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De-Stuffing My Life: Phase I

Well we’re back home in London again, after a lovely 2.5 week break.  I feel rested and ready to tackle the coming semester although I can already feel the stress creeping in.  

Monday evening, while still in Niagara, I went to a yoga class with my favourite instructor, Burt Peters.  I have taken classes with quite a few different yoga instructors now, but no one comes close to Burt for offering a truly wonderful experience.  First, he creates an extremely welcoming atmosphere, calm, warm, friendly and relaxed.  There is never any rushing, always time for any questions or comments.  Second, Burt has studied yoga to a depth that I have not encountered elsewhere.  He explains how every little muscle is to be used, how every toe or finger to be positioned.  He is careful to ensure you don’t injure yourself in any way, and often I feel that I’ve done little more than a mild stretch by the end of class.  Until the next day, that is, when I can’t move!  I always feel wonderful after his classes and wish I was close enough to attend them regularly again.

Another thing Burt does which I really enjoy is that he shares stories and philosophical insights as we go along.  For example, when doing a deep stretch, he advises us to not push to the point where it is painful.  There’s a difference between a good feeling of stretching and actual pain.  Burt pointed out that there is enough pain and suffering in the world, and that there shouldn’t be pain in yoga.  This makes a lot of sense to me.

The other thing that he discussed this week is how we all try to do so much, when really what most of us need is to do less.  This really resonated with me.  Most people I know lead such busy, busy lives that they hardly have time to think and enjoy, let alone take good care of themselves.  The need to slow down and simplify our lives is one of the most powerful understandings that was awakened in me by becoming a locavore.  In order to eat slow food, I have had to slow down my life.  And slow it down a lot.

I am also learning that in order to deal with all the stress that I currently face, I need to slow down my mind.  So the first phase of reducing the clutter and stress and extraneous stuff in my life is to do this within my own body.  I need to take the reins on my mind and get control of my thinking, and eliminate extraneous and negative thoughts.  

While driving to and fro this holiday season, I have been listening to Eckhart Tolle ‘s The Power of Now.  I know this book has become a bit cliché, but the ideas are very interesting.  I’m not very far into the book (I can only listen for about 10-15 minutes before my brain starts to hurt) but in a nutshell, he explains that in order to find peace and joy, we must learn to control our thinking.  Thinking is an addiction, he points out, and takes over.  Most of us are incapable of turning it off.  Learning to control our  minds and stop the non-stop flow of largely repetitive and often negative thoughts going through our  minds is paramount.  

The first step to doing so, he advises, is to “watch the thinker.”  By this he means to recognize that this repetitive, negative voice in your head is a recording of things from the past, and that it is necessary to see it as such.  I have been doing this and am quite surprised by the effect.  Now, whenever I catch myself thinking thoughts like: “I’m never going to finish this dissertation, I’m never going to get married, I’m never going to have children, I’m never going to own my own home, I’m never, I’m never, I’m never….” I now simultaneously think: “Oh!  There’s that voice again.  And here I am, once again, listening to that voice.”  By objectifying it like that, suddenly all the angst and doom and gloom that I’m feeling goes away.  And along with it, the voice.  What’s left is calm and quiet.  It’s quite fascinating.  

One of the main arguments most people I know have against being able to live a more sustainable life is that they just don’t have time.  They need the conveniences of industrial food, cars, pre-prepared products, heavy duty quick acting cleaners and so on, just to make it through their insanely busy days.  I am well aware of this and see it all around me now.  I still participate a little in it, but as a graduate student I have the luxury of structuring my life more or less as I see as being ideal.  I have no kids to rush around, no employer that controls my life.  Sure, I also have no money, but it’s a form of elite, luxurious poverty.  

I am aware that consumer culture is deeply entrenched and most people feel themselves to be trapped in it.  Ironically, what is good for the economy is bad for us (and the environment).  Could most people slow down and get out of the rat race?  I’m not sure.  Our consumer culture forces most people into the lives they live, although many perceive it as a choice.  Maybe it is, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I have  choice right now, in my elite poverty, to live the life that I wish.  I am very fortunate that way.  By living the life I wish, I don’t mean I can travel all over the world, nor can I buy anything I want.  But I can slow things down, eat slowly, live slowly.  I can get up in the morning, without an alarm clock, then do yoga before hiking with the dogs.  Only then, after a nice breakfast and making a pot of tea, do I sit down to work.  I don’t make any money, but it’s a nice way to live.  To be honest, I dread going back to the rat race and am not sure that I can.  My long-term challenge (and goal) is to find a way to continue this life past grad school.  A pipe dream?  Perhaps, but one I will strive to achieve.  

While I am able, I am going to continue to work at living the slow life.  The first phase of this is to de-clutter myself.  My mind, and my body.  I will do so through meditation, yoga, other types of exercise, lots of sleep and spending as much time ‘in the moment’ as I can by hanging out with my dogs and my friends.  I also need to work at minimizing the industrial products I consume. I have really slacked off in that department and its time to get back in gear with my local eating.  No more eating out, no more snacks on campus.  Now that it is January, it’s time to break into my stores of food on the canning shelves and in the freezer.  Chock full of yummy food I’ve been putting away over the last 8 months, there should be no need for me to look anywhere else!

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