Letter from the Author part deux

It’s been almost one year ago that I last contributed to my little experiment. One long year of new ideas and thoughts mixed with busy bee work and life changing moments. What should have been simple to put my words down on a piece of paper and call it ‘good’ turned into an endless stretch of noncommittal ramblings on a page. Oh sure there were some gems within the various drafts saved on my computer or notebook, but nothing that I felt as strongly about as the previous works.

I have been writing for Mother Earth News this past year so it hasn’t been a complete void of creation. Though to be fair, even this area is seeing its share of declining enthusiasm. Early on I couldn’t wait for one idea to post before almost contributing another, but now it has petered out to almost one every other month. What before was nothing to spit out thousands of words, now is a halfhearted attempt to get to six hundred. When before I would have my wife read all submissions before being submitted, now I send out without her critiques, just wanting to get the garbage I weakly scribbled down out of my sight before I throw it all away to start again.

I’ve wondered about this. Is it just the same ‘start off excited about something then get bored and move on’ M.O. that we all get from time to time? Was it my version of the New Year’s Resolution to work out? No. Of course my mind would protect myself from the shame by conjuring up some reasoning behind it even if it was (good looking out shipmate). This was something deeper. I wasn’t feeling as strongly about anything anymore and I was afraid I was so lost in the big picture that I couldn’t find that excitement of little things again. So lost in a sea of biased news reporting and dying bees, of corporate greed poisoning our food and water supply while we gladly pay them to do it, of being so distracted from ourselves that we don’t even know why we make the choices we do. I was afraid I had gotten to where I didn’t want to be.

In reality I was in the same place I had always been. My perspective had just shifted again and I needed time to understand it.

Everything is suspect

One year ago I would have told you that global warming is real and manmade, and it made this man sick to think of all the gases we were pumping into the sky. That was a short term viewpoint by someone who prided himself on thinking long term.

Try out this recipe: take the precession of the Earth’s equinoxes over 21,000 years with the varying tilt of the Earth and the 41,000 year cycle of the Earth’s wobble mixed with the 100,000 year cyclical variation of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, then add in variations in solar intensity and Earth’s magnetic field intensity and finally blend it all with changing landmass distribution (remember Pangea?) effecting variations in ocean displacement and what do you get? A whole lot of fucking change.

Is the burning of coal and other fossil fuels polluting our land, seas and skies? Absolutely! Are human’s contributing (contribute-verb; add to what is already present or happening) to climate change? Sure is! Will governmental inaction lead us past a point of no return and doom our species forever? Irrelevant. Do something or do nothing, the world will still rotate and revolve and hurtle through space at thousands of miles an hour. It’s more important to adjust to a life that is adaptable however the climate changes, (rising oceans, temps, droughts, etc.) than to fight over what political stance is closer to your unsubstantiated beliefs or spend trillions of dollars effecting one factor (CO2) out of many in a system we don’t truly understand yet.

For a disclaimer here: we should reduce our use of fossil fuels. I am not a ‘climate denier’ or whatever popular hate term is thrown about for those that don’t believe by those that do. I just think we should look at the problem from the pollution angle not just its greenhouse gas emissions. Say nothing of the fact that reducing the burning of these fuels will reduce pollution and CO2 (I believe that’s called a win-win).

For example; the EPA says that coal burning accounts for over half of all the human added mercury emissions. This mercury then rains down on our land and seas, though everything washes down to the oceans eventually (thanks a lot, gravity…). This then gets metabolized by certain fish and shellfish and can build up to a toxic level of methylmercury where we overfish them and slowly poison ourselves.

The other side of petroleum pollution we don’t think about is the plastic. We did a great job of creating a compound that never fully breaks down. Organic matter (animals, plants, etc) breaks down to its smallest usable parts such as carbon, nitrogen and potassium. These are then recycled back to the world for whatever can use it. Circle of life. Plastics break down slowly to smaller and smaller pieces of plastic but never get back to the components that it was made from. This collects in our rivers and seas and gets ingested in little fish and accumulates on up the food chain to us.

So what am I getting at here? Fish are bad to eat? Not if you read studies that show fish contains good omega 3’s. These studies only test the fatty acids while ignoring the possible mercury exposure and micro plastics the fish could have ingested in its lifetime. But then even this is misleading. Omega 3 isn’t inherently good by itself; it is only good if you have an abundance of Omega 6. In our vegetable oil rich western diet we have this out of balance ratio. So in other words, taking omega 3 supplements by this logic helps those with bad diets more than those who eat whole foods, limited oils and plenty of fish.

Moving forward

Everything is suspect. Everything must be looked at with an eye of skepticism and repeatedly examined for the total truth, not just the biased result of a study funded for a specific result. There are no black and white answers. Water is good for you but too much and you die. Oxygen is needed to live but it is also the catalyst of all decomposition and corrosion.

Not only does everything need to be looked at through a questioning eye, but more so today than ever. Yes we have always had a culture where media twists and spins things to get a story. Look at how the Boston Massacre was puffed up to epic proportions before the American Revolution. Now with the internet though we have so much more content to sift through, and most of it as half-assed as the English papers I would write in high school. Spelling errors, poor editing, misleading titles, and big holes in the message that leave more questions than answers.

I read an article on why ‘Kentucky hates Obama’ and it interviewed a county struggling with unemployment. The highest in the country I believe. One person interviewed had health issues and was out of work. The next person interviewed? He was in his late 20’s and gave no mention of why exactly he was out of work. He was complaining that the government checks of 300 dollars a month were tough to live on for him and his girlfriend. Why was he not working? Why was his girlfriend not working? What does this have to do with Obama? What is going on in this article? That was the last straw for me and I had to stop reading articles in major news outlets altogether. Now I seem to spend more time researching to see if what I read is correct than I do actually reading the article in the first place.

Just today I read an article from the Genetic Literacy Project labeled “How are crops modified—Are GMO’s more dangerous?” The article showed the four main ways humans have modified crop genes but the infographic only showed the quantity of genes changed by each method, not the hazards. They spent two paragraphs talking about the way we have been cross pollinating and trait selecting plants since the beginning of human civilization but only a sentence referencing what chemical companies like Monsanto are doing. The sentence: “Other than allowing more precision in genetic modifications, these molecular techniques also open up the possibilities of using genes from other species.”

The possibility of using genes from other species? They have been taking genes from bacteria resistant to pesticides and splicing them in corn, soybean and cotton so they can sell you more pesticides for years now. Not only that, but there was nothing in the article about whether GMO’s were dangerous or not compared to other crops. There was no summary to say maybe that all crops are modified on one form or another so there is no reason to label. No summary of one technique more dangerous than the other. Nothing at all about any health or side effects of anything, and this was from the Genetic Literacy Project? Who is funding this pointless garbage? It turns out it is under a non-profit designed to correct “scientific misinformation in the media resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge”. Pot, this is kettle. Now fight to the death.

This is where logic and reasoning mixed with caution and skepticism needs to be common tools for navigating the world we live in today. There is no reset button or redo’s when it comes to our health and safety. When it comes to having children you need to be especially careful. A compound that wouldn’t affect an adult human and so being approved for public use can still have dramatic negative impacts on a developing body. Instead of reading a headline and parroting the information, or liking the article on Facebook without a full review, we need to take some time to do some critical thinking and be objective, for our sake and each other’s. Don’t assume you know the right answer to something because you read it somewhere or the news reported on it. Don’t assume anyone knows anything for sure, one way or another. The greatest thinker in recorded history, Socrates, said “The only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing.”

If you don’t have the time to do such things, then don’t give your full trust to anyone or anything either. Be skeptical of everything if you don’t want to take the time to research ideas, practices or products. It’s your health and life you are giving away, not just your trust.

I leave you with an example of how I did this recently. I hope it shows you how easily it is to come to reasonable conclusion

Plant’s self-defense

In a Swiss lab researchers are studying the corn plants self-defense system. When the root worm starts eating on the corns roots, the plant responds by releasing a compound into the soil. This compound attracts nematodes (a microscopic organism in the soil food web) to come near. The nematodes then start feeding on the root worm. This is a typical ‘plant attracting predator insects for protection’ kind of response that we see throughout the plant world.

The genetically modified corn for some reason does not have this response when attacked by root worms. This, combined with huge fields of the same crop, is leading to a massive pest invasion and the only answer is to use more pesticides to kill the root worm when the seeds were marketed for having to use less originally. The researchers are trying to find out why the GMO corn doesn’t have the same response that natural corn does.

You can think of two possible causes for this:

1. When modifying the genes, the chemical/seed company accidentally destroyed, removed, or disabled the gene responsible for this defensive response to attack, or
2. When modifying the genes, the chemical/seed company purposely destroyed, removed, or disabled the gene responsible for this defensive response to attack.

Situation number 1 means that research is needed to find out what was accidentally changed and fix it so we can have more protection for one of the most profitable crops grown in the Midwestern United States. Situation number 2 means that without the protection of the corn’s own biological response, farmers are forced to buy more pesticides to kill the root worms. The pesticides are made by the same company that modified and sold the seeds in the first place.

There is no proof of anything. No conspiracy here that I am trying to uncover. I am just logically working out the possibilities in a situation. Based on what I can figure, I then choose the least destructive path for myself and my environment. I apply this approach to everything. This is critical thinking and logical reasoning to come to the most probable conclusion. This is the technique humans used to get from cave people to rocket ships. It’s the most valuable tool we have and we cannot afford to lose it.

Thank you for reading,

Aaron Miller

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The evolution of least resistance

My wife used to get after me about taking the easy way out. She used to call me lazy. I say used to because she doesn’t anymore and it’s not because I’ve changed, she just gave up. We would be in the middle of cooking a meal and she would say “oh we forgot the (insert random ingredient), can you cut some up real quick?” Of course this would be after I had already done the food prep, put the cutting board away and was pouring a drink and reading my book. So I would always reply with an “it’s ok, don’t worry about it.” This is where she would call me lazy. But the way I see it is that the extra effort was not critical so why bother? It’s not like the meal would be radically different without the ingredient, though be careful, this statement needs to be case by case. Mac and cheese without the mac or cheese would be a weird entrée, but spaghetti without onions is still basically spaghetti. This is just the way I was brought up. We are very flexible people. It was shown to me again when my family flew out for the wedding and my wife was asking all sorts of questions about flight times and who was renting a car, where was everyone staying and so on. They provided none of the answers to these questions. It’s more of a “we’ll figure it out when we get there” kind of attitude. This drives her nuts because it’s the total opposite of how she operates. But is this really the wrong approach, this laziness of mine? What do most other people do, or better yet, what does all life naturally want to do? If given a choice between backtracking and moving forward, what is the most common tendency? I’m not talking about a “no effort” approach because this won’t get you very far. What I’m talking about here is the path of least resistance.

Everything works on this principle. When I hear the phrase ‘path of least resistance’ I always think of the electrical classes I’ve had. Components on circuit boards called ‘resistors’ provide, well, resistance to the electricity entering it and allow only a certain amount to pass through. Water works this way too. When you are spraying your lawn with a garden hose, the water in it is at a higher pressure than the outside air. You squeeze the trigger of the nozzle and the water gladly comes shooting out because that is easier than staying in the hose. Even temperature works this way. You open the front door on a cold day and the warm air inside, whose molecules are vibrating very quickly because of its temperature thus more pressure, rushes out to the cold air outside that is not vibrating as fast. There is less resistance to move outside than to stay in. All things in our world operate with this simple principle, and it is this that also made up our world in the first place.

A long time ago (in a galaxy not very far away) we had a planet of simple elements all held to the earth by its gravity. Different elements have different charges and these charges change when they interact with others in the world. You rub your feet across carpet and that friction adds electrons to your body (or takes them away, I’m not sure which but you get the same results) making your charge different than when you were standing still. You touch someone near you with a different charge than your own and those excess electrons happily leap between you two the same way water leaps from the hose. This sharing of electrons is what creates chemical bonds also; it’s what allows oxygen and hydrogen to create water. The new molecules created from lazy electrons then mix with others and then influence yet other molecules in now different ways. Eventually this least resistance activity builds up over hundreds of millions of years. Every time a chemical bond occurs it makes it more attractable to other elements, and you keep building up and making more complex things. Soon amino acids start forming and these combine in arrangements to form proteins. You start to see organic substances that eventually lead to DNA. Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene”, describes the first ‘replicators’ which were just chains of molecules that lazily shared electrons and bonded. When they mixed with other molecules in the early earth, their molecules would attract the opposite equivalent to its own building blocks and form a mirror image of itself. This mirror image would then make a mirror image of itself and thus you have a complete copy of the original molecular chain. This same principle is how DNA copies itself; though it sort of splits in half and each half attracts the opposite equivalent building block until you have two whole versions of the original DNA strand. It’s the path of least resistance, things attracting to what it is easily attracted to, that keeps working up to even more complex configurations of matter. Eventually you get cells, then multi-celled organisms and then finally plants and animals and humans. Life began simply with particles and molecules’ just sort of getting together with whatever was easiest to get with, its oppositely charged companion.

This is where my story takes a twist. I bet you didn’t think this article was going to be about health did you? Life works because the things that go together easily, does, and the things that are hard to go together, usually won’t. Over the history of our planet this simple idea has created a complex arrangement of things that work even if we don’t know why. Science tries its hardest to understand these things, mainly with a reductionist approach. What I mean by this is that they break down something to its individual components and try to understand it one thing at a time. Often they get hung up on the individual parts of something and forget that all things influence each other. Oranges have been marketed for its Vitamin C. They found it within them at one time and focused so intently on it that now when you hear about oranges most people think of this vitamin. Did you know broccoli contains more of it than oranges do? Bananas have Potassium. Milk has Vitamin D. Fish have Omega 3’s. Obviously these foods contain more than just what they are marketed for but this is what science fixates on when determining if something is good or bad. In the 1840’s when it was discovered that plants need good amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to grow, it became all about ways to get more of those three things. Shortly after 1900 they figured it out and we have been using synthetic fertilizers ever since. Those that garden know however that there are more things that influence a plants growth than just the presence of these elements. The temperature, shade, duration of sunlight, pests, amount of water and how much drainage it has also plays a part. There are so many variables to everything in life that until we get the fastest of quantum computers I don’t think we will ever be able to figure it all out.

Still, science tries hard and good for them. They do research and perform studies to find the effects of things and for the most part they do a good job. We have advanced tremendously in the last 100 years in regards to health and medicine, but should we just give them blind faith? Do they really know what they are doing yet? Let me give you an example that came from an issue of National Geographic magazine a few months back. There was an article on cloning animals that are extinct. I’m not talking about Jurassic Park here, but animals that have died off in the last 10 or 20 years and those we still have good amounts of usable DNA. In 2000 the last of a type of mountain goat called the Bucardo had died. A team of scientists preserved her cells in a laboratory and a few years later injected its nuclei into goat eggs emptied of its own DNA, and then implanted these eggs into surrogate mothers. After 57 implantations, only 7 animals became pregnant. Of those seven, six ended in miscarriages and the one remaining carried the clone to full term. She survived for just 10 minutes after birth and only with efforts to help her breathe since she struggled on her own. One of her lungs had grown a gigantic extra lobe as solid as a liver. This was the best science could do at replicating a life that naturally had figured out how to do it all on its own with perfect lungs and other working organs. Picture that four and a half pound baby goat with its tongue hanging out of its mouth struggling to breathe (not my words, national geographic) and think about the idea that modern medicine is just a team of scientists trying to replicate the natural order of things the same way these others tried making a goat.

Now I’m not saying modern medicine is all bad. When it comes to stitching up cuts, placing broken bones, open heart surgery and such, they’ve got it beat, hands down. Mother Nature could never do that and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m more so talking about pharmaceuticals and manmade replacements for natural ingredients. Have you ever seen a warning label of possible side effects from peppermint? They help with stomach aches and indigestion but most people grab some pepto bismal (which side effects include: Anxiety, possible loss of hearing, confusion, constipation (severe), diarrhea, difficulty in speaking or slurred speech, dizziness, drowsiness (severe), fast or deep breathing, headache, increased sweating, increased thirst, mental depression, muscle spasm, muscle weakness, nausea or vomiting, ringing in ears, stomach pain, trembling, uncontrollable flapping of hands, vision problems). Obviously this is the extreme cases but think back to all the commercials of other pills and medicines that you’ve heard disclaimers and possible side effects for. Doctors and scientists try to help but they are putting together things that may not go so well together. They synthetically create substances that occur naturally and get it as close as they can, but without knowing how these things have been built up by least resistance over millions of years, they just can’t get it precisely right. Study after study shows that ingesting natural sources of vitamins are many times more effective than synthetically made substances. A plant with naturally occurring vitamins has evolved in a way that those mix easily within our bodies and give the benefits it needs. Science just makes a chemically similar copy of those vitamins from usually the most economical (cheapest) ingredients and seals it into pill form. This same idea goes for genetically modified organisms (GMO) used for food. There are arguments that say we have been genetically modifying foods since the beginning of agriculture by cross pollinating or trait selecting, but this is different. This is taking toxins produced by bacteria and viruses, injecting that DNA in with corn DNA and allowing it to kill insects so we supposedly won’t have to use pesticides. Again, think back to the baby goat and warning labels and decide if you want to take a chance on science getting this risky strategy right.

If you are thinking “oh this hippie is just complaining about the “man” and corporations destroying the earth and blah, blah, blah” then you have it all wrong. If science can make foods that won’t have to use pesticides then I’m all for it, but only when science gets it right. We are not to that point. Do you really want to eat food from the same company who made the ‘agent orange’ that killed and diseased so many back in the Vietnam era? The same way I don’t buy new iPhones until all the bugs are worked out is the same approach I take to my food and medicine. But by all means, keep working in the labs. Keep trying to improve that formula. Until then, instead of taking a blood pressure medication with side effects, I’ll change my diet and exercise. Instead of sleeping pills for insomnia, I’m going to meditate, drink chamomile tea and create habits that induce easier rest. The modern hospital and pharmaceutical industry has been around for less than 100 years. The chemical formula of most pills has not been around long enough to know exactly what the long term effects are, good or bad. There are herbs and plants however that have thousands of years of proven results. I’ll put my money on that and wait for science to catch up. You could do the same, or you could keep doing what is easier in the short term and just take whatever pill you get prescribed. It’s only your life you are betting with.

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The dark side of dead dinosaurs

I’ve seen it in the news. Who hasn’t really? If it’s not the economy, crises in a country more poor than our own or which celebrity had a baby or checked into rehab (or had a baby in rehab?), it’s kind of hard to miss. Oil, energy, climate change; which all three boil down to the same thing if you think about it.

Global oil prices are climbing higher and even so, every presidential administration has been talking about oil independence since the 70’s (how’s that going by the way?). Increased mile per gallon ratings, lower emissions and electric or hybrid cars are the Band-Aids of choice for this particular issue. When it comes to clean energy we are finally doing pretty well, at starting. Two-thirds of the total solar photovoltaic power worldwide has been installed in just the last two and a half years. Don’t be too hard on the industry though, solar panels have only been around since 1954. Residential off-grid and grid-tied systems are getting bumps with tax credits and states like Oregon are working towards a goal to have 25% power generation come from alternative and clean sources by 2020. All of these things are gaining momentum and mostly due to the fact that climate change is becoming more and more a reality that’s hard to ignore given the droughts, record heat waves, super storms and melting ice sheets the size of small countries. But the more I read and observe while trying to do my own small part, the more there appears to be a massive disconnect of what the problem really is, or better yet, how big the problem really is.

There seems to be two main points to this whole oil/energy/climate change thing; too many greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, and that we are dependent on a nonrenewable resource. The first part is almost a lost cause. Current models show that even if we stop our contribution of gases right this second, the planet will most likely continue to warm for centuries to come. Not to say we should stop trying, but what I mean is that we have already created a problem and we are just making it worse the longer we add to it. Part of our efforts to stop this warming trend has to do with our second point. Finding renewable resources of energy such as wind and solar will help limit our pollution but this is where we disconnect from how big the problem really is. We all know deep down inside that oil, natural gas and coal are limited sources of fuel, especially at the rate we use them up. They have an expiration date and the closer to that unknown date we get to, the less there will be and the more expensive it will cost to get. The problem is that the only discussion the news media and governments have about this dwindling resource is in the context of fuel, as I have done so far, but with a 42 gallon barrel of oil producing only 19.4 gallons of gasoline, where does the rest of it go?

Imagine this. There you are standing in the kitchen before work, drinking orange juice from the carton like you know you are not supposed to do. Unless it’s from oranges grown organically and labeled as such, it was grown with chemical fertilizers made from natural gas, sprayed with pesticides made much the same way. It was bottled in a plastic container, stacked in plastic crates and shipped by truck to the grocery store and then to your house where you now drink it wearing acrylic fiber clothes (petroleum), synthetic rubber shoes (petroleum), and standing on vinyl flooring (petroleum). Your toothbrush and toothpaste that you use before leaving home are both made from petroleum, even part of the packaging they came in. You walk across synthetic wall to wall carpet or Pergo flooring made from a petroleum based resin that looks like wood, grab your synthetic jacket, and walk outside to your car. As you buckle up, you notice all the knobs and buttons are made of some kind of plastic or another. The refrigerant (petroleum) blows cool air out the plastic vents located strategically in your synthetic dashboard (petroleum). You drive on tires powered by fuel that are both a petroleum product, the engine greased by oils and lubrications that are as well. You get to work and look at the plastic clock on the wall to make sure you are not late. You sit in a plastic chair with acrylic fiber seat covers, turn on the plastic computer and drink out of a Styrofoam cup. The ink in the pen, including the pen itself, and the ink in the plastic printer are all petroleum. The refrigerator, as well as the Tupperware full of your lunch you place into it to stay cold, and the plastic microwave to heat it up in later are all petroleum based products. The paint on the walls, the lipstick on the receptionist; even the shaving cream and plastic handled razor you shaved with this morning are all made of the same thing.

All life on earth needs energy to survive. It used to be said that it only needs light until we started finding microorganisms thriving at deep sea volcanic vents, now it’s just energy of some form. Michael Pollan does a good job in his book “The Omnivores Dilemma”, of showing us how our food supply (energy) used to be a renewable resource in the form of sun to grass to cows to humans. Now it’s petroleum to fertilizers to corn to cows to humans. We 21st centurions also know that life is no longer just about eating to survive but it also includes economic growth and investing and entertainment and technology and social media. This new life we have has only been made possible by the energy source we put into it; oil, natural gas and coal. So if we know that these energy sources are coming to an end someday, what does that mean for us and the life we made from them?

Well, it seems that most people want to ignore this fact, which is why I am writing this. We can make electric cars to replace gas guzzlers, and install solar panels to replace coal plants but we have no answers for the rest of it. The problem with plastic and other petroleum based products is that they have become such a big part of our lives that they practically make up everything in those lives. With almost seven billion people on earth, are there even enough natural sources of material to keep the machine going after the oil is gone? I am going to make a guess here and say not with how wasteful we are there isn’t.

Listen to this, in my neighborhood most people cut their grass and bag it. They pay to have a gas powered truck pick up the clippings and haul them away, while they drive to home depot to pick up fertilizer to replace the nutrients they just threw away. You can easily keep the clippings on your property as compost, add it with other natural food waste or plant material and spread that over the yard a couple times a year. This cost nothing more than a little sweat off your back and is about as zero foot print as you can get. This is the way we need to look at everything in our life. I told a friend of mine in a discussion about this once when he said burning wood and coal is bad, period. I said that burning it for heat is basically fine, but when seven billion people do it then it becomes a problem. We grew too fast to adjust our wasteful habits; we forget that we are not the only ones living here. Now we need to be more resourceful and act smarter in our daily decisions. I say ‘need to’ because we have no choice; this petroleum based lifestyle is unsustainable and will end someday. All it takes is small changes every day that eventually become habit in the long term. This is how we got used to our current lifestyle in the first place, and this is how we can change it. This is our part to play but it is not the only thing we have to make a difference.

A common idea gaining momentum lately and becoming more popular the more our politicians seem to be ignoring us common people is the idea of voting with your dollar. Stop buying plastic products made in foreign nations. Start buying from local places of business that work on the principles you are trying to support. You can protest Monsanto or big oil and write your congressmen all day long but if you swing by Wal-Mart on the way home to buy GMO produce and synthetic clothing shipped from Asia then you are wasting your breath. Stop buying fertilizers and learn to encourage plant growth the natural way, the way it had been doing so for 3 billion years before the industrial revolution. The organic industry has grown into a multibillion dollar a year industry by this principle alone, just from people supporting what they want to see happen in the world. Once the demand for petroleum products drop off the business will shrink. It’s time we talk about this dark side of oil that everyone ignores; it’s time we look for a renewable way of life.

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The need of being.

I have been drawn to a couple ideas lately, ideas that I feel as if they are pieces of a larger picture. Both feel very connected yet I have been unable to put it all together in my mind so I can write it down intelligibly for you. On one hand I feel like I could weave them into one common thread but both also probably deserve time dedicated to each idea individually. “Enough of this vague dance around the bush” you say, well hold on a second and I’ll see if I can work this out for you. Most of the articles I’ve written have been focused on emotional regulation and being mentally aware so we can eliminate the issues we cause ourselves. I have become someone who doesn’t think that an emotional reflex is any excuse to waste away our precious time. I don’t want to spend my life saying I’m sorry repeatedly for the same mistakes; I want to try and prevent those self-inflicted mistakes beforehand. Though with that being said I can only talk about the same topic so many times before I have to branch out a little. That’s also the best part about picking a webpage titled “It’s all the same thing”, I can write whatever I want because it really is all the same thing. I’ll show you how, though I don’t yet know how I will do that at the moment. But as the old saying goes, “Writers write” and when you can’t get started the best thing to do is to just get started. One idea I have involves the difference between water and ice and the other involves a plants struggle for survival. Here we go…

When you begin paying attention to all the different forms of life that is around you, you start to notice how similar everything is. Surrounding yourself with diversity of life can make you feel less alone in a lot of ways, even if there are no other humans present. It makes you feel less different when you can look at it from the right angle. I mean this in the very basic of terms, let’s not overthink it and miss the point. A dandelion in the grass is as different from the dog lying in the sun next to it as the bee on the flower is from you. But that which makes the dandelion do its dandelion business is not all that far apart from the rest of us and the daily paths we take. I’m talking about survival, which is a term we have become a little disconnected with. For the lucky humans born in good parts of the world, living has become less about actually having a life and more so about what kind of life do we want. We don’t starve on a regular basis or walk miles for fresh water, we complain about a lack of air conditioning and slow checkout lines at the grocery store. Even though we don’t look at our lives in the same terms of survival as most of the living organisms on earth, all the while we are still playing that game. The choices we make and the areas we focus our time and energy on will determine exactly how that game of ours gets played out.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all work to survive. Survival is living. Survival is wanting to live. Even those who have taken their own life had lived most of their time thinking the complete opposite of how they were in that moment. Nothing wants to not be around anymore. I say ‘nothing’ as if I mean a rock has a fear of death or something, but what I actually mean and by using a figure of speech is that everything wants to live as long as possible. This is why men dressed as ladies on the Titanic as it was sinking to get on a lifeboat. Nobody knows what lies on the other side of death and that fear of the unknown keeps us looking out for number one. The big flaw with all this though is that we physically don’t go on forever. People die, plants shrivel up and decompose in the winter; everything has an expiration date. This is what makes religion so appealing to so many; the idea of being forever. The notion of being created and now always existing (as some form or another) is comforting because, as humans, we have a hard time imagining what it would be like to not exist at all. But with those religious folks out there having their afterlife as a destination for the next version of themselves, what do those that don’t “believe”, believe? I think most people would find the comfort of eternal existence through their children which carry on part of them after they die. Obviously so because exactly half of them is ‘you’, and the more kids you have, the more of ‘you’ there is to spread more of ‘you’ around. Maybe this is why famous bloodlines are always kind of interesting. A physical link to Christopher Columbus or Genghis Kahn or Cleopatra, even if it has been divided into such a small percentage. Lastly, there are those who just find comfort knowing that even without having children to pass their specific genes to, they are made of molecules and atoms and those particles have been and always will be. They are made of the stuff created in a star, traveled millions of light years after it exploded in a violent death and after a series of fortunate events, came together with other molecules and atoms to form a cell and multiply.

This thought about us being a big collection of tiny little dots (subatomic particles) all held together is hard for some people to imagine. This also goes back to my talking about the similarities between the dandelion and the lazy dog and the slightly less lazy you. “They all three look so different, and we can think and feel, and the flower doesn’t speak English”, and the list goes on and on so how could we be made up of the same things? Well, it’s just because we are in different states of being. Think about an ice cube in a glass of water. They are both made up of the same things, the same ratio of hydrogen to oxygen. But when you drop the ice cube in the water it doesn’t instantly disappear and mix in with the other water molecules the way pouring in water from a pitcher does. The molecules of the ice repel against the liquid water the same as the water repels the glass it’s in. They mix together about as well as if you would try and put the dandelion inside the dog (and not by eating it), or your hand through the earth. All living things contain the same basic building blocks; carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen. And since we know that matter cannot be created or destroyed, this means that what we are made up of now has been a part of a many different configurations of elements over the long term.

This logic would tell us that throughout time we have been a star, an ocean, a flower and now a human. Just one more similarity between you and all the non-human living things you ignore every day, you were once one of them (and will be again). Only when we are in the more complex configurations of matter though do we have the tendencies to want to carry ourselves on in that state for as long as we can. Plants have flowers for this purpose, dogs have puppies and we have church and an afterlife. These basic similarities between us are obvious. What is more important though is that when we see the way we work on these very basic levels of surviving in our current state and if we are conscious of it, then we can more easily predict and work towards a longer survivability. Think about it like this; a plant opens its flower to get a bee to fly in, do the twist and then go do it to another flower. Does the plant know this is why it’s blooming? Did it think it out and strategize for this moment? More than likely, if it was self-aware, it would just have some urge, some impulse that it couldn’t explain but some need to stand tall and spread eagle to the world. Plants cannot really process complex thoughts like this (to our knowledge) like we can, but what about our inner impulses? When you get thirsty, your brain tells your body that you are hungry so it can attain some fluids by any means necessary. We crave salty and sweet foods and once consumed, our brain releases comforting chemicals to make us feel good because those are calorie rich foods and it wants us to continue eating them. In other words, you get more energy for less work and your brain rewards this. Why did you think you love French fries and chocolate?

We all have this programming inside of us and that influences all of our decisions. The trees and the birds and you and your neighbor, even the fungi growing in the soil all have the same drives and desires to live and be continuous and successful in this state for as long they can. The biggest difference between humans and the rest of the living organisms is that we have this big brain in our heads that gets in the way of those basic needs. The dandelion never gets jealous and holds a grudge for not being invited to drinks after work with the fella’s. My dog never gets so nervous that he runs from an opportunity of a lifetime when it sends him out of his comfort zone ( I don’t think he even knows what uncomfortable means, I’ve seen him sleep soundly lying right on top of a hard bone he was chewing on minutes before). We have this whole system of life around us showing us that in order to make it long term, we need to make the right decisions; we need to adapt and change and overcome obstacles. When an animal loses a leg after being hit by a car, it doesn’t feel sorry for itself but barely notices the thing is missing. It can’t sit around all mopey over the loss because it has surviving to do. The size of our brains and our capability to process complex thinking is what led to space travel and television and industry, but it also works against us when we need to think on more basic terms. Apple orchards need to be continuously hacked at to remove the old growth so new limbs will branch out and bear the best fruit. Most people never take the time to understand why they continuously make bad decisions through life that leave them with limited opportunities, they never get rid of their bad habits (old growth) so that they can succeed at being happy and healthy (bear fruit). I hear a lot of people ask “why does this always happen to me?” and a lot of times you can trace the event back to decisions they made that led them there. The environment you put yourself in and the people you have around you through life will help you grow positively or negatively, just as a plant struggles in bad soil and no light but flourishes in fresh compost within a green house. We are an interesting species in that our main drive is to live and survive but we let ego and pride and other self-generated feelings often override that essential need. When you start to look around and really pay attention, you will notice that all the answers to life’s problems are growing right under your feet (and wagging its tail when you get home from work).

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The Human Owner and Operators Manual

The hold music abruptly stops and the man who had spent the last 45 minutes zoning in and out of the phone call jumps to attention as the operator speaks, “Thank you for calling Human-co technical support, I apologize for any inconvenience. Can I have your name please?”
“Mike.”
“Hello Mike, what seems to be the problem today?”
“It’s my human male. He was operating perfect for the first 10 or so years I owned him but now he’s been acting up on me. I’m sure he is just malfunctioning, but I need some troubleshooting help or maybe it’s just time for a replacement. I’m not sure if the warranty is up or not, I can’t find the paperwork.
“Ok Mike, Thank you so much and we’ll see what we can do for you today. I just need to ask you some simple questions here so we know where to start from. I appreciate your patience ok? Ok. How long have you owned your human male Mike?”
“Uh, fifteen years this August,” Mike says as he realizes he has no idea where that time went.
“Thank you Mike, just stay with me now. I appreciate your patience, ok. Now did you register your human male when you bought him?”
“Yes.”
“Thank you Mike, ok. Now it is pretty typical to have some calibration adjustments required at around this age with your particular model. Do the emotional systems appear to change gradually or kind of switch from one state to another?”
“All over the place,” Mike says with a laugh. “He will be happy one second, pissed the next. He never used to be like this. There must be something wrong with his emotion chip or whatever he runs off of.”
“Ok Mike. Thank you so much again for answering these questions. Almost done here ok? Ok. Now did you provide a loving, stable and comfortable environment during the first 5 years of ownership?”
“Well I went through a divorce about a year after I bought him,” he says sheepishly. “And we moved around a lot because I had to get a new job once the plant closed. So it was pretty rough there for a while, but he has been fine for years. I don’t think that has anything to do with his malfunctioning now.”
“Ok Mike. Thank you again for your patience but I’m afraid the warning label is very clear that a comfortable and safe environment is required for optimal performance. Not providing one during this time does actually void the warranty. These human males and females require very specific conditions and routine maintenance. The warranty only covers malfunctions of components and operating systems and does not actually cover normal wear and tear. Did you by chance opt for the additional full coverage warranty when making your purchase Mike?”

Everything in our busy and complex daily lives comes with instructions. Not only does it tell you how to operate it, but it usually has a breakdown of all the parts needed for replacement. The blender you get has a 15 page, multi-language booklet to tell you way more than you ever needed to know about a blender from JC Penny. The toaster and the rice cooker even come with troubleshooting tips in the back. Is it plugged in? Is the lever up or down? Does the red light come on? If all these complex steps elude your massive brain then there is a number to call so someone can hold your hand and walk you through whatever you were trying to do in the first place. Everything you own has a manual. Cars, televisions, computers; even alarm clocks all come with detailed and step by step instructions of what to do and how. Ikea built an empire on do-it-yourself step by step furniture. Even our services (the great American product) come with all the help you would ever need. Is your cable not working? Call Comcast and get someone over to reset your router for you. Is the oil ready to be changed in your SUV? Think nothing more than what is required to pull in, get out and read a newspaper until they ask for money and give you the keys back at the local jiffy lube. Mission accomplished!

What about us? Where are the detailed drawings of our components and systems? We have biology classes but I seem to remember spending more time on the bodies of frogs and worms than humans. The more advanced classes that go into the depth that is really worth anything are optional. If you want access to knowledge of your body systems to the degree that you can actually intelligently do something with it, you have to pay money (a lot of money) for that school while information is readily available to beef us up on all the buttons and functions of a common microwave. What about our emotions and the way those things work? Most psychology classes are electives that can be taken or not, it’s just one of multiple choices between home economics, shop class, or some form of art. All of which are more hands on and pass the time way more quickly for a teenage student than does sitting in a classroom learning about old guys in suits and the ideas they have about behaviors of people they observed in the 1950’s. There is gym class but no real discussion on why exercise is so important, no breakdown on how it all helps in the long run. It’s all just “for your health” and “stretching helps prevent injury” and “stop picking on those nerds.” But in the mind of those invincible young adults bodily health doesn’t have any direct connection. By the time they realize that they really do need to be in shape and healthy to keep that body going, the body they had a one hour lecture on between frog dissections, it is years after the bad habits have set in concrete with their sedentary lifestyle. Good luck swimming upstream of that river.

I start off here describing our pre college schooling and how it relates to this article because that is where we are supposed to learn how to be successful in our world. It’s the required minimum education for every American. College offers more focus on those areas I say we are lacking but you have to want to do it and pay for it so I am just using what minimum education we all get for free as my knowledge base here. And with all that the curriculums cover, it really doesn’t even start to remotely discuss what affects every single thing in our lives for the rest of our lives after high school, us. We are the ones who study for the finals or not. We are the ones who apply for college or just get a job. We are the ones who “hit the ground running” or go from job to job our whole life because “that boss was an asshole just like the last one.” Yet with all those choices in our lap and the consequences of those actions we have to live with, we have no instruction on how to deal with our issues, no direction on what to do personally, no tips for what to try when something isn’t working or even how to recognize when something isn’t working. We have no human instruction manual.

Imagine if we did have a manual. I mean if you think about it we have this mechanical machine of a body, all these complicated systems that are capable of all kinds of amazing things. We can run fast and hit hard, we can jump high and swim and climb. Cars go fast; boats swim (sort of). We can think and imagine, we can mentally work in spatial terms and logically breakdown problems we saw as impossible only moments before. Computers are already more advanced than they ever have been, not as advanced as the processing power we have to do every second yet we know all the ins and outs of those things and don’t give a second thought about ourselves. We know to change the oil regularly or let the car cool down when it’s been ran too hard. We know to swap video cards, hard drives, and run diagnostic programs for poor memory usage when our computer calls for it. We restart it when it glitches. If you think about us in terms of this then you must realize that we need the same maintenance schedule and approach that everything else in our life gets. So what would our manual say?

It would probably start off with a “Congratulations new owner of a deluxe model human body,” or something to make you feel good about your recent purchase. Then it would show diagrams of a body with lines and numbers detailing what all the components are. Toes (quantity: 10), fingers (quantity: 10), hair (see available options for color). Maybe it would discuss some of the systems; nervous system (see wiring & electrical), circulatory system (see fluids), digestive system (see recommended fuel types). Next it would move onto some basic controls; “Walking is completed by taking the left leg and moving it forward 6-12 inches followed by the right leg to a distance of 6-12 inches in front of the left. Repeat (some hip manipulations may be required).” It would tell us how to eat and bathe. It would explain how to change clothes and the recommended amount of sleep. It wouldn’t say what kind of clothes to pick or what your favorite colors are though, I mean your PlayStation doesn’t tell you what games it likes to play does it? It would also have to include chapters on running the emotional controls, which would really just include a list of emotions and common signs of them. “If you see your friend Jimmy with a new toy that all the other kids have and you don’t, this is called ‘jealousy’ (see also: envy).” “When someone cuts you off in traffic and your body tenses while you grit your teeth and you think about lashing out at someone, this is called ‘anger’ (Warning: It is not recommended to follow any initial impulses that follow the activation of the anger circuit).”

The manual would help us label what we feel so it wouldn’t be so difficult in those moments. We would just look in the index for symptoms of what you are thinking; the possible emotions associated and recommended actions to take (or not to take). It would tell us what to eat for better operation and longevity. It would tell us when to do routine maintenance and when to take it in for diagnostics. Our lives would be as easy as it is with everything else that comes with a manual currently. This is where we have to step in though. We have to be aware of why we think the way we do. We have to acknowledge how we honestly handle emotions and be conscious of when they are taking over. We have to label our emotions and have empathy for other people’s emotions so we can overcome them and not run ragged every time that chemical gets released in our brains. More importantly, we have to teach our kids to do this as well. They will learn the ‘A,B,C’s’ in school, and learn how to do algebra, and the importance of teamwork in gym class. They will learn all that stuff eventually but it’s the parents’ job to teach them how to control themselves. If you don’t show them how to act when they are frustrated, they will just act how they feel. If you don’t show them to properly be upset and how to take bad news, they will fall apart at every obstacle. What’s the point of reading at an early age or doing sign language before kindergarten if inside, they are a mess. A ticking emotional time bomb that never really diffuses, but only gets more set in their ways and more self-destructive as time goes on. If there was a manual for humans, it would say “Warning: Extremely sensitive device. Handle with care.”

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The history of us (Part 1)

The Ancient Roman Empire was one of the most powerful and influential cultures in our history. The system that created this culture was also extremely flawed and unsustainable. Roman law would allow only citizens and landowners to be the soldiers of its legions. This was before the time of Julius Caesar, during a time when Rome seemed to end one war just to begin another. This citizen-soldier business was a law that went unquestioned for generations though it inevitably became a cause that had lasting effects on policies, fueling political reforms and the fear induced hatred that was aimed at those who were trying to generate those reforms. You see, the Romans were very ambitious, especially in the upper classes. These ambitious upper class individuals would grow up looking at the sculpted heads and masks of their bloodline in the “ancestry room” of their family home, reminded daily of the glory and riches the men behind those faces brought to the family name. Growing up with that frame of mind taught them the only way to be anything was to be memorable for all time, like Alexander the Great. The thing to do with what you inherited back then was to gain more power and influence and the only way to get that power was to gain glory in battle. The young, ambitious elite would need to battle and conquer and acquire new territories to get famous enough to enter into politics, and the next generations would need to conquer even newer lands for glory to get their own turn in the spotlight. The more land the Romans conquered the more soldiers they would need. Like the recent housing bubble created from faulty loans, a soldier bubble was created. The new lands and the people in them were under Roman control but were not Roman citizens. This all resulted in a shortage of armed manpower because since they weren’t citizens and couldn’t be the soldier that was needed to watch over this newly acquired piece of property, they also couldn’t be the soldier to be used to gain new lands for the next generation of rich and power hungry elite. This simple law, designed to allow only true Romans a chance to gain glory and political influence, since they were the only ones who could fight for it, created an unsustainable system. A system that in many historians eyes ultimately led to the decline of the great Roman Empire.

As much as we like to think of us having free will, there is a major amount of our behaviors and personality that can be traced back to something else. Some of these parts of us were created from little things. For example, how do you eat your plate of food when it is in front of you? Do you eat one thing at a time? Do you go corn and then potatoes and finally chicken, for instance? Or do you eat a little bit of this and that, and finish the meal with one bite of everything left to savor? Chances are you have probably never paid much attention to how you eat; it’s just something ingrained into your subconscious. If you have thought about it, you most likely just chalked it up as quirky behavior and kept it to yourself. There is no evolutionary benefit to your personal system of eating but it is just one of the little habits you picked up at a young age and never looked back. I was reminded of this while at a friend’s house for dinner one night. The son and mom ate one thing at a time during the meal while the stepdad ate his all at once. The kid never knew where this habit of his came from, or even that it was a habit, he just thought it was normal to eat that way. The dad however, being an observer to the child’s development from the beginning knew first hand it was a copy from the mother that was picked up.

I’ve mentioned before that this is how children learn at a young age. They mirror everything they see and hear and experience. If you have kids yourself then you know exactly what I am talking about. The reason for this actually is an evolutionary benefit that was created for survival. In the same way babies are born with the ability to suckle on the nipple for nourishment seconds after being born, they have a natural ability to be little copy cats without even thinking about it. The times you laugh after hearing them repeat the swear word that just popped accidentally from your lips is a reminder of this. It is also what makes the “do as I say, not as I do” approach to parenting a little ineffective. The way you handle receiving an unexpected bill in the mail, the way you handle the stress of hosting a holiday dinner at home for the first time, the way you drink milk from the carton and not from a glass all gets recorded in the young child’s brain and saved for those moments later in their own life. My mom would take control of our arguments growing up by capturing the tension of the room within her personal pressure cooker and when it got too much would explode in a sudden burst, one level louder than the loudest person talking in the room. The same way a judge bangs his gavel, my mom would yell out for control of the energy in the room. She never explained this to me but I know it for a fact because the same trait showed up in me at around 26. Thanks for the lesson in peaceful negotiations Mom.

The environment we grow up in can be represented by the tree at the edge of a forest or a houseplant just out of reach of direct sunlight. It bends and leans toward the light in a way that it wouldn’t have to in a different spot. The shape of the plant grows differently because of where it is and what it is exposed to, just like us. The way we absorb what’s around us at an early age and have it manifest in ourselves later in life is similar to the habits we gain because of the way we are, the strengths and weaknesses we are born with also shape us as we grow. (I wanted another tree reference here, and that would lead to a joke I had chambered to go along with it, but I couldn’t quite pull it off right so I have to just move on from here) The classic example of these behaviors we have because of who we are can be shown with Napoleon Bonaparte. We say someone short has a ‘Napoleon complex’ and is angry, overcompensating for his height, any time they get pushy. The guy with the big truck may be overcompensating for something else that is short. The insecure people who are extremely controlling and the list goes on from here. My own example is my speech. As long as I can remember I felt like I had something important to say, like I needed to be heard and that I was more than what I appeared to be at first sight. It turns out I wasn’t the unique snowflake I thought I was. This is a feeling that most people who grew up with speech difficulties have. You feel like you have something important to say because you have trouble saying anything at all. It took me 29 years to find the source of this feeling within myself but when I did, it really wasn’t a bad thing.

I brought up history as the intro to this article because I’ve always enjoyed it. I never looked at it as just a bunch of dates, names and places I needed to remember for a test. I enjoy seeing the causes and effects ripple throughout time. The American Civil War can be traced back hundreds or thousands of years to the very first man who looked out on a black tribe in Africa and thought about taking them away in chains. Hitler is said to have had it out for Jews because a Jewish prostitute gave him syphilis as a younger man, though this could very well be just rumor, it’s still a good example of what I’m getting at. I like seeing the dots all connected and being able to trace from one event to a previous one. Maybe this was because I did so many connect the dot puzzles when I was a toddler and this same notion found in history was comforting to me on some subconscious level? That may be a little too deep for me to think about right now, but regardless of why; I do enjoy seeing the ‘patterns in chaos’ that is the growth of human civilization. These patterns and the way we see an event affecting the future throughout history is exactly what we have happening to ourselves. We are born with our minds set to ‘record’ and our brain uses this constant input to wire itself up over the next 20 years. When we become our grown adult versions we have all these preprogrammed settings and the more unaware of it we are, the more we just sort of run on autopilot. How do you handle getting an unexpected bill? How do you handle the stress of hosting a holiday dinner for the first time? Do you think it out logically and plan early for such events or do you go into overwhelming freak out mode after waiting until the last minute? The only difference between the two actions is the choice that you make. One choice is to plan how you want to do things and make it easy on yourself; the other is letting someone else’s actions from 20 years ago handle the situation for you. Though remember it is the ‘future you’ that has to live with the consequences of that choice, not the one who taught you what to do in the first place (read my post titled “We all have multiple personalities….Just not at the same time” to see what I mean by ‘future you’).

I said earlier in this post that we don’t have as much free will as we think we do. Our brains copy those actions around us early on and what we are born with shapes us into what we do and who we are, but that statement really isn’t fair. To be more accurate, we don’t use as much free will as we think we do. History repeats itself and by knowing that, we are supposed to look back on it and learn from it so we don’t make the same mistakes. If you don’t look back and study a little of your own history, then how will you know what to work on? If we do not practice awareness and think about our present state of mind, we are just letting the autopilot fly us on this journey of ours. We are letting someone else write our own history.

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And now for tonights main event…

Fighting has been a part of our history for probably as long as we’ve had a history. Since we’ve had a written language, we have been documenting contests of men battling one another. Some would say the drive to fight was purely for survival as in the days of the gladiator. I think the majority of us would say however, that for the most part it’s about sport and the drive for competition. If you probe even deeper into this thinking, there is a line of thought that says it is our primitive instinct to dominate over one another. This makes sense when you look back at the Egyptian Pharaohs pushing Moses and his people to flee to the desert with their whips and words. European explorers saw the tribes they encountered as fish in a barrel as they used them to gain the riches they were after. Of course the great American slave trade of our past makes a persuasive push for this argument. Even in modern times with the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship it shows us that this inner urge hasn’t completely died off. I’m even reminded of this need to dominate every time our Chihuahua mounts our Pitt Bull, though this would make a horrible pay-per-view unlike the latest UFC fights.

There’s a specific aspect of this fighting game that I have been thinking about lately and it’s probably not where you thought I was going with that opening. A simple technique relatively unique to fighting for sport, and which takes years to master I might add, is also a common trait among the best of the best. It’s the ability to stay loose and relaxed during the rounds, tensing the muscles only at the moment of impact, which can spell victory or defeat, especially when evenly matched. When the two opponents are dancing around the ring trying to psych each other out, the need to have a relaxed body is key. During every single fight, if it goes on long enough that is, one or both of the two fighters will get ‘gassed’ or run out of steam. This is the point when the opponents appear visibly exhausted. They are breathing heavily, covered in sweat and usually will swing wildly but end up holding each other more often than actually landing any punches. The one who can maintain a relaxed body, or in other words the one not using massive amounts of energy keeping his muscles constricted, is the one who will last through more rounds and most likely come out on top. Some would find it hard to believe that this tension, this keeping the muscles contracted during the fight, would have any significant impact on the outcome. It’s easy to think about how much energy it takes to throw a punch or fling a leg out for a side kick. It’s easy to think about wrestling on the ground taking massive amounts of energy as you squeeze and pull and push and flex your way around the opponent doing the same to you, making every movement that much harder to overcome his added force. Most people forget that when you are standing still you are still burning fuel. When the muscles are tight, we are burning it even faster.

Our muscles are made of fibers laid parallel in pairs and are strung together in thick bundles. One fiber of a pair is attached to a certain part of the bone and its partner fiber is attached to a different spot on a different bone. When you want to flex a muscle, your brain sends out this signal as an electrochemical signal through the nervous system. This starts as an electrical pulse in the brain’s neurons that travel down the nerves throughout your body to those muscle cells and fibers that are targeted. The cells that receive the electrical pulse from the brain are called efferent cells, which are then stimulated by this impulse to start a chemical chain reaction involving calcium and other proteins that slides the two fibers in the pairs along each other and thus contracting the muscle. That took a lot of energy to just think about and write it let alone how much it actually takes to do it. But this is the way muscles work in both extremes. When reaching back and punching towards the face of the guy who stands in your way to the title belt, and when we sit in our office chair tense from the stress surrounding us in our daily lives.

I won’t get into where this energy comes from and what all that entails to regulate and maintain it (that is a whole other article by itself) but I will discuss the tension that is draining away our reserves the longer we let it. This sneaky energy leak plagues each and every one of us. Did you know one of the most common symptoms of chronic stress is fatigue? You can think of fighting in the octagon as just a sped up version of what happens to us during stressful situations. Think about those long hours you spend working late on a project that needs to be done the next day and how you feel afterward. Think about how you feel at the end of a day when your kid has been sick and inconsolable compared to the days when he is a warm, smiling source of sunshine and it makes sense. The stress response constricting your muscles, in waiting for the fight or flight situation that never actually comes in our modern stress inducing scenarios, leaves you feeling utterly exhausted. You don’t want to cook dinner or clean up the kitchen that is badly in need of some dishwashing. You don’t even want to change into some pajamas before bed; all you want to do is pass out. You have a limited amount of energy to do all your bodies many functions; thinking, breathing, moving, kicking ass, taking names. When you run out you need to recharge and when you have been stressed all day and tensed up, this can lead to your gas tank being emptied quicker than those days you spend relaxing carefree poolside on vacation.

I hope this makes sense to you because I am moving on. We now see that whenever our muscles are tense and constricting it takes a ton of energy. When we get stressed our bodies tense up and after hours of this we get exhausted. What happens to us when we get tired? Say it with me now, ‘we…get…irritable’ that’s right guys, good job. When you are tired you just want to be left alone. Your tolerance to handle minor issues is dramatically lowered and you lash out at whoever is in your personal irritability proximity. There are two things we can do to combat this. One is we need to differentiate whether what we are arguing with the person in front of us is because we are holding our ground on what’s right or are we just irritable and tired and have been running on patience fumes for hours. This is part of emotional recognition and awareness. We need to see what the real causes of our emotions are from and whether they are legitimate. Sure it all feels real in the moment but that is what our brains reaction to every chemical it produces feels like. The next is to try and limit our tension. There are lots of ways to do this of course. We can drink relaxing teas that calm us with passionflower and chamomile, which I have been drinking tons of lately. We can exercise to take the edge off and burn off some of that tension. I mean if we are running on the treadmill then we aren’t exactly tensing our shoulders up and giving ourselves headaches are we? No, we are redirecting that energy usage and when we get off that treadmill sweating and breathing hard, we don’t need or have any energy to use unwisely. We can also pay attention to ourselves throughout the day. I notice that on the nights I have trouble falling asleep that I am hunching my shoulders without realizing it. I am keeping my body tight which is using energy and pumping chemicals around my blood stream which is thus keeping me from catching those ‘z’s I need so badly. This is why chamomile tea helps us sleep; it doesn’t make us drowsy like allergy medicine but relaxes our muscles so we can pass off softly into dreamland.

All these things take practice and acute awareness to prevent and improve. When I am arguing with someone I notice that if I turn my attention to my body it is usually incredibly tense. When I consciously relax these tense muscles I start to feel better. It lightens my mood and allows me to think clearly. This can be a way to stay level headed in a heated situation but you have to practice being mindful so that you too can make those good decisions and not just fly off the handles. Most importantly, and to tie it in with this article, by relaxing our muscles as we go through the day we are conserving energy that we can use to do more things and stay a little more tolerant so we don’t take it out on those we care about when we get home. Life is a cage match and when we learn how to conserve our energy, we can easily do what needs to be done to come out victorious.

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