Social Media and the Stars

 

photo via Kathleen Donovan

The last time Mercury went retrograde I waited until the day after it flipped back conjunct to buy myself a smart phone.

What can I say, I’m susceptible to these mammoth masses of atoms hurdling through distances I can’t even fathom. You know how we’re all stuck to the surface of the earth because of gravity? Yeah, well, say what you will about astrology, but you’re susceptible to planetary forces, too.

As Mercury orbits the sun on its elliptical, from the perspective of the Earth it appears to be going first in one direction, reaches the edge of the flat, oval orbit, and then seems to be going backwards: retrograde. The current retrograde (it began on June 7th) will go conjunct on July 2nd.

It’s not a good time for communication, travel, signing documents and the like. Not good news for a writer, editor and journalism student. But hey, I’ve survived them before and I’ll survive it again.

Which brings me back to the smartphone. This device is a godsend. Yes, it messes with the molecular structure of my brain, makes my hands tingle when I text and encourages me to habitually fill moments of space and breath with useless information, but it’s also got some very redeeming qualities.

Take, for example, the time I was driving down the freeway in my newly rented U-Haul. There’s no way I would have even made it to the freeway without the gentle coaxing of my GPS. Sure, by the time I neared my destination my battery was almost dead and I had to resort to good old-fashioned yelling at pedestrians out of a moving vehicle to ask if I missed my turn, but all-in-all, a very necessary piece of equipment in that moment.

When it comes to being in an unfamiliar city, it’s answered more questions than I ever thought I could even have.

One of the main reasons I decided to spring for the smart phone was that I knew that the next steps of my life would be taking me into a world of information and communication. I’ve always had my foot in that world to some degree, but the way I’m planning on using my schooling will simply demand that I be aware of what’s going on in the world—and in a broader way than just looking out my window will tell me.

Having The Google at my fingertips is an asset. It’s one that I wanted and, not only that, it’s one that’s been recommended by one of my profs.

Last week during orientation, she mentioned that having a data plan on a smartphone would be a good idea. These days, people are using all sorts of social media in the media.

In fact, we all spent some time together creating Twitter accounts in class yesterday. Not only must we have the accounts, but we’re dealing with them on class time.

The professor labbelled Twitter as one of the most important tool journalists use right now. “Right now” being highly stressed.

The world is changing, we get new technology all the time. What’s becoming obvious is that whatever happens we must be willing to adopt change. I had begrudingly signed up for an account a couple of days prior. I would be killing two birds with one stone: getting Twitter, as directed (I’m very good at following direction) and following news agencies to keep up to date on headlines.

Constantly knowing what’s going on in the news has become another imposed mandate during this program.

So I find myself welcoming social media into my life in ways I haven’t before. I’d been hesitant to join the Twitter wagon. Now, I see how it can be used as a tool rather than making me a slave.

In fact, of the three classes I’m in during the summer term, Computer Assisted Reporting is the one that has me the most jazzed up. Go figure. 

Signing up for all this social media while Mercury is in retrograde may give me something to worry about but hey, we’ve already made it this far through a full moon on a Friday the 13th. I may be jinxing myself by saying it—but I think we’re going to be okay.

And of course: my Twitter page.

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Silly-String and Microchips

I vividly remember the day I cut up my credit card.

Well, “vividly” might be a bit of an exaggeration as I was a little tipsy.

The day also included what I will always list as one of the greatest moments of my life—seeing a Volkswagen Beetle stuffed so full of people dressed as clowns that limbs were hanging out of windows.

It was Carnival in Cyprus, a time where social norms are tipped upside down and chaos reigns in the streets. Out with some new travel companions, I was complaining about the microchip in my credit card.

Street Chaos

Street Chaos

 

At that point, Canada hadn’t yet legislated that every debit and credit card use microchip technology, but it was already making its way into the wallets of consumers.

I had this microchip on me, following me wherever I went, emitting information to whoever had the technology to receive it. It creeped me out. I didn’t want it. I wanted to cut it up.

My British travel companion

My British travel companion

 

“Do it!” said my new British friend, egging me on with his own alcohol induced joviality. I don’t remember how scissors were procured—probably a gift from the waitress—but soon I had pieces of what was once my Mastercard spread in front of me on the table. I made sure to bring the chunks with the important bits back to the hostel and melted them with a lighter in case anyone should get any identity-stealing ideas.

At this time I’d like to point out the folly of my plan.

I was on an island in the Mediterranean. Since I’m now in Canada, one can surmise that I utilized some sort of technology that allows me to travel long distances. As we are all aware, these kinds of advancements in the ability for humans to move generally require credit cards. Lucky for me at the time, I had a joint bank account with a person who kept their credit card, not slicing it into pieces with me in a show of rage against the system.

Yeah, that was part of my plan. How else was I going to book an airplane ticket?
We live in a world where it’s required to have a credit card should you want to buy certain things. Want a hotel room? We take VISA, Mastercard and American Express (because who takes Discover? Nobody, that’s who). Planning a flight? You’ll need to dish the digits before getting off the ground.

Since I have both flown and stayed in a hotel since that time five years ago, you can surmise I got another credit card.

Also in that time, Steven Harper legislated that all debit and credit cards must have a microchip in them. “It’s more secure,” proponents argued (no, it’s not). “It’s easier,” said the masses, “just type in a PIN and all is well.”

All isn’t well. We’re living in a society where we are bombarded with frequencies bouncing around us all of the time. Our microchips contain information about us. If people want that information, all they need to do is utilize the technology to seek it out. I’m uncomfortable with the thought of data being emitted from my possessions.

It doesn’t stop at credit cards. What’s a way to speed up the flow of people going through public transportation? Just stick a microchip on their bus pass and all they’ll have to do is swipe their way through a turnstile.

Tired of masses of keys dangling off of keychains? Just change the apartment’s front door to an automated system and all people have to do is put their wallets near the card reader and presto! Entrance to home granted.

When I count it all up: debit and credit cards, cards for access to school labs and everything, I have six cards with some sort of technology that tells the right receiver something about me. I don’t like being so known, being so trackable.

It makes me uncomfortable.

But how uncomfortable? Not uncomfortable enough to go to a different laundry mat.

That’s right, even the laundry mat in my building requires the use of a card with a microchip. No more plugging in coins to the machines, all I do is load up my card at the kiosk and I’m good to go: each washer and drier has a card-reader.

No cash?

Don’t worry, the kiosk takes credit cards.

My Steadfast Spiritual Practice

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I don’t want to alarm anyone who thinks that asanas, the physical postures, are the only thing to yoga, but I have gone for long stretches—no pun intended—devoting up to 12 hours a day to the practice.

From karma yoga—the yoga of action or selfless service—to bhakti yoga—the yoga of devotion—meditation, reflection, study, you name it. I’ve done it.

I’m not currently at a place in my life where I’m benefiting from that kind of disciplined lifestyle.

In fact, I realized the other day, that one of the most foundational practices I’m currently engaged in is doing my dishes.

Anyone who had lived with me the first 23 years or so of my life can attest to the fact that I didn’t really like doing the dishes. Wait, that’s not right. I actually love the action of doing the dishes: warm water, satisfying my OCD nature by cleaning bits of food off smooth surfaces, that final touch of wiping down the counters. These are all things I’ve always enjoyed. It was the action of removing myself from whatever else I was engaged in that was difficult. Yes, sometimes I was intensely engaged in staring at the wall, don’t judge me.

As I’ve aged and matured I’ve noticed that I really like a clean kitchen.

I know that the dishes will have to eventually get done anyway, and in recent years I’ve stopped putting off the inevitable, albeit pleasant, task.

The crux of the matter is that part of my nature is a procrastinator. It’s something I try to refine and step out of, but it’s still something I work with.

Now that I’m enjoying the experience of living on my own, I’m finding my nightly ritual of doing the dishes extremely nourishing.

I still have my daily/regular practices that sustain me, but they’re a lot more modest than the hours upon hours of practice I’ve done in the past. (Keeping in mind that true karma yoga is an attitude that lasts all day, everyday, maybe I still am keeping up my same old practice schedule.)

When it comes to structured practice, I’d have to say that doing the dishes every night has a lot of the same characteristics of any other commitment to practice I have.

It’s a choice.

When I’m tired and just want to go to bed, I remind myself that I don’t have to do my meditation practice (which I always do before resting my head on the pillow for the night.)

The same is true with the dishes. I don’t have to do them. But I know they’ll just be there for me the next morning. Giving myself this mental freedom creates space to choose what I really want in my life and what ideals I want to live up to.

Invariably, I do the dishes, just like I do my meditation practice.

It’s about mindfulness in the moment.

An asana practice could be gymnastics, using my muscles to contort my body into shapes and poses, or it could be mindful awareness of what I’m doing, how I’m breathing and if I’m feeling relaxed.

Doing the dishes is the same thing. I get to notice my posture, what goes on in my mind, and if I’m fully present with the task.

I’m seeing cleaning as a practice because I’m choosing to bring awareness to it, and that’s what a practice makes.

I give up expectations.

I don’t wash a dish because doing it once means I’ll never have to do it again. Chances are, I’ll pull out one of those mugs for a late-night tea, and I’ll most certainly be dirtying them again tomorrow.

I don’t have any notions that what I’m doing will last or have any particular effect—other than temporary cleaner dishes.

Practice is like that.

When I sit in meditation or offer the Light to those in my heart, I’m not doing it because I think something particular is going to happen, I’m doing it to have an experience, right then, right there.

The next day, hours, minutes, seconds are likely to contain some less-than-Light-filled thoughts because I’m a human. But I’ll show up again and again and do it anyway: head to my mat, sit at my altar, or silently recite a mantra as I trundle along on a bus.

Dishes, like a spiritual practice, are not one of those things that we can do and say is “done.” They’re a process, and I’m happy to see how this process is bringing me an opportunity for mindfulness.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Attracts Criticism Around Comments at Climate Change Conference

 
photo: Flickr
Originally published at elephant journal.

An opinion piece I saw in Monday’s Montreal Gazette slammed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s assessment of the Albertan oilsands with the headline, “Tutu’s oilsands sermon built on emotion not on facts.”

Yeah, I was shocked, too.

Not at the Anglican Archbisop’s survey of the decimated land around Fort MacMurray, but at Michael Den Tandt’s continuing commentary.

Tutu was in Northern Alberta recently taking part in a conference on climate change sponsored in part by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Den Tandt started by stating anti-pipeline lobbyists have debased the debate “beyond belief” by, as he said, ignoring the facts. After which, he began to undermine the validity of Tutu’s criticism of the oilsands—the colossal environmental and human rights failure—by saying the true culprits are the consumers who purchase gas guzzling vehicles in the first place.

It was then I could only sit in bewilderment. It was a kind of bewilderment that made its way to sadness. Because, you see, I can’t argue with sales reports.

The piece states that transportation accounts for about 25 percent of Canada’s emissions and talks about the propensity of my fellow Canadians to purchase large, gas guzzling pick-up trucks while smaller, more fuel efficient cars sit in dealer’s lots. Den Tandt argued Tutu’s broad criticism of Canada’s energy sector is misguided, that it should be directed on individual consumers.

Now, I’ve been losing some of my naivety as I edge toward that 30 mark. As the years pile on, I have begun to be more and more disillusioned than I was in my idealist youth.

I now understand that the average consumer really does want to buy large, gas guzzling vehicles. Not everyone makes the same choices I’ve made at times in my life: purposely living near work; biking and walking as the main modes of transportation; and driving my hybrid when longer distances were necessary (if memory serves me correctly, that baby could get me 75 MPG on the highway.)

But I’m seeing now how much of society is swayed by the thousands of advertisements we see everyday. They’re trying to convince us that if we purchase what we’re told, we’re promised to feel as good as what the airbrushed model’s portrayal of life elicits out of us.

I’ve got news for you, Michael Den Tandt, the consumers who fall prey to the soul-crushing system of capitalism we find ourselves in are not the problem in this equation.

The current economic structure relies on a hypothetical world of infinite growth. On a finite planet such as the one we find ourselves on (resisting urge to make quips about economist’s planetary origins), this kind of thinking falsely assumes the resources we commune with are also infinite.

Large corporations are looking for ways to increase profits. Advertising is this great psychological experiment we’re all subjected to that does exactly that: it’s about the best interests of companies and share-holders. It has nothing to do with what is in the best interests of our children or our children’s children’s children.

Den Tandt’s peice rounds out the emmision statistic by stating that the energy industry itself is responsible for about 25 percent of Canada’s total emissions.

Wait a minute, you’re telling me Tutu should only blame the consumers when the energy sector contributes the same amount of emissions? The logic confounds me.

As a thought experiment, we could go along with pinning equal responsibility on consumers and oil and gas “explorers,” as Den Tandt enthusiastically calls the energy sector. But what happened to the days when our leaders—those involved with monitoring production activity in the vast oilsands—could be looked to for systems and decisions that increased our quality of life instead of detracting from it? One decision made by a CEO or politician will have a lot more sway than my brother buying a new pick-up truck.

Our system is set up to put faith in these leaders in the hopes they have humanities best interests in mind. We see again and again that they don’t.

I grew up in Alberta.

Perhaps I take it for granted, then, that the public is aware of the threats to human and environmental healthcreated by the oilsands. For years, all around me, I saw evidence of the oil industry. I saw real-life experiences of friends and family heading north for two-weeks-on and one-week-off and I heard about the outrageously high living expenses and shady lifestyles of Fort MacMurray. In the media, I saw what the government was willing to let me see.

You can do your own internet search or look herehere or here to learn about the government clamping down on the facts of the oilsands. The public isn’t even given the opportunity to have a look at the entire body of evidence.

What everyone does know is that the oil industry plays a large part in the economy. I understand, as Den Tandt goes on to rant about, that the oilsands put a lot of jobs within the reach of a lot of Canadians. Not to mention the foreign investments in the field.

But why not try something different? Why not try something more sustainable than the finite remnants of fossilized carbon-based organisms transformed into crude bitumen oil after thousands of years of pressure and heat. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out we’re going to run out eventually.

The laws of supply and demand don’t fit in to my personal ideals for life as a human on this planet—I don’t fall under the spell of capitalism so easily—but say we are going to keep playing this economic card until it is worn ragged with (mis)use.

How about our government follows the lead of European nations and begins to aggressively invest in sustainable energy production. If we’re still under the mindset that we need to create jobs (for people to pay off their massive student and credit card debt and the mortgatges of their homes, big enough to supply an individual television room for each member of the family) then we can rebuild our infrastructure with things like geothermal or other forms of energy. Doing so would create an immense amount of jobs.

What I say to you, Den Tandt, is that a survey of the Alberta oilsands would cause emotion to rise in anyone who looks at the facts. Accusing Desmond Tutu of doing the former at the expense of the latter is irresponsible and naive.

I have complete faith the Earth can withstand humanity’s treatment, it’s the organisms living on it, humans included, that will eventually find it inhospitable.

Each and every one of us needs to own up to the responsibility of the mess we’ve created in Northern Alberta. Pointing fingers isn’t going to get us anywhere.

What do you do to make a difference in this world?

Lost: The New Found.

I found my rose quartz necklace today.

It was in my jewelry roll, exactly where I would have expected to find it should I have actually looked for it there—go figure.

I’d been missing it for months. Actually, I thought that I left it in a very specific place. I had come up with all sorts of wild imaginings based on a past experience with a missing rose quartz necklace about what its loss and possible recovery could mean. In the end, it was hanging out with the rest of the jewelry I’ve been toting around the past year.

When I pulled it out this morning—completely left on its own, not even wrapped in a camouflaging silk handkerchief or anything—I had a little moment of wide-eyed wonder.

Humour me while I repeat myself: I thought it was missing for months. During those months, I attached expansive romantic dreams of growth and evolution to the person who was supposed to return it to me, thereby linking, in some cosmic way, the previous profound experience of the other lost necklace.

Why do I do this? Why do I want all of my life experiences to form some cohesive unit of symbolic messaging that I can read as clearly as a book?

I was walking downtown today on some business. I like the sound of that, “on some business.” A swift little phrase that links me to the hoards of well-dressed consultants and debutantes striding with confident purpose down the asphalt.
I’ve been in this city a month and am beginning to figure out what it means to be a city-dweller.

I grew up in a small town. I’ve lived in even smaller towns. Even a stroll down Seventh Street in the big city of Lethbridge would be sure to include the meeting of some friend or acquaintance. Basically, I’m saying that a degree of awareness of those around me has been included in my experience of community because I would be sure to find some linkages.

And I’m still at it.

I want to be linked to the people power-walking in downtown Montreal. I want to be linked to the communities I live in. And I want my experiences to be linked also, hence why I wanted to have lost my rose quartz necklace similar to how I had done in the past.

I’m figuring out that I can’t do that. Life contains an element of the unknown. Just because we are all inextricably linked on levels deeper than I can understand doesn’t mean that I need to understand.

I know that I’m searching for lost parts of myself, reflected back at me in the clack-clack of a well-heeled stranger passing by me on De Maisonneuve Boulevard. I know that I’m searching for a cohesive story about my “missing” necklace that I can tie up neatly with a bow.

It isn’t going to work like that.

I’m learning that sometimes the best thing I can do is put my focus on the pavement and keep pounding forward. There’s no way I could hope to share a unified experience of reality with everyone around me. Sure, that’ll happen in it’s own way, but it won’t happen in the ways I’ve known in my small-town past.

I’m giving up my past notions of connectedness in favour of a world view more rooted in reality. The finding of a previously lost rose quartz necklace shook me a little because it showed me what I wanted to be true was different than what was actually true.

Giving up these notions is a little unsettling, but I know I’m sure to find a more satisfying reality. My experience of the city is simply going to be different than another’s. Today I realized I can stop pretending otherwise.

It’s a bit of a lifted weight, really, to close off energetic lines to both the people around me and down the imagined story-lines running through my head. It’s something I need more practice at doing.

Throughout this process I know I’ll find something even better than a lost necklace, I’ll find a solid understanding of my own individual experience. I’ll find peace within myself.

And also, I ran into one of my favourite professors from almost ten years ago downtown last week. What are the odds? Sometimes, we really are all connected.

Rocking the necklace in true selfie-in-the-mirror fashion

Rocking the necklace in true selfie-in-the-mirror fashion