Cultivating Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Category: Minimalism

10 Key Takeaways From The Book and Film “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan

Colin Beavan knew he didn’t have all the answers, he just knew he wanted to try to make a difference. He set out on a quest to live within his values, which for him meant trying to live with as little waste and negative environmental impact as possible. He invited a documentary film crew and reporters into the journey he took with his family, a level of public vulnerability I find truly admirable. 

Here are my Ten Key Takeaways from the documentation of his year-long No Impact Project:

  1. The point is to try. The point is not to fix everything, to heal the world, to solve all the problems. The point is to mindfully try out the things you really believe in and see what happens. How do you want to be remembered when you die? As someone who ignored the problems, or as someone who tried to make a difference? 
  2. Every choice you make matters. Even if it doesn’t feel like it matters, it does. It doesn’t necessarily matter in the sense that buying one newspaper is going to send us all past the global warming 2°C tipping point. But if we choose to not buy that cup of expensive coffee in a disposable cup with a plastic lid and straw, it can make a change within us. We can notice what that change feels like. Maybe that change feels good and we want more of that change. And, who knows, maybe one of our friends might notice our behavior change, which might inspire them in some way, and so a domino effect takes place. Beavan points out that “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is just one straw; it took thousands of straws before it to finally be that one straw that broke the camel’s back, but each one of the straws were equally important to the process. Every choice matters. 
  3. We need a culture change. We need a way-of-living change. It’s very hard as an individual to change an entire system (say, how we get our power). But it’s not so hard for an individual to change their behaviors. You just have to make a choice.
  4. New technology is only part of the answer. Buying electric cars will still leave us in traffic jams. Powering our televisions with solar power still leaves us frittering away our lives being mildly entertained by watching other people play pretend. New technology is definitely part of the answer in the quest to save humanity, but it’s also up to each of us to decide how we want to live. 
  5. We are victims of Stasis Through Obfuscation. Corporations have an incentive to make things confusing; if we can’t figure out which type of product is really the most environmentally conscious, then an easy answer is to give up trying, pick one, and move on. It is easy to become paralyzed by conflicting information. In my life it has gone like this… One article says eating meat is bad and takes up way more resources and creates more greenhouse gas than alternatives, like tofu. Another article points out how tofu is processed and wrapped in plastic and, thus, is not an eco-conscious choice. So am I supposed to buy tofu or not? This is all a bit challenging to figure out, and now I’m feeling stressed and drained. Time to order some pad thai. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the norm. The interests of the businesses behind all these products want it to be confusing so that we give up trying and just buy whatever is most convenient. It’s important to remember that making change is hard and the way that things are right now is not our fault, but there is something we can do about it. 
  6. Set rules for yourself to make change easier. One thing I love about Beavan’s No Impact Project is that he set rules for himself and his family, guidelines that helped define the project and aligned with his actual values. These were rules like “we will only eat food with ingredients sourced from within 250 miles” or “no more buying disposable anything.” The rules we create for ourselves can vary. The point is not to try to follow his rules. He wasn’t arguing we should all live like “No Impact Man.” The point is to examine earnestly your own life, identify some ways you can do less harm and do more good, and then set rules for yourself to follow. The rules help make all the little decision-making processes we have to go through in our lives easier. If you give yourself a rule of “no more buying disposable anything,” then you can instantly look at any product and know whether or not you can or should buy it–if it’s wrapped in plastic, it stays on the shelf. 
  7. As tools we have Individual Action and Collective Action. We can make changes in our own lives and we can work together in teams. We need to do both. These are not mutually exclusive. It’s not enough to lobby politicians, and it’s not enough to stop eating meat. We need more of both of these things. 
  8. Happiness and The Good Life are not the same as economic growth. Colin illuminates how economic growth, the thing many of us contribute to with our jobs and our spending, does not necessarily equate to happiness growth. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment… pick your word. Over the last 200 years of industrial and technical innovation, consider that we may already have a lot of the technology we need. We may not really need a new iteration of the PlayStation. What if those computer engineers were instead working on ways to bring education or sanitation to those who don’t have access to it? In our own lives, how long do we pursue our own financial growth before we stop and accept that we have enough? If we realize we don’t need all the stuff, how does that impact our “enough number”? We need to find ways to have happier people as well as a happier planet. 
  9. Find your own balance between impact reduction and happiness. Every person will hit a point at the bottom of minimalism where they are not willing to go below when faced with a convenient alternative. Beavan hits this point when his child has soiled multiple rounds of bedsheets in the middle of the night, and he breaks his own rule and uses the washing machine in his building. If we all tried a version of the No Impact Project, most of us would end up with a similar breaking point. That is OK! The goal is not about avoiding all indulgences and completely depriving oneself; it’s about stripping life back to its essentials in order to see clearly what we really need and what we’re OK letting go of. We can use asceticism as a temporary tool to bring clarity to what we truly need and desire. 
  10. What’s good for the planet also happens to be good for us. It sounds obvious, but many of us, myself included, still end up making choices to the contrary. If we take the stairs instead of the elevator, we have the double benefit of avoiding electricity use and improving our physical health. If we choose to eat only local food, we get the two-pronged bonus of minimizing carbon emissions and better body nourishment. If we decide to get rid of our television, we both save on power and make room for more soul-enriching activity. Improving your life and saving the planet are one and the same. 

FAVORITE PASSAGES FROM THE BOOK “NO IMPACT MAN”

ON HUMBLY STUMBLING FORWARD INTO THE UNKNOWN

The idea was not to become an environmental expert and then apply what I’d learned. The idea was to start from scratch—with not a clue about how to deal with our planetary emergency—and stumble forward. To see what I could find out. To see how I evolved.

 

ON GROWTH VS. HAPPINESS

Growth in gross domestic product, the common wisdom says, is a good thing that all of us should work for. A growing GDP is a sign that we are all doing well, it is said, an indicator of the common good. But as I do my research, I read that the more people get cancer, the more the health sector grows. The more people get divorced, the more the legal sector grows. The more Hurricane Katrina’s there are, the more the emergency services sector grows. Should our goal simply be to blindly “grow our economy,” or should we find ways to ensure that it grows in ways that both improve the quality of life and protect our habitat? Growth in our economy doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s more money in the average person’s pocket, or that the average person is more content. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are all going on more holiday or getting more jet skis. Growth in the economy could just as easily reflect the average person spending his life savings to deal with some terrible family catastrophe. It could also mean that we are all working 10 hours a day instead of eight, that we are all spending twice as much money on our kids at Christmas because we feel guilty for not spending enough time with them.

Since 1950, the U.S. gross domestic product has grown 550 percent. Want to know how much measures of happiness have increased? Just about zero. So, in the service of a healthy economic system, many of us no longer live near our families but cross country to be near jobs. Some of us work two jobs, get more stuff, take only two weeks holiday a year while Europeans take seven. How much satisfaction do we get for all that?”

 

ON CONVENIENCE

Do we work for and pay for all this convenience in order to live our lives, or do we live our lives in order to work for and pay for all this convenience?

 

ON STRIKING A BALANCE

I would have to find, over the coming year, some sort of middle path that involved neither the self-indulgence of the unconscious consumer nor the self-denial of the ascetic. I wanted to find a way to thoroughly enjoy the fruit without killing the tree. I wanted to find a way of living on the planet’s dividends instead of its capital. … I simply wanted to see if we could learn to behave like good guests while enjoying a good life.

 

NOW WHAT?

Toward the end of the documentary film “No Impact Man,” Colin Beavan is seen wrapping up his yearlong project by getting out into the community. He speaks to 200 NYU students who are going to try living with no waste for a week. He speaks to different classes of elementary and high school students, adapting his message of mindful consumption age appropriately. He visits the garbage processing area in the Bronx, a community that receives much of New York City’s garbage. He goes to meet with his congressperson to lobby for more environmental policy. He volunteers with a group helping to repopulate with New York water systems with shellfish. He volunteers with another group that takes care of the already-planted trees scattered throughout New York City. 

He mentions how one of the most common questions he gets asked is, “What’s the one thing I should do? The one thing I should change? Should I stop disposing of plastic bags? Should I start eating organic only?” His answer: “If there’s only one thing you’re going to change, go volunteer with an environmental organization.” 

As he gets out into the community, he realizes that doing one year of the No Impact Project pales in comparison to what so many other people are doing, dedicating their entire working lives to environmental causes. He contends that the most profound impact one can have with a single act is to go volunteer with a group of people doing environmental work. It is there that not only can one do some good with their time and energy, but also that one can connect with other people, learn from them, and start to build up a sense of community. 

 I’m convinced. If someone can go for a year producing almost zero waste, shutting off their electricity, only buying food from their local area, and washing their clothes by foot in their bathtub, and their takeaway after that whole experience is that the best thing I can do is go volunteer with an environmental group, I’m listening to that wisdom. 

Join me! 

On Sabbatical – Week 22: Camping With The Boys & Voluntary Suffering

Five weeks ago, the idea of an October camping trip to Minnesota’s North Shore was born in a driveway during a kid’s birthday party. This week, the idea became reality. 

Our destination: Cascade River State Park, near Lutsen, MN, a mere hour-long drive from the Canadian border. I reserved a hike-in campsite for myself and three friends at this state park, and after calling the park to inquire about the available sites, I chose “BP2” (Backpack 2), which is situated on top of Moose Mountain. 

Our home for the weekend

There are advantages and disadvantages to any campsite. Some have better access to water, better views, more privacy, proximity to trails and amenities, and so on. We opted for the site that had privacy and a great view, but the trade-offs were… we had to climb and we had to pack in our water. It was just over one mile from the car to the campsite, but that mile was a pretty steady 45 degree incline the entire way. 

Now, for a true backpacking expedition, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem; in fact, for many backpackers along the big American trails like the A.T. or the P.C.T., inclines like this would be the norm. In those cases, however, the backpackers are typically equipped with proper gear like form-fitted rucksacks, trekking poles, and freeze-dried or dehydrated food like rice or oats. Essentialism is key – bring only what you need. In all of my planning and discussions with my crew before our departure, it seemed I either did not properly communicate this tenet of backpacking, or I did and they just ignored the advice, because we packed in a LOT of stuff! Even though our bodies were at their freshest point of the weekend, that first mile hike from the car to the site was the most grueling mile of them all, with the weight of full-size camping chairs, full water jugs, and enough junk food to send an army into diabetic shock weighing us down. With enough trudging and plodding along, we did eventually make it to camp, and the view and the privacy made it all worth it. 

Cascade River State Park Campsite BP2, overlooking Lake Superior

As we unpacked, and I saw just how much food my friends brought for this two-night jaunt in the woods, I felt a sense of disappointment rise within me. I didn’t make a big deal of it at the time, I just went with the flow and embraced the notion that we each packed what we needed to pack. I had put a lot of thought into the planning of what we’d bring (on a shared Google Doc), so we could coordinate items, prevent overpacking, and do things a little more communally and a little less individually. So at first, I thought my shock at all these surprise items was due to a feeling of our plan being undermined or not followed, a disappointment that, despite my best efforts, the idea of communicating and packing our gear communally was too much for my friends, too outside their comfort zone, too far away from their conditioned tendencies to want to be in control and do things as an individual instead of as a group.

It wasn’t until later the next day, though, that I realized the bigger source of my feeling; a big part of what I enjoy about camping, hiking, backpacking, and being out in the woods is the suffering. I like the suffering. I crave it. It’s part of the allure of the outdoors for me, the opportunity to taste how challenging life in the wild really is. Life in the modern world is so incomprehensibly comfortable. I like my time on camping/backpacking trips to be in as direct contrast to that as possible. I like to wake up and get out on the trails early, eat a bit of trail mix through the day whenever my body signals it needs some fuel, and then have one warm meal with some tea in the evening as the sun is going down and I’ve made camp for the night. I like stripping things down to the essentials. I even like being a bit dehydrated. Not so dehydrated that I’m having headaches or muscle cramps, but really conserving my resources and waiting to consume anything until my body is really asking for it. When I take this minimalist approach to my time in the outdoors, I’m able to feel my body and hear my thoughts more acutely. Typical daily patterns and habits are broken; there is only this moment. This approach also makes the re-entry into modern life so much more eye-opening. I experience a deeper gratitude for the simplest of things. I come home and am extremely thankful for my faucet with running water. When was the last time you were thankful for your faucet? That’s the power that a few days away from modern conveniences can have. 

It was actually very useful for me to crystallize this personal insight, and I don’t know if I would’ve arrived at that insight had my one friend decided to leave his can of Easy Cheese at home (or better yet, left it unpurchased on the store shelf). I realized just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean have to eat it; I can make my own choices. So it turns out I’m thankful for the lesson provided by the excess junk food. (Plus, I wasn’t the one that had to carry it.)

We had a truly epic weekend. The weather was unseasonably awesome for mid-October in northern Minnesota, and we made the most of it. We hiked many miles, shared many laughs, and even shed a few tears (mostly from laughing so hard). Thank you to the women in our lives for taking care of our children and homesteads to enable this weekend of joy for us boys! 

Here is a list of the memories I jotted down the day after we got back. Most of them will not make sense to you, the reader, but hey, this blog is for me just as much as it is for any of you, so these are for me! 

Memories:

  • On Saturday we hiked north on the trail up the eastern side of the Cascade River. There is also a trail on the western side of the river, but the state park map gets cut off before it shows where the crossing is from east to west. We assumed it would be obvious. It was not. We found a dirt road and a parking lot, but no obvious spot of where to cross and pick the trail up on the other side. We walked along the road and river for a ways, looking for a spot to cross, and at one point there was some “fencing” made of black fabric attached to some posts, like you might find blocking off a construction site. My friend saw this fence, walked over to it, jumped over it, walked into the wild woods beyond, turned around and yelled back, “I think I found it.” Because, you know, typically hiking trailheads are found on the other side of a fence one has to jump. 
  • As we walked off trail, trying to find the trail, we enjoyed variations of the phrase, “I think this must be the path. This part of the woods looks pretty path-y over here.”
  • Moss feels better when you take your shoes off. 
  • We all know the feeling of déjà vu, but have you ever experienced déjà new? How about déjà now? I can’t explain exactly what these mean, but I know that if you go off into the woods with your friends, you’ll find it. 
  • Despite our meandering about at the river crossing, we ended Saturday with utterly perfect pacing of the day, with the sun setting over the horizon just as we arrived back to camp. 
  • As we returned to camp from our long day hike on Saturday, one friend hauled a massive dead log on his shoulders up to our campsite. Another friend made it his mission to burn this log to bits, no matter how long it took.

THE LOG

  • While we returned home with all of our appendages still connected, one of my friends did manage to slice his thumb with our log splitter. I learned that my backpacking first aid kit could use a little sprucing up. 
  • Bring tortillas on future camping trips to go with hot meals!
  • I do love how the guys that came on this trip surprise me. I’ve always loved surprises, ever since I was a kid. In their own way, each one of my friends did stuff that I did not expect, and it’s fun to surround myself with people that keep me on my toes and make life interesting. 

And finally, when you get right down to it, all we really need in this life are woods, friends, and snacks. 

 

Oh, and I almost forgot, at the beginning of the week I did some warmup hikes with my trusty hiking companion. 

Hiking companion I can’t bring on wooded trails (burrs) and I can’t take farther than 3 miles (he’s 11).

On Sabbatical — Week 16: One Dad, Two Kids, and the Great Outdoors

Months ago, I planned and booked a camping trip for our family to Itasca State Park. I had done a three-night solo camping trip there in September 2021, and at that time I had assessed that it would be an excellent state park to bring the entire family. So as soon as it became available to reserve, I booked us a campsite (with a camper cabin, a one-room log cabin to add a touch of convenience) for the end of August 2022. As the day of departure approached, Kristyn began to develop a cold, and I suggested that perhaps I could take the kids camping and she could stay home to rest and enjoy some alone time. This offer did not take much convincing. And so, the kids and I loaded up in the minivan and embarked upon a four-night camping trip, just the three of us.

Even though my kids are only six and four years old, and even though we were going to be three and a half hours from home, and even though I was not going to have any help in taking care of my children nor myself, I was feeling confident about the adventure. Excited. A touch of nervousness, perhaps, but having completed a successful two-night camping trip with my eldest earlier in the summer, and having spent so much time with both kids all summer long and observed their current maturity levels, I felt like we were just on the right edge of being “old enough” to make this a viable endeavor with me as the only parent. Thanks to the awesomeness of my children, I couldn’t have been more right.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal on the night of arrival to our campsite (and let’s just reflect on the fact that I had even one moment to consider writing in a journal!):

The girls have chosen to use the markers and paper we brought to color while sitting on the floor. “Amar Pelos Dois” is cooing over the portable speaker in our nicer-than-expected camper cabin. Four nights in a cabin with my two kids – it feels a bit like ‘The Ultimate Survival Challenge,’ but it also feels like it’ll be a cinch. It’s the second hour of being here, and the girls are showing me they can occupy themselves and each other, even with rain bringing us inside. … This time in the woods with my kids is the last hurrah before summer is over and the final school year in the USA starts. What is my intention with this time? To demonstrate to my kids that fun and joy can be had without much. To experience hiking in a positive way (my youngest is not a huge fan, yet). To let them lead so we all can learn from their choices and behaviors.

We had a lovely spaghetti dinner. I cleaned up while they played Concentration with each other. We began a tradition of enjoying tea and apples after dishes were done. And for the next three days, we enjoyed exploring, hiking, playing, finding bear tracks, picking M&M’s out of trail mix, swimming, and simply being in the outdoors.

MY CHILDREN ARE MORE GROWN THAN I KNOW

When taken into the outdoors, without many modern conveniences and left to their own devices, they seemed to age two years in two minutes. All of a sudden, not only did my youngest child no longer need or want any help in a public bathroom (the family bathroom kind where it’s just one small room), they specifically requested I leave them be and wait outside. Both kids, all of a sudden, seemed to just know how to wash and dry dishes, when given the opportunity. When we arrived at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the main attraction of Itasca State park, the kids did not hesitate. You see, at these headwaters of America’s largest and most powerful river, the river is very small, almost streamlike. There are rocks that act as stepping stones where one can actually hop across the Mighty Mississippi. It’s not the most challenging physical act, to balance on these rocks and make it across, but it’s also more challenging than taking a stroll on a sidewalk. And when my kids saw this, saw a few adults carefully making their way across the stones, my kids did not hesitate. As I wrote in my journal later, “Before I knew it, their shoes were off. Fording the Mississippi with two children… it was mildly stressful, but I was simultaneously proud and in awe of their bravery and ability/balance, while enjoying the experience for myself.” It blew me away how ready and equipped they already are to act more mature, and all it took was removing distractions, removing convenience, giving them an opportunity to shine, and then getting out of their way.

MEETING THE COLDWATER’S

One afternoon, we were hanging out at the park’s largest playground, the one near the swimming beach, and it was here that we had what felt to me like a fateful encounter. It was here that we met the Coldwater family, a family of three that live “off the grid,” as they put it, in northern Minnesota. The woman and her son were playing at the park, speaking French to each other (I learned the woman is from Belgium) and at this my children’s ears perked up, because they are learning Spanish and have an ear for foreign language. This curiosity about their language was enough to spark interaction with these people, and the more I learned about the Coldwater family’s life, the more I was drawn in. They built their own house using natural materials like straw, wood, and lime plaster. They are acquiring a sailboat and have plans to sail from the Caribbean, through the Saint Lawrence seaway, all the way to Lake Superior to return to their home in northern Minnesota. They also plan to take this boat on a Trans-Atlantic voyage to the Mediterranean for a couple of years. They have no running water and bring water from the natural spring that’s 1/4 mile away from their home, 2-3 times every day. They have intimate knowledge of how to harvest and prepare wild rice, a practice they learned from the Lakota people. I could go on. Oh, and they were just delightful human beings who seemed completely in tune with enjoying the present moment. I was and still am so enchanted with this family. I don’t necessarily aspire to live in a log cabin off the grid, but I do believe they are living in a way that is much more connected to the natural world, the world from which we all come, than I am, and for that, I admire them. I deeply hope to stay connected to them in some way, but if not, I’m happy to have met and to have been inspired by them. And I am grateful that I listened to my kids and let them lead the way when they said, “We want to go to the park,” or I would have never met the Coldwater family.

A FEW FINAL MEMORIES OF SOLO CAMPING WITH TWO KIDS

  • When you arrive to the state park and your campsite isn’t ready yet, head straight for the playground.
  • A quick backstory – when I was a kid, I remember eating apples after dinner, but before bed. We would do this often in my home (via my dad), and we would do it even more often whenever I was visiting my grandparents (my dad’s parents). While I still enjoy apples, eating them nightly is not a habit I carried forward into my own life. Fast forward to this camping trip, and as I packed for it, I brought precisely enough apples with us so that we could share an apple together every night. Not sure why, it just felt right. Every night, as I placed a bowl of sliced apples on the cabin table in front of my children, I could feel some historical, inter-generational frequency vibrating within me. Like, even though I haven’t actually been there before, it felt like I had been there before. Almost like I could feel my father and his father working through me. And I was aware of the feeling like I am actively passing on a tradition, a conscious programming of my children to share some of the same programming etched into my core. I did not plan for nor expect this feeling to arise, but it was really cool when it did.
  • At one point, the kids were using the toys that I had brought in ways I would never have imagined – they were outside, using the jump rope and ladder golf ladders, and other items from nature to construct a sort of… bridge structure. At one point, in between the gathering and placing of sticks, rocks, and pinecones on top of this structure, my kid looked to me and said, “We know that water is the glue of nature, so we’re going inside to get our water bottles.”

Building a bridge together

MORE FUN OUTSIDE AND FINDING INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE

Our camping trip was from Sunday-Thursday, so when we got home, we still had the weekend to enjoy, and although one might think we would have been depleted of energy from the time outdoors and the long car ride, it was quite the contrary – we all felt energized from living a more simple life and spending time together. So, we went out for some more activity!

The day after we returned from camping, the weather was gorgeous and Kristyn was still not feeling 100%, so I took the kids to a park in town. They simply could not get enough of being outside! I felt proud at how easily they made friends with other kids at the beach. As they played with newly-made friends, I went for a nearby stroll, and I happened to notice this dedication placard on one of the park benches. It reads: “Jerry Gale [In Honor Of]. High-energy dad, grandpa, & eternal optimist who went to bat for causes he believed in.” I don’t know who Jerry Gale is, but I know he must have been a great man. If, once I pass away, my family remembers me in this way, I will consider my life a success.

An inspiration

THAT’S A WRAP ON SUMMER – WHAT HAVE I LEARNED FROM ALL THIS TIME WITH MY KIDS?

The end of this week marks a wrap on summer. A sabbatical summer. I spent so much time with my kids, intentionally so. Earlier in the season, I consciously made the choice that this summer was going to be a time of me being a kid again, of letting go of what’s “supposed” to happen. So, what did I learn from my two little sources of wisdom?

  • We are social creatures. My kids love making friends with anyone. It’s a credit to their friendly personality and disposition, and it’s also their plain humanity shining through. Their “flow state” is enabled when playing with or talking to new humans.
    • What does that look like in the adult world? How do I suppress my natural urges to connect with a new person? Why do I do that? What do I fear? What would it look like if I gave all strangers the same benefit of the doubt that my kids give other children on the playground?
  • Siblings are extremely valuable. My kids practice so many life skills together: communication, problem solving, teamwork, debate… They don’t really realize how lucky they are to have each other.
    • This makes me more grateful for my own brother. Even though we don’t talk much these days, I’m very grateful we had each other in our formative years. I believe I’m a better person because I had him (and my parents) around to teach me the kind of things an older brother needs to be taught: humility, thinking of others, sharing, and so on.
  • Parenting is easier when I let go of personal wants. In spending heaping amounts of time with my children, moments of my impatience or frustration inevitably arose. When I examine the root cause of those moments, they almost all originate from having my own desire. I want to finish the chapter in my book. I want to go on a long hike. I want to start making progress on preparing dinner. I want, I want, I want. Whenever I have a want that doesn’t align with my kid’s want, friction occurs.
    • If my goal is for parenting to be easier, and for my relationship with my child to grow positively, there is a simple answer – let go of my want. It fixes everything.
  • My kids simply want me to be with them. During the day. At night. They seem to not be able to get enough of me, of my attention, of my love, of my energy. They want me to be their witness. Their cheerleader. To be there in case something bad happens. To have someone to read to them. Someone to snuggle. Or climb on. Someone to play pretend with. To hold the heavy things. Someone to help. Sure, they’re getting old enough to be able to play on their own for a while and enjoy it, but it’s never their first choice. I am not this great to anyone else on the planet.
    • For two people to have this much pure love of me, I owe them my energy and my time.

Choosing a Life of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Less, and Letting Go of the Culture of More

It’s official! As of yesterday, I am no longer an employee.
 
I am now simply an untethered, wandering organism of the planet. After 7.5 satisfying years selling TV and Digital advertising for KARE 11, and after a total of 15 years selling advertising for a living, I’m getting out of the game.
Why?
  • Because I am accepting that what I have is, for now, enough.
  • Because life is too short and can end at any moment.
  • Because life is made up of chapters, and a new chapter is starting right now.
  • Because all my children want me to do right now is play with them.
  • Because I don’t believe in striving for more, more, more, just for the sake of having more.
  • Because I want to do more to make the world a better place for future generations.
  • Because I believe in listening closely to and trusting my instinct.
  • Because there is value in living slowly.
  • Because times change, and I’m not the same person I was when I was in my late teens and early 20’s and chose Marketing and Sales as my career path. 
  • Because, and let’s just be honest here, do any of us really believe deep down that we need *more* TV commercials in our lives?
Ok, so… What now?
 
Along with my partner, I am embarking on a 2-year mini-retirement. A sabbatical. A reshuffling of life’s typical timeline, where, as opposed to allocating all my retirement years to 65+, I am time-shifting two of those years to right now. Exactly what we’ll do with this time, and when, is largely unknown. What we do know is that we are going to attempt to strip our lives down to the essentials and reassess, from the ground up, how we want to live our lives.
 
What else do we know?
 
We know that in summer of 2023, our plan is to move to the beautiful country of Costa Rica, indefinitely. This gives us a little over one year to take all the necessary steps to get us from Twin Cities suburbs to Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste. It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, it’s a dream, it’s a wild and crazy adventure that I’m feeling all the feelings about, and I’m thrilled to be able to share our plan with the world!
 
How am I able to do this?
 
I freely admit I am a beneficiary of privilege. I’m a white man in America. I come from a supportive family. Things have generally been working out for me. But I do believe that taking a break, even just a small break, from the minutiae of Corporate America is viable for more than just the super-rich.
 
My process has mainly involved asking myself hard questions in a journal and not walking away until I’d written down some answers. Questions like, “How much is enough?” and “What do I value above all else?” and “What visions do I embrace?” It was in the reflective process of answering tough questions like these that I realized I value the simple, fundamental things life has to offer, many of which don’t require material wealth, like: spending time with loved ones, being out in nature, exercising, cooking a nutritious and scrumptious meal from scratch, meditating, and creating stuff. When you value low-cost/no-cost activities, you don’t need as much.
 
The consumerist culture we live in is designed to convince us we have many more “needs” than we actually do. Part of my quest is to shed wanting and embrace a mindful, minimalist life.
What’s the Goal?
 
One of my top priorities for this time is to put my privilege to better use, to harness and hone my true inner super powers to unleash their maximum value for the benefit of humanity. My intent and hope is that the world sees a net payoff by me pointing my best strengths to the things I care about and value most.
 
Also, my partner and I believe that spending time as a resident of another country will be an informative, enlightening, and enriching experience for ourselves and our children. There are ways to live a great life that are different from the “standard suburban America lifestyle,” and we want our family to gain this perspective. We plan to do our best to learn the culture of Costa Rica, honor the land and its people, and foster a strong connection with our new community. 
What else is on the top of the priority list for the next few months?
  • Declutter (physically and mentally). Strip away all but the essentials. 
  • Live each moment as mindfully as possible, being present in that moment and feeling grateful to be alive to experience it (even if that moment is washing dishes).
  • Practice high-value activities, which for me are things like: hiking, learning Spanish, playing volleyball, running, cooking, and creative projects (music, writing, podcasting).
  • Invest time and emotions into my relationships with family and friends. When I’m going to bed at night, if I’ve spent quality time with loved ones at some point during the day, it feels like I’m closing out a high-value day. I want more high-value days! And the days feel even juicier when I’ve opened up, been vulnerable, and gotten into my feelings with someone I care about, so… more of this too! 
  • Develop consistent practices that align with my values and bring me joy, excitement, and contentment. Daily or weekly practices of meditation, Spanish, guitar, piano, exercise, and others. These practices will compound over time to bring me to a new state I could not achieve without a steady commitment. It will take some trial and some more error to hone the balance of practices that feels right, but then again, it’s an ever-evolving journey that will shift over time, so trick is to also practice tuning in to my mind, body, and spirit to hear what they need. 
  • Regularly ask myself, “What would truly excite me right now?” And then do it. 
 
I’ll be publishing more about this journey in the days and months ahead. I look forward to sharing it with you.
 
“The formula of happiness and success is just being actually yourself, in the most vivid possible way you can.” – Meryl Streep

Lessons From “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer

After finishing Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, I immediately took to my journal to write down my top lessons and takeaways from the stories of Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp and the other adventurers noted in the book. 

I’m sharing this journal entry as-written to retain the essence of how I was feeling immediately after finishing the book.

  1. Call your parents. They always want to hear from you.
  2. Life with less can be more fulfilling. 
  3. Convention is the enemy.
  4. We are prisoners of society, of civilization.
  5. Experiences are best when shared. Chris comes to this realization toward the end of his life after spending several months in isolation in Alaska. At first this expedition made him feel more alive than anything else. But after a time, he concludes experiences are better when shared with others. 
  6. Relationships and love matter. 
  7. Document your own life with pictures and journals. 
  8. Surround yourself with writings that move you. 
  9. Don’t wait to start living out your beliefs. Now is the time. 
  10. You can get by with much less than you think. 
  11. Chris McCandless blindly trusted so many strangers: for a ride, for shelter, for employment. To these people unknown to him, he showed courtesy, honesty, and hard work. In response, they all helped him. What would happen if we all gave people we don’t know the benefit of the doubt? Gave them compassion, love, and respect as the default? 
  12. Your limits are much farther than you think they are. Pushing those limits can be thrilling and exhilarating. 
  13. When embarking on a new endeavor, take time to learn from experts who have walked the path before you. 
  14. Be prepared. 

If you enjoyed this article and the book Into The Wild, you might also enjoy the following:

My vision is to help create a more peaceful and compassionate world with a sustainable future for humanity, returning balance between humans and the natural world. If you share in this vision, I’d love to connect with you:

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