Mission to Earth: Choose life, spaceman, spacewoman.

Imagine you, a spaceman, a spacewoman, woke up one day after travelling millions and millions of miles, after a very, very long sleep.

You slept so long, you forgot what a body was, what a planet was.  You forgot yourself and all your humanity.

It would probably take several days to get your bearings and be able to even digest food.

As you woke up, everything felt like a gift – you were given an amazing body, arms, legs, fingers, toes, and a mind to go with it.  Imagine a body that could do amazing things – run, swim, climb, surf, dance, or just walk, and most amazingly as you remembered – reproduce.

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For several weeks, you had to remain in your space capsule, even though you had alighted on this beautiful and rich planet.  You remained in your metal and plastic capsule, breathing stale, recycled air, drinking stale, recycled water, cramped and crouched down, much like your ancient cave dwelling ancestors after a long winter, eating too much stale food.

Finally, when you could almost stand it no longer, your computer chaperones declared it safe to open the door, safe to explore this new and beautiful planet.

Now, imagine you were given an amazing place to live, full of amazing creatures, deep forests, plants, frogs, birds, fish, and everything else.

Your space-age civilization had learned that you could not only survive, but thrive on a plant-based diet.   Furthermore, you had learned that, especially in a largely sedentary and technological lifestyle, it was critical to do so.  Coincidentally, back on your home planet, you had learned that it just made sense to live off of plants.  Not only was it very healthy, such a way of life used many orders of magnitude fewer resources – energy, water, land.  And, along with this, it allowed you to live in a world that was much more compassionate, a world you wanted to live in.

So now, you found yourself on this new amazing planet, with this new amazing body.

What would you do?

Wow. Intermittent fasting, type 2 diabetes, modern life, idea networks, community support and new research.

New ideas percolate through social networks, which act as a filter (sometimes poorly) to determine if the idea is robust enough to work for a large number of people.

A famous quote by William Gibson:

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

That is, many ‘good ideas’ that are correct and will be widely adopted are already out there.  For example, even back in 1992 a few people had smartphones.  Of course, it was not always seen as interesting.  It takes time for economies of scale or production, cultural acceptance, critical mass of use by others, distribution, marketing and advertising, etc. etc. to spread through the various networks.  In fact, you can perhaps close your eyes and imagine these social networks growing and changing over time, with ideas passing through them, sort of like slow neuronal growth, or the spread of infection.

ConcurrClipAs human beings we live in a sea of networks – many kinds of social networks (trust, economic, knowledge, work-related, friendship, sex, sports, linguistic, academic, etc. etc.), infrastructure (communication, water, electricity, road, rail, bus, sidewalks, food distribution, waste disposal, and more), and biological (exposure to micro-organisms, interaction with animals or plants, genetic relationships, etc.), not forgetting that we ourselves (our bodies, and brains) are largely made up of networks as well.  As humans who realize this, we begin to ask ourselves “wow, that’s complicated, how do I keep up with everything, and how do I do well in this environment?”.

Interestingly, at the same time as our daily conscious minds are overwhelmed by this overload of information and choices, we face increasing challenges to navigating them due to the effect of this lifestyle on our brains.  Sitting, which much of this navigation can involve (I am sitting right now to write this) can very much increase risk of Type II diabetes, which is characterized by symptoms such as depression (perhaps in a feedback relationship, since depressed people might be less active, and less active people might develop depression), a larger waste line, fatigue, decreased brain plasticity, and many other problems.

Sitting seems to be the major cause.  It is so important, I am putting it here:  🙂

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(Getting up now to move around…

Oh cool!, I found a place I can stand and look out the window while using my computer!)

So, if we think of the social networks, we can think of this problem of type II diabetes appearing as red colored nodes or vertices (people) in the network.  That is, many people are getting the problem because of the wide-spread use of computers, combined with the fact that many have easy access to food, and other reasons and ways to sit (automobiles, desk jobs, easier to use a smart-phone while sitting, sitting with friends who are sitting more because they are tired due to the above reasons, etc. etc.)

As an individual, counteracting all of this takes a focused effort, but it seems well worth it.  That is, in this TED talk, it has been shown that obesity (and perhaps many other behavioral patterns, such as smoking) can ‘travel’ through social networks.

But, networks are hard to change.  They have systematic properties and are made of many many connections, both between people, and in the brain.  When you think about it, human beings spend a lifetime living inside of these networks, acquiring friends, learning languages, learning social behaviors, developing our brains to have certain emotional and social responses.  By the time many of these metabolic problems appear, we are very deeply embedded in these networks.

Thus, it is no surprise that, at middle age, it is extremely difficult to change.  Brain plasticity has decreased, not only due to normal ageing, but also perhaps with the compounding factor of neuropathy, which can greatly effect brain plasticity.  On the outside, this means that people have a near impossible challenge to change their friendships or basic daily behaviors to a more healthy direction.  And all of this is happening while these adults continue to go about their daily lives.  This is a bit like an airplane – or perhaps better, a bird – trying to fix its own wing while it is flying.  It is no surprise that medication is usually the solution, because no doctor or individual can ‘fix’ someone else and make such deep behavioral changes in every aspect of their life.  And we would (rightly) see this as a violation of our rights and dignity.

So, as always in life, the only person who can change is ‘us’.   But what is encouraging is that learning the above is very powerful and empowering.

That is, WE CAN change our social networks, our behaviors.  It takes time.  We can find resources online.  We can take up other sports, and gradually eat differently.  It is very normal and expected that we will ‘fail’ quite often in the beginning, since we are still living inside of our old social and behavioral world.  This failure could look like binge eating, discouragement or even depression, conflict with or criticism by friends or family (who supported our old way of behaving), loneliness as we leave one social network behind, increased dependence on (unhealthy) coping mechanisms, continuing to sit too much, or many other related behaviors.  The more we think about it, the more apparent it becomes how deeply entrenched we are, and how much compassion for ourselves and those around us it takes to change.

A very compelling documentary by the BBC: “Eat, Fast, and Live Longer”, is a great tool, since it really addresses a less painful way to change our eating behavior.  Unfortunately, there is a huge amount of ‘noise’ around ‘dieting’.  That is, there are many interests and all kinds of ‘information’, which almost look like faith.  What is useful about this documentary is that the claims are not extreme, do not involve money, and the research is peer-reviewed, and also seems to fit common sense.  (I.e. eat a little less on average in a way that is less painful than typical ‘dieting’.)   The basic idea is to pick two days per week to eat 500 kcal (roughly one meal), and eat normally the rest of the week.

For those who have pre-diabetes or type II diabetes, this also seems a useful and reasonable solution, especially given other compelling results by Newcastle University, which shows that Type II diabetes can (in some cases) be reversed by reducing fat in the pancreas and liver.

So, the caveman finds himself sick, because he has become the spaceman, sitting too much, sucking down too much information, losing connection to his physical body and nature, and the basic need to move around, with too much food available. He is additionally challenged to overcome ‘critical thresholds‘ in his social and other behavioral networks to change his life in a positive way.

Urrgh…

The spaceman, however, has an opportunity to learn how to live in this modern technological world, and to learn from the latest lessons about how to not only survive, but thrive in it.  And as he learns, and reverses these symptoms of modern life, things seem to get better and better.  He feels better, he learns faster, he makes more healthy friendships, he changes his habits, and life gets brighter, as yesterday’s future, as it always has, becomes today’s present.

What are “dreams”, and what is “living them” ?

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A very vague “dream”, perhaps of desired feeling comes from looking at images such as this.

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A more concrete dream of a friend’s homestead, involving realizing many concrete projects.

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Dream

a. A vision or hope for the future; (in early use chiefly) a vain hope or idle fantasy; (now also) an ideal, goal, ambition, or aspiration.

Obviously in a general sense, we have some kind of hope for something we feel does not currently exist, at least not in our own lives.  However, this can be for a very specific thing (a tree house), or at the other end of the spectrum, a very loosely-defined feeling, based on some past experience (the feeling I had when I fished with my father, or perhaps even more vague).

This again reminds me of the books by Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, about how people dissociate, ‘day-dreaming’ about something other than their current situation.  This tends to occur in the right pre-frontal cortex, and people who do this a lot tend to be unhappy.  (After all, they are mostly living in their dreams, which implies they are not realizing them.)

Don Quixote is an account of this, to an extreme where reading too much fiction finally leads to delusions – tilting at windmills.

Only dreaming seems to mean something is missing.  Somehow we do not have what we need to transform our ‘dreams’ into reality.  Perhaps we dont’ want to acknowledge that we can’t have everything.  That is, if I have a dream to build a wooden boat, it will probably take some time, be imperfect, and involve some splinters.  Also, we must perhaps defer other dreams while we realize this one.  We can’t travel to Africa while building a boat in our garage.  Which shall we do?

Human beings are amazing creatures, since we have this ability to think up abstract, complex projects, to dream.  We are also amazing in our ability to create these.

Community and positive action and thought seem critical.  That is, involve others in your dreams.  Take steps.  Don’t just sit there and feel ‘down’ because things aren’t happening, or they aren’t happening the way you wanted.  Fear and anxiety are in the mind.

Courage only exists in the presence of fear.

A break for the body, and starting a kickstarter campaign!

Becoming a trail marker connaisseur – one of my favorites.

It has been a really great hike so far, and I have enjoyed writing and taking photographs.  Have learned a lot, especially about appreciating many things.

So far, I have walked from Ventimiglia to Colle di Giovo, roughly 150 km.  The last day I walked 24 km, then found a beautiful bivouac site with a view down to the sea.

A bivouac site 6 km west of Colle di Giovo, Liguria.

PicsArt_1434928465517The quote below, appropriately, says something like this:

Eye of the forest
Remember that which you have seen,
because everything you forget
returns to fly in the wind

I have decided I would like to do this much more, and to help others overcome their fears and live their dreams.

So, a kickstarter campaign has been born!

Please consider even a minimal contribution.   My walk is about as inexpensive as something can be.  Sometimes there are unforeseen costs, but I think roughly 30 euros per day is a good estimate.   When you consider this includes food, “housing” (sometimes sleeping in a bivy sack outdoors), and everything else, it’s not bad!

Karma grand slam – thrice in one day…!? Continuing fast and light… hmm…

Walking up the trail from Finale Ligure was again beautiful and stunning. *By accident* walked through another historic village and up onto the ramparts of another castle. Saw caves and cliffs and forests…

Then the karma grand slam began.

Coming into the open, there were two vans parked near a spring. They were speaking English!

Two climbers from the UK, Will and Lucy were ‘dirt bagging’ it for a year, camping in their van and climbing all over Europe.

After a minute they even offered me food!

It was great to talk with them and hang out as the sun went down over the mountains.

It was nearly 9 pm when I left them! Hiked fast and in the dark up to rifugio pian dei corsi, passing cool caves, including one that had a bat flying around in circles, a small scorpion!, and winding my way in the dark up a mountain road to the Rifugio Pian dei Corsi.

The longer you hike by yourself, the more you become like Sherlock Holmes. Many cars were passing me coming the other way, down the mountain. There is nothing else up here, so I figured they had had some kind of party.

I was so fried when I arrived, I did not figure on one thing. Get this though – they had just had some kind of party and had a huge amount of food left over…

The hosts were very friendly and welcoming, we spoke English and French and fake Italian, and though I was exhausted had a great dinner.

Cha ching! I sat down and there was a great gnashing and the food was gone!

Also, earlier, while I was hiking I saw a big group of trail runners coming the other way. One of them came up to me … it was Simon, who had given me the diving mask two days earlier!!

Wow.

I’m thinking of ditching almost all the weight, even the sleeping bag, and speed hiking the rest of the trail super-light. I would still have warm clothes, the poncho and the bivy sack.

My legs are finally getting in shape, and with less weight I could really go turbo. I still have some warm clothes and realized I just don’t really need my heavy sleeping bag and the clothes. Could also ditch another cooking pot, and probably a few other things.

The walk goes on, though I know not how

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Band 'Adrian', Finale Ligure

I’ve just spent nearly 8 hours trying to start a kickstarter campaign writing about facing fears and living your dreams.  Taking a break to walk up perhaps my last mountain until I can somehow fund this.

Rewarded the caveman for his patience sitting indoors all day with a short break watching and listening to this amazing band on the street in Finale Ligure, and an ice cream.  This is telling about pre-diabetes…

Help from friends, courage, hard work can pay off – Baia dei Saraceni

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Baia dei Saraceni

Thanks to help from a friend who gave me the diving mask, and many many others who helped me along the way, as well as courage to make it happen (which their support also helped with greatly!), and a lot of walking, I got to go skin diving in the Baia dei Saraceni! 

Really cool.  Saw some interesting fish, some sea anemones,  a tube worm I have only seen on TV, and some other cool undersea things.

Was able to dive down 20 feet (6 m) or so thanks to the mask!

Also, although generally it is pretty commercial here, had a nice pseudo – Italian conversation with the son of a local grocery store family, who plans to do the Camino de Santiago this fall.  He was excited to see my backpack.  Awesome.  🙂

Kindness strikes again – life as tango

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Sky above Loano

So, today was the end of my recovery from hiking, but the sky looked like this (see photo) and there was lightning.

After a wonderful few days at a very inexpensive hostel – Albergo Solemare – where they even let me ditch some pack weight (stove, sweater, book, winter jacket, etc) to pick up later, I decided to walk along the coast.

I had bought some inexpensive goggles that broke right away, and was frustrated, since I had dreams of skin diving along the coast.

As I walked along, I struck up a conversation with a lifeguard who was very bored, sitting at an unoccupied private beach. He was also a trail runner and said he dreamed of doing the Alta via dei monte liguri as well.

I happened to mention the broken goggles, and he then suddenly waved me over and offered me an extra diving mask! Well, I couldn’t say no, since I really hoped to use it, and the area near Noli should be great for skin diving.

So, kindness struck again and again lately.

This reminds me of tango dancing. On the surface it looks impossible as a leader, since you are supposed to walk forward ‘through’ your partner. But your partner and maybe life are just waiting for you to do this. It takes courage in the beginning, and confidence later, and perhaps practice to do it well, but life (and tango) is boring and unsatisfying without it.

Skipping Mt. Galero: Solo Trekking as Vipassana?

Yesterday evening I had a choice and decided not to go over Mt. Galero.

It was interesting to observe my thoughts and feelings about it:

“I’m lazy. I’m a loser. This is your big chance and you’re missing it. This isn’t doing the Alta Via dei Monte Liguri. (the AVML goes over the mountain) “

etc. etc. But then, in deciding not to do it I realized I was being more responsible to myself and my happiness and wellbeing, and being my own friend.

If my goal is somehow athletic, real athletes do this. They learn their limits and don’t overdo it. They learn a certain amount of positive self – talk. In my case, I’m realising how good it is for my body to do this. It is really life changing and helping me recover from physical burnout. But that means taking it gradually. Also, my lower back was still sore from having the shoulder straps too tight the day before. Since I don’t have a coach with me, there is no choice but to be my own coach.

It then occured to me that trekking and Vipassana – a form of silent meditation retreat – have many things in common.

First of all, in solo trekking you are largely silent. I do meet people, and also use the phone to stay in touch, take photos, etc. But it is unavoidable that I am often alone with my thoughts for several hours while putting one foot in front of the other.

Similar to what I’ve heard about vipassana retreats, this can be unpleasant in the beginning, especially if we haven’t had this time to clean out our minds for a while. We accumulate the noise and after-effects from daily life in our minds, brains, and bodies over time.

De – noising can be very unpleasant, since we see everything and are faced with it. Ugh.

This time, however, rather than numbing ourselves with the usual methods (usually some kind of consumption), we keep facing it. (Though audiobooks, breaks at huts, etc. make this more bearable – the goal is not masochism or martyrdom, unhealthy tendencies that probably caused us our problems to begin with!)

We keep going and gradually construct ways to deal with all of it.

Similarly, over time our minds and bodies settle down about food, things we need to actually carry, etc. Somehow the more mental “junk” we have, the longer this seems to take.

After a week or so, I’m finding that water, sleep, and staying mostly dry are the most important things. Everything else largely belongs to the “noise” category. I’m even considering getting rid of the small alcohol stove. Over time we see how anxiety and worry translate into real physical burden with real unhealthy consequences. (This extra weight is quite noticeable over distance, and significantly reduces how far I can go, making the trip more painful and expensive, harder to walk to nearby towns, more complicated to camp, etc.)

I’m still going through the discomfort of this transformation. Slowly slowly. It took a while to become sedentary, it takes a while and patience to undo it.