

The accountability rests with you.  Make 2016 your year, and forget all of the bad stuff that is happening.  You can’t control that anyhow.

Our “Default Screens”

Do you always have to kill time, fill the void, or say something?

I’m bored at times, but is that really a bad thing?

Is that boredom something that always has to be handled? According to Nina Yau from Castles In The Air, perhaps we should re-think our need to “kill time” if we’re feeling bored… from her blog:

Suffering comes in many forms, not all of them obvious. When we start to suffer from our own boredom, which is essentially the inability and impatience to sit with yourself with absolutely nothing to do whatsoever, we seek refuge and escape. Boredom, or validation, is an unnecessary byproduct of this false illusion we have created in our minds, that unless we do or say something, we aren’t anybody.

I happen to agree with Nina.

Our obsession with “doing something” all of the time, with diving into our default screens when we’re feeling like there is nothing to do, or that nothing is happening… I think we need to evolve past the “anxiety” this builds as a society, and I think we can do so, very easily.

I’m defining a default screen as that thing you do, or that device you pick up and start poking, swiping, or watching when you get that “bored” feeling or feel you have “time to kill.”

Sometimes mindless shopping or consumerism acts in place of this default screen.

Your default screen has negative consequences… like not paying full attention and walking off of subway platforms, to staring into that screen while someone is getting killed.

Is there any viable excuse for this type of distraction?

There are thousands of examples I can point to, and others which have been pointed to by book authors like Nicholas Carr (among many otherexperts).

The evidence is overwhelming, and it will not change by ignoring the problem.

We need to shut off this behavior, the tendency, to desire such mindless tasks like staring into a smartphone screen, poking around on a tablet, or purposeless shopping just to take up time.

This means changing your “default screen” habit, just as you would any other habit:

  • Start small. Try to notice when you’re filling time with your default screen, or mindless shopping etc… Don’t change anything, just spend a few days noticing when you’re doing it.
  • Make a small change. Once a day, just try to deep breath and relax during the time you feel the urge to pick up a device and start poking or sliding (by the way, mindfulness and meditation are excellent for your overall health).
  • Transition to bigger changes once you see results. When you’re feeling bored, or looking for a distraction, replace that feeling with something else, like the meditation already mentioned or simply striking up a conversation (face to face, not online or on the phone) with someone.
  • Keep going… until you begin to develop a new habit that replaces the urge to shove your head into your default screen (usually anywhere from 30 — 90 days before a new habit is created).
  • Celebrate. Take yourself (or yourself and a loved one) out for dinner.

The above process can be modified, filled in, altered, whatever suits you. I can say that I’ve used the above process myself, and it worked for me.

I no longer have the urge to head straight to my former default screen… and while that doesn’t mean I NEVER, ever grab my tablet (a new Nokia 2520) and surf the ‘net… it means I’m much more mindful of when I do.

In the end, we are human, and that means we can always evolve. That (the ability to evolve) is a gift, and we should embrace it.

We need to evolve past letting our technology distract us from the world around us, and instead take control of that technology.

Because I for one, am tired of hearing stories of “texting while driving” accidents, people walking off of subway platforms…

… and bumping into people who are walking around, or standing around, like zombies.

We’re better than that. It takes work to evolve yourself in this way, but the rewards are numerous (better relationships, a liberating feeling, control of your technology, awareness, critical thinking etc…).

So turn off your default screens people, and enjoy the thousands of gifts that have already been given to you in your “down time.”