Total Pageviews

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.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Art of Road Tripping in Western Canada

British Columbia is one of those special places on earth full of unrivaled and expansive wilderness, and wholesome people. Alberta boasts some of the most spectacular mountains and sky blue lakes that capture the soul.

Without the west, Canada would be a lot more one dimensional.

My favourite lake, no matter how touristy it gets - Moraine Lake, AB
My second favourite lake - Garibaldi Lake, BC
An epic 4-day cycling trip through the Canadian Rockies! 2015
British Columbia is a magnet for all kinds of people from all kinds of places. I've met hoards of Czech people working in the cherry orchards, and a unique crew of Irish people who go wild picking every summer for morels and huckleberries.

Urbanites flock to Vancouver, a cosmopolitan city nestled between mountains and ocean. From sunset drum circles to nude beaches, Vancouver is anything to anyone who dares to dream (and dares to pay the sky high rent).

BC lovers don't just come from around the world, but also within Canada. Every summer there is a mass exodus of young people leaving Quebec, headed for the orchards of the arid Okanagan Valley. And I've met lots of Ontarians, like me, fleeing urban centric and industrious Ontario for the yogi vibes of the west coast. Ironically, I haven't met a single person going the other way - unless they're returning home.

Vancouver at its best, 2014
BC has so much to offer, there are infinite ways to enjoy it. My favourite thing about BC is its vast wilderness. While not quite on the same epic level as Alaska, BC's wilderness is accessible to those who seek it, within proximity of urban centres.

I've done lots of wild camping (aka. stealth camping or free camping, anywhere without paying), backcountry trekking, and mushroom picking in crown land forests and national parks. I discovered a hidden backcountry cabin only a few hours out of Vancouver. I wild camped on a beach, sleeping to the songs (and wails) of seals.

The music festival scene here is strong. I've been to a few large and other worldly ones like Shambhala, but the small and intimate ones are my favourites. One music festival I went to actually took place beside a lake called Hippie Lake.
A secret beach with hippies living free - Vancouver Island, near Tofino, 2016
Building quinzees, pyramid shaped snow shelters, 2011
Admiring the pristine coastal wilderness from the comforts of a sailboat, west coast 2018

I've shared the most penultimate and transformative experiences of my life with amazing people in the BC forests and mountains. I know there is no such thing as a best place in the world - it's all how one experiences a place that matters. And to me, there is no better place on earth than BC.

And the best way to experience it is as a nomad, free from commitments and responsibilities, free from time constraints, free to roam and love, open to spontaneity, open to discovery without and within.

I've mostly road tripped solo, which has forced and taught me to get out of my shell. I think doing these road trips on my own has been invaluable because if I hadn't done it alone, I wouldn't have been as flexible and spontaneous to new experiences and human connections, nor have had the time for nature and solitude, and just to be with my own thoughts.

From a practical standpoint I also try to fill my car with rideshares to split the gas, or pick up hitchhikers to share the ride. I've met a lot of cool people this way. Facebook groups, Craigslist, and Poparide, an up and coming rideshare website, helps to find rideshares. And just for fun, I've hitchhiked several times as well.

Mountains make me happy :D
I have now made the round trip between Toronto and Calgary three times. That's right - six drives of 3,500 km! And Calgary is often just an extended stopover to Vancouver, adding another 1,000 km to the journey.

You might wonder why I have done this trip so many times. Well, for one, I'm trying not to fly anymore in my life. But the main reason is that the road trip has become part of my western Canada experience - it's not a proper summer road trip without this ritual.

I have embraced the long drive - it has become a meditation to me. The time in between places and obligations, the landscapes zooming by, provides time and space within my mind. I rarely feel as calm in my life as I do during these drives, or even on long bus rides.
Two straight days of straight highways, flat Prairies and wide open skies
Leaving westward the drive helps me to wipe my mental slate clean and build up the anticipation and excitement. The sheer distance makes the west coast seem as if it is some far off utopia, even though it's the same country. Returning east, the drive allows time to process the summer adventures and transition toward winter hibernation in Toronto.

There are also nice stops along the way - I have good friends in Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Regina. And there's my favourite museum of all time - The Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.

I honestly can't imagine the west coast summer road trip without kicking it off with the long drive. I typically don't like to rush it - driving out west this year, I took seven days to get to Calgary, driving an average of 8 hours a day, staying an extra night in both Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Unfortunately, at the end of this road trip I rushed back to Toronto due to personal reasons and cold weather in October - I took four days, driving about 15 hours on the final day!

My Yaris sits at 150k after 10 years. More than half of that is from road trips - Utah salt flats, 2013
Found a nice wild camping spot - Ontario, 2018

While I would recommend doing the west coast road trip with a vehicle, particularly one you can sleep in, I've done it every time in my tiny Yaris, which I owned since prior to my road tripping days. Fortunately for me I have plenty of friends to call up, and couches to sleep on most of the way.

Perhaps in the future I will have an SUV where I can customize a bed with drawers underneath, as I've seen many friends do. Or a school bus that runs on vegetable oil, as a few friends of mine do! But for now, my Yaris, now with a roofbox, has been a steadfast companion.

And for those tight on transportation budget, I know plenty of travelers who travel light and hitchhike! BC and Alberta are very safe places to hitchhike. The exception to this may be the north of BC, where there is the Highway of Tears, so named tragically due to the high rate of native women that get abducted while hitchhiking.

I also know people who have hitchhiked out west from Ontario and BC in as little as 5 days, which is almost as fast as driving!

No matter whether you drive or hitchhike, if you have all the time in the world and an open heart, you will make your dreams come true in British Columbia. And even if you have no money, you can make some if you are willing to work in the orchards, and still have a great time and unique experience doing it.

The western Canadian summer road trip is pure magic!

Niko playing with the campfire, 2016
Bow Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta Rockies 2011

Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, Alberta Rockies 2012


Monday, 22 October 2018

Sequels Can Be Better - Another Magical Summer BC Road Trip

The spectrum of human experience is vast and daunting. 7 plus billion people playing out their lives, all in different and unique ways that you can't imagine. Now expand that spectrum of experiences across the spectrum of time, encompassing past and future generations - the possibilities seem mind boggling.

Aren't you curious about different human experiences, awesome and not so awesome? Past and present? I know I am!

What's it like to be a sailor? A mountaineer? An artist? What's it like to hitchhike around the world, to be famous?
I've wanted to learn to sail for years. This summer I made it happen - anything is possible

I never feel as alive as I do in the beautiful mountains
Duality - I love to dress colourfully, and I love dark music. Photo credit: @exploreofcourse
I guess we've got pictures (and blogs) for that, right? To find out what it's like to sail the seas, to hike to the top of the world, to spend your life creating art. Pictures create a window into different human experiences.

But there's a reason why pictures don't tell the full story. No picture or video will ever be as visceral as actually being there, as experiencing it for oneself. If it could, then people would never get off their couches. Life would be too easy - reality too easy to mimic on a screen.

To experience life as it's meant to be experienced, you have to get out there!

Two summers ago in 2016, I did just that. I lived free, road tripping around beautiful British Columbia, which though is the same country, feels a world away from Ontario. I spent lots of time in nature, connecting with amazing people, and exploring the undefined and boundless realm of consciousness with the aid of spiritual medicine, or psychedelics (or drugs as those who have never tried them prefer to perceive them).

It was such a memorable summer I knew I had to do the road trip again. And this summer would be the one... I knew I would have another awesome summer, but somehow didn't even think about topping the original summer of 2016.
Pushing a makeshift bicycle rickshaw full of camping and climbing gear up a forest road in a hidden valley

Red Beard, my captain, one of many rare and inspiring personalities I spent time with this summer

Somehow, some way, this summer blew away the first summer road trip!

The adventures were more grand, the human connections deeper, one improbable synchronicity after another serving to build the energy until I was vibrating at a high level.

With an epic crew of adventurers, on the Toba Adventure, we climbed a mountain as only the second group to ever go there, using a sequence of sailing, hitchhiking with loggers, and a near-death gully ascent to get there. A few weeks later, I went into the backcountry with another friend, hiking 30 km on the first day to camp under one of the most towering mountains in the Rockies, the Assiniboine.

And although I went to fewer music festivals this summer than 2016, I danced longer through the night under the sweet forest canopy, feeling interconnected, as one, on the dance floor like never before, with my fellow dancers and the trees swaying above. I reconnected with some lovely people I met from 2016 summer and, through these festivals, I discovered a community of some of the best people in Vancouver.


Festival #1, Blessed Coast, where the magic got rolling

Festival #2, Shambhala - so much magic!
Festival #3, the most inspiring community, THIS Gathering. Photo credit: @exploreofcourse
And isn't that what it's all about? Community. Community creates a sense of meaning, which leads to long lasting happiness... wait. That's what it's all about - happiness!

On many occasions this summer I was feeling so overcome with happiness I would feel tears coming to my eyes. This would happen while listening to Ben Howard's Old Pine while on the road, or sharing my stories with friends, or sometimes the feels would just spontaneously erupt from within.

I was often subject to such rushes of happiness that I felt like the luckiest person alive. It's a strange feeling when one ponders it because, from an objective standpoint, I'm probably not actually the luckiest person in the world. I'm just among a fortunate group of people following and finding their bliss, just doing it in his own different and unique way.

In a similar way, I realized this summer was not necessarily better than the last. It was just a different and unique experience I had as a different person. This summer would not have been possible without last summer, without the self growth, and without building on those human connections.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC Rockies

Toba River Valley, Powell River, BC Coast
Speaking of self growth, as this summer progressed, I was becoming aware of a sea change occurring within me. An old line from Chris McCandless in the movie adapted novel Into the Wild kept creeping into my consciousness...

Happiness is only real when shared.
That was this summer's big revelation - last summer I learned how to live out the human experience - this summer I learned how to share it with others. I deepened all those connections from last summer, as well as made many new ones, in intimate settings such as THIS Gathering.

Sharing is caring - a line I heard over and over. I shared a lot of stories with all the different and unique individuals I met - satisfying my curiosity about how humans can and do live. I'll probably never get to hear 7 billion stories in my lifetime, but at least this summer, I lived my own real life experiences and learned to share them with others to broaden my human experience!

As I settle into autumn back in Ontario, the memories and the people from this summer are still fresh in my head, creating the occasional pause to smile. That seamless transition and growth from the original summer into this one, that escalation of human experiences - that's what serves to make summer of 2018 a real sequel.

Moving forward, I hope to keep making more stories and share them with you! Perhaps a three-quel is in order?

Best tent spot I could ever ask for - mountain companions, and besides my crew, no humans for miles
Best swim with a view I could ever ask for - a bit cold though I must admit
Some fun statistics (all approximate!) from my road trip, May 27 - Oct 10
13,000 km driven
5 rideshares taken 6,400 km (1 from Toronto -> Calgary)
10 BC ferries taken
110 km hiked
32 nights camping
14 of those nights at music festivals
8 nights taken spiritual medicine
4 cuddles had
10 days sailing and sleeping in a sailboat
1 night sleeping in my car
13 friends stayed with
$100 paid for accommodation for 2 weeks with friends
15 days jumped in a lake
10 days took a real shower
15 nights dumpster dived
days hitchhiked
1 hitchhiker picked up
14 days wearing this bright electro-hoodie out in public!

Another summer in the books! Keep camping, folks :)