Total Pageviews

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

It's All About the Nervous System

I just recently graduated from a relatively short but amazing holistic bodywork therapy program in Vancouver, to prepare me for a career as a bodywork therapist giving massages (due to technicalities I cannot call myself a 'massage therapist').
My graduating class at the amazing Vancouver School of Healing Arts - June 2019

This was a big shift from my earlier technical institutionalized education meant to prepare me for the 9 to 5. Besides learning massage techniques, my school's program consisted of ancient sciences like ayurveda, as well as a spiritual component involving sharing circles, meditation, breathing exercises, and artistic expression in the form of drawing and dancing.

We did receive scientific education, to balance out the more holistic content, through an anatomy course. However, even the biggest lesson I took away from learning about human anatomy seemed to go against mainstream thinking. That lesson is that you do not need stronger, firmer pressure in order to enjoy and reap therapeutic benefits from a massage.

One would automatically think that the purpose of massage is to address the body at the point of contact. But I realize now through my education that this is very narrow thinking, and that the power of physical touch has a broader more holistic impact on the receiver.

This broader impact has to do with the autonomic nervous system. This system consists of all the nerves in our body which wrap around not just every muscle fibre, but also all the internal organs, affecting different internal processes that help maintain homeostasis, or a condition of equilibrium within the body. So the direct physical contact of outer skin and superficial muscles indirectly affects our nervous system, but also bodily functions which affect our general health and wellbeing.

The autonomic nervous system itself consists of two systems - the sympathetic and parasympethic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system refers to the bodily state of fight or flight, and the parasympathetic system refers to the state of rest and digest.

You may have heard of these terms lately, since stress has become such a recognized issue in modern society. That's because when you are stressed out your body activates the sympathetic nervous system: adrenaline and cortisol is released into your body, your eyes and blood vessels dilate, digestion slows, heart rate and breathing increases, among other things.

On the opposite end of the spectrum activating your parasympathetic nervous system pretty much reverses all these processes: your eyes and blood vessels constrict, heart rate and breathing slows, muscles relax, saliva production and digestion increases. In this state, human connection happens more easily.

Our autonomic system developed in this way as a survival mechanism.

During our hunter-gatherer days, whenever we were hunting or being hunted our sympathetic system would activate so that we would have the energy and ability to outrun our enemy. Once we return to safety, our parasympathetic system would activate to recover from the stressful situation.

However, these internal processes that allow us to outrun our enemy are only meant to be used on an occasional basis because they are very taxing on our body. In today's modern society, we are subject to chronic low level stress and our sympathetic system is activated almost all the time. In the long term this leads to chronic depression and illness. It seems that all the activities recommended today to combat stress do so by activating the parasympathetic system - meditation, yoga, focusing on the breath.

And, of course, massage!

And while, as mentioned at the top, massage is often connected to addressing muscle injuries at the point of contact with strong pressure, an overlooked benefit is that it triggers general relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. And this depends on the right touch. The right touch signals to the receiver's body that it is safe and can relax, allowing it to move into rest and digest.

What is 'the right touch?'

This is very subjective, and that's why massage is so personal and depends entirely on the connection between giver and receiver.

A giver can have great technical skills but not every receiver will enjoy their touch. Someone without technical training may have a more intuitive and nurturing touch better suited for massage. A receiver can be open minded but if they don't have a good initial impression of the giver, how they receive their touch will reflect that. The right massage techniques can be taught in a school setting, but the right touch cannot be taught. That can only be honed through intuition.

Ultimately, it depends on the receiver. The right touch could be soft and warm, nurturing; it could be firmer and more technical. The receiver might think they want focused, deep pressure, but once they receive a soft intuitive touch, their minds could change.

This is why I value the softer side of my school's curriculum, as mentioned earlier, involving the sharing circles, meditation, breathing, drawing and dancing. These exercises are meant to make us better human beings, through knowing ourselves and honing our intuition. Once we achieve this we can know and connect with our receivers more intuitively through our touch.

And that touch doesn't have to be deep and firm. It can be soft and nurturing; intuitive and knowing. It can be combined with breathing exercises or inhalations of essential oils. Whatever helps to signal to our bodies that it is safe, relaxes our nervous system, activates our parasympathetic nervous system, and allows our bodies to rest and digest!

Saturday, 13 July 2019

My Microdosing Journey

This has certainly been said before by people much wiser than me, but not said enough.

I firmly believe that in order for there to be real change in the world there needs to be a shift at the spiritual level.
Global or individual behaviour change starts at the spiritual level

The predominant cultural norms can tell an individual to reduce their carbon footprint, however, unless that individual, on a deeper level, truly values the people and the environment, they will only do it half-heartedly. And that deeper level where one's truth and values lie is the spiritual level.

My own spiritual awakening catalyzed a real shift in values towards care for the planet and its people. This fundamental internal shift drove positive actions and personal sacrifice.

My shift in consciousness would not have been possible without psychedelics. I wouldn't be even close to the person I am today without them. I believe psychedelics truly have the power to create a revolution of consciousness driving positive actions to reverse the damage that humans have incurred on the environment and each other.

The world is beginning to wake up and see this too, evidenced by the decriminalization of psilocybin in a few US states, as well as MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD on its way to being recognized as a legitimate treatment by the FDA. Here is a very informative TED Talk on the state of psychedelics today.

I wish to join the chorus of voices advocating its responsible use, and so I have taken steps to better understanding my own relationship with psychedelics.

~*~*~*~

Microdosing May

My first official experiment was Microdosing May where I regularly microdosed magic mushrooms and recorded journal entries for each microdose.

For this experiment I made my own custom capsules. Each capsule contains approximately 0.2 grams of psilocybin, 0.4 grams of an all-natural 5-mushroom blend (reishi, chaga, lion's mane, turkey tail, shiitake), maca and Vitamin B3 (which dilates the blood vessels). I took one capsule just about every other day in May.
My own microdosing capsules, a synergistic mix of psilocybin, other edible mushrooms, maca & vitamin B3

Psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, and lion's mane are known to stimulate a process called neurogenesis, describing the growth of brain cells, which is linked to greater health and longevity. So the intention of these capsules were for synergistic brain and energy boost, along with general health benefits.

The most common recurring themes from my journal entries were a greater awareness of body and emotions.

The most commonly experienced internal physical sensation was of a soft buzz throughout the entire body. Beyond that there were a few occasions where I was highly aware of my heartbeat. Overall the body buzz felt great, like a subtle but noticeable vibration, softening tension in my muscles.

External physical sensations were also heightened such as sun and wind, even the feel of my clothes, on my skin. Music became much more engaging and stimulating. Visually, colours became more vivid, and it was easier to focus on individual objects, especially natural ones like trees.

Magic mushrooms generally increase one's sensitivity to stimuli, so it is easy to become overstimulated. Whenever situations became overstimulating I sought quiet or familiar situations with people I knew. I found myself to be more friendly and positive in passing social interactions with strangers, and more laughing and joking around friends. Even alone, I would notice little things that would make me laugh more than usual.

May was an emotional month for me, and the microdosing arguably helped. I say arguably because, similar to the body sensations, you can't escape sensing your emotions. In my case, I generally microdosed in environments quiet enough to allow me to focus on my emotions and allow them to move through me more quickly and effectively. So it was very helpful for me in terms of dealing with my emotions. However, there were a few microdoses taken during a busy or stimulating situation, and being aware of my emotions only served to distract or stress me out more.

During my microdosing regime I was moved to tears on at least four occasions. But they were good tears in which I felt lighter, less burdened afterwards. The predominant emotions I felt were subtly uplifted and relaxed, and occasionally feelings of interconnectedness and oneness with the people and nature.
Macrodosing in the right setting can trigger healing. And in other settings, just tripping out
There was only one occasion in May which I did a macrodose. That night I went dancing and really got my body moving! It got off to a rough start because I did a fairly large dose, about 1.8 grams of psilocybin, which made me slightly nauseous and out of control of my thoughts. After I recovered, I danced for a bit, then became overstimulated and tired, so I went home early. I hung out with my roommate and we had a great time - I think I alternated between three cycles of laughing fits and crying! The dose was also large enough to trigger visual hallucinations, where patterns on walls started to come alive, and my skin started to crawl.

Overall it was an amazing night, and I felt much lighter inside my body. And while microdosing is becoming popular, some experts believe that macrodosing in controlled settings is the best way to use psychedelics for healing purposes. Rick Doblin explains that at the end of his TED Talk on psychedelic-assisted therapy, just this past April in Vancouver.

Besides dancing, there were a few other occasions in which I felt in a more creative rhythm, such as doing poi while microdosing. I also gave a few massages while microdosing, and the receivers gave feedback that I was very present with them, and had a good rhythm.
Spinning poi on the beach
In summary, the overwhelming majority of my microdosing experiences were positive. Feelings experienced were a gentle body buzz, uplift and interconnectedness.

Psilocybin generally brings greater awareness to one's body and emotions (instead of dulling or numbing them like with alcohol or opioids). They show you the real you. So even though I had negative emotions come up at times, I was in the right context to process and resolve those emotions, creating room for healing. There was really only one experience I recall feeling uncomfortable, when I was around someone who I didn't really connect well with.

Psilocybin has effects generally lasting 3 to 5 hours, but my perceived effects of body lightness often lasted well past that. This shows the power of magic mushrooms to effect lasting positive change beyond just the psychoactive experience alone.

Perhaps the strongest benefit from microdosing is that the greater body and emotional awareness allowed me to become more present with myself. I let go of thoughts that didn't serve me and focused on what I felt in the moment.

I really enjoyed Microdosing May, and thought I would continue microdosing into the next month. However, I completely stopped microdosing until midway through June when I made a fresh batch of pills with a different formula and wanted to try them out. Almost two months later I still have zero compulsion to microdose, and no dependency.

Beyond the science, this was personal proof that psilocybin is not an addictive substance.

A Testimonial from a Friend

I'd like to conclude by encouraging dialog with friends and other readers. If you're interested I would be happy to discuss my experience in more detail and help prepare you for your journey with psychedelics. I've helped introduce several friends to psilocybin in a balanced setting, casual yet ritualistic. I feel called to continue doing so.

Here is a testimonial from a friend who I introduced to psilocybin:

Speaking as someone with anxiety, my experience with microdosing mushrooms has been nothing short of transformative. I had never experimented with psychedelics before, and I was taken aback by how user friendly they are. Starting with once every 3-4 weeks this past October, I now microdose once or twice a week.

Microdosing calms my often-overactive mind, allowing me to actually be present in the moment. I can tune out all the background noise in my head and focus on the people around me. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it brings my attention outward instead of anxiously inward. I even find it helps with breaking negative thought patterns, which brings with it a feeling of self-generated contentment and calm.

Because of the shift in focus, I feel more in tune with my surroundings, as well as making my daily interactions feel more meaningful and intentional.

This process has brought so much positivity into my life, I really can’t stress enough the impact that it’s had on my mental health.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

My Silent Road Trip - Toronto to Vancouver


I took off from Toronto in the early morning of Monday January 28th. This was my sixth time doing this road trip from Toronto to Calgary or vice versa. This time I was going to Vancouver, an extra day's driving past Calgary, and I was doing this trip pretty fast, since my first day of school was only a few days after my scheduled arrival.

I normally do this trip with fellow travellers, and in fact had one lined up. However he cancelled last minute and so I was off on my own. I was slightly worried that not having company in the car would make me more tired, but also welcomed the opportunity for quiet and contemplation.
Ice waterfalls along Hwy 1 in Northern Ontario

Taking a short break in -20 temperatures to admire the sunset - Kenora, Ontario

I decided to start my road trip off in silence, figuring I would switch the music on in a few hours. I occasionally do drive in silence when I'm driving around the city. Once I started I felt rather comfortable with the silence so I just decided to see how long I could go. Day 1 was the longest day on the itinerary - 14 hours to Thunder Bay!

When I got to Thunder Bay without playing any music or podcasts I was quite proud of myself. I figured I would start off the next day doing the same thing and see how long it goes. I drove another 8 hours on Day 2 to Winnipeg again without sound. By the time I was ready to head out on Day 3 I just knew that I was going to go the rest of the journey without sound.
My favourite people in Winnipeg, keeping me warm while it was -40 degrees outside!
After two straight days of nothing but flat Prairies it was great to see the Rocky Mountains
I also started off the journey without drinking coffee in the car, and eventually decided to go the whole way without that too (with the exception of friends who hosted me offering me coffee in the morning). When I did need a break I only stopped in local cafes to buy tea and fill my own mug with it.  I never purchased food either. My car was full of snacks which I previously dumpster dived, plus wraps premade by my parents. My hosts helped to feed me too (I offered one host $10 for groceries).

Finally, as a hippie, I also didn't shower or change my clothes the whole trip! I'm pretty lucky when it comes to my body odour, and I didn't get any negative feedback from my friends who hosted me. The shower I took when I finally moved in to my place in Vancouver was glorious.

This road trip definitely broke a lot of ground for me. During past road trips I almost always played music and podcasts. And I would stop daily at a fast food joint like McDonald's to get coffee and occasionally a meal. I took my minimalism and nomad game to a whole new level. And I had a few revelations from the experience.

First, I barely felt tired this entire road trip, which totalled 63 hours on the road! In this respect it was a great success. The biggest reason for this was giving up coffee. Coffee always gave me a strong kick of alertness followed by a dive into heavy fatigue and drooping eyelids, causing me to stop for more coffee. Coffee put me on a rollercoaster of energy - not having coffee this time around kept my attention steady.

Another reason was napping - every day of this road trip I managed to take one nap, whether in a cozy coffee shop or in my car, and it revitalized me better than any coffee did.
My newfound alertness was much needed through the snow affected British Columbia mountains
But after the storm I was reminded of the beauty of Canada's west coast

I think not playing any podcasts certainly helped my mind conserve energy but this experience suggests to me that, while playing music is generally less stimulating, that even doing this constantly for hours may eventually drain one's energy.

Another thing that can drain one's energy is eating. Big meals are especially known to cause the metabolism to monopolize all one's energy to digest. During this road trip I ate very little and, perhaps most important of all, I generally stayed away from fast food and junk foods which might sap my energy faster.

Last but not least, I credit my sustained alertness to my recently newfound inner peace. This can be explained in more detail in a recent past blog:
https://allineedismy2barefeet.blogspot.com/2019/01/find-your-meditation.html
As an introvert I enjoy tranquil environments, and I quickly adjusted to the tranquility of the quietness combined with the slowly changing landscapes while in transit. In this environment I was able to process nagging thoughts and bring my mind to a state of calm and stillness which allowed me to stay focused and alert while behind the wheel.
63 hours and nearly 4,300 km over 6 days of driving! I'm very happy to make it safely to Vancouver!
In the middle of this silent journey I realized a few more benefits which added motivation for me to go silent right to the end. Processing the nagging thoughts was helping to clear my mind and prepare it for starting school with a blank slate. Now I feel ready to fill it with tons of knowledge. Also, I stayed with friends who are all musicians or really into their music. One morning I played a little guitar while my friend accompanied me on the piano and his creativity brought me a big smile and also a bit of a laugh! Another friend played me music on his amazing sound system and record player pairing. This experience also brought a smile to my face as well, and I think I was able to enjoy these sounds on a deeper level due to the extended silence that preceded it.

Even though this was the sixth time I did a road trip like this halfway across Canada, this time around was quite a milestone achievement because of how I did it. It's an indication of the personal growth I've made in my life, that I can maintain calm and stillness of mind over long periods of time without getting bored or hungry, or letting things bother me such as lack of hygiene (I guess if I had a road trip partner they would check me on that one!).

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Cyclists in Toronto! Should You Work for Uber Eats, Foodora or DoorDash?

Up to date as of Jan 26, 2019.

Since starting work doing food delivery, I have cycled around downtown Toronto, getting to know its streets, weaving in and out of traffic, and integrating myself into the pulse of commuters coming and going.

Despite being surrounded by people, bicycle food delivery is relatively solitary work. I see lots of delivery people like me passing by on the street - some pass by as if I were just another citizen, some acknowledge me, showing some solidarity. Sometimes I find myself side by side with them in the restaurants also waiting for food. We have conversations mostly about the work - usually about which company is the best to work for.

While I have still a relatively small amount of experience, I also have more than a lot of people just entering this dynamic field of employment. I also have a blog! Thus I decided to share my experience in the hopes that others can learn from it.

Please note that my experience is very specific to delivery by bicycle downtown! This blog might not be helpful to driving deliverers, or those working outside of downtown. I personally would never deliver by vehicle - the traffic headache, risk of illegal parking, risk of accidents, and cost of gas and maintenance are not worth it to me. I may consider using a vehicle only late at night. Nor would I work outside of downtown; the lower volume of opportunities outside of downtown also makes it less profitable.

Lastly, before I dive in, I would encourage you to watch this 23 minute CBC Marketplace episode. The first half is intended for would-be customers, while the second half is targeted towards delivery people. Overall it is quite well done and informative.
https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1372790851816

Without further ado, here's my experience:

In the beginning of 2018 I worked for 3 months for Foodora. After leaving Toronto for the summer and fall, I returned from December 2018 to January 2019. I worked mostly for DoorDash, in order to earn the referral bonus ($1000 for my friend the referrer, plus $100 for me, but we split it halfway for $550 each). I also worked just a bit for Uber Eats to earn their referral bonus ($350 for my friend who split it with me). Please keep these timelines in mind, as things may have changed since my own experiences with them, particularly my earliest job with Foodora.

Also keep in mind that I tended to work during peak hours only where the earning potential is higher. So my income rates may be skewed by this fact. I rarely worked more than 15 hours a week doing food delivery because I had another job working from home to balance the physical nature of bicycle delivery. But I have met people who do this work full time and can earn in the range of $25/hr consistently.

Foodora

My 3 months with Foodora in winter of 2017 I remember as being good and enjoyable. Foodora is a company who obviously looks out for its deliverers. They have a Slack channel for its deliverers, which facilitates group chat. Foodora staff participate too, occasionally providing important information through Slack. And as far as I know, they're not on there to monitor and spy on discussions, but to keep us informed and receive feedback.

The Foodora orientation went fairly smooth and the staff were generally friendly and helpful. Food bags are given with a returnable deposit, if bag is returned. Its office also gives away free cheap bicycle lights and jackets.

On shift I was almost always busy, rarely waiting for opportunities, and occasionally double bagging, meaning I carried two orders at one time. One time I think I even triple bagged. Over my 3 months I believe I averaged $24/hr with one very profitable shift averaging $40/hr. My worst shift was unsurprisingly in my first week, and I think it was $17/hr which is still not bad.

Because I rode a mountain bike, I was able to ride in snowy, slushy and stormy conditions. These days were the busiest, resulting in a higher volume of deliveries and better pay. While I did this to make money, I also did it to test my body's limits and I came out of this job a much tougher, weather tolerant person.

Foodora's app, while did occasionally have issues, is user friendly and transparent, displaying various performance metrics such as number of deliveries, tips earned and kilometres ridden. It also breaks down each delivery opportunity so you know exactly how you're getting paid. At the time I worked for them it was $4 per delivery + $1 per delivery km + tips, and they did not offer any peak time bonuses unlike the other companies.

Perhaps the biggest differentiator about Foodora for riders is that it has a policy covers riders in the event of an accident. I have no idea of Foodora's integrity in enforcing its own policy, and I have heard of some controversial cases surrounding rider injury. However, this is still a step further than Uber Eats and DoorDash, which do not offer any rider safety compensation whatsoever. This topic is covered in detail in the CBC Marketplace episode, linked near the top of this blog.

DoorDash

My 2 months with DoorDash were from start to finish forgettable. My first interaction was already negative. The staff member carrying out the orientation was rude and lacked articulation and clarity. He acted more like the customer, inconvenienced by my presence and angry that I was wasting his time. The bag I purchased for $30 which while isn't a lot of money, cannot be returned for a deposit. The bag is now mine forever!

DoorDash will offer extra delivery pay during peak times. For example, Friday and Saturday dinner hours can offer an extra $6 per delivery, or booster pay. But then once the peak hours end (lunch ~11-2, dinner ~5-7:30) often times the booster goes down to zero and it's simply not worth staying on shift. Without the booster riders earn just $1 per delivery plus tips, distance and a few other factors. Overall the pay is not broken down transparently for you to know exactly how you're getting paid, like with Foodora.

On shift, the work was mostly a lot less busy than Foodora. I found myself often waiting several minutes, sometimes 10, and even up to 20 minutes for an opportunity. This really sucks income wise, but also if you're idle on cold winter nights. I prefer to be busy. I also find myself sometimes waiting at the restaurant for food - it seems DoorDash doesn't quite have the food ready estimates correct in some of its restaurants, and call riders over too early. There have even been a few occasions where I arrived at the restaurant and they either just received the order from DoorDash, or not received it yet! This is unacceptable in my mind.

Overall through 18 shifts and 80 hours of work I averaged a pitiful 1.9 deliveries per hour. During my least busy shifts I earned $13/hr and $16/hr. Yet I remember one shift where I had double bags the entire time and earned $30/hr. The delivery volume seems to fluctuate wildly across the board, which is tough mentally on the rider.

Finally some more minor but still relevant gripes if you care to read on:

You only earn the booster pay in the end if you accept 80% of all delivery opportunities during the booster period. This rule leads to a few issues. Firstly, the app is not transparent at all. Throughout your shift there is no way for you to see how many deliveries you've accepted, which is really unfair if your pay depends on this. And the time window you get for accepting deliveries seems short. In one instance, an app glitch prevented me from accepting the delivery at all.

In another instance, there was an issue between DoorDash and the restaurant causing the delivery to be cancelled. I spoke live with an agent regarding this issue, and they reassured me that this will not affect my delivery rating. Sure enough at the end of the shift, it dropped me below the 80% threshold and I did not get my booster pay. I had to go through the Help channel in the app, which was not so straightforward, in order to chat with an agent to get this resolved.

In many aspects DoorDash seems to place a lot of unnecessary responsibility on the rider. Unnecessary in that Foodora and Uber Eats don't ask you to do any of these tasks. For example DoorDash requires you to carry a tailor made credit card called a RedCard. Some restaurants require you to swipe that as payment for the food. And on a few occasions I've had to actually place the food order to the staff (then have to wait for the food to be prepared)! Why this isn't all done in the background without the rider's intervention, I really don't know.

Some other rider responsibilities are just patronizing! For example the app asks you to make sure there's enough cutlery and napkins, and after you confirm receiving the food, there will be a popup notice asking you to double check! Sometimes in the special instructions the customer asks for extra hot sauce. All this is supposed to be the restaurant's responsibility. Sure enough, one restaurant staff said they receive those same instructions and always take care of that anyway, so why should riders care?

I personally never bothered to check for napkins, cutlery or condiments, and have not received any negative feedback regarding this. I do admit though that my current 4.27 customer rating is below average, but that could be for other reasons.

My on time early rating is at 72%, also below average. Perhaps that's because of the occasional time I made a wrong turn, and ended up being late. But I've started to notice that the expected pick up time and delivery time seem set in stone before the opportunity shows up on my screen. So often times I arrive at the restaurant in good time but the pick up time has elapsed, usually because the restaurant is slow. And when the restaurant gives me the food after the pick up time, the delivery time doesn't adapt to the change in pickup.

In these cases I make sure to contact the customer to inform them that the restaurant is slow, so it doesn't affect my customer rating, and just because it's fair to the customer anyway.

In short, there are a ton of nuances and issues with DoorDash which turn many shifts into a drama. These issues to me are an indication of larger issues with the company culture. The only reason I worked for them as long as I did was to complete the 150 delivery requirement to earn the $1000 referral bonus that my friend split with me. But I dreaded the leadup to every shift, wondering what was going to go wrong this time.

I think DoorDash is still a relatively new player in the food delivery industry, so in time there may be more work and income potential, and perhaps transformations in work culture, but right now I do not recommend working for them, even for the referral bonus.

Uber Eats

After earning the referral bonus for DoorDash I decided to give Uber Eats a try, though I didn't have much time before leaving the city, again. However, I had a much better experience with Uber Eats! Granted I happened to work for them during a period of winter storms, however, I found the work better in more ways than one.

I initially had some annoying app issues while signing up, but I went in to their office, which was very well set up to handle rider issues. I used the DoorDash bag, which I prefer because it's much brighter and apparently larger than the Uber bags. Neither Uber nor the restaurants care which bag you use. I simply made sure to clarify to staff of certain restaurants that I was Uber.

Firstly, on the busy days, I never had to cycle more than 5 minutes to a restaurant, nor 5 minutes to the customer. I would receive my next delivery opportunity while on the way to the current customer, so it was timed in a way that I would leave for the next restaurant and arrive just as the food was ready. I worked my first ever lunch peak period (I didn't work any with DoorDash) and it was just as busy and paid just as well. There was one day which I had numerous deliveries that were over 3.5 km, which was a bit frustrating, but I felt adequately compensated for that extra distance, because I still had a good earning rate at the end of that shift.

Overall compared to DoorDash, all the cycling distances were much shorter, the work was busy and consistent so I rarely waited for delivery opportunities (I averaged 3.1 deliveries per hour), and the algorithm worked better so I rarely waited in the restaurants for food. Similar to DoorDash, Uber Eats pays extra incentive during peak periods, such as 5 to 9 pm. Their boost is in the form of a multiplier. For example, dinner peak periods often offer 1.6x boost pay. If there was one weakness regarding earnings with Uber, the amount of tips earned with them is really low. With DoorDash I made nearly $3 in tips per delivery, while Uber was just 26 cents! Who knows how much difference this really makes in taxes.

Finally, my friend works exclusively for Uber Eats, and really likes that you can sign and off at any time you like. As a driver of an electric powered Vespa, he needs that flexibility to sign off whenever his vehicle's battery is running low.

Summary

Among the fleet of bicycle food deliverers on the streets of Toronto, most commonly I see Uber Eats bags, followed by Foodora bags. There are increasing numbers of DoorDash bags, while I never see Skip the Dishes, except on drivers when they walk in the restaurants.

DoorDash is rapidly expanding, with a pyramid scheme referral system rewarding the referrer $1000 with the requirement that the referred worker deliverer complete 150 deliveries. At this point though they still don't have many restaurants and are not super busy. With DoorDash I waited too much and had a number of app and restaurant issues that caused headaches. Their app is not transparent with performance metrics that might affect your pay. I averaged just $20/hr. It was worth it just reaching the 150 delivery mark, earning the referral bonus for my friend, and him splitting it with me, because it raised my overall rate to $27/hr. But now that that's done I no longer plan on working for them. Also, their referral bonus is down to $750 now, so not as worth it. 

I enjoyed my time with Foodora much more. Foodora seems to have a strong company culture resulting in relatively good treatment of its riders. Their worker compensation policy stands heads and shoulders above their competition, even if that policy is a bit deceptive and sometimes doesn't work out for riders. The work was pretty busy, the app and algorithm overall worked well to maximize rider productivity, the app was very transparent with performance metrics and earnings breakdown per delivery. I averaged $24/hr in my time with them, which I believe is fair for this kind of work. With Foodora it is important to book your shift a week ahead of time, but at least Foodora does a good job of ensuring the right amount of riders are on the road, to balance out fulfilling all the orders while ensuring the riders stay busy.

Over a small sample of working for Uber Eats I liked that it was really busy and I had the highest earning rate $27/hr. Once I completed the referral bonus requirement of just 30 deliveries, my friend split it with me for $175 each, bumping my earning rate to $45/hr in that short time period! Uber Eats provides the ultimate flexibility because you can work anytime you like. The downside of this, unlike Foodora, is that if it's not busy it's really not busy. I spoke to many Uber Eats deliverers over the course of the winter, while I was working for DoorDash, and they said it was really not busy over the winter. My own sampling of Uber Eats was probably a bit lucky, in that I was quite busy.

Overall, it seemed like not such a busy winter for the food delivery business as a whole. I spoke to many other deliverers while waiting for food in the restaurants, and they all agree that the heavy recruiting and referral system of all the food delivery companies resulted in a high supply of workers. Combine that with the fact it has been a really mild winter with little snow, and the volume of work was much lower.

I'm quitting food delivery for now, but next time I pick it up I hope to purchase an e-bike to perform the work with. They seem like the ultimate tool for this kind of work, maintaining access to bike lanes for faster commuting within the traffic snarled downtown, resulting in more deliveries and higher pay, while still allowing you to pedal and get in some exercise, making the work more fun while not completely tiring you out.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

My December Digital Detox

After being completely intertwined with social media through the summer, I was ready to make a complete break from it. Social media was incredibly useful to me; to be honest I was living on the road, and I couldn't have lived without it. Social media allowed me to release blogs and posts, coordinate events, and connect with friends to have amazing adventures.

But it also sucked me in to its infinite scrolling black hole of FOMO inducing detritus. I spent most of my road trip outdoors unplugged and tuned in to nature and the people around me. But when I was indoors, my butt was glued to the couch, and my face was glued to my FB and IG feeds.


This winter was my opportunity to break free. As soon as I settled in to a place of my own for December, I pulled the plug on FB and uninstalled IG from my phone. Initially I considered asking a friend to act as the gatekeeper to my accounts, changing and holding on to the password.

However, the detachment went smoother than I thought. I had zero compulsion to log on to FB. And so the first half of December went very smoothly. The difference was slight but detectable - I felt more present and less compulsive, more in control of my thoughts. It helped that I restarted a self care practice, doing either 30-45 minutes of yoga or 10-15 minutes of meditation everyday.

Come the midway point of December, I found that I needed to send some important messages, so I decided to log on. Fortunately, I felt zero compulsion to check out the news feed. I needed to keep track of the conversations I started, so I continued logging on at least every other day. Again, I was content with the fact that I spent no more than a few minutes during any login scrolling through my feed.

Although in some ways I cheated on my digital detox, I was happy with the fact that I logged on to social media for productive reasons only, with only a tiny amount of wasting time. The digital detox achieved its objectives. It reminded me how good life is without wasting time on social media.

However, already a week into the new year and fresh off the digital detox, I noticed some of my old habits coming back, and how it affected my mental state. Some mornings the first thing I did was log on to FB. I'd even log in when feelings of boredom spontaneously arise. That sets a negative tone, and as a result throughout the day I don't feel quite as present and my brain feels just a bit foggier, like a window with a light coat of grime.

Scientific studies are beginning to corroborate our intuition about this phenomenon - social media is reducing empathy in young people, creating screen addiction, reducing attention span and sleep, and conditioning our brains for instant gratification over working hard to achieve intrinsic rewards... to name just a few things! At family gatherings, I see my younger cousins glued to their screens, no longer interacting with eachother.

I hope to keep the lessons from my digital detox to recalibrate some of my own chronic social media behaviours moving forward. I hope to continue to use social media for the good - for spreading ideas and inspiring actions, for organizing events and staying in touch with friends. And minimize the bad - wasting time on news feeds, getting sucked into other people's lives, and feeling FOMO.
There's no reality like... virtual reality?
If you have a social media addiction, I highly encourage you to structure time off into your life, whether it's one month, or even just one day here and there. However, a longer time period, such as the month that I did, allowed me to go deeper and really notice how much better I felt about everything, especially myself, without it.

Trust me, your life won't crumble without social media. You really won't miss out on much at all - so give it a try!

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Find Your Meditation

Along my path towards understanding myself and the universe, I've tried different types of meditation and yoga, as well as spent lots of time, whether in solitude or amidst chaos, pondering. One of the questions I often pondered about was what is meditation?

The answer, of course, like all things is not simple. It's as complex as there are people in the universe, for every individual has their own meditation. Therefore, science could never adequately explain meditation, because science seeks to isolate individual parts in order to understand them, without understanding how they fit into the whole.

The way I have come to see meditation today eventually came from observation and awareness of my mind, as well as a scientific understanding of the brain. Obviously my perception of how the mind works is just that, one perception among many posited by experts and amateurs alike. In the end, whatever works for you, I respect that.

I hope this serves as both an insightful discourse on meditation, as well as a practical guide towards improving your meditation practice!

Highway of Thoughts

I like to use a simple analogy to explain how the mind works...

I see the mind as a highway, a conduit for your thoughts.

Individual thoughts (emotions count as thoughts in this analogy) flow in and out of our consciousness, represented by cars travelling down our mental highway.

In order for the traffic to move, for us to process these thoughts, we need time to focus on them. In order to focus on them properly we need to give ourselves space. The concept of space here is a bit abstract, but essentially we need to distance ourselves from distractions and put ourselves in a peaceful unstimulating environment.

Time + Space = Solitude

Thus we need solitude in order to process our thoughts. We need to process our thoughts in order to prevent them from building up and nagging us, which leads to chronic stress and unhappiness among other negative outcomes. Unfortunately, most of us don't give ourselves enough solitude to be able to do this.
I had a lot of solitude living in this cabin through summer of 2017
In our typically busy and stressful lives, we don't slow down and take enough time to ourselves. And we are almost always around other people, constantly stimulated by smartphones or TVs, crowding our minds. We're almost never alone, giving our minds the space it needs to think. The result is that cars build up on the highway of our minds, causing them to become congested with thoughts.

The Purpose of Meditation

So why do we meditate? There are of course many reasons - calm, gratitude, awareness, lowering stress and anxiety - but they all seem to boil down to the same basic goal in my mind: to address the congestion of thoughts and feelings in our head.

Because when we are able to untangle and process all those nagging thoughts, we eliminate the congestion and clear our minds, allowing space for positive thoughts to move in.

Thus the root purpose of these meditations is to provide inner solitude, through providing our minds the time and space to process our thoughts. So while there are many different types of meditation out there, they all share the singular purpose of providing a framework, which people can follow, for accessing our solitude.

So if the true purpose of meditation is for us to access our solitude, how do we do that? Every individual has their own meditation, that is their own way of accessing their solitude. Thus, if traditional meditations are not working for you, it is time to expand your definition of meditation.

Physical Space = Mental Space

My most effective meditation is a very simple one that lies outside the conventional definition - being out in nature. I have spent a lot of extended time in nature in solitude, camping in the woods for up to a month, living in a cabin for a summer, going on multi-day treks deep into the wilderness.
Meditating in the middle of a lake

Why do we enjoy being out in nature so much? Yes, nature is beautiful. But there is more to it. For one thing, our eyes are not evolved to look at screens. Staring at something so close causes strain in the muscles behind the eyes, leading to shortsightedness. Our eyes are evolved to see longer distances, to be able to spot predator or prey, back in our hunter gatherer days. When we go outside where we are able to see farther, we reduce the strain in our eyes allowing the muscles behind it to relax.

In its own very similar way our minds also benefit from being outside.

Science has not made much progress on consciousness, but some philosophers and thought leaders believe that our consciousness extends outside of our brains, beyond our skulls, and is part of a stream of consciousness that exists all around us. I for one, believe this too, and feel subtle effects of this phenomenon.

For example, when I'm in a room full of clutter, or at a crowded party or bar, the lack of space and overstimulation crowds my mind and I can't think. But when I'm outside in a wide open space, I just feel much calmer and can think more clearly. It's as if my consciousness is allowed to expand out of my skull, spread its wings and decompress out into the physical space around me.

It's as if, the thoughts in my mind have more room to flow, or the cars have more room to drive on the highway of my mind, reducing congestion.

I believe this is partly why so many people love being on the beach. The ability to see far into the horizon relaxes ones eyes, and the big sky allows ones mind to expand into and fill that sky all the way to the horizon.

My own favourite meditation spot is the top of a mountain. Hiking to the top is a physical goal oriented activity where I enter a flow state, allowing hours to pass by without thinking or getting distracted. When I reach a summit with a beautiful panoramic view, it feels as if my consciousness expands to encompass all the mountains, forests and lakes that I can see. The feeling is nothing less than magic.

From the top of a mountain I feel my mind expanding and relaxing into the panorama around me

Meditation Through Flow State

Have you ever engaged yourself in an activity so thoroughly that time seemed to fly by? Many creative people understand this feeling, whether it's hiking, playing music, dancing or drawing. For others it can be playing sports, doing yoga, or even having sex.

When we give our entire attention to one activity, we can enter a flow state, where nothing else exists; our focus, clarity and performance improves, yet our minds are a blank canvas, not thinking about what we're doing - we're just going with the flow or in the zone.

The article at https://mrsmindfulness.com/how-you-can-enter-mindfulness-in-4-simple-steps/ says that in a state of flow "brain waves operate similarly to the brain waves of those in meditation" and that "flow is a state of meditation."

I began delving into creative pursuits only in recent years, and began to discover this concept of flow state through activities such as dancing and playing guitar. I realized that, for some people, their meditation is a passionate pursuit, whether purely creative or involving the body.

There is Nothing Wrong with Thinking

It's okay to think during meditations! Remember, meditation serves the basic function of giving your mind time and space to process your thoughts. If your head is full of thoughts during meditation, it simply means that you have a lot of thoughts that need processing.

Instead of getting frustrated that you can't clear your mind, simply sit with your thoughts, be present with them. Eventually you will resolve those nagging thoughts and they will eventually disappear!

Lately, I have been doing a mindfulness practice everyday, alternating between either 30-40 minutes of yoga or 10-15 minutes of meditation. Though I generally keep a calm mind, like everyone else I am still prone to nagging thoughts. So at the start of every meditation (and the end of every yoga session) I allow my mind to wander and think as it pleases, and sit with any nagging thoughts that arise.

I simply make sure my thoughts don't get too jumbled, where it becomes counter productive. If they do, I make sure to reset and find my breath. I find that after about 5 minutes my mind starts to clear and find its stillness, or transform its narrative from a negative to a positive one. By the end of my meditation the narrative settles on purely positivity and gratitude.

Back to Basics

Four years ago I quit my job and since then I've gone on overseas travels of 10 months, 8 months and 2.5 months, embarked on 2 summers road tripping in western Canada. I did most of these travels solo, without much of an agenda, and spent a large majority of it in nature.

For me, my own success in achieving stillness of mind still comes down to giving myself those basic ingredients of time and space, and lots of them! Today the traffic of thoughts in my mind flows pretty freely, without much congestion.
5 months travelling in India, I learned a lot about myself
It may sound crazy to quit your job and live free for awhile (it sure did when I first made the decision!) but this really does speak to a greater problem that the work-life paradigm in our society is way out of balance. Most people have accumulated enough stress for a lifetime, and can't undo it all with just occasional meditation.

If meditation is not enough, going on an extended vacation or sabbatical can give you the time you need. And instead of travelling to cities on whirlwind tours, spending time in nature can give you the space for your mind to unwind into a meditative state.

In your daily routine, simplify your schedule, learn to say no and not accept every invitation! Turn off the TV, radio or phone and learn to sit with your thoughts in a quiet environment. A daily yoga and meditation of just 10 minutes can, if not clear the mind, at least process pesky thoughts so they don't bother you through the day.

Or if you have an individual pesky thought or feeling about a person or an event that is bothering you in a negative way, I encourage you to, instead of avoiding or distracting yourself, sit with that thought. Only by addressing it can you resolve it and it will eventually go away. Otherwise, if you ignore it it will fester and grow, like a cancer.

There is a meditation for everyone! So don't give up, find your meditation. Your mind will thank you for it.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

It's Not Just Crazy Rich Asians - the First Generation Crisis

Once I started radically doing things differently in my life, eliminating old patterns and biases, I started connecting with friends in a different way. One way I connected with them was about our pasts and how we got to be the way we are. In other words, what past events shaped us today, triggered current behaviours and reactions.

One deeply inherent bias I learned I had, which was particularly hard to get over, was the bias that Asians just care about education, money and status.

Growing up in a town about an hour north of Toronto, I was removed enough from the diversity of Toronto to where I was one of only maybe four Canadian born Chinese (CBC) people in high school. To me, it seemed all my Caucasian peers' parents seemed cool while mine weren't.

Theirs would say "I love you" and be positive and encouraging. Theirs allowed them to live their lives. Mine drilled me like a sargeant on getting perfect grades so I can go to university and make a lot of money afterward. And they didn't let me go out because the outside world was "dangerous."
My family and I enjoying a little down time

I was moulded to be in a suit, but I renounced it for more colourful attire.

When I began connecting with friends on these deeper matters and sharing my own past, I was surprised how many of my CBC peers had similar upbringings as mine, and turned out similarly to me. They also had strict unemotional parents, enforcing a culture valuing education and work, who sheltered them as adolescents, leading to social awkwardness and lack of self esteem. This led me to forming and reinforcing many negative stereotypes about my ethnic peers.

But over time as I became better at seeing through my own biases, I realized that many other friends, not just CBC's, had the same issues. I began noticing another pattern...

It's not just the crazy rich Asians - it happens to all immigrant families, no matter the ethnicity or race.

See, immigrants coming to Canada usually come from poorer and more traumatic situations. You know the classic, "I arrived in America with 20 dollars to my name" story. Already toughened by past experiences, immigrants must continue to claw and grind their way to become established in their new country. Once they do, values such as hard work, education, career, and the riches attained as a result, become ingrained in them. Negative outlooks on life from their past experiences are often retained, instilling traits such as cynicism and fear.

When they have children, referred to as the first generation, they try naturally to infuse them with the same values and traits. Unfortunately, this to a large degree doesn't work, because the values and traits they honed from their origin country are in direct conflict with the country their children grow up in.

The children of immigrants get to move up on Maslow's hierarchy. Not having to worry about food and shelter, they graduate to higher level needs such as belonging and self actualization.
Toronto, a diverse city of immigrants raising their kids with old values

What brought immigrants success and happiness in Canada, hard work and material comfort, won't also work for their children. Their strict parenting style similarly doesn't align with the more lenient style of Canadian parenting - the tensions arisen from this produce a first generation of Canadians, like myself, confused and traumatized.

Now I have to admit, this first generation crisis is probably still a bit more extreme with Chinese Canadian families.

Here's one grand observation, hope you can see the link: the Chinese civilization has had one of the steadiest empires in the past millenia. The dynasties of the past, up to the current communist government, have learned to wield excessive power over its people, creating a culture of submission, collectivism and hard work. That to me is why Chinese people, young and old, tend to be quiet, overly polite and socially awkward.

The crazy rich Asian phenomenon is also exacerbated by the fact that fortune plays an emphasized role in Chinese culture. And China has in recent decades become stinking rich and many of their rich citizens move to cities like Vancouver or Toronto. Toronto alone is home to over 1 million ethnic Chinese!

Many rich Asians just stay in China and send their spoiled kids to these cities for university, giving them Lamborghinis to drive! I once had a conversation with someone who worked at a luxury car wash in Toronto - the vast majority of clients at this car wash were Asian boys. These rich kids form the extreme end of the stereotype of the crazy rich Asians!
I may be a crazy, but I'm not rich.

Okay, I'm getting carried away a bit... the point is that the first generation crisis exists across many different cultures within Canada. It's not just the crazy rich Asians! But it sort of is, too...

I hope I don't sound bitter about my upbringing - in the end, I'm definitely happy to be born Canadian. And while I struggled with cultural tension growing up, I eventually escaped in a big way and have largely come to acceptance about my past and my culture.

The sooner that my first generation peers, whether it is in Canada or any other developed nation, become aware of this, the sooner we can resolve these cultural tensions, figure out what balance of values we want to live by, and forgive our parents and accept them for their differences.