Monday, 31 August 2015

Week 35: Validate Others

I offer this activity after last week's for a simple reason. I want to differentiate "getting credit" from "validation," although the line between them is very fine. Are we validating our partner when we gratefully acknowledge her/him completing a chore, or are we adding a debit to her/his account, the one we might be secretly keeping inside our heads?

Validation honors our humanness, the fact that we exist. It's like respect. The need to get credit comes from an injured or weaker place inside us, related to ego. Validation is connected to genuine appreciation. Getting credit is related to a form of accounting, the "I emptied the dishwasher, you need to take out the trash" way of thinking.

When we validate others, our actions flow through us, connecting us to something profound. Using this understanding, this week your exercise is to validate others in a way that makes sense to you.

In your journal, reflect on these questions: With whom do we do keep such credit ledgers? How does this serve you? Does it ever backfire? Do you keep such a ledger with yourself?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

In Transition 1.0 - From oil dependence to to local resilience.

Transition towns. When my editor asked me if I could think a story to write for a special pullout on sustainability, I said "transition towns". I had tossed off the topic lightly, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. I mean, I could talk to some local people (not many) about the concept and then look at the movement and what it had done worldwide. I had some vague plans to download a book on transition on my kindle...yeah, so glad I got that thing although it does not make for my favourite way of reading...and then, well, I had interviewed all of one person, and read part of the book (it seemed to spend an inordinately long time on peak oil...I hadn't even gotten to the part about what the towns could do to get the movement going) when I started googling, for real.

And I came across two movies that had been made by the Transition Network. The first, which is what I'm featuring today, introduces you to the concept.

All our news over here has been bad lately. So much focus on so much bad. It feels like a purgation really, and I guess we couldn't ignore it and look on the bright side about what's still going right...that never works does it?

But I thought something uplifting from across the world...actually so many communities, local towns, are getting involved. It helps to remember that even if governments screw up, people can make it better. It helps people to reclaim their power and their ability to make a change.

I think what the modern, super-connected, internetted to the nth degree world has given us is, ironically, disconnection. And this is about throwing off those shackles and finally, finally, reconnecting.

And it has a really uplifting feel to it. If you have watched nothing else, read nothing else on this blog, please watch this. And then go out there and make it happen.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Dumbledore's Greatest Desire

"So - back again, Harry?"

Harry felt as though his insides had turned to ice. He looked behind him. Sitting on one of the desks by the wall was none other than Albus Dumbledore. Harry must have walked straight past him, so desperate to get to the mirror he hadn't noticed him.

"I - I didn't see you, sir."

"Strange how short-sighted being invisible can make you," said Dumbledore, and Harry was relieved to see that he was smiling.

"So," said Dumbledore, slipping off the desk to sit on the floor with Harry, "you, like hundreds before you, have discovered the delights of the Mirror of Erised."

"I didn't know it was called that, sir."

"But I expect you've realised by now what it does?"

"It - well - it shows me my family -"

"And it showed your friend Ron himself as Head Boy."

"How did you know -"

"I don't need a cloak to become invisible," said Dumbledore gently. "Now, can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?"

Harry shook his head.

"Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help?"

Harry thought. Then he said slowly, "It shows us what we want...whatever we want..."

"Yes and no," said Dumbledore, quietly. "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible."

The Mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow, Harry, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. Now, why don't you put that admirable Cloak back on and get off to bed?"

Harry stood up.

"Sir - Professor Dumbledore? Can I ask you something?"

"Obviously, you've just done so," Dumbledore smiled. "You may ask me one more thing, however."

"What do you see when you look in the Mirror?"

"I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks."

Harry stared.

"One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books."

It was only when he was back in bed that it struck Harry that Dumbledore might not have been quite truthful. But then, he thought, as he shoved Scabbers off his pillow, it had been quite a personal question.

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Thing About Socks

The thing about socks is -- well, I'm not really sure what it is. I have knit hundreds of pairs of socks and I know hundreds of knitters who have done the same. Despite the seeming monotony of turning out all these thousands of pairs of socks, not one of us is bored. Investing in sock yarn companies has continued to be a wise financial decision. There's something about socks that's special.

It could be because they are so portable. Dedicated sock knitters love the way you can tuck a sock into your bag no matter where you're going. A sock, no matter how close to completion, never becomes unwieldy or enormous or spills off your lap onto the floor of the waiting room or muddy bottom of the bus.

It could be because socks are so practical. Shawls are for special occasions; sweaters for cold days when they match your outfit; hats, scarves, and mittens are destined to stand between us and weather -- but socks? Socks are everyday usefulness. Everybody needs them, from newborns to centenarians. A commonplace pair of handknit socks meets the human gold standard for belongings, being both beautiful and useful.

It could be because of socks' enormous variety. You can make cable socks, plain socks, socks with ribbing that goes all the way to the toes. Socks with intarsia, socks with Fair Isle bands, socks in intricate lace form top to toe. Get silk sock yarn that knits up all day by itself into fetching patterns, sock yarn with mohair, or nylon or cotton. Feeling tired of tiny needles? Make boot socks from worsted weight handspun. Make tiny ankle high shorties or make a commitment, dammit, and knit a pair of knee-high kilt hose for your favourite kilt-wearing darling.

It could be because socks are cheap. Not as cheap as picking up five pairs for $10 at your local discount store, but cheaper than sweaters or afghans or scarves. A pair of socks takes only a skein or two, a finished project with a minimum of yarn investment. You don't have to save up for months to buy the materials and even an outrageous sock yarn stash can fit in the most modest of closets. (You might not be able to get anything else in there, but the stash will fit.)

Or it could be because socks are so intimate. Socks go on over bare skin, the only thing between the feet of your heart and the big cold world. Your rounds of stitches cradle the recipient's feet on their journey over the planet. Socks protect sensitive toes from cold floors and wrap them cosy before bedtime.

These are all really good reasons to knit socks, but they aren't the reason I knit them. I knit them because they are an unmistakable expression of love, simply because they do not last forever.

Used as it is intended, a sweater can be with you your whole life. Knitted blankets are passed down as heirlooms and sweet tiny baby things you make for your own little ones can be tucked away until your babies have babies of their own. Not socks. Used as intended, even with careful hand washing and conscientious care, a pair of socks has a lifespan. They can, of course be darned. (I use my mother's method: I hold the holey sock over the garbage bin and loudly exclaim, "Darn it," before dropping it in. I'm a knitter not a sock repair person.) Socks can be humoured, but in the end -- which isn't very far off, let me tell you -- socks will be walked through. You can get reinforcing thread; you can knit in wooly nylon; you can carefully work a double thickness into the heel or toe, but socks are doomed.

This means that there's a lot of love in a pair of socks. The first one is a triumph of knitterly cleverness. The knitter casts on the right number, not so many that the socks fall down, not so few that they cut off circulation and turn your toes blue; then he or she works ribbing or picot or something to keep them from puddling unattractively around the ankles. There's the jaunt down the leg, perhaps with entertaining experiments in Fair Isle or cabling or lace panels. The heel flap, solid and practical -- and then that miracle, the cunning three-dimensional heel (far simpler than it looks). The knitter picks up stitches for the gussets and then cruises down the foot (note: Marry small-footed persons), decreasing for the toe and grafting it shut, since the best socks are seamless. Feel the love? You should, since the sock knitter is only halfway there. The second sock of a pair becomes a deeply personal testament to stick-to-itiveness as the knitter conquers the dreaded second-sock syndrome, surmounting the urge to cast on something new and exciting, something that doesn't come in boring, lacklustre twos. When it is all over, when the socks are done, a knitter will have invested an average of 20,000 stitches in the name of love and warm feet, knowing full well that the socks will wear out.

The knitter then gives the finished socks to a worthy recipient who will, the first time that he or she puts them on, undergo a transformation, a moment of sacred joy, swearing off machine-made socks forever. And then -- in a celebration of the knitter's art, a festivity of yarn, an homage to knitting in the round and needleworkers everywhere -- the recipient will walk big honking' holes in them.

That's love. That's why socks are special.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Magnificent Socks

For the next three days, I'm going to talk about socks. Why? Because there is nothing quite as comforting as socks. Especially hand knitted ones.

To kick it off, here is Neruda's ode to socks:

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder's hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.

Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts,
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Om Shreem Heem Kleem Glaum

If you liked the other one, see what you think about this one. It's by Uma Mohan...and I find her work transcendent...kind of takes you out of your body. She sings in Sanskrit, but the use of technology and modern techniques makes this something truly different. She is a musician, record producer and composer. Not to mention an artist, dramatist, dancer, poet and writer.

I love this. See what you think.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Week 34: On Getting Credit

When are your good intentions motivated by being acknowledged, seen, or otherwise getting credit for doing something helpful? A common way this works is we make bargains in our heads with other people, but don't include them in the bargain. We think, "I'll do the dishes and the my partner can take out the trash." Then we get upset when our partner doesn't take out the trash.

With that in mind, complete an act of kindness that has the potential to make a significant positive impact but which almost guarantees you will not get any credit for completing.

Write about "getting credit" in your journal. Consider the different meanings of the expression "getting credit" and of the word "credit." Play with these. Put them in the context of your life. Do you know anyone for whom getting credit may not be important? Who?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Problems are fleeting, says The Universe

From here, of course, all earthly problems appear small - really small. That's because we know they're fleeting, they prepare you for the "best of your life," and you chose them, not wanting to obtain their rewards in any other way.

But from where you are, of course, they can look gigantic. That's because they're often seen as permanent, limiting, and imposed upon you by chance, fate, or circumstance.

Jennifer, get real. See them from our perspective.

To the best of your life starting right now,
The Universe

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Tonight Everyone is Dreaming the Same Dream

Each person likes in their bed, restless,
calling an unknown name.
An angel comes to each and every one
and says: "Choose one hand," its own hands
shimmering behind its back.
"In the right is life, in the left
death, called emptiness." At that moment
sobs are heard all over the earth,
and in the heavenly spheres
a rain of tears.

In the dream I am weeping
For the angel has no hands,
only wings; and each person gazes
at their own palms, purified and glowing.
One hand holds a spark, the other
a dry coal. Each person
spreads their wings.
The earth is created, and moves us
on our journey
toward remembering.

Susan Litvak

Friday, 21 August 2015

One Last Call

I love you, I love you.
That is all that has ever mattered.
Live your full life and I will always be with you.

-Cell phone call, September 11, 2001.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Holy the Firm

There is no one but us.
There is no one to send,
nor a clean hand nor a pure heart
on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us,
a generation comforting ourselves with the notion
that we have come at an awkward time,
that our innocent fathers are all dead -- as if innocence had ever been
-- and our children busy and troubled,
and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready,
having each of us chosen wrongly,
made a false start, failed,
yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures,
and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved.
But there is no one but us.
There never has been.

Annie Dillard

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Paradox of Our Age

We have bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences but less time.

We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgement, more experts, but more problems; more medicines but less healthiness.

We've been all the way to the Moon and back, but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbour.

We built more computers to hold more copies than ever, but have less real communication.

We have become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods but slow digestion; tall men but short characters; steep profits but shallow relationships.

It's a time when there is much in the window.

But nothing in the room.

-The 14th Dalai Lama

Monday, 17 August 2015

Week 33: On Sacrifice

Five weeks ago, the exercise was to send someone a thank you note. This week it is to do something similar, but after having completed a little reflection/research activity. So let's start there.

Take time to think of stories, true and fictional, of people who have made a sacrifice for others. Start with big sacrifices, like soldiers dying in times of war. Do some research about this, online or even by going to a library or to a museum. Then move to what might be considered smaller sacrifices, a parent giving up something in order for her child to have it, to even smaller sacrifices, someone giving the last slice of cake in the house to another. That sort of thing.

Having done that, think of a sacrifice someone has made on your behalf. Contact that person and specifically thank them for what they did. If possible, do this in person. If you can't contact this person, tell someone about the sacrifice and how it has impacted you.

In your journal, write about your experience and include a visual representation of the sacrifices you considered.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Three Breaths

For me to let divine sensation have its way, I need a daily practice that fosters peace of mind. While I take responsibility for the peace I bring to the moment, I don't always feel very peaceful. I restore calm by practicing the most basic centering exercise there is: conscious breathing. I slow down and breathe in a way that rolls past the committee's busy voices and aerates the quiet corners of the mind. I take long, round breaths that expand my belly. And I often follow the simple teaching of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh: I take one breath to let go, one breath to be here and one breath to ask now what?

Thing about breathing is we can do it in public and nobody thinks we're weird. Breathing doesn't require accessories, special training, or equipment. Just breathing. We're doing it anyway; we might as well do it in a way that brings us closer to peace of mind.

I step out on the balcony of my house. I like to go outside, whatever the weather. The morning waits, or the afternoon, or the evening. I am standing among tree limbs with my yard and garden below. I take a few deep breaths. In our bodies, oxygen feeds the heart and brain first. To pause and breathe deeply literally sends more energy to the parts of our bodies we most need to access for peace of mind. Inhalation leads to inspiration.

One breath to let go.

Let go of the list making, the squabbling, the disorientation of too many selves, the confusion of priorities, the constrictions of the heart. Let go of my fears, the niggling of inadequacy, anger at this or that interaction, the rush that comes from taking things personally. Send in the oxygen, instead of the adrenaline.

One breath to be here.

Be here in the moment and notice what is: the sensual reality of wherever I am standing. Peace is all around me; my job is to bring my mind to peace. To be here is to step out of the centre of the world, and to simply join in. What do I see, hear, taste, touch, smell - even through a plate glass window in a hotel lobby -- how am I, here in the world?

One breath to ask now what?

Now what is trying to happen in my life? Now what do I want this period of my life to mean? Now what might spirit say, if I say nothing and just for a moment...listen.

I breathe. I whisper my request, "Please help me maintain my peace of mind." The words echo in my skull. At its best, this instance, my body feels like a hollow tube, flowing with gentle energy. My mind is receptive. I breathe, wait a few seconds, enjoy the stillness I am creating within myself.

The Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice For Times Like These, Christina Baldwin

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Seven Whispers

Feeling really low, I went to Violet Flame. And as I sat on the sofa feeling at wrong with all the world. Then I saw this book on their bookshop, picked it up and started reading. It's called The Seven Whispers. And these are the whispers, what you need to intone at the start of each day:

Maintain peace of mind

Move at the pace of guidance

Practice certainty of purpose

Surrender to surprise

Ask for what you need and offer what you can

Love the folks in front of you

Return to the world (the world being the natural and not the artificially constructed world)

Friday, 14 August 2015

Conversations With Dad

I thought this was really good. Because of the Dad. He's so natural here.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A Lamp Which Runs on Salt and Water

This lamp runs on water and salt. And it can bring a lot of light to the rural communities of the Philippines, often not connected to the power grid. (This is not so strange by the way, knowing that the country is spread over more than 7000 islands.) Lipa Aisa Mijeno, an entrepreneur from the Philippines, invented this lighting alternative for the current solutions: candles, paraffin, or battery-operated lamps in their homes, which have been known to be expensive, and cause unhealthy or dangerous situations like fires. The lamp uses the salt water as the electrolyte in a galvanic cell battery.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The One That Really Counts

In all tests of character, Jennifer, when two viewpoints are pitted against each other, in the final analysis, the thing that will strike you the most is not who was right or wrong, strong or weak, wise or foolish... but who went to the greater length in considering the other's perspective.

Don't you agree?

The Universe

Well, yeah, Jennifer, I did mean the final, final analysis, but you'll see, that one really counts.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Week 32: Give Someone A Second Chance

Think about a time when you were given a second chance. Under what circumstances did this take place? Who provided you with the second chance? Early in the week, write about this experience. If you prefer, tell someone about it.

Having done that, consider two things and act on at least one. First, see if you can do something kind for the person who provided you that second chance. To assist, review some of the previous exercises for ideas. Second, is there someone for whom you can provide a second chance? If so, provide it.

At the end of the week, write about your experience in your journal. Consider the time it sometimes takes to provide people a second chance. Can this ever be shortened?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Canberra Light Rail to Run On 100% Renewable Energy

Alternative energy? Yay! Would that we could do this in Malaysia as well for our trains!

Stage one of Canberra’s light rail project, the proposed development of a multi-million dollar network linking Civic to Gungahlin in Canberra’s north, will be 100 per cent powered by renewables, the ACT government has revealed.

ACT environment minister Simon Corbell – who is also minister for the green transport project, dubbed Capital Metro – said the successful bidder would be required to source a minimum of 10 per cent of the light rail system’s electricity from renewable sources like solar or wind.

5642494-3x2-340x227“Combined with the ACT government achieving its target of 90 per cent renewable energy by 2020 – the time in which stage one light rail will be up and running – this will enable the Capital Metro project to be 100% green energy powered,” he said in a statement on the weekend.

Corbell said the successful bidder would also need to have measures in place to reduce the emissions resulting from building the network, including energy efficient construction practices and sourcing carbon offsets.

“These two project requirements demonstrate the ACT government’s leadership in tackling the impacts of climate change through prioritisation of renewal energy, reducing the ACT’s carbon emissions and a strong commitment to achieving carbon neutrality,” Corbell said.

“Canberra has the highest car dependence of any major Australian city, with transport now being responsible for 25 percent of the ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Light rail has the potential to greatly improve our city’s liveability and sustainability by getting people out of their cars and onto public transport. This will not only reduce our greenhouse gas emissions but also congestion and travel times.”

Meanwhile, the ACT government has kicked off the new week by signing up to two major international climate agreements: the Compact of States and Regions and the Compact of Mayors, and will report annually to an international audience through the Carbon Disclosure Project.

“Leading up to the UN conference in Paris in December, there are many global initiatives happening right now that are working to rally regional and state governments and corporations to respond to climate change,” Corbell said in a statement on Monday.

“Membership of the Compact of States and Regions and the Compact of Mayors mean the ACT Government will report annually on our targets and emissions reduction progress at both the territory and city scale.”

The Compact of Mayors is the world’s largest cooperative effort among mayors and city officials to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, track progress, and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Data collected, covering more than 200 million people, will become the evidence base needed to quantify the effectiveness of city action on greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation.

“By being involved and reporting on our targets and emissions reduction progress annually, the ACT can not only benchmark our actions on climate change, but actively contribute to more informed discussions at the Paris conference in December,” Corbell said.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

On A Dime

Your physical senses give you many perks, Jennifer: smelling the flowers, sipping the cocoa, reading the funnies, and feeling the velvet, to name just a few. But perhaps their greatest gift lies in presenting you with the opportunity to assess the world around you at any given point in your life, to compare what you think you've been thinking to what you've really been thinking.


The Universe

PS: Nice how I made thoughts so easy to change, huh, Jennifer? On a dime.

Friday, 7 August 2015

A Sense Sublime

You can't say I don't mix it up, hey? From baby's poo faces to some lines by my favourite Nature poet, William Wordsworth. I am reading a biography on him right now...a popular biography (rather than a literary one) by Hunter Davies. It was published in 1980. I've been wanting to read about Wordsworth ever since I went to Hua Hin two years ago for my birthday and finally read The Prelude as well as Dorothy Wordsworth's diaries.

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth;
but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear, -- both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Thursday, 6 August 2015


Because there is nothing as cute as a baby long as you're not the one who has to clean them up.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Break The Bonds of Boredom

Let others bemoan the maliciousness of their age. What irks me is its pettiness, for ours is an age without passion...My life comes out all one colour. (Kierkegaard)

If contemporary science were more sophisticated and subtle, then I'm absolutely certain that it would rank boredom as one of the central killers in the modern world. The Belgian writer Raoul Vaneigem, one of those anarchic work-avoiders called the Situationists and a friend of Guy Debord, wrote in The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967), "People are dying of boredom," and I believe this quite literally to be true. Greyness and boredom are not only enemies of merry living, they are murderers. It would not surprise me one jot if boredom were one day revealed to be carcinogenic.

Boredom was invented in 1760. That is the year, according to academic Lars Svendsen in his excellent study A Philosophy of Boredom (2005), that the word was first used in English. The other great invention of the time was the Spinning Jenny, which heralded the start of the Industrial Revolution. In other words, boredom arrives with the division of labour and the transformation of enjoyable autonomous work into tedious slave work.

And we are very bored. Go into chat rooms and forums on the Internet between three and five in the afternoon, and you will find hundreds of posts from office workers reading, "Bored, bored, bored!" These pleas for help, these desperate entreaties from trapped spirits, are like messages in a bottle, sent out into the ether, into the ocean of cyberspace, in the hope that someone out there is listening and that someone out there may be able to do something to help. The odds, of course, are low.

To E.F. Schumacher's notion that "Small is beautiful," we could certainly add "Big is boring," as it is the sheer scale of modern institutions which makes them so impersonal, alienating and exhausting to the spirit. McDonald's is boring and my local Indian is not boring. Raoul Vaneigem wrote, also in The Revolution of Everyday Life, that quantity has conquered quality. We have become so obsessed by numbers and by bottom lines that beauty and truth have been knocked aside. Boredom is the very opposite of beauty and truth. Life has been sacrificed to profit and the result is boredom on a mass scale.

One of the principal causes of boredom, it seems to me, is the removal of everyday creativity from the people. This was certainly the problem as William Morris saw it. In News From Nowhere, Morris paints a post-revolutionary society, in 2005, in which everyone is involved in some kind of freely chosen creative fields. This is how he saw the 14th century, and whether or not he romanticised the Middle Ages is not the point: it exists as a worthy ideal. The Puritan Revolution began to introduce boredom to the masses. Even religion and the path to salvation became boring. In the Middle Ages, religion had been full of activity and partying as well as of worship. The Church was a patron of the arts and commissioned local craftsmen to make adornments for its properties. The sermons were attended largely for their entertainment value; they provided real theatre. In medieval Florence, people would queue all night to see a great preacher and would then stream out of the church after the service, weeping copiously. All this drama and theatre was "superstition" and "idolatry". In other words, all the pagan fun of the Catholic Church, which it had wisely kept, was taken away.

Politicians can also take a fair share of the blame for the perceived monotony of our lives. You don't hear governments coming out with lines like "Tough on boredom. Tough on the causes of boredom." The most stupefyingly boring of all governments - and all governments are boring by their very nature -- was the Nazis. Lines and rows and columns, the absence of individuality, the imposition of a bureaucratic order on things, the systematic removal of everything interesting -- particularly Jews, but also gypsies, vagrants, the work shy and political dissidents. The Nazis loved sending memos, filling in forms, filing, cataloguing, keeping everything neat and tidy. What the Nazis attempted was a great big tidy-up, like the Puritans before them, and that is why excessive tidiness must be resisted.

The main reason that so many people are so desperately bored is that boring people are in charge. The money-makers, the profit-driven capitalists, high priests of utter dullness, run the business side of things. And the bureaucrats, the form-fillers and health-and-safety enthusiasts, are running the government. They actually like boredom. Being alive would scare them. But it hasn't always been this way, and it need not always be this way. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the boring people were sidelined as ungodly. In medieval times, particularly the earlier periods, those with bourgeois, money-making values were looked down upon by the warriors, clerics and peasants. "There is something disgraceful about trade, something sordid and shameful," wrote opinion former St Thomas Aquinas. Happiness, he said, was to be found in reflection, not distraction:

So if the ultimate felicity of man does not consist in external things which are called the goods of fortune, nor in the goods of the body, nor in the goods of the soul according to its sensitive part, nor as regards the intellective part according to the activity of the moral virtues, nor according to the intellectual virtues that are concerned with action, that is, art and prudence -- we are left with the conclusion that the ultimate felicity of man lies in the contemplation of truth.

Boredom is a form of social control. Contemporaneous with the emergence of boredom in the late 19th century, we find an attack on the nation of the plebs organising their own fun. As we all know, art and entertainment in previous ages was a bottom-up affair. All dramatics were amateur; mystery plays were performed by the craftsmen's guilds; medieval artists were also craftsmen. But radical historian E.P. Thompson shows us how suspicious the authorities became of such democratic art production as the Industrial Age dawned and control of both work and leisure was taken from the people. He cites, in The Romantics, the well-meaning reply of a local posh liberal to an application by a factory man to put on a play in 1798: "The play," she worries, "might have a tendency to do you harm, and to prepare you for following scenes of riot and disorder at the alehouse." To Thompson, this anecdote proves the increasing "fear of an authentic popular culture beyond the contrivance and control of their betters". Thompson also blames a centralised education system and cites a letter written in 1911, surprisingly, by a former chief inspector of schools, which criticises the education system for being boring: "The aim of his teacher is to leave nothing to [the pupil's] nature, nothing to his spontaneous life, nothing to his free activity; to repress all his natural impulses, to drill his energies into complete quiescence; to keep his whole being in a state of sustained and painful tension."

Boredom is painful. For Vaneigem, the pressure to become the same as each other exhausts our spirit: "If hierarchical organisation seizes control of nature, while itself undergoing transformation in the course of this struggle, the portion of liberty and creativity falling to the individual is drained away by the requirements of adaptation to social norms of various kinds."

Lest we become too depressed, let us remember that the creative spirit lives on. On the Scottish Isle of Eigg near Skye, the whole island comes together for a drinking and music session every Saturday night. No one is paid; no one is hired. The music is performed for its own sake, not for profit. To fight boredom, we need to take control of our work and our leisure alike. The artist Jeremy Deller has spent many years travelling around the British Isles photographing examples of what he calls Folk Art. For Deller, this means acts of creativity, which have been done more or less for their own sake created by ordinary people who would never consider themselves to be artists. This is art outside the art world, outside Cork Street galleries, museums, dealers and the Arts Council: outside, in other words, the worlds of money and bureaucracy. Examples include a giant owl made by a group of farmers, customised cars, doodles in the dust on the back of vans, a painting of Keith Richards on the back of a truck, a giant motorised elephant, gurning competitions. It's a wonderful project, because what it proves is that the free spirit is very much alive. It means, actually, that against all the odds, boredom has not completely destroyed us.

What can we do to fight boredom? Well, the very same system that has created it also promises to relieve us of it. We are bored by work, and then advertising promises to take our boredom away, once we have handed over our cash. This is called leisure, and the word is derived from the Latin "licere", meaning "to be permitted". Leisure, then, is what we are allowed to do in our "spare time". And it costs. In the UK. vast shops called Virgin Megastores sell piles and piles of pre-recorded music and films. In their advertising, they claim to be mounting an attack on boredom. But we shouldn't allow them to relieve our boredom for us. We have delegated the relief of boredom; we have shirked our responsibility for dealing with it. In other words, we hand over our creativity to the professional musician or film-maker. We pay someone else to alleviate our boredom. We bore ourselves in order to earn the money that we will later spend in trying to de-bore ourselves. The absurd modern trend called Extreme Sports springs to mind. In order to feel alive, because most of the year we feel dead, we hurl ourselves from a bridge every few months. Falling off a bridge, or a few seconds of thrills, is thus supposed to compensate for a whole year of boredom. And the freedom to hurl ourselves from a bridge while tied to an elastic band is held up as one of the great triumphs of modern capitalism.

The whole universe of boredom is precisely what was being attacked by the Sex Pistols. I agree absolutely with Johnny Rotten -- I don't want a holiday in the sun. I refuse your paltry offer of two weeks on a beach (boring leisure) as a break from 50 weeks in the office (boring work). In Lipstick Traces, rock 'n' roll critic Greil Marcus brilliantly relates the Dada movement to the Situationist movement, and both to punk. What they have in common is the rage against boredom, the desire, simply, to live. What all three movements share is the passionate belief that anyone can do it. We can all be creative and we can all be free. The first number of Internationale Situationiste announced in June 1958 that the world was about to change "because we don't want to be bored...raging and ill-informed youth, adolescent rebels lacking a point of view, but far from lacking a cause -- boredom is what they all have in common. The Situationists will execute the judgement contemporary leisure is pronouncing against itself." Punk was about putting creativity back into the hands of the people; anyone can do it, they said, and to prove it, here are three chords you need to write a song: E, A and B7. Do it yourself.

Behind the attack on boredom is a radical desire to take control of our lives bcd from the giant organisations to whom we have more or less willingly entrusted ourselves. This is an act of gross irresponsibility on our part. But it is not too late. We simply need to discover our own creativity. The simple way to avoid boredom is to make stuff; already, there are glimmerings of a new movement in this area, to which the success of US magazine Ready Made ( bears witness. My heart also soars when I see skateboarders. Having worked in a skateboarding shop for a year, I know what a radically creative and positive pursuit skateboarding is. It is a self-governing movement, a federation, with its own magazines, fanzines, competitions and businesses, all displaying a high level of ingenuity, independence and creativity. One of the latest companies on the scene is the brilliantly named Death Skateboards, who have the equally effective slogan, "Death to Boredom", and three cheers for that.

(From How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Om Mani Padme Hum (HD) - Imee Ooi

Listen and be soothed. She's Malaysian. And I have just discovered her.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Week 31: Reduce isolation

Begin this week by considering people you know who may be feeling isolated in some way. What makes them isolated? Do they need help? How can you tell?

Pick one of these people you think would benefit from some kind of attention and complete an action that intends to decrease her/his isolation. This need not be anything big. Keep in mind that it's often the smallest actions, the everyday actions, that carry the most significance.

If it is difficult for you to find someone you know who fits this bill, consider this exercise more broadly or even metaphorically. Is there something you can do to reduce isolation on a more general scale? Be creative as you consider this and do something that provides you a sense of making a difference.

Write about your experience in your journal. Be sure to include anything that was easy or hard for you with this exercise.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Biomimicry Could Lead To Solar Cells That Store Energy For Several Weeks

Jeez, look at this! The main problem with solar is that you couldn't store the energy. So as much as you could get from the sun, you had to use up pretty quickly or it would be so much wasted energy. So the thing people have been cracking their heads over is how to store this energy so it could be used for future purposes. So read this article, which appeared in Forbes, and was filtered and sent to me by The Intelligent Optimist.

And rejoice!

The lack of low cost, large scale energy storage systems is a big problem for solar power. Today, the typical solar cell can only store energy for only a few microseconds. As a result, customers equipped with solar panels will for the foreseeable future remain dependent on the electric power grid.

This is why so many green energy gurus consider hybrid systems combining solar and storage to be the mother of all disruptive technologies.

A new study by chemists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) suggests that rather than combining solar and storage, it may be easier to design solar cells that can do double duty as batteries.

The study, which was published in the most recent issue of the journal Science, describes a process for designing solar cells is capable of storing electricity for as long as several weeks at a time.

The solar cells, which are made from plastic rather than silicon, mimic a mechanism used by plants to generate energy through photosynthesis.

“Biology does a very good job of creating energy from sunlight,” said Sarah Tolbert, a UCLA professor of chemistry and one of the senior authors of the research. “Plants do this through photosynthesis with extremely high efficiency.”

The new technology has two basic elements: a polymer donor and a nanoscale fullerene acceptor. The polymer donor absorbs sunlight and passes electrons to the fullerene acceptor, which generates electricity.

Here is a great analogy used by UCLA’s press release to explain how the system works:

The plastic materials, called organic photovoltaics, are typically organized like a plate of cooked pasta — a disorganized mass of long, skinny polymer ‘spaghetti’ with random fullerene ‘meatballs.’ But this arrangement makes it difficult to get current out of the cell because the electrons sometimes hop back to the polymer spaghetti and are lost. . . . The UCLA technology arranges the elements like small bundles of uncooked spaghetti with precisely placed meatballs. Some fullerene meatballs are designed to sit inside the spaghetti bundles, but others are forced to stay on the outside. The fullerenes inside the structure take electrons from the polymers and toss them to the outside fullerene, which can effectively keep the electrons away from the polymer for weeks. In the new system, the materials self-assemble just by being placed in close proximity.

“In photosynthesis, plants that are exposed to sunlight use carefully organized nanoscale structures within their cells to rapidly separate charges — pulling electrons away from the positively charged molecule that is left behind, and keeping positive and negative charges separated,” said Tolbert. “That separation is the key to making the process so efficient.”

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Let Them Write Poems

In his daily life, John Wareham coaches some of the most successful and wealthy people. With his neatly combed, thick white hair, his bespoke suit and professorial glasses, you’d never expect him to spend his free time at a prison. And yet for the past 18 years, the psychologist and author of several novels and self-help books has been going to the heavily guarded prisons of New York, like Rikers Island, every week.

But he doesn’t go to prison out of any requirement; he’s there as a volunteer, teaching literature to inmates. And what he accomplishes
with those classes needs to be told. Almost none of the detainees who take Wareham’s classes commit crimes again after being released.
His 13-week course consists of reading literature and fragments of books by philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Epictetus; psychologists like Freud, Adler and Berne; and religious texts from the Bible and a Buddhist holy book. He has his students give a presentation each week on how those books might fit into their own lives. And this year he added a new ingredient to his classes: he asked the inmates to express their feelings through poetry.

“What caught me by surprise was the quality of the poems,” Wareham says. “And the fact that they unleashed and revealed their feelings. They poured their hearts out. As I was listening to them, I thought, We can make a beautiful little book out of this.” And that’s
what happened. Wareham, author of several books including How to Break Out of Prison, recently published How to Survive a Bullet through the Heart, a compilation of poems from 15 inmates he worked with during the previous year. Sheldon Arnold is one of
them. A 29-year-old music producer, Arnold was sentenced to 16 years because of a violent robbery, and he still has 15 years to serve.
He wrote the opening poem in How to Survive a Bullet through the Heart, titled “Questions.”

Arnold and his fellow inmates write about crime, the moment of arrest, the legal proceedings that follow, the days in prison and the
visitors they’ve had, but also about freedom, longing, regret, sadness and faith. Wareham tells of the surprise reactions from readers
who’ve experienced the book. How can people who commit such crimes write with such insight? Compose poems that reflect such
understanding of the situation in which they find themselves?

Wareham is not at all surprised. His methods work, and he knows it. He knows how intelligent most of his students are. “They just never had the chance to go to university, to develop their skills and to find a regular job.” The inmates who participate in Wareham’s classes do so voluntarily. They even come on their days off, when they don’t have prison jobs to do. “The people who come to the class are more serious than the general population,” Wareham concludes. And, he adds, the recidivism among inmates who’ve taken his classes is almost zero.

What is Wareham’s secret? He has some ideas. He says he hates it when people insist on reaffirming to inmates that they did something very bad and that they made the wrong choices in the past. In contrast, Wareham tells them the opposite: that they are innocent, that
their eyes haven’t yet been opened to the possibilities the
world has to offer them.

He tells them: “In the moment of your crime, you made the only choice available to you. You could see no other options, and so, effectively, you were a victim of your own unconscious. You might think you made a choice, but that was an illusion.” At that point, he moves the discussion to lines from Shakespeare; as he paraphrases,“If Hamlet when he’s not himself does wrong, then Hamlet does it not. Who does it then? His madness. If it be so, Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged; his madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy.” Wareham calls madness mindlessness—the absence of authentic contemplation and truly rational choice.

What Wareham does is remarkable. When asked whether he is often consulted by other prisons wanting to know how he achieved such successes with inmates, he replies, “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think the only goal of a prison is punishment. Right now, we don’t have a correctional system—we have a warehousing system. It’s a pretty effective warehouse, but it’s not very good as a school. I think you should be able to rehabilitate people, but unfortunately people don’t see it that way.”

Wareham refers to the methods used by the renowned Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung, who once said that a patient can begin to get better only when he understands his predicament and can see a way out of it. Wareham tries to take that advice to heart: “I try to give the inmates an understanding of the predicament through literature and reading, and then help the prisoner to see the way

“If you go through the readings each week,” he tell the prisoners, “and if you’re serious about it, you cannot get to the final class without having your thinking seriously altered, or your eyes seriously opened.” And when the course ends, Wareham gives them this piece of wisdom: “Going forward, you won’t be innocent anymore. Since your eyes are opened now, you will know that you do have a choice.”

Elleke Bal, The Intelligent Optimist