Finding Your Munr

This started out as a post, then turned into a long post, and finally into a short book! I considered splitting it into several posts, but I think it is better presented as one piece. It’s entirely up to you whether you settle in with a cup of tea for the long haul, or digest this in smaller bites, or even bail out part way through, but to reward your time it’s about everyone’s favourite subject – themselves!

All the New Year reflections and navel gazing will probably have had many of you thinking about the same general things, namely how to be healthier, happier, better versions of ourselves. I don’t have the time or will to get into a nuts and bolts discussion on how exactly we go about achieving these things, and even if I did I am dangerously unqualified to do so! But I have been ruminating on something that lies underneath all of this.

The Importance of Munr

What I want to talk about today is finding your munr, which in this case essentially means what drives you to do the things you do, what makes you happy, satisfied or content, the thing that gives you your reason for being. I’m not talking about the meaning of life, but rather the meaning of you.

I first came across this idea on the blog of writer and modern day Viking Bjorn Andreas Bull-Hansen. I watched a video he made that discussed Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin, as representing the duality of the human mind. Hugin (Thought) is the logical, rational, reasoning aspect of us, while Munin is translated as Memory. Bull-Hansen expands on this definition to attribute Munin to our passion, desire and will. Both need to be cultivated and cared for. We can have all the reasoning power and ability in the world, but if we don’t have the motivation or desire to act, we lose our purpose and meaning.

This concept really stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it a lot on and off since. It was brought back to the front of my mind at the end of last year when I read this article on a news site. It discusses the results of a study into the secrets of a long and happy life. One of the key findings was the need for ikigai, a Japanese concept that basically translates as our reason for being or our reason to get up in the morning. Having an ikigai was found to be every bit as important as eating your vegetables and exercising regularly.

Ikigai immediately made me think of munr. I know of both concepts via the fuzzy medium of translation, so they may not be exactly the same, but they did strike me as being very similar in both their meanings and importance. I may throw the word “happy” about here and there, but that’s just to add some variety. Munr/ikigai is more than a fleeting emotional state, and “happy” doesn’t seem to me to do them justice. To foster your ikigai and/or munr, you must first identify what they are in yourself. The timeless wisdom of the ancient Greeks again shows its relevance: know thyself!

I’m sure many of us have had periods in our lives where we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. We go on long periods of soul searching, as if trying to find our calling by eliminating all the things we don’t want to do. I’m knocking on the door of 41, and I’m still deciding what I want to do when I grow up! To know from a young age what you want to do with your life, and to be able to see that through, is truly a gift. For the rest of us, it takes some work!

Having said that, paid work is not the only place we find munr. Our munr can come from anywhere, a hobby or other pastime, our role in our family, or some other kind of service. For many people, a job is all about putting food on the table and a roof over the head, and that alone is enough to be grateful for. Of course, rich people can be miserable too! Life comes with a lot of needs and demands to balance, and we can’t all make enough money doing something we love.

Finding Your Type

This is where I get to play the part of self-appointed know it all! This is also the part where I reiterate that all of this merely my own observations and opinions, based on nothing more than life experience. Anyway, the first step to finding your munr is to know which direction you must walk in and what you are looking for. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know if you’ve found it, and people who don’t know what they want are seldom happy with what they get. You may think you are motivated by one thing, but in actual fact you are after something else entirely. So before you start drinking wheatgrass smoothies or join the army, I present to you my list of munr-types.

Each of these types is a broad category that attempts to bring some focus to the different ways people find meaning and satisfaction in life. These are not meant to summarise your entire personality. There are obviously many more aspects that make individuals what they are. These types are about the ways in which we find our munr, in our own eyes and in a way that makes us truly feel that we have a purpose in life.

As with all these types of things, these categories will overlap in places, and most people will be a combination of a dominant type, with elements of other types in evidence too. It’s my hope that giving some thought to what motivates you and the ways in which you draw satisfaction from life will help point you in the right direction to find your munr. Do not read this as a straight personality test, but instead recognise the ways that you find purpose and meaning in any or all of what you do. Enough waffling! On with the list:

* Creators. Creators find their munr, as the name would suggest, through the act of creation. They are driven to make things, explore what’s possible within existing frameworks, and push boundaries in new directions. Whatever they are doing, Creators have a strong pull to be hands on and build things, whether they be physical or abstract. They don’t have to be original, but if they can be, then that is even more satisfying. Depending on the individual and their skills and background, coming up with a new philosophy or way to order the world can be just as rewarding as weaving a basket or building a boat. A mundane, service based existence will suffocate a Creator and leave them feeling unfulfilled. It’s not that they don’t see value in being of service, but they must meet their compulsion to create. Repetition in itself is also not necessarily a turn off. Many craft and tradespeople are Creators who can spend their lives perfecting their skills in very particular areas.

The arts are the obvious outlet for Creators, but they can be satisfied in any field that gives them the freedom to play and express themselves. Some Creators are not so obviously artistic, but are still drawn to do it themselves. That person who makes all their own furniture, knits or sews clothing or simply likes to assemble kit-sets or puzzles is probably a Creator. To them, it doesn’t always matter if something is perfect, and sometimes it doesn’t even have to be original (although for a Creator with an artistic bent, it will have to have some expression of their individuality!) What is important is that they did it, and they have something to show for it. For Creators looking to turn their hobbies into a career, there can be the danger of the thing they love turning into something they hate and resent.

It’s important to note that not everyone who enjoys or engages in creative activities is necessarily a Creator. They may be using a creative outlet as a means to satisfy another type, eg: the person who bakes elaborate cakes may be involved in something creative, but where they really get their kicks is entering competitions and trying to outdo everyone else. As creative as their cake baking may be, what they really are is:

* Competitors. It doesn’t really matter too much to a Competitor exactly what they are doing, so long as they are striving to be the best, they are happy. Naturally, Competitors are drawn to actual competitions, be they sporting or other tests of skill, or areas that are measurable and it is easy to compare themselves with others, eg: business. Competitors need an outlet for their nature, and if they don’t have a suitable one, their competitiveness can be displayed in less appropriate areas. If the thrill of competition, the heat of battle and the elusive taste of victory keep you going and push you to be your best, then look for things that are structured around healthy competition.

Competitors caught in no win situations, or duelling with others who are not interested in competing, will end up frustrated and disillusioned. It is also important to make the distinction between Competitors and those who have an over-inflated view of themselves. A true Competitor is driven by the competition itself. Some people simply have to be the best, and see it as their birth right that all must recognise. They are not interested in having to prove themselves, the world should just bow down to their superiority. This would be totally unsatisfying to a Competitor, as it is the struggle that motivates them, not the victory. There are many stories of athletes, explorers or other goal focused people who have worked doggedly towards an objective for a long period of time. Once it is achieved, they feel a brief period of elation and then fall into depression. It was not the goal itself that gave them meaning, but rather the act of working towards it. Without a race to run, a record to beat, a target to hit or a mountain to climb, a Competitor is left drifting in the doldrums.

* Pioneers. The munr of a Pioneer is always around the next bend in the road or river. These are the thrill seekers, risk takers and adrenaline junkies of the world. While I’m type-casting Pioneers a bit here as being physical, outdoors types, this isn’t always the case. More sedentary pastimes can fulfil a Pioneer, so long as there is scope to keep feeding their hunger for new experiences and sensations. Repetition and routine are kryptonite to a Pioneer. They have a burning need to try new things, start new adventures, and draw energy from taking risks that would give other types the shits. Their exploits don’t even have to make sense to the rest of us, Pioneers can only thrive with continual fresh input from the world around them.

Pioneers can cross over into the realms of the Competitor or Creator, but they derive their meaning from taking on the unknown and adding variety to their lives. These people really like to push the boundaries, but not because they need to beat someone else or leave a legacy behind. Being the first to do something is less competitive for Pioneers. It’s not so much that they did it before anyone else, but that they haven’t done it yet either. They do it simply for the experience of doing it. Why did Sir Edmund Hilary climb Mount Everest? Because it was there. Sure, he got a lot of adulation for being the first person to do so, but that wasn’t why he did it, as evidenced by the fact that he carried on adventuring when he could have dined out on his achievement for the rest of his life. This trait can also be seen in many people who continue to climb Everest. There are Competitors who have to set some sort of record along the way (oldest, youngest, first person to carry a live fish to the top…) but there are also plenty of Pioneers who still risk life and limb to ascend the world’s highest peak. There’s no prize at the top, and it’s been done before. But it hasn’t been done by them, which is why they do it.

Pioneers can have a wide hedonistic streak, and can appear self-involved to the point of being selfish and reckless. I’ve often watched people attempting dangerous feats like kayaking across oceans, and wondered what the point of it all is. But I’m not a Pioneer. I don’t see the reward that justifies the risk. I would see simply surviving such an experience as the only reward! But a Pioneer sees the experience itself as the reward, and the risk of death weighs less on their mind than the slow death of an unexciting life. I expect many Pioneers death notices or eulogies feature the words “he died doing what he loved”!

* Maintainers. Maintainers are most fulfilled when engaged in creating and maintaining stable lives. They prioritise security and aren’t so keen on sudden changes. They are homebodies at heart, and whether they are extroverted or introverted they place great value on peaceful relationships. Maintainers thrive when supporting others, and can gain true satisfaction from the achievements of those they have supported. They also have their own achievements, but aren’t as self-focused as some other types. For all the high-flyers hogging the limelight, there is an army of Maintainers that quietly keep the world from falling apart.

Maintainers can have a hard time of it in the eyes of some. The things they value are not always reflected by society as being glamorous or aspirational. They don’t have the mystique of Creators, the excitement of Pioneers, or receive the adulation of Competitors. Sure, most of us acknowledge the worth of the Maintainer, but there’s frequently a subtext of boredom or even subtle derision from other types. Even when areas of interest to Maintainers are in the spotlight, there’s often a strong element of competitiveness or creativity. For example, no one seems interested in how to make a nice meal any more. It has to be the best meal ever cooked, get the most likes on social media, win a cooking competition or be something no one has ever eaten before. The Maintainer does not see things this way. They are motivated to make a meal that brings enjoyment and good feeling to others. It can be a new, ground breaking recipe and go on to break the internet, or it can be a familiar dish served countless times before, but all of that is secondary to the Maintainer. The important thing is a good meal in good company, everything else is just gravy! (see what I did there?)

Many people can struggle when forced to take on the role of a Maintainer. While some are at their most content pottering about in the garden, running a household and managing daily family life, others can feel stifled and resentful of the demands on them. A natural Maintainer gets pleasure from giving pleasure, and doesn’t feel they are missing out on anything by not being a Competitor or a Pioneer. Other types may call them boring or unoriginal, and society may bombard them with pressure to be unique, the best and the most popular, but a self-aware Maintainer can be happier than anyone. I would hypothesise that a study of centenarians would reveal a disproportionate number of Maintainers, living long and contented lives.

* Seekers, Scholars and Scientists. I’ve grouped these three together as they are essentially variations of the same type. These are the people who are driven by knowledge. They value understanding, insight and wisdom as their own rewards.

Seekers tend to be more spiritual in nature. What they are seeking exactly can be hard to pin down. They lean towards more philosophical or religious subjects, and often cultivate self-improvement or a higher state of consciousness. Seekers can appear to be on a quest that even they don’t fully understand. That’s because the goal they seek is understanding itself. The pursuit of contentment may in fact be where they find their aim.

The focus of Scholars is more centred in the “real world”, in its history and creations. Scholars collate and link information, record the comings and goings of the rest of us and analyse the work of their predecessors. In many ways, the work of a Scholar is never done, such is the wealth of material they have to work with, which I think is just how they like it.

Scientists are driven by the “how” of things. These are the people who will pull something apart and (maybe!) put it back together again purely to understand how it works. The details and intricacies of machinery, computers and the natural world are all waiting to be discovered by Scientists. They gain great satisfaction from inventing new technology or figuring out complex puzzles, but once the code is cracked they are on to the next thing.

As I’ve mentioned, these are broad categories and there will be a certain degree of crossover for any individual. Some of these types naturally complement each other. Many Maintainers will also have a strong element of the Creator about them. Seekers, Scholars and Scientists are in some ways Pioneers. Competitors can be found in any of these types, as they will turn anything into a competition!

Your Role In The Band

To add a further layer to these types, I think we all express these types in different ways. These three expressions can be cross-referenced with the types above to try and give a more accurate picture of how we follow those types:

* The Conductor. Conductors like to be in charge, take control and call the shots. They like to do things their way, and they like other people to do things their way too. This doesn’t necessarily make them over-bearing control freaks, the world needs leaders! Conductors are often the people that initiate things, and care deeply about outcomes. They may be bossy pains in the ass at times, but when the shit hits the fan, it’s good to have a Conductor around to make things happen. Conductors communicate in a direct manner.

* The Harmonizer. Harmonizers participate, contribute and generally go with the flow. They have their limits, but a Harmonizer enjoys a shared experience. If a Harmonizer’s needs aren’t met, they are more likely to go elsewhere than kick up a fuss. They will take control if it means order is restored, but aren’t as eager to be calling the shots as Conductors. This doesn’t mean they won’t be leaders, but when they do take control they prefer to build consensus and lead in a democratic fashion. Harmonizers see leadership more as a role in a team than as a source of power and prestige. Having good communication skills is essential to being a successful Harmonizer.

* The Soloist. Independence is the top priority for Soloists. They don’t like being told what to do, and they have no desire to tell anyone else what to do either. They like to do their own thing and aren’t too worried if other people approve or not. They would rather be wrong doing it their way than be right by following orders. Soloists can be amazing communicators, profound and unique, or they may have the eloquence of a potato. Not being understood is one of life’s great frustrations, but it’s the price of independence for some Soloists.

We can shift between being Conductors, Harmonizers or Soloists. You might be a Conductor in your professional life, but be happiest in your home life as a Harmonizer. Indeed, your job might require you to be a Conductor, even if it isn’t your natural disposition. Someone who spends most of their time as a Harmonizer may find great release and reward in a hobby where they can be an unrestrained Soloist. Remember, this is all about finding your munr, and what may be your dominant mode of behaviour, whether by nature or external pressures, may not be where you find it. Sometimes we need to change our environment, sometimes we need to change ourselves.

These three roles interact with the types in a way that it is helpful to understand. You may be a Competitor, for example, but if you are also a socially motivated Harmonizer you would be best off playing a team sport rather than an individual pursuit. Likewise, a Harmonizer Creator will function best in a group. On their own, they may lack inspiration and energy, and need some support around them to realise their visions. A Soloist Creator, however, can find themselves constricted by any need to compromise. They need to be able to follow their own whims and instincts exactly as they wish. Musicians provide numerous examples of both these combinations. Conductor Creators can also be seen in Prince and James Brown, both musicians notoriously controlling and demanding of their colleagues and collaborators. If they had twenty arms, they wouldn’t have needed anyone else, and would probably be have been happier as Soloists!

The System In Action

If this was some sort of self-help book or academic study, I would have some research and in-depth case studies to help illustrate my points. But seeing as I’m just pulling all this out of my ass, I’ll have to use myself to demonstrate how I see all this theory being applied!

I am primarily a Creator, with a strong dose of Maintainer thrown in. In pretty much everything I do, I have to make my own. Play a game? I’ll make my own! Like that table? I can build one! Got an idea? I’ve got my own! It doesn’t have to be the best, and it doesn’t always have to be that original (this post may be a shining example of both of these points!) but I get as much satisfaction from the process as I do the outcome. I have lots of interests that I flit between, but one thing that I’ve stuck with most of my life is music. Right from when I first learned to play the recorder as small child, I took pleasure from learning the work of others, but even greater pleasure in using that knowledge to create something of my own.

It took me a long time to figure out that the creating was the part that gave me what I needed. As I got older and learned cooler instruments than the recorder (sorry to any recorder die-hards out there) I continued to tinker about making my own music. Being young and impressionable, I thought the thing to do was to be in a band and see how far I could take it. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? For various reasons, lack of talent, introverted personality and cautious, dutiful nature chief among them, I never cracked it as a muso. What made this all too common failure even worse, was that I was miserable along the way.

What was making me miserable was that I didn’t know I was a Creator. I knew I was creative, but I was acting like a Competitor or a Pioneer as I pursued that creativity. I put all sorts of pressures on myself to get out there and be successful, even at a very modest level, because I thought that was what I wanted. Actually, I hadn’t really thought about it at all. I was just following what other people thought of as successful. Or to be even more precise, what other people with loud voices said was successful. I’d never asked the question, what makes me happy about making music?

I’m not really a Competitor. I can be competitive at times, but it doesn’t make me happy. Competition always seems to end in tears for someone, and I like it less and less as I get older. Treating music like some sort of ladder to be climbed just stressed me out and took me away from the things I enjoyed. I’m not a Pioneer either, in fact I’m very much the opposite. Doing “thrilling” things like performing don’t get me out of bed in the morning, they leave me paralysed in bed with a blanket over my head. I had taken something that I enjoyed as a Creator and thought that I needed to be a Competitor or a Pioneer for it to mean something.

Now days, I’m a lot greyer and a little bit wiser. My Maintainer streak has grown as I am no longer seduced by all those loud voices telling me what I want. I don’t want to play big shows in front of crowds of people. I don’t want to play any shows. I’m not that interested in having an audience at all. I’m a Creator, and all I really need to be happy is to create. I write songs and music that no one else will ever hear, and I love doing it. I might share some of it at some point, but then again I might not. When it comes to my own music, I’m a Soloist. I’m making it purely to please myself, so I don’t want anyone else’s input. Collaboration may make it “better”, but I’m not interested in “better”. That would detract from how I find my munr.

I also enjoy music as a Harmonizer, but only because I recognise that is what I’m doing. I play regularly with a couple of other people, jamming out some classic rock covers and other old stuff. I don’t have much input into song selection, and I don’t want to either. I don’t bring along any of my original music, and I have no intention of doing so. I really enjoy our sessions because it’s fun and rewarding to play with other people in its own right. Having my Harmonizer hat on lets me relax and appreciate the simple pleasure of playing in a group. It also makes me a better musician which helps with my own stuff. If this was my only musical outlet, I would probably feel creatively stifled and end up miserable again.

When I make my own music, I find out where I sit on the Scholar/Scientist spectrum. I’m a Scholar in that I’m very interested in the history of music and works of other musicians. I listen all the time, and like to make connections and spot influences. I also have a near savant-like ability to remember trivial details (musical and otherwise) but unfortunately no such talent with important information. If you’re after someone for your quiz team, I’m your man. But if you’re after someone who can retain important information in a responsible workplace, not so much! But my Scholarly bent only goes so far. I wouldn’t be happy to just collect a room full of albums (if you’re under 25, google “albums” for a history lesson) as that wouldn’t meet my creative urge.

I’m definitely not a Scientist. I have a passing interest in how things work, but I don’t get any pleasure from this knowledge on its own. So long as things work, and I know how to work them as much as I need to know to pursue my creative nature, then I don’t really don’t care how they work. Long discussions about cars or circuit boards bore me to tears. If this keyboard keeps working so I can write this, then I’m happy. It could be filled with jelly beans for all I know or care, just so long as it keeps working! When I’m making music, I’m not a huge gear head. I know people who like collecting instruments and gadgets and all manner of crap more than they like playing. They like to fiddle about with it all to discover sounds that inspire them. I come at it from a completely different direction. I hear the sounds in my head first, and then find a way to make them. Once I’ve found that way, I’m done. The gear is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I’m a Seeker in that I have belief and give value to the more mysterious aspects of our existence. I tend to let it come to me more than actively seek it out, though.

In Conclusion

If you made it through all that, well done! Hopefully you have taken away the gist of what I’m getting at, which is:

* To live a content and fulfilled life, we need to have some purpose to our existence and some way of meeting our inner needs.

* Those inner needs can be met in many ways and activities, but our underlying sources of satisfaction tend to be the same.

* Recognising the reason we get satisfaction from certain things (how they meet the needs of our type/types) helps us to identify the things that will nourish our munr. It can be easy to mistake or overlook why we enjoy certain activities.

* We can refine how we engage in these things to suit our personalities, which will help us to maintain our engagement and not let our munr-giving activities get turned into something we hate.

* We can’t be engaged in munr-giving activities all the time, but we need to have some way to do the things that give us meaning, or life can feel like we’re just going through the motions, even if everything looks rosy on the surface.

* We can have multiple types, but most people will generally be dominant in one or two areas. Competence in one type of behaviour does not necessarily make it a source of munr, eg: the fast runner who gets no pleasure from competing, and would rather be collecting stamps. Only us ourselves can fully decide what type we really are.

I fully acknowledge that all of this is totally unscientific psychobabble. It may help you, it may not. But where’s the harm? Probably only in the fact that I will have wasted a few hours of my time. But I’ve enjoyed writing this, because I’m a Creator, and that’s what I do. I create, when I’m not busy being a Maintainer, or avoiding being a Pioneer or Scientist! It should also be said that this is really just a first draft, ideas that have been noted down as they’ve come to me. I feel like it probably needs more to round it out and make my points more clearly. Or maybe it needs a lot less, I don’t know! Feedback is welcome.

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Thank You For Calling, Now F*#k Off!

They say God loves a trier. I’m not sure which God this saying refers to, but it’s usually meant as a patronising put down towards a hopeless failure. I’ve found cause to utter these words myself several times in the past couple of weeks. I don’t know if it’s because of the new year, or the super moon, or some other unknown force, but there’s been a definite upsurge in efforts to swindle me out of money recently.

I got my first “Windows Support Centre” phone call a week ago. This is a very well known scam where a nice person, usually from India, rings you and pretends to be from Microsoft. They’ve detected a problem on your computer and want to fix it for you! No service provider is ever this proactive, which should be an immediate tip off to even the most naive of people. You give them remote access to your computer, and they proceed to clean you out in various ways.

I’d never had one of these calls before, so I was pleased to finally have my existence acknowledged. I told “Jason” to go fuck himself and that was that. But remember, God loves a trier! They’ve rung six out of the last seven days. The second time it was a bit annoying. By the third time, I was actually starting to enjoy having an acceptable opportunity to tell someone what I really thought of them.

You can make all the arguments in the world about people being forced into this by poverty or whatever, but the fact still remains that they are trying to rob me. They do rob people, vulnerable people, who lose more than their money. They lose their confidence and faith in people. That makes them fair game for all the creative verbal tirades they get from me. I should point out it’s never racist. I only mentioned these calls are usually from India because they usually are. India, and notably Nigeria, are hot beds of scamming activity directed at Western nations not because they are backwards nations in any way, but precisely the opposite. They have lots of educated people who speak multiple languages, especially English, and can operate sophisticated scams. I’m not telling the scammer they’re a c*#% because I feel inherently superior. They’re probably more educated and speak more languages than me! I’m telling them they’re a c*#% because they are behaving like one.

Back to my point, these idiots are never getting my money. The odd phone call isn’t annoying. I don’t have to answer it. I could even unplug the phone, as the only people that still ring a land line these days are people who are after something. Even my mother texts or emails! Instead, I see them as providing a service. All those times I’ve had to bite my tongue and just take it, they all melt away after winding up, toying with, and then crushing the person who wants to steal from me. I doubt they even care, they must hear it all the time. I don’t care, it makes me feel better. Does that make me a bad person? That’s up to you to decide, but remember this: I’m not the one trying to rip off vulnerable people.

I’ve also been getting lots of “phishing” emails. As you’re reading this on a computer or similar device, you will be familiar with these. The latest batch are very poor efforts. They are so laughably bad I want to mark them and send them back, like exam papers. There are a couple of sneakier ones though. These take the form of a copy of a real news article, made to look like some sort of news feed or post I’ve subscribed to. Apart from the fact that I know what I have and haven’t subscribed to, the giveaway with these is the unsubscribe link is at the top of the email. Most people don’t want you to unsubscribe, so they bury this link at the bottom of the email in tiny font. These emails are positively begging you to unsubscribe. Ding, ding, ding! That’s the sound of my bullshit bell!

I’ve also had bogus blog followers, who want to follow by email. They email address is usually a lot of nonsense, and there will be a rash of them from the same email provider. In fact, I’ve removed one just now as I’ve come online to post this. I’m guessing they can harvest legitimate email addresses some how by doing this, and then sell them on or attempt an error ridden email scam of their own. If you’ve legitimately tried to follow this blog via email in the last week, and your email address looks like a can of alphabetti spaghetti at outlook.com, then you’ve been removed. I would suggest a more legitimate email address, or just follow via WordPress. At least the phone scammers are putting some effort in!

There are other victims in this too. Who would like to be in charge of outbound calls at the real Windows Support Centre? Imagine being a Nigerian prince with a legitimate business opportunity! The world will always have crime like this. At least I can find some unintended benefit in it as a free therapy session 🙂

If You Want To Start A Revolution, Start A Garden

Forget protesting in the streets. The most revolutionary thing you can do is to plant a garden. Ideally a garden that nourishes all aspects of your being, not just your belly but your overall physical, mental and spiritual health. A garden is a place of many activities and benefits, but primarily it is a place where we are free of the yoke of society while at the same time as mindful of our humanity as we will ever be, even if it is just for a little while.

Any sort of garden can be good for your soul. It doesn’t have to belong to you, not that they really do anyway. You don’t even have to work in it, although it’s better if you do, if that is possible. The exercise benefits of gardening are well documented. Fresh air and physical exertion do us all good. If your garden produces food, no matter how little, then you have reclaimed a say over how you nourish your body. Having some measure of control over what goes into you is essential to leading an independent and conscious life. Reject the monetisation of an activity that we all must do daily. Refuse to fund the institutions that place profit above your well-being and everyone’s right to a decent meal. Every lettuce counts on the road to realising that you are not an ignorant dependent of a man-made system. Grow a tomato and free your mind! 🙂

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Some of the first of the summer harvest. I’ve been fortunate to have access to a garden for the majority of my life. I grew up with a very small front yard, and nothing out the back. I’ve spent my adult life over compensating! I’ve not yet lost the wonder and satisfaction that comes from putting a meal on the table that started out as a seed in my hand. 

Whether you work or relax in your garden, use it as a place of retreat or as a social hub, there is immense mental reward in spending some time outside. Leave all the sights, sounds and interruptions of modern life behind. Step into a place where you can become immersed in the simple rhythms of nature and honest work. Your mind will slow and calm down, stress will leave you (this may depend on how much pressing work you have to do!) Many a problem will reveal its answer after some time spent in the garden. Likewise, many a valuable conversation can be had when sharing this time with others.

A garden is by definition not a strictly natural place. It is made substantially of natural components (although looking at many modern garden trends, it can descend into a game of “where’s the plants?”) but always influenced by human hands. Whether it’s hard-landscaped within an inch of its life, or a wild looking collection of plants that don’t co-exist in nature, a garden represents our interaction with the natural world. There is no substitute for the real thing, but a garden gives us the opportunity for some self-expression and a practical way to spend long periods of time away from artificial environments that aren’t always available to us in a genuinely wild natural environment.

Any experienced gardener will tell you that there are limits to our powers. Conceiving a garden design is one thing. Realising that design is another. Keeping it that way is quite another thing again! That’s because a garden does not stand still. Every garden is an open-ended work, and none can ever be said to be finished. That’s because a garden, however carefully groomed and maintained, will remind you of the limits of human power. Nature is always at work, relentlessly laying its own vision over the top of ours. No matter how hard a human works, they will always be humbled by nature, and that’s a good thing. It is healthy for us to be reminded that all our human issues and problems, all the things that seem so important and serious, will one day be swallowed up by the universe, just as untended path is reclaimed by plant life. Being mindful of our place is the grander scheme of things is good for our spirit.

To have a garden, work in a garden, or even just to be in a garden, is to cut out all the static between us and society. It is an expression of freedoms that we cannot let be taken away from us. So, if you want to strike a blow for real self-determination, create a place where you can begin to feel the world beyond the ceaseless chatter, and find a deep peace and satisfaction, then spend some time in a garden. Even if it’s just a pot on the windowsill, you’ll feel better for it, mind, body and soul.

Immortality Is Not Kept In A Freezer Bag

I saw a familiar story on the TV news a few nights ago. A company somewhere in the US is offering to freeze people when they die. The idea is to preserve their bodies until such time as medical science finds a cure for whatever killed them (obviously you’ll need to die of some sort of disease or condition that leaves your body intact!) When the breakthrough is made, you will be thawed out and cured. Hooray! The obvious hole in this plan is that you when you are thawed out, you will still be dead. Unless you are snap frozen while still alive, you’re going to be waiting until scientists find a way to raise the dead. There’s no point curing your cancer or whatever after it’s already progressed to a stage where it’s killed you. I would suggest researching time travel may be more productive!

This issue aside, there are some other things I find troubling about the whole idea of cryogenics. For a start, what exactly are you going to gain? Do you really want to “wake up” in a future you don’t understand, where it is highly likely everyone you know and love is long dead? Will your new life be a continuation of your old one, or will you be a lonely freak from the past, an object of curiosity for a world that has moved on without you? Is this the first step on the road to immortality? That in itself is an idea that makes my skin crawl.

Cryogenics seems to be very appealing to narcissists and elitists. They can’t imagine a world without them in it, which is a trait of people who are inordinately afraid of dying. Death can’t possibly apply to them, as they are so special and unique and the world simply will not cope without them. The unfortunate outcome of this is twofold: firstly, the world is already over populated as it is, we don’t need more people. We are making new people faster than we can handle, so recycling existing ones is only contributing to the root cause of many of the world’s problems. Secondly, there are enough self-absorbed assholes in the world already. We really, really don’t need to be saving any of them, as I can’t see there being some sort of asshole shortage any time soon.

The whole thing is symptomatic of the spiritual malaise most of the world is currently in. As a species, certainly in developed countries, we have become so self centred, so ego obsessed, that we seek to defy nature by trying to cheat death and live forever. We only see life in our own life. Is doesn’t matter to us that we pass on life through succeeding generations, not by personally living forever. We’re losing sight of the fact that there is no life without death. Even if we can’t live forever, we want as much as we can possibly wring out, not matter the quality of it. We can’t all hang around eternally. The supermarket is crowded enough on pension day!

The quest for immortality is nothing new, however. The search for eternal life has appeared at many different times in many cultures. Call me biased, but I like the arch-Heathen take on it. They were very concerned about being remembered, but they knew it was both futile and undesirable to try and physically live forever, or even for a very long time. The way to achieve immortality was to make the most of the life you had. Don’t waste so much time trying to cheat death that you forget to live, get out there and make what you have count for something. Your body is going to die, but your deeds and your name will live on. That is where immortality truly lies.

Arch-heathens had a different view of themselves to us. They saw themselves as part of a larger organism, typically their kinship group. This was most famously manifested in their seeming disregard for death. An individual didn’t see their own death as having such finality if it meant the group would live on, as if the group was alive, then they themselves were alive, even if their heart was no longer beating in their body. For an arch-Heathen, to be the last of their kin was worse than their individual death.

This way of thinking is also seen in ancient justice, where exile and expulsion from the group was the worst punishment possible. To be outlawed or banished severed a person not only from support in this life, but also from the thread of life that would continue on after their physical death. Death was sometimes an outcome of justice, but the aim of that was to restore the honour of the person delivering the blow, rather than to punish the recipient. Indeed, such was the group mindset, this type of justice did not even need to involve the perpetrator of the original crime. “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us”, was not just tough talk or bumper-sticker philosophy, and it worked both ways!

We don’t need to be freezing ourselves for an imagined future where the frailties of our human bodies have been conquered. We are more than just physical vessels. If you can connect with the past, and with the future, you will see that you are part of a bigger picture, not the burning centre of the universe. Immortality does not lie within us, it lies in seeing that we are part of life beyond ourselves. Every living being has its life, and its death. We will, and must, have a limited time as we are now. If your time on Midgard is not enough for you, then perhaps you have not used it well enough. Don’t be so focused on “me” that you forget you are part of “we” and you will live on much longer than a frozen corpse. And who knows, you may even make the world a better place while you’re at it.

So You Want To Be A Heathen?

So, you want to be a Heathen? Ask yourself a few questions first, and be honest, the conversation is only between you and yourself, so you’ve nothing to gain by lying.

Do you want to be Heathen, or do you want to not be something else? Is being Heathen the best way to protest or rebel against your upbringing or family? Have you chosen it because it is as far away as you can get from something you hate? Is this a proactive or a reactive choice?

Do you want to be Heathen, or are you simply taking your Viking fetish or Lord of The Rings/Game of Thrones/Conan the Barbarian obsession to the next level? There’s nothing wrong with that as a pathway to Heathenry, but belief is not a fashion accessory. If you strip away all the props and change the look, are you still in?

Do you want to be Heathen, or are you looking for an escape from reality? We all need to step out of the real world, and out of ourselves, from time to time, and having a spiritual dimension to your life can be an asset in this regard. But Heathenry is a way of interpreting and dealing with the real world. It does not exist apart from reality, instead it will inform your reality and who you are in your daily life.

Do you want to be Heathen, or are you looking for quick answers? I can save you a lot of time right now: there are no quick answers. What look like quick answers just turn out to be long disappointments. Heathenry will offer you a way to look at the world, a way to ask questions and a path to a deeper knowledge of the world. But we are all limited by our humanity, and not everything is ours to know. Is this regard, at least Heathenry is honest with you.

Are you going to be Heathen when no one is looking? In your quietest, most solitary and honest moments, are you sincere in your belief?

Are you going to be Heathen when everyone is looking? When being Heathen will mark you out in all the worst ways, and make your life awkward, invite scorn and ignorant ridicule, will you be steadfast? Discretion can be the better part of valour, it is true, but if the only injury you risk is embarrassment or rejection, will you place your standing in the eyes of the Gods higher than in the eyes of man?

Are you prepared to be confused, confounded and challenged? Do you have the resoluteness to remain unmoved by the hatred, condescension and bull shit of Heathens and non-Heathens alike? Can you tell a kindred spirit from a bully looking for a niche in which to wield power? Do you have the strength to stand up against the racists, both physical and pseudo-intellectual, who will attack you or undermine you at every opportunity, twisting belief into politics, anger and fear?

Do you want to be a Heathen because that is who you are? Are you a Heathen because you have no other choice, you have been called by the Gods and that is what matters the most? Or is this a more aspirational choice, something to work towards and shape yourself into?

Ultimately, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, only honest or dishonest ones. As much as we exist in a giant, intertwined collective, we are all on our own individual paths. These paths start and end at different points, and where these points are is not really all that important. What counts is that we are all going in the same direction. Maybe your path starts at watching too many episodes of Vikings, or being pissed off at Christianity. Or maybe it starts with being born into a Heathen kindred, awake to the Gods and raised in Heathen ways. We all have to start somewhere, but it’s where we end up that counts.

We will all stumble at times, wander off course and display our human failings. We all have more distance to travel. If nothing else, I hope these questions will help you to see where you’re at and which way you need to go, because if you don’t know where you are or which direction to go, well, that’s the very definition of being lost.

Gangsta Rappers Are The New Vikings*

* Blogging Advisory: A sense of humour may be required to enjoy this post.

Say whaaat?! Yeah, you heard me. Gangsta rappers are the new Vikings. I know this flies in the face of all popular thinking and imagery, but they have a lot in common. Allow me to present my case, appropriately in bullet-point format:

  • Reputation and image is everything. If you were a Viking, or you are a gangsta rapper, you’ve got to set the right tone right from the start. You’ve got to be tough, intimidating, and never let them see you cry. A cool nickname certainly helps, and so does embellishing your violent and checkered past. If you can build enough of a legend for yourself, it can do a lot of the work for you. The more widespread your renown becomes, the better.

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Straight outta Norway, another crazy ass Viking, more punks I smoke, yo, my rep is hiking.

 

  • Violence and poetry. These two are a strange mix, but they are both very high up the list of desirable skills for Vikings and gangsta rappers. It’s not enough to win the fight, you need to be able to deliver some well composed lines about how all the head-splitting/drive-by shooting went down. Sometimes the two merge together, and the Sagas feature several instances of flyting, which are essentially rap battles, that on occasion spilt over into actual violence.

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An early piece of conceptual art for Eminem’s semi-autobiographical film Eight Mile.

 

  • It’s all about the bling. The title of 50 Cent’s 2003 debut album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, would make a good tag line for any Viking escapade. The key driver to both lifestyles is to lift the participants out of poverty and into a life of comfort and luxury. Of course, one can never have enough money, so the pursuit of riches becomes an endless task of greed and one-upmanship. Any wealth must always be displayed, either through fine clothing, the best weapons, or copious amounts of jewellery. Having a cool ride is also essential.

 

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Here’s a fun gangsta/Viking crossover fact: both groups like modifying their teeth as a status symbol. Here you can see an example of Viking teeth filing, and above the more recent “grill” (pretty sure I’ve got those the right way around…)

 

  • It’s better with friends. You can’t be a gangsta rapper without a gang to gangsta with. Similarly, no one ever went a-Viking on their own. You’ve got to have a crew, preferably hand-picked for their skills and loyalty. They’ll come up with you, and probably go down with you, but no man is an island in either game.

 

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They see me sailing, they hatin’, patrollin’ they  tryin’ to catch me rowin’ dirty, 

 

  • There’s endless feuding and infighting. Change the names and a few other details, and most rap feuds sound like an Icelandic saga. Despite the fearsome reputation of both groups among outsiders, there seems to be nothing they like better than killing each other. Revenge and honour then enters the picture, and you have a seemingly endless cycle of blood shed.

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Another fun crossover fact: Whether its purpose is to mark turf, serve as a memorial for a fallen comrade, or simply to leave your mark on the world, gangsta’s and Vikings are both partial to a spot of graffiti.

 

There you have it, my reasons why gangsta rappers are the new Vikings. They might not look like the old Vikings, but when it comes to actually doing Viking shit, I think they have a strong claim.

Peace out 🙂

If A Tree Dies In The Woods…

… and no one takes a selfie with it, is it still dead? I’ve seen two news stories in recent weeks that share a common thread. Both centre on the ignorance and vanity of humans causing harm to trees. People damaging the environment is sadly nothing new, but in these cases the harm caused seems to be for no gain other than people’s egos and disconnection from nature.

The first concerned one of the few remaining stands of ancient Redwood trees in California. Undiscovered until 1998, the Grove of The Titans has ten of the world’s largest trees. It’s location was kept secret by those who first discovered it, however the secret has been leaked, and more and more people are trampling through the forest to visit these trees. In the process, they are damaging the bark of the Redwoods by climbing on them for photo’s, and compacting the earth around the roots, which destroys the fine hair roots that draw up water from the ground. What should be a place of preservation has, unfortunately, become the latest trendy place to visit before all the tourists trash it. How ironic.

The second story is closer to home. New Zealand has it’s own king of the forest, the mighty Kauri. It’s not on the same scale as the Redwood, but it’s impressive none the less, and unique to our shores. It is also presently facing a grave threat in the form of Kauri dieback, a disease which does exactly as its name suggests. All plants are at risk from disease at times, but Kauri dieback is spreading like wild fire thanks to people walking through the forests and not washing their footwear at the provided stations. The general public has ignored the advice and warnings of local and central government, and there has been a call to close the Waitakere Ranges entirely to stop the disease spreading. For some reason, the powers that be are reluctant to do this. The local Iwi (Maori tribe) have stepped up where the law has not, and have placed a rahui (ban) on entering the forest. This seems to be having some effect, but many people are still choosing to ignore the reality of what is happening and are continuing to spread Kauri dieback carelessly through the forests.

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Kauri dieback results in this (above) because people can’t be bothered to do this (below), even when all they need is provided for them. 

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In both of these scenarios, there is a profound disconnect from nature. Whether it comes from a place of well meaning ignorance, or something less benign, I don’t know. But the key feature to both these stories is human beings who are unable to see themselves as anything but the most important thing in the world. You may feel like you are “getting back to nature”, and hopefully feeling good about yourself and benefiting from some time away from the rat-race, but how is that working out for nature? Where is the connection to nature in causing such harm to some of its most majestic entities? And all because humans just cannot let something exist without thinking we know best. We urgently need to return to viewing our world as a place where we exist in relationship with our environment, not as masters of our domain who may do as we please with the “resources” around us.

Natural environments are beautiful, nourishing places to be, but they do not exist solely for our amusement. They sustain life, and I think the responsibility we have to not trash them should be placed some what higher than a cool picture or story to share on social media. I find it truly tragic that a person’s need to hug a tree is put ahead of the needs of the tree to not be destroyed by misguided visitors. These mighty trees do not need our validation to exist. They are not back drops for selfies or playgrounds for adventure seekers. If you really, honestly do value the Redwoods and Kauri, please leave them be.