Time to… Design Tiny

Ever since I was a child, I always thought that I would design and build my own house. Well, the time has come. Unexpected changes in our circumstances have meant that Mary-Ann and I are without a home, without fixed-employment, and not really tied to any location. Reluctant to settle into a 9-to-5 / rental existence, and keen to look for new horizons, we are contemplating experimenting with a semi-nomadic lifestyle. We know though that having a small place of our own would be desirable.

With very little capital, low mortgage-worthiness, and no land, our options are severely constrained. But this has not stopped us dreaming and researching. We have never been very materialistic and are attracted by simple, small and soulful designs, and this has led us to the world of tiny houses. Could we design and build our own on a shoestring? As we are between two chapters of our lives, we do not yet know where our search for community and meaningful occupation will take us. What is clear is that our future is unpredictable and will require flexibility.

A tiny house on wheels is what we need. With no mortgage or rent, it would allow us to be more mobile, join like-minded people and open up opportunities. Such a home would offer us more freedom. Living simply would free us to pursue our life passions and focus on what matters most for ‘planet and people’. Living in a tiny home requires less energy, limits the accumulation of materialistic items and brings awareness to responsible environmental sourcing. All in all, it lowers one’s ecological footprint.

Designing and building our own tiny home would be an opportunity to promote more modest and environmentally responsible lifestyles. Barely ten-years-old, the tiny house movement is still in its infancy, and it would seem that it is not as developed in Europe as it is in the United States. Given that I have a background in architecture and sustainability, we could create a low-impact ecological design worth sharing. In fact, we are seriously considering documenting the design and building process to communicate the lessons we learn and benefit others who are ready to take the plunge.

The time for designing our tiny house is now. Even though we do not know what our next move is going to be, nothing is stopping us from getting more familiar with the world of tiny houses and take the tiny step of starting.

Photo by Daniel McCullough

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Reminiscing The Green Dream

As a person, I tend to be forward-looking and recognise the importance of the present moment, rarely do I travel down memory lane. Three days ago, Facebook presented me with an “on this day” memory of a selfie taken in Bangkok five years ago. Here we were, my younger son and I, in an offbeat internet cafe on our way back from our year in Bali. Sending news to family and friends, without Chinese visas, and not knowing if we were going to be able to travel back home overland.

This brought back a lot of feelings! Instead of moving on, I decided to dive back into the mental archives of what may have been one of the happiest chapters of my life.

For those who may not already know, Yoel and I crowd-funded and realised a shared dream to go from Britain to Bali and back without flying, and spend a year at Green School. This ‘home-school’, or should I say ‘world-school ‘ project, we referred to as Weaving the Green Dream.

Since I am currently between two chapters, so to speak, I spent a few hours reminiscing the cherished memories of the trip and the special moments spent in that remarkable school in Bali. One thing led to another, and I remembered that a French film crew had interviewed us as part of a documentary they made on Green School. The makers had never sent us the footage as promised. Some of my french friends and family had mentioned that they had seen us on TV. Four years ago, while in Paris, I managed to watch a replay, but could not get hold of a copy. A friend even transferred the large file by email, but by the time I got round to downloading it, the link had expired. Well today, after five years I managed to get hold of it, and here it is, in full:

Note: The documentary is in French, and the link starts with our story 20-mins into the video. You are, of course, welcome to watch the whole programme, which is only 26-mins and gives a good impression of what Green School was like in 2015.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Dr. Seuss

To finish with, why not listen to Michael Franti’s “The Sound Of Sunshine”, (whom we had the pleasure to see live on Campus). The song is featured at the end of Yoel’s little film: 100 Day Journey

Once again thank you Yoel for being such an excellent travel companion, and a keen student of life – world school with you was quite a ride!

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Could It Be That Simple?

Three days have elapsed, and I went to bed when I was tired without much fuss or friction. Why did I ever make a problem out of going to bed? Could the tentative experience of observing what was going on in mind when I was on the point to go to bed have worked so readily?

It is, of course too early to say, but let me share two patterns I have observed. The primary one is that before going to bed, I have a strong feeling that something is missing and I have a strong draw to seek the comfort of social interaction. Probably related, the second pattern is that I am attracted to the dopamine boosts provided by the virtual world of social networks or online entertainment. Lastly, there is the feeling that I have not managed to do enough during the day and that I would feel much better if I could cross an extra item from my to-do list.

On Friday, my partner wanted to watch a drama episode of a series that we have started following – something we enjoy doing together. Even though I had not moved much during the day, I was already tired and was apprehensive that it might stimulate me and give me a second wind. I know that sometimes watching a film or TV programme before going to bed switches my thinking on! But I decided to go with it and remained curious to see what would happen if I was more conscious about the process. Once the show was over, I took a cold shower and did not think about the show I had just seen. I went to bed at around ten o’clock but tossed for a little while. After resisting the urge to get up, I somehow found a balance between observing what was happening in my head and letting go of the day.

On Saturday, something similar happened. I had a conference call which I was committed to attending. Because of different time zones, the call went on until quarter past ten, and I was anxious that it would interfere with my experiment. I relaxed into the call and stayed tune to my body – I could have left the call before the end, but chose to finish with everyone else. Once the meeting was over, I went to bed pretty much straight away – without taking a cold shower this time. I fell asleep quite soon after hitting the pillow.

Was it just luck? The critical step has been to ignore the draw for mind stimulation, to listen instead to my body and to retire quite quickly when I felt ripe for bed. Not sure if I have gained new insights about how my mind works – but I may have dislodged a problem I had built over many years about not going to bed when I was tired.

This series of posts are part of Incrementally– a 366-day writing challenge.

Photo by Cris Saur

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Three Days to Drop A Habit


Ok, I am giving myself three days to drop a simple habit.

Why three days, you may ask? Well, because it is a piece of homework I was given when I was fourteen and I never really acted upon it. The teacher in question was J. Krishnamurti.

When I was a student at Brockwood Park in the eighties, we would meet with him quite regularly in September, February, and June, and on one of these occasions, he set us some homework! That day, he was speaking about habits and suggested that we could understand how minds work by actively dropping a habit.

It did not matter what habit we chose to drop; the important thing was to observe the workings of the mind seriously. What was most surprising is that he specifically mentioned that one could lose a habit in three days. This was unusual for him, as he rarely ever gave specific advice.

It was a long time ago and, if I remember correctly, he instructed us that the first day we needed to carefully observe the habit without any interference. The second day, we needed to observe what would happen if we stopped performing the habit and notice the movements of thought, the sensations in the body, the resistance, etc. On the third day, we could let go of it entirely and wave it goodbye.

I could not really come up with a habit at the time, and it seemed a little magical, so I ignored the exercise and never really gave it a go. 

Today, some thirty-four years later, I decided to act upon it and give myself three days to drop one habit. The habit I chose to work on is NOT GOING TO BED WHEN I FEEL TIRED. It is a habit I have been struggling with since I was a child. I have tried so many things to encourage myself to go to bed early over the years that I have nearly given up on it. Yet, I have nothing to lose and intend to focus on it diligently for the next few days and use this writing challenge to write a little about the process in the next three days.

Finally, it would be nice if you could join me with the challenge or attempt to drop a habit or your own – in three days!

This series of posts are part of Incrementally– a 366-day writing challenge.

Photo by Darius Bashar

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Nothing’s New

Yesterday, I had a really bad day – everything felt stuck. Whatever I did seemed both mechanical and self-conscious. The critical voice was extra active. To the conditioned mind, nothing is really ever new, as every perception is filtered through the memory centre which in turn triggers thoughts – old chewed up patterns. Whatever we are presented with is judged and reacted to from past recordings. When one becomes aware of it, this is quite disturbing. It is like a form of generalized tinnitus. 

Yesterday, everything felt like Groundhog Day. There was no freshness, no desire to do anything as it seemed like drudgery. Nothing new really! There were memories of being like this before, yet it was mixed with thousands of memories of me feeling well and vibrant.  I did not know how to get back to my usual self. By the end of the day, my son suggested we put some order in the house together – it needed to be done – but he also knows how physical disorder really affect me when I am irritated. I went along with it trying not to contaminate other people’s moods and went to bed rather deflated.

Today in contrast almost everything seems beautiful and calm. There is more order in the house, but more importantly there seems to be more silence in the head. In reality, everything is in constant flux, changing and different, and yes the mind is active but it does not need to take over. So long as we use our mechanical auto-pilot mind nothing is going to be perceived as new.

So how does one approach the ever-changing reality with fresh eyes, ears and aware senses? God knows? How about my nose!

This is something that I have been more in touch with since practising meditation. It is possible to be aware of the air gently passing through the nostrils while meeting the complex world of inner and outer stimulus with a beginners mind.

This series of posts are part of Incrementally – a 366 day writing challenge.

PS- When proof reading this post, I was reminded of a similar post I wrote few years ago. The title says it all:
The Same Yet Not the Same

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Mind The Gap

The gap we should all mind is the gap that’s in the mind. We can imagine intricate things, use beautiful words, commit to ambitious goals and have mighty plans to transform the world, but what really matters is who we are at the core and what we actually end up doing. Our behaviors and actions say so much more than the ideals we project and cling to so dearly.

In the material world, in the field of design for example, imagining a potential solution that does not exist, is beneficial. But this ability of our mind to dream up something that does not exist is often misused in other area of our lives. It is especially problematic in the psychological realm and in relationships. There is nothing wrong with our faculty to picture an alternative reality, the problem is that we often get it confused with the actual and the factual.

Planning, goal setting, promising, pretending, plays an important role in shaping our existence, but it is also the source of much friction. Ideation intrinsically creates conflict; A conflict between reality and the imaginary. By constantly wanting to be and do something else from what we do and how we show up in the world, we instill a chronic dissatisfaction. We end up being neither here nor there. The danger is that we may spend so much of our time in the virtual that we stop understanding what is in front of us – the real.

This series of posts are part of Incrementally – a 366 day writing challenge.

Photo by Suad Kamardeen

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Making ‘Being’ a Priority

Wanting to do it all – is magical thinking. If one has a tendency to not only being greedy with experiencing life (and all it has to offer) but also valuing doing things for others and for oneself, it is quite clear that there are not enough hours in a day to do everything one would want to do.
We have heard it: we need to prioritize.
But prioritizing is so hard when one is up to one’s neck with projects, commitments and an overflowing To Do list – not to mention all the tempting distractions of the digital age.
Choosing to do less may well be the only way out.
One approach of thinking about managing our time is to liking it to tidying a room. The more stuff we have the harder it is to keep on top of it. So the first step is to reduce clutter quite radically. The second is to find a place for the things we really want to keep and to keep them in their place. Thirdly, we need the discipline to stop acquiring more stuff – and when we do adopt new items – we need to get rid of old ones. Lastly, and quite importantly, we need to have empty space to move around (and simply breathe).
Put simply: less stuff creates more space.
and ‘doing less’ allows for ‘being more’
Is it time we made ‘being’ a priority?

This series of posts are part of Incrementally – a 366 day writing challenge.

Photo by Damir Bosnjak 

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Anxious and Excited

Being calm is by far the best. Yet, our biology cannot simply switch to being calm if we are stressed or under pressure. So if we find ourselves in a situation where we are anxious, the road to recovery may go through excitement.
Apparently, excitement and anxiety are very similar. When people freefall for the first time, they experience very similar symptoms: the body is agitated, heart rate increases, throat constricts, muscle tense, dilated pupils, hands are sweaty, etc… The only difference is the fear they experience. While one group imagine how wonderful the outcome will be, the other imagine things going wrong. Their level of worry is different. While it is healthy to imagine things potentially going wrong to take precautionary steps, it is equally important to imagining how wonderful things might go, to deal with an up coming challenge. A certain cocktails of chemicals have been produced in our body to respond to the perceived threat – our fight or flight mechanism has already been set in motion and may take minutes to clear our system. Trying to adopt a meditative state at this stage may be counter-productive. Instead, it may be helpful to remember that not all stress is bad, and that it can help us perform better in situations where we are under pressure to do well. The difference is that when we are anxious we imagine a terrible outcome, whereas when we are excited we imagine a positive one.
When anxiety hits us, it is usually very effective to think up of an action we can take that may help reduce the perceived threat and turn our apprehension into an healthy excitement – and follow this by some form of movements. Going for a brisk walk, or skipping in the corridor for few minutes may well play the trick in helping us recover our calm. Finally, breathing through our nose and lengthening our exhale will make us more breathful and aware.
Exciting?

This series of short posts are part of Incrementally – a 366 day writing challenge.

Photo by Filipe Dos Santos Mendes

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Face That Pain

There are so many things we avoid so as not to feel psychological pain, yet would we really feel pain if we simply faced them? We have been embarrassed or shamed doing a certain activity and will have strong resistance to go back to it. Yet, in the majority of cases going back to these situations would not result in new pain.
We approach the fears of being psychologically hurt in the same way we would deal with physical hurt. Imagine, for example, we touched an electric fence in a field and received a shock – now we associate that fence with the past pain and will not touch it again. It is clear why one would act on the memory of past pain. But in the long run, it may severely limit our future movement. 
Seemingly, we do the same thing in the psychological field. An activity or someone has hurt our feelings in the past and we avoid them, and may remain with that stance without really testing it. It becomes a sort of precautionary principle – avoid that person, avoid that situation.  
Now, what if someone we trusted switched off the fence, would we touch the cable again? In most cases, we avoid a pain that does not really exist, for when we face it without the weight of the past, without the crease of the remembered pain, nothing really happens. All too often we avoid looking deeper and really re-assess the situation with greater attention. The thing that we feared was pain but that pain is memory and can’t really be felt in the present moment. Be that trusted friend and switch off the power to those limiting past pains that, with renewed attention and care can be faced now without pain.
(6 mins)

This series of short posts are part of Incrementally – a 366 day writing challenge.

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