Mind the morsel: food, mindfulness and death.

(Reading time 8 minutes)

The repeated dry thud of the hammer striking the wooden block announces the meal time. The monks seat themselves upon their platforms, facing their bowls which are carefully wrapped in cloth. In a precise choreography of movements, they untie the knot, lift out the utensils and napkins, then the bowls, and calmly place these in front of them. The cloth is carefully folded and placed next to them. Then they wait in meditative silence. One by one, monks assigned to cooking duties move by them pouring and placing foods into the bowls, them move onto the next seated monk, raising a trail of fragrances and steam. A bell rings, and the monks begin a ritualised engagement with the food, inviting  all their senses to participate. They smell , the look, they savour. Sometimes all food is served at once, sometimes many different dishes are served after one another. When the last morsel has been eaten, the monks clean their bowls with a napkin and hot water, and then arrange all items on the wrapping, and tie up the knot. They lift the bundle up again and return it to their respective storage compartment.

During all this time not a single word is spoken. The meal was entirely made from donated/gifted ingredients, and food grown on the temple grounds by the monks. This is meal-time at a zen monastery.

elsewhere, Mindless Morsels.

Food is socializing.
Food is pleasure.
Food is communion.
Food is nourishment.
Food is social status.
Food is medicine.
Food is control.
Food is religious.
Food is priceless.

More often than not however, for most people in what is often referred to as the deloped world, food just happens.

It happens in between loud conversations both friendly and hostile. It is rushed in mouthfuls in between words in a meeting, or while getting children ready for school. It is consumed voraciously and washed down with drinks on a Friday evening. It is snacked obliviously while the eyes are entranced by the intense drama unfolding on a screen. It is mechanically ingested while your team forges ahead to score that decisive goal, the entertainment demanding our fullest attention. It is taken discretely in scoops and handfuls from the buffet for fear of missing out. It is piled down round after round in reply to a persistent craving. Thirst and hunger, fatigue, fragrances and aromas, the rustling of someone else’s sandwich bag, and virtually anywhere you look there is something that reminds us about food.

But can you actually remember subtle nuances of fragrance and flavour, aroma, even temperature of your last cup of coffee? Or what particular flavours and aromas were present this morning in your breakfast, or last night’s dinner?. That is, without checking Instagram to remind yourself what you ate.

Besides a general and obvious description, don’t be surprised if you struggle. You are not alone.

With the technological advancements of food production and distribution we have massively improved access to food and disperesd regional variety of ingredients across the globe, while on a local scale we have lost  over 80% of our agricultural diversity including many native and indigenous food stocks, and with that we have also lost the knowledge about their cultivation and preparation.

As a byproduct of this convenience we have also lost our ability to comprehend the true significance of every morsel of food that we place in our mouths. And we paying for it dearly. Modern food production (both plant and animal based foods) make up over a third of all green-house-gas emissions, and the scale of soil degradation, and land and ecosystem destruction is threatening its very production. We also have a grave (and growing) health epidemic that is firmly founded on how and what we eat.

Mindful Eating.

While the deeply considered and ritualized meals of a zen monk are perhaps an extreme manifestation that is neither practical nor necessary for most, it provides a useful framework towards grasping the true meaning of food.

The general perception of mindfulness is often misunderstoood as a passive thing, implying non-action. Mindfulness is not an action, it is a way to act. It is not constrained by what the activity is. It may be as fundamental and simple as simple breathing, or as laborious and physical as sowing crops.

And if we take this idea toward its most extreme application, it is also possible to kill mindfully.

The first of the ten grave precepts of Buddhism (and parallel principles exist in nearly every other faith or philosophical framework) proposes that we should endeavor to avoid or abstain from killing any other living being. Yet while the natural order may appear in direct conflict with this principle, it is actually a profoundly important – and evolutionarily essential – foundation to the propagation of life. The conflict is not in between nature and this foundational philosophical value, but in our understanding and our western relationship with life and death. Virtually every religious and spiritual teaching has undergone millennia of repeated translations and cultural shifts, and the languages and the concepts embodied within specific words can today only be assumed from what we know about their cultural context.

The teh common and underling fundamental premise is less about killing than it is about preserving and protecting life.

Vegan eating has long been associated and represented by many religions as the embodiment of this idea of not killing. While on the surface it may appear like a credible argument, the simple fact is that all complex living organisms exclusively rely on other living organisms for sustenance, either plant or animal. Besides certain bacteria, every living organism needs to eat other living-origin matter to stay alive. Humans are no exception. In order to eat the leaf of a cabbage we must dismember it, – remove it from its life-support system- to take advantage of its medicinal and nutritional potency. Even the most staunch vegetarian is inflicting death upon a living organism with every mouthful.

We can not survive without consuming – and thereby transforming – another living organism or a part of it into nutrients that we ourselves need to live. There seemingly is simply no way to escape the life-and-death duality. We either kill in order to eat and maintain ourselves alive, or we abstain from killing, and die of hunger, thus intentionally bringing about our own death.

Life and death.

Linguistically, we define death as the opposite of life.  Other definitions include the absence of conscious self-awareness, or even absence of self-regulating biological processes. We have no difficulty in recognising life and death, even a child has an intuitive understanding of these modes of existence. And while science accurately predict and define the presence of life  through specific measures and observable processes, a comprehensive definition of what it is remains elusive.

The concept becomes even more intimidating if we take the definition beyond the individual organism. Think ant vs ant colony.

If we consider life as a function that is not intrinsically tied to single individual organisms, but that the organism is part of a larger living system, the the “transfer” of life-supporting matter for one organism to another acquires a whole new level of meaning: we are now ensuring that life is sustained, that such matter (i.e. the nutrients) are being utilised to nourish, heal and sustain another living organism. Life and death are evolutionary pre-requisites, and at this level, both have essential life-preserving purposes. In the concept of killing is no longer true in the strictest sense of the word, eating and all activities invested in the harvesting of food -be it animal or plant origin- becomes an act of transfer of life, of transformation. And transformation underpins all forms of existence.

Let us return again to the very ritualized meal of a Zen monk.

Before the food is eaten, it, and its origins, are acknowledged.
This simple recognition places a whole new level of understanding upon what is served to us (or what we may have prepared ourselves for others) It raises our consciousness towards deep respect to what it is we are eating. We embody and feel gratitude towards the source of the food itself. This is no longer just consuming, it is mindfully recognizing and cherishing the life that transformed will become a part of ourselves.

It rises our conciseness towards the healing and nourishing power of the dish. It is also useful in bringing to our attention when such food may be unhealthy, reducing our wellness, robbing us of vitality, or simply being sourced from a nearly endless chain of processing that leaves little or no trace of its true origin.

Then we see the dish, we contemplate it. We rise our conciseness yet again to the presentation. The colors, the size and form of the ingredients. Our attention now centers our respect on the cook, of the offering itself, and the effort made by either ourselves or so someone else in bringing that regenerating nourishment and healing to us. We recognize the offering as a a gesture of generosity, and we can delight in the craftsmanship and be thankful for it.

Then we allow ourselves to inhale the aromas. As before, our conscious appreciation continues to be elevated – and yet we have not had a single mouthful of it! It is impossible at this point not to sense a profound reverence and gratitude for what we are about to eat. Our show of such respect is to do justice to the offering, by devoting our full attention to the meal, taking the time to appreciate and recognize the subtle and the bold flavours, the fragrances and the textures that constitue our meal.

Most good foods are full of lush and complex favors. From a simple piece of apple to a mouthful of plain steamed rice, all have layers of delight that are only revealed to us whe we allow ourselves to be fully present, to mindfully eat. And while it is not necessary to eat austere and minimalistic dishes, doing so from time to time will only help you have an even more fulfilling experience when you eat a complex dish.

All along this process our awareness to how this food makes us feel naturally also increases, resulting in a very clear sense of when we have had enough to eat. It is impossible to over-eat when we are eating mindfully, even if our plate is stashed high. A well known Japanese saying sums this up: “Hara Hachi Bu” or “eat until you are eight parts (or eighty percent) full”. Only when you are fully aware and present while eating is it possible to sense when’s our have eaten just enough.

I invite you to apply this level of attention to your next meal, regardless of where or what it is. Leave your desk if you can. Stop and sit down, somewhere you can calmly eat. Away from screens, magazines, book and mobile devices, including your mobile phone.

One by one invite every one of your senses to participate and share the meal with you. Even the simplest food will appear sublime, extraordinary. It is not something that anyone can describe for you, as that can not easily be put into words. I can only encourage you to practice it, and feel it. A deep sense of fulfillment from a meal is only possible when we have appreciated in full all its qualities, experienced the flavours and aromas, and reached the point where we have eaten enough to feel contented and satisfied, but not so much that later on our satisfaction is diminished by a feeling of bloated fullness.

This is a simple practice that when cultivated will change your life.

Receive your meal with genuine gratitude, and consume it with respect and your full attention, embodying such gratitude, honouring all the life that now becomes part of you. Not only will your enjoyment of food increase, but your will naturally be drawn to the pleasure of wholesome foods. And just imagine what powerful effect this will have on your overall health, your stamina, your mental clarity and ultimately your life-expectancy. Teach this to your fiends, your spouse, your children no matter what their age, perhaps even teach it to your parents.

Over-consumption and mindless eating are becoming a tragic generation-defining habit, augmented by the disastrous  medical and the social ailments that these foster. Meals are consumed from disposable containers while reading social media feeds. The food itself has become secondary – a nearly forgotten mechanic activity, devoid of purpose, and devoid of the profound delight and communion that is inherently and naturally part of it. While there is a trend emerging in reclaiming our knowledge of not just preparing foods, but also understanding and mastering its production, for most people simply giving each meal the attention it deserves is all that is needed.

Food, besides your breath, it is the only other substance that ever becomes a part of you.

To Be, and not To Do

(Reading time 2 minutes)

Somewhere in the last century, as manufacturers faced increasing competition, the need to differentiate lead to increasingly preposterous claims and assertions. Slowly language has been misappropriated, words have been misused, and messages have become garbled. The payload – its’ meaning -has been diluted, taken for granted, sometimes contradicted and sometimes outright and violated.

Think about the contents of your refrigerator…

From pasteurised milk and packaged salad mix to frozen vegetable packs and tv-dinners, the word “fresh” is hardly a appropriate descriptor for a product that has undergone some form of industrial process. The fruit juice labeled “squeezed daily”, or the bread “baked daily in grandma’s kitchen” may sound evocative of intangible attribute, but the reality is that a large factory can ill afford idle days.

But it is not just freshness. In the same way that everyday terms have been hijacked by advertising, and in perhaps more sinister way by politicians, some big words need to be brought back to their true essence, because they are about our essence as human beings.

Three of these big words are “respect”, “honesty” and “compassion”. I have always considered these as words that embody an attribute, as adjectives that describe a timeless, immutable quality about a person. It was with some surprise when I recently heard someone use the word “compassion” to describe their actions, in this case inferring that another person had been bestowed with “enough” compassion, and therefore they felt it was appropriate to withdraw any further compassion towards that person.

In a single breath, the word had ceased to define a quality of the giver to instead become the privilege of the receiver.

Two other things also happened in that instant.

First of all I felt dissapointed. Not for the recipient, but sad for the person administering the gesture. In one sentence they had gone from being someone who I believed to be genuinely compassionate, to someone who “did compassion”. Clearly no only did they “do compassion”, they also felt they had the authority to administer compassion – and withdraw it – as they saw fit.

Secondly, their trustworthyness was suddenly compromised – it had become conditional.

In an age when words are being increasingly misused, abused, and misconstrued, sometimes by accident, but more often with the deliberate intention of forcing misleading associations with a deeply significant idea or quality where clearly there was none, it is important that we protect our clarity and understanding of the basics.

Doing something that demands wholehearted acceptance, respect and non-judging openness from time to time at our convenience and branding ourselves respectful does not make us a respectful person. Ask yourself what sort of person are you in the time when you are critical and not respectful of others?

Telling the truth from time to time at our convenience and labeling it honesty does not make us an honest person. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not practicing honesty?

Doing something kind for someone from time to time at our convenience and labeling it compassion does not make us compassionate. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not being compassionate?

An respectful person always respects, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. An honest person will always speak the truth, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. A compassionate person will always be compassionate regardless of who or what they are dealing with. These three qualities are attributes of the giver, not privileges of the recipient.

Don’t do respect, honesty or compassion.

BE respectful. BE honest. BE compassionate.

Embody these, make them a fundamental part of who you are, instead of just doing these as a momentary public gesture that is conditional on you assumption of the worthiness of others.

Who Killed “Time Is Money” – part 4: Dinosaurs in the Sun.

Reading time 5 minutes

In 1980 Sharp launched the first solar-powered commercial device: a calculator. Like most, my imagination went wild as I envisaged a world where our gadgets never ran out of power. The future was promising to be an exciting place.

What happened? We are still plugging our gadgets in.

Instead, the most evident change has been the increased use of re-chargeable batteries, their reduced size, and their capacity to provide a lot more power. But overall our power sources and industry has changed little, and not until the early 2000;s when the increasing smog problems in large cities due to coal-power toxic gas and CO2 pollution did serious investment in solar and other clean energy sources begin to contest the dominance of fossil-fuels in a meaningful way. So far the argument for not burning fossil origin fuels has been centered on the emission problem, and to a lesser degree on the extraordinarily damaging extraction. There is however another strong argument for saving it for more important uses (such as inert recyclable plastics necessary for sterile medical applications), or the use of coal (in far more conservative quantities) for nano-technology, electronics and industrial composite materials which has not yet entered the mainstream awareness.

While the rethoric surrounding energy industries and their importance to economies worldwide drowns out the real issues, the reality is extraordinarily simple.

The earth does not have an energy shortage. The shortage, and the inaccessibility is caused entirely by a legacy supply and business model that emerged with the industrial revolution, and being entirely dependent on that technology, it is obsolete and incapable of evolving along with innovation.

What we lack today is not better technology, but transitional models.

As a result the process is showing up to become deeply disruptive, as new technologies that have developed far enough to become overwhelming better propositions have begun to simply wipe out its predecessors, sidestep their systems and rendering them obsolete.

Besides having a considerable economic advantage (requiring little or no subsidies to be cost competitive) there is also the added benefit of speedy deployment, significantly reduced infrastructure, geographic independence, and a extraordinarily small environmental footprint. While this is often treated as an “externality” and not a factored cost within the industry, the overall economy still carries the burden of such damage in other sectors.

But that is today. What about the future?

First of all, I believe that the future will be primarily based on solar energy. Initially we will see this coupled with batteries, but in the long run we will see new technologies based on natural processes such as photosyntesis, organic substances and bacteria. processes, both for small-scale generation as well as storage. Some of the technologies currently in early stages of development include Sediment Microbial Fuel Cells (based on plants and soil) and a variety of bacteria-based systems that produce electricity while desalinating water or purifying wastewater. While these are currently still only a laboratory reality, it is easy to see the multiple benefits of such systems. Increased interest and investment and the prospect of commercially lucrative developments is certain to lead to some disruptive offering, and at the very least make a meaningful contribution to more specialised sectors of energy production.

Another aspect of solar that is non-visible light. Currently solar panels work predominantly with the visible light spectrum, but that is also changing. One of the side-plots to solar currently being developed in Canada is the use of light colours and electro-magentic radiation that is not visible to our human eyes, such as infra-red, ultraviolet and radio waves, which also hit the earth in abundance at night time. That means that while the output would not be the same as from direct sunlight, devices will still be able to generate some electricity at night.

Add to this photo-voltaic paints, films and flexible membranes. Houses, vehicles, and paved surfaces and gadgets would be painted with light sensitive paints (these already exist), or have surfaces covered with flexible transparent adhesive solar/radiation collecting films.

Combined with hyper-efficient batteries (think 100 x or more the current charge capacity) and wireless induction re-chargers, it is not hard to see that a power-points in your house will become obsolete. Most small devices will be nearly or totally energy-self sufficient. There will be no need to pay energy utilities for infrastructure costs – overland wiring will be obsolete and will at some point result in firms who will dismantle and reclaim tremendous amounts of increasingly scarce and precious copper for re-use elsewhere. No overland and streetside power-lines, and more importantly, an entire risk eliminated from the community: electrocution.

Not only will kids be able to safely fly a kite in the neighbourhood, your footpath trees will grow lush and full canopies. This may sound utopian, but only to those unaware of the critical tipping points being passed by the ongoing transformation of the energy industry world-wide. So far two countries have already achieved a 100% clean energy supply, and the number is only going to increase over the coming years, in particular in those places where there is no or only limited existing infrastructure now, such as large parts of India and Africa.

With a few exceptions (cooking, heating and refrigeration are unavoidably energy-intensive) the high voltage grid is history. The most dangerous electrical thing a child may stick his fingers in will be a usb socket, but even that will be a rarity. Most devices will simply have an induction contact plate for recharging.

Again, it is easy to see the profound disruptive capacity of emerging innovations on just two aspects of our every-day lives. It is hard to accept that this is probable, but the reality is that it is in fact almost inevitable. As these technologies get better, and the increasing cost of externalities and problems associated with an altered climate (due to our modification of the atmosphere’s delicate chemical balance) are drawn from the purses of entire countries’ economies, the impetus for transformation will only increase.

Paid electricity suppliers, and the entire networks upon which they operate will become a thing of the past.

Why? Because as we inevitably advance towards the de-coupling of income from labour, the provision of energy for the population becomes a necessary investment by governments in order to keep a country operational. On the upside, those costs will be considerably lower than they currently are, primarily because there will be little or no infrastructure build and to maintain.

As mentioned in my previous posts, all the propositions here are based on already known and existing trends and technologies, and because of that it is inherently conservative. To expect less would be naive, and any business that is intending to survive through this period of intense disruption needs to position itself to service a vastly different, but in my opinion much better world.

While I have not directly addressed the elephant in the room – social and economic models – I believe every one of us have a role to play in accelerating these changes rather than resisting them. There will be enough resistance from businesses and industries that are destined to be annihilated in the process, as well as inherently change-averse and conservative public institutions and governments. But there is also a tremendous momentum from the sheer scale, profitability and social good of these emerging opportunities. When these profound transformations are impeded and forced to slow down unnaturally, the greater the cost and damage to economies and individuals becomes, and the risk for social conflict, instability and humanitarian crises increases.

I invite you to imagine with me the day when a vast part of the population can invest their time into passion projects, the wellbeing of others, creative and artistic endeavors and stuff that no-one has imagined yet. A world where poverty is eliminated because nobody needs to work for money, and where healthy, nutritious food, water and basic are abundant and accessible in every corner of the planet. You and I will experience this world. And I look forward to be inspired and amazed by the innovations and inventions of tomorrow as I was as a kid when reading sci-fi novels and looking a books about the future.

Where will you be? What is your part of the dream?

Next week we return to our regular topics around Mindful Living. If you have enjoyed this series I’d love top hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments and be part of the conversation.

>>If you missed the previous parts of this series you can read them here [Part 1]  [Part 2]  and  [Part 3].

Who Killed “Time Is Money” – Part 3

Reading time 4 minutes

As we continue our journey into the future and look at what is happening in a decade or two from now, the time around 2025-2035. We are surrounded by people who are working on passion-projects and moving around in self-driving smart vehicles. Even smarter devices that make your iWatch look like a stone-axe are keeping you connected to the internet of things, enabling communication with with your home, your transport devices, collaborators and retailers, enabling making payments and other transactions.

But while robots and smart devices don’t take lunch breaks, we will.

The challenge we face today is that food production in its current form is not able to be increased at the same rate as the world’s population with our current agricultural methods.

One of the first things that we will be confronted with is a very significant decrease in meat consumption.

Meat is by far the most resource-intensive and ecologically “expensive” food to produce.
Combined with the fact that the current consumption levels in the western diet are actually causing an increased in colon cancer and other ailments, and being a contributor towards obesity epidemic. This is not as a result of the meat itself, but as a result of the habitual over-eating and unnaturally large servings of food that are common today.

The second – and far more sinister problem with meats is that the antibiotics required to maintain the health of industrially farmed animals cycle through the food chain, primarily via water. It means we are eating – and accumulating vast uncontrolled quantities of antibiotics that not only mess with our immunity, but cause resistant mutations in pathogens. To make matters worse, the livestock industry requires 6 kg of plant protein to produce 1 kg of meat protein and as a result consumes about seven times as much plant based food than what humans consume (based on US figures – these vary between countries depending on the region’s respective primary source of food).

It is highly likely that plant based foods will form the most significant part of our food intake.

But before you decide to jump the curve and become a vegetarian, it is important to aknowledge that a very similar problem exists with our current methods of industrial agriculture.

While antibiotics are the trojan horse of meat and dairy, pesticides are the equivalent problem in the plant-foods. Our current industrial agriculture methods for plant-based foods are as unsustainable as the ones for animal products. While GMO’s are contentious and are blamed for all sorts of ailments, the reality is that all food we eat today is GMO. The fashionable idea of Paleo diets (derived from “Paleolithic”, the period of very early human life from about 2.6 million years to approximately 10,000 years ago) ignore two important factors: none of the foods that have been agriculturally developed (through selective breeding and domestication, and blending of plant varieties) existed in the paleolithic. Secondly their diets varied greatly between regions and seasons. The early humans were hunter-gatherers, and significant agriculture did not emerge until the very end of the paleolithic. Today we do not (and would not) eat any of the foods they ate, most of those pre-agricultural varietes no longer exist.

One of the greatest indicators is a resurgence of lower-yield organic farming. And while these are producing smaller crop volumes, peripheral problems such as soil depletion and water-table problems are also significantly reduced. One of the most successful technological innovations of recent years is salt-water farming. This is industrial scale greenhouse farming for vegetables that is extraordinarily water-efficient. Already a commercial reality in arid countries including UAE and Australia, methods like these show tremendous promise for sustainable food production.

But besides organic grains, fruit and veggies, what will be on your plate?

Chances are that a significant part of your animal protein intake will come from farmed fish, seaweed, algae- and mushroom-derived “vege-meat” products, and “grown meat”. While still in early development, growing meat in the lab is a reality, and one that holds promise to provide meat proteins and nutrients without the enormous overhead of farming animals. But as mentioned earlier, it is likely that those will be a significantly smaller share of you overall food intake, which will be primarily plant-based, using moderate-yield organic methods. Given that a significant portion of the population will have a far greater availability of free time while robots do the boring, dangerous and repetitive work, it is not unimaginable that seasonal community and home gardens will make an important and sustainable contribution to the food mix.

Another area that will change profoundly is food-related waste, and food waste.

Disposable protective packaging will no longer be polluting – as Architect William McDonough proposed in 2002 in his book “Cradle to Cradle”, it will serve secondary purposes such as decompose an release nutrients or act as a composting enhancer. All food waste will be collected for composting either by local or by community level collection, and utilised to regenerate and enhance the soil for agriculture.

Overall food will simply become healthier again, by the simple necessity of an ecologically sustainable and sufficient supply.

This has a profound effect on health and leisure industries. Not only does healthier food mean generally less lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, it means longer active lifespans, more energetic people with lots of free time eager to engage in meaningful experiences. The demand for experience-based entertainment will be a significant industry, that will in turn require salvaging, restoring and protecting many endangered natural ecosystems. And again, with that comes yet another industry: ecological regeneration and ecosystem restoration, this time driven by a strong economic motivator.

So now we know how we are fed the humans (and started living longer, working less, travelling more, and repairing ecosystems), but what powers the machines, the internet of things?

Last week I promised you the food and the energy of the next two decades. I have decided however to keep things brief, and so I have split this episode into two. I will explore energy next week. This is another area that is overflowing with innovative changes and possibilities worthy of the best science fiction. Except that it is not sci-fi.

The purpose of these posts is to encourage you to imagine a different future.

It is to create a context for you, so that you may wake up tomorrow exited about the future, and eager to be a part of it instead of afraid of it, to contribute and help shape it rather than to be unexpectedly derailed by it.

It’s purpose is to fight the dark and distorted reality portrayed by mainstream media, and reveal one far more certain, and far more exciting: the future as is being created right under our noses, sometimes quietly and sometimes with great fanfare, by innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs.

Here is a link to Saltwater Farming.

Cradle to Cradle Book, Amazon (no, I am not affiliated in any way – it is still a great book!)

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Who Killed “Time is Money?” – Part 2 (Who killed the taxi driver?)

Reading time 5 minutes

NOTE:Items underlined have links at the bottom of the article.

Last week I began this four part series by declaring the progressive demise of the “Time is Money” paradigm. As we enter an era when an increasing portion of the population will not be able to rely on a job as a source of income, we are also presented with an extraordinary opportunity: to develop a social and cultural environment where you do what matters to you, not what pays you. Although no single magical solution to how the “decoupling” of income from work has yet been defined, the momentum that automation has is such that a tipping point will force the issue, most likely sooner than people realize.

But while we envisage life in a world where work is optional, what else can we expect?

I will do my best over the remaining three episodes to put context around your future life. This context is not a pipe dream. Nor is it so far in the future that you can afford the luxury of ignoring it. This is a context of a world one or two decades into the future, and virtually everything that I put forward here is already a technical reality. What that really means is that however hard I try to make this a “big visionary thing”, the visionary element is massively undercooked. More on that later.

While I have endeavoured to keep things clustered into topics, some crossover is inevitable. Take your time to read this slowly and carefully. And above all, I’d like to invite you to join in the conversation, and encourage you upfront to share your comments by using the comments link below.

Over the last two years of working with Architecture students, their final projects are always envisioned to be delivered ten years into the future. So I will begin with the topic of transport technology, as many other things cascade from those transformations.

Earlier this year Tesla opened in Australia. Welcome to the electric car. While Elon Musk is changing the transport, portable energy and advanced battery technology around the globe (and now taking those batteries and using them on solar-powered houses), this is only a small stepping stone in our story.

The real game-change will come with self-driving cars.

While most people feel deeply uneasy about handing the steering wheel over to a web-connected and GPS-and-sensor-guided learning computer, the reality is profoundly significant. To begin with it eliminates car accidents almost completely, and the fail-safe systems will mean that even in a failure is unlikely to result in death on injury. That alone is a game-changer for insurance and health. consider that in Australia on average for the last decade, every year just under 1% of the population suffered serious injuries car accidents (and one in 20,000 died). Although this number is low compared to death rates from heart disease etc, it is also completely preventable. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Forget taxis (sorry Uber-drivers, this will affect you too!). You can have your car drop you off at the entrance of your favourite restaurant, park itself in a machines-only parking rack nearby, and come at your request (via voice request on your  smartphone) collect you and your inebriated party (it knows where you are from your phone request location) and drive you all safely back home. No driving, no taxi queue, this is your car. This also means drivers licenses will be a thing of the past: your teenage kids may have access to safe and reliable transport with tracking and restrictions as may be necessary for personal safety.

It is clear that even before we delve too deeply into the subject, transportation gets a pretty severe upgrade. And it does not stop at personal transportation. Your food gets to the supermarket with self-driving electric – possibly even solar-powered (we’ll come back to this) trucks without drivers that fall asleep at the wheel or are kept awake with a chemical cocktail that makes the most hardened junkie jealous. The trucks go 24-7, day and night, no rest stops needed. Goodbye truckie – a whole industry rendered obsolete. Plug in some automatic inventory tracking, automatic maintenance scheduling etc. and the whole thing starts to look  pretty clever without a human in sight. We can keep digging deeper, but you get the picture. This is significant. This is not sci-fi, it’s here and you can find out more in this Ted talk from Google’s Sebastian Thrun. (link below)

So what else does this self-driving car change? For the first time since the horse-drawn cart we can have cars and people share transit spaces in urban centres. Sensor technology on a car does not just see what a driver sees, it can see 360 degrees without ever blinking. It knows exactly who and what is in front, beside and behind the vehicle, which way and how fast it is moving, and what it is. It can see in the blackest darkness, blizzard, rain or fog. And because it knows where every other car nearby is, it does not need traffic lights. Automated flow controllers (where cars share info with each other) ensure that movement is smooth, steady, efficient, and optimised. Wooha! Optimized? What on earth does that mean? It means that through predictive positioning algorithms cars can cross intersections, move safely through crowded pedestrian spaces, merge with other traffic etc. without stopping. It all happens in a smooth, fluid motion. You could sip your latte in the car and not spill a drop on the moisture-repellent self-cleaning upholstery. Good Bye traffic lights, and Good Bye traffic jams!. This is fun so lets keep going: no speeding tickets as cars behave to location specific restrictions. No more carparks as we know them, you get dropped off and call your car when and where you need it. Even halfway across town if necessary (although you may wish to tell it to meet you at your destination at a set time) I can see this being really handy when doing cross-country bush-walks.

Of course this technology has a profound effect on public transport as well. But by far the most profound impact will be on the shapes of our cities, our road network and supporting infrastructure. Your suburban street could look very different, and as a result new social interaction behaviours become possible.  No designated pedestrian crossings, no traffic lights. Footpaths can have fruit trees where directional signs once stood. Imagine car-sharing and pooling made possible through a simple request on your smartphone “I need to be at the golf club by 3pm” could cue up a selection of available cars, Uber-style. But being driverless means that cars that are passing you on the way to picking up someone from the golf club at 3:15 don’t make an empty journey.

This is just one thread of a whole complex web of possibility. I said earlier that this vision is “undercooked”. As outrageous and over the top you may think it is, it pales in comparison to what will actually be. That is because every single thing I have listed here is already a technological reality, although notnecessarily a commercial one – yet.

What this vision does not include is the stuff that has not been invented yet, or that has not reached a sufficient level of technical viability.

But rest assured, that many of those things that are currently facing hurdles will be resolved. Some game-changers will come from problems being solved in unrelated areas. In the same way as car-battery technology is being used to store your domestic solar charge for night-time use, other things will have a crossover effect, unlocking that which was previously unachievable. Challenges that crowd-source knowledge such as the X-prize are accelerating both the rate of innovations, as well as the nature of them.

It would be extraordinarily naive not to expect other game-changers to turn entire industries on their head, wipe them out and create new opportunities within the next decade. What those industries are and how they will change is up to us to imagine today.

Here are some fun links:

Video of a moving sidewalk at the Paris Exhibition 1900.

Sebastian Thrun TED Talk showing off Google’s driverless car. Hold on to your hat!

 The X-Prize website – lots of cool stuff here!.

Last weeks Post – Part 1.

Next week we will look at food and energy – two closely related areas that are fundamental to an enduring human future.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Mindfulness is hip! How science, social media and the GFC triggered the mindful leadership revolution.

(Reading time 5 minutes)

Mindfulness is hip!

Mindfulness is trending in all channels of social media. In 2014 mindfulness was the new buzzword among celebrities from Katy Perry to Sir Richard Branson, from Will Smith’s kids to media magnate Arianna Huffington. And by all signs that was just the beginning. 2015 is the year that will see mindfulness practice become embedded as a fundamental leadership trait in the boardrooms of the early adopters.

So why has this esoteric practice formerly reserved to monastic lifestyles suddenly entered our collective consciousness and infiltrated the hard and serious world of big business?

Enter science, Social Media and the GFC.

While for centuries meditation was exclusively the domain of spiritual practice, often in faraway temples atop misty mountains, and of purple-crystal-worshipping-new-age-hippies, it was not until the last decade that medical imaging technology, in particular MRI’s, has made it possible to study meditation in a controlled scientific context. While the likes of Jon-Kabat Zinn have been promoting the virtues of mindfulness to professionals before then, there was no fully validated evidence that any of this was more than anecdotal. But a series of recent published and ongoing studies conducted in the likes of Harvard University Medical School have not only validated and reinforced the anecdotes of the mystics, but revealed a raft of other remarkable and highly beneficial phenomena.

So far the science has revealed this:

  • Meditation practice turns down the “inner voice” in our mind (a function of our language centre) and reduces self talk, which is overwhelmingly imaginary stuff constructed out of fragments of past experience. Why is this good? Because while pre-emptying dangerous situations is an evolutionary important trait, it has “overstepped” its bounds in our technologically and socially advanced world. By reducing this mental chatter we become more aware of the true context of an experience. Information is not pre-filtered by our emotions, and as a result of this clarity we are able to make better decisions.
  • Meditation increases creativity. This means that as we are able to see problems with more clarity, we are also able to imagine a wider range of possible solutions.
  • Meditation reduces stress. This happens both directly as a result of chemical activity in the brain, but also on a meta level: as we are better able to comprehend, evaluate and engage with a situation, we are also less emotional and more in control, which in turn increases our confidence and unleashes all kind of positive metabolic responses. Which leads to the next point: Health.
  • Meditation makes you healthier. As we become less inclined to emotional responses to stimuli for food, alcohol, drugs and toxic behavioural traits, we are less likely to succumb to those. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation releases happy hormones in your body, which in turn invigorate your immune system making you less succeptible to illness, and more likely to recover quickly. Never mind the fact that feeling good will also benefit how you engage with others. And that brings us to the next benefit: Empathy.
  • Meditation increases your empathy and compassion. While this may sounds like a Buddhist quote, it is actually happens at a chemical neurological level. We become more connected to our sense of life and that of other beings. In simple terms it means you will have much better relationships with people because you will behave kindly towards them. You become more trustworthy and you will be more trustworthy.

While all this may once have sounded too good to be true, it is now understood on a neuro-scientific level to be true. And I have left our a lot, this iss really just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation re-wires and physically reshapes our brain for mindfulness, and physically alters not only how we perceive the world, but how we engage with it. It also alters (and improves) how our bodies function.

So far so good. So how does Social Media fit into the story?

Social media plays two key roles in the mindfulness revolution: The more obvious one is the dispersion of information. As twitter and other platforms shifted from text to images, tiles with happy quotes proliferated and got shared. The second one is curated feeds. Stuff that got shared got seen, the rest of the stuff disappeared from our collective consciousness. Two things got shared frequently: the happy quote and the videos of dramatic incidents (from rescues to beheadings, from extraordinary feats to epic fails). People’s lunch postings faded from view, making many social media channels less personal and more about entretainment. While many demographics have swarmed to new apps that look to overcome that, the general sense of loneliness, meaninglessness and alienation has hit hard across right the connected generations.

Add to this the GFC.

While the glitter of the virtual world of imaginary stardom faded (and still continues to fade) slowly, the discontent, distrust in “the system”, fear and sense of personal failure brought about by the global financial crisis that began in late 2008 was somewhat more sudden, less visible and far more personal. It affected people from all social strata, and continues to do so as its effects are slowly displaced by tectonic shifts in industry and the exponential increase in labour automation.

These three factors were catalysts that made it acceptable for the profound social discontent to become a public conversation.

The secret reality of the 90-plus hour work week and the stratospheric career ladders as being inwardly un-fulfilling is no longer a secret.

The overarching question has now shifted from “How can I get to the top of the career ladder” to “How can I get to the top of my personal fulfillment ladder?” (or in most cases – “Which one is my ladder?”)

Social media has aided the spread of this idea, combined with some timely “seeds” like books such as Tim Ferriss’ disruptively titled “4-hour Work Week”, more recently Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive” written following her sudden and personal crash from corporate life burnout, or one of the most read blogs in the world, Leo Babuta’s “Zen habits”. A plethora of “off-line” and “minimalist living” movements have spawned further legitimising the mindful lifestyle as the logical progression from a high consumption, high demand and high delusion life.

Most principles around mindfulness and meditation are simple. The “practice” in the form of meditation does the “hard rewiring” and makes the process of implementing constructive habits much easier, there is still an perception amongst business leaders and self-declared high performers that sitting still is bad for business, science has now joined the chorus and thoroughly validated the once esoteric claims of meditation and mindful living. Like all things, mindfulness and meditation takes practice and a willingness to learn a few new things.

The innovators have been mindful for a long time. Now the early adopters are jumping on board. There is no question that business leadership is facing a structural transformation. Coupled with the deep shifts underway in global work-culture, automation and mechanisation of tasks, leadership is becoming centered on meaning, on significance, on experience and on adherence to its altruistic foundational values. Mindful Leadership is not a fad, it is the next step in the evolution of leadership. Soon mindless leaders will become irrelevant, and eventually become extinct together with the business they once lead.

Mindfulness has been around for centuries, with the help of science and inevitable social tipping points is now becoming mainstream.

Mindfulness is hip.  But don’t mistake it for a fad.

The future of leadership is mindful, founded on bettering the human condition, including that of the leaders themselves.

Who killed “Time is Money?”

“Time is money.”

This declaration attributed to a letter written by Ben Franklin has become one of the philosophical foundations of our modern lifestyle, where the vast population willingly trades one for the other.

The quote however has been taken out of context.

The problem is this:
Money is a renewable resource. Time is not.

Today you have 24 hours. 1440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. Yes that looks like a big number, but its exactly the same number of seconds as everyone else. And at midnight tonight you will have spent everyone of those 86,400 seconds. You can’t save it, stash it, or store it away. You don’t get to choose when you use it, you only get to chose WHAT you use it for.
So for centuries we have been primed to do this strange trade deal where we use our time to service someone with something of greater value that the money we accept in return. We call it a business transaction, and it is expected of anyone in order earn money. It comes in a variety of different formats, but even passive money takes some form of work to set up.

But the time for money paradigm is under threat by its own extraordinary success: a century of rapid technological advances have materialised technologies that are accelerating exponentially making human workers in vast areas of industry obsolete.

So should you panic?

Not yet. I believe it is a good thing.

First of all, the very purpose of industrialisation was to free people from chores, and to create machines that would be at our service. Somehow we have lost focus on the way there and the whole process has become oddly distorted, but ultimately we are succeeding extraordinarily well in creating complex systems that can serve us, and they are only going to get better, more capable, more accessible and more successful.

But you are a human. Should you panic?

Right now the big panic is setting in at the level of global economists, as they begin to understand the dilemma. The writing is already on the wall (and has been for some time) that time can no longer be money.

In a very near future, time will no longer be money. At least not in the conventional way that we have grown up to understand it. The dilemma facing economists – and governments (if and when they wake up to the opportunity) is the decoupling of money from labour, and there are a range of possible an viable solutions already known. In the very near future we will see a transition from our current model to one where the mechanisms of national trade and revenue are underpinned by a largely automated industry – which is also entering a state of flux and profound transformation made possible by the internet of things, “intelligent” data, 3-d printing, microbots and lots of other cool stuff that was once sci-fi.

Should you panic?

No, no you should not panic. But I believe you need to begin thinking what it is that you really, really want to be doing.

Not just as an interest, but at the level of obsession, of passion. You no longer have the luxury of a half-fulfilled life, because almost certainly within your lifetime, and definitely in your kids lifetime, work will be a thing of the past, and a matter of choice, not money. As we are increasingly displaced from our “jobs” by automation – we will finally begin to reap the rewards of a century of rapid technological development. And that is a huge opportunity, but we need to begin to reawaken the dreamer within in order for us to continue our journey. In some places the process will hurt, but overall I believe that it will be a rapid transition, (“creative destruction” for those familiar with the concept) simply because once the death of time is money becomes an inescapable economic reality, it will force the hand of decision-makers to act fast.

Today you have what is left of your 86,400 seconds ahead of you. Some of that time you have already pre-committed. Some of that time will be devoted to biological demands of your body – eating, sleeping, reading FB posts on your smartphone while visiting the outhouse. The balance of that time is at your disposal. Take the batteries out of the TV remote, give a few of those precious seconds over to yourself, some quiet time to imagine stuff, and to reinvent your dreams.

Don’t panic. Dream.

Dream, and let those dreams become blueprints for the life you want.

Over the next few weeks my posts will be about dream and future stuff, the world the way I imagine it, things I expect to happen, things I expect to become possible. Mix those up with your own dreams. and you will discover and imagine new possibilities, and you will want to travel along that path towards them. and you will look forward to the day when you are no longer required at your “job”.

Please share this, and post your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear your views and ideas on this.

Stop impressing your boss (do this instead!)

For the larger part of the adult population, the single biggest share of time is spent almost exclusively in the company of work colleagues, clients, and bosses. And because of this idea that our relationship with them is pivotal to our life, these are the people who we are most likely to make efforts to impress, or at least, not get unnecessarily off-side. The majority of them are people who we have never deliberately sought to share time with, they come into our life as part of a career (and usually leave with it when we change direction). In many cases they may even people who we are in direct competition with, who perhaps may even be a threat, requiring us to be even more impressive.

The relevance or lack of relevance of these relationships has a profound effect on our lives, but even more so on the lives of the next generation. When they look at you do they see substance in your purpose, in your relationships and your actions?

It is easy to jump to answer this and say “Of course!” – but the perspective from which this must be answered is not our own, it is from theirs.

That changes everything.

One very current example is this: As parents we naturally expose kids at an early age to natural icons. Rhinos, Giraffes, Elephants, Gorillas, Polar Bears, Whales. Bees. There are adventures of journeys through untouched wilderness. For most kids in primary school now, these icons are becoming increasingly likely to be extinct when they become adults. And they know that. They also know that we are somehow responsible. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly the finger points squarely at us.

This is why it changes everything:

We have inadvertently sent a very clear warning to the next generation to not follow us, to ignore our advice. We have inadvertently sent a clear message to the next generation that we don’t really care what happens to them. We have created a role-model vacuum. We have created an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, of defeat before they even begin their race. We have created a toxic environment (real and figuratively) into which they have no choice but to walk into.

But we can also change everything.

While the role-model vacuum is being filled by escapes into digital worlds where battles can still be won and where heroes still exist (for better or worse) I believe we have a moral obligation to reclaim this space. It is simpler than you think, although it requires some work – possibly difficult work because it is mostly work within ourselves.

It is simply this: Begin to shift your focus away from trying to impress your colleagues, and towards impressing your kids, whatever their age. It does not mean that you take up extreme downhill cycling, or mask up at night to become a vigilante. Here are some suggestions that won’t put you in hospital or jail.

  • Do stuff that matters. Not just to them but also to you. By spending every “free” hour entranced by a TV with a drink in hand you are declaring that you have given up yourself. Failure and defeat does not inspire, it robs others of hope, it kills possibility.
  • Show the value of life by valuing yours, and everyone else’s that you come in contact with.
  • Show respect for the natural world that they are heirs to by treating it as if it was theirs.
  • Invest ethically, into ventures that are not in conflict with their inheritance.
  • Consider who you work for. Perhaps it is time to work in an industry that is not engaged in socially or ecologically destructive practice.
  • Be kind and compassionate, not just in their presence.

There is no measure to the respect that these simple things will earn you.
There is no measure to the outlook and hope you will give them.
There is no measure to how much greater your life will become as a result.
There is no measure of how great a change is possible when many people do simple little things that matter.

And that will change everything.

Can you get as good as you give?

Giving.
Compassion.
Generosity.

The list of words that describe this simple gesture pervades all kinds of teachings, from spiritual and religious to conscientious entrepreneurship to success stories and life habits of extraordinary people.

For most people this concept, even if not necessarily executed in daily life to its full potential, at the very least rings true, and is something that is unanimously understood to be central to good character.

But giving has another side, and it is one that most people are profoundly uncomfortable about – if not completely averse to.

That other side is getting. Receiving.

Sure, when we are grateful when we receive gifts and more formal offerings, but how comfortable are you really with receiving?

The problem is deeply ingrained in most cultures, where the receiver is often plunged into a deep sense of unworthiness, entitlement, guilt, even haunted by resentment and jelaousy from others. We are trained from an early age to feel bad about receiving. It is the barter of good behaviour, it is the currency of appreciation, or more sinisterly, the emotional burden of a debt that expects to be repaid.

But for humanity to function on a simple basis around the principles of giving, compassion and generosity, for each gesture carried out someone necessarily must be a willing and grateful recipient. And sometime we must be that recipient. In fact the more frequently we show generosity and compassion to others, the more we must be prepared to receive it in return.

By refusing someone’s offering, we also do these three things:

  •  We short-cut the entire process of generosity – we effectively neutralise the other persons right and joy of such kind gesture. If we are not receiving, they are unable to give.
  •  We show disrespect towards the giver: we inadvertedly tell them what a poor judge of our character they are, what a looser they are for considering us.
  • We declare ourselves unworthy recipients, and are unable to immerse ourselves fully in the joy of the offering. We can not possibly feel gratitude or respect towards the giver. We make it clear to all that we think as little of ourselves, as we do of the giver.

It also applies to how we conduct ourselves in business, this simple reluctance to be open to receiving has a terrible price: it naturally causes us to undervalue ourselves and what we offer.

Refusing an gift is not a gesture of humility, it is a sign of arrogance, ungratefulness, disrespect and insecurity. To make our world better we must teach oursleves and our kids to be great receivers as well as great givers. We need to teach, and practice receiving with deep gratitude, understanding fully the depth and significance of the offering, emapthising with the giver, and allowing ourselves to feel the true value of what has been offered. We need to teach that with that gratitude and willingness to accept, we are affirming the giver’s right to generosity and compassion.

Give, and get. Yin and Yang. When we are able to receive with reverence, gratitude and respect, we give something profoundly meaningful back to the giver, and allow the entire transaction to become whole. Without it, generosity too is stopped.

Be whole, be wholesome. Get as good as you give.

Who is Winning the Battle for Your Mind?

Mindfulness.

Like many others before it, it has become the new buzzword in success circles.
It’s use has progressively surged in the last 5 years, so much in fact that in the last six years it’s Google interest rating has constantly risen from 40 (out of 100) to 92!.
In 2013 it exploded onto the mass media with posts and articles in all major news channels, and celebrities and CEO’s all loudly proclaiming their newly dicovered joy of mindfulness.

Given that the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years (yes that’s not a mistake!), why is it suddenly becoming fashionable? And why should you care?

The first question is answered by two fairly recent changes in our global culture.

One, that more than ever we are seduced into mindlessness, which that is increasingly wreaking havoc with our lives. People are are hurting as a result, and are beginning to notice.
And two, that we have had a greater exposure to this concept through the very same channels that have fostered that mindlessness.
I am talking about our obsession with being “connected” via the web and social media, and our capacity to access information at a whim. We are inadvertently shifting our focus away from what is actually happening around us, while preoccupying ourselves with highly edited and pre-selected information that in reality is of no consequence to our life. We are more disconnected than ever before, and our experience of life is becoming drastically empoverished as a result.

And now, why should You care?

This will take more time to answer, and over the next three weeks I will address each of the following topics in detail, each building on the one before. These are:
  • What mindfulness IS, and what it IS NOT: how to spot a fake.
  • What actually happens in the mindful brain – and why it matters more than you think!
  • How to win the battle for mindfulness: simple practices that will make your every day more awesome.
My goal with these is not to transform you into a remote cave-dwelling enlightend nun or monk in perpetual meditation, but to help you experience a refreshed and deeply satisfying engagement in your life that you have most likely not felt for a long time, or in most cases never before.
Enjoy, and please share if you found this valuable. I look forward to some great conversations in four weeks…
Have a wonderful day.