Tag Archives: lifestyle

Make radical green resolutions

This is the year to make radical green resolutions. Change your life, and help reduce the amount of harm we’re doing to the planet.

The most important areas to look at are energy use, transport, your home, your plastic use and your diet.

Where possible switch to a greener supplier or source.

However, many of these things can’t be dealt with by just buying a greener option. If for example we replaced all the single use plastic packaging with some other material, the scale of use means there would still be a massive environmental impact. We have to cut back, radically. All of us. Those of us who have most have to cut back most.

We have to question everything we do, everything we use, everything we buy. If you’ve been justifying to yourself something you know isn’t sustainable, now is a good time to re-think it. If you can’t give it up entirely, cut it back as much as you can. If it’s something you can’t solve personally, make a commitment to campaigning for change.

Make a New Year’s resolution that involves radical lifestyle change. Do it for the planet. Do it for yourself. Do it to start building a better and more sustainable life. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Stealing the surfaces

Back when I was at school, a girl in my class returned to the sixth form with a new wardrobe of alternative, goth and hippy clothing. She’d decided to reinvent herself over the summer and had the money to spend on getting the look. As far as I could make out, she didn’t have an alternative bone in her body. She just thought it would be cool to look that way. I have no idea if she got what she wanted from the experience.

They turn up everywhere. Witchcraft is especially prone to people who want the look and not much else. All forms of creativity attract people who want to be seen as arty but turn out not to be willing to put in the time and effort it actually takes to make stuff. I don’t know if this is because the people doing it never realise there’s more involved than the surface appearance. It’s probably about a desire for attention and wanting to be more interesting than they consider themselves to truly be.

Superficial lifestylers can be deeply annoying when you’re trying to really invest in something. People who can swing in and buy the appearance of your culture without really caring what that culture is. But at the same time, for most of us – if we are white, western, and not being oppressed in some way – we can afford to shrug and ignore it. Next year, these folk will re-invent themselves and become someone else’s problem. If your Pagan path is about getting online and trying to put straight the Pagans who aren’t Pagan enough or otherwise aren’t doing it right – well, that can become another superficial exercise in wanting attention and trying to look the part.

Wanting attention is very normal, very human. From our earliest school days we learn about cool kids and outsiders. We learn about group membership, and the importance of looking the part. We’ve got a celebrity culture based entirely on appearances and many of us grow up with little reason to think that depth of care and involvement are even a thing. Sometimes, when we do want to be taken seriously, we try too hard to look the part and to seem more than we are. The desire to be taken seriously by people who are doing it for real can prompt some daft behaviour. But again, our wider western culture doesn’t encourage us to rock up humble, admitting what we don’t know and showing respect to those who have done it for longer and gone to greater lengths.

For most humans, attention functions as a reward. What kind of attention it is can be less of an issue. So if you see someone buying their way in, being superficial, focusing on the bling and not the study and so forth, the best thing to do is make little comment or fuss about it. If they are someone who yearns for more than this, eventually they will figure out how to ask for guidance, or they’ll get moving on their own. If they aren’t serious, they will drift away. It’s when we pour energy into it and make drama around it that we reinforce being superficial. We’re rewarding it with attention and energy. Quiet disinterest can be a good way of guarding your own resources, and a simple, quiet way of teaching people to up their game.

Ends and means

My general starting point is that the ends should not be assumed to justify the means, because that’s a slippery slope down to doing whatever you want in order to get your own way. It works with the assumption that ‘winning’ is everything. If you want to go through life as a passably ethical person, then you have to allow for the idea that you can be wrong, and that other people’s needs and views are just as valid. Getting the result by any means just doesn’t fit with that world view.

Most of the time that works just fine. I approach almost all things with an eye to acting in a way I find acceptable in order to work towards outcomes I want. However, we live in troubling times. Eco-suicide is a distinct possibility. The damage our species is doing shocks me on a daily basis. Human injustice, underpinned by greed and apathy, haunts me. Sometimes the urge to shake people and scream at them to wake up, is huge. Not that this would be a likely strategy to achieve results.

All too often, the slow approach of winning people round, being the change and so forth is just too slow. I lie awake at night listening to the boy racers speeding their cars up and down the hills and I know there are far too many people out there for whom the idea of responsibility is a joke. There are so many of us who feel entitled to have whatever we can pay for, no matter what it costs someone or something else. There are so many of us who just can’t keep up with the ethical issues of each choice, either. Doing the best you can with what you have is an exercise in compromise and complicity. I haven’t given away everything I have to feed the hungry. I honestly cannot afford to buy entirely organic.

Which leads to the questions of where my own life fits in this balance of means and ends. The ideal outcome for me would be a gentler, more sustainable world with a good-enough standard of living for all. Time to rest and play, the scope to be well of body and mind. Happiness, community, friendship. I don’t want to live in a world where people work seven day weeks and ten hour days and tend not to have the time, energy or money to go out of an evening. I don’t want to live in a world where people are always expected to push through pain and tiredness to get the work done.

There are so many causes. There is so much needs doing. So many things we need to be more aware of. I’ve adopted a more sustainable lifestyle (no car, no fridge, no washing machine) but it costs me in terms of time and energy. If something needs doing, I’ll show up and give it my best shot. As a consequence, I haven’t had a whole day off given over to rest since the middle of July. I make a point of having some rest time each day because otherwise I court mental dysfunction, but there are still more things to do than there is time, and I end up worn and ragged on a regular basis. How to be a good citizen, a good pagan, a good activist, mother, wife, friend, member of society, and to earn a living, and to have a low impact lifestyle… and needing more hours in the day.

The easiest things to drop are the ones that I enjoy – time out for music, reading for pleasure, sewing for fun, just going to bed early. I’ve had patches historically when the only way to keep going was to withdraw energy from the stuff I did just for me. That way lies the collapse of self esteem and the loss of inspiration. I would like the time and headspace to write novels, but the wild elephants are in peril, and our yellowhammers are nearly gone and I am desperately worried about the hedgehogs, and UKIP are running public meetings locally and people are responding to all that is wrong with hate. No matter how wound up I get, I must not fall into hating, and it would be so easy. People are not an innately loveable species.

If I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. But if I do things I think are wrong in order to go after the ends I believe in, how can I not undermine what I’m trying to do? And if I put me first, at all, those are minutes I’m not giving to trying to help with something, trying to change something, and there is so much work to do, and so much to try and understand about what’s going on. I have no answers.

The troubling implications of a healthy lifestyle

One of the big pushes at the moment is to get people active enough to be healthy. The recommendation is to try and do five bouts of exercise per week, half an hour a throw. It’s the implications of this that stand thinking about.

I write this blog post having just come back from shopping. I’ve spent the last two hours walking in and out of town, and around it, I took things in for charity shops, and I came back carrying stuff. I’ve clocked up a few miles there, all of it whilst carrying weight.  I clock up more than ten miles a week in walking for transport, plus some occasional cycling for transport. I also walk for fun.

How, if you are reasonably healthy and have the use of your legs, is it possible to have a lifestyle that doesn’t deliver half an hour a day of activity? The answer has everything to do with our general dependence on cars, and our growing habit of staying at home being amused by our various boxes. Even the stats on couples having sex are down, and yes, that does count as being active! We don’t walk to the pub, or to neighbours homes, or local events. We don’t live near where we work, or near where we shop all too often. Urban design and positioning of critical resources (schools, doctors etc) increasingly assumes you have access to a car, and thus requires you to have that access, and makes it ever harder to get around by other means.

No one had to tell our ancestors to get exercise, because their daily lives had them up and about and doing for the greater part. No one worried about overweight children when my mother was a child. It didn’t really matter what children ate, they went out and ran around and most of them were not fat. Fear of cars and road safety makes us reluctant to let our kids out. Fear of cars means that most children do not walk to school. When I was a child, it was technically possible to play ball games in the road. These days, that same road is lined on both sides, with cars, and no mercy will be shown to any child who dares to risk damaging one with a ball.

Try walking and cycling, and you will run into issues around negotiating with cars – alarming junctions with rapidly moving traffic are terrifying. Try doing a roundabout on a main road when you can’t accelerate, and some of them are doing fifty… try walking and see how far you can get on the footpaths before you have to try and cross a stream of traffic. If you’re walking as transport, or cycling, you really appreciate the car fumes and the noise as well, insulated from neither, they do not improve the quality of your experience.

Most of us have bodies that were designed with movement in mind. We evolved to walk, to run, to swim even. Not to sit on our bottoms all day, every day, moving a few feet from bed to sofa, sofa to car, car to office.  Yet we want to force our children into ever longer hours at school and in other structured learning activities, we bundle them around in cars, feed them passive amusements and wonder why the little dears get rounder with each passing year.

That we need telling to try and be active for half an hour every day, really ought to alert us to exactly how much trouble we are in, collectively. The lifestyle we’ve been so carefully constructing does not actually serve us very well. And the answer? Drive to the gym, apparently.

Moving on and uprooting

Whether we seek it or not, change is inevitable. Even the who person clings tightly to place, property and people can find that random chance and the choices of others lead to radical upheavals. I’ve had this both ways, sometimes seeking colossal changes, and at others, having them forced upon me by circumstance. Even if we don’t have much choice about what happens to us, we always have options about how to handle what we get.

Moving home a number of times now, I realise how deeply and quickly life becomes entwined with people, properties, and objects. We build lifestyles around the things we own, the roof over our head, the location and the other people in it. A sudden uprooting from that is as traumatic for humans as it is for plants. That which is rooted in the soil does not take kindly to being lifted and transplanted, often roots are damaged and a moved plant can be set back for some time. People are not so different, even when the transplanting is needed and makes for a better life.

Unlike plants, we have the option of slowly lifting our roots, finding out where they had got to, what they were intertwined with, and gently separating out. We can find new, likely looking places to sink those same roots and maybe grow a few new ones. Perhaps some can stay in place even as we move on.

We expect to move only by choice, with time to pack and prepare, to save what is loved, let go of what was not needed and gently segue into the next phase. We might think we’re good at moving on, if we’ve only ever done that in a controlled manner at a time of our choosing. For women and children who flee abuse, it can be a case of taking your chance and running, with nothing more than the clothes on your back. Leaving is the most dangerous time; statistically you are most likely to be killed or injured when you try to get out. I’ve heard stories from so many women over the years, who left suddenly with almost nothing, because that was their best shot at getting to leave alive.

A lost job, a failing of health, a hike in interest rates, sudden bereavement, a landlord who goes bankrupt and has to sell the property… there are so many things life can throw at us that suddenly result in loss of home and security. I’ve seen so many friends knocked about by this one, too. The guys who moved out to give their family stability during divorce, suddenly renting in unfamiliar places, living in caravans and on boats to keep their children secure in the family home. The stories of people whose partners ran up debts and did not pay bills, and did not say until the bailiffs were at the door. The partners who gambled secretly, the partners who lied and the devastation that has left in the lives of people who had no idea what was coming to them. Failing mental health is another. Security is so often an illusion. We think we’ve got it because we’re too smart, too good, too careful to fall, but any of us can fall, at any time.

When you can pick your life apart gently to remake it somewhere else, be glad of that. It is a blessing, and a luxury. We’re too quick to assume carelessness and incompetence in the people we see flailing and failing, but so often it isn’t sought. The person left picking up the pieces is frequently not the one who made the mess. The person pushed out to the edges may in fact have done all the right things, for the right reasons. Sacrifices made for children, for elderly parents in need of care, come at a high price and aren’t easily spotted if you don’t know the whole story. If you can, be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with those around you whose stories you do not know.

Learning to live

I’m actually feeling rather pleased with myself. Yesterday I spotted the signs of impending crash, and I stepped back, rested, calmed my panicky body. Today I am tired and moving slowly, but am not being crushed to death by depression or shredded by anxiety. This is the first time I’ve both recognised the danger and managed to avert it. I’m aiming to make a habit of this, as it will radically improve the quality of my life, and keep my activities sustainable.

There have been lots of lessons this week. The only answer to fear is to face it, and keep facing it until it has been beaten into submission. Sometimes this results in me getting a further kicking, but just surviving that means something. Every pasting endured is proof of my ability to keep going, and that is enough. Often, just not being totally defeated is all it takes. So long as I can keep going, there is hope. I’ve faced fear repeatedly this week. Yesterday I gave up and took a break, today I was back in there, and it does look like there are whispers of progress on The Canal & River Trust front.

I’ve watched a number of bold ladies on facebook doing amazing things with their diets, fitness activities and lifestyles, and shedding the pounds. My bloke is also making noises that way, although he’s far slimmer than I am. I cycle three miles most days, sometimes more, I get odd days off, I have a passably healthy diet and am smaller than I was a few years ago, but not the shape I want to be. A part of me reads the facebook updates of slimming success and wants to radically cut back on calories and push my body to more activity. The trouble is, I know from bitter experience that leads to chronic physical pain and the kinds of energy lows that put me on the floor and keep me there. I feel like I’m being lazy, letting myself off the hook, but at the same time, I’m learning to listen to the voice of experience. If I tried to lose 8 pounds in a week, I would not be able to do anything. I can be thin, or I can be functional but right now I can’t manage both. I have to settle for the slow size reduction that goes with being functional.

I’ve been reminded of the importance of feeling part of something bigger than me, a place to belong, a community to be part of. Warmth and support from other people has made so much odds. I’ve been reminded also of how important it is not to internalise powerlessness, not to believe those people who have a vested interest in convincing you that you cannot make a difference. I look at the power of people united around causes (The 38 degrees folk are amazing) and I feel hope. There is always hope.
There are so many balances to find – quiet time and busy time, ease and challenge, rest and activity, time to think and time when no thought is called for. I find myself drawn to extremes in all kinds of things, and needing the balance of opposites to keep life viable. There is much to learn.

Thou shalt have

I was at a meeting yesterday to discuss the needs of travelling people – Showpeople, bargees, Romany and other travellers. I learned a great deal. I also observed there were people from a more official background who couldn’t help but suspect that maybe at some level, what travellers really wanted was to settle into bricks and mortar homes and be like everyone else. Happily there were other voices able to point out that these other ways of living matter to people, and that travellers tend to go into bricks and mortar only when no other options are available to them.

We’re supposed to want normal homes, and large ones at that. I’ve seen facebook conversations full of dismay over tiny flats. We’re supposed to want cars and televisions, and then officialdom organises everything around the assumption you have those things. Infrastructure is nightmarish this way. For a rural person with no car, getting to the doctor when you’re too sick to walk a mile to catch a bus, is a serious issue. The pressure to have, to own, to be normal, comes at us from so many angles.

The idea of people who do not want to have, is threatening to many. The great argument that you must want, you must earn more to pay more income tax, to grease the wheels of the country so that we can all have more stuff… it’s a never ending cycle, and all it does is take us deeper into unsustainability.

I’m watching friends whose desire is to have a small patch of land and be self-sufficient. To rent privately without discernible income is almost impossible. To get a mortgage without regular employ is equally tricky, even if you know you can make the money work. Some bod in an office will look at the numbers and pump them through an assessment based on the certainty that you must have a car, some gadgets, a this, a that, £500 worth of insurance for the contents of your freezer, never mind that you don’t even own a freezer…

The subtle ways in which we are funnelled down the same routes, into being similar, fascinate and appal me. Of course the more similar we are, the easier we are to manage. Fewer headaches for the planning department there. Much governmental and organisational stuff requires figuring out who will be wanting what in the future, and of course the more normal we are, the more predictable we are. It’s easier to sell us stuff, make us do things, and plan out what to tell us we want next.
Thou shalt have exactly the same as everyone else in your geographical area and economic bracket, and thou shalt be happy with it. I met a travelling showman yesterday, passionate about his way of life, determined that the system would fit in around him, rather than he and his family being pressured to change in order to fit the system. He made me want to cheer. Conformity may be convenient for some, but it is much more sterile than diversity.

We are told continually, for all kinds of reasons that there is an unavoidable trade-off between security and freedom. You can’t have it both ways, allegedly. That debate always misses out the issue of personal responsibility. And, for that matter, responsibilities held within communities. There is no need to sell our individuality to fit the preferences of corporate and government machines, but the alternative, requires us to take more responsibility for ourselves. That in turn means needing systems that allow us more choice about what we want to be responsible for. Freedom to choose different brands of toothpaste, is not freedom. The freedom to live in the manner of your choosing, be that in a yurt as a goat keeper, on a boat, in a caravan, is a much bigger and more important kind of freedom. The freedom not to own, not to depend on a car, the freedom not to stay still, the freedom not to want to be wealthy.

Making a home

We’re in the process of transitioning off the boat. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what is needed, what it is that we want from a home, what’s viable, and how best to walk our talk. We’ve lived without a lot of the ‘normal’ things for several years now. Do we need to go back to conventional living arrangements? It doesn’t feel like good Druidry.

The boat has a solar panel and wind turbine, so most of our electricity is fairly green. I can’t see any way of replicating that in the foreseeable future. However, there are all kinds of dinky bits of technology out there… more efficient, smaller, lower impact. Realising that with this move we have the luxury of time, has opened a few doors.
Other things are going to be odd though. I’ve lived with fires almost all my life, and it looks like there will be no hearth in the next home. For me, a home without a hearth is going to be weird. I can’t say I enjoyed that last time I did it, but that’s part of the trade-off.

In preparation for moving, we’re once again getting rid of stuff, taking the opportunity to offload things that aren’t needed, aren’t used, things we grew out of, or were hanging on to just for nostalgia. That’s a good process. It’s one of the things I find I like about moving home – the chance to reassess every owned object and make some decisions. Last time we did that we gave up furniture and kept books and musical instruments. This time, the absolute priority was finding somewhere we could all live together. ‘All’ in our case includes Mr Cat. Finding a place where he would be happy and welcome informed a lot of our choices.
We’ve enjoyed some aspects of being really rural with the boat, but work would be a lot easier with more ready access to infrastructure. We will no doubt be out and about more, and I suspect I’ll be doing more in-person teaching, as well.

The right space can be really enabling. It underpins a lifestyle, permits certain choices, removes others…. The process of looking at what we need and want in that regard, too, has been really good. Soon we jump, and the next big adventure awaits us.

So, short post today because I’ve been running round in the rain a lot, finding needful things, and sorting stuff out, and ring to work out how best to mix the alternative and the normal to make something good. Much to figure out yet though.

Healing Work

As a culture we’re passive about healing. We expect to show up at the doctors and get some pills, or some surgery that will make the problem go away. Or we want a magic herb, wand or laying on of hands to the same effect. We say ‘healing work’ when we mean the work that healers do, when perhaps we should be more willing to apply it to ourselves. We all get sick. Many of us will experience mental health problems too. Healing work is something we could all do with paying some attention to.

There are a lot of ailments that can be tackled, and if not sorted then alleviated by lifestyle changes. Diet, exercise and sleep patterns have a lot of influence. A good diet isn’t merely about weight, it’s about giving your immune system some decent raw material to work with.
Exercise isn’t just about weight either, keeping the heart healthy, working off stress, building physical confidence, keeping mobile. We do a lot of healing work when we sleep. If we don’t give time to sleep, how do we expect to heal in a timely fashion? Diet, exercise and sleep all impact on mental health, which in turn impacts our ability to deal with other health challenges.

It is work. It takes effort and discipline to try and change your lifestyle, change harmful thinking habits, and maintain wellness. This needs recognising. People who expect the magical fix (from the doctors or the reiki) will get disheartened by the lack of a magical cure all, and won’t stick at doing the needful work. There are no ‘cures’ there are things that supress symptoms, ways of cutting out problem parts of the body, things that boost the immune system and things that prevent you getting the disease in the first place. Whatever route you go, your body has work to do, healing from the experience and sometimes from the knock on effects of the treatment – as with cancer, or having an operation.

I’ve been trying to fix my head for years now. I’ve had brief stints on medication, had cognitive behavioural therapy interventions (all on paper) had one to one counselling, time with a support group, self help books… and I’m still not there. Depression and anxiety continue to flare, affecting my body as well as my mind, and limiting what I can do. There are days, I confess, when it feels pointless to keep fighting this stuff. Then I stop and look back and think about how much more ill I was a year ago, two years, three… I’ve come a very long way. The effort that went in was worth it, and I remind myself that it’s going to take more effort to go the rest of the distance, and that it can be done.

It doesn’t help that we aren’t really taught to feel responsible for our bodies. We could take huge strain off the health care systems just by learning how to look after ourselves, learning how to work at being well. Maybe not all the time, but enough of the time that we aren’t flirting constantly with disease. That would mean taking stress seriously too. Stress is not good for your immune system, heart, nerves. Stress begets mental illness, makes us sleepless so we don’t heal, makes us feel we can’t stop to take care of ourselves. If we took stress seriously we might have to face the uncomfortable truth that a lot of workplaces are contributing to the ill health of employees in big ways, and then it might be possible to sue, and big business isn’t going to like that. So keep taking the magic pills, and don’t ask any awkward questions…

A Druid new year?

Many Celticly minded people think of Samhain as the turning point from old year to new, which can make this Roman Kalends Januarious (How do you spell that, anyway?) business seem a bit like someone else’s tradition. Of course there are all the community reasons to get involved, just the same as Christmas. All the same pressures to feel like a spoilsport and party pooper if you don’t want to celebrate an entirely arbitrary and human change in the numbering system by drinking yourself into a stupor.

I’ve had some happy enough New Year’s Eve nights, merry and staggering across the date line. I’ve been to some painful parties where the forced jollity and thou-must –play-silly-games really got on my nerves. I’ve had quiet evenings with friends, and a bottle to very good effect. Last year I discovered that if I went to bed at the usual time I could start the New Year sans hangover, and no one actually minded. Apparently I’m now old enough that people don’t care if I confess to being too dull to party.

The other great tradition is of course the New Year’s resolution, in which people make declarations of intent that they have no hope of sticking to. Often these are less about aspiration and more about beating ourselves up for perceived inadequacies. The words ‘gym’ and ‘diet’ haunting many people’s shift into the fresh calendar year. I gave that one up a long time ago. I make light-hearted resolutions, if I bother at all. (This year is, have more fun, and be tremendously successful.)

So where does all this seasonal stuff leave a druid? Plenty of druid folk no doubt did stay up to toast the rolling on of the numbers. Even though what we’re counting is years from the supposed birth date of Christ. But it’s a good excuse to party, and most pagans don’t need much excuse at all. It’s another opportunity for excess, in case you didn’t get enough of that in during the Christmas bit. And then we all throw out our trees, our bags and bags of post-party detritus go to landfill and we shuffle grimly through January. The amount we waste and throw away at this time of year, makes me want to weep. But it’s all in the name of good fun, and it’s mean of me to say that people shouldn’t have a good time, right?

We’ve had decades of a party we couldn’t afford, shoving our consequent waste mountains into holes in the ground and hoping someone else will deal with it. How many hung over people this morning will be regretting last night? Who is feeling a bit sick now, a bit soiled? Who had to make another resolution to eat a bit less, do a bit more exercise? The partying that is daily life helps us drown out reality. Pile in the easy calories, the booze, the brain free entertainments. If you find yourself thinking at all, grab another beer, it’ll be fine. Keep running, keep buying, keep consuming. Whatever you do, don’t sober up emotionally because when you do, the mother of all psychological hangovers will be waiting. Culturally, this is what we do, all the time.

Being a druid on New Year’s day means not tuning out the vision of the many loaded bin bags outside houses. It means not pretending that it’s fine to do exactly what I want when I feel like it. Parties are good. I love parties, I love to drink and dance, laugh and make merry. Taken too far, it can turn into something that leaves you sick and hollow. If there is no soul in it, no human connection, no warmth, then no amount of excess can compensate. And so many people push after greater levels of excess to blot out that awareness of being hollow. Are we having a good time yet?

It’s not how much a person drinks that makes them happy. It’s not the price tag on the party dress, the exclusiveness of the venue or whether you pulled someone glamorous. If you don’t care about yourself, or the people you are with, none of that counts for much the morning after. Drunk or sober, a real friend is a joy. Cheap or pricey, a thing you care about enough to invest a bit of soul in, has immeasurable worth. A druid at New Year might be at the party, or might be in a wood – it doesn’t matter. It’s all about following your heart, acting with integrity, living fully in the moment. It’s not about going along with convention just for the sake of it, acting without thinking, or using chemical props to hide the inner darkness. Embrace the inner darkness, be at ease with the doubts and fears, and go to the party anyway, or walk beneath the stars, or both. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.