An interesting interview and discussion; very relevant to the academic content posted at this site during the previous year:
An interesting interview and discussion; very relevant to the academic content posted at this site during the previous year:
Emma and I were guest speakers at a Health and Wellness fair yesterday at Falcon Rock, a lovely ‘country venue’ at the base of a small mountain called The Lady’s Slipper. It’s about a 5 minute drive from our acre of land on the Van Stadens gorge.
There were stalls where people were selling goods or food, or advertising and showing their services: reiki, music therapy, massage, etc. On arrival, a meditation session was underway, which I joined briefly before setting up for the talk.
Emma started, focusing on the current dominant global food production system and the massive issues with it. She then spoke about permaculture as an alternative.
I then picked up from where Emma left off and took a conceptual approach to the political state of affairs that underlies the global systems that have resulted in the eco-crisis. I used a few quotes from sections of my Ph.D. that featured in this blog over the past year, so I was worried that this would bore people, but everything was received with attentive nods.
I moved on to speak about some of the specific things that we have done to regain sovereignty is a system where it is simply assumed that governments have the right to sovereignty. They do not. As it states in the declaration of human rights, the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. But consider this quote from Nadar, something everyone can see from brief investigation into the state of political/business affairs today:
Government has been hijacked to a degree beyond anything we have seen in the last 70 years. It’s been hijacked by corporate power, the multinationals mostly. They have their own people in government. They run [for elections] their own people, they appoint their own people, they get corporate lawyers to become judges. And when that happens you no longer have a countervailing force called government arrayed against excesses of what Jefferson called ‘the moneyed interest’. Instead, you have this convergence, almost a phalanx, of business controlling government and turning it against its own people.
The will of the people is not the basis for the authority of government; rather, it’s the protection of business interests that secures government’s authority. This has nothing to do with the liberty of the people, and everything to do with private business interests. To quote Mill, the people have historically had “political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which if he did infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable.” Rebellion hey? Food for thought.
Please see the chapter 4 posts that are already up on the blog for more info in this regard, especially this one: https://perspectivepro.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/democracy-in-a-neoliberal-free-market-capitalist-system/
We’ll be talking more in the near future: at the march against Monsanto on May 23rd.
December and January: living a little!
At the end of November last year, after a very busy end to the academic calendar, I looked around the homestead that Emma and I had been creating for 2-and-a-half years and suddenly realised that there was no more ‘building’ that urgently had to be completed (or, more aptly, started from scratch) for the first time in, well, 2-and-a-half years! So I spent the first two weeks of December focused on my Ph.D research, gradually getting used to the notion of simply living in the place, as opposed to constantly working on it.
Mid December came and I stopped even the academic research and writing and took it quite easy. Several good friends were ‘down’ from out of town or abroad; they visited us, we went to the beach together, and the general festive season spirit generally kept us going with that flow. I had been on holiday a few times since my return to SA in mid-2012, but there was always driving or camping or hiking etc. involved. During the past December-January holiday, however, there was a considerable amount of ‘taking it easier’ at home – and this certainly further established home as home, to me at least.
It was during this time that I decided to abandon the computer for all but essential tasks, and I never really found myself rushing back to it. Academic writing had to be done here and there during the holiday, and pretty much constantly since February, but this is the most severed I’ve felt from the internet for many years – and it is a good feeling. Hence not posting anything for ages, other than a final bit to chapter 3 of my research, which preceded this post.
Hike and more meditation
In mid January we did do a hike – the Otter Trail, along the garden route. A very beautiful hike and highly recommended (I believe it is rated as the top hike in SA; I see why – beautiful and relatively easy and accessible). It set the scene for a peaceful and tranquil state of mind I was lucky enough to keep nurturing when, after the hike, I went off to Worcester to serve at a 10 day Vipassana meditation course.
This marked a year since my first meditation course, which I sat as a student. It was great going back and doing 4 – 5 hours of meditation a day, and then still being ‘practical’ in the kitchen, where servers obviously have to talk. This seemed more realistic as a preparation for meditation in the ‘real world’, where innumerable distractions can linger in one’s head when going off to meditate after a busy day. 10 days of mindfulness and awareness about how one responds to ‘kitchen logistics’ is remarkably helpful at bringing a meditative state of mind into ‘normal’, day-to-day awareness.
I returned from the meditation course and had to get straight to teaching first year philosophy again, a job I really do love. I share the work load with my friend, who happens to be professor of Philosophy at NMMU (and therefore my boss!!). Next semester I’ll do as I did last year and solo-teach the second semester philosophy module, something I also look forward to. The move back to SA from the UK definitely paid off work-wise for me, seeing as I get by on a completely manageable amount of part-time work.
Of course, my income from the part-time work is supplemented by an academic bursary, which is certainly an opportunity not afforded to many people. Yes, maybe luck played a role in getting the bursary. But looking back, the hard work started in first year university, during which time part-time informal work led to part-time formal work, then to further studies and for a long time two part-time jobs at once, followed by full-time slavery in the UK, followed by very frugal living back in SA, during which time I wrote a proposal on top of everything else documented in this blog while working more part-time jobs, and then applying for the bursary, and only then did the bursary come about.
And the study is progressing nicely. I have just finished the fourth of eight chapters, though admittedly it is a draft in a very early phase and needs a few weeks’ more work. So it’s not really half-way! Nevertheless, I am celebrating the completion of the draft with this blog entry!
Emma and the garden
You may have read between the lines and gathered that I’m not doing too much ‘plot work’ lately. This wouldn’t be entirely true: just living here is constant daily work, like making rocket stove fires, washing dishes, doing hand-washing (though this is not a daily task luckily), dealing with the compost toilet every week, and making compost every 5 or 6 weeks (which is always quite a task). But yes, I have stopped with the building/wood-work and raised-garden-bed making that largely defined my contributions to ‘plot-life’ for so long here. My energy since the start of February has so far instead been mostly on academic commitments.
Emma, on the other hand, has not been teaching for the first term this academic year – her contract for teaching first year Sociology at Rhodes University starts again in 3 weeks or so. She has been a star in the garden though – we’re eating at least a few veggies and/or leaves from the garden daily, which makes all the difference to a vegetarian diet. Obviously it takes loads of attentiveness to plan, maintain, and ‘rotate’ a vegetable garden, so she is doing a fantastic job – especially for someone who 3 years ago hadn’t done any gardening to speak of. Her knowledge of what grows when and in what conditions is staggering, something that has come with experience and dedication and having hands in the earth. She has also just registered for a PDD – a permaculture course that will enable her to teach PDCs, permaculture design certificates.
Custodians of an acre of land
Last year we became custodians of an acre of land in an area I visited a lot and became fond of in my early-twenties. It is a hundred metres away from a beautiful gorge that contains some cascading pools accessible within an hour’s walk. There’s a lot of walking to be done in the area actually. The plot itself is on a gentle slope, and contains mainly indigenous bushes at the moment. We have so far only visited this ‘gorge plot’ for observation purposes, and will continue to do so until the path forward there presents itself to us.
We were able to pay for the land outright – as far as land prices go, this acre was very affordable. Of course, the frugal living and minimal expenses of the previous 2-and-a-half years meant that we could save money and add it to savings from previous years to make this kind of move. Hardly land barons, but it is still difficult to come to terms with the notion of ‘ownership’ of land – hence thinking about the role as custodianship rather. It was important that we didn’t get ourselves into debt for reasons to do with our views on the banking system, so we went with a small and comparatively cheap piece of land using money that we had saved over a long period of years, versus taking out a loan.
What was immediately clear was the need to cut paths into the plot so that one can get into it. After a lot of research I ended up buying a strimmer/weed-eater, heavy-duty, quite expensive, but a good machine. This was a big move for me, because I’d prefer to have acquired a scythe and avoid fossil-fuels, but realistically it would not have worked with the bush being so dense on the plot. I take refuge in the notion that it is a necessary tool that can be used for a greater good – namely, the creation of a permaculture food forest homestead. And of course, it depends on how one uses the tool – mindfully.
A set rhythm
At this stage of our time living ‘rustically’, it has become clear that rhythms develop over time. If, like me almost 3 years ago, one enters a scene and wishes to impose an idea of what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, one will likely suffer from the huge shock that the world does not work like that. There were huge ebbs and flows of energy and activity along the way, but with the groundwork now done at the current abode, the routine of previous months has been fairly consistent.
This is definitely something that one needs to be aware of when starting a venture like ours. A rough plan is obviously needed, but if starting from a blank slate like we did, then the initial stages are going to be tough and ‘hectic’. But there will come a point when the groundwork is complete, and a base develops on which to establish patterns of activity and behaviour. I think we’ve only been in the latter phase for a few short months. It’s interesting to think that, after 2-and-three-quarter years, these are still early days!
Who cares about all of the above?!!!
I suppose I post the info above for various reasons. Most importantly, between 3 and 4 years ago it was reading blogs like this one that partly helped me make up my mind that serious change in one’s life is not to be feared but instead encouraged – especially if the change is from a constricting lifestyle to one of comparative ‘freedom’. It took me a while and a lot of pointless worrying initially to really believe this and see it as true, so I hope to allay the fears of others by being able to say hey, look at the blank slate that was there to be worked with at the start, and look at all that has changed since then.
Then there is the necessity of recording information for journalling purposes. I’ve tried keeping paper journals before but I’m no good at it. In a few years, I imagine I’ll be able to look back and see the person I used to think I was and reflect on the changes – seeing as change is our only permanence! And of course, for my Ph.D I said I would keep such records for reflection upon in the final chapter of my study!
Still grappling with the broader context
Finally, I still frequently find myself pondering the broader context where, ecologically, things are certainly deteriorating, and I try and make sense of what we’re doing here, i.e. on the ‘alternative-living’ mission. We have made considerable moves to a lifestyle that, I believe, is very in-tune with the sustainability song. But, while typing the above, I received an Azaaz email reminding me that our oceans are dying. Last week I attended a talk by the chief NASA scientist who reminded her audience that there will be no ice at the both poles (possibly Greenland too) by 2050. I look around the city and see endless expansion. Business as usual prevails.
I could write a list of all the things that we don’t do and don’t have and it would be a formidable list that shows a resistance to the consumer capitalist lifestyles of instant gratification that seem to be the norm in ‘advanced’ industrial society. But even we now have two laptop computers in order to affectively do our academic jobs. We have a car, and a motorbike (we use the latter more due to fuel-efficiency), both of which use fossil-fuel, and both of which are constituted by resources that were mined at the expense of the environment; the same can be said for many of the resources that constitute parts of our humble abode.
I suppose the point is that it feels like a bit of a losing battle when looking at the broader context. I still believe that one must, as an ethical imperative, fight the fight (not that I see it as a fight, but rather an ethical venture) whether or not it is going to make that much ‘broader’ difference in the long run. When I first decided to embark on this mission, it was about making a difference in the broader scheme of things, hence a kind-of depression when I realised that people look curiously at what we’re doing, acknowledge its relevance, but simply go about business as usual. And then, of course, I still buy into (albeit marginally) aspects of the system of which I’m very sceptical. I think we’ve achieved a considerable ‘freedom’ in doing what we’re doing, and that combined with not being huge parts of the problem seems like it will have to be enough, for the foreseeable future at least.
Or maybe, as I’ve already mentioned somewhere above, these are still very early days, and in a few years the path will involve ‘broader changes’. Who knows?
I’ve occasionally written about the different kinds of cycles one can become aware of when adapting to a lifestyle that is more attuned to the rhythms of the seasons and the weather. I’ve also commented on the growing awareness of the cycles that I tend to go through, an awareness I attribute to the ‘permaculture’ lifestyle I’m partly responsible for trying to implement since mid-2012. This post follows a similar theme and briefly reflects on the activity of past months.
Out of the past 5 months, three were largely focused on writing the first chapter of my Ph.D. study – I posted the content as I went along. During those Winter months I continued to do the regular plot ‘chores’, such as dish-washing, tidying and sweeping, compost-making and compost material ‘management’, etc. That’s where the physical energy went, but it seemed that my calories were mostly burnt on mental energy, and my focus was more or less exclusively on researching the ecological crisis and compiling the info into the relevant formats.
As Spring was approaching, however, the focus became the living environment Emma and I used to call ‘the shed’, an area that was born by felling some trees and throwing an old truck tarp over it, which then grew into a car-port style roof with carpeted ‘walls’, and which now boasts rustic cladded wooden walls, a neat kitchenette (cupboards, with doors!!!), shade-cloth, comfortable chairs, etc. I worked on multiple side-projects in order to get this all finished, because around here one job leads not only to another, but to a dozen others!
It seems appropriate that Winter was a less physically and logistically demanding time, while Spring has been exactly that; this is in keeping with the character of the two seasons, Winter being slower and a time for rest, Spring being a time for fresh activity. What increasingly interests me is my reaction to such seasonal aspects, seasonal aspects not only of the year, but the ones I accordingly find myself going through.
For example, for the previous few weeks I have felt the need to get back to researching and writing for my academic study; there is a deadline for the end of December, and I need to be researching and writing daily if I am to make that deadline. I also have lecturing and marking commitments, as I have had all year, so I have recently felt quite stressed when thinking about the need to finish ‘the shed’ renovation, the current academic demands, and the future academic deadline.
Yet somewhere in the back of my mind there was a new-ish awareness that everything happens ‘in good time’. Maybe it has something to do with learning several valuable lessons about patience over the past two and a half years, lessons that can’t be avoided when starting to build a physical living environment from scratch and when trying to establish sources of income – not to mention trying to find a healthy balance between the two!
Such an awareness, of things happening ‘in good time’, has made my occasional period of stress quite short-lived, especially compared to the person I once was, the person who worked a full-time academic job in the UK for four years where there was often no end to the trudgery. Here, the activity never ends, but it is inherently a process of continual change. I do have to remind myself of that sometimes, especially when it’s been six weeks of, for example, woodworking, only to still have another few weeks of it staring me in the face. But I’m getting better at letting that occasional bout of frustration blow-over and instead just getting on with things.
Would I have been able to react in such a way had it not been for my transition to ‘this’ kind of lifestyle? An impossible question to answer. Maybe! Maybe people do become more accepting of gradual processes and less impatient as they age – though I know plenty of people who render the comment inaccurate! I do feel, however, that this is not just about patience, but an additional layer of awareness that is less egocentric and possibly more ecocentric. The artificial linearity of contemporary society – where everything seems to move on endlessly in almost exactly the same fashion (i.e. business as usual) – can create a picture of a monotonous ‘reality’ where seasons are only noticed because of the need to change clothing due to changing weather. But there is a different seasonal aspect to human beings, one I’m clearly still trying to understand, but one I’m directly experiencing because of ‘plot-life’.
I received an email from someone wondering how the poly-sleeping has been going (thanks for your interest, Jeff!), which reminded me that I haven’t offered any updates in this regard for a while. That’s because I have not been sleeping polyphasically at all for a month or so, and for a month prior to that I was sleeping polyphasically only every other night – not exactly ‘progress’ worth mentioning.
I certainly do not consider this to be a failure in the sleeping experiment; on the contrary, I started the process out of curiosity and have been a keen observer, especially an observer of how the process is relevant for my personal development. The sleep pattern worked excellently for me during the warmer months, but as it became colder and colder towards the middle of winter, I found myself physically aching from the cold at around 4 a.m., 3 hours or so after getting up after the core sleep of the ‘everyman3’ schedule. At times I would be wrapped up in every warm item of clothing I had, but still I would get cold and uncomfortable, so increasingly it became harder to get out of bed.
Who knows what would have happened if the wooden room I call my home were insulated or warm – maybe it would have been easier to keep up the ploy-sleep schedule, maybe it wouldn’t. But it is officially spring in this part of the world now, though the nights only tend to start warming up in mid-late October, and I plan to get back into the poly-sleeping when it does start warming up a bit.
The cold weather, on reflection however, may only be a superficial reason why I slipped from the polyphasic sleep path.
The several months on the everyman3 schedule were incredibly productive for me, and tied in excellently with consistent meditation and an overall careful approach to diet. I wrote in a previous post about slipping gradually back into the habits of taking the occasional social alcoholic drink, which I found to be detrimental to the segmented sleep process. Coffee is a real bitch in this regard too – I have recently been on a religious 2 cups a day – and it really messes with my energy levels. Then, sugar (in the form of honey) crept into my life initially as a feel-good treat a few months back, and recently I was using it to satisfy sugar-cravings in between meals. Finally, I’ve been baking nice bread, which is great and generally healthy, but I’ve been eating too much of it – often with a thick layer of honey smeared on – and my spikes in energy levels have really been exacerbated by the gluten.
It is interesting that this update has led to me mentioning cravings – it seems that, for me, polyphasic sleeping was doable alongside a very disciplined approach to life in general (remember that I started it shortly after a 10 day meditation retreat); when I started taking a drink here and there, coffee quite regularly and then religiously, and then sugar and a lot of wheat more recently, I found myself falling back into the common cycles of craving-fulfillment leading to stronger cravings. As said at Vipassana meditation retreats, I started craving cravings again! I realised this at the weekend (after I devoured almost half a chocolate cake a friend had brought around, which resulted in a severe sugar-low) and I’ve now had 2 and a half days without any coffee or honey/sugar (some wheat and one drink were unavoidable – dinner with ‘the folks’!!!). Such caffeine abstinence left me with quite a headache yesterday and this morning, which I have experienced before when stopping coffee – ah, withdrawal symptoms.
When I was off of all of the above dietary disasters, my energy levels were extremely consistent, and I could wake up concentrating almost immediately on any given task. This made poly-sleeping easy, after the adjustment period, that is. The 20 minute naps always achieved the REM states necessary for a successful and safe poly-sleep pattern. More awake-time on my hands, especially very quiet time with no distractions, meant I could get my work done effectively, so the rest of the day would be left free from thoughts about that which I have not done. Meditation time was available, and it was very clear and focused; same with exercise. All of these factors synergised, so it is unsurprising that tampering with any one of them destabilised the entire edifice.
These are all incredibly valuable lessons that I had to learn; after only a few days ‘clean’ from the aforementioned substances, despite a temporary headache yesterday and earlier, I already feel more focused than in previous weeks, so I am optimistic that I have had to learn these lessons for a reason: hopefully, to re-enter another cycle of personal development, but this time more aware of certain factors. It is so easy to slide off of an amazingly beneficial path and not even be aware that this is happening; having slipped, maybe when the path is regained it will be stuck to with even more rigour.
One final possibility needs to be speculated about here: that polyphasic sleeping is not sustainable over long periods, let’s say for more than several months at a time. I have read about such concerns before. However, in my case, I do not think that I can entertain this possibility – there are simply too many variables, mentioned above, that are the obvious factors that caused me to slip. I reckon trying again is worth it just to see what would happen if I can avoid the bloody coffee, booze, and sugar (etc.!)
Next time I mention polyphasic sleeping, it will be to report that I have done so for at least a month 😉
I have found the previous several weeks to be very interesting and telling ones, which might seem strange to some people considering that their responses might be along the lines that ‘not too much has been going on!’ Ostensibly, such a response might be true: very basic maintenance and ‘plot chores’ have been the main activities. In contrast to the previous 23 months especially, June might look like a hibernation of sorts.
Some hibernating has been inevitable, what with a recent bout of the cold/flu that has accompanied the onset of winter proper. The physical acts of being indoors more, and ‘wrapping up warmer’, and doing less doing the days compared to during the summer, may indeed create the appearance that less is happening – and on a physical level this is true. But on a different level, a lot is happening.
This ‘different level’ is the internal, mental, cognitive, reflective one. With the permaculture homestead being functional now, albeit in a very basic manner where there is room for much systemic improvement, I have not had to plan (for examples) building or ‘landscaping’ projects logistically, freeing up a lot of mental energy for more cognitive endeavours. The academic research takes up a bit of this energy, but compared to my past, where I lived in an ‘orthodox’ house and pursued a career in an ‘orthodox’ manner, a lot more mental energy is freed up here at the permaculture homestead for different ways of thinking.
For example, my conception of ‘progress’ has changed entirely. A few years ago I would have not been able to let the homestead remain ‘as is’ for very long when certain features remain ‘unfinished’ – the lack of proper ‘walls’ to the shed area (it has a few big old ‘carpet walls’ still hanging that I’ve intended to replace with off-cut wooden strips), the solar setup that needs a few more parts before it can be experimented with, the lack of a cool food-storage area that will be needed come summer, the lack of a thermal mass heater integrated into ‘the shack’… etc. etc. etc.! Now, however, it seems entirely appropriate, if not mandatory, to step back for a while, slow down (stop if possible), and reflect on a few things.
This post is not about those reflections specifically, but rather on the process just mentioned – the slowing down and stepping back from a constant activity of sorts. My partner Emma and I realised that when we worked as full-time employees in a college in the UK, we would never get the chance to slow down, never mind stop, in any meaningful way. Sure, the illusion of a holiday was maintained with academic holidays always around the corner, but work stole these breaks almost entirely from us – this is another different topic. Having made the choice to ditch various aspects of modern ‘comfortable’, ‘click of a switch’ living, and thereby dropping most major expenses and therefore the need for full-time work, we find ourselves in positions where it is possible to slow down significantly enough to create the accompanying ‘head-room’ for a kind of reflectivity that I, for one, now realise I was never really capable of conducting in the past.
In the past, the reflective process was always tainted by what seemed to be unquestionable outcomes: I am doing this; I am doing this because I need to be doing that eventually. What I had overlooked was the vicious circle – when I got to the point of ‘doing that’, I was doing it because I needed to be doing something else thereafter, and something else after that, ad nauseam. This was a terrible hamster-wheel to be stuck in. Now I realise that what I am doing is something of an end in itself. Sure, it’s an end in itself that will inevitably lead to other ends down the line, but those down-the-line ones are not speculated about too much lest they steal the spotlight from the all-important present moment.
So maybe it boils down to presence. This is something I learned first-hand at a meditation retreat early this year, but life at our permaculture plot seems like it would have taught me lessons about presence one way or another, eventually. The bitter cold of some slow nights seems something of a productive formative presence when one embraces it and accepts it as part of the continuous fluctuations of life; the unfinished shed walls (that will remain unfinished for as long as they need to!) seem appropriate when looked at as part of a cycle of activity that must ebb and flow, because this is the nature of all things…
…All things natural, that is. Some discourses have been advertised over the course of the past few centuries to transcend impermanence. Hundreds of millions of people – dare I say billions? – for example, have fallen prey to the notion of ‘infinite progress’. Progress, in such a view, is something constant, and it is constantly ‘good’. Progress comes in the form of constant activity, it seems, a constant activity that produces the same globalised results over and over again – capitalist consumer systems that invariably devastate the ecology of given areas, to the point now that the life-support networks of many life-forms on our planet – including human beings – are threatened (where they haven’t been destroyed completely already).
Is it a surprise that such a ubiquitous form of ‘progress’ is oblivious to the continuous changes of natural cycles? That the physical constructs of such ‘progress’ demand constant consumerism, rather than a ‘being-in-the-moment’. Why am I not surprised that becoming more acutely aware of such cycles, and of becoming aware of presence – of being present – have made it seem mandatory to stop, to look at what it is I am doing, to ponder why it is that I am doing any of it, and ultimately really to look beyond what it is that is being done or why its being done and instead appreciate the background in which it is being done?
It is a beautiful background. And it is disappearing fast – this is confirmed to me daily by the academic research I am currently doing into the ecological situation that has arisen due to the maniacal marriage of capitalism, development, technology and consumerism (to name a few). It seems that all of us, no matter who we are or what our socio-political and economic positions are, could benefit if we simply stopped. Stopped and realised that our insensitivity to the natural rhythms of the natural world is killing us, as well as killing many other life-forms of the natural world as well. Be cognisant of this fact; embrace the reality of the present, and let this be your ‘ebb’; when the flow starts again, what you learnt in the quieter, more reflective times may just help avert future crises.
So it seems that I have become a part-time polyphasic sleeper; for now at least. This morning, for example, I am up and awake after a 3 hour core sleep, but this has not been the case for 4 of the previous 7 days, where I slept monophasically. I did try and stick to a polyphasic sleep pattern throughout, but I simply killed the alarm and went straight back to sleep on those 4 monophasic sleep days/nights.
I do not, however, in any way consider the polyphasic sleeping experiment to be a failure; indeed, the process is still well under way. Currently I am surprised and pleased to be able to jump between monophasic, polyphasic and biphasic sleep. I mention the latter because often during the previous month, after a 3 – 4 hour awake period after the 3 – 3.5 hour core nap, I will set the alarm for a 20 minute nap but simply turn it off and sleep for about 2 hours, awaking to sunrise. When I did this, I would take either only one 20 minute nap later in the day or, more commonly, not take a nap whatsoever, totalling my sleep for the day to 5 or 5.5 hours – with no drowsy effects whatsoever. Inevitably though, on the night thereafter, I would sleep for a full 7 – 8 hours.
There are many reasons why I just cannot consistently stick to the Everyman 3 cycle lately. The mornings are often seriously cold in my little wooden room, as mentioned in the previous polyphasic sleep post, which does not make it easy to be enthusiastic about getting up at 01 or 01:30. Combine the cold with caffeine and alcohol factors, and the situation becomes clearer – yes, I have a cup of coffee a day now, occasionally a glass of wine or a beer, and occasionally more than just one when the social occasion calls for it. I was a bit of a teetotaller when I began sleeping polyphasically over 3 months ago, which made for a consistent physical reaction to getting out of bed at strange times; such consistency goes straight out the window when waking up after more than one unit of alcohol, and even a small amount of caffeine in the system certainly has an effect in this regard too.
The onset of the polyphasic sleeping experiment was also concurrent with fairly consistent meditation. I still meditate, but not as consistently as 3 months ago. I suppose I am responsible for all the undulations of my habits, but I must express my surprise at the way I have been affected by the change from Summer to Winter, especially considering that I have been living more in-tune with the seasons than ever before (a la permaculture homestead style!). I really have felt the strong pull towards hibernation; it is cold, the sun is low in the sky, the daylight hours are short, so there is less time in the day to do necessary ‘plot chores’ – naps and meditation are therefore difficult to justify when pushing to maximise productivity in waning daylight, and the cold is a factor when the dark sets in.
Socially, too, life has its peaks and troughs. When I returned from my 10 day meditation retreat in February, I just said no to many social occasions – this is particularly easy to do when one has not seen friends and family for a period of two weeks, which is how long I had been away for the meditation retreat. To an extent, the ‘out of sight out of mind’ phenomenon helped me prioritise my solitude, but the more I saw friends thereafter, the more social gatherings I found myself saying yes to; in slips a cup of coffee here and a glass of wine there; gradually the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Ta da!
Excuses? By no means. I said it above – I am happy to be able to be able to move between monophasic, biphasic and polyphasic sleep. I am even surprised that I can do this with little or no reversion to the zombie-mode that defined the 3 weeks’ of adjustment away from monophasic sleep. Such flexibility seems invaluable, dare I say more natural than complete commitment to one or another way of sleeping; if there was one thing that I learnt at my amazing meditation retreat in February, it was just how true the notion that ‘everything changes’ is. Why would this be different with polyphasic sleep? Sure, if I lived in a ‘normal’ insulated house that was easier to live in during winter and if I did ‘normal’ things like plug in heaters when it gets cold, then it would be easier to remain consistent sleep-pattern-wise. Then again, if those ‘normal’ factors were in play, I would hardly have started to experiment with an ‘abnormal’ sleeping pattern! Swings and roundabouts, such is life.
Three weeks ago I came down with virus-like symptoms that could have been the result of a virus or tick-bite fever. Either way, I endured a week of sporadic cold-sweats, aching and weak body, and pounding headaches – whoohoo. During that time I set my alarm for the usual offensive 00:30 or 01:30 (depending on if I went to bed at 21 or 22:00) but only managed to find the strength to get out of bed on three of those seven trying days. Such unavoidable (in)action did not exactly bode well for the polyphasic sleep pattern I had worked so hard to develop during the six weeks prior to the onset of the condition.
Let it be said that I was listening to my body. The last thing I wanted to do was stay in bed and jeopardise a very useful schedule that only works well when all chunks of sleep are taken in their required doses, i.e. three or three-and-a-half hours plus three 20 minute naps at scheduled times during the day. The unavoidable lapse back into monophasic sleep for those four days of that week was what my body needed for recovery; it felt like I needed to be rendered unconscious for that time because that was how my immune system could best cope with the fever.
Of the three ‘usual’ polysleep days, only one was mildly reminiscent of the zombie-mode that accompanies adjustment to the sleeping routine. That said, I was quite ill, so my sorry state could simply have been due to the condition rather than due to a mini-readaptation. The other two days of polysleep were challenging, but doable; I really forced myself to stick to the schedule because it seemed like more days sleeping monophasically would derail the good habit entirely.
There was, however, a consequence to the mixed up week of part-poly part-mono sleeping that lasted for at least a week. The more I think about it, the more I must associate this consequence with the onset of much colder weather here in Port Elizabeth. The consequence amounts to remaining in bed after nap one, which I usually take at 04.10 or 05:10 depending on what time I go to sleep. Now more than ever the bed feels super-snuggly. As documented in this blog, my permaculture homestead is, well, rather rustic, and my tiny house (3.6 by 3.6 metres) is an uninsulated wooden box! An uninsulated tiny wooden box that I happen to love and proudly call my home, but it is cold!
I would retrieve the alarm on the other side of the room (I put it as far away as possible so that I am forced to get out bed), but then I would get straight back into bed. Initially I told myself that I would remain awake and just ‘amp’ myself for the cold, but inevitably I dozed into and out of consciousness. The upside of this was the intensely vivid dreams I kept having, but the downside was that my naps later in the day were less likely to hit the necessary REM state due to it being messed with after nap one. Come to think of it, I did start drinking a cup of coffee a day since the onset of the fever – it helped take my headache away! (No, seriously, it did!). Maybe the reintroduction of caffeine into my diet played a part here too.
The above consequence lasted for about a week. I attribute its onset partly to post-recovery, and partly to a weird re-adaptation that I was not really consciously aware was occurring and I was therefore not consciously equipped to deal with – and maybe the reintroduction of coffee into my diet didn’t help! A week ago, however, I broke that habit, but on two of the previous seven mornings I must have switched my alarm off at 00:30 or 01:30 and climbed back into bed without realising that I was doing so. I did have a social occasion last Thursday that required me to begin the past week by re-organising my core nap to 16:00 in order to stay awake for as long as possible thereafter, which did really mess with my sleep the following day, and which likely has something to do with one of the mornings in question. Certainly yesterday morning, which saw me do my sleepwalking alarm disarming trick, was because I had two glasses of wine the night before; I have had hardly any alcohol in three months, so it is not hard to see what happened here.
At least I have managed to get up and start typing this morning in celebration of an official nine weeks of Everyman 3 polyphasic sleeping. I am going to try to keep at it, but I have learnt not to get too worried or disappointed when I cannot stick to the schedule – I have yet to revert to full-on zombie-mode when my schedule has been disrupted, and I have only myself to berate me for a ‘lack of discipline’, which is quite a pathological psychological response to such disruption, so it’s better just to go with the flow. I have been left with a strong sense that alcohol, however, is quite incompatible with the kind of lifestyle (of which poly-sleeping is an important part) that I am generally finding is best for me. I have my suspicions that coffee, even one cup a day, is also not entirely good in this regard, but I do not want to accept this just yet; let’s see what happens…
The change from Summer to Autumn has been much appreciated. We had rather a hot Summer; quite usual for South Africa, but living in an insufficiently insulated small wooden room intensifies the heat. We call our room ‘the shack’, though most visitors seemed relieved when they see that it’s more like a single-room cabin, bungalow or large shed. Since January, I have been working on academic work in it extensively, always during the heat of the day, when just 3 weeks ago the place had the atmosphere of a sauna at times. It was not uncommon to find me in ‘the shack’ drenched in sweat, literally dripping with it and sliding off an old plastic chair.
April has brought with it those beautiful, calm, moderate days that make this time of year in SA appreciated by so many people. (The temperature, it turns out, reached 31 degrees C today – typical! Still noticeably more comfortable than weeks ago.) I experience the mornings and evenings change, grow colder and shorter, become something that they were not a month ago. The plants and trees change, as do the sounds of insects and of the breeze moving gently through the trees. A gentleness seems to be settling.
I’m experiencing all of this with particular clarity this year. It is a landmark year for me; the permaculture homestead is at a point of comparative ease of functionality; nothing new needs to be built with any urgency, the only pressing digging that needs to be done is for bi-monthly compost builds and turns, and there are quite a few self-perpetuating vegetable and plant processes going on. There are still peppers, peppadews, chillis, tomatoes and egg a few plants on the go from the Summer crop, while sweet potatoes, potatoes, rocket and mustard leaves are popping up by themselves for the Autumn. There is no bare ground anywhere; raised beds covered in mulch are everywhere, and the spaces in between are grassy. The orchard trees are looking happy enough (no fruit for a few more years though). And the systems needed for cooking, hot water, cleaning, etc. are all in place, even if some of them are quite make-shifty.
There is still plenty more to be done at the homestead, but because nothing is flashing a panic button at me any longer, I have more of a tendency to notice the texture of the air, see the repeating patterns of the sky, feel the character of the whole thing change. It seems like I change along with it, and it along with; the I/it distinction doesn’t seem suitable.
This is part of the beauty of permaculture: whatever energy you put in to the place, it will return with interest. In quantity and quality. Dedicate a year to building healthy soil and promise to be kind to it, and you soon see the soil support all sorts of life. Plan for the life of the beds to be cooperative, and synergy will occur. Set up systems so that waste is minimised and then incorporated back into the systems, and watch how the systems strengthen.
Upon arriving to South Africa from the United Kingdom in mid-2012, the heavens burst and 4 months of flooding followed. Action had to be taken quickly lest tents flood, seedlings drown, spirits break. Things popped into position without too much time for observation. At time, thoughts have crossed the mind that ask, ‘is this the right place for that?’. Luckily, in many cases the positioning of system components, gardens, structures, etc. has not been too far from ideal. There is a natural flow of energy that developed with the movement of people in the area. Fortunately, the particular people involved did not level and cement the place when they arrived; instead, the natural features remained and they are incorporated into the homestead.
An example I am am grateful for is that ‘the shack’ door faces due east: I get to see the sun rise every morning. I see the darkness slowly reveal the glow in the distance and watch as the scene is revealed. I am part of that scene; I am making up for my lack of initial observation not only by observing as carefully as I can now, but also by being part of that which is observed. How things have changed on this part of the plot, and in me, in the previous year. Certainly, the aspects of my life now heavily infused with aspects of permaculture are not the exclusive forces driving such a transition of self, but they are central to the process. And the self I mention is, ironically, less of a self than it was; the essence unfolding is one whose borders have faded and instead started enmeshing with a myriad of forms of life, atmosphere, earth, and spirit.
This after after roughly 21 months since first arriving to an ’empty’ corner of a friend’s plot. I am curious about where the increasing synergy will lead in following years; but my heart and mind are uplifted by the sense that this physical permaculture base participates fully in the present tense; and furthermore that, ironically, such a characteristic ensures the flourishing of the future.
It’s 02.15 in the morning on the Monday that will soon see me leave the Transkei, where I’ve been staying for 5 days or so. I came to see a friend and his plot, do some observation with him for a permaculture start-up, and generally to have a break from an intense 2 months of productivity on several levels back home in Port Elizabeth.
Just before I arrived in Coffee Bay I had spent 2 nights in Grahamstown where my partner Emma finished a lecturing contract. I posted the previous polyphasic sleep log entry from there, on the first morning (6 days ago); I was very positive about the polyphasic sleep process, as evident in the post. Ironically, Murphy the bastard was out to get me and I really felt tired for the rest of the day; my naps didn’t really help, and I became a bit cross-eyed by the evening. I can’t explain why this happened, but I feel like it’s still early days in the new sleeping regime, so I’m happy that the odd curve-ball comes my way.
So it is unsurprising that on the second morning I somehow slept though my alarm – it definitely went off, because the screen of my phone (which is my alarm) displayed the usual indication that it had. I awoke feeling very good though, as if I needed to catch up on some lost sleep. But then came the 6+ hours’ drive to Coffee Bay from Gtown, during which I managed to take only one nap before arriving to a busy afternoon and evening.
I knew immediately upon arriving that my sleeping schedule was in jeopardy. My routine has been well established at home, but largely around the computer, which I did not bring along for the trip – I needed a break from it (I’m typing this post from my cell phone). So initially I thought I would spend the early-morning awake-time meditating and reading a bit, maybe playing via pen and paper with a proposal I have to rework yet again.
The first night (Wednesday), however, I went to bed an hour later than usual. I did get up on the adjusted schedule and did meditate, but found myself making a lot of tea and taking an extra nap instead of reading. During the day, I could not sleep at preferred times, so by the end of the first full day here, I was awake but aware that my sleeping pattern had been disrupted.
Then I went and pulled the trigger on the schedule by not setting my alarm properly at the end of Thursday. We went to bed early that night, at 09:00 – so I set the alarm for 12.15 instead of 00:15. I awoke at 03:35, after 6+ hours of sleep!! I hadn’t slept so continuously in 5 weeks, and I did feel somewhat disappointed at myself for the mistake. I got up and stayed up, and took only a brief nap later in the day.
But things were to get worse. It was Friday at this point, a big social night here, and we went to a place called Jah Drums where a new friend was to play a gig. It was a strange night, as I didn’t drink any alcohol, but almost everyone else around me seemed hell-bent on getting wasted – each to their own! Emma and I declined the offer after the gig to go to the next watering hole, and we went back to the night’s last-minute change-of-plan accommodation – the kitchen floor of a friend of our host.
It turns out that 2 other people had been given the same offer, so 2 hours into my core sleep, we were awoken to the sound of drunk people moving furniture around. One of these people then lit a cigarette in the closed room, fell asleep with it in his hand, and started snoring for the championship title. Needless to say, I was not going to sleep through it, so I went to the car and awkwardly huddled myself in foetal position over the front 2 seats (it’s a small ‘bakkie’) – and promptly slept through my alarm again!
No naps during Saturday, seeing as my night’s biphasic sleep had given me what I needed. At this point I started to wonder if I had completely undone in unholy armageddon all of the work put into becoming an Everyman 3 polyphasic sleeper. I really was quite alarmed (ha!) by the thought. But yesterday (Sunday) morning I managed to stick to the schedule, with the exception of an extra nap between core and nap 1.
I was up at 01:00 earlier and meditated for a full hour, with only occasional nodding! Now I’ve written this post, and I feel great. Some tea is on order. I’m looking forward to the sunrise over the coastline here – see the picture at the end of the previous post – that’s what I’m facing now, though it’s dark, but I can hear the waves crashing on the rocks below. Maybe I’ll take an extra nap, because I’ll be starting the 8 hours drive home by 8 o’clock, and I’d prefer not to pass out at the wheel en route home. Luckily Emma shares the driving and is a second pair of eyes.
So it’s quite a relief that I feel like I’ve slipped straight back into the routine despite being derailed for a few days. I imagine that more botched nights would make recovery difficult, and then impossible. Strangely though, looking back on it now, it all seems like it was meant to be – I feel awake and alert, enthusiastic and ready to get back to the tall order of work that now awaits me. Whereas in the past I usually felt sad when leaving a holiday destination, and depressed by the thought of returning to ‘normality’. Not so right now: again, as mentioned in previous posts, this good state of mind could be attributed to the mix of polyphasic sleeping, meditation, diet, discipline, etc. But polyphasic sleeping is the obvious main change that has allowed me to fit in all the work I need to do, as well as some of the things I’d like to do. Invaluable, at this stage of my life at least.