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.

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.

3 Ways Power Suppliers are self-destructing.

You open the familiarly branded envelope and uneasily extract the notice. You already know it will be bad news: It is a power bill.
You look at the amount, and feel a knot in your throat. Immediately you think of some scheduled purchases that you had planned for this month, and that you may now have to tell your partner that perhaps those must wait another month…

For some this may already sound familiar. For some it may become a familiar scene when the predicted 20% increase in electricity prices becomes real in a few months!

Rising electricity prices are a blessing in disguise. They cause three important things to happen, three forces that are fatal for the power retailers.

1. They raise the error margin for disruptive innovators. In simple terms they will not have to try so hard to be competitive. They can afford to be more expensive than even the current alternative, and still be in the race. This exponentially increases the chances of a disruptive innovation (or several) entering the market. Marginal ideas suddenly become commercially viable.

2. They create a massive pool of customers for these innovations and new products. Some people will simply not be able to afford to buy from the conventional suppliers, some will simply look for better options because those have become available.

3. The power retailers will be unable to respond fast enough. The higher prices will invariably be linked with quarterly and annual profitability obligations. Those figures will be eroded simultaneously by both the loss of market-share and by the probable need to lower prices.

What will these disruptive ideas look like? What happens to the grid? The imagination is the limit, and over the next few blogs I will explore some of these ideas.

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Who are you influencing?

What are you doing?

I mean that seriously, what are you doing? What is your influence, your cause?

So what is my point?  – First, some context:

The “forces” that are the most powerful influences on the future of our planetary ecological integrity are driven not by corporations, but by people. People who have forged a capacity to make and influence such decisions. They may deliver those decisions through corporate or political channels. But ultimately a person or group of people, driven by a conviction, and agenda and a value system, make a decision.

This authority to influence was established in the course of their lives.

The point is, we all have this capacity. We can move the same magnitude of ideas and of values in the direction of our conviction, of our agenda. And we have been given the same uncertain lifespan to do so. We influence daily. The  question is, are we nurturing the influences that we desire, or are we allowing ourselves to be swept along to another current, unwittingly donating our small part towards its strength and power? We find ourselves contemplating a very real possibility of a horrific future for us, but even more so for our children, heralded by the announcement of 400ppm of atmospheric CO2 this week.  The number may be academic, but its meaning is far from it.  The plain truth is that we have chosen to support the influence of people whose views we may never have agreed with in the first place.  We do so when we purchase products that come branded with an indelible stamp of collateral damage, in a faraway country.  We do so when we fail to build the visions that are in line with what we believe in in quiet moments alone. We do so when we consent to propositions because challenging them may cause us inconvenience, or cost us a friendship, or possibly a job.

 
We have the permission, in fact we have an obligation, to excercise this influence.
Now that you know, it is in your awareness, you can not afford to ignore your capacity, nor give it away with a clean conscience. The price is too high. This is your problem too.
Align yourself with people who believe what you believe.
Buy from them, work for them or with them, make them your clients, your customers, your allies.
Your voice, your influence will be multiplied.And one day, ten or so years from now, when your children ask what you did, you can proudly tell them that you did everything you could. 

And it made all the difference.

Why you should not care about the climate change debate.

As we pass the very unsettling milestone 400ppm of atmospheric CO2, more than ever the climate denialists are turning up the heat of their campaign. A completely irrelevant campaign. After all, that is not really the issue.

Sure, to argue that CO2 is not a problem is in essence saying that it is acceptable, necessary – and in fact unavoidable – to pollute, to squander non-renewable resources for short term gains, and deplete all our planetary ecosystems for our economy and business to prosper. An we don’t need to be scientists to understand how unethical and morally corrupt this point of view is.

The real issue is not climate change.

Climate change – whether it is happening or not, and whether you believe it is man made or not, – is simply a symptom. And it is only one of many.

The real issue is that we can not continue doing business as usual: we need a healthy ecosystem for our economy to exist, and for us as a species to exist. So besides the obvious ethical and moral hypocrisy embedded in pro-pollution arguments, we know that fossil fuels are a temporary source of energy and will – by choice or by force of nature – be phased out within our lifetimes. We know that waste and consumerism are phenomena with a limited lifespan, and will also change.

So ultimately, 400ppm or not, our current business and industry models are wrong, and by choice or by force they will undergo profound change within our lifetimes. To argue against this is as clever as the guy in that famous cartoon sawing the branch off on which he is sitting…

How to change the future in 15 seconds.

Yes, you read right. 15 seconds and a few mouse clicks. Here is how:

Last week one of the most respected advocates for change in human activity posted a wonderfully optimistic article. You can read it here http://paulgilding.com/cockatoo-chronicles/victoryathand.html. So my suggestion is  you can share it!

That is it!

There are a few other goodies that I believe are must-reads – like Bill Mckibbens Rolling Stone article from last year http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719.

I think it is slowly beginning to sink in across all industries that nobody can afford the damage-bill of continuing the proliferation and use of fossil fuels. Even the ones that we call “clean” – but that is stuff for another blog.

No country is wealthy enough, no economy is powerful enough to challenge the laws of physics. And slowly but surely large investors, governments and insurers are backing away from anything to do with the now termed “unburnable” carbon. Lets encourage them further, and in doing so you will be helping the emerging industries and truly sustainable efforts to accelerate in their innovation, implementation and deployment. This will inevitably create an industry greater – and very different – to the one it replaces. And that is good for us all.

So go ahead, help your economy prosper, change the game, read and share.

What was Your Doha Climate-Talk Wish?

So another round of Climate Change Talks is over, and its back to business as usual.

In fact, so usual that the appalling failure to come up with anything at Doha ended up being barely commented on by the news media, more a footnote than a headline. No bigger headline than Durban, Cancun or Copenhagen.

There is a frightening side plot possibility to this, and it is not the melting permafrost.

It is the melting confidence in global governance, be it through its political title or corporate position. History informs us that this invariably leads to mutiny, and that is not a desirable outcome.  At a time when we are about to face our most serious global challenges in history, we can not afford weak leadership.

So what is required?  What is possible? What could have been the outcome instead?

The action list is too long to discuss here, but a few things are so obvious they need no further explanation. One of these is the use of fossil resources as fuels.

Doha could have delivered a framework to phase these out with simple strategies.

Here is my suggestion: Start with the subsidies.

In 2012 the total (global) subsidies supporting fossil fuels were over 5 times those allocated for clean energy. Now imagine a simple rollback over 5 years that could reverse this ratio. Not only would it remove a grossly distorted financial model that makes fossil fuels falsely affordable, it also removes the crippling market disadvantage faced by clean energy right now.

Then next year another problem could be addressed. Over 5 years we could set up a series of tipping points that instead of leaving us rolling backwards (Think about this: fossil fuels is legacy technology from the late 1800’s! ), build upon one-another and steer us forward towards ecological balance, and away from our current trajectory towards ecological collapse.

I’d like to invite you to leave a comment, sharing your future-building thoughts and ideas. What would you have liked to see as an outcome from the Doha Climate Talks?

We need a Hero!

As the 2012 Doha Climate Change Conference nears its end (and it looks like it will boast the same results that have plagued every previous climate summit), one thing is becoming increasingly evident:

The people and organisations who have the resources to drive the necessary changes are not going to do it. Not this time, and probably not the next time either. Most likely not any time until they are under severe duress, or simply when their authority and influence ceases to be relevant.

As a parent I am worried where things are heading. How will my kids will live when they reach my age?.

The outlook is not good.

Lets face it, the same process of analysis, comparison and probability that we generally refer to as science has provided a reliable foundation of knowledge that makes it possible for you to read this post.
It enabled us to build Lamborghini’s, space shuttles and hearing aids.
It enabled us to create iphones, implant artificial hearts, and extract drinking water from the air. There are a thousand and one things within your arms reach right now that were only possible because someone somewhere observed, tested and proposed a “most likely result”. If science was not reliable none of that would be there.

So when science advises that by pumping pollutants into the atmosphere we will most likely bake ourselves (and everything around us), its worth taking that advice as seriously as someone saying “Stepping over that cliff will cause gravity to continue doing what it normally does”. Unless you happen to be Clark Kent, you cant afford to ignore the advice.

So then, what next?

Continue reading “We need a Hero!”

The Way of the Wheelie-Bin

Every week a waste contractor drives by my house and collects the contents of a 240 litre garbage bin. Every other week it also collects the contents of a second 240 litre bin, filled with what we loosely term “recyclables”.  More about that another day.  For now let’s just explore the first 240 litre weekly bin.

To begin with, absolutely everything that I have used to fill that bin is stuff I have paid for. And I am also paying someone to take it “away”.

Ok, it seems obvious, but why is this significant?

Continue reading “The Way of the Wheelie-Bin”