Monday, August 25, 2014

My Story: A Primer on my Wisdom Practice




*Note: I have updated this post to include some of the essential subjects I have touched upon. I still recommenced reading my little background story though, as it helps illuminate where I'm at today. THANKS! :)

Essential Posts:(in chronological order descending)

*CrowdSourcing My Activism/Service

Housing

Veganism

Money

Religion

How then shall we live?(Essay from Root Teacher Satya Vayu)

I Spent $150 in a year.


When People Try to Come at Veganism...BUT YOU READY(Arguments against Veganism refuted)

All Oppression is Connected


My Story:(originally published 8/25/14, updated Jan 2016)



I've been on quite the transformative journey over the last few years. I became divorced, re -homed my dog, quit my full-time job, moved into a community house with 10+people and started meditating...to name  few things.

I've always been interested in philosophy and examining the world; never been keen on taking things at face value or tradition. Back in high school in Beaverton reading Siddhartha and Zen and Art of Motorcycle maintenance really blew my mind wide open. Then onto college at Oregon State, I dabbled in a bunch of liberal arts classes; history, psychology, philosophy, sociology etc. I distinctly remember one anthropology course I had about indigenous people that really challenged my world view about "progress." Again and again it seems when the more modern societies come into to these native lands and rape and pillage, there can never quite be the sustainable living methods as before; their waters are polluted, their ranges scattered and parceled by private property, their culture eradicated by enforced schooling...just yjr rapid annihilation of a sustainable way of life(as an aside, investigate Easter Island if you want to see what happens to native culture who acted like we do today with finite resources).

Easter Island: Lessons from the past

During university I was never really that enthused with career fields...it always seemed a bit off to me we all had to narrow ourselves down into these specialized niches, and grasp and claw for prosperity with the rest of the struggling masses. I bounced from wanting to teach history,  school counseling, firefighting, and eventually settled on a generic jack of all trades Liberal Studies major, with no clear path upon graduation in 2006.




I struggled mightily post-college, living with my cousin briefly in Salem, then moving back to Corvallis, and working at a non-profit for drug-addled youth for a couple years. Then my longtime on again/off again girlfriend Michelle and I moved in together with our eccentric buddy KC Wolf Lighting Wisdom,  a guitar wielding-dream catcher mending-wannabe model-Star Trek aficionado-wanderer.

Michelle and I would get married shortly thereafter in June 2008, adopted a wonderful beagle/basset mix named Barkley and started on our way to creating a great little abode for ourselves in Albany, OR, while I worked for another non-profit.

Only a scant few months later I was abruptly fired without any warning, and since my wife could not work due to severe medical issues(Traumatic Brain Injury; nausea, chronic headaches, PTSD) I was in a tough pickle financially. My parents were and always have been very supportive, but I decided nuts to trying to pay $600 for rent, and so we moved into my in-laws place, bidding adieu to my pal KC, and having to pay only $200 for a room in a manufactured home community in Oregon City(incidentally the end of the famed Oregon Trail).

I felt embarrassed that I was unemployed for a few months, crammed into a small house with my wife,  dog and her parents. I went to college I thought...I SHOULD be doing better than this, wasn't a higher ed degree a ticket to a better life? I ended up working overnight for Albertina Kerrr as a caregiver, and eventually Michelle and I got our own place in town.

Now at first glance, graveyard may seem terrible...and it was at times with the constant fighting of the natural urge to sleep..but there was an interesting silver lining. With so much free time during the night sans my duties(client assistance, chores), I could read, surf the net, watch documentaries etc. Initially, I just watched copious amounts of Dexter and other low-brain wave fluff, but soon realized I better use this opportunity to invest in my own development. So I started reading...not just a few books a week, but a few books a night...devouring over 100 in the first year alone after setting that intention.




 While I was researching a way out of the rat race, I stumbled upon a site called Early Retirement Extreme, that espoused saving 75% or more of your savings, investing in stocks, or other passive income, and becoming financially independent(FI) in no time at all. Now... I didn't have any savings, and in fact had credit card debt from my early days of stocking the newly-wed apartment with a big screen tv, PS3 and gaming PC....(I had quite the issues with electronic entertainment for years, especially in college where I would have marathon online gaming sessions in such games like Planetside/WW2online, and stayed up till 3 am nearly every night.)

ERE Manifesto

ERE had set fire to me like nothing before. Here was a way of minimalism and frugality that freed one from the daily grind of working, of insecurity and wasting of precious life energy. I endeavored to carve out our own financially frugal path, stripping away all but the necessities. Along the path of discovery I ran across Mark Boyle, a man in the UK who lived without money( Moneyless Manifesto excellent read) and then Suelo(Man Who Quit Money, another great book), who notched an even more impressive decade plus without using a cent. Along with this, I got heavily into investigating different abodes, like stealth vans, RVs and the like, in hopes of moving my little family into such a deal soon.



                                                        Man Who Quit Money

We eventually hatched the idea of buying a used RV and living in a cheaper rent situation, which materialized as a $300 lot space in Big Valley Woods, near Sandy, in 2010. However, we didn't embrace the rural nature of living, got tired of the moldy winter/early spring, commuting to work 45min after being up all night, and ended up moving back to Oregon City only 6 months later.

My wife and I actually found a really affordable apartment and managed to live pretty frugally for a year or so, socking away about $500/month off my $1500 income, but I knew this wasn't going to last. I felt very trapped at my job, always run down from graveyard, hoping for relief from a never materializing Social Security Disability claim for Michelle, and increasingly more on edge and anxious about life. It all came to a head in Fall 2011 when my wife and I physically seperated, and eventually got divorced in spring 2012, perhaps the darkest period of my life. I had struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life, especially after my mother passed away from cancer in 2004(we were super close and I lived at home) and now I felt truly alone, sans my buddy Barkely the pooch, and my family. I had made the grave error of never really embracing community, I always was pretty reclusive and enjoyed my online fantasy worlds, with a few doses of reality with my wife and family. I was very suicidal for months, compounded by the fact I was still working graves and living in a world of darkness, both real and imaged. 2012 truly was the end of the world... for me at least.

2013 started off a bit better I must say. The previous summer I had reached out a little bit to some activist events, like PDX Bike Swarm, and a couple other protests about medical coverage. I started to see the beginnings of something long dormant in me; that of a passionate, engaged activist, who was bogged down with too much self-focus, and jaded cynicism. Along with going vegan in the spring of 2012, and losing 40lbs, and getting more into cycling/yoga. Through learning to take better care of myself...I realized I had a lot to offer-suicide would have been a cruel, and selfish exit. In regards to suicide, I came to a logical conclusion that aside from the pain and suffering it caused on those left behind, not to mention the totally cowardly act of checking out from the shared experience of life, I realized that there was no guarantee on what one expected from post-suicide reality. Could there have been nothing? Hell? Heaven? Who knows...but what I did know was the here and now, and the possibility of a better future.







The huge catalyst for me was finally moving into Portland in April 2013. I had clear intentions of pairing down, and finding like minded freegan types here in PDX, quite the hotbed for alternative living to be sure.


I started going to Food Not Bombs, and ran into all types of people "living in the cracks." There I met ordainzed Zen monk Satya Vayu-who used to live with Suelo years back in the forests of California-really helped bring all the things I had read and watched, into a  tangible reality. He truly lives in the spirit of the Gift; moneyless, offering services for free(meditation, dharma talks, Food Not Bombs), and more. Inspired by this, in July 2013 I went to my first rainbow gathering in Montana, and actually camped with Suelo; a truly amazing experience, as he formed a short-lived moneyless tribe that traveled on foot/bike across a few states. 


FNB PDX at our weekly Tuesday serving under Burnside Bridge

Me and some of the Touching Earth Sangha
(l-r)Fallon, Satya and Andy
Suelo and I at Montana 2013 Rainbow Gathering




Climate Justice Fast ( video of Satya and former student Sarah from a few years back)

Along with Satya and his merry band of folks at Touching Earth Sangha. I met a another great guy living off his bike. I used to call him the "bike monk" but now he's just Mike to me :). For a better part of a year Mike bounced around PDX, hanging his hammock in random lots, couches, porches etc, using his copious panniers and trailer to ferry around his goods and food for people in need via Food Not Bombs, and other endeavors.


 *Update Jan 2016 I live HERE now.

*Now(*Spring 2014) I share a house with the dude, having moved into Casa Tequio( Spanish for community project) back in April 2014. The house as a whole is focused on food/social/environmental justice, is home to about 10 folks and is located in a primo location in Inner SE between Division/Hawthorne. Best of all, rent is $150 TOTAL, with a partial work/trade built in for myself and my roomie Antonio, who lives in the loft space above me. The idea about these two spaces was to allow the occupants to not only plug into the house more, but be able to offer their time and energy to the larger community, without having to scrape together the money just to get by like so many others who have much more sizable rents and expenses.


Needless to say, my focus has been on expenses side of things, rather than the more fickle supply side, striving more towards a somewhat more spiritual/moral path of thriving. Recently I have dived headlong into Zen Buddhism in particular as way to help cope with my worldviews . This ancient philosophy has tons of synergy with the wisdom of simplicity, and I  *meet weekly on Sundays at Kailash Eco Village with my friends in Touching Earth Sangha(TES, link on site) for meditation, Dharma talk, and a glorious vegan feast.

*Update: I don't meet weekly, but I still see and practice with TES often.

Revisiting where it all began with Early Retirement Extreme... since I seriously considered giving up money entirely, and seeing how people not only survive, but thrive this way, it kinda turned the notion of ERE on it's head a bit...if I could be a lifetime volunteer of sorts(like Diane Emerson, Peace Pilgrim, Suelo etc), then does it matter if I bother with investing, owning property etc etc? It all seemed like too much to worry about and manage, and ran counter to my increasingly freegan(GIFT) ethos.


Now I envision myself living my life much more like my friends in TES; vegan-cyclist-freegan-mendicant-wisdom practitioners, focusing on alleviating suffering of all beings in the Bodhisattva tradition, while also modeling Engaged Buddhism through activism and outreach for various issues, most notably environmental justice.


Hopefully with this blog I can network with like-minded people, and perhaps help inspire others to try and "break orbit" of the rat race, and rethink how we can live.


Cheers!