I’ve written about steps we can take to help improve our living conditions on a global scale by implementing the plan for the planet schedule – and I will probably be repeating some of the ideas from there here. But in this article I’d like to get a little more practical.
A recent series of conversations has led me to empathize more strongly with the following issues:
a) many people are struggling with their lives even if they seem financially set. A general feeling of dissatisfaction exists and many people long for more connection and naturalness in their lives.
b) People are deeply confused and concerned about media propagated topics used for fear-mongering and in order to push certain, national polices – only to the gain of an industry that is not in any way improving our quality of life. Even if technically we have “better” conditions than previous generations, a large percentage of people feel scared, stressed and depressed for the better part of their lives and many are longing for change.
c) Adults as well as children have nothing to grasp at when looking for a meaningful existence or a direction to set in their lives. A complete lack of morals/ethics and values pervades our 21st century culture. So if we are not already paralyzed by our fears and stress, then the lack of direction and over-flooding with (useless or contradicting) information will do the rest, leaving us incapable of doing anything but walking in circles.
So in this article I’d like to discuss some practical ideas of how to regain movement and direction in our lives and take steps towards a life that we can resonate with fully. Since my experience is limited to my own life and some examples from people I’ve met along the way my main focal points will be travel and off-grid living as attractors for changes. But we’ll start with something general…
1) Everything is in the mind.
It’s true that a simple change of attitude or belief or a simple change of the quality of mind (read state of consciousness) can completely revolutionize your world. Let me explain before you argue this point: Changing your perspective of the world does not change the world itself, if you believe in a world that is objectively there and you are here. But in reality you and the world are not two – You do not exist outside of the world and thus can’t look at the world from the outside. The world also does not exist outside of you… Before we get into metaphysics though, let’s just say this: Circumstances might not change physically when you change perspective, but your relationship to them will. This does not mean that suddenly you will enjoy what previously you felt made you sick, but perhaps suddenly it will be easy to walk out of a situation you felt stuck in before.
There is absolutely no way to change your life if you don’t change your mind. Since everyone is different and stuck in different areas I can’t give specific instructions – also I don’t believe in instructions or recipes. I believe in organic growth and following the universal flow. So my practical recommendation for this point is to clean up the mind and bring it into a stateof clarity. Just like you clean up your desk or apartment in order to work better, you have to declutter your mind. This can be done by
– reducing distracting input for certain periods of time
– reducing external stressors
– reducing stimulants in diet (caffeine, sugar, excess of spices)
– freeing up time to sit and think
If you’re struggling with a particularly negative mentality start a gratitude journal and write in it for a few minutes every day for a month.
2) Making a Living
Making a living is a very ugly way to describe how we generate income in order to sustain our life-styles. Note that I’m not suggesting that we are sustaining our lives. Our survival rarely depends on whether we are making an income or not. As an exercise to truly understand this, try to imagine where your life really comes from! What is it that is keeping you alive right now? Access to air, access to water, access to food, access to shelter. We live in constant fear that these things can be taken away from us. Working for money is a life-and-death struggle. Doesn’t that sound a bit dramatic to you?
I’m not against money, or even making money. But I find the relationship we have with it troublesome. On one hand the lack of it spells out doom for us, on the other we can never get enough of it. As many before me have observed, the way that money is used causes us to lose sight of the interdependence in which we exist with the rest of the community of living beings on this planet and the rest of the universe. Again: We do not exist separate from the world. The world itself sustains our existence (until some day, it won’t). Air, water, food and shelter are not equivalent to money.
What does this imply for us practically? Financial barriers can seem steep when trying to change your life and feel very threatening. Doing away with money altogether is not realistic at the moment, but we can reduce our need of huge amounts of finances if we allow ourselves a moment of fearlessness or bravery.
– reduce your needs and wants.
– sell the stuff you don’t need and don’t buy any more.
– investigate the options you have to realize the changes you want to make from a realistic, financial angle.
– save money by consuming less
– get together with others who have similar goals and exchange ideas or pool resources.
– try out living with the absolute minimum and see what it feels like
– envision a life where less money does not necessarily mean less quality of life – where richness and poverty are not measured by the amount of money you have access to.
That being said, it’s good to have some kind of skill-set that you can exchange for money either on a regular or irregular basis. This can be anything from whatever you were doing previously in your job, to something unrelated – making and selling art, teaching languages or yoga, offering herbal or alternative medicine treatments, photography, web-design, manual labor, selling plants, seeds or other agricultural products, … Your options will depend on what you can do and where you will be living / what you envision for your life. You don’t need to know in advance what exactly is going to generate your money for you, but you have to be aware that you will probably need to do something at least occasionally in order to pay to maintain the things that don’t naturally re-grow (car, house, solar panels, …). Below a bit more about skills.
3) Being ready for the challenges
Depending on what you want to do or how you intend to change your life, there are a variety of challenges you will face. An unskilled and ignorant person can only resort to money in order to solve problems, fix things or obtain things they need. Money may or may not be a problem, but ultimately if you have to resort to it continuously you will end up in the same situation you were when you wanted to change your life: you will be constantly in fear of not having enough to realize the life you believe you should be living. A skilled and knowledgable person can trade skills or use those skills to avoid having to pay someone to do everything. So ideally you want to pick up some important skills along the way.
For example, if you want to go traveling for extended periods of time you’ll probably have to make some money or exchange some work on the road. Skills or professions that are useful for that are:
– Builder skills / Handyman skills
– teaching english or other languages
– teaching yoga
– massages / physiotherapy
– speaking important languages like German, Russian, Mandarin, French, Japanese and being able to function as a tour guide, dive instructor or similar
– Any job you can do online
– social media marketing
Another thing you might want to consider is: being able to drive a car and motorcycle. Without this ability you will be greatly dependent on public transportation which can be very poor in some countries, or private drivers, which generally cost a lot. If staying in a country for a longer period of time, buying a second-hand vehicle is usually the best option and in many countries is quite affordable.
If you’re thinking about living off grid Your skill-set will be quite different. You’ll want to look at things like:
– How to grow your own food sustainably (food forest gardens, permaculture, natural agriculture,…)
– Apiculture (bee keeping)
– Water and waste-water managing
– Human waste managing
– how to choose, set up and maintain a solar system
– how to use generators, pumps and other machinery like chain saws etc. and how to fix them if minor things break.
– upcycling / recycling
– hunting/fishing (if that’s a sustainable option in the area and according to your philosophy)
– Raising animals to help with the land or to generate food (chickens, goats, bees, donkeys, …)
– More specialized skills like growing mushrooms, making candles, making non-toxic soap…
A lot of these you’ll have to learn on the go, by trial and error or from other people, since a book can only tell you so much. But especially the handyman skills like building, carpentry and using and fixing machinery – these are incredibly important for off grid living and at least some basic level should be obtained before the actual shift. Depending on the land and climate you end up living on, your skills will end up being different: building with bamboo or building with dry walls, having a surplus of water or having water scarcity, having inclination or flatland, harsh winters or harsh summers… it will determine what you need to be and what you need to do. In general, the more adaptable you are, the better.
Of course it’s hard to have all these skills as one person to the degree of self-sufficiency, so for off grid living you’ll probably have to find people to help you out and exchange skills. Off grid and self-sufficiency shouldn’t mean complete independence, but rather a return to an interdependence in which we navigate a world of abundant interactions between humans and between human and non-human life-forms. These interactions don’t have to be based on money, but can be. We learn to give and receive material objects, money and time/help without calculating exact values. Get to know your neighbors, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice – be it online or from the people that you meet in the area. If you can find other people who are living off-grid or are into similar projects as the one you are planning, try to meet them and discover how they solve the various challenges.
Allow yourself to be creative, but don’t be afraid to copy or follow others. Neither for life-styles nor for spiritual practices do we need to re-invent the wheel.
4)Easing into the change – off grid living
If you have an idea of what you want to do, and you’ve made the preparations you think are adequate you can quit your job and just go for it. But maybe that’s a bit of a harsh change. Some people that want to go off grid buy the land and start setting up their garden and fixing up their house while they still have a regular life – so they use it as a kind of vacation and week-end project. This can be especially sensible if there is no house/shelter on the land to begin with and you have to set up from scratch. Also it’s a great option if you don’t have a bundle of money to invest then and there, but can, little by little, start building with monthly savings as you go along.
You can also visit other people with similar projects and help out on those, using platforms like workaway.com or WOOF. this way you can gain some of the experience you’ll find valuable for your own project.
In our case we decided to go the learning-by-doing rout. My partner bought the land while I was still over-seas waiting for the papers to transport our dogs and cat back to Europe. He was sleeping in a tent as he started building our temporary house. He’s a very crafty person as in – he can build almost anything with his hands, and so he did. With only minimal use of a generator, he built a house using Japanese saws and a nail-gun, a screw driver and a few other basic tools. During his time there he would shower using a black plastic bucket to warm the water and a garden hose. The water had to be manually pumped from a well.
Even now our system isn’t much more sophisticated than that, though we do have a gas water-boiler for warm water during the winter… What I’m saying is that if you’re willing to go through a bit of inconvenience and uncertainty, a lot can be accomplished.
5) But realistically, how much money do you need?
You will definitely need some money to start out. If you want to set up your project on the go, you’re going to have to have some savings, since in order to make a livable shelter and buy a plot of land where you can live off grid will require some investment. But even in Europe you can obtain cheap plots of land in various countries – Spain, Italy, Greece,… It just takes some time to find them and consider all the options for their pros and cons. When I say cheap I mean something around 10.000 to 20.000 Euros for several hectares of land. The important part is that the land you buy has a house on it, since getting permits to build in Europe (and other places in the world) can be a nightmare, and if there is a house – even in ruins, this nightmare turns into something much more manageable. (definitely check out local regulations before buying anything, and talk to others in the are about loopholes or ways to get away with what you need to get away with…)
Once you’ve bought the land you have to consider what you’ll need to rebuild or build the house or create some kind of shelter and get the land into a condition so that you can live on it. Whether that’s buying a tent, or setting up a cabin is up to you, but you’ll have to build some kind of water system and a toilet, no matter how you start. You’ll probably also need to buy a car/truck or maybe two, depending on where your land is located and how mobile you need to be once on the land. We invested a considerable amount into our house, even though it’s made from the cheapest materials we could buy. Building something out of recycled materials like an earth ship wasn’t an option at the time because it would have been too labor intensive and my partner was working mainly alone or with one or two friends, and didn’t have the time to pound earth into tires, let alone figure out the architectural engineering needed to make the house stable. He knows wood, so wood it was.
In my opinion this is an important lesson and a concession you’re likely to have to make yourself: Go with what is available to you. Knowledge and materials alike. Build your knowledge from there, but don’t overreach when it’s not the moment for it.
The more time you have available, the cheaper the building will be, since you can look for materials that come with no price-tag or are very cheap, like recycling things other people throw away on dumpsters, buying second-hand materials or finding building material occurring naturally in your land.
How did we get the money? We had some savings from working as dive instructors on the Maldives and we had some help from family. All in all we’ve still invested less than 50k and we can live comfortably on the land now – though we are still missing a solar system, which we’ll need for the summer in order to have a refrigerator. We are also not self-sustainable yet, i.e. don’t have our own food yet. So now there are some running costs we have to consider, like car maintenance, food, tool maintenance, house maintenance and other living costs.
We knew and know that it would be a few years before our land will be somewhere close to self-sustainable, and even then car-maintenance will always be an issue. Revenue has to be generated in some way and that has to be built into the project. But you don’t need to have a perfect plan in order to start, and no one will be able to give you a guarantee that things will work out. In my opinion it’s a worthwhile endeavor with a lot of possibilities. It feels healthy and fulfilling.
6) Traveling for life – how much does it cost?
If instead you want to travel and make it work you need a lot less preparation, a lot less investment. Getting a quick certificate as an instructor for yoga, teaching English, scuba diving, surfing, freediving, skying or similar – or even better a combination of these, will open a lot of opportunities for you to work and travel. You can go with other skills as well, but I don’t have experience with those. I know of people who have traded their skills as cooks, permaculture designers, massage therapists and similar, builders and so on – but a lot of those skills can take long to learn and may not be your cup of tea. You’ll need a minimum investment for the course(s) in both time and money and you’ll need to do some research as to where you’ll want to be traveling, since what you can trade will determine a bit where you can travel easily.
You’ll have to have enough money to pay for a few long-distance, international flights, since you won’t always have a smooth ride. You can get work-arrangements that aren’t very fun, and so you’ll want to have enough saved up to head on over to the next place, or get by without working until something better comes up.
If you can work online like the so-called “digital nomads” you’ve got it made, unless you travel to places without connection.
I’ve met people who traveled the world on their motor bikes or in a bus, living frugally on savings, trying to exchange work for food, accommodation and sometimes money or other things. Some people manage to travel like this for years. My partner and I traveled for 8 years, working for up to a year in various places, then moving on.
Places like Australia and New Zealand offer special programs for travelers under 30 or 35 and with specific nationalities, to work and travel and many travelers start there, making their way into Asia later on. Though not monetary, platforms such as WOOF offer opportunities for very low budget travel and great learning experiences for people who are interested in organic farming.
In 8 years my partner and I managed to stay more or less stable in our finances. We could have saved more, but in the mean time we visited various courses and didn’t live totally austere either. So, if you do it properly you can live and travel almost indefinitely. You just have to dare to.
The main thing to watch for when traveling is living with less and knowing when you can and when you shouldn’t spend money. Trying to stay in locally owned guest-houses or even with locals directly, getting accommodation as part of a work-deal, eating cheap, local food etc.
From an ethical standpoint: learn to travel with respect for the local communities and leave them better than you found them. Tourism is an incredibly destructive industry that obliterates the traditional and often sustainable way of life in many areas and turns the local population into servants of the rich travelers. Don’t be that kind of traveler.
7) Running away
A lot of people will tell you that you’re running away from your problems, when you are thinking about starting a completely new life, or want to travel. Apart from dumping their own fears on you, many will put in some valid layman’s psychology saying that running away won’t solve your problems.
Ok. That’s certainly true… but what if the problem IS the life-style you’re living. In that case, wouldn’t changing it be the solution? Where do we draw the line or better – how do we figure out if we’ve fallen into a kind of escapism trap, or if we’re actually designing our solution with our choices?
This isn’t easy to answer. The truth is, we might be doing both simultaneously. Our psychology, or physiology, our whole lives are complex and the way we are living in modern society can’t be considered very healthy or conducive to harmony, balance, peace of mind or even peace in general. Turning away from this society is in a way a cop-out, but it’s also the only sane decision you can make. Can’t we change society from the inside? Well, here’s the thing: even if you run away and start traveling, even if you live off grid in the back-country of some forgotten place, you’re rarely going to be completely out of society. But you will have the benefit of being at its margin and being able to observe it from a different perspective. You’ll also probably have the opportunity to rid yourself of a lot of thought patterns that are hard to shake while you’re still surrounded by these thought patterns executed by those around you. You might find your ideas broadening, your ability to think of solutions changing and so perhaps the problems you had before dissolve into non-entities by themselves. Or you come up with ideas to reach other people and slowly bring changes into the bulk of society. Or maybe you simply find that you are living healthier and more at peace with yourself and thus don’t contribute to the contrived, aggressive, greedy, deceptive, violent, fearful and depressive elements within society. Isn’t that an improvement in itself?
But what if you really are running away? What if you are simply fueled by desires, thinking a different place, a new scenery, a more beautiful beach will fulfill you…? Well, you’ll be disappointed time and time again, I can promise you that. No change in your external circumstances will have any effect if your internal circumstances don’t change too. You’d be consuming changes or experiences without actually living and being the change. So in the end nothing changes and your problems and the insatiable thirst for something new or different, something fulfilling, would remain. This is a lesson we have to learn. Our relationship to life, living, objects, experiences etc. is not something we understand without investigating it deeply, and therefor we can’t easily cast it off. We learn the nuances of difference between consuming and living, only by doing. Only by listening to the desires can we actively see them for the message they are and see that the thirst for fulfillment is nothing but a misinterpreted message of wholeness.
So… You can’t expect that the answer to your problems is somewhere out there, but it’s also wrong to think that the answer to all your problems is JUST a change in attitude. It’s a combination of internal and external movement.
If you realize that certain things in your life are making you sick, the logical thing is to eliminate them or change them into something else that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on you. If it’s a toxic substance, everyone will agree with you and celebrate your grand discovery when you remove it from your life. If it’s a toxic person, people will feel happy for you to have ended a bad relationship. But if it’s a toxic life-style that most people are equally invested in as you, then they will not understand and might even feel defensive. They will tell you it’s in your mind. They’re not wrong with that, but they’re not right either. We can exist in toxic situations and be non-resistant, accepting them equanimously. But being non-resistant also means being non-resistant to the transformation of energies that takes place according to the universal flow. Being non-resistant to the possibility of improving a toxic situation or casting off toxic habits. Even if no one else understands. If you’re reading this, if you’ve felt that “voice as bad as conscience”, calling you to change something, chances are that’s what you ought to do.
Still unsure? That’s ok. Part of the healing that comes from making radical changes in your life is the liberation from certainty. I remember leaving my job at the university and thinking: I have no idea what I will be doing in one year’s time. I have no idea if any of my ideas for the next few months even will work out. I simply had to trust in that I’d figure it out as I went along. And I did. I ended up in places I had never dreamed of visiting. I ended up learning things I thought I’d never get the chance to. I ended up working in places and in roles I would have never imagined. And right now, writing this, I still don’t know what I will be doing in 6 months time. All I know is that I’ll figure it out. I’ll make my choices based on what I feel is the most harmony-promoting, health-promoting and compassion-promoting way – in accordance with my inner truth, my needs and the world’s needs. I will live with no regrets.
8) What about the legal stuff – permits, visas etc.
When you step out of your regular job to change your life radically you’re bound to enter a world that moves along the margins of regulations. While in some countries it’s easy to work as a foreigner or to build an alternative kind of house and farm, other countries will make it more challenging. Getting building permits or work permits isn’t always possible in the conventional way, but often there are ways to work around these that work well enough to get you started. Again, uncertainty is part of the adventure.
My advice: talk to people in the area that are doing things similar to what you have in mind – whether that’s working or building. Not everyone will readily tell you their secrets, but little by little you’ll figure out what compromises you’ll have to make and in what way you can achieve your goal. Don’t let bureaucracy and rules deter you. There are many ways to make the changes happen, but your plans and your direction will have to be adaptable to the circumstances.