It’s been four months now that I’ve been living off the grid on a plot of land with no electricity, no real running water and no neighbors. You would think the inevitable questions would arise, whenever I tell people about this, but often my interlocutors are too perplexed by the exotic nature of my life to really ask anything at all. What are we – my partner and I – doing out there? Why have we chosen to live like that and, surely, it’s just temporary, right? Soon, internet connection and solar panels will bring the modern day and age back into our back-yard…
I’m not really sure.
Initially I won’t deny that part of the plan was to have a bit of a modern living standard out there, mixed with the untarnished nature and wildness of the place, but the longer I spend without cell phone access or the possibility to use my computer, the more whole I feel and the less I long for any of it. Electric lights compared to warm and flickering candle lights seem like a stale and soulless imitation leading to a destabilization of the circadian rhythm and a loss of connection. I can’t really explain why or what it is exactly – it’s like when you go into a shop that has a display full of ripe looking fruits, but when you pick up the first one, you find it’s fake. In fact, everything around you is fake – an imitation, a lie. Being out there without all these intricate lies has given me back something I didn’t know I was missing. A piece of spirit, a bit of depth and resonance, something that defies words.
When people do ask or comment it often turns to: what have you learned so far from being out there? But how can I answer this question, when it really isn’t about accumulating more knowledge. There is something deep and subtle within me that called to me, urging me to go – like Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Explorer:
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated - so: "Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges - "Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"
So I went. Oh, I made plans before – I wanted to call it permaculture, or natural agriculture, I wanted to create a Yoga retreat center for digital detox and so on. But every label I tried giving it, soon faded away into oblivion leaving only what is.
We’re not there to learn, to gather knowledge or even wisdom, to explore new techniques, technologies or formulas for making this life work. We’re not there to make a show or even to be roll models for others to follow. We’re not following any specific design or ideology in what we do. Instead what we want is to forget all designs, all formulas, algorithms and techniques, transcending these small and artificial means of abstracting nature and life. No matter how adaptive and clever a philosophy about working with nature may sound, it’s still a framework that clearly positions the human somewhere outside of nature, a lens that projects certain patterns upon nature and our behavior, inhibiting the full range of movement we could really reach and so diminishing our life. We become small, nature becomes small, easy to fit in a box. A Bonsai version of nature, an imitation. But that is not what we want.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t use tools and ideas previously used by others – we simply refrain from applying them in a way that preconceives of our land and life in any certain way – and we didn’t decide this, it just kind of happened like that, spontaneously. Every step, every day, every moment has to be lived and taken for what it is, not seen as an iteration in some sort of computerized, abstract simulation. Trial and error are part of the game, but beyond that there is a more subtle relationship that develops, something more intuitive and creative.
It’s impossible to turn up and lay out plans without listening to the soul of the land and the soul of the universe first, lest the vastness of our interconnected beingness collapse into tiny little digits and pixels and everything turns into an imitation again. A lie. The nature you see, when you look at it through the eyes of someone with a philosophy about it is not real nature. All you are seeing is your own distorted and tiny reflection.
Of course we learn things. Like how and why people trim olive trees, or how bees can be attracted, which wood burns better in our stove and which vegetables make yummy roasts, how to use a Japanese carpentry plane and lots of other things.
But these things are not the essence of our life. They are not the true treasure or art of this journey – opening up to living for a moment (and then every moment) without the inhibition of knowledge, but instead the spontaneous and word-transcending insight of intuition and resonance. Knowledge is like a fence or barrier: it’s good for keeping things separated, and certainly useful for keeping things out or in, but if we get lost in building barriers, turning them into heavy walls, ever higher and ever thicker, all we create is isolation and disconnect in smaller and smaller spaces. But what if we could embrace the vastness of space, allowing knowledge to turn into something fluid and unbound? What would this kind of knowledge look like? What would a human fully embodying this unbound intelligence be like? Perhaps you would not notice any difference.
But in reality, I believe this is what the term “creativity” should describe. Free from dogmas or recipes, residing in full awareness, taking every moment in and – not just adapting to it – but being an active participant in the unfolding orchestration of universal energy, in full accord with nature.
You see, it’s hard to explain. There is a certain something that defies my capability of putting it into words. Perhaps that is its’ nature, or perhaps that is my own short coming. It may sound a bit like a over-spiritualization of a retro-romantic living situation, but in reality, while I do practice Taoist inner alchemy, my partner couldn’t care less for spirituality, and yet it is often his untiring energy and ever evolving creativity, observation and curiosity that resonates with our land and shapes out lives. As for retro-romanticism, we’re definitely not trying to re-enact stone-age living or anything of the sorts, but we do feel that certain tendencies of modern life are dis-ease causing and better avoided…
The life I’m describing is not a life of a deliberate spiritual practice, aimed at achieving liberation as an abstract mental concept, as though spirit were something separate from each moment. Here and now in the refinement of our being over the fire of true reality, nothing can be more spiritual than just being. Liberation is the liberation from abstract mental concepts, not the pursuit of them. Obtaining a mind that is like a clear and open space might require a meditative and energetic practice, but allowing nature to inform and shape the mind, refusing to accept any fixed ideas about life or even itself (the mind), can surely, immeasurably magnify our mental range of movement and broaden our experience of life, allowing for creativity, spontaneity, inner stability and clarity etc. – all “qualities” that are said to arise from meditation as well.
I’m definitely not trying to make a case for people to stop meditating. For me it’s rather the opposite effect this life has on me: The longer I stay and allow each living moment to be lived, the more I yearn for meditation, finding myself spontaneously sitting down for 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there, apart from my regular and longer practice every morning. What I am saying is that life, when lived striving for an internal and external accord with the universal energies, is the very foundation of our practice. It is our practice. Meditation is not something separate, not a cookie recipe to be made after work. Spirituality is not a book you can buy or an instagram quote you can read. It’s not a class you can visit or a technique you can perform. It’s not a secret movement or a specific way of breathing.
This is easy to misunderstand: You can’t just indulge in whatever and call it spirituality or a full life either. Not every kind of action is in accord with nature, not every kind of mental function is in harmony with spirit-in-action. Life is only a spiritual practice if the open space of our mind is kept stable, kept open. If your mind plunges into cascades of thoughts and abstractions, delusions and fixations, then no matter where you are or what you are doing, there is only smallness. I suppose vastness can be found anywhere, an empty room, a prison cell, a cave, the top of a mountain – but the process of working intuitively with our basic needs, like creating shelter, foraging for food, horticulture, waste and water management etc. with very little money (i.e. the need to use what is at hand and be creative with it) has been a huge boost for this mind here in opening up and loosening its grip on fixations, worries, doubts and other things.
One of the first things people say to me when they see me is that I look fresher, healthier. The mountain air must be doing me some good. Yes! The lack of chemical pollution, radiation pollution (no cell-phone coverage!), noise pollution, light pollution, stress factors such as traffic or crowding and the absence of constant distractions (tv, netflix, internet, music, chit-chat) have had a profound effect on my body and mind. Exposure to the elements and seasons has brought me closer to what I really am and what this life is really about. Sitting in silence allows me to see it more clearly. Sitting in front of our wood stove warms my soul. I let go of the lies and imitations. They’ve become too small for me to care about. My mind is as vast as the ocean, as still as the night sky.
This is what living off-grid is about for me. If you’re interested in seeing more of our impressions, we do have an instagram account, whiche every now and then we update with a picture from our work-in-progress: @naturalnessresearch