Thursday, March 21, 2013

Not so SMART goals...

Photo: M. Laplante - Seagulls over a Vancouver Island beach

Zen philosopher Alan Watts once observed that the downside of goals is that they encourage a mindset of perpetually focusing on some future event at the expense of fully experiencing the present.

In the West, we're constantly bombarded with the message that we must set goals, preferably goals that can be measured in concrete terms, e.g. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive).

Thus our lives become defined by numbers or things, e.g., the income or possessions we must have or own to achieve a certain status, the weight we need to lose to be healthy, the number of 10K races we must run to be fit, the degrees we must have to be considered usefully intelligent...

And, of course, as soon as you achieve that goal, you're expected to set new ones. Our happiness is perpetually defined by future accomplishments or possessions, some of which may be impossible because of  circumstances beyond our control.

Eastern philosophy emphasizes happiness through mindfulness... being fully engaged in this moment (the process) without consideration for the outcome.

Meditation is the most obvious way to develop this skill. But anything that causes you to 'lose your mind and come to your senses' is effective. Listening or playing music, creating art, a random walk through a forest or along the beach,playing with your child or dog... anything at all where you are caught up in the moment.

Somewhere between the two philosophies is probably a happy medium that we should strive for. The point is that you have to consciously decide to engage in mindfulness because we here in the West tend to give too much time and energy over to our left-brained / goal-oriented selves.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Habitats for a better world...

Mark Roch
I first met Mark Roch about a decade ago at a Toastmasters speaking competition. He was dressed in a chain mail shirt and spoke with a quiet intensity. As Toastmasters we crossed paths throughout the years, but were mostly casual acquaintances. Recently though we discovered a mutual admiration for author-philosopher Carlos Castaneda. That prompted a coffee get-together where I learned more about him than I had in the entire previous decade.

A vivid glimpse of his own mortality a few years ago inspired him to pursue a personal project of passion. For the past couple of years he has been developing an eco-friendly, small-footprint habitat meant to demonstrate and promote an alternate way of living for those of us who live in a wasteful First World society. Although the habitat is for his personal use, it's meant to also be a 'proof of concept' that he can eventually take to urban planners and governments.

The core of the concept is living quarters made from recycled shipping containers. However, rather than a fixed design, Mark's concept would allow the quarters to easily expand as a family's needs change -- kind of a giant Lego for adults. As I understand it, one of the biggest obstacles to such a design is the roof. Mark's has created an innovative roofing system that can be easily unplugged and re-configured as more containers are brought online. Once it place, the roofs would support gardens to provide recreational space, food and help in the temperature regulation of the house below.

Mark's house underway... You can see cutouts for the windows through the doorway
Rather than standing on slabs, as much as possible each habitat would be designed in such a way as to minimize the environmental footprint through consideration of the unique qualities of the surrounding site. For example, Mark's prototype sits in a partial well in the side of the natural slope of the land. This minimizes the disruption of the wind's natural flow past the dwelling as well as minimizes the heat loss due to wind from the house itself.

On the property where he is building are stands of trees that will be left in place to provide shelter to local wildlife, cisterns to hold water that are temperature regulated with bales of hay and cob, organic gardens...  For Mark it's as much about art as science, as much about form as function. He is laying out his structures and incorporating landscaping features in such a way that seen from the air it will appear as a Stonehenge-life pattern of circles.

The funding for this project comes from his eco-friendly storage facility on site. A portion of the revenue from the storage business is invested in his project. It's an ambitious plan and progress is slow right now due to his personal circumstances, but, as Mark is the first to admit, the path to big change is accomplished through consistent incremental steps.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Faux-antique clock in the Bay Centre of Victoria, BC...
Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay. ~Matthew Flickstein 

The Bay Centre in downtown Victoria features this ornate timepiece that hangs from the interior ceiling at one end.

Two of the faces display the time in far-flung corners of the world such as Bombay, Zanzibar and Kowloon, a reflection of Victoria's historical status as part of the former British empire. A plaque under the clocks reads: "Westward the course of empire goes forth".

The British empire is now a shadow of its former self.

The Bay Centre was once known as the Eaton's Centre. It was named after Eaton's which was once Canada's largest department store retailer. Eaton's disappeared in 1997 as a result of bankruptcy.

Both are graphic reminders that nothing -- not even an empire -- lasts forever and that change is the one constant in life.