For your new year's resolution, resolve to spend half an hour a day doing manual, productive labour with a tangible outcome.
By Jason Allen
Published December 16, 2010
A few weeks ago, I posted an article about resilience and how the most important skill to learn to prepare for any coming challenges was not specific tasks, but the skill of learning. More to the point, I suggested that people who know how they learn will be uniquely suited to the unpredictability of the long descent.
Michelle Martin then posted a reply which I thought was right on the money, but thought I might spin out these ideas a little further.
I have been thinking since then of providing a list of suggested skills that it might be useful to try out in your quest to learn how to learn. In the end, though, I kept coming back to my favorite scene from the movie City Slickers.
In many ways, the key to success in life, and indeed in the economic world many of us expect is 'one thing', but that one thing is something you need to figure out yourself.
Besides, any skills I were to suggest now, may end up being totally useless in the face of whatever unpredictable future we find ourselves in. John Micheal Greer wrote on this at length recently, and it's worth a read.
By way of suggestion, here's a starting point: Spend 30 minutes a day doing manual labour. Notice I didn't say physical activity: the two are not neccessarily related.
For the first several thousand years or so of human civilization, if you had walked up to an average person on the street and told them you had created a place they could go every week to just exercise, and work up a really good sweat by performing repetitive physical activities that had no practical purpose other than exercise itself, they would have done one of three things: laughed at you, had you committed, or press-ganged you.
For our not-too-distant ancestors, the thought of needing to create spaces - and even machines - that would enable people to do exercise just for its own sake would have been hilarious.
Greek Olympiads aside - which were mainly the projects of the idle rich - they were too busy doing manual labour for a purpose. They were plowing fields, or tending orchards, or canning and preserving food, or mending clothes or tack, or any of a million and one other jobs that needed doing to keep a household running.
Nowadays, most of us work in jobs that are so totally divorced from the mind-body connection we evolved into that we need to do an hour on the stairmaster just to 'clear our heads'.
Humans are an intensely physical species. There is so much evidence that exercise clears our thinking and keeps us mentally sharp that it almost goes without saying now. Our minds and our bodies are inexorably linked, despite what 300 years of enlightenment thinking has tried to tell us.
That's why Gandhi insisted that every person should spend half an hour a day doing manual labour. His work at the spinning wheel was as much about clearing his thoughts as it was about protest. In the end though, he didn't just end up with clarity of thought, he ended up with a whole lot of Khadi that he could put to a very practical use.
So with the Mahatma's words ringing in our ears, allow me to propose the following. Let it be resolved that your new year's resolution be to spend half an hour a day doing manual labour that does not involve basic housework or cooking (i.e. the things you would have to do every day anyway.
If you doubt how much you can get done in half an hour a day, I'll point you to my freezer downstairs, which is full of frozen veggies. These were the excess from our garden and CSA that were blanched most evenings in August in only a little more time than that. Or the rows of canned peaches and jam in our pantry. Or the homemade leather slippers I'm halfway through or the gallon jugs of homebrewed apple cider.
If you have never consistently devoted half an hour a day to 'doing things with a tangible outcome' you will be pleasantly surprised by your output.
I would also be the first to admit that I have never been able to do this consistently, but in the fits and starts of trying to fit in a half an hour a day of 'labour', it has produced substantial results, and perhaps more importantly, clarity.
The main thing you might accomplish, should make this choice, will be starting down the road to a DIY lifestyle. To becoming comfortable with just 'giving it a go.' To becoming okay with making mistakes, with screwing things up and not beating yourself up over it. To figuring out the way(s) you are best able to learn.
I have a host of hobbies that I am either just learning, or keen to explore, as I'm sure do you. The only question is, what's holding you back? Time? Energy? Money? Or fear of screwing it up and not being 'successful' at it on your first try?
Just the act of beginning can be very liberating. The only 'rule' is that it has to be something you don't already do, and it has to result in a tangible outcome.
By the time you've been doing this for a couple of months, you'll be well on the way to figuring out that most important skill for the long descent: the ability to figure out how to do the million and one other jobs that need doing to keep a household running when the option of just buying a cheap foreign made replacement is no longer tenable.
This essay was first published on Jason's website.
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