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Walking meditation

It is late autumn, or early winter - depending on how you prefer to think about it. The temperatures have been below freezing for a few weeks already, but there is practically no snow on the ground. Lakes are freezing over. In my agrarian life there are a number of things which are good to get done before the winter. And, luckily, I've been able to take care of most of them. The only major thing lacking is firewood for the winter 2023 - 2024; ideally I'd love to have all of that chopped and piled up before mid-June. But now it is already late November, and I only have about half the amount needed for a full heating season. (Yes, of course at the moment it is not an acute problem; I do have enough dry firewood for this winter. But here in the countryside you also need to think in advance, remembering that some things take time. Something like 18 months should be enough to make firewood fully dry. So, better get the firewood done in time, otherwise the autumn 2023 might be miserable with me trying to burn firewood with too much moisture.)

There were years when this kind of situation would've induced feelings of anxiety, or feeling exhausted, low on energies, yet somehow trying to gather firewood - or just postponing the problem, surrendering to the reality of being too depressed or exhausted to do all the things in time, hoping for things to be better in the coming years. As, like always, there are alternatives - like buying semi-dry ready-chopped firewood in May 2023, so that it will dry before the heating season begins in the Autumn of 2023. But the prices of firewood have been going up, and I'm a starving artist living on hand-to-mouth budget. Oh well, but what I was thinking; yes - there were years when, facing this of situation, my most likely reaction would've been to postpone the problem, hoping for a better future to come. And now I feel that that the once-hoped-for better future is here, now. OK, I didn't manage to prepare enough firewood this Spring, but now in the Autumn I'm not panicking, I don't feel desperate about the situation - I just calmly consider my options and manage my timetables to get things done.

So, instead of chopping fresh timber for firewood I chose to harvest storm-felled trees which are already semi-dry. I'd guess that if I cut and chop them now, they'll be dry enough when I need to burn them to cook food and to heat my home. Luckily, the people who own a lot of forests near my yard have said that I can freely collect storm-felled trees from their forest. Using a chainsaw I cut those trees to pieces about one meter long - small enough to be carried on shoulder. This is exactly the kind of work why I wanted to have a horse - to move timber from forests; to keep up the tradition, to learn and to maintain all the related skills and habits, the ways of interacting with a big strong animal who doesn't speak words but is very sensitive to non-verbal communication. Well, and with all of my years of having horses I learnt (among thousand other things) that to maintain a horse you need quite a lot of resources. And, also, you can't quite do it in isolation, but you kind of a need horse-friendly surroundings around you. Things were so much different two generations ago, when the local people could use a horse and a cart, go to the local mill, chat with the miller, load the cart with freshly processed oats, and drive back home. But nowadays all the roads are for cars, there are still trails you can ride with a horse, but to take care of daily business with a horse? Oh it would be so nice to do the grocery shopping with a horse, but that might not be so convenient given the modern car-oriented infrastructure. Yet, I think that kind of questions might be manageable, if I just owned more land myself, and constantly had more money on my bank account, while having more time to be at home doing all this practical stuff like taking care of horses. Huh, yes - at the moment these are just thoughts, for I have almost none of these; no horses, no money on my bank account, but luckily some time to freely work with my own projects. Now the thing is that this year I've allocated a lot of my free time to develop my indie game project Ancient Savo.

Instead of a horse the modern way of moving timber would be an ATV with a trailer. But I don't have money to buy an ATV. And, at the moment I'm not yet sure what kind of future life I'd love to live; I can see three major options. 1) going back to having horses, and doing some practical work in co-operation with a strong non-verbal living being, 2) having an ATV, as maybe - after all - animals are happier if left alone, not working for a human but just enjoying their freedom in the wild (and then hoping for the technology to become more advanced, so that an ATV could be run on such a fuel which doesn't produce carbon emissions). 3) continuing the way it is now, going small scale, keeping everything so simple that it can be done mostly with my own muscle power (and with the occasional help of a chainsaw, and with friends visiting). These thoughts reminded me of a friend, who has been living pretty much self-sufficient life already for a few decades. Based on his practical experience he thought that when spinning thread it is actually more effective to use a simple spindle instead of a spinning wheel. Yes, with a spinning wheel one can produce more ready yarn per an hour - but that is assuming that you already have the spinning wheel, and that it works and doesn't need that much maintenance. If you bring in to the equation all the working hours which go into making either a spindle or a spinning wheel, then you start to realize that you have to spend several years using the spinning wheel until the greater gain compensates for all the work hours which went into making the tools. Hmm, so - what I think is that context really makes a difference; if you are a lone individual going more self-sufficient in the middle of the modern society, or if you grew up in a well-established historical self-sufficient family, inheriting a lot of tools made by the earlier generations. A little bit same with the horses; a horse is strong, and could move a big amount of timber in a short time. Carrying the same amount of timber all by myself takes at least 5, 6 or 10 times longer. Yet, having horses also means having extra mouths to feed, extra daily chores to do just to maintain the horses and so on. Conclusion; if you want to keep things simple, aim for such methods you can do by yourself with simple basic tools.

With this kind of thoughts I went carrying the timber. It wasn't that far. Maybe four or five minutes walk in the woods, pick up a piece of timber, walking the same amount of time back to the roadside, drop the piece of timber there, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Simple kind of work which doesn't require that much brain power. It would be so easy to use that time to think about other things. Or, not even particularly trying to think about anything, creative ideas just bubble into my mind; an idea for a book on Philosophy. A handful of ideas for blog posts. Some very detailed ideas on how to implement certain features in Ancient Savo. Allowing the mind to process a coding problem while doing manual work - that is a great way to solve problems when you have them. But at the moment my main problem is that indie coding is not my full-time main work. And just fifteen minutes of idle thinking can produce very detailed coding ideas which will take several hours to implement. So, planning and thinking too much makes one feel sick; the natural flow stops as the energies get jammed with too many non-implemented ideas stacking up on top of each other. Or maybe, while carrying the firewood I could allocate my free brain capacity to thinking about world politics, and all the ways how Putin administration is harming the prosperity and future of Russian population (ie. how Putin is anti-Russian). Or, thinking how many people living in USA seem to think that their political divides map to something like universal ideas, and that the same vocabulary could be imported to all across the globe, and how that just doesn't make sense. (If you ask me, I think USA doesn't have a leftist party. It just has one right wing party, and the another one lies somewhere in between far-right and very-right, so the whole sphere of political debate is pretty limited by strange kinds of coincidental historical features which just happen to define the political landscape in USA, but speak only a fraction of the universal themes - yet, as it still is so that a lot of discourse and heated debate in the Western world originates from USA, their concepts get adapted to situations where they just don't make that much sense, which is like trying to fasten screws using a hammer. A hammer makes sense in the context of nails. In the contexts of screws you need other tools. And this also applies to conceptual work, not just practical work.)

Hehe, as you can see, my mind easily overflows with ideas which I then don't have time to fully write out. And not wanting to get lost in the inner chatter going on in my head, then what to do? This reminded me of a metaphor I once read - maybe it was Krishnamurti who said something like this, I don't remember, but the idea is; moving your legs is very good when you need to walk from a place A to place B. So, in itself there is nothing wrong about making walking movement with your legs. But if your legs keep on moving when you need to rest, that is not so convenient. Learn to stop your feet. Same with conceptual thinking; learn to stop it when you don't need it.

This reminded me of the years of studying philosophy at the university. One of the fellow students - mr. Perkola who used to write comments in my blog some years ago - often dreamed about such a life where one could just quit the habit of conceptual thinking. Do manual work, like hammering metal. Ditching all the books. Only talking in the manner of "me hungry, me eat". Eventually discarding all the pictures to get rid of all kinds of symbolical thinking, just to be fully present in the way things are, at the moment, not drifting into any kind of abstract realms of conceptual theories. Huh. Well, in a way I can see the idea of that kind of yearning to go back to non-verbal being. After all, that has been one of the things I love in the idea of working together with horses - the horses remind us of how it feels to be there, in that state before the conceptual cognition fills the brain with the constant chatter. Yet, I think I prefer the Krishnamurti approach; there is nothing bad in conceptual thinking per se - just don't dwell in it when you don't need it. But can that be done? Is there a way to momentarily stop the inner verbal train of thoughts, or should be just aim to observe it without getting attached to it?

When I was twelve or thirteen years old I read books about zen-Buddhism, and I remember some of them mentioned practices like walking meditation. I don't remember if they describes exactly how that was done - and, anyway, I've never been quite the person to follow a tradition. In a way it is interesting to know how things have been done in this or that tradition, but I always find it difficult to align my own mind with the idea that "I'm going to do this this way, because a tradition says so." I'm more of a person who always asks "what is my problem? What works to solve my problems? Which tools to use, which tools not to use? Maybe someone else already invented a fix for this problem, or maybe I can just invent one myself if I keep on experimenting". Yet, learning about different tools is interesting, even when I don't believe any of them to be "the right one" in the universal sense. To cross a river you can either swim, wade, build a raft, wait for a ferry, or find another way - which is the best solution, depends on the situation at hand. (And, anyway - remember to stop swimming once you are on the other side of the river, and no need to carry the raft with you once you've crossed the river, or when waiting for a ferry remember to board one when one arrives instead of making the waiting a goal in itself, and so on.)

So, the tools to either silence or turn down the volume of the constant stream of inner verbal thinking? I remember reading that one of the basic exercises is to count your breath. Count from one to ten, then from ten down to one, and repeat, repeat, repeat until your mind is otherwise blank, the only conceptual content being those numbers slowly following each other. Today I tried that for a moment, but quickly realized my mind being very quick to escape elsewhere (those were the moments when I suddenly realized that my mind carries an elaborate idea for a blog post, or an idea for a Philosophy book (not just the content of the book, but a non-convenient approach to making a book), or programming ideas). So, instead of stubbornly trying to continue with that exercise I asked myself that why, actually, would I like to just carry the timber without that much conceptual thinking.

The answer: Because I'd love to be fully present in my body, and in the moment. (I remember a fragment of a poem written by then-young Sami Maaranen. The line I remember said: "I am muscles". Referring to that state of mind when physical activity makes you be fully present in your bodily being, in a very concrete way just moving, breathing, and the main content of the conscious experience being the bodily sensations of movement, fresh air in the lungs, the heat and the strain felt in the muscles.) Or, to put in other words; instead of focusing on "how to make this to be less" I asked myself what I'd prefer there to be more. To focus more on the direct sensory input. To be present in the colors, shades, shapes, sounds, scents of the forest. To be present in my body, as I breathe, move, align myself with the surroundings. Just the simple basic thing of walking in the woods, on uneven surface, your body needs to process so much information, all the small muscles doing a lot of precise work to maintain balance while carrying a load downhill. Instead of letting those things to fade into the background of consciousness while focusing on abstract conceptual thoughts I felt a longing to shift the focus back to the that "background" of fully being here. How it feels to be here. How is this body of mine keeping me alive, now. How all the fauna of the Earth maintains a level of oxygen in the atmosphere, and how I breathe it in, how the fresh air touches the inner surface of my lungs, and how the oxygen seeps into my blood, making me deeply intertwined with all the plants which have been inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. Yes, I know that is something I quite can't have a direct sensory experience of. But, as I'm not talking about trying to completely shut down the mental apparatus, I'd like to direct the focus of the cognitive processing to the very bodily processes taking place right here, now, all the time. The fundamentals of life. To enjoy the moment of the conceptual thinking aligning with the raw physical bodily being. And, maybe, for fleeting moments experiencing moments of the cognitive verbal parts of the brain just being more or less silent, allowing the bodily warmth to emerge from the background into the focus of consciousness.

Another theoretical thought; Every here and there I've read or heard this idea that the tangible world makes us appear as separate individuals, but on the spiritual level we are all one. Or that the bodily ego is afraid of the death for it is when the body comes to an end, but a spiritually awakened person is not afraid of the death, not identifying with the finite bodily being but recognizing oneself as the timeless universal spiritual being (or a spark of such infinite Cosmic Consciousness, or which ever way you call it.) I'm not going to argue against those ways of seeing the existence. What do I know, my thoughts are just a random assembly of very clumsy tiny human concepts trying to make sense of something which is bound to be beyond my verbal grasp. So, not arguing against anyone, let me just describe the way I feel it myself; as hinted in the description about the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide; I feel that it is our very physical being which is One with All The Universe, Here and Now and Always. Our material being is not a separate thing - it is our old-school concept of matter which deceives us to think that material objects are separate and only spiritual energies are One. So, instead of turning away from the material, I prefer to turn away from the limited restrictive concepts, adopting a new way of thinking about the material being. I think that all matter is fundamentally One, but because that One is such a big thing our brains can only handle it by creating artificial, temporary contours to clip the vast world into manageable chunks. Nothing wrong with that, just don't confuse the contours created by human mind with anything like a metaphysical reality or truth. If you ask me, the truth is that all is one, and it is hard to say anything more about it, for the very idea of "saying" (ie. the conceptual thought) tends to operate by means of separating "this" from "that". So how to speak about that which precedes any distinction, any division? Maybe there is not that much need to talk about it. As, what about just carrying that timber, now, here, in the rawness and oneness of the material world? To feel the one, to remember being one, instead of thinking of ways to speak about it?

I didn't pay that much attention to time, but afterwards I reconstructed it a bit, and I'd guess I spent about three hours walking up and down a mild slope, half of the time carrying a piece of timber. Good physical exercise, it made my body warm, pumping the blood to circulate in all the smallest muscles of the feet. For most of the time it was also very enjoyable to not think about anything in particular - sometimes just observing that "oh, these are the thoughts which flow into my mind if I don't steer the wheel of the cognitive apparatus", and sometimes gently reminding myself to focus on the body, turning the inner chatter to directly talking to myself: "Hello lungs, doing good work! How does it feel in there, let me listen?" and "Oh this is the mild, slowly growing sense of hunger in the bottom of my stomach", and then sometimes in a lot less verbal sense just remembering to be aware of what is outside my field of vision, and / or paying attention to the way my body seems to always know how to move the legs to best meet the uneven terrain, and how that slowly changes as the evening dusk grows dimmer and my muscles grow more tired. I didn't slip into anything like an exceptional magical mystical state of mind - but I wasn't hoping for that to happen. But I was very delighted with those moments when I suddenly realized that "oh, last time I remember this heap had six pieces to be carried, and then I've been walking without thinking about numbers, and now I realize that as I pick up this piece only one remains. So, for a good moment I've had no thought about the passage of time, or the number of pieces to be carried." And, occasionally I found myself gently touching an alive tree when passing by - pretty much the same way you'd gently touch your family member when you want to express the emotion of "thanks, I like you being there, I wish you well!"

Well, and another aspect to the idea of being fully present in the body, in the moment of now. Nowadays I don't feel myself depressed in the typical sense of the word. But, what remains of my post-traumatic trouble is this constant, ever-present hard-to-describe sense of not-really-being-here. My body feeling numb. My spirit feeling hollow. As if my mind was some impartial remote observer, just taking a note of what happens but not really experiencing the life of this bodily shape called Erkka. (And, again, I remember describing this to a person who replied that maybe I shouldn't see it as a problem but just be happy to have attained the state aspired by so many devotees or this or that spiritual tradition. Huh, I'd guess the philosophy of Enlightenment would make another blog post, or a series of posts. Not today, maybe later.) And I can also remember states, situations, times and years when I consistently felt fully aware, experiencing the sensory world in vivid presence, without any fog, without the eerie (non-)sense of dissociation / de-personalization. And, the way I see it, such a fully aware state of experiencing does not conflict with the idea of being one, the idea of recognizing the deep unity of all-there-is. No no, on the contrary, I have a hunch that it is perfectly possible to vividly experience one being a wave of an ocean. A mere thought or an idea of it might be good, but to vividly feel that way, to directly experience oneself being fully present, fully aware, bodily there, in the moment of the now - and being nothing more than a tiny part in the vast endless constant dance of the Being. The way I remember it, it doesn't mean just sitting in a lotus posture staring into distance with blank eyes but a smile on your face; such a state of mind can and will flow into action, be present in the daily chores of carrying firewood, washing dishes and so on.

Hehe, so, I started the previous paragraph with the words "another aspect", and then quickly just drifted back to the same big aspect I've been writing for a while. But this is just the way my mind works. At the same time there are "different aspects" and "talking about the same topic". Well, but I wished to write a bit about how this walking meditation today felt like a therapy to recover from a post-traumatic numb state. As I focused my conscious mind on the sensory bodily input, it was pretty clear that I feel my feet, and my legs from knees downwards. I feel the weight of the piece of a timber on my shoulder. I feel the cold / warmth in my upper back and chest, hands, face. The core of my body (lower back, lower abdomen, hips, upper part of the legs) maybe is there, somewhere. I get some signals, I know that part of my body is not missing. Yet, in the direct sensory experience of my consciousness that area of my body appears numbed, distanced, toned town. Sometimes I have a brief fleeting sense of my lungs actually being present, but for most of the time I only have this vague sense of "my lungs are not non-existent, yet I can't quite feel them being there". So, I kept on walking, and I kept on gently reminding myself to pay attention to my bodily sensations. Sometimes directing my attention to me breathing, asking myself "now where is my thoracic diaphragm, do I feel it moving, how does it feel, is it warm or cold, tense or relaxed, energetic or exhausted?", and I felt slowly, slowly, slowly maybe the fog growing thinner and my consciousness re-gaining a direct contact with the bodily sensory being. Slowly. And I remember how I earlier might have just felt that the only thing I can do is to rest and to hide under a blanket, wishing for my problems to go away, or either a better future somehow appearing. And now that better future is here, I feel energetic and capable of carrying the timber. So, maybe the trend continues and some future year I find myself capable of returning to vivid, direct bodily awareness - all this fog being just a distant memory. But who knows, let's see - the only way to find out is to keep on walking, step by step, just to see where this path takes me.

Remembering to be here, now.
Remembering to be here, now.
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Thank you :)

It's very nice to read your thoughts about everyday meditation. I try to do that as much as I can too, but it is definitely different in the big city. I was curious about one thing. You mentioned that you could do some things better if you had more land, so can you explain how having more land would help you in your situation?

My plot is less than a hectare - which is plenty for growing vegetables and such. At the moment almost all of my yard is open meadow, just a few trees growing here and there, and now when I don't have grazing animals I've been dreaming about planting fruit-bearing trees. Oh well - but if I'd go back to having horses at home, that would require me owning more land. The minimum is two horses, for they are herd animals and definitely need company. Also, I'd estimate one hectare per horse is enough for summer pasture, assuming that all the hay for winter can be bought. So, at least two hectares of wide open meadow as a pasture. Ideally a bit more, so that the surface area could be circulated, allowing some areas to re-grow instead of everything being constantly grazed by horses. (And, if going to more serious self-sufficiency, then I'd need at least one more hectare just to grow hay for the winter fodder. Again, maybe more, depending on if the hay would grow without additional fertilizers - organic farming tends to take more land, as you can't simply reap maximum harvests all the time, compensating that by industrial fertilizers.)

So, my small plot isn't quite suited for having horses. Maybe I could sustain a small flock of sheep, but at the moment I feel that it is also good for my well-being to have minimum amount of daily responsibilities. Also, one of my acquaintances runs a little non-commercial sheep operation, and they asked me to help with the slaughtering. So, for now it seems that I'll visit them one or two times a year, do some not-so-cheerful job, and return home with some home-grown organic meat, which means that I very seldom need to buy any meat products from the super market. And, based on my previous experience, growing vegetables and having sheep on the same plot of land would be easier if there is enough space to keep the animals well separated from the garden, as they are very eager to get to eat all the tasty stuff humans try to grow. which, I think, is fair enough, if the humans intend to eat some of the sheep, and the sheep keep on eating some of the stuff humans wished to have for themselves =)

Oh, okay - so, as I'm not planning to have sheep nor horses any year soon, then I'm perfectly fine with the amount of land I have. Especially if I can harvest firewood from neighbouring forests. Otherwise it would help to have double the amount of land, the other half just to grow alder and birch for firewood.

Good read, thanks


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