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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To Do and Not To Do

We all have to-do-lists.
Some of us may prefer not to bother writing them down and keep them in our heads. Others may have simple lists of tasks and commitments, jotting them down on paper or electronically so as not to forget. Others still, may have more elaborate systems with priorities and calendar functions with reminders. Lastly, there are those of us who use robust time-management tools and techniques, to not only stay on top of our to-dos but also to balance our life-work responsibilities and help us focus on short, medium, and long term goals. This is all very fine, but how much do our to-do-lists define our lives? And will we ever feel fulfilled by this seemingly never ending conveyor belt of activities?

Getting things done can be quite addictive as it gives us a sense of purpose, engages our problem solving minds and feels rewarding when we become better and better at juggling and keeping up with it all. The problem lies in that we may neglect its equally important polar opposite: not doing.

Doing nothing may sound boring or even unpleasant, yet I would like to argue here that it is not only necessary for our health and wellbeing but it may actually also be highly fulfilling. Whereas ‘doing’ deals with the measurable, ‘being’ dwells in the immeasurable.

There is an art of being idle, to take the time to enjoy the simple act of breathing, to contemplate the beauty of life and to adopt a child-like carefree alertness. These ‘acts of being’ are not reserved to the poets, philosophers and religious people – they are accessible to everyone.

With practice, we quickly recognise how good it feels to give ourselves a few moments of peace each day. Once we are able to put on hold all the things we have to do, even momentarily, we may touch a sense of freedom that we use to experience as children.

There is nothing wrong with the “to-do”s so long as they leave enough space for the “to-be”s


Photo by Kai D.

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Begin Fearlessly

Can one have commitment and freedom at the same time?
This is what I am going to explore during the next six weeks.

On one hand, I am committing to complete two specific challenges. On the other, I want to investigate the more subtle relationship between doing and being. In other words, I am going to focus on the quality of the journey with a playful, fearless, carefree approach while keeping an eye on the final destination.

The first challenge I have set myself is to finish developing – an 8-week course in Yoga, breath work & health awareness that I am planning to run in the New Year. The second,  is to write a short blog post everyday  to document the learning that comes from consciously exploring fearlessness while moving out of my comfort zone.

Now that I have set this intention, the aim is to enjoy the process form moment to moment regardless of what comes my way. Today is a little special in that it is the very beginning and things have the quality of an exciting engagement – everything seems new and there is clarity. Showing up everyday without judgement is possibly the surest way to make progress, but above all it is essential: to begin.

Let me finish with a quote which is widely misattributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe but is in fact extracted from W. H. Murray’s book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951) [4]

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

(The “couplet” referred to here is from an extremely loose translation of Goethe’s Faust lines 214-30 made by John Anster in 1835)[5]

Learning about fearlessness, commitment and freedom is what seems to matter most to me now. Therefore, I am beginning the process of facing it head-on with a playful and effortless attitude.


Photo: Matt Duncan

PS: I invite you to do the same, find out what currently matters most to you and begin playfully and fearlessly to do something about it.

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Write the Change

Writing can be transformative. The core intention of writing on Breangelo.net is to explore what helps us “Breathe the change we want to see in the world”.

This blog started two and a half years ago with a seven-week writing challenge and, after a few months of regular posting, it petered out. Writing came to a stand still after a powerful ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat in  December 2016. It is not often that one gets radical insights and sometimes these can be derailing. Two year later, after an enriching fallow stretch, where I have been mostly writing by hand in diaries, there is a wish to share some of these insights on this pratform. Three themes thread them together:

  • everything is in constant flux,
  • important changes have to come from within before they can manifest externally
  • and thought is at the core of almost everything we struggle with.

Writing is a special mirror that can uncover our understanding and help us grow. Stay tuned if, like me, you are interested in discovering more meaningful ways to challenge yourself and contribute to making our earth great again.

This quote by the 13th-century poet, Rumi, particularly resonates with the current phase of enquiry :

“Yesterday I was clever,
so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The intention is there, now let us write the change…

Breathfully yours,



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The Habit of Thought

habit-of-thoughtMost people believe that there are good and bad habits. In the last few years, I have been focusing on getting rid of bad habits and establishing ‘healthy’ ones. I have also been interested in awareness, mindfulness, and presence. Habits tend to make us mechanical, and one wonders if there is such a thing as a good habit?

At times, I wish that I had a distinct habit such as smoking or biting my nails – clearly noticeable by others and obvious – so that I could work at understanding the mechanism and attempt dropping it. Unfortunately, it would seem that I am not addicted to any substances such as coffee, tea, alcohol or even sugar. I am not claiming to be free of habits, but I would like to identify a conspicuous habit that I could focus on and tackle.

Some years back, my eldest son observed that I always seemed to start talking as soon as there was a silence. I have to admit that I am very talkative – even verging on being a compulsive talker and I wonder if that would be the right candidate?

Interestingly, I am about to embark on an experiment that is the perfect opportunity to tackle it head-on. I am on my way to Nashik in Western India where I will go on a 10-Day Vipassana Meditation retreat. It is the first time that I will be quiet for longer than a few hours! It will undoubtedly challenge my talking habit.

The real intention of the retreat, though is to go into a more deep-seated habit still: the habit of thought. Could it be the habit that ends them all?

Photo credit: Vincentiu Solomon

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zen, not Zen

Piping Plover chick - Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

To stop burying my head in the sand, to stand on my own two feet and to be consciously vulnerable. To be alert, listening and watching without thoughts. To breathe the change, mostly in silence. Such is my intention now.

Almost two years ago, I started a blog called ZenPlan. It was not about Zen Buddhism nor was it about planning. I combined the two words and chose that name to create a tension and to encapsulate what I was most interested in at the time.  Namely, being present, direct perception, intention, focus and spending my time wisely.

The main influence for starting writing a blog was an article by Leo Babauta entitled “Why You Should Write Daily”. I later came to appreciate his simple style and decided to emulate some of his writing. In many ways, Leo Babauta encourages people to use his ideas and he is a great believer in the concept of ‘uncopyright‘. Like him, I am also interested by some of the insights of Zen Buddhism but prefer not writing about religious teachings or meditation techniques. We all have many influences and it is valuable to acknowledge them, yet it is equally important to learn to find one’s voice and to communicate authentically. Is it possible to write freshly about old questions, about something someone else has already chewed on? Language, thoughts, ideas all come from the past but can take a life of their own once they are breathed upon with an alert mind. I also like paradoxes, for they can destabilise our reasoning. They can provoke a temporary blank. This is what I mean by zen, not Zen.

Last May, when I launched this present blog, as well as writing new material, I decided to rewrite almost all the old entries from the ZenPlan blog. It was interesting to revisit the posts that I wrote when I was in Bali. It was like reading letters from an old friend and to my surprise I found them stimulating and happy to share them again.

I am now ready to let go of Leo Babauta’s influence and of zen for that matter. My current enquiry is concerned with freeing the mind from thought and focusing on attention. Nonchalantly,  I could call it Thoughtless, not thoughtless!


Photo: Ray Hennessy


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Walking the talk

Walk the talk

Accept people as they are. Don’t try to change them. You may not agree with their actions or inactions, but you probably have been there yourself too. People don’t like to be forced to change. The best thing to do is to adopt the change yourself – to lead by example – and then maybe they will listen to you. This is the advice that has been given to me by many of my mentors over the years, and I am slowly putting it into practice.

Last year in Bali, I did not walk the talk but mostly cycled the talk! During the ten months we were there, both my son and I made the commitment not to use motor vehicles. We made few exceptions when the family were around at Christmas and have accepted lifts every now and again, but on the whole we were on our bicycles everyday and everywhere we went. It was not always easy, but we had a lot of beautiful moments enjoying the rural beauty around Green School, Ubud, and the Canggu area. Countless people have waved and smiled at us, and I have been approached by individuals in the community who wanted to cycle more.

Undeniably, I feel very strongly about the devastating consequences of motor vehicles everywhere – especially private cars. They create pollution both visible and invisible. They are dangerous and responsible for a large proportion of all accidents. They are very energy hungry, not only regarding fuel consumption but in the embodied energy of producing them and maintaining them and most importantly in the infrastructure they require. Roads disfigure the landscape and kill wildlife. Cars take a lot of space and create sprawl, damaging the social fabric of communities – both urban and rural. They are noisy and expensive and are responsible for much of the illnesses due to lack of exercise. People the world over have stopped walking, cycling, carting and carrying weight.

Cycling the talk is of course only an example, and although I would encourage anyone to try it for themselves, I would prefer that you take away from this blog post the principle of acting on something you feel strong about and then talking or writing about it.

When we have a belief or when we know something is wrong, we are tempted to spread the message and to want to change people. As Gandhi is often quoted to have said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is by far the most important place to start; the first step is powerful. Then, and only then,  we can consider sharing our experience, our understanding, and our wisdom.

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Accepting rubbish

accepting rubbish

Having understood that wishing things were different from what they are, creates conflict, I am exploring the art of acceptance. Accepting does not stop me from dreaming, working towards changing my habits and improving the world around me. On the contrary, realising that battling with ‘what is’ is a waste of energy – especially when it is entirely outside of my control – can free me to focus on right actions. So what happens when I face rubbish?

Last year, my son and I lived in Bali for ten months, but mostly stayed away from the tourist areas of the south. On a windy January day, our friends took us to the main beach in Kuta on the South West shore of the island. It was a particularly bad day for business. The ocean was spurting plastic waste onto the white sand. It might have been to do with the currents or the tide, but with every wave more disposable cups, plastic bags, flip flops, shampoo bottles and the like kept on being pushed up the beach. There were three bulldozers piling the waste into temporary pyramids, not to mention teams of local Balinese people raking the unwanted sea offerings into large baskets. I had been warned, but it is always different when you see it first hand and catch a whiff of sewage malodour.

My first reflex was to find the whole thing unacceptable. How can people allow this to happen? Surely there must be something the government can do. Why don’t the rich nations provide money and resources to solve this problem at the source instead of spending so much money on weapons? Just like a football spectator commenting on the game, I imagined all sorts of ‘if only’ scenarios. The truth of the matter was that other than joining in with a rake there was little I could do there and then but accept the situation. There was no point in me being tense and angry.

We are taught that accepting is a sign of weakness and that adversity will give us the motivation to act. We may believe in ‘Zero tolerance’, ‘War on Waste’, and “campaigns against” to make things right. However, this may bring more conflicts, more confusion. We want peace, and we are ready to battle. We may start to invent sides, the wrong people that litter and the good people that recycle. I am not an advocate for inaction; I am questioning the act of reacting.

Instead, I am suggesting that right action may start with accepting ‘what is’ and from understanding the facts before we jump to some conclusions. It does not mean that we are going to ignore or give up on the issues. In looking closer, we may come to understand that we are responsible for some of that waste and that consumption, convenience and greed is the source of it all. Accepting does not mean that we agree with it.

There is a difference between accepting in a fatalistic way and accepting in a compassionate way. Moving from resignation to compassion forms the basis of the art of acceptance. Once we feel compassionate with an issue, we feel more connected with it and in a better position to do something about it. To start with, we may make small steps – learn what is possible – and then we may progress to making bigger steps. There is a large number of things we can do.

During our fourteen months abroad, I always carried with me a reusable bottle, a glass straw and some canvas bags. I even have a label inside my wallet with the question: “do I really need this?” I have recycled every bit of refuse that we could, I have cleared our lane of rubbish few times, and I encouraged everyone that came to the Green School Tours to do the same. Green School invites everyone in the community to sort and bring their rubbish and unwanted belongings to Kembali (the school’s recycling centre) for reuse, recycling and responsible disposal. Finally, I would encourage you to support an initiative started by two Green School students to rid Bali of single-use plastic bags by watching their TED talk, by signing their petition and by spreading the “Bye Bye Plastic Bag” message. The campaign is actively involved in understanding the underlying issues and in finding coordinated solutions.

Most of us do not want to have anything to do with rubbish, and this is why it is such a problem. Accepting it and understanding that it has as much to do with us as with anybody else is a good place to start. Not making a conflict of it, is also an imperative if we want to do something about it.


One sentence journal – day 17:
“I am picking my son from Sheffield University and will sleep on the floor of his dorm floor for his last night on campus; there is a lot of partying and rubbish is overflowing from all bins.”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Loic Lopez

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Rock your time

Get rocking

Have you ever noticed how some people manage to pack so much into their lives? Not only do they deal with the pressures of modern life –  efficiently, but they also get the important projects accomplished and have the time to look after themselves and their families. Unconsciously or knowingly, they probably have mastered a simple strategy which I like to call “time-rocking.” Today, while reading Sháá Wasmund‘s latest book, I was reminded of one my favourite time-management metaphor – the jar. Although it is best demonstrated with props, the following story summarises it well:

A Tibetan Lama was speaking to a group of monks and to make a point, pulled out a large jar, set it on a table in front of him, produced a few fist-sized rocks, and placed them, one by one, into the jar.

When no more rocks would fit inside, he asked: “Is the jar full?” Everyone said: “Yes.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel, dumped some in and shook the jar, the gravel worked between the rocks. Again he asked: “Is this jar full?” The monks were catching on . “Probably not,” one answered.

“Good!” he replied and reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He dumped the sand into the jar until it filled all the crevices. Once more he asked: “Is this jar full?”

“No.” the monks shouted. “Good!” he said and grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he asked, “what is the point of this illustration?” One young monk responded,”the point is, no matter how full your day you can always fit some more things in.”

“No, ” the speaker replied, “the point is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all. What are your priorities in your life?

The image is clear. The jar cannot expand and the order in which we do things matters. The trick, as usual, is to put it into practice. It requires a little discipline especially when we have been working differently for years. I used to deal with things as they came to me (first come first served) and felt very reluctant prioritising tasks.  Very often, with this approach, I did not get around to the projects that mattered. I am starting to learn to rock things around. Firstly, I take the time to identify the big rocks in my life. Secondly, I start my day working on my ‘MIT-one’ (Most Important Task), I may not finish it but at least I get the ball rolling and ensure I know what to the next actionable step before I stop. Lastly, in the evening, I review the day grateful for the time I have spent ‘rocking’. On the days, I don’t do too well, I smile it off, knowing that there is another opportunity the following day to fill my jar differently.

Time-rocking is about giving priority to meaningful projects before the habitual, gritty and the mundane takes over. It requires being watchful and not to succumb to the urgency of the small stuff. I am now better at identifying my big rocks and make more space for them. The rest tends to fall into place around it. I have had to shake off poor habits, time-thieves such as social media and television. With time, it becomes more natural to focus on the things that matter most and make everything else fit around the rocks.

If at times, you are struggling to fit everything in, this image may be useful to you and influence your workflow.

Until tomorrow,


Photo credit: Aaron Thomas

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.

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