Rest, Renewal, and an Honest Hope   28 comments

Regular readers may have noticed it’s been over a week since the last post, which is a longer wait between posts than normal here on this blog. I intended to have something up on Tuesday, then on Thursday, and then again yesterday night, but I kept pushing back the writing. Partly that was due to some of the usual distractions in my life and partly to being on the train for two days and then returning home to work for three straight days. But it’s also been a matter of spending a good chunk of the week mulling over new ideas but not quite teasing them out to a level of coherence ready for a full write up.

One of my goals with this blog of late is to write on more fully formed ideas, rather than write on new ideas that I haven’t had a chance to mull over for a bit. I make this a goal because I write higher quality posts under that ideal. There’s nothing surprising about that, of course, as taking the time to think through the various implications and pitfalls of a new idea can lead to a clarity and coherence that often is lacking in our discourse. I have multiple times had the strike of an insight from which I wanted to immediately write up a rhetoric-heavy essay to only, upon further consideration, realize that the insight is deficient, or incorrect, or simply incomplete—sometimes silly, sometimes promising, but in need of more thought either way.

Granted, I don’t always live up to this ideal, and most every post on this blog—some more than others—could have benefited from an extra couple days of marinating and a true second draft. I still treat this much as, I think, many people treat their blog: I write up a post, do a quick read through and edit, and then publish. I rarely let something sit for a couple days before posting it.

Since I kept thinking of new—or at least somewhat new—ideas this week, I kept getting excited about those ideas, thinking them through while shoveling pig shit into a wheelbarrow (the job during which much of my thinking happened this week) and then realizing they needed to stew in the back of my brain a bit more before I should write a post about them. It didn’t take many repetitions of this process before I found myself a week out from my last new post and still uncertain of what to write next.

In a roundabout way, I’m getting to the point of today’s post. It’s an idea that I’ve been thinking about for a couple years now, and that I’ve talked about with other people multiple times. It’s one, in fact, that I’ve been meaning to write about here. It’s the idea that one of the challenges facing us here in America (and probably in many other industrialized nations, though I don’t feel I know enough to speculate) is that so many of us don’t take the time to think about, on a slow and deep level, our lives and our ideas about those lives.

I think this reality comes out in the shallowness of so much of our discourse, both on the national and personal level. I know that, throughout much of my life, I’ve tended toward shallow and simple interpretations of ideas and failed too often to reflect well on my life and the world around me. I dare say that many other people in this country are in the same boat. We can see it in the dominance of memes, the conventionality of superficial “wisdom,” the ways in which our politicians and leaders speak in cliches and sound bites. We can see it in the aversion to challenges of our assumptions and in the escape into simple and safe topics like sports and celebrity culture. We can see it in the willful blindness to the environmental destruction and social injustices littering our lives and the world’s landscape. We can see it, day in and day out, in the desperate demagoguery of a nation whose ideas of itself are failing at an ever increasing rate.

We can see it also in the bad work we do. In fact, I think the bad work we do tends to perpetuate this lack of serious consideration. I base this assumption in large part on my own experiences in the world before I began to farm. In those days, I worked retail jobs. I found the work mostly devoid of meaning, outside of the occasional moment of helping someone with a particular problem, such as how to hook up a DVD player. Now, in itself, hooking up a DVD player’s not particularly meaningful work. But it did involve helping a fellow human being, and in that it was a moment of simple human connection in an otherwise inhumane job. It was a very shallow representation of community but, shallow or not, it provided a small bit of substance to my work.

Overall, though, the job mostly involved selling unnecessary products to people who didn’t need them. Working in the electronics department of a general retailer, I sold distraction and shallow satisfaction to people who wanted not to think too much about their lives. I can’t see much other reason for constant consumption of movies, music, television, the internet, video games and the purchase of a wide array of electronic gadgets—most intended to provide easier consumption of the aforementioned media. In fact, I experienced all of that myself. In those days, I consumed much the same media, and at a rate commensurate with most of my customers. I filled a good percentage of my non-working time with dulling media, electronic gadgetry, and flickering screens of all kinds.

All that media-based distraction worked on two levels. First of all, it directly seeded the dominant memes, themes and narratives of our very sick and dysfunctional culture into my brain, warping my thought patterns to fit those themes. Second, it kept me from engaging in the sort of deep thought and consideration that allows one to question and get away from those narratives, see the functioning of society with a clear-eyed observance, properly evaluate one’s own life, and understand one’s own behavior. These are all critical activities to engage in if we’re going to have a healthy society and culture, and they’re all behaviors that are dangerously scarce in our current society.

There’s another element to these distractions and to the reality of my job that plays into our disconnect from deep consideration of our lives, though, and that’s the lack of a true break from work and distraction. Most people have jobs that provide little to no break time. Most have a weekend, of course, but those tend to be filled with distractions and whatever necessary household work needs to be done that hasn’t been outsourced to machines or corporations. It is, in other words, not much of a break. Some of the luckier workers out there also have vacation time, but that’s generally only a couple weeks a year, and many people try to cram all kinds of desperate “fun” into that time, again leaving themselves not much of a true break.

The thing about deep thought and consideration is that it’s about impossible to do without a significant amount of time. I’m not talking about a couple hours or a couple days, but probably more along the lines of weeks or, ideally, months. If you’ve been working at a breakneck pace for a good chunk of the year, having a couple days off doesn’t give you a chance to really come down from that pace and reorient yourself to a new one. It especially doesn’t allow that if you’re anticipating your imminent return to work. Having a couple weeks off provides that a bit better, but again not if you spend a good chunk of that time worrying about your return to work, and not if you’re spending much of that time desperately trying to cram in a year’s worth of fun before you go back to the drudgery of your job. What it comes down to, ultimately, is that these time frames don’t work on a human scale. The weekend or two week vacation is not the natural time frame for a human’s annual rest.

The winter, on the other hand, seems to me a much more natural time frame for a significant break, providing true rest and renewal. And that’s something that I’ve come to understand over the last few years as I began to farm. My first two seasons of farming were followed by a winter without work, floating around in Portland, staying with family and friends, doing a bit of traveling on the cheap, reading a ridiculous amount, and engaging in a lot of thought and reflection. It wasn’t the greatest use of my winter in a financial sense, but it was a brilliant use of those winters from the standpoint of my health and humanity. What I found during those long periods of rest and renewal was that I was able to slow my mind and body, slip deep into my thoughts, evaluate the year that had passed, learn lessons that I couldn’t learn during the frenzy of the working year—the growing season—and make good plans for the next year.

It didn’t escape my notice, of course, that this humane pace coincided with natural cycles. This, then, is one of the beauties of farming and of engaging in other forms of work that are tied to the natural cycles of this planet: they help provide for natural cycles of thought, consideration, and personal growth. I think most of us desperately need to spend some time in these cycles, and have a period of rest and renewal much as the earth partakes in during winter. Far too much of our lives are spent rushing from one distraction to the next, or from one obligation to another. It never leaves us time to think and consider. It never leaves us time to learn from our mistakes, learn from our unhappiness, learn from our joy, learn from our successes and failures. We’re always on to the next thing, and the next thing always dominates our thought process.

I believe that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to stray so far off course as a culture. We can only engage in the sort of environmental destruction, human-caused misery, and bad work that we engage in if we never give ourselves time to think about it, consider it, recognize these failings and commit to change and improvement for the future. By having diverted ourselves into work that mostly has divorced itself of the natural cycles, we’ve removed ourselves from our own natural cycles of work and reflection and have thus eliminated one of our most critical tools for growth and self-renewal. We can’t work and distract ourselves constantly, without break, indefinitely, without losing much of our capacity for personal growth. And if we lose our capacity for personal growth, we necessarily lose our capacity for societal and cultural growth.

The even greater danger of this reality is that it becomes a self-reinforcing loop. As we stray from natural cycles that promote our own personal growth and health, we grow less healthy and more stunted. This bleeds into the culture and society at large, increasing the likelihood of doing bad and destructive work. The more we engage in bad and destructive work, the more we must escape from that reality and deny its existence, simply to maintain our own sanity. This leads us to further distraction and the repetition of shallow but comforting memes and narratives. Wrapping ourselves in these memes and narratives, we shield ourselves from the important truths we’ve been ignoring, which makes it all the easier to do bad work and distract ourselves. We become ever more removed from the natural world, ever more removed from natural cycles, and ever more removed from our own humanity and the world around us.

The good news, though, is that we can break out of this loop. I did this a few years ago by beginning to farm. Granted, breaking free from that loop was more complicated than that and was a much longer process of allowing myself glimpses of my deeper reality even while trapped in a system of destruction, but I think it really kicked into high gear when I started to do work that was tied to the natural cycles of the earth. Once I made that transition, I actually put myself into another self-reinforcing loop, but one that was of a much more positive bent. By engaging in good work tied to the land, I tied myself to natural cycles. By tying myself to those cycles, I begin to slip back into the natural human cycles of work and rest, of action and reflection. This promoted deeper thought and consideration of my own life and of the society and culture around me, the revelations of which encouraged me to continue down the path of doing good work and tying myself to the natural cycles of the earth. Each season, that work and those cycles helped me to understand the world better, understand myself better, and to do yet better work and tie myself yet more to the earth. As I spent my time of rest reflecting on my own personal issues, my own behaviors and reactions, I begin to better understand them, to grow healthier, and to become more attuned with the world around me and more eager to engage in good work. I therefore reversed the cycle of bad work and turned it instead into a cycle of good work.

This reversal is one of my major sources of hope for the future. Having seen the way that a change in work provided me so many benefits and so much better a life, I have hope that it could do the same for others. And by many, many accounts I’ve read and heard, it can. It does. I think most of us take very well to this reversal because it begins to feed many of our natural thought processes and cycles. It feeds our humanity and ties into needs and desires that exist in us at a genetic level.

Granted, not everyone will take to such a change in work and lifestyle. But I believe many of us will when given the opportunity or simply forced into such a change. If the future plays out in a fashion similar to how I think it will, then many people who currently live lives divorced from the world’s natural cycles will be forced to live lives much more in tune with those cycles. And while that transition will no doubt prove challenging, it may also prove quite rewarding. For those who embrace the change, and who find themselves through that rough transition, they’ll likely settle into a positive feedback loop that will foster personal growth and improved health, as well as improved connections to the natural world and the ability to see our personal, societal, cultural and environmental interactions in a much more holistic manner.

I’ve experienced this change and I’ve met many others who have experienced it, as well. It’s real, and it strikes me as an honest hope for our future. That doesn’t mean I think we’ll all adjust to a very different future without trouble. It doesn’t mean that I think any of this will be easy. And it doesn’t mean that I think the future will be inherently better than the present. But it is a hope—a very real hope—and I’ll take whatever honest hope I can find.

28 responses to “Rest, Renewal, and an Honest Hope

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  1. Thank you for providing a little more insight into myself. My entire life has been seasonal, and I have never truly connected with the shallowness of pop culture. Now I see the connection. My father was a professor and my mother was a teacher, so summers were our off-season. Most summers we would go on six-week-long cross-country driving trips. Spending 4 to 8 hours in a car gave plenty of time for reflection.

    Now I am a tax preparer, which is very strictly a seasonal job, and I sell real estate, which does have a slow season (between Halloween and Christmas) and a busy season (around May and June: most people with kids try to move after one school year is finished and before the next begins). And for both a good deal of time is spent waiting for clients to come in. While much of that time is spent trying to figure out how to get more clients in, it certainly does allow for time to think.

    As to blogging, I definitely understand where you’re coming from, but it definitely is not my approach. Right now I am working on finishing up my Thanksgiving post for last year. While I rarely do a complete rewrite, I’ll read through and modify a dozen times before I finally publish. I do start my posts as soon as a topic occurs to me. At my once-a-week publishing rate, I have enough to go to the middle of 2013.

    There are definite advantages and disadvantages to our different approaches. In my case, my blog is very much theurgical. I write when I’m feeling positive and read when I’m not. In this way I try to persuade myself not to get discouraged. The problems in our society are very deep, but they mainly only really require a change in thinking to solve. For example, in the case of Peak Oil, if we voluntarily reduce our demand faster than supplies drop off, that will solve the problem quite nicely. It’s improbable people will do that, but not impossible.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for the comment, and glad the post proved insightful for you. I’ve considered the possibility of moving to a once-a-week posting schedule, with perhaps even building up a queue of posts already finished, so I’m always a bit ahead of the game. However, I’m not sure that would work too well as I tend to get things done under a deadline, rather than ahead of time. Occasionally I’ll get a jump, but those deadlines sure do help for someone who’s still working on self discipline.

      I also have so much I want to write at the moment, I feel like I need to post more than once a week, though that obviously wasn’t the case this last week. I might regret that decision if I run out of thing to write six months from now. Of course, there always seems to be new insights while working with the land.

      I’m a little confused on your blog. Are you back dating the posts as you put them up? I see the newest one is dated November 18th and you mentioned the Thanksgiving post. Was that November 18th one actually posted recently? I just found your blog, so don’t have the benefit of knowing when the posts actually showed up.

      I’m really intrigued by your theurgical approach. I started to write a post while on the train last week that was fairly dark and pessimistic, but didn’t finish it and knew later it wasn’t worth exploring. I was sleep deprived and traveling through some very depressed areas and, ultimately, I knew it was just a post born out of frustration and a certain anger, much of it tied to my physical state, and there wouldn’t be much of anything helpful in it. Not that I’m against posting pessimistic writings at times, but there’s a point at which it simply is gratuitous. As fun as it can be to read Kunstler’s rants, for instance, I wouldn’t want my blog to be in the same vein. I don’t see too much help in that.

      • Sorry for the confusion… I am not backdating them per se, rather I have a backlog of posts I have saved but not published. I will not actually publish them until I am 100% satisfied with them. The once-a-week schedule is to impose some discipline, I am trying to catch up 2 – 3 posts per week, in order.

  2. Hey Joel,

    A great post and deeply ironic for me at least, in that I’ve been too busy sorting my life out this week to respond to your comments on the other post from last week. So I guess I’m busy – yes, but it’s a kind of constructive busyness whilst I try and lay a foundation to get back to some ‘good work’ of my own – so your post is timely and inspirational to me as it points out a hopeful path for my recent life-choices. So thank you!

    It also articulates something that I hadn’t thought about for a while, and maybe hadn’t in the way you phrased it, but got nonetheless. The nature of work-rest-reflection and it’s relation to natural cycles is very insightful and useful – it’s also encouraging to know that a slip into a positive feedback loop is possible, and works.

    Hopefully when the dust settles in a month or two, I can start thinking more coherently about getting my own, craft-based blog off the the ground – but before then I have a new job to start, and a house-move to come, oh and my wife is expecting our 3rd child in June – but otherwise, no worries… ;)

    I sure will be sad when the ‘net finally goes down, and this network of souls-via-blogs goes away for ever – but in the meantime it’s here, and it’s an oh-so-valuable resource. So thanks for your work, like JMG’s it’s helping people.

    • Matt:
      The “…network of souls-via-blogs…” needn’t go away when the ‘net goes down. There are many other, non-electronic, ways to communicate over wide distances; letter-writing comes to mind, as does the self-publication of such things as the good old Broadside (precursor to the ‘news’-paper) or the Pamphleteering of folks like Thomas Paine, et al. It was way slower than the ‘net (not necessarily a bad thing), but it worked then and could work again.

      • Martin, I don’t know if you’re at all familiar with the literary journal McSweeney’s, but they published a beautiful, full color, Sunday broadside a year or two ago with a variety of in-depth reporting, long journalistic pieces, a brilliant comics section, and more. It was meant as a demonstration of what newspapers have been in the past and what they believed they could still be, and as something of a rebuttal of the idea that newspapers should just transfer to online and kill their physical publication. Granted, they worked on it for months and the thing cost, I think, $15 (though they sold it on the streets of San Francisco the day they released it for $5) but it was beautiful, and impressive, and far beyond any other edition of a newspaper I’d ever seen. I would love to see something like that make a comeback in a low-energy future.

        See here for some page scans: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/a-look-at-the-san-francisco-panorama

        • Oh I agree that civilised correspondence won’t go away after the ‘net goes down, and in some ways a slower round of communication via printed/hand-written work is more satisfying – I love letter writing too, so that’s something to look forward to in a way.

          But there is something in the relative immediacy, and sheer complexity afforded by the blogosphere which, when it’s gone will mean that your ‘everyday’ community shrinks noticeably. I’ve lived in small communities of the non-intentional kind, and as a thinker, it can be a bit lonely at times. So I’ll still be sad when that network starts to shrink and eventually simplifies – but what we do need to do is use it constructively now to help build better, more local relationships for later.

          • Agreed, Matt. I’ve had the same situation many times of turning to the internet for some social interaction that wasn’t otherwise available to me, generally due to being a small community or rural setting (often just because no one was available at that time, or I couldn’t access that availability, not always because there was no one existing who could fill the role.) I agree that will be missed. On the other hand, I know that’s been a double-edged sword for me (though perhaps not for others!) I’ve often avoided doing something else I wanted to get done for the easy satisfactions for the internet and I know I’ve failed to work harder at building local community due to outlets the internet affords me. Hopefully, when that goes away, necessity will cause people to put more effort into their local community even if it proves harder, or the connections don’t happen as easily.

            As for now, you’re right in that it’s an amazing tool for finding those connections. I know I don’t use it as well for that purpose as I should.

        • Joel:

          No, I’m not familiar with McSweeney’s, I reckon I’ve just been too involved with electronic communication myself to notice (thanks for the link, by the way), but it sounds like a semi-revival of the so-called underground papers of the 60’s and 70’s, of which there were many. To me that was the true heyday of ‘print on the street’ and I too look forward to its return – sooner rather than later.

          Matt:

          I share your appreciation of the broadscale immediacy and incredible variety to be found on the internet along with the experience of feeling/being alone in a community of people whose views I don’t share, not to mention non-thinkers as well. I guess I was just looking on the bright side in my comment above.

          Martin

        • Joel:
          I took a look at McSweeney’s. What a trip! There’s more than hope there

          Thanks again…

          • It’s a beautiful paper, Martin. I have a copy, which is currently tucked away in a box in Portland. But it was quite fun to spread that thing out on the couch and look over it. They did a fantastic job of showing what broadsheet could do—especially in comparison to the internet.

    • Interestingly, Matt, I’ve been busier too this winter. I’m working two jobs, as I’ve written about here on the blog. However, I’m not generally working more that 20 or 25 hours a week, even between the two jobs, so “busy” is a relative term. But I haven’t had the complete break like I had the last two winters. Nevertheless, the work load is light enough that this still has felt like a restful and reflective winter, especially with all the writing I’ve been doing here on the blog. I’ve certainly been in deep thought mode, to varying degrees of success.

      You, on the other hand, sound much more busy. A new job, moving, and a third child? (Which means, of course, two others.) Impressive.

      In some ways I’ll be said when the net goes away, in other ways happy. But that’s a cop out, of course—I don’t need to be on the internet nearly as much as I am. It’s just a matter of discipline. It does provide many nice advantages, but as Martin notes, the ability to connect with people long distances won’t be gone along with the internet, it’ll just be a bit more challenging and a bit slower going. However, it’s nice to have regular contact with people who think in similar ways to you, and some people find themselves in communities with few of those sorts of people. Hopefully in a future without the internet, communities will be a bit less fractured and a bit more . . . fulfilling? Perhaps not quite the right word. I don’t know—I suppose we’ll eventually see how it all shakes out. Could go the other way, too.

      And thank you for the kind words. If I’m helping people, that’s pretty incredible.

      • Yes, the children are a constant reminder about the importances of life-choices and future direction. We want to make sure that they are exposed to the right home culture, so that they develop in a sensible direction (good for them, for us, and for the environment). And it’s an interesting journey to take into account the next generations’ future – and chastening.

        This year I’ve reduced my work hours too – hopefully to a sustainable 15 (damn hard) hours. After we move, the pace of things should slow down and I should start working voluntarily for a local coppicer 2-3 days a week and I know that once I’m out in the woods doing good work, then the cycle you spoke of above will start to take effect. We’ll also be able to create a functional garden at the new place and so will be able to start growing food again – how I’ve missed that! But we’ll be pretty poor – voluntarily – and raising children will be an interesting challenge, but it does hit your realisation somewhere along the way: there is no other choice!

        • There is no other choice, indeed. That’s going to be partly the theme of the next How To Be Poor post, coming up hopefully tonight or next weekend.

          I’ve been fascinated with the idea of coppicing ever sense I first learned of it from JMG. If you end up doing any writing about the process, please do come back and post a link here, or send me an email. I’d love to read thoughts from someone actually doing it. Have you been doing any reading or studying on the subject? I’d be interested in a reading list if so. I have vague thoughts of trying to coppice in the future, should the right situation present itself.

          • Well coppicing is, in principle at least, fairly simple. Cut down a tree of the right species and it grows back. But of course, as with many seemingly simple processes, there’s a bit more to it than that! I haven’t been doing that much reading recently, though I’ve done some (do a web search for Ben Law’s woodland house – he’s now quite famous, albeit in coppicing/greenwood circles, and built his own house out of Sweet Chestnut , he’s also written a few books). I’ve been trying to get onto a coppicing apprenticeship which is run over here, and I might at some point, but until then I have to find another way. It is something that I think is worth blogging about as there are some important ecological and ethical benefits to that branch (sorry ;) ) of good work.
            One thing about it that strikes me, is that compared to the devastation caused by nearly all forms of agriculture over the millennia, coppicing is almost a climax ecosystem (for much of Europe and the US at least), so not only is it ecologically sound, but being in the woods is also good for the soul!

            • Thanks for the reference to Ben Law. I’ll check him out.

              I’m curious about maintaining soil fertility with coppicing. I would assume, obviously, that that’s something that’s been figured out—and that I’ll learn more when I get around to tracking down reading on the practice.

              And yes, being in the woods is indeed good for the soul. I’ve had an interest in ecoforestry for awhile, but haven’t gotten around to really studying it. I definitely love the idea of having a forested bit of land on which I make my living, with a good amount of time spent in the trees.

  3. I am struck by what you said about the constant go, go of work and obligations and the distractions of all the media available to us keeping society from thinking about the important things. Although I have had at least a part of the winter off for the last few years, I have spent those 4-6 weeks recovering from the insane pace of the rest of my year, where I was working 2+ jobs and existing in a constant stream of stimuli, under-rested and over caffeinated. Although I would read and do more projects, out of exhaustion and habit I would still spend too much of my off time in front of a computer screen or watching movies. Last year I slowed the pace of my life down significantly, worked only one job, joined a CSA, had time to cook and hike and read and draw and craft, and THINK and NOTICE things. The upshot of the extra time I had to reflect was a complete shift in my lifestyle. I hadn’t had time to think about it before, and once I did I couldn’t stop thinking and couldn’t go back to the way I had lived before. I knew major changes had to happen and I have been fortunate enough to actually move in a better direction.

    I want to shout a hearty “Amen” to Martin and his comment above that the end of the net certainly won’t mean the end of long distance communication! I love to write letters, and I harass my friends via mail all the time. Pre-blogging, my Dad self-published a quarterly newsletter and I have very fond memories of helping him put the pages together as a kid (and less fond memories of licking what seemed like a thousand stamps…!) I am kind of looking forward to this type of communication becoming regular again, although I do enjoy blogging. :)

    • That’s much the experience I’ve had, Sarah, and I’ve heard similar stories recounted by others. It’s amazing what slowing down, detaching from all the stimuli, and giving yourself some time to think and contemplate and notice, as you note, can do for your perspective on the world. It’s kind of addicting in its own way, much as all the stimulation is. So many of the WWOOFers who’ve come through the far here have talked about similar experiences. That really gives me hope—there is a way out of this crazy sort of life we’ve normalized in America, and many people are figuring out where that exit is. Doesn’t mean it’s more than a tiny percentage, but even a small percentage can make some big impacts.

      I love writing letters, too, though I’ve been neglectful on that count this year. I also have put together a small literary journal by hand and I really loved that. I look forward to those types of communication becoming more regular again, too. One of the projects in the back of my mind, actually, is to take some of my favorite posts from this blog and make up a small, printed journal with them that I can send to some people. I have a friend who asked me to do this and I’d like to make it into a project. There’s a community letter press in town that I’m hoping to use.

      • Mmm, letter pressing. I would LOVE to learn how to do that. I have overly romantic visions of early printing presses and the makers of handbills and pamphlets – what a process…! Good luck with that project – I hope you do get round to it.

  4. I clicked on the link to your blog through Gene Lodgson’s website. I think it was your ‘Of the Hands’ title that caught my attention. Your writing is insightful and full of the joie de vivre that comes with living simply, close to the earth..

    Much of my life has been spent farming, and I love the cycles and seasons. It’s a good thing we have slow seasons, because otherwise the busyness might kill us! It does give us time to reflect and appreciate.

    I find that manual work also frees up my mind like nothing else, and many of my best creative ideas and intuitive solutions have emerged while I was transplanting or weeding or splitting wood. Having too much high-tech is just the opposite of that, lacking the therapeutic effect of a direct connection to nature, and distracting us from clarity of thought. Doing work by hand (at ‘human’ speed) is especially satisfying.

    • That’s a great point, Hannah, and one I missed in the post, though I suppose I did allude to it. Manual labor is very conducive to good thinking, particularly when said labor is being done alone. I’ve always found that to be true, and I actually did write a post much about that. Working in retail, on the other hand, or working in front of a screen seems markedly not conducive to good thinking, outside of what’s necessary for the job. You always have to be on and constantly have to be dealing with customers in a retail environment and screens greatly disturb the thought process. There’s plenty of research out there that shows the ways in which screens impact our brains, and it’s not in ways that make for clear thought.

      Much like you, my best thoughts almost always come in the midst of working my body, whether that be through farming or other physical labor, or while hiking.

      Also, I love that you mention “human speed.” That’s something I’ve thought much about, and I imagine I’ll have to write something about it one of these days. Thanks for the comment, and glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      • Human speed and human scale tend to be related to our cultural dissociation disorder dance. I’m old enough to remember small businesses being owned by families. Most of America has become a long chain of chain stores. Just about the only small independent stores seem to be in upscale environments where they can charge $16.00 for a bar of soap. Too many people eat two or more meals at the convenience store or gas station. Work, Produce, Consume, Work, Produce Consume…

        • You nailed it, Dennis. That’s one of the things I love about Portland—that most of the businesses there are independent and locally owned, rather than chains. Of course, some are of the $16 for a bar of soap variety, but a good deal are affordable, as well.

          Of course, when you have a nation of chains and a land filled with people who outsource their entire lives to a series of corporations, then it’s going to be ever harder to find small, independent businesses as you have fewer and fewer people who know how to produce anything or provide a useful service. I’ve been thinking about that recently and it may get a post at some point down the road, though I’m not sure the idea extends too much beyond the sentence I just wrote.

  5. man, I want to read the comments but I’m in the middle of the move and don’t have time. The ironies of life…I’m attempting to slow down and it’s required me to speed up? I’m finding that life outside of the Matrix can be demanding at times…but then I’m moving.

    Your essay was spot on. I didn’t disagree with anything. You hit on the major method that the inner part members, or agents (whatever you want to call the zombie robots that do the corporatocracies bidding) carry out the thaumaturgy that JMG’s been talking about. The electronic gizmos work the distraction magic to keep all of the zombies fed on contentless brain matter…lest they get a clue and start thinking that they are powerful beings capable of changing things. The distraction is all about keeping them brain dead because they are no threat as brainless cretins. I know I sound harsh…probably cause I am…but it’s a heavy burden to bear witness to the truth that society cannot see.

    Again, great essay.

    • Ah yes, slowing down does at time require some initial speeding up. With luck, though, this will simply be one of the busy seasons of your life that you’ll later be able to contrast against a slow season.

      Glad you liked the essay. I wish we would all think quite a bit more clearly about our electronic gizmos and their full effects upon our lives. It’s an irony that they work best at cutting off that ability. I see it all around me, and most certainly in my own life, as well. The internet has a hold on me—that’s one more piece that I’m going to have to shed or curtail, and that’s something I’ve been thinking on.

      Good luck with the move!

      • Ah, yes – I can relate to ‘speeding up to slow down’ Aaron, as I’m doing much the same and it is frustrating! It amazes me just how complex we’ve made our societies so that even seemingly simple choices are incredibly difficult to action. Moving house is such a drag and I face it too in a couple of weeks – so I share your pain ;)

        Hopefully I’ll be getting out for a regular dose of the woods after that and things will settle down – though no doubt it will take longer than I imagine.

        I too have been struggling to come to terms with my internet and gadget use Joel, and I think there’s no real way around it – JMG has it right: LESS, so ironically enough after my recent comments about missing the blogosphere when it’s gone, I’m now thinking of ways to voluntarily give up at least some of it. It’s just too much. Too much time, too much mental energy, too much wrist and eye-strain from computer use. So I’m now wondering how to rationalise and discipline myself to get the best of it, and not let it get the best of me. So far I’m just perplexed. The problem is that good blogs lead to good comments, which lead to good replies….and so on. Where do you draw the line? In many ways, the ADR is enough reading and commenting activity for a week – but then your blog is shaping up nicely too…aaagh! ;)

        • Well, I’d hate to lose you from the blog, but I can’t be upset with someone choosing to spend less time on the internet in favor of more time in the real world. That’s always a smart choice, seems to me.

          I understand your perplexity. I’m feeling much in the same boat at the moment. I’m leaning toward a plan of scheduled days I’m able to access the internet, or certain days I can spend more time on the internet with the other days being limited to approving comments here on the blog and maybe checking email, and no more. There was a point I lived in Portland when I had no internet in my apartment. I would go to the library to get online. It was brilliant—I was still able to get many of the benefits of the internet, but without all the time-wasting that tends to come with it for me. I’d like to design such a situation again.

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