Friday, November 30, 2012

Critical Mass

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us have issues we would like to work on when we are not all caught up in getting through the day and convenience is king. We put them in a back burner to address it some day in the future. Some day when we find the time and energy to craft good solutions for it. Unfortunately, the number of burners in my back row is growing and none of them ever really move up to the front. But sometimes, as it happens with such things, once in a while, one of those issues reaches critical mass and then ...your focus shifts. You are pounded with a barrage of information that serves as reminders wherever you turn - a news segment, a sound byte, an essay, a conversation over dinner....

What surfaced up from the deep dark recesses of my mind is not something I am proud of. It is to do with how wasteful I am with produce in the kitchen. Perfectly good produce. I load up on vegetables, fruits and dairy for the week. And some weeks, it is all good when most of these get used up right away. But as I am writing this post, there are two bags of grapes, six plums, a couple of apples, oranges, a pear, two packets of herbs, slabs of cheese, a packet of baby carrots and a carton of milk that have been festering as fodder for a petri dish.

I buy these with the best of intentions. I stock up on fruits so I don’t ever run out of them. But for some reason or another, they never make it to the table. This despite all of us being fruit lovers in the family. So I must be buying more than we need or maybe we are not eating enough of them. Whatever it is, it ends up in the compost bin.

There are so many ways that food is wasted in this country and elsewhere. It happens every day and in huge amounts. Not to shift the blame onto someone else, but it seems that supermarkets and restaurants are two of the biggest transgressors. There was a story in the news about how one of the restaurants had hired a consulting company to evaluate how much waste they produce. But the whole exercise was viewed as an encumbrance. It was interrupting the kitchen’s workflow and the already overworked employees could not find the time for it. As it affected only about 2% of the cost, reducing food waste is not really a priority for restaurants.

So how about supermarkets and grocery stores? I assumed that they would have gotten better at planning and stocking to reduce the produce that ends up in the dumpster everyday. After all it is a percentage of their cost that they can do away with. But it doesn't appear to be so. It was an eyeopener for me to find out that there are people who have, for years, salvaged perfectly good produce that supermarkets throw in the dumpster. There are even freegan (I know, I had never heard of it either) websites that tell you where to go dumpster diving to get the best stuff.

Then there is wastefulness buried in regulation and bureaucracy. It is mind boggling to read how complicated it is to store and distribute food in this global market. And the most sacrilegious of all is to use food as a means of protest, and I am not talking about hunger strikes here. The European farmers protest in Brussels might be a valid fight for the farmers, but the way they went about it is, in my opinion, irresponsible. All this wastefulness is even more horrifying when considering the number of people who go hungry.

Of course there are people and organizations that try to tackle the problem. We are all reminded to be mindful consumers. Businesses are encouraged to donate leftover food to charity. There are tonnes of resources to educate ourselves on the imbalance of abundance and scarcity in the world.

To me, all of this information brings into focus the glaring ways I am wasteful at home. I don’t have any grand ideas for solving world hunger. Neither do I have any intelligent arguments on how to weave through the complexities of the global food crisis. But I do know that I should be grateful for the abundance around me. And to be conscious of the fact that what I throw away could have nourished someone starving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

All or Nothing

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.
-Jerome K Jerome

Whoever came up with the idea of a 24 hour day did not count on a scatterbrain like me. Okay, so it was the Babylonians. But their day started with the sun rise and ended with the sun set. During the day, most of them were busy finding food and shelter. In short, staying alive. When their day was done and when darkness set in, they talked, told stories and rested. I don’t think they complained of not finding enough time for their hobbies. And until my grandparents time, it seemed to be pretty much so. But the ways of our lives have changed manifold since. We don’t exactly wind down with the sun. We tend to pack a bit more in those 24 hours than the Babylonians did. And yet, for many of us, the number of hours in a day seems grossly inadequate.

Like everybody else, I have multiple interests. Interests that I want to devote some time every single day for. I am passionate about all of them. I believe it will make me a better human being. Quite some time ago, I took Aristotle’s words to heart. Hence my dilemma. ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’  is hard to follow when taken literally. I don’t think I am too far off when I take ‘repeatedly’ to mean every day. I always see an improvement when I am committed and consistent in any practice.

Here is what I want to work on every single day...I need an hour or so each to read, write, run, practice yoga, meditate, volunteer, cook, commit a poem to memory, learn to play the piano, swim, dance, learn a language and to hang around in cyberspace to learn about the goings on in the world and to be inspired by brilliant people who I would otherwise not know of. I also need to bring in my share of the dough to the family table, so I....ahem...cough...sputter... ‘work’ for about 8 hours. As I am not ambitious in my career, 8 hours is all I am willing to allot for now.

If there is anything I am religious about, it is my sleep. So I need the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. You might have noticed that I have not included time for my family. That is because it somehow does not sound right when I try to quantify the time I want to spend with my family. Even if I do, then I need at least an hour each to help my kids with their school work, to read to them, to play or take a stroll with them. And it is plain unfair to not have time for my husband, however forgiving and tolerant he may be. Now all this excludes other activities that are planned during the weekends or at least that are on my wishlist - a trip to the library, a museum, a park, a concert, a movie, a book club... and I am not counting the time it takes to get to a place of activity. Looming over all this is a string of daily chores around the house. And then there is travel. But I am willing to overlook it as it does not require time on an everyday basis.

I cannot multitask. And I don’t think multitasking is even possible. Maybe you can juggle tasks. But I don’t think my interests are very conducive to juggling. And then of course, there is me. I am my own spoke in the wheel. Most of my day is spent wishing that I had the time to write, except when I actually do find the time to write. Then I wish I could take a good long stroll to kick start my creativity. This goes to show that when the clock hits the schedule, more often than not, I want to do something else. And then there is this problem of not wanting to do what you do end up having the time for just because you are tired, or you ate too much, or you are not in the mood for it or it is too cold or it is too hot or just because.

Finding just 5 or 15 minutes for an interest is not motivating enough or it is just plain unfeasible. First of all, if I have made a gargantuan attempt to get off the couch then I need to make it worthwhile. For that, 15 minutes won’t cut it. I have tried practicing yoga for just 15 minutes but I end up feeling rushed and wishing that I could continue on much longer. I do understand the reasoning behind it though. Second of all, I feel that my clock is ticking. I worry that if I do show ruthless focus one interest at a time, then I might just run out of time. It is not an issue of forming habits because I will still have the same problem of not finding enough time to do all that I want to.

Whenever the problem of time shortage is brought up, I hear the word ‘prioritize’. The problem with that is I don’t know how to. How can I choose one over the other when every activity in my daily-plan is imperative to my well-being? It might all seem very self-centered, but it is not. My sense of well-being is my family’s well-being and of the human chain that I am part of. When I do prioritize, I end up feeling like I am doing a disservice to myself for ignoring my other interests. To me, memorizing Rumi is as important as cooking. So what do I do? Other than working on some of my interests in fits and bursts, nothing much actually. Instead, I do write a blog post about it. In the hopes that all this prattling will shine some light on the problem.

Whining about the lack of time and my ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude does not keep me from drawing up plans for the tomorrows to come. For tomorrow is the day I will stick to my schedule - every minute of it. Okay, so I might not have a rational solution yet, but I cannot give up either. I have to push, fall, gather and start over again. And while I am at it, I will also learn to enjoy the unexpected leisure time that I have stumbled upon. Because dear reader, leisure happens to be one of my many interests as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

From splurging to purging

You cannot dream yourself into a character: you must hammer and forge yourself into one.    -
Henry David Thoreau

I don’t like white walls. Though minimalism is endearing to me in all ways, when it comes to my living space, I need color. I have lived within white walls for a long time. I did not have a choice then. But when I did have the freedom to do whatever I wanted within my space, I went all out. Whenever anyone steps into my home for the first time, the first thing they exclaim is ‘Your place is very cheerful!’. Sometimes I wonder if it is a polite way of saying ‘What were you thinking?!’ But it doesn’t matter, because I love it. I love that whatever happens to be the weather outside, you can’t complain that it is dull and gloomy inside. Amid all the yellows, oranges and greens, there is no place for languor. Bedrooms are different though. The colors are much darker. So there is no jolt to the visual senses there. Though sometimes I do wish I had the same vibrant colors there too ..waking early would not be such a struggle (but that is a problem to be tackled in another post).

Now that I have indulged in all the colors of the rainbow in my home, I am ready to tone it down a bit, that is... if I have to. But I am not willing to go back to white. So that makes me our decisions reflect our choices, both past and present? If I had been given free reign on my living space earlier in my life, would I have had my fill of colors and would my tastes have evolved into something entirely different than what it is now? Maybe. And so it is with many things in my life.

A decade ago, I never imagined that I would ever be on a vegan diet. I took pride in the fact that I am game to eat anything that moved. But then, over the years, my thoughts changed and my awareness shifted. I had to work through the effects of an unhealthy diet on my body and mind. I had to make my choice, one meal at a time. But what would have been my choice if I had been forced to shun meat in my diet during my childhood and through adulthood. What would my current choice be if I was not given the freedom to indulge in my liking for meat? I am sure I would have complied as I am no rebel, but would I have relished my food as much as I do now? I wonder.

Minimalism is subjective. What I think is minimalistic might seem wasteful to someone with a more stringent approach. Most of the concepts of minimalism that I embrace now would not have appealed to me a couple of decades ago. I was already minimalistic in some ways then, but certainly not out of choice. It was mostly out of necessity. If I like to have just 7 outfits in my closet now, it is because I like it that way and not because that is all I can afford to own. So the cushion of affordability makes my minimalistic aspirations that much more easier.  

That makes me wonder again....(yes, I wonder all the time).... Is it easier to give up luxury when we have experienced it and known what it is all about? Or is it easier to not take that path having never known how it felt to splurge? Is it easier to know contentment when we have experienced plenty or is it easier to give in to resentment when our dreams have never been indulged? Is it easier to pare down when we think of a minimalistic lifestyle as a lofty ideal? I don’t know if there are any definite answers. But pondering on these questions has made me realize that I am glad to have known and experienced cluttered spaces, materialistic dreams and consumerist tendencies before consciously choosing the opposite way.

I  find that when we have a scarcity mindset, then greed becomes our natural inclination. It is after all survivalism. Hoarding is a choice we make out of fear. Be it time, food, money, lifestyle...whatever it is, it is never enough. So when I wonder (there I go again..) about why I am drawn to minimalism, I think it is to learn contentment. In every aspect of my life.