Sunday, November 25, 2007

Art and Sustainability in the New Millennium

by Ian Christopher Goodman
with guidance from Marcus Macdonald

In these most recent and frenetically developing years of the Information Age, art has also seen some surprising transformations. No longer is it an unusual metier practiced by quirky cave people who travelled deep into mountains’ hearts to paint the exotic menageries in their minds; nor is its existence dependent on the fickle patronage of an aristocracy, and it’s no longer reserved for idiosyncratic urbanites, like those who once lived in boho enclaves of cosmopolitan cities during the early 20th century. In the industrialized nations, art has been democratized, and the 21st century boasts the greatest number of artists the world has ever seen. With minimal effort, musicians can record concept albums in their own living rooms. Films can be shot with cell phones, edited on PCs and distributed on the Web. For anyone with the inclination, paints and brushes can be procured for next to nothing at the local dollar store.

From one perspective, this is a good thing. Making art is an incomparable way for us to explore society, culture, history, science, personal experience and many other facets of existence. Artists can share the fruits of their exploration—their discoveries—in stimulating ways that often hold deep resonance for audience members. Art can bring more beauty into the world and simultaneously sublimate tabooed instincts. Normally, as human beings, we imitate, but as artists, we originate. Marcus Macdonald has said that "...the very highest Art enables us to join with the Artist and choose our own vision. The freedom of spirit, and the exhilaration of vast choices, is what spectators revel in (or fear); it is this freeing of the mind that is searched for by Art lovers throughout history." Perhaps the most fascinating aspect about art is that it can be anything, playfully eluding our attempts at strict definitions. But unfortunately, art can also exacerbate the problems of environmental degradation and community fragmentation.

With millions of artists in the world now, that means millions of video cameras exported from Japan, millions of gallons of tempera paint shipped from Mexico then flushed down the sink, millions of spandex dance pants bought from China, millions of gallons of British beer sold at pubs in the name of rock ‘n’ roll. Art these days is unfortunately an intimate bedfellow with Consumption. And though artists may be concerned about sustainability as a concept, it’s much more difficult to bring those concerns into the practice of art.

Art, in its purest sense, shouldn’t be bound to any one mandate, which could risk stifling its freedom. As Marcus Macdonald points out, “In the Soviet Union, during Stalin’s reign…Social Realism stated that Art must always serve the people (hence, always be propaganda for the Communist Revolution). Art for Art's sake was deemed decadent and degenerate (capitalistic), and worse: antirevolutionary. Further, Art had to express itself in the simple, easily understood, popular visual idiom of Realism. The revolutionary giants of Constructivism and Suprematism felt the cold backlash of working for the State and had to relinquish their cherished exploration of abstraction.” However, I believe that, as artists in the Information Age, we have to remember our role as global citizens alongside our role as artists. As global citizens, we should not only explore the socio-economic mechanisms that sustain, impede and encourage art, but also live sustainably. We should consider allowing ideas of sustainability to inform our roles as artists, while also allowing the profound heritage of artistry to inform the relatively newer concept of sustainability. In this precarious millennium, art may have to satisfy one condition: sustaining itself. And to do this, artists and spectators alike must, at the very least, be able to live and regenerate, and at best, thrive.

Some artists have approached the subject of sustainable living within their projects. In the ’60s, Joseph Beuys developed the concept of Social Sculpture, and modelled society rather than materials. One of his greatest works was the planting of 7,000 oak trees. As Canadian artists, the Group of Seven brought our attention back to nature. Right here in MontrĂ©al, we have the artist Phil Allard. He created a five-story-tall sculpture in Eaton Centre made entirely from discarded plastic bottles that were collected from the shopping mall. And look to someone like the clothing designer Re-Gen, who cuts out fabrics using the Fibonacci sequence, so that no material is wasted.

Marcus Macdonald invited me to think about Andy Goldsworthy: “His work is free of any use of purchased materials; he uses just what nature provides freely. Nor is he concerned with fame; he is quite content living in relative obscurity, basking in the love of his family and close friends. His work has reached the far corners of the planet, and inspires with its elegance, parsimony of materials, mastery of technique, and majesty of vision. His work has been emulated by many. He is a humble, if introverted man; like a child, he explores whatever his spirit alights on.”

As we can see, sustainability can not only be a theme, but can also influence the process of creating art. Paint that uses natural ingredients can be bought in bulk, inside biodegradable containers; or better, it can be created by us, using easily accessible and natural materials. Filmmakers, painters and musicians alike can come together and pool resources. One camera can be purchased by a group of filmmakers; one art studio and its supplies shared by a group of visual artists; music studios and drum kits shared by numerous bands. Shabby, beaten-up, ducked-taped instruments can be salvaged and used again. With the right eye, mint-condition tools can be retrieved from needless disposal. All of this is easier said than done, of course, but these kinds of cooperative efforts and examples of conscientious consumption are things we may want to pursue if we want our future generations to…(insert the rest of the green rhetoric here).

Then there is the issue of community fragmentation, which also seems connected to unsustainable practices. In our current modality, everyone is compartmentalized and trained in efficiency for the sake of profit generation (of individuals, corporations and/or the state) without being aware of the entire system. Indeed, understanding the complete cycle of a system (be it economic or environmental) seems vital to the understanding of sustainability. If we don't have this understanding, we exist in a system that ignores the consequences. Oftentimes, it seems as though urban artists are just as trapped as everyone else behind these walls of fragmentation. We cohere into snobbish cliques, surrounding ourselves with each other, whilst watching the rest of our species madly careen towards the abyss of extinction.

As I had said before, some of the most important qualities of art are to explore and originate, then share the consequent discoveries and creations with others. Consider walking out from the hub of artists from time to time to mollify those barriers of fragmentation, to share with those who are more difficult to access: rabbis and monks, octogenarians, those who speak a different language, dudes and dudettes who drive those subwoofer-thumpin’ Hummers. Who’s walking outside our bedrooms window right now? How can we share our artistic discoveries with them? These are important questions. Humans of the future are waiting with baited breath right now, wondering what we’re going to do and whether or not they’re going to dematerialize, based on our actions that may irrevocably erase their timeline. (Did that sci-fi image make any sense at all?)

Finally, there is the issue of livelihood, of literally sustaining ourselves with things like food and shelter, which is tremendously important to everyone on this planet—artists and spectators alike. As artists, most of us can’t sustain ourselves on our creations alone, so we work those loathsome day jobs. Some of us revere all things artful while hazily drifting through the mediocre and ultimately unsustainable gigs that do those pettier things like keep our stomachs appeased and our feet warm. But rather than putting art on a pedestal and shunning those very actions that sustain us (and allow us to do the art in the first place), let’s try to connect art and work. Let’s see how they fuel each other, support each other, and mirror each other. It’s all right if we put our art on hold every now and then, while we invest in our livelihoods. This investment can come back to us in surprising ways. And let's look closely at how we spend the money from our livelihoods. Is it going towards products and services that are themselves sustainable?

Now, I’m going to offer details of my own life, not because I think people should try to emulate me. Rather, I want to show how, given the certain particulars of my situation, I was able to organize my art and work in a way that allowed me to function well as an artist. And hopefully, it will be inspirational to some. It may also generate criticism that will prompt me to reconsider my ideas.

In my late twenties, I had a crisis and believed I shouldn’t work whatsoever, because all jobs seemed to support a monstrous civilization that boasted of genocide, civilian collateral damage, species’ extinctions, demented crimes, landfills of mountainous proportion, and so forth. In that position, I had the choice of going on welfare (letting the monster support me without ostensibly giving it anything in return) or going to school. I choose the latter because I hoped that the experience would stimulate me in unpredictable ways and offer new approaches for interacting with civilization. So I went back for two and a half years to obtain a Joint Honours BA in English Literature and Creative Writing; believing that I would thence be primed for the somewhat bearable job of teaching ESL; and thinking optimistically that my studies would supplement my art in an indirect way. School was often difficult because I had to stifle some of the creative projects dancing in my head. Academic life was an exercise in patience, but I met some wonderful people, learned about academe as an institutional entity, and directed my studies, whenever I could, to subjects that interested me.

After graduation, I did get a job as an ESL teacher, but quickly landed the better gig of editing subtitles. This job was and still is good for me as an artist, though it’s far from being a sustainable profession (a hard thing to come by these days). I only have to work about 24 hours a week, while honing the art of living frugally. With a decent amount of free time, finding opportunities to do art isn’t too hard. The formula seems to be working and has helped me finish a fair number of art projects. And inside these projects are some of my modest attempts to help tame society’s monstrosities. To be sure, I still have a lot of work to do in making the practice of my art sustainable. What’s interesting, too, is that I’m not worried about trying to make money as an artist. I think that when art becomes attached to money, it has the risk of turning into work/propaganda/advertising/commodity. One of art’s great and essential qualities is that it remains unfettered. I count myself lucky that my art is free from certain restraints. Another approach, however, is that an artist may deliberately want to make money as part of their artistic practice, and then to channel that money in artful ways. Yet another angle is to create something that civilization deems valuable (for whatever dubious or noble reasons), and then be rewarded for that creation.

As artists conscious of our roles as global citizens, we can look for unusual community connections, find value in all work that we do, consume wisely, make wonderful objects, and continually redefine what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. Thanks for reading. And I’ll leave you with an forgettable story that Marcus Macdonald told me. I couldn’t quite figure out how to fit it in the essay, but I couldn’t leave it out, either.

“I had the great honour of befriending the Albanian artist, Max Velo. During the communist regime in his country, Max was incarcerated for spreading anti-revolutionary ideas (owning books about capitalist artists such as Picasso, etc.). He was sent to a camp especially designed for unrepentant artists and intellectuals. No creation whatsoever was permitted in this prison. During his decade of confinement, Max managed to make several small objects despite the severe punishment that was the due of any delinquency. The inmates worked secretly on these tiny objects. They used apricot pits and a glue derived from old bones to create those small islands of salvation.

One day, one of Max's fellow cellmates was caught working on an apricot-pit sculpture. Weeping, he was obliged to crush this labour of several years. He was then dragged out of the cell. The poor man was later returned to the cell with all of his members brutally broken.

Each year of his imprisonment, Max was brought to an office. He would be presented with a document stating that he recognized his past errors and would cease his anti-revolutionary activities. Had he signed, he would have been free to leave. He never signed.

Eventually Max was sentenced to slave in a copper mine (deemed a fitting punishment for an artist who had made such prolific use of this material). He was chained to a wagon on rails. His job was to load the ore at one end of the rails, drag the wagon to the other end, unload the ore, and resume. For seven years he was thus chained, working in the dark, his food and water was left to him randomly. During this period he never saw the light of day.

Max was finally freed from this hell when the communist regime in his country fell. I met him in Paris shortly after his release. It was with great emotion that I held his precious relics, those small apricot-pit creations. A diminutive box, a minuscule cup, painstakingly made in the very worst conditions. You would probably not even give them a second look, were they placed with other similar objects in a knickknack store. It was the stark simplicity of these containers filled with uncrushable courage that struck me. This artist had, despite the bleakest of existences, created these vessels of hope.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thoughts on Indigenous Economies

written by Ian Christopher Goodman
with guidance by Douglas Frederick Jack
and Marcus Macdonald

What follows are some ideas about how to find a surplus of time and money that can then go towards other projects. It is about accessing an indigenous economy rather than staying in our current and problematic exogenous economy. The word “indigenous” has Latin roots and means "self-generating" while “exogenous,” accordingly, means "other-generated". Currently, most of us rely on exogenous funding—money from other entities (employers, welfare, inheritances, etc.)—and when we spend the money, we don’t usually see it come back to us directly. But there are other sources of funding that are very close and very accessible to us, which we can generate ourselves, and which can return to us in very tangible ways. Just as the harnessing of energy can have equally pronounced differences—from the burning of coal found deep within the Earth to the tapping of formidable atomic energy found deep within the microscopic world—so too can various economic models.

To further explain indigenous economy, I will start first by describing our current exogenous economy. For the moment, the average Canadian must worry about his or her own livelihood. Each individual gets her own job, and then her own apartment, her own computer, her own living materials, cooks her own meals, and does her own laundry, among many other things. Most of us don't take a critical look at this system because we don't have anything else to compare it to.

What happens when four people decide to gather themselves more closely together in an attempt to generate a surplus of time and money for themselves, so that they have more time and money to spend on those actions that are valuable to them? Rather than each individual owning a computer (an expense of $4,000) maybe only one computer is needed. The gathering of four has just saved $3,000. If the example had been a car, perhaps around $30,000 could have been saved. Rather than all four individuals each taking the time to go to the grocery store, one could go to the store on behalf of the group, freeing up possibly an hour of time for each of the other individuals. These are but two examples, and small surpluses of time and money here and there can quickly accrue. The average annual income for an individual in 2005 (according to Stats Canada) was $25,000. As a gathering, these four would now be earning $100,000 a year, and would have the ability to buy some costlier items.

If the group changed from 4 to 15, the economic changes are even more pronounced. Some people could sell items (fridges or computers that were no longer needed) and give some of that money to the people who's material items would still be used. Instead of 15 people going to the grocery store individually, spending about 15 hours of work, one or two people go for the group, potentially saving up to 14 car trips. The two grocery shoppers of the group may spend more time than if they were shopping for themselves—perhaps 2 hours. Nonetheless, 11 hours has been saved for the gathering in this example, and they can now put that time into other types of work. 15 people could cook for themselves individually, freezing leftovers for the week, or a few could cook for the gathering, and freshly prepared food could be enjoyed at every meal. Rather than each individual spending, for instance, $400/month on rent or mortgage payments, the group could pool their money together and be spending $6,000/month or $72,000/year towards the ownership of a living space. The total average income of a gathering of 15 is $375,000/year. If a person decided to leave the gathering, all the money he/she sunk into rent could potentially go back to them as well.

Some groups in Canada’s past, such as pre-1955 Doukhobors, were well aware of their indigenous economic power, and created economically strong communities as a result, sometimes with gatherings of close to 100 people (an annual group income of $2.5 million). And one reason that corporations wield so much sway these days is because of powerful gatherings of individuals. Only here, the surpluses are directed in ways that the boards of directors see fit, not necessarily the employees.

A way to keep track of all the time and money people are giving towards a gathering can be time-based accounting. Each individual in the group would have a notebook and would jot down all instances of energies and expenditures given to the group. Each member of the group could take a turn at organizing this information, possibly averting the problematic situation of only one accountant who knows the numbers. At first, this kind of system may seem unnatural and cumbersome, but it would quickly reveal itself to bring recognition to people within the group. Work would not go unnoticed. It would be documented and appreciated by others in the group. People would get a chance to see how long certain jobs took, how much certain things cost, then compare differences found between each other, all the while finding more efficient ways to do things.

Douglas Jack urges people to consider official contracts when counting one's work within a gathering: "It is important to stress that this is a formal contract process where individuals contract to perform certain tasks for their community at certain rates of compensation. Different from an "exclusive" monetary economy, we "include" all labours, which can be accounted for as investment into the community, and expressed as share ownership that is influenced but not limited to market-rate equivalents for compensation. As some jobs are currently under-valued in the market, with others over-valued, more equitable market rates can be determined by the community. In this sense, individuals build share holdings and vote with these at meetings. This ties into the idea that people who have given more to the community hold more sway in decision-making. I believe that, at every stage, we have to build this system formally, so that tangible rights are represented, as participatory enterprises like Tembec have done."

Marcus Macdonald has explored the issue of accounting in relation to people's varying levels of sociability: "Counting is, in itself, an expenditure of time and energy, so we need be frugal in deploying our accountants. Many actions do not benefit from the added weight of counting. Some tallies can lead to abuse. Does a highly productive individual deserve a better livelihood than a contemplative outsider who chooses to participate only marginally in the collective good? In a village, the critical mass can assimilate some nonparticipation. Nonparticipants make all sorts of contributions that are truly beyond quantification. Strange behavior, for example, should be valued as a resource that gives inspiration and staves off stagnation, and gives us a good laugh. Finally, despite any tallies of time, effort, or experience, everyone that is accepted within the community deserves a minimal portion of the collective bounty, and should have a voice in local governance. It should be noted that even this type of system, with all its checks and balances, is still vulnerable to unfairness. It is the discerning compassion of a united family/community that can rectify the errors that accounting may miss. After all, actions are of infinite complexity; how we reward those actions will always be relatively arbitrary. More essential than accurate accounting is the final equilibrium."

Human resources accounting can also be done, cataloguing people’s assets and discovering special ways that each person can give to the group. This is often referred to as ABCD: Asset-Based Community Development, and it doesn't refer to how much money someone is bringing into the equation. It's about discovering what skills and talents people have (and everyone has some skill or talent), rather than labelling them as poor, old, handicapped, sick, etc.

Decision-making within the group would not be an overly-simplified matter of one member = one vote. People with more experience in certain matters, such as elders, would have more authority on some issues, compared to someone who was new either to the group or to a certain issue. Both-Sides-Now is a system of dialogue developed by Douglas Jack that allows individuals to have an equal amount of time speaking and being spoken to. Other principles of indigenous governance, such as multi-stakeholder associations, caucussing, and progressive ownership can be used (but won't be elaborated upon in this posting for now).

Perhaps you know of a group of individuals who are willing to pool their livelihoods, time and expenses together in order to create some substantial surpluses that can go towards the creation of important projects. These people would not necessarily have the same lifestyles or beliefs, and even their goals could be different. People could still live in apartment or housing situations that provided them with the privacy that they’ve grown accustomed to. Living together as a gathering would simply generate surpluses in time and money for everyone and each person could spend those surpluses in ways that they deemed fit. I sense, however, that people with similar lifestyles and goals would live more harmoniously together, with the barriers of privacy becoming more permeable as time progressed.

It is important to stress as well that indigenous economies would find new value and spin on exogenous relations. Again, Marcus Macdonald has eloquently elaborated on this. He says that gatherings do best when interacting with other gatherings. When groups mingle amongst each other and with world culture at large, they can be positively influenced and enriched. "Every level of community has much to gain by a lively interpenetration between villages all around the Earth."

And what can be done with the time saved while living in a gathering? Reading, exercising, dancing, thinking, cooking, praying, being with friends and family, teaching, learning, healing, meditating, growing, dreaming, gazing, loving, helping, exploring, playing, and many, many other things. Of course, this proposal I have offered is a very brief outline. And you may decide that it is worth considering in more detail. To do so, I would recommend finding a group of people who are willing to consider this indigenous economy. Once a group of, say, 15 has been established, more thought can be put into how well that group could function as a gathering, based on everyone's highly individual outer natures, and also their highly similar divine natures. They could also start to look for a living space that they could buy together.

Please feel free to leave a comment. There’s a good chance I’ll incorporate your ideas into this document. The great thing about blogs is that they can change with just a few button clicks.

Pleasure: the Purpose of Life, the Reason for Life

Dear everyone,

It's been about six months since I've sent out some musings about life on Earth. I guess twice a year isn't too bad. And if you're tired of being belted by my nonsense, then feel free to click that pointer on something else as soon as humanly possible. Personally, I find that I have to be in a special mood to hear people's rants, raves and ramblings. The title of this piece is called, ahem, "Pleasure: the Purpose of Life, the Reason for Life."

Pleasure. Simply. Pleasure as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. Pleasure now. Pleasure later. Pleasure tonight, tomorrow and for years to come.

Does this idea seem selfish to you? Would you feel guilty if this was the foundation on which you built your life? I wonder why. When I, the perennially ornery kid, stopped listening to the advice of other people and started listening to my own body and my own experience, this was the answer that kept coming back to me. Live in pleasure.

Employers in various economies, teachers in various educational systems, and gods in various religions, have different ideas about what a life should be, but why should I listen to them? These people tell me I should listen to them. But why should I? Why do we? Our bodies, our minds and our souls (all indistinguishably connected, I think, and probably more accurately referred to as "mindbodysouls" in the same manner as "spacetime") know pleasure and yearn for pleasure. This seems to be undeniable.

Priests try to convince us that gods and devils will punish us in the afterlife if we enjoy ourselves too much. Employers will try to convince us that pleasure costs money, and we must work if we want to find it and ensure it for future generations, after our deaths. Doctors will tell us that painful, sometimes unnecessary, procedures (orthodontic braces) are an inevitable part of life that are a must before the vaults of pleasure can be opened, death thwarted, and winning smiles achieved.

I find it interesting that, while these people tell us what pleasure is, they're almost always using the idea of death to bully us away from pleasure. I sometimes imagine that in some utopic civilization that's long been buried under the sands of time, death wasn't a big deal. People never really thought about death because it always hampered pleasure. After thinking about death for a long time myself and hearing a lot of other people lament about it, this is the conclusion I've come to: I don't know the experience of death and I don't plan to. The "I", me, Ian, probably won't even be around in death, just as "I" wasn't before my birth. If I'm not afraid of those non-existing moments before my life, why would I be afraid of the non-existence afterwards?

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the 4th century BCE, had some interesting words on the subject: if pleasure is perfect in each moment and "infinite time contains no greater pleasure than limited time, if one measures by reason the limits of pleasure," then desiring immortality is unnecessary. In other words, even if our lives only have one resounding moment of pleasure, then we have experienced the highest form of contentment, and need not yearn for more. I think this resounding pleasure is something we have all experienced before and is not some unattainable form of bliss. Again, we all know pleasure.

I guess we could quibble forever about eternity, nothingness, reincarnation, hell, heaven, and the like. Nothing but words, words, words, all words, that would prevent us from finding the most important one--pleasure--and discovering its myriad manifestations that go far beyond the word itself. Indeed, we may discover that an entirely new vocabulary is needed for this territory that is vaguely described as pleasure. I know that I'm still quite ignorant of its peculiar waxings and wanings, its intensities and its species. I wonder though if words are enough. Maybe we can begin to learn about the landscape of pleasure without necessarily categorizing it like those most keen of naturalists.

Let's give ourselves the permission right now to be happy, to find joy, to live with love. Let's stop being afraid that we're wrong. Let's stop being bullied by guilt, death and fear. We are right. Deep down, our sense of pleasure is right.

What follows are some preliminary ideas on pleasure that may help us to orient ourselves in the world of titillation, as well as offer new perspectives on the topic.

1. Living in a home.

Let's have modest buildings that keep us warm and offer us shelter from the rain and from the cold. I wonder how many don't even acknowledge this pleasure? I sat in my bedroom chair for an hour today, simply enjoying the warmth of my apartment.

2. Enjoying food.

Let's eat what we crave and what we love. But it's good to be aware of the consequences of our consumption. Watch how eating some foods can take pleasure away from us at a later time. Tonight, I could enjoy the drunken reverie that flows from a bottle of wine, but would tomorrow morning's suffering make it worthwhile? I could have an ice-cream cone right now, but I might crash from the sugar rush a couple hours later. Worth it? I think we each have our own unique reactions to food, and it's good to monitor how much pleasure and pain they bring.

We may eat and relish a medium-rare steak, but the animal who unwillingly sacrificed his or her life for the meal may have had a miserable time in a factory beforehand. Is the pleasure of the steak worth it? If we feel guilty about the specific kind of carnivorism that's attached to big industry, it may be closing the doors to other kinds of pleasure we can have in this life. Namely, a life with less guilt. In my experience, simple, whole, unprocessed, herbivorous diets provide a deeply resonating pleasure that both includes and goes beyond the simple happiness of taste buds.

3. Enjoying the sun when it shines.

On these clear days of early March, the sun shines for about 11 hours. Why not dress cosily, sit under a tree, and enjoy an hour or so of its warm sweetness?

4. Bringing pleasure to others.

This is where living modestly and sustainably becomes important, because if we live in this way, we can let our coffers grow and offer more to less fortunate people. Accumulating surplus in time, food, and clean environs means that we can give the gift of pleasure to others, now and later.

5. Spending less time at work.

If we're finding access to some modest pleasures that don't require too much money, we don't need to waste time at meaningless jobs, most examples of which aren't terribly good at offering pleasure. We don't need the money. I live quite pleasurably for $900 a month. Life near the poverty line doesn't bully me away from pleasure. But if our work and our money is helping to bring pleasure to others while bringing pleasure to us, then let's do it.

6. Avoiding displeasure.

Let's stop doing those things that don't give us pleasure, or will take too much effort before they bring us pleasure. Epicurus offers some advice: have the courage to face pain only if the pleasure that follows is really worth it.

7. Trusting that pleasure will bring positive change to the world.

This whole idea of focusing on ourselves and our own pleasure may seem selfish to some. But I really think that people who are radiating with satisfaction are the most likely candidates to bring positive change to the world. My hunch is that these types of people get into less arguments, and have more time to help other people with whom they are in contact. And people are more likely to listen to those who are content. What do we want to give to the world? Essentially, more pleasure. The first step is to become experts on pleasure ourselves.

8. Remembering pleasure.

Let's remind ourselves of all the pleasures we experience. Don't forget about the warmth of the home. Remember that we have friends and family who love us and will help us if we are in need. Never doubt this. And if you don't have friends, there are billions of people on the planet who could be likely candidates.

9. Having wonderful conversations.

In this way, we can learn about the world, change our perspectives, and find new forms of pleasure. This could be the underlying motive for most conversations. It would be nice to think that, one day, "arguments" will disappear from our vocabulary, and be replaced by "vibrant discussions that expand one's knowledge of pleasure."

10. Having a healthy mindbodysoul.

The healthier we are in ourselves, in these strange vessels that focus our experience in this life, the deeper the pleasure we feel and the more frequently we feel it. Let's learn how to manage guilt, fear and anger within the mindbodysoul equation. Let's trust our mindbodysouls in their journies towards pleasure.

11. A special note about guilt.

We waited patiently in our mothers' wombs (well, most of us) and burst into this world, so that we could enjoy, relish and savour. Guilt only happens when we listen to others about what is right and what is wrong. Guilt should never come from pleasure. Our reaction to others' pain is a different story, and it's important to listen to those sentiments that are more closely allied with compassion. Compassion can lead us to help people in pain, which can, in turn, bring us a certain kind of pleasure. Let's try not to become overwhelmed by pain that we cannot affect. Instead, let's focus on the people in pain immediately around us, whose situations we can help. Trust that, eventually, ripples of pleasure can travel to shores very far away from us.

12. Paying special attention to the body in the mindbodysoul.

In other words, have sex. Alone or with others. In all its magnificent facets. Have a sore neck? Massage it. For an hour. Who's stopping you? Cuddle up to someone when enjoying the warmth of your home. Don't be picky. Know that the feelings of warmth, security and love are things that we can carry with us, and access, always.

13. Having pleasure right now.

Don't run around and have a terrible time, thinking that one day, "I will have the time to enjoy myself." "One day in the future" is only speculation and it may never happen. Better to enjoy ourselves as soon as possible.

14. Stopping neuroses about pleasure.

Let's not waste time thinking about pleasure. Keep it simple. Pleasure is meant to be experienced and not thought about too much.

15. Moving beyond the oversimplified designations of pleasure and pain.

Some notable spiritual texts like the Bhagavad Gita talk about moving beyond both pleasure and pain. This idea is worth exploring. A person can potentially view all of experience as collection of infinitely various sensations, without attaching labels like pleasurable or painful to them. In this way, "pain" may lose some of its intensity, and we can choose to navigate more often towards those sensations that each one of us has individually decided is pleasurable. We can develop an ability to transcend pain and pleasure, but then soar again towards simple moments of pleasure, rather than always stay in the detached realm of a masterful yogin.

16. Managing those sensations that are often labelled as being painful.

Just as our minds can block out the sun by closing eyelids, perhaps we learn to block out those sensations that we consider painful, especially when they become unbearable. Rather than always resorting to pain-killers, perhaps we can train our minds to look away from pain when needed. Pain is a sensation that carries important messages with it. We can heed those messages without being incapacitated by them.

17. Adding new perspectives to pleasure.

Let's share our ideas about pleasure, so we can learn more about it. Some of these ideas are already over a couple thousand years old, thanks to the likes of Epicurus and the people who agreed with him. Unfortunately, his ideas have been twisted and turned over the centuries, and have become more synonymous with hedonism, when really he humbly advocated those simple pleasures that everyone could attain, such as friendship.

Leave a comment. And enjoy.


"A happy day is this on which I write to you . . . . The pains which I feel . . . could not be greater. But all of this is opposed by the happiness which the soul experiences, remembering our conversations of a bygone time."
--Epicurus, the moment of his death, 270 BCE.

(originally posted on March 7, 2007,

I Married a Peace Lily

Dear everyone,

Life's still been good on this side of Montreal. I hope things are going well for all of you. I just met a man whose mother lived to be 115 years old. She grew up in the countryside of Iran, but hailed from India. According to her son, one of the most striking aspects of her character was that she slept outside almost every night of her life. She had a little spot on a balcony, probably in spite of the comments of her wee strangeness. Living in the countryside probably didn't hurt. She died on the first night that she slept inside after years of outdoor slumber. I forgot to ask why she was inside. The doctor said her death was due to an exhausted heart. I wonder if her life was prolonged because she showered in star photons every night. And to think that, yesterday, I adamantly denied being a hippy...

Recently, I became really surprised at how I paid almost no attention to air quality, even though I'd die in minutes if I didn't have the right kind of air. Sources say we breath in 6-10 litres of air every minute, or about 13,000 litres a day. If you do the math, 500 ml per breath, 12 times per minutes, etc., it works out. And alas, all the industrial garbage that's being pumped out on a daily basis isn't going anywhere special but into the ocean of air around us. Again, they still haven't figured out how to jettison this stuff into space. Luckily, it looks like plants are continually saving the day for us by breaking down chemicals into smaller molecules that they can consume.

Did you ever think that the subtle irritation in your airways or eyes was caused by volatile organic compounds coming from the breakdown of synthetic material your house? Me neither, till recently. It looks like NASA did experiments on this kind of thing 25 years ago, after discovering all the garbage astronauts were breathing in from the high-tech materials in their spaceships. Apparently some plants eat chemicals like benzene, alcohol, acetone, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde for lunch.

Here's a link to some related reading:

Here are some plants that are supposed to be good at cleaning the air: (based, I'm assuming, on one of the NASA scientists' books--B.C. Wolverton's "How to Grow Fresh Air" With a name like that, he must be the coolest scientist ever.)

peace lily
dracaena (Janet Craig, striped)
areca palm
lady palm
bamboo palm
rubber plant
English ivy
Boston fern
Pygmy date palm
fig alii
corn plant
golden pothos
florist mum
gerbera daisy

Here's a few others that were mentioned: schefflera, bromeliads, orchids, aloe, tulips, azaleas, cyclamen, spider plant (not as strong as people think at cleaning air), Chinese evergreen (grows stronger with exposure to a chemical).

Let me know if any of you find out any more tidbits. Forget about adopting a houseplant.

Marry one.
Marry many.
Plant polygamy.

Next stop is a book called "Self-Help for Closet Hippies".

Everything I've said may be wrong.

Love, Ian

(originally posted on Sept. 9, 2006, on