Ikigai – A Hero’s Journey

My quest for existential JOY began early. First memory: probably one or two, lying on my back on the lawn, in summer, gazing into the clear San Diego sky and feeling amazed that I exist. The beginnings of a profound sense of gratitude, which I later learned is foundational to a sense of existential Joy – the joy of being.

Existential joy, as I define it is independent of outside stimuli. It therefore can exist even in times of stress or pain. It simply exists. It is the ultimate form of self-reliance.

A bit later in life (1971) at the age of nineteen, I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my church. I was sent to Japan, a place I knew absolutely nothing about. My mission to the Japanese revolved around a central message, “Man’s Search for Happiness” which was the theme of the church’s pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair of 1970. During my two years in Japan I experienced existential Joy at a level most never experience in a lifetime. I learned infinitely more than I taught, as teachers always do. Others experienced it too.

That 2-year period was anything but easy. I struggled to learn the Japanese language like nothing I had ever done, often crying myself to sleep, discouraged and mentally exhausted. Yet in the depths of despair, I found purpose and meaning, something the Japanese language has a unique and wonderful word for. It is “ikigai” and before I learned that word, I experienced it.

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.[1] The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”[2] Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel ikigai are never forced on an individual; they are often spontaneous, and always undertaken willingly, giving the individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. Wikipedia

The loving, passionate energy I put into those two years paid back incredible dividends throughout my life. Because I had achieved a level of mastery of Japanese, I was given more opportunities to serve in senior level business positions, developing big American retail brands all over the world, starting with Japan. Today, there are tens of thousands of stores (ihop, 7-eleven, Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s to name a few) that I was instrumental in establishing. Those stores provided jobs and income and customer convenience to millions of people. My heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to serve and impact the lives of so many. IKIGAI.

But, along my journey, I became disillusioned with some of the selfishness, greed and politics that go along with functioning in large corporate environments.

Hero’s JourneySo, about thirteen years ago, I left to develop an intentional community with lofty goals that involved my ikigai based on self-reliance, integrity and mutual love, service and an abundant lifestyle within a closely bonded community. In October 2006, I purchased about 750 beautiful, remote acres on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, the Grand Canyon of the Southeast. It was just three months before the sub-prime mortgage Real Estate bust. It was my personal version of the “hero’s journey”. It was filled with all the elements of such a quest – challenge, failure, loss, disappointment, betrayal, fear, forgiveness, redemption and more. My life came into question as did my quest for existential joy. I fell into a state of depression as we teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, living in a state of lack. We now live simple, debt-free, peaceful, abundant and happy lives, but it was a rough road getting here.

There is a place in the iconic hero’s journey where the would-be hero falls to a low state. Then, through another mighty struggle with his own demons, overcomes. In the next stage of the quest, he returns home to teach what he has learned. This stage solidifies his learning and sets the stage for his next adventure. This is every brave man or woman’s journey.

And so was my struggle to recover existential joy. I have always been a deep-thinking introvert. My mentor boss at Dunkin/Baskin, upon his departure to head up Red Lobster, which he turned around and then took private, gave me a memento that still reminds me of my strongest talent. It is a brass giraffe because he said I always had my head in the clouds. It’s true. I am a big-picture visionary. I see trends and opportunities coming long before my peers and I develop detailed plans in my head to take advantage of those opportunities. One of the guys on my team once told me that I was exceptionally self-aware. I wasn’t sure how to take that at the time, but I have come to appreciate what a wonderful gift that is as well.

Over the past two years, I began an earnest quest to understand and recover existential joy – to define all of the principles that contribute to it and to develop self-mastery in applying those principles. Because of earlier life successes, I wasn’t in unexplored foreign territory, but I was beginning from the bottom of a pit that, in my hero’s journey, I had fallen into. Thankfully, my gifts of self-awareness, introspection and vision enabled that quest. I am now prepared to share the results of a lifetime of seeking existential joy.

My previous post speaks of some of those principles – productive creativity, meditation and gratitude. As described in the above Wikipedia link that defines Ikigai, the path to finding it is unique for each person and cannot be dictated or forced. It requires a great deal of self-awareness to discover one’s unique talents, gifts, passions and so forth. But, I believe there are solid principles beneath all that messy uniqueness. These are universal. They apply to everyone. My daily discipline involves testing these principles against the rigors of life to see if they hold up – always – and figuring out where and how the unique pieces fit into the universal principles. To date, I have identified and tested over a dozen discrete yet inter-related principles.

In coming posts I intend to share my discoveries. I hope to find a larger audience who will seek, test, find, validate and share joy that leads to wholeness of their life and then share it with others. If you are interested in the discipline that brings ikigai, or what I call existential joy, please subscribe and share my posts. Then share your experiences by commenting.

For those serious about accelerating your path to joy, come to my place in the Village. I will teach you my personally proven methods of practical, applied meditation. In peaceful, private natural places for deep meditation, like our waterfall,

the Beech Treehouse,

huckleberry point lookout

Overlook #17

or several ancient Indian rock houses on the property.

Discover who you are, your talents, passions, demons and opportunities to thrive. I will personally coach you how to practice the discipline necessary to change your life against your will, habits and addictions, to become your best, most joyful and prosperous self.

Call or text for an appointment or a stay-over. (931) 450-2426.

Building a New Village home, a piece of cake

My mother celebrated her 90th birthday a week ago, Saturday. Building her a new home in the Village has been almost as easy as her birthday cake. The Saturday before her birthday, we visited the modular home factory at Blue Ridge Log Cabins where we ordered her a new home. To say I was impressed is an understatement. The factory is state-of-the-art and the quality of their product is outstanding.

My mother’s new home will be ready to ship in just 6 weeks from date of order, complete with everything, including appliances. It will be installed on my property about 50 feet from my brother, George’s house.

Friday before our trip to the factory, I called Jim, a friend and contractor who lives down the road, to let him know of our plans.
Monday morning, he was on site with a crew of about 8, a dozer, backhoe, trencher, bobcat and misc. other equipment. By end of day, the footings for the foundation, the pit for the septic tank and septic field lines were dug, power and water lines were stubbed out. Tuesday, the rebar-reinforced foundation was poured and the septic system finished. A week later, after the concrete had cured and rain storms had passed, the block mason laid the concrete block and baseplate for the crawl space.

I was amazed and delighted at how quickly and easily the prep work for the new house was completed. A month ahead of scheduled delivery, we are ready for installation. The prep work came in about $1,500 under the quote, no down payment, paid in cash upon completion. Years of building relationships and experience in the Village have paid off for us and those that follow in the Village.  Inquire about the Village here.

This will be the second blue-ridge log cabin for the Village, and the third modular home. In the last decade or so, modular construction has come into its own. On time, on budget with superior quality and no hassles. You can have a customized home without the dread and nightmares that normally accompany new home on-site construction.

We will actually need to ask Blue Ridge to delay delivery a bit so I can be free after the semester ends and I finish grading finals for my class at the University of the South. Then, I can be there for the install while George and Mom are in California packing for the move.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

 

ETHOS: Left and Right are just arms and legs on the same body

Oops, too close for youtube’s comfort? Only hours after I posted this it disappeared. http://vimeo.com/24706064
Watch the video before you read the following:

“Our Ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.”
Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010

The left/right, liberal/conservative paradigm is meaningless. It is a smoke screen, a delusion, a diversion. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my thoughts and values are so steeped in conservative traditions. Harrelson, Zinn and others in this movie are icons of the left. Yet, here he is speaking intelligently to the same issues that have polarized the right against the left and reaching similar conclusions to mine on what to do about it.

One of the prime reasons for this Village is a reaction to a world gone berserk. 9/11 was the watershed moment that changed my world view and led ultimately to my decision to find another solution. It is a reaction to powerlessness against overwhelmingly powerful forces.

Most of the world has taken refuge in the very activities that perpetuate their surrender of freedom and meaning in life. Harrelson correctly points out that in the aftermath of 9/11, we were told the solution was to go shopping. And again, in 2008 when the economy crumbled, we were told that it was our duty to save the economy by doing what? “Go shopping”.

How ironic is it that I am now teaching “Strategic Marketing” at the University? Yet, Marketing, like the Internet, like a gun, like a drill press or a saw, is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It is simply a means of identifying and satisfying human needs and desires. Some enterprises use marketing effectively to pander to base human needs and wants. There is a BIG market for these products and services.

I do marketing to find and satisfy people who are looking for a means to improve their lives, to find meaning and joy. The product I am building is mostly intangible. It is community, harmony, security, connection to nature, creative and constructive work, a meaningful life. In this context and for this purpose, is marketing evil? Only if what I am selling is bogus or of poor quality.

Yet, while I agree with Harrelson’s prescription, it is only one element of a total solution for an empty, shackled life. “Stop shopping” or at least shop wisely. It’s positioned as an offensive weapon against an entrenched corporate enemy. Is that where it ends? In the unlikely event that this perpetual war should end, either in victory or defeat, what do we, the wounded and weary foot-soldiers, return from the battle front to? There must be something more, something meaningful to replace our culture’s obsession with consumptive living.

Sandy Hook is another 9/11 event. It is meant to polarize right and left. Masterful marketing used with malice aforethought, IMHO. Extreme polarization between left and right. Strident calls for disarmament from the left while demand for guns and ammo empties the gun stores and heavily armed and fortified communities appear in Idaho and elsewhere.

Left and right are just arms and legs on the same body.
Powers that divide, profitably conquer
while the masses, having lost their heads,
trade arms, legs, body and soul for fear and division.
– Grant Miller

In answer to this insanity, can we not respectfully explore and enjoy different perspectives and world views while we live peaceably within our means and “in Harmony with Nature and People”? That is my solution and my intent.

Making BioChar for our small farm

BioChar Ovens

BioChar Ovens

We have a weekly tradition of trading projects in the Village, where one family chooses a project and others chip in.  This week, we built biochar ovens (sometimes called kilns or retorts) out of 55-gallon steel barrels.  Using a plasma cutter, it was a breeze cutting and assembling these ovens.   Weather cooperating, we plan our first biochar making session this Saturday.  We invite Villagers and visitors from the local community to join us.

Biochar, also known as Tera Preta, was discovered in the Amazon Jungle a few years back.  Apparently biochar production and use as a soil amendment was practiced by a lost pre-Colombian civilization.  The discoverers noticed that in a patch of cleared jungle land, the rich, black soil was incredibly productive where the surrounding soil was dead.  Upon excavating, they discovered that this black soil was also amazingly deep, having been artificially manufactured over generations.

“The burning and natural decomposition of biomass and in particular agricultural waste adds large amounts of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. Biochar can store large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old-growth forests.” – Wikipedia

Our soil tends to be acidic, so the addition of a ph raising amendment, like biochar is a big plus.  In addition to sequestration of carbon and other minerals beneficial to food crops, biochar is also noted for its tiny nooks and crannies that provide habitat for beneficial bacteria that enhance soil quality and structure.

The process of producing biochar from wood also releases clean syngas, that can be used as fuel in internal combustion engines.  We make electricity using a generator fueled by wood gas.  So many benefits from one process!

There is still much to be learned about how and why biochar works as a soil amendment.  But, as a community, we decided it’s well worth testing, contributing to the body of knowledge, reaping the benefits in our small farms and creating another source of green revenue by producing it in reasonably large quantities.

Here is a video that explains the system we built.  Have fun with this.  We are.

BTW, if you’re someone who enjoys being self-sufficient, building things, and the company of other creative, industrious folks, you might want to join us permanently.  We’re a community of interesting, accomplished people who care about each other.  Contact us here.

 

Extreme Consolidation in the Solar PV market expected this year

This is a good industry article indicating that solar panel manufacturers will go through a major consolidation this year.

Consolidation is a weeding out of the smaller, less efficient manufacturers in favor of low-cost, high-volume, efficient manufacturers.  The remaining suppliers will benefit from lower supply and less intense pricing pressures.  It remains to be seen whether, in the aftermath of lower supply, prices will increase.  They may continue to decline, despite decreased pressure on prices, as new, more efficient technologies and manufacturing techniques are developed.  Or, it may signal the bottoming out of PV panel prices.  Also, there does seem to be some improvement in the economy, at least in some sectors.  This could release pent-up demand from people who have been waiting to invest in solar out of fear over a potential job loss.  If we have industry consolidation (lower supply) that coincides with higher demand, the remaining suppliers will benefit from even higher economies of scale, resulting in higher profitability and perhaps lower prices as low-cost suppliers further consolidate market-share.

By observing general trends in the high tech sector based on silicone chips, one could conclude that prices will continue to decline.  That is, unless there is some other major disruption in the supply chain (like war, political upheaval, etc.)  If prices begin to increase post-consolidation, this may trigger more government intervention and subsidization, which could also be an offsetting factor, although generally, once consolidation has occurred, fewer companies may use subsidies to simply pad their bottom lines, further strengthening their balance sheets and staying power in the market rather than reduce prices.

Industry consolidation is just one factor to consider in determining when is the right moment to invest in Solar technology that moves us further in the direction of off-grid self-sufficiency while staying fiscally conservative.  My sense is that now is at least a much better time to invest in solar than a few years ago.  I’m glad I waited.  Cost per KWh is still higher than grid-supplied electricity.  But the question remains, should I wait longer?  The economy looks to be improving in the short term.

I consider small-scale home based Solar PV not for its economic efficiencies, but more for its insurance value. Long-term, the world still looks extremely fragile.  With the short-term improvement in the economy, this may be the perfect moment to invest in self-sufficiency, whether it is a modest amount of solar PV or a more secure location on which to place it.

Achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability without bankrupting yourself requires a long-term, plodding approach.  Like Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, (remember that from college psychology or sociology classes?) one does not achieve self-actualization until the more basic needs are covered.  PV solar, is at the top of the pyramid.  First, you cover basics like food, water, shelter, Next is energy in the form of least costly and highest efficiency.  Energy for heat and cooling falls in this category.  Passive solar or bio-mass solutions are a much better alternative.    Never try to provide these using Photo Voltaics.  That would be like trying to survive in a famine on an all-corn-fed-beef diet where it takes 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.  Inefficient, unsustainable.

Making Japanese Kaizen and American Individualism work together in the Village

If you have read my short bio, you know that I have some experience with the Japanese culture and speak fluent Japanese.  In the late 70’s, Japanese management philosophies were popular in America as our auto, electronics and optics industries were being decimated by Japanese competition.

Kaizen is a key word in Japanese philosophy.  A direct translation from the Chinese/Japanese characters “Kai” and “Zen” is “change” and “good” or in other words, to transform for the better.  As with most things Japanese, there is a deeper meaning, hinting of a unique, underlying culture.  To understand, one needs to add a few more words to the translation.  These would include patience, persistence, small, incremental and harmonious.
Deeply imbedded in the Japanese psyche is an understanding that perfection is achievable, but only in incredibly small, incremental steps, accomplished through cooperation.  Nothing great is ever achieved by a single genius in isolation or in one magnificent technical or ideological leap.

Dyed-in-the-wool American that I am, it’s hard to practice this philosophy.  By nature, I tend to be visionary, impetuous, strong-willed and impatient.  We Americans pride ourselves, above all, on rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, independence and personal initiative.  We idealize strong-willed individuals, while the Japanese idolize an amorphous group who toil upward silently in the night, never seeking or receiving personal credit but collectively achieving greatness through an uncountable series of small innovations.  That’s kaizen, or change(s) for the better.  While American heroes are individual people, the Japanese draw their heroes from nature – ants and bees.

Polar opposites, there is genius in BOTH Japanese and American world views.  Where quick, bold action is required, Americans win.  Where absolute excellence of quality, nearing perfection, is required, the Japanese approach excels.

Is it possible to practice both in a symbiotic balance?  That is the challenge of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  We are striving for a balance between opposites.
Consider our motto, “In harmony with nature and people” One might say it has a Japanese, Zen-like ring to it.  A number of Villagers even work together harmoniously to raise bees.       Bzzzzz, sounds like “nature and people in harmony”, doesn’t it?  I actually hadn’t thought of the symbolic nature of our beekeeping collaboration till just now.

On the other hand, a top stated value for the Village is self-sufficiency, independence and personal liberty.  One practical application of that value is the absolute requirement for private property ownership. Within one’s personal sphere of control, ownership begets personal accountability.

On yet another hand, we believe that collective, cooperative work optimizes effectiveness, efficiency and positive social relationships.  We observe this in action nearly every week when we rotate projects, one Villager sponsoring and leading the project and the rest chipping in.  A few weeks ago, it was my turn.  My project was framing up a new car port.  It is instantly clear as you struggle to lift both ends of a heavy beam into place, level it, and secure it, that a team of 2 or more beats a single laborer no matter how skilled or determined.  Where there is clear leadership and willing follower-ship, once again there is harmony as well as efficient achievement.

Both Leaders and followers are important in any task involving more than one person.  But, we find that achieving long-term harmony requires that all who want to lead must have a fair opportunity to do so.  By regularly trading project leadership, each participant grows and is built along with the building projects we undertake.  Each participant has an opportunity to improve their people and relationship skills including both how to lead and how to follow.

Each also has the opportunity to express their creative side on the property they own and control.  That brings out the best of our American spirit of ingenuity, vision, and can-do attitude.

One of the big lessons I have been forced to learn is that quality takes time and continuous improvement.  Through the contributions of many, both in physical labor and inspired ideas for improvements, each day is a challenge to make things a little better.  In the Village, we enjoy the pleasure of seeing our personal labors translated into physical improvements before our eyes.  No doubt, it’s nice to be able to call up a professional and order a nice improvement done.  But there is a special satisfaction that comes only by being able to say, “I did that”.  Even better if you can say, “We did that.”  At the end of a productive day, working together on something that will be yours for a long time, the tired smiles are priceless.

If this is the kind of harmonious, productive life you have always dreamed of, drop me a line here.

Our Local Currency, An Alternative to Barter in Tennessee

Here, on the Southern Cumberland Plateau, there have been a number of recent attempts to establish a barter community.  One uses Face Book to publish barter opportunities, but it has become just an online yard sale.  A local farmer’s market accepts food stamps and engages in some barter.  Craig’s List offers a section for barter.  Old time rural residents of Grundy, Marion and Franklin Counties have been adept for years at striking good barter bargains.  But the fact remains that barter is difficult.  Matching two needs to two haves occurs rarely and usually with a lot of unsatisfying compromise.  All advanced civilizations rely on some form of universal currency to grease the wheels of commerce and stimulate trade within the economy.

And what of “the economy”?  How’s it going out there?    Even a casual observer will notice that “the economy” is increasingly distant.  Globalization has expanded the marketplace for goods, services, finance, labor and everything else far beyond our reach or control.  One impact of globalization is that it seems the only export growth sector for America is jobs, especially those that are high paying, manufacturing or high tech.  For several decades we have been told that America is a service economy and that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing as long as you have a high paying job and can buy cheap things imported from China or India.  That makes you feel pretty wealthy.

Service economies function on lots of credit and lots of consumption.  That worked pretty well as long as the housing bubble and easy credit pumped up our false sense of prosperity.  When that popped, we bailed out the big banks and wall street investment firms with trillions of dollars of inflation generating fiat cash.  Oh yeah, that wasn’t a one-time thing as promised.  We’re still doing it.

Meanwhile, the government keeps telling us that inflation is low and under control.  But those of us not on food stamps have noticed a big difference in the cost of our every day expenses, things like groceries, gas, health care and insurance.  Meanwhile, tried to get a new loan for a house lately?  That huge cash infusion into the banking industry doesn’t seem to be trickling down.  Wonder where all that money went?  It’s still in the toilet and someone forgot to flush.  Can you imagine the inflationary impact if it had actually gone into our consumptive economy?

But the real elephant in the room is the US Dollar’s status as world currency tied to the petrol dollar.  There have been rumblings for some time that it’s time to change that.  In early 2012, Russia began selling oil to China without the intermediary US dollar.  The dike is cracked and many informed people believe it will take more fingers than we have to keep it plugged.   How many guns, fighters, tanks, air craft carriers and military bases will it take to force the world to continue using an inflated dollar?  When the dike fails and another currency becomes the global currency (Can you say Renmimbi or how about Yuan?)  what will become of the good old $US?   I have a framed 100 trillion dollar note from Zimbabwe on my book case as a reminder of what happens to all currencies when there is too much of them floating around to represent the value of their underlying goods and services.  Ever wanted to be a trillionaire?  Just move to Zimbabwe and you can enjoy that status.

These are just some of the reasons we have been considering alternative currencies for a long time.  We believe in proactively preparing for things.  We believe in being self-sufficient. And, there are many more benefits to stimulating the local economy by keeping cash circulating locally.  For a quick look at the benefits and how local currencies can work, take a look at this short video.

Surprisingly, there is nothing illegal about printing your own currency and there are a number of very successful examples of local currencies in the USA.  BerkShares in upstate New York are one of the most successful.  Here is a list of local US currencies.  You will note that, while there are several, they are still uncommon.

We think we have a unique approach to implementing the Sewanee Dollar at the Village on Sewanee Creek.  It can work initially in a very small economy based on systems already in place.  Over time, we hope to grow our economy and the benefits of participation to encompass business transactions in a much larger area.  Interested?  Inquire Here.