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Friday, 10 January 2020

Watch Your Love Miles - The Catch About Flying


It's the holiday season, which is a very common time to fly to see loved ones. I was Skyping into a 2020 New Year's Day family gathering and my grandma told me, "I miss you. When are you going to come home?" Unfortunately for my family, I have decided to stop flying the rest of my life, if I can help it.

I first heard of the concept of love miles a few years ago. It is the concept of incurring mileage to see loved ones through flying.

At that point I had already started wondering about the carbon footprint of all our activities, even ones we don't talk about as much, such as flying and internet usage (apparently one Google search requires as much energy as boiling a cup of tea!). Then in mid-2019 I read how an average American couple took one round trip flight, and that one activity made up about half their annual carbon footprint.
Dec 2017 - the last time I flew, maybe ever
My family flew out to see me in Calgary in 2014
The point really hit home: flying is probably the most intensive carbon footprint activity we engage in.

It's nice that we've been given choices on how to live more sustainably by, say, turning the lights off, taking less showers (I haven't taken a proper shower in 4 months), eating more locally (I dumpster dive or "urban forage" when I can), eating less meat (I do this about once a week), or by alternative commuting (I rode my bike to school and work in 2019).

But we've not been told to reduce our worst individual carbon emitting activity of all - flying.

Why is this?

Maybe because flying has become so common in developed society that it has become ingrained in the culture. Maybe because those that fly are so used to it, they're no longer able to give it up, or admit to their environmental impact. Maybe because it is extremely profitable for the airline industry and all collateral industries.

Flying is seen as a luxurious activity that makes traveling the world, accomplish business and going to weddings and family reunions accessible like never before. People brag about their flying around the water cooler. "Guess what I did for the holidays? I flew to Bali!" People are similarly guilt tripped into not flying out to visit their friends and family. "Why didn't you come to my wedding?"

It's true. I have missed most of my friends weddings. And I have not been home in about one year now, after driving one week halfway across my vast country of Canada, from Toronto to British Columbia.

Do I feel guilty about this? I can't help but feel a little. But I keep looking at the bigger picture and can no longer justify flying in my life.

I've been very fortunate to travel a lot

Probably my favourite picture from my Peru travel

I have been very fortunate - looking at the big picture of my friends and family, I've done more traveling than most of them ever will. Looking at the global picture, I'm fortunate just to be able to step on a plane once. But now that I carry the awareness of the impact of flying, I can't step on a plane knowing that that one flight I take will contribute significantly to my carbon footprint, in an era when climate change is wreaking havoc on our environment.

My previous flight was in 2017 and I hope it can be my last. I've since adapted beautifully to my pledge - I've had several amazing road trips around Canada. Road trips are an amazing way to travel - a much lower carbon footprint, while engaging in slow travel, a movement to reclaim a more immersive way of traveling by avoiding flying and country hopping. And I do still plan on long distance traveling - my last great journey will be to hitchhike a sailboat to Eurasia, cross overland to the other side, then hitch a sailboat back to North America. After that I think I'll be ready to settle down, hopefully tend to land and foster community.

Please understand this is my own decision. Please don't judge me, and understand I'm not judging you. I'm not asking you to stop flying like me and hitchhike sailboats. I'm simply sharing my story to spread the awareness of the impacts of our actions. If we all had awareness of every single one of our actions and its impact on the bigger picture, I think we'd be doing a lot of things differently. Awareness can be a burden but it's also a responsibility and duty incumbent upon us in this day and age, where our decisions have a global impact, all the way from flying to buying an avocado at the grocery store.

Just like the rhetoric and culture have slowly changed over several generations regarding cigarettes, and more recently, over eating meat, the same thing I'm sure will happen someday regarding flying. Perhaps in the future, people will be guilt tripped into flying instead of the other way around.

(PS. I have also read that flying as a technology will take a very long time to make a leap to becoming sustainable. Gravity is a huge force to overcome)

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Giving and Receiving is Not Just for the Holidays


As the Christmas holidays are nearly behind us, I've done a lot of reflecting on the act of giving and receiving and the psychology behind it.

As a non-participant in consumer-driven events, I used to wonder if I was just being selfish and cheap. But now I see that this is not true - instead I make giving a regular practice, and not one motivated only by holidays, centred around money.

This year has been an amazing year for both of these things. I feel like I've given a lot selflessly - little bits to a lot of people, and a lot to a small number of people. I've also received a ton of love and support from new friends, also selflessly and without conditions.

Giving

I've shared a lot of my creations with friends selflessly. I've made and shared a lot of homemade beer, kombucha and ginger beer. In the course of going to massage school, I've given a lot of massages to friends, especially those with aches and pains. Besides these things, I have a pretty eclectic collection I amassed through diverse means of bartering, dumpster diving and creating that I share, such as plant medicine creations and crystals, as well as emotional support and wisdom. Behind it all is not money, but time and thought.
Offering massage at a music festival

I love making beer, and sharing it
I made and mailed this drawing for a very inspiring friend

Sharing my dumpster diving treasures

I've also come into contact with a few people this year that I've connected really well with and concentrated my giving to, causing them to express their immense gratitude while making them uncomfortable.

This year I've taken my giving to a new level. I credit this to my newfound level of self worth and self love. I also credit it to the incredible amount in which I've received.

Receiving

I have also received a lot, whether it's from big experiences such as Burning Man, or intimate interactions with friends. But none more profound than receiving accommodation in a time of transition and uncertainty.

I took a 1.5 month summer road trip and returned to a job, only to learn that there was no more work left for me. I called up some friends, and they let me stay with them in their home without expectations of money or timeline. I returned my gratitude by helping them out around the house, spending time with their kid. I ended up spending one month with them, immersing myself into their lives and their magical community, feeling big love and belonging, growing into a family together.

This magical child's magical parents gave me accommodation in a time of need
We had an energy exchange based on intuition and lots of communication. I checked in with them throughout the month, and they were always happy with the arrangement. Still, receiving so much unconditional generosity from my friends was hard at times, because I feared I was interfering, sponging, or I was unworthy of their help.

Reclaiming the Culture of Giving and Receiving

Feeling like we're interfering, or feeling unworthy.

These are major psychological barriers we face as individuals to receiving help. Sadly, these thoughts are norms of our modern society, which is one centred around materialism and individualism, and helps to drive behaviours that funnel our money up the social and economic hierarchy. Our society has taught us that everything we need can be attained by the dollar, and that receiving help means we're weak. And that we should not give to the weak because they are just sponging off of society.

And even though our society is viewed as modern and developed, we are programmed to have a mindset of scarcity - never enough. Never enough money, never enough things. We are never enough. This leads us to feeling unworthy of help. "Why should anyone help me? I don't deserve it." With this mindset, we cannot even begin to contemplate the idea of giving to others.

The time has come to reclaim our feeling of unworthiness. I have been lucky enough to receive kindness starting years back, when I was just taking my first steps of my spiritual awakening. This inspired and enabled me the opportunity to work on my inner self. I did this by focusing on creating, not consuming.

Consuming fills a black hole of unworthiness.

Creating got me in touch with my inner self, and gave me a channel of self expression, elevating my self worth. Once my self worth increased, I became more and more confident in sharing my gifts, and developed feelings of worthiness that allowed me to receive, creating a virtuous circle of giving and receiving. By creating, giving and receiving I rejected the feeling of scarcity and now embrace a mindset of abundance.

Through giving and receiving I have manifested feelings of community and interconnectedness, and feel part of the burgeoning revolution to reverse environmental destruction and survive as a species.

With all this in mind, giving and receiving is like a dance. It requires vulnerability and empathy. The giver needs to be ready to give without expectations, and the receiver must be ready to receive with humility and gratitude.
On my icy road trip Jan 2019 from Toronto to Vancouver, I received sanctuary from friends the entire way

I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes that has really sunk in for me over the past year. It comes from the modern yet timeless classic novel and film Into the Wild and originates from the diary and mind of Chris McCandless, a counter-culture hero. He wrote:

Happiness is only real when shared.

Ultimately we all want to be happy - the fastest way there is not hoarding one's abundance, but sharing it with others.

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Give (and receive) with all your heart!
Image result for chris mccandless
Chris McCandless, whom the movie Into the Wild is based

Monday, 23 December 2019

Burning Man - A Carbon Footprint Dilemma?

During this year's Burning Man I went to an event held by the Playasophy camp, which holds philosophical discussions.

As serious as an event like this sounds for Burning Man, the event was completely packed, and the two facilitators had a great sense of humour. They took on a fun challenge of taking shots of rum whenever a certain keyword was spoken out loud. The talk had barely gotten past the introduction when the two facilitators were already super drunk!
Myself, Kieran and Andy at Burning Man!
In spite of the good humour, as a deep thinker myself, I was looking forward to what the discussion would bring. It was centred around the fact Burning Man is an event with a large carbon footprint. A lot of consumption occurs pre-event and during, resulting in a lot of waste, plus a lot of fossil fuels burned for travel, depending on how far you're coming from and your mode of transportation. Plus, there is a lot of fire - things set on fire, art cars spitting fire, fire spinning - which doesn't help.

So does its carbon footprint make Burning Man an environmental burden?

Burning Man (BM) has some unique ways of dealing with its environmental impact. For physical waste, there is a trash fence, a continuous fence that surrounds and closes in the entire festival grounds, lined with a mesh that catches any garbage that falls to the ground and is swept away by the unrelenting desert winds. There's a term here for garbage that's on the ground - it's called moop. Hardcore BMers pick up moop before it gets blown away. As vast as BM is, I only ventured to the edge of the grounds one time to check out the fence, and didn't see much moop.
Image result for burning man trash fence
Photo Credit: journal.burningman.org
Overall, there's not a lot of garbage potential here anyway, which is part of BM's intention. It is embedded in their 10 Principles. I won't go through all of them, but the relevant ones here are:

Gifting
Decommodification
Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is the most obvious and straightforward principle for minimizing consumption and waste. Similar to backcountry camping, the mantra is "pack in, pack out." There are no garbage cans here.

Gifting and Decommodification, however, represent a radical shift away from our conventional economy and consumption habits. There is no need for money at BM, with the exception of buying ice to keep food cold. Nothing is branded. Upon entry into BM everything is free. There are places that serve food, bars that serve alcohol and play music, fun activities to sign up for, and of course a lot of art, and all of it is free. BM focuses on creating experiences generally without the need for consumption.

During my time at BM I went to a tie-dye workshop, a flow art workshops (poi and staff), several expert talks, a silent speed dating event, and a communal shower called the Foam Dome, to name a few things. In terms of materials consumed, a camp across from me served free coffee and wine, a bike repair shop provided some free parts, and I received some free food and alcohol as well.

For a 7-day event in the harsh desert, I had a ton of amazing experiences and human connections, while barely consuming anything.

With that said, a lot of material consumption is required to enjoy BM, it just happens in the preparation. There is a lot to pack - food for 7 days (you should not count only on free food), camping amenities for the harsh desert, and festival clothing, decorations and artistic creations. Finally, there is the transportation to and from Black Rock City, where BM takes place.

It is not uncommon for BM goers to fly in from another country, rent an RV, buy bikes, camping chairs and whatever else they need, then afterwards discard it all illegally before going home. Fortunately for me, I shared a road trip to BM with my friend in his vehicle, bringing most of what we needed from home - overall I think we had a reasonable carbon footprint.

Despite the carbon footprint that an individual creates to go to and experience BM, I truly believe that overall BM has an overall positive impact on the world that is intangible and cannot be statistically measured in an isolated way. And if you really wanted to isolate and analyze carbon footprint, it's probably not as bad as it appears on the surface.

Burning Man for me was all about transformation. While I know that a lot of people go to BM to party and escape their daily life, I believe the majority of people leave BM transformed. Personally, I left with a greater awareness of myself and my impact on the world, and developed a stronger sense of a global community. I feel more compelled to create art and share and inspire others to do the same. Instead of engaging in consumptive behaviours which are inherently more destructive for the environment.
In spite of all BM has to offer, in the end it's all about human connection
I left with my cup filled with love, ready to go back to my community and pass it on to others. For many, this means coming together for art, healing, and growing food - all local and sustainable initiatives the world needs more of.

In fact, I personally don't feel the need to go back to BM next year, or even the one after that. As a first timer, I experienced the event more as a consumer, but I felt I got what I needed out of it, and am filled with the inspiration and energy to go home and transform myself, and only feel ready to go back to BM as a contributor, once I reach a point in my life where I can make a meaningful contribution. There's not a whole lot of music festivals I can say that about.

Besides, if I didn't go to BM, what would I have done instead? There's a good chance I would have spent money on meaningless things, purchased food shipped from a far flung tropical country, or just sat in my room watching movies to fill a bottomless void inside me.

Instead I was at BM creating memories and long lasting happiness that far endures anything a new smartphone, or an entertaining movie can provide. With this purpose in mind Burning Man can be seen as a starting point for a revolution, starting with individual transformation, leading to social and environmental change on a large scale that far outstrips its carbon footprint.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The Big Bang - A Burning Man Story


There's nothing in the world like Burning Man (understatement of the day).

A week-long popup city in the middle of a hostile unforgiving desert, packed with art, music and bright lights in the blacked out night? All acting out the core principles of radical expression and radical gifting? Anything that is possible in life can and will happen here. Good or bad.

Among the 70,000 temporary citizens of Black Rock Desert, every individual has their own unique experience and story. I have a few stories that epitomize what Burning Man is all about. Of course the following story happened during the marquee event for which the festival is named - the burning of The (Hu)Man! This happens on day 6 of 7. Day 7 is the antithetical burning of The Temple, which happens in complete silence.


Myself, Kieran and Andy
Arriving early for the burning of The Man
Kieran, Andy and I rode our bikes out to The Man statue. We got there early so we practically got first row seats to the event, which placed us still over 100 m from The Man. Slowly, the crowd started filing in behind us, closing us in, in an ever thickening donut of excited people. Then the art cars started filing in, forming a perimeter that almost completely closed in the circle.

Kieran, Andy and I were on some undisclosed magic substance, which was just amplifying the mounting intensity around us. As the sun set the lights of the art cars came alive, forming a living kaleidoscope of coloured lights and spitting fire that put Vegas to shame. The art cars were also blaring so much loud music that all we could hear was an endless chorus of bass.

It was all a bit overwhelming, but also extremely beautiful and powerful to witness the presence and energy of so many dressed up people intentionally converged in this one spot on earth just to celebrate a statue being set on fire.

After what seemed like forever, and was starting to feel like torture, the show started. It began with multiple fire conclaves lined up side-by-side around The Man and inside the perimeter formed by the crowd, all performing their fire show at one time, which lasted about half an hour.

Once that finished, a fireworks show started that rivalled the length and grandeur of that of any country's national holiday. Near the end of the fireworks, suddenly - boom! An explosion rocked The Man's core and set it ablaze. The crowd goes wild! Thousands of people cheering, the art cars spitting more fire than ever, the kaleidoscope of lights reached a new level of absurdity.

The density of energy and excitement in this space condenses to an atomic level - there's no time and place like here and now.
psy trance hut (?), burning man
Fire Conclave with The Man in the background - photo credit shown in bottom of image
The burning of The Man - photo credit Rachel Anctil-Poirier
The crowd peaks for a good 5 to 10 minutes. Then, at a low rumble, it continues to wait another 10 minutes or so admiring the blaze, as The Man slowly falls apart. Once the statue crumbles to the ground, the energy completely changes. Everyone begins leaving all at once. Suddenly a million stars that converged into one hot core explodes outward in all directions. I can't help but be reminded of the big bang - this is kind of what it must have felt like.

Kieran, Andy and I link arms as we play galactic Frogger, crossing dark space with fully lit bicycles and art cars shooting past us. The chaos of it all feels strangely like crossing a street in a big city in India. We finally find our bikes and ride off, not knowing what we're riding off to but just needing to get out of there fast.

A medium sized art car looking pretty tame during the day - photo credit Kieran Alfonso-Moore

Navigating the desert during the day is easy, with endless art to explore, such as that massive inflated elephant thingy
There are droves of dressed up beautiful people zipping between elaborately decorated stages blaring music from all directions near and far - it's as if the universe is having a music festival at some far-out coordinates in deep space and all the funky aliens are invited. Either that or we're in a Hunger Games movie set.

We try looking for some dance parties... but something seems off to us. Nothing is really vibing with us. Still overwhelmed and now confused, we ride off into the deep playa to find a quiet spot to observe the wild scene unfolding in the middle of this otherwise dark empty desert.

The energy present around me during the burning of The Man was the most intense experience of my life. The big bang that followed dispersed it, but clusters of this energy now dotted around the playa were like intense embers. These embers took on a raw, animalistic feel; a masculine, hedonistic and sexually charged heat. That's not what we wanted - we wanted to dance and feel love and connection with fellow humans.

We took refuge in the temple, which was slated to burn the next day. It was filled with trinkets and mementos that people left behind to be burned along with the temple itself. It was a very grounding space.
The temple, filled with mementos left by people, burned in silence on the last day

We encountered a person playing a set of four singing bowls, and a group of 10 or so people seated and gathered around him. We sat down and grounded ourselves further to his gentle tones. He suddenly stopped playing and declared that he only plays these singing bowls once a year. The singing bowls belonged to a dear friend who passed away, and the performance was dedicated to her. I was extremely touched by this and connected with the performer, hugging and expressing my gratitude to him for blessing us with his grounding energy.

We felt ready to merge back in with the energy of the playa. During our wanderings we suddenly encountered a friend for the third time! Meeting Jordann from Belgium is a whole story in itself - the first day we met was epic. The second time was an awesome coincidence. And the third was pure synchronicity - we were meant to become best friends.

Soon after Kieran and Andy retired for the night, and Jordann and I went to the quiet and chill center camp where we engaged in deep conversation the rest of the night.
Kieran and I met Jordann out on the playa, in front of this beautiful art installation

Kieran, Jordann and I laughed every minute together, but we cried and embraced during the last, as we bid farewell

Burning Man to me is a showcase of the beauty that humans can create when they come together with intention. It is about inspiration and human connection, both of which lead to long lasting happiness. It is also a 7 day slog in which not everything goes your way, whether it's sand in your crotch, lost items or hedonism gone too far resulting in hurt feelings. But if you approach it with an open heart your highs will far outweigh your lows.

The burning of The Man encapsulated it all in one night! And I'm happy to say that I took away from it lifelong memories, friendships, and a burning inspiration to create this magic in my own world.

Folly - the name of my favourite art installation, a life sized pirate hideout! Made entirely out of reclaimed wood
Each room in the Folly is uniquely and beautifully decorated

One of the best dance parties ever, seen from the top of the art car

One of the many art installations on the playa

Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Social Media Detox - An Overlooked Cleanse

How many of you have taken part in some sort of diet-related cleanse or detox?

It is becoming more important and acknowledged than ever the connection between what we put in our bodies and our health. More and more, people are looking to flush out toxins that have built up in their bodies from consuming processed and pesticide grown foods, through going on cleanses by eliminating certain foods from their diet.

While advances in technology have created abundance and convenience in more ways than just food, it has come at the cost of our health in equally as many ways. Technology has brought us smartphones and social media, but staring at screens all day is creating strain in our posture and our eyes, creating imbalance in our circadian rhythms, and Facebook and Instagram are eroding our capacity for empathy and real human connection, while elevating levels of neuroticism and FOMO.
Virtual reality is largely taking over the place of real reality
Like modern food, the dangers of social media are also becoming more important and acknowledged. I see more and more social situations in which people are encouraged to put their smartphones facedown on the table.

On an individual basis, social media seems like an all-or-nothing deal. There's no middle ground. It's hard to meaningfully engage without simultaneously getting sucked in to the detritus of glamorized selfies, 'Like' seeking posts, sympathy seeking shares and divisive opinions. Among my generation, the millennials, most people use it - and use it too much - the remaining stay completely away from it. And for those that use it, whether for productive or recreational purposes, it can be very addictive.

Because social media is so ubiquitous today, perhaps as ubiquitous as smoking and drinking was in the early 20th century, it feels impossible to give it up. Go cold turkey. But, like going on food cleanses, it is possible to take similar action on social media.
Last December I did a detox and left my contact details in a hidden spot

I just completed another one month digital detox
I recently completed my third digital detox, going an entire month without using social media. Okay... I cheated a bit - I logged on Facebook from time to time - in order to look up events or other relevant information. And I maintained access to the messenger app, which I don't lump in to the rest of Facebook as social media use.

In the end I forgave myself the occasional cheating because overall it had the impact on my life I was seeking. I was more productive, spent more time outdoors and was more present. I became aware of moments I nearly defaulted to logging on to FB, for lack of anything better to do, and reversing course.
Disconnect from technology and connect with nature. Stand-up paddleboarding

Kayaking with friends
Like food, going on repetitive detoxes helps the body to cycle closer and closer to purity with each detox. After my third social media detox I feel closer and closer to flushing out the addiction for good.

With each detox the wisdom and awareness sink in. I'm more aware of how different I am on versus off social media, and more quickly recognizing, the moment I go to log in to FB, that there's no point; that it doesn't serve me in any way. I'm learning the art of meaningfully engaging while floating above the detritus and not getting pulled in by it. Which is why I ended the detox - so I can meaningfully engage through sharing blogs, photos and ideas, and find out what some of my amazing friends are doing in their lives.

Alas, the cycle to social media enlightenment continues and there will be more social media detoxes to come.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

5040 Peak Hike, Vancouver Island


The 5040 Peak is a gorgeous hike that epitomizes the backcountry culture of the Port Alberni-Clayoquot region, along Hwy 4 to Tofino. It has 360 degree panoramic views which highlight the raw beauty of the region. However, since most tourists and nature lovers come out this way to Tofino to go surfing, the area is hardly known for its hiking. As such there is not much infrastructure to encourage trekking enthusiasts.

5040 Peak view towards Nahmint Mountain
For this particular hike, the forest service road is difficult to navigate for low clearance vehicles, the trail is lightly trafficked and thus is not always clear, and there is no official campground. However, there is an Alpine Club of Canada hut recently completed and in use, some folks were just putting finishing touches on it when I was up there.
The Alpine Club of Canada Hut runs ~$25/night for non-members
5040 Peak is I believe named after its elevation in feet. I completed this overnight hike on July 20, 2019.

I drove out of Ucluelet along Hwy 4 towards Port Alberni. At about 1 hour and 50 km I reached the forest service road (at approximately GPS coordinates 49.242626, -125.36283) named the Marion Mainline. This road shows up on my maps.me app, as well as on Google Maps, however the road is not labelled on either.

This forest road is fairly level but it has occasional potholes and steep gravelly sections which forced me to drive slow, especially due to the fact I have a small low clearance vehicle. There was one very particularly challenging section that had a steep uphill grade and a lot of loose rocks. My car got stuck here on several occasions and had several skidding starts and stops before I was able to push through this section, but I had even considered giving up and turning back before my persistence paid off. For amateur or city drivers not accustomed to rough forest roads, I would second guess coming here.

NW Ridge Trailhead (approximate GPS coordinates 49.20412, -125.318339)

From the highway, roughly a half hour drive and 8 km down the forest road I crossed a bridge over a creek and parked at a pull-out on the right side of the road, finally arriving at the NW Ridge Trailhead. I believe this is the first pull-out I saw along the entire drive. The trailhead is just 50 m down the road from the pullout, barely visible on the left side, marked by a small wooden sign.

Cobalt Lake Trailhead (approximate GPS coordinates 49.182125, -125.3021)

For 4 by 4 high clearance vehicles, drive on past this pull-out another 3 km or so to the second pull-out for the Cobalt Lake Trailhead. The hike from here is shorter and more heavily trafficked and thus overall easier.

Note that just down the road from this trailhead is the trailhead for Triple Peak.

5040 Peak view south towards Cobalt Lake and Triple Peak, on the other side of the forest road
A time lapse I made from the summit of 5040 Peak

The NW Ridge Trail that I was forced to hike due to vehicle restriction was fairly grueling, especially since I packed for overnight camping and food. My tracking app shows that I hiked 6 km and gained 1,200 m in elevation - this includes the hike to the summit plus the decent to Cobalt Lake. That's an average 20% grade.

The hike through the forest was consistently steep. It was fairly well marked by tape, but it's possible to follow wrong leads and end up off trail. There were some sections that required scrambling and, in particular, one section had a steep dropoff and not many holds, and was a little sketchy. Once I emerged above the treeline the trail started becoming more rocky and difficult to follow. There was the occasional cairn marker, but I found myself constantly second guessing where the trail was.

I have the AllTrails app which includes a map of the trail and my GPS position relative to it, but I tried not to rely on it too much so I could test my ability to stay on trail without relying on technology. I ended up losing the trail on a few occasions, and had to use the app to get back on track.

Above the treeline, there was one notably steep scrambling section to navigate, that tested me a bit. I wish I knew the classifications but based on one conversation with a climbing friend, I would guess that it was Class 4 scrambling. I definitely wouldn't recommend this trail to beginner hikers, or hikers with concerns about scrambling with heavy packs, or those who don't have good trail finding skills and are without an app to stay on trail.

Of note is the fact there were few creeks along this trail, perhaps one at most. I can't tell you what the water was like, because I didn't need to fill up my water until I got to the lake on the other side of the summit, and I used a water filter.

Regarding bears, I carried a bear banger (makes a loud noise like a rifle shot) and frequently made whistling noises. I personally didn't see any bears, but other hikers mentioned they saw them in the area.

Cobalt Lake wasn't too cold - definitely refreshing after a grueling hike!

There is no official campground, but there are a few flat spots by the lake

No hike is enjoyable unless it's well earned, and I definitely earned this one. I probably took around 4 - 4.5 hours to complete the hike and was pretty gassed by the end. I took plenty of time to rest and enjoy the views at the summit, as well as sign the guestbook.

While I had the luxury of solitude along the NW Trail, once I got to the summit, and on the way down to the lake I encountered around 10 people. Most stayed in the hut while one other tent was setup by the lake. With no food boxes, I stashed my food in a drybag and hung it low in a tree - I found a tear in the bag the next morning, but thankfully the bag was not opened and its contents undisturbed. It could have very well been from a bear claw!

The next morning I hiked down the Cobalt Lake Trail to the second pull-out, then quickly down the forest road to the first pull-out where my car was parked. This trail was also about 6 km but I completed it in just over 2 hours.

5040 Peak view towards NW towards Pogo Mountain (Tit Peak) and the highway valley

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 parasympathetic 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.
parasympathetic vs sympathetic - Google Search ...
A breakdown of the two nervous systems and its impacts. Source: pinterest.com
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.

The vagus nerve, of which there has been a lot of research done on it recently, is also connected to these systems, and stimulation of this nerve has been linked to improved gut health, reduced inflammation.

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.
The right touch is about intuition; intuition cannot be taught in school, but honed through life experience

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 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 for them 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; meant to know and love ourselves, and hone our intuition. Once we achieve this we can know and connect with our receivers more intuitively.

And the touch with which we connect with our receivers 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. This signal relaxes our nervous system, which in turn activates our parasympathetic nervous system, and allows our bodies to rest and digest! Repair and connect!
Knowing and loving yourself starts with solitude in nature. Now I'm ready to give massage!