Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Joe Omundson

Lifestyle direction update


I've been working to align my lifestyle more with my values, even if it looks weird to other people. Putting energy inward to discover my true path and then following it regardless of my fears.

One of my core values is that the social mechanism of society ought to include sharing resources with all human beings. I detest living in a world where someone's standard of life is determined by their income, which is so often determined by their demographics and what their family has been like for generations before them. We have an exorbitant excess of resources around us and yet people live in poverty because our social and economic software is flawed.

Another of my values is empathy for people who have been through hard times. I encounter abuse within families in public on a regular basis and I am highly disturbed that more people do not recognize patterns of abuse and trauma. I also know that most people do not understand the hardships of what the homeless endure. Instead of encountering people who will help them lift the burden of being wronged so much in the past, these people mostly interact with people who see them as useless, weird, fucked up, and hopeless, further reinforcing the damage and making it harder to break the cycle.

My goal is to break away from the systems that reinforce these things that I detest, and start living a new paradigm which values people over money at every intersection.

A lot of people want to do that, and a lot of people feel OK working towards it in some way in their life, while also maintaining their job and their house and their car and everything else that makes them comfortable. But that's broken for me. That's not my path. I'm all or nothing. I find that 9 times out of 10, benefiting from any economic transaction reinforces the very social systems that perpetuate these problems. To my mind, using money to battle these problems is like fighting fire with fire.

What I'm doing right now is transitioning from sleeping in my car to stealth camping in a tent, like the rest of the homeless people. Last night was my first night.

For one thing, I find that the more I own and the more "comfortably" I live my life, the more miserable I become personally. I get trapped by these things. Maybe I just have bad self control, but even when I house-sit for short periods of time I lose track of the real world and I become an isolated, anxious, stagnant, internet-glued shadow of a person. So, minimizing is partly in my own self interest. Even in my car I can feel isolated and lazy. The times when I have lived day-to-day from my backpack have been the times I felt the most alive. Plus my registration is expired and I can't fix it until my replacement title arrives from Oregon, and I don't want to get a ticket for driving it around.

But the other reason is because I want a fuller sense of empathy for what the homeless go through. I feel like I need to become one of them in order to relate fully to them. Living in a car gives me some idea, but not a very full idea. It's pretty easy to park the car anywhere to sleep and not be noticed. I have rigid walls and doors that lock. I can go anywhere quickly, I can easily transport most things I want to transport, I can store a good deal of belongings. I don't have to worry that someone is going to notice me walking into the scrub with a backpack and call the cops to roust me.

So far I notice that a lot more consideration has to go into sleeping in a tent. It's technically illegal to camp in my car, too, but people do it in this town all the time and it feels like another level of seriousness if I were to be caught setting up a tent camp on public or private property. If there are people near the edge of the woods where I access my camp, I have to wonder if it would be smarter to wait for them to leave before I pass through. I can only take so much stuff with me at a time. When I hear dogs barking at night I wonder what would happen if an aggressive one found me. As the seasons progress I will be more vulnerable to bugs, flooding, hostile encounters, and the like.

More than this, it seems like there's a really humbling mental component to having to be sneaky about your existence. To know that you don't really have a right to exist, anywhere, and if you want to continue there are certain people who should not find out about you. It feels destabilizing, like it would promote insanity. When I caught myself in the mirror today I felt like I already had more of a wild look in my eyes. A look that doesn't take anything for granted or expect to see things happen any certain way. I still have so much social wealth that most homeless people lack, I'm still doing this by choice, and I know I can get through any difficulties I face. I'm not going to destroy my relationships or my mental or physical health to get the "full homeless experience", that would be illogical to me. But I want to embrace any difficulty that I come across so that I can better understand reality. Any hardship that I endure is invaluable to me in the long run.

I am repulsed that only moneyed people can afford the luxuries of comfortable shelter in our system, so I will exit that reality even if it's illegal and difficult. I want to vote this with my lifestyle: people deserve to live safely regardless of their privilege, and I'm not going to benefit until everyone benefits.

The other thing I've been doing is working toward an existence where the daily needs of my life do not require any money. Moving away from the car is part of this (no insurance or fuel costs). I want to live a completely free life in both senses of the word. I'm not a purist, I will make exceptions for certain things, and in fact I am going to be working this summer to save money; the only reason for this is because I want to hitchhike internationally, and even though I think I could do that for nearly free too, I haven't done it before and it seems wise to have a financial cushion in a foreign country if something goes wrong. Plus, I don't mind taking some money from wealthy America and distributing it to people in poorer countries. So I will still earn money, but it's completely on my terms, and only for the purpose of furthering my specific goals of gaining understanding of other cultures and having life changing experiences.

This has been a lot of talk about what I want to avoid, what I want to distance myself from. But what positive goals do I have? What do I want to see happen?

I want to provide services that are accessible to everyone and completely free. I want to assist others who are working on these services. Free can happen, it just takes effort. I want to be available for anyone who needs someone to talk to. I want to create a buffer of safety and empathy in public spaces.

One thing I have started recently is a daily meditation session in the park. I sit for 30 minutes at 9am. I haven't had anyone join me yet, but with patience and continued invites I am hoping to support people in finding some inner peace for a few minutes of their day.

Another thing which I'm excited to get more involved in is food collection and redistribution. Schools and restaurants throw out a lot of perfectly good food, which they would be happy to give away instead, but they don't have any consistent person who comes and picks it up. There used to be a guy who would do this and provide a free lunch for the town every day! It does still happen on a limited scale; there is a guy I know who picks up the leftovers after school lunch and gives it away, but I'm thinking about stepping up to fill the role of daily free lunch provider. This is exciting to me because it decreases our waste, and provides a free meal to those who want it, as well as an opportunity to gather socially.

Lastly, I'm looking into other volunteer opportunities that would allow me to connect with and support people who have suffered abuse. CASA is one option, volunteering at a domestic violence shelter is another. The animal shelter could be a third possibility. I'm still sorting through which of these things I want to pursue.

These changes in my life feel good to me; it seems like I'll have a lot of work to do every day for the next week or so, just to get myself reoriented to my goals and my new lifestyle. I have a lot of decisions to make about which possessions to keep and which ones I want to discard. I'm starting to care less about what other people think or if anyone will support me. I think I can do these things and it will be meaningful to me, so I will.

Is there something in your life that you've identified as "your path", something unconventional and crazy but you can't stop thinking about it? Tell me about it in the comments :)

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Joe Omundson

Be the pixel you wish to see


Many people have ideas about how society should be, but they don't always consider their own lives to be part of the equation.

Let's imagine that generally, most people wish that everyone in their community could have a happy life. Let's say it's a universal human goal for as many people to be as happy as possible.

Now imagine that we are all pixels on a computer screen. Our color indicates the experiential quality of our life: red is very unhappy, yellow is mediocre, green is very happy, and there are all shades in between. (Forgive my simplistic use of red = bad, green = good!)

Then our goal is for the light shining from the screen to be as green as possible.

I find that some people get so hung up on the other red pixels they see, that their own lives degrade into a red state. They see all the red and decide that their own life can't be green until there is more green around them. And yet, the only pixel you can directly control is your own; to get a fully green screen, every pixel has to decide to be green! We all make up the screen. A happy world means not only that everyone else be happy, but YOU, too. Your life is a part of this thing, we are all the universe. (It's along the lines of "be the change you wish to see".)

One question is: can a pixel create a net greenward trend while remaining red?

Is it possible to sacrifice your own life, your own well being, for the sake of the greater good around you? Or in neglecting your own happiness and living a miserable life, is that negative energy all you can radiate into the world?

I saw a quote that said something along the lines of: "The only thing you ever have to offer someone else is your present state of being." I thought this was profound, because so much of the time we try to cover up our own feelings for the sake of someone else. I don't really feel like spending time with my friends tonight, but I told them I would, so for their sake I'll put on a happy mask and endure it. But does this ever fool anyone? If your own state of being is that you are feeling reclusive, and out of energy for other people, you're probably not really sharing something positive like you hope -- if you want to be alone, better to do that.

What about the stereotypical family with a dad who labors arduously to provide for his wife and kids? Some people do thrive on constant hard work, but others don't love it so much. If you're working 60+ hours a week, never home for your family, stressed out and exhausted whenever you're with them, and miserable with yourself, is this really better than cutting back on the hours and finding more frugal ways to live, so that you can be more relaxed and present with your loved ones? I think we have this idea that self-sacrifice is noble but I suspect it does more harm than good.

Personally I think that some people can manage to help others turn green even though their lives are red. Maybe a crazy inventor lives in lifelong isolation yet provides helpful technologies to the world. Maybe a workaholic earns a lot of money and donates 80% of it to really great causes. Maybe someone who is familiar with a destructive system can cripple that system at the cost of their own life or freedom.

But I suspect that this is overall a less effective route than the alternative: being as brightly green as you can, and letting that be contagious to those around you. A green life has more attentiveness to its own needs, and therefore provides itself a stronger foundation for reaching out and helping others. More fundamentally, it involves a recognition that a happy society means a happy YOU. Because your happiness is worth just as much as anyone else's.

So don't be afraid to be happy, or feel guilty about it.

A fair question might be -- "if turning your own life green means thoughtlessly enjoying every privilege that comes your way, and benefiting from economic and social systems that perpetuate poverty and disease for others, isn't your greenness at the expense of someone else's redness?" Yes! But I also think that seeking to find a happy life based on material possession, privilege over others, and perpetual injustice is a dead end. These lives are perceived as green but the people who live them don't tend to feel very good. Seeking a truly green life is more likely to involve minimizing, simplifying, gaining humility and compassion. (Says the houseless guy. Obvious bias here!)

So it's always important to think about how your choices are impacting others, whether you're happy or unhappy, but as far as your own choice to feel green or red inside your own head -- why not choose green?

Of course it isn't that simple for everyone, myself included, and those who suffer from depression will be laughing at me. I don't mean to minimize the difficulty of finding real peace, joy, and meaning. I just don't think we should arbitrarily choose to suffer when other options are easily within reach, thinking that choosing pain for ourselves will somehow be good for others.
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