Fatherhood and the New Pursuit

Has fatherhood changed over the past generation? Do today’s dads have an easier or more difficult role and set of responsibilities than just a couple generations ago? Does the world we are living in now create a backdrop for parenting unlike no other in recent memory?

I have been a father for nine years now — about a quarter of my life. My three children (ages 9, 7 and 3) have changed me in so many ways — instilling confidence, expanding my horizons, and pushing me to look inward. Some days you get a gold star for stellar parenting, some days you don’t. But I think it’s about the trend line more than tracking the day-to-day ups and downs.

Still, I feel compelled to up the ante when it comes to teaching them lessons that will allow them to grow and prosper in a world so fraught with change and challenge. All those things that have come to define my ‘new pursuit’ — simple living, mindfulness of the moment, deep connections with the natural world, helping to foster community — need to be (in my opinion, at least) woven into the fabric of their lives.

Why? Because they (and all children around the world) are inheriting a boat-load of problems across the environmental, social, political, and economic fronts. On the flipside, that also means they will have a boat-load of opportunities to create and drive change both big and small. I feel it’s my responsibility to give them the information, tools and know-how to prosper within what Thomas Berry calls the Earth Community. Read More

Preoccupations and the Great Wall of Disconnect

Stone wall at Norman Bird Sanctuary

Experiencing the power, peace and purpose of nature and the universe that we are undeniably a part of requires us to experience it first hand. We cannot experience this via proxy. We cannot get our fill through programs on the TV, words on a page, or images on a screen. We have to touch it, breathe it in, let it surround and consume us. Only then can we experience our deep connection to it.

But how many of us find ourselves amidst the comings and goings of our everyday lives to the point where we lose all sense of the natural world around us — what it is, what it provides, and what is at stake if we continue to turn a blind eye to its commercialization and degradation?

I feel as though I have experienced this first hand over the last six weeks. Work has been an absolute bear, consuming more and more time and attention. Annual springtime rights of passage such as kick-starting the garden and new rounds of sports and extra-curricular activities for the kids have been ramping up. Projects around the house — dormant during the winter — have come to life once more with the increasing hours of daylight. All in all, I have felt a major disconnect from the natural world around me, my senses dulled and spirit a bit bridled by my inability to experience a few quiet moments of deep connection with the earth and the stars.

My distractions are not unique in any way. We all find ourselves doing other things that for the moment require our attention and tie up precious physical, mental and spiritual bandwidth that is needed to tune in to the world and universe around us — to feel our interbeing with it and let it nourish us.

As I’ve thought about this, I keep taking a broad view of our culture and thinking that it is just this “preoccupation” with things that could very well be keeping us from opening our eyes to what it is we’re doing to the world around us; the everyday cultural and consumer trappings that are walling us in from the natural world and the suffering of other beings we share this place with; false pursuits that keep us from our true selves.

In short, such preoccupations have built up a Great Wall of Disconnect around us. Read More

Six Bloggers That Move Me (And Can Move You Too)

Cairn on a beach in Middletown

Some of the more amazing things that have happened since starting The New Pursuit almost two years ago are the fellow bloggers that I’ve had the privilege of meeting and following. The diversity of thought and word that has trickled across my screen — whether via blogs, e-books or emails has been eye-opening, inspiring and down-right soul-soaring at times.

And while I may question from time to time the positive and negative benefits of a world so steeped in technology and connectedness, it is difficult to deny the value of its role in introducing me to and sustaining these new-found friendships. Kindred spirits brought together across the vastness of the miles that separate us by the digital bridge that is the Internet. Common causes that find camaraderie and support through a click here and a keystroke there. Seeds of compassion and peace planted far and wide and nurtured through the written and spoken word. It’s amazing.

With that, I wanted to share some of the people and their work that have moved me over the past couple of years — and I believe, can move you too. I hope you’ll find a quiet moment to reach out and explore what they have to offer.

  • Raam Dev (raamdev.com) — Raam’s quiet wisdom is hard to deny. For someone who has traveled the world over, expressing his inner nomad and allowing his experiences to bring forth simple and profound insights about the human experience, he is able to connect with his readers in such an everyday way. I’ve had the good fortune of creating an annual face-to-face get-together at the Cambridge Brew Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we trade stories, perspectives, and a few good laughs over some local brews. In addition to his thoughts and essays, Raam recently launched his Journal project, with 25% of the revenue generated being donated to charity.
  • Lynn Fang (Upcycled Love) — I can’t remember exactly when our paths crossed, but connecting with Lynn has been nothing short of fantastic. Her writing is informative as much as it is inspirational. Pulling from a mix of personal and professional experiences (she’s a biologist by training), Lynn has forged a deep connection with the Earth and all who call it home — and is now helping others do the same. From her amazing weekly letter series, “Embracing the Shift” to her new virtual how-to course on The Art & Science of Urban Composting, Lynn is truly doing her part to lead — as she calls it — the “conscious transformation”.
  • Christopher Foster (The Happy Seeker) — Chris is redefining who and what a blogger is. At just about 80 (his birthday is right around the corner), his writing pulls from a lifetime of wisdom-building experiences. From WWII England to living in a spiritual community for 35 years to his time as a journalist, Chris’s stories are like turning the pages of a well-worn novel — moving, comforting, familiar, yet gripping. Speaking of novels, Chris is releasing is his novel “The Raven Who Spoke With God” in Kindle version shortly and as a special thanks to readers has made it available as a FREE download from Amazon on April  6 – 8. Read more about that here.
  • Harry Johnson (The Flotsam Diaries) — Harry is one of these people that saw a problem and took the logical next step of rolling up his sleeves to tackle it. The Saco, Maine native has been chronicling his efforts to pick up, document, categorize and chart over 8,000 pieces of trash and debris from the beaches near his home — all in an effort to raise awareness of the horrendous problem of trash and plastics in our oceans and waterways. As a fellow beach-goer myself (our family always brings a bag to collect the trash), Harry’s work hit home in a big way. His effort just goes to show just how much one person CAN do to bring about positive change.
  • Robb Kloss (Musings from Aotearoa) — I discovered Robb through the wonderful writer and blogger, Robin Easton. As he puts it, he’s “an American by birth, Kiwi by choice” and his writing is all the more better for it. An avid backpacker and outdoorsman, Robb chronicles his journey through the mountains of New Zealand and life as a husband, father and friend. His vivid descriptions and details of the New Zealand landscape — and pictures to capture the moment — are nothing short of awe inspiring. It’s like you’re there right along him.
  • Kristy Powell (One Dress Protest) — Would you wear the same dress (and nothing else) for an entire year? That’s exactly what Kristy did as a small and quiet protest to some of the powers around her — from the link between clothing and identity to rampant consumerism to ecological sustainability. Although her “fast from fashion” concluded this past January, her words and experiences continue to inspire — and are well worth the time of trolling through her archives.

What are some of the writers and bloggers that inspire you?

Be well,
Bill

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Reclaiming the Smallness and Intimacy of Yesteryear

old farm houseThere are moments when you have to take a step back and contemplate what we have lost in the face of what we have (supposedly) gained.

The other week I found myself one town over picking up an x-ray at a local medical services building. As is the protocol, I went to the front desk, gave my name and explained what I was there for. The chipper and extremely helpful woman behind the desk said it would be a few minutes, so I went and took a seat amongst the small crowd of other patients.

Then, from the corner of the room, a middle-aged woman leaned over and asked, “Did you grow up in Island Park?”

Island Park is a neighborhood in the town I was in (Portsmouth). My dad grew up there and for the first few years of my life I did as well. We later moved one town over after my parents divorced, but my dad continued to run several restaurants in the Island Park area, serve on the fire department, and be an all-around local guy over the years. “Gerlach” was one of those names that stood out — for multiple reasons.

“My dad grew up there. I only lived there for a few years,” I replied.

She smiled and said, “I used to babysit you and your brother. When I heard you say ‘Gerlach’ and saw your face, I knew it had to be you.”

What transpired next has made me smile ever since: After apologizing for not recognizing her (it was 35 years ago), she went on to explain how she came to be our babysitter, what a wonderful grandmother I had (she called my Nana her “adopted grandmother”), and asked how my parents were doing. We traded what limited memories I could conjure of late 1970′s Island Park life with her filling in the gaps here and there. Read More

Four Big Reasons Smartphones Aren’t Making Us Smarter

man staring into his smartphoneNext time you’re out and about in public, try this simple observation “experiment”: Look at all the people around you. How many are head down in some sort of mobile device? How many are tapping and scrolling and thumb-typing away feverishly, tuned out from everything else around them?

The more I look around the more I see people connected and “plugged in” in places and situations that just a few years ago you wouldn’t have. This past week I had three experiences that put together, have me pondering how much better off we really are with all these things.

  • On Tuesday, I picked up my daughter from gymnastics class. Arriving a few minutes early, I headed to the waiting area where there in front of me 75% of the parents were glued to either a smartphone or iPad. I imagine most got there within the past few minutes too.
  • On Thursday, my wife and I were attending a concert. As we sat in the theater waiting for the show to begin, we scanned the growing crowd and came to the conclusion that we could have been the only people within sight who weren’t fiddling away on a smartphone. Even groups of people — who clearly came to the show together — were all glued to the glowing orbs of their screens instead of talking to one another.
  • Then today, as our family sat in the movie theater waiting for The Lorax to begin, we scanned the crowd and once again, so many people were plugged in to their phones. The example that upset me most was the family of four sitting two rows in front of us. Mom and dad sitting on the ends with their kids in the middle. Dad was playing a game on his smartphone; mom was surfing some site. So much for family bonding.

Full disclosure: I do not own a smartphone or an iPad. Sure, I could be easily wooed by the hype. I could probably create dozens of would-be scenarios where these things could do something for me. But you know what? For 38 years, I’ve survived without one and done just fine. I refuse to let some company create this false need for me. I refuse to fork over hundreds of dollars to buy one and be tied to a monthly service payment that borders on outrageous. Not when there are so many people out there who can’t put food on the table and a roof over their heads. As Leo Babauta puts it, these things are just marketing devices — ones that we all have the power to walk away from. Read More

The Growing Desperation of the Consumer Machine

Illustration of person caged in a shopping cart“A shopping cart flipped upside down forms a cage that I use to protect myself from consumerism.”
~ Jarod Kintz

We were just sitting down to dinner. Friends of ours, stopping by for an impromptu visit decided to stay. The kids (all five across our two families) were settled in to their chairs as we brought out the homemade burritos and guacamole, cups of chocolate milk and a few local brews.

Then it happened. The phone rang.

Glancing at the Caller ID I knew the caller wasn’t anybody we knew. But it in a fit of defensive posturing I answered, knowing full well it was someone on the other end trying to get me to do or buy something. I was greeted by one of the more creative automated telemarketing messages in a while: A voice stating that “This was a missing dog alert”. Upon repeating that message, it appeared to be cut off or skip like a scratchy record — only to be interrupted by a second message stating “Press One if this message is skipping.”

Come on.

But here it was — another attempt by some entity to get me to spend my time and money in a way that I had no desire to: “Refinance you mortgage!”, “This is your LAST chance to eliminate your credit card debt!”, “We’re doing free carpet cleaning demonstrations in your area — are you interested?”, “We’re a public opinion company and would like to interview the oldest registered voter for XYZ.” I’m sure you’ve heard them all too.

The Growing Desperation of the Consumer Machine

I feel like the volume of this unsolicited *crap* is growing. Since we don’t have cable and listen mostly to National Public Radio, I only feel it in what comes over the phone and through the mailbox. If fact, eliminating the influence of commercials was one of the primary reasons we ditched cable in the first place.

Taking a step back though, it feels as if the Consumer Machine is reaching a new level of desperation. Like a crazed, withering vampire frenetically searching for a drop of life-sustaining blood before sunrise to keep him going.

Why? Is the Machine trying to keep itself from dying out? Or is it attempting to ride some wave of a so-called rebounding economy? Maybe. But I think it’s something else entirely. Read More