Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Life Outside The Comfort Zone

I have noticed that I am my happiest self when I am not stuck in routines, so usually after I have just made some (big) change in my life: moving to a new place (or a new country), trying out new activities, discovering new places on hikes, finding new (and more sustainable) ways to do things, working on the fields and planting onions or small plants (which I have been doing quite a bit lately), foraging and learning about plants, creating new recipes, and so on. Anything that breaks my usual routines and enriches my life in a new way makes me a happier person.

Why is that?

I think it is because it helps me stay present. This is also why the nomadic life appeals to me so much and why I regularly like to change surroundings and try out new things. It brings me into a state of mind where everything seems new; a place of learning without limitations. I love living life from that place.

'Comfort zone' is a slightly misleading term though, because it implies that going outside the comfort zone is somehow uncomfortable. Yet this has not been my experience. Perhaps sometimes initially, but most often it has only been very rewarding. Staying stuck in your "comfort zone" on the other hand, is mostly very uncomfortable (even though you may not realize it until you get out of it), because you are going against your nature. Your nature is to flow with life; to change and evolve. The mind wants to grow and expand. It doesn't like staying stuck in one place for too long. Change doesn’t have to involve big outer changes though. It can take many different forms and different people prefer different types of changes. Change can happen in the types of activities we do, our surroundings, mental states, thought processes, the skills we practice, etcetera.

And yet, most people’s lives are boring and consist of the same pattern of clustered routines day after day, and week after week. And we seem to cling to these routines like it’s our only hope for survival. Perhaps because it is the only thing left that we know…. No wonder we are such an unhappy bunch and depression is rampant.

The importance of following your own voice
At times getting outside your comfort zone can get uncomfortable, but usually this is only the case when you go for something that somehow feels unnatural to you. This could happen when we do things for the wrong reasons (more for others instead of for ourselves), for example if we let ourselves get dragged into things that we don’t really want to do by well-meaning friends or relatives.

There is a fine line between going outside your comfort zone and doing things that we are not entirely ready to do at that moment, or that are simply unnatural. Going against your nature is highly uncomfortable and has no rewards in terms of personal development other than discovering that it is probably something you never want to do again. And that could prevent you from staying in the flow of discovering new things and trying out exciting stuff. So it could even contribute to you getting stuck in a rut, or get you stuck even further. So it is important to follow your own voice at all times, even though this does not rule out that you might need a little push from others from time to time, or inspiration to know what is possible and what options are available to you (because sometimes we simply don’t realize that there is another way, or we don’t know how or where to start). But you will know when you need this input from others too. Also, no one but you knows what is within the ‘comfort zone’ to you and what is not. It consists of different things for different people (and it changes with time).

Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between natural and unnatural ways to break routines, but there are some signs that let us know when we are about to cross that line. For example, when we consider doing something that is not in line with - or even opposed to - our values or priorities in life. Then what is the point? However, if something is in line with your values and you are not doing it - because fear or other uncomfortable emotions are holding you back (or if you are already doing something even though it is not in line with your values), then perhaps it is a good idea to test the waters a bit and break those habits.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you tell the difference:
1. Is this something I want to do? Is this something I really want to experience? (You don’t need to know why; sometimes there is no why and searching for it can keep you from taking action).
2. Would I do it in a world without fear?
3. Is it something that is in line with my values and what I believe in? Is it important to me?
4. (Optional, but it may provide extra motivation) Is there something really valuable I can learn from doing this?

For me, traveling has all those qualities, which is why I enjoy it so much: it keeps me from getting too stuck in my "comfort zone" (or perhaps 'habitual zone' would be a more suitable term). It allows me to explore, expand and see the world through different perspectives. It encourages me to be creative. Also, doing things differently and challenging myself (such as the Moneyless Challenge) has helped me to practice living outside the comfort zone.

Here are some things you can do regularly to avoid getting stuck in a boring life:

1. Step out of routines
Routines are a survival mechanism for boredom. Autopilot helps us to manage when our brains are overstimulated. It is supposed to be a state used for emergencies; not as a general state of being. On top of that, living a life of routines makes us VERY tired (have you noticed that?): it drains ALL our energy, so even if we wanted to change, this makes it very difficult and becomes another obstacle on our journey for change. The risk of exhaustion (and burnout) is yet another reason why breaking up with routines (one by one) is a great idea.
Also, routines create habits. And habits can be beneficial or not.  If you have no habits or keep breaking them, then you have no bad habits either and you can decide in each moment what feels right. Habits and autopilot also stop you from asking questions. It can lead to people taking things for granted and it can rob you from awareness. For example, it can lead you to forget how uninteresting your life has become, so that you don't have to make any changes.

2. Question everything
Just like behavior becomes habitual, thought processes do also. Investigate automatic judgments. Is it really true? Do some research. Investigate the way you do things. Is it the only way, or are there other ways? Try to put some variety in the way you do things, so that you don't get stuck into rigid patterns or routines. Question your fears and other emotions. Emotions will pass. Do not let them get in the way of new experiences! Of course it is always good to be sensible, but it is never sensible to jump to conclusions (like: It’s not possible. I can’t do this. There’s no other way. It’s too difficult. It’s dangerous; and so on). Also, life as it is, is dangerous and none of us will get out alive. Don't let this stop you from living life to the fullest! Life without (ad)ventures is like champagne without bubbles.

3. Be open to new experiences
Try out new things. Seek them out. Keep an open mind, because you never know what life might bring you, and this is good news! So always be on the look-out for something good coming your way. Because there is always something good on the way (even though it doesn't always seem like it).

4. Feel the fear and do it anyway
Courage is not about the absence of fear. It is about overcoming it. Letting it be there without letting it get in your way. And after a while it will just be background noise. It won’t bother you anymore.
There is even a book with this title and apparently it is very good (so I’ve heard).

Getting outside your comfort zone (= habitually getting out of habits, habitual thinking and routines) can get you to a space outside what you know and believe. It is a space of wonder and a place of learning, with the freedom of not-knowing. It is an open space, with no place to hide.  This may sound very special, and it is, but it is also easy. It doesn’t have to involve anything spectacular.
Here are some ideas of how to get out of your comfort zone, or break your routines:

* Go hitchhiking
* Sing karaoke
* Use couchsurfing - either as a host or as a guest
* Try out busking (and donate the money to a charity of your choice or to strangers on the street)
* Give Free Hugs
* Move abroad for a while
* Travel alone
* Volunteer
* Take a dancing class
* Dumpster dive
* Climb a mountain
* Learn horse riding
* Plant something: food or trees
* Go foraging

What routines do you need to break through to be a happier person?

Monday, 30 May 2016

Free Your Mind

What if people were taught to think for themselves instead of obeying others and following orders? What if we would trust our own inner guidance rather than blindly follow some stranger that happens to be recognized as a ‘leader’? What if every human being would go on their own quest for truth and wisdom before speaking out about any issue? What if we would listen to each other with respect and reason instead of fear and a determination to be right, so that we could really hear each other and learn from each other while keeping our minds and hearts open at all times? What if we would stop forcing others to think the way we were taught to think, and try to look at the world from someone else’s point of view, to see if perhaps it could start to make sense?

Un-free (=conditioned, or some might say 'brainwashed') thinking usually triggers discomfort. It feels uncomfortable, because it may not be true for you, even though you were taught to think this way. It can create inner and outer conflicts, because it doesn't make sense. To find out what is true for you, perhaps the following process may prove useful to you. It has helped me gain clarity on many occasions.

1. Find a quiet space, without any distractions.
Get away from noise. Get away from people, and others' opinions. Find a quiet place in nature, where you can freely reflect without getting disturbed, for as long as necessary. Switch off your phone. Connect with nature. Re-connect with yourself.
Connect with all species, with all beings. How do they live? Observe. Connect with the flow of life. Realize you are a part of it. Nothing is permanent. All is in motion. All is connected, all is relative. Nothing exists in a vacuum. If you fully understand one part of life, truly, then all other stuff starts to make more sense as well. Start simple; start with the earth. Start with nature.
In all of this, do not seek an answer. The answer will come naturally. However, if this process does not give you an answer (but it will with practice) then think about what your hero would do. What would Gandhi do, say, or think. What would Nelson Mandela do, what would the Dalai Lama do, what would Byron Katie do, what would your dog do, what would a child do before it was taught fear, what would [whoever you think is wise and pure in his/her mind and actions] do?

2. Question your beliefs.
a. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. Everyone that is involved in the matter that you are contemplating, deserves your attention. The 'terrorist', the politician, the 'victim', the bystander. One by one.

b. Watch them with an open mind: Let go of the perception that they must be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There are no enemies and no victims; only fellow earthlings. Let go of any mental story you may have about them. Just visualize their face and look them in the eyes. What do you see? Look at the (human) being behind your assumptions, concepts and judgments.What are their hopes, dreams, fears, motivations, desires? Can you imagine where they came from; what kind of life they may have had? See in which ways you are like them. What do you have in common? Have you had similar beliefs, hopes and dreams? Again, stop yourself from looking at the image in your mind as either good or bad. Just observe. And know that even now these images still exist only in your mind. They can exist nowhere else.

c. Look yourself in the eye (use a mirror, or imagine it). What are you feeling and believing in this matter? What are your hopes and dreams? What are you doing to yourself through your mental projections? And can you let go of the story you tell yourself about them in your mind? Consider the opposite of what you are believing. Could this be as true?

d. Where do your beliefs come from? Take them back to the roots. Who taught you this? And do they still make sense?

3. Let go.
Disconnect (mentally) from your story about yourself and the situation, your reflections, your thoughts, your feelings and contemplations. Do not push them away, but simply disengage; stop feeding into them and interacting with them in your mind. Disconnect from all the answers you came up with in the previous step. Disconnect from what it may have taught you. There is nothing to learn and nothing to remember. All you need to know is already present. It is waiting for you. It will shine through automatically when you let go of the rest.
Disconnect from what you were taught when you were younger and how you were raised. Disconnect from morals and opinions (they are not yours anyway; and if they are they will remain). Only what is true for you will remain. It does not require any effort. Conditioning requires effort. It requires maintaining through repetition. It requires memorizing. If you let go of all you think you know, then what will remain is all you need to know.
Letting go may require some practice.

For more information about freeing your mind, I highly recommend The Work of Byron Katie. Katie has taught me so much and I owe much of my progress in life to her.

Dumpster Diving Myths

I hear a lot of myths about dumpster diving, so I thought it would be good to address these on the blog.

It’s dirty / disgusting, or simply: Ewww!
This is actually not so much the case, at least here in Norway. The food is often packaged in plastic and thrown out in garbage bags. This means it doesn’t get in touch with the ‘dumpster juice’ that can often be found on the bottom of dumpsters and is probably teeming with life. So yeah, of course things can get dirty, but it’s all about using common sense.
Also, most dumpsters are filled to the brim with goodies, so you don't actually have to 'dive' in. Instead, you just pick out the groceries you need. 

There are rats
I have never, ever, seen a rat in or near any dumpster. I have seen birds though. I have even seen birds ‘dumpster dive’ those half open garbage cans in the city; usually making a mess while they are at it, spreading unusable items all around it. But they usually can’t get into supermarket dumpsters, because most of them are closed off.

It’s illegal
Actually, in most countries dumpster diving is not illegal. It may also not be legal (it may merely get tolerated), but you cannot get arrested for it in most places. So strictly in legal terms, ‘not illegal’ and ‘legal’ may not be the same thing, but in practice and for you personally there is not much difference.

It’s dangerous
Again, this is a matter of using common sense. Don’t dive during the day or when the dumpster is getting emptied. Don’t go into dumpsters that are difficult to get out of again. And bring a friend who can be on the lookout if necessary.

You can get caught and get in trouble
Yes, this is possible, but if you go well after closing time, then it is highly unlikely that you will get caught by store personnel. And police doesn’t really care, even though they may ask you what you are doing. I have been diving with police driving past several times and they didn’t even stop to ask what I was doing.
I have been diving for two years and almost every day. I have been 'caught' by personnel on approximately 8 occasions (all of them during opening hours). It helps to do some research on your favorite dumpster: when is staff around? When do they throw out the goodies? And just dive with respect and discretion.

Dumpster divers only eat bad/expired food
I used to believe this myself. I could not believe that supermarkets would throw away perfectly good food. And yet, this keeps happening. Of course there is always some ‘bad’ food in there too, but most of the time the majority is good stuff. Perhaps fruits and vegetables have some blemishes, but probably these won’t ruin the taste or can be easily sliced off.
Sometimes you can even find stuff that is not yet expired and even (almost) fresh! Usually this happens when they get a lot new shippings of something (like strawberries and other fruits when they are in season), or when the store closes for a couple of days due to holidays. This is when I found these raspberries in the dumpster, which look better than they do most of the time in the shops!

Dumpster diving is for poor / homeless people
Well, it’s a great way to eat for free, so why not? Having said that, I have never met a homeless person at the dumpsters, and I have met plenty of dumpster divers. So eating out of dumpsters doesn’t make you homeless. It makes you a caring human being who doesn’t like to see food go to waste; or a practical person who doesn’t like to buy stuff from inside a store when the same stuff gets discarded through the backdoor. What is the point of that anyway?

For more tips on diving, and a guide on how to get started, read Dumpster Diving 101.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

How To Make Dandelion Syrup

I have started a new challenge! To eat at least some foraged food every day.

So far I have mostly eaten ground elder and dandelions, and today I have experimented with a new recipe that I have been wanting to try out for a while:
Dandelion syrup.


You need:
Approx. 190 ml water
50 dandelions (just the yellow flower head)
1 lemon
(Of course you can double, triple or quadruple the recipe if you want to make more.)

The original recipe that can be found online also uses sugar and less lemon. I guess you need to use this if you want to keep the syrup for a much longer time (you can keep it in glass jars, prepared in the same way as when you would make jam or compote).

The original recipe uses:
400 dandelions
2 lemons
2 kg sugar
1,5 liter water 


Pick 50 dandelion flower heads (with as little stem as possible, because that part doesn’t taste very well). Make sure you leave some flowers intact so that they get the chance to spread their seeds again and come back next year. Pick in several different places if necessary. Also make sure you check for insects directly underneath the flower before you pick them, because it’s a favorite spot for all sorts of critters and we don’t want to squash any of them. You will find quite a lot of ladybugs, tiny spiders and other creatures there (on the entire plant, but especially underneath the flower top). If you check them for critters while you are picking (and you pick them from a clean place; e.g. not the side of a busy road) you don’t need to wash them, and that way they also keep more of the valuable stuff, like pollen.

For the next steps, here’s what I did:
Boil approximately190 ml of water; then add the flower tops. Add the juice of one very small lemon (or half or a quarter of a bigger lemon).Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Let it sit for 1,5 hours.
Strain and enjoy! For a thicker syrup it needs to boil a bit longer and you need more flowers.

If you don’t like heating your food and want to avoid the loss of vitamins, you can also just add the ingredients to warm water and let it sit for 24 hours, although it could be that some nutrients of the flower don’t dissolve so well into the liquid if it is not heated, but I guess the different recipes can be used for different purposes.

The syrup, when ready, smells sweet, with a hint of sour and bitter at the same time. If you want to get rid of the bitterness, you need to make sure that there are no green bits left at all on the dandelion parts. However, this is very hard to do without them all falling apart, and it is a lot of extra work. Plus there are many valuable nutrients in the green parts of the plant as well.

Dandelion is supposedly good for the liver and the digestive system. It can be used for skin disorders and as a blood cleanser. The syrup is a good immunity booster and can be used to treat or prevent colds. But don’t take my word for it (or the Internet’s); experiment and discover for yourself what dandelion syrup can do for you. At the very least it tastes really good, and it’s all natural (if you don’t add the sugar)!

Note about the taste:

If you are not used to bitter/sour tastes, you might want to start off with adding at least some sugar or honey, because without it, it may taste a bit sour/bitter. Personally I still liked it like that (and even better when slightly diluted with water). You could also replace the sugar with honey, so that you get the syrupy consistency. If you leave out sugar the consistency is more like tea, but you will get more of the health benefits.

Enjoy nature's treasures!

Friday, 27 May 2016

Most Frequent Dumpster Finds

After about two years of full-time dumpster diving, I usually know what to expect when I go out for a dive, although there is also always an element of surprise of what exactly I will find, especially when I venture out into new territory (different region, different store or different chain).

Here is what I find most often. I never run out of these!

1. Junk food / candy
Since the dumpster is a reflection of what you find in the store, it is no surprise that junk food, sweets and candy are the most frequently encountered types of dumpster treasure. Cookies, chocolate, bonbons, cakes, ready-meals, etc are all regularly available, usually in large quantities, free of charge. Especially after holidays.

2. Bread
If the store has a bakery, then bread is a daily find. Usually it is neatly packaged in a bag. I also find a lot of loaves, but in addition mostly a lot of pastries and buns. The kind that get sold individually (and is very expensive).

3. Fruits and vegetables
I usually find more fruits than vegetables, but most of the time there are at least some vegetables to be found in the dumpster each day. Most frequently I find bananas, oranges, apples, and mandarins. Also blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapples and avocados. Often I also find broccoli, snap peas, cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, bell peppers and cauliflower. Less frequently (spring) onions, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, zucchini, kale and spinach. And of course it changes a bit with the seasons.

4. Meat, fish and dairy products
Yoghurts, all kinds of cheese, meat (mainly sausages) and fish (mostly salmon).

5. Fresh herbs
Fresh parsley, coriander, oregano and so on (usually organic) are frequently found in the dumpster, as well as all kinds of flowers. Often they still look reasonably okay and with a bit of TLC and a bit more space they can  do quite well and be enjoyed for a long while.

6. Flour, sugar and salt 
Only thrown out when the package is torn. But who cares? I just transfer it into a plastic container that I find.

Less frequent finds, but if, then a lot:

1. Eggs

2. Coffee
Sometimes the packets are still in their  cardboard transport box.

3. Frozen food
Ice cream, frozen vegetables and berries, pizza, etc. Usually I find these only when packaging has been damaged. Rarely when they are expired. But if they do expire, there is usually a lot of them.

4. Nuts

Rare finds:

These should be cherished and celebrated.

1. Spices / dried herbs

2. Alcoholic beverages
Yes, I have found them on occasion. Mostly beer and one time vodka. I don't drink alcohol myself but they make great gifts for those who like this kind of stuff.

3. Anything canned and in glass containers
Glass containers are the best because you can reuse them after to make your own jam.

4. Vegan 'milk'
Rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk and oat milk. I have found them all on occasion, but it is rare.

5. Cloudberries
A Norwegian delicacy and very expensive because they are handpicked in the mountains. I found these only two times!

6. Supplements
Such as vitamin D and Omega 3. I found two of these recently, which is very useful in Norway.

7. Beans (dried)
Rare but I have found them once.

Things you may not expect to find, which I have found in supermarket dumpsters:

1. A dart board

2. Laundry detergent, shampoo and body wash
I actually find these on a regular basis.

3. Staff clothing
Very useful if you want to dive inconspicuously.

4. Accessories
Yes, I even found these and I know one shop that throws them out each year around Christmas time. Still with labels and price tags.

5. Candles
Especially after Christmas time. Makes sense I guess.

6. A battery charger including rechargeable batteries
This is awesome, because they are needed for your headlight, which is an essential dumpster diving tool. It was thrown away because the pins of the plug were a bit bent (which can probably be fixed very easily).

I hope you enjoyed this list! This is for Norway, but I would love to know if there are differences. So what's in your local dumpster? Let me know in the comments, or send me pictures from what you've found!

(For more tips on diving, and a guide on how to get started, read Dumpster Diving 101).