A wild man in the wilderness, nothing special, that’s something we can imagine. But how to live in the wilderness as an urban, civilized person? How to find a balance between harmony with nature and being connected with the society as it is — without fear, cynicism, grief, anger? How to maintain dignity inside being different? How to live with less without renunciation? What do we really need and what are merely bad habits and whims?
[This article was published in Slovenian in September 2013 in “Pomagaj si sam” special edition of Jana magazine…]
When people come to visit me they admire the nature, the modesty, the aesthetics. They are attracted by the fact the wilderness is only partially tamed, not completely subdued. On the other hand they admit it would be hard for them to survive without the commodities of the modern society. Even though they are suffocated by the city they can’t even imagine the simple lifestyle as something plausible.
Then they start asking questions: What about water? Electricity? Job? Where do you get the money? Where is the toilet? What is your occupation? What do you eat? How do you find the time to do everything you do? … How do you actually survive? They use plural in the end realizing there is more of us here.
This is a personal story about a man, who helped himself and sorted out his life in such a way that he radically decreased his dependence on unnecessary necessities of the modern society without stopping his engagement in that same society. Does he have anything valuable to share with his readers? Let’s check it out …
1. It is important, how and with whom you compare yourself
This is the first point because it it the basis for understanding the others.
Our society is obsessed with “averages” – that’s what it compares everything with. It is what it uses to define what is normal. Those that stand out are either stars or losers. We look at both of these from far away, usually via large and small screens. We’re actually afraid of them.
As long as we identify and compare with the average (this includes non-measurable general trends and herd behaviors), we can’t really decide what we really want. We don’t want to stand out, and we see everyone “different” as if they were actually different. Are they really? We are all different! There is no average. Ideal human doesn’t exist. All individuals are unique with all their virtues and flaws.
De Mello says it so well: »We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong!«
If I compare myself to the average I am a weird ascetic, bohemian, escapist from the reality. But if I take seriously Bertrand Russell who said, that each great idea begins as blasphemy, and set myself as the basis of comparison; if I make a radical presumption that I am normal and everybody else is weird — then the “average” people turn out to be madmen, abusers of resources and human potentials, violators of personal and social health and even dignity, righteousness and common sense. According to the measures of society average people are consumers, by my measures they are wasters.
2. Enjoy what is
I live far below what is considered average, even below the poverty line: with very little water, electricity, clothes, without a washing machine, TV, house, WC, sewage, job, even without shoes and toothbrush! I can fit all my possessions into a small camping trailer.
Still, I live with the feeling of abundance. Crucial here is my attitude to the world around me.
I read somewhere, the richest person is the one who doesn’t hanker for more. That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest, said Thoreau. Those are the words that describe the attitude of luxurious simplicity.
Once you experience the bliss of flowing through life with very little baggage, there is no way back. You have only two choices anyway: you can be happy with what you have or unhappy with what you don’t have.
If you don’t get rid of obsessive hankering for more even though you’ve got enough or even too much, you won’t be rich even if you had billions. The greatest wealth is satisfaction with what is, and fascination with the surpluses that are there to be shared with others.
In the present democracy we’re witnessing the rule of the anonymous authority that has no sense for the human being. There is no person you could address yelling: »But the emperor has no clothes on!« The average has no clothes on. We’re putting cheap cloth on our weak bodies, after it’s been sterile washed and ironed so it briefly even looks precious. But soon it fades out and has to be replaced with something newer and smoother.
I have very few clothes. I use them to keep me warm or to cover my wild nature when I pay a visit to the city. At home I prefer to be embraced by thin Indian towel, a T-shirt and a blanket.
The advantage of enjoying luxurious simplicity is not so obvious until I illustrate it through my barefooting experience. The first and foremost reason I am barefoot is pleasure. Most people enjoy only in soft or smooth surfaces between 25 and 40 degrees C. I enjoy very diverse surfaces between 5 and 50 degrees C, and I can take a couple degrees above and below that as well. In this way I broadened my frame of pleasure. My each step is a new experience.
Nature made me resilient and thus I live more fully, with intensity of colorful experiences. In the city such experiences get displaced by all kinds of artificial layers and the intensity of specialized repetition. Skills, needed to survive in the city, don’t have much in common with the skills, needed for actual survival — in nature and of nature.
I am lucky. I get around well both in natural and urban environments. I can adapt and enjoy in both – I enjoy what is (I have to admit, however, I feel at home only in nature).
3. We should really use what we have
We’ve been talking about water, and an acquaintance said her minimum is 20 l per day. It seems little compared to the average usage in households, where cubic meters of water flow from taps to sinks – first so the water would be cooler, second so the water would be warmer, or merely to flush down any kind of filth to the toilet. All this simply because we got used that water always flows from the tap.
Try to estimate how much water in your home actually serves various purposes and how much of it merely flows by. How much water touches your skin when you wash? How much water is really needed to do the dishes or laundry? When will we become ashamed of flushing our shit with drinking water and finally come up with a smarter way to deal with it?
Compared with the average 20 l is very sparing. But compared with my 5 l it is wasteful.
How do I survive with 5 l of water per day? First of all: I carry within the sense of abundance — I relish every drop of water, I really use it and cherish it. I use 2-3 l of (drinking) water for drinking and cooking and 2-3 l of (rain) water for doing the dishes and personal hygiene. I don’t use any water when I brush my teeth because I use only chewing sticks. Compost toilet takes no water either.
I can take shower with 1 l of water, but in the summer I don’t need to be cautious because I do it above garden beds. I don’t take shower after swimming in the sea because I enjoy salt on the skin (electrolytes!). I wash my feet perfectly with 3 dcl of water (even after the whole day of being barefoot!) by pouring water slowly over my feet and rubbing them well on a rough slab. In city bathrooms everything is totally smooth so I need to bring a rough stone with me to rub my feet (in the city they get particularly dirty!).
When I remember my past life I can only say our hygiene is exaggerated. Taking a shower every day is too much, especially in the winter. Doing it too often, especially with chlorinated water, shampoos and soaps harms the skin. My skin is healthier than ever since I use only (rain) water and no other agents. The skin is smooth, moist and slightly oily, it doesn’t stink (when I am not in the city!). Same with the hair — no shampoos, only rainwater.
In the summer I wash myself often when I am watering the garden, in the cooler months once or twice a week. In the winter I often do it with one liter of water or so. From George Carlin I learned “the hooker’s bath” – armpits, asshole, crutch and teeth; these are the major four points that need to be washed often. For these points I even use soap every now and then.
Electricty is another thing that is usually available to us in unlimited amounts. Until 2007 I only had 0.7 kWh per day (on sunny days, using 60W solar pannel). That was enough for two LED lights (1W) and a laptop (30-50 W). Now and then I could use a water pump, small kitchen appliances and other simple electric tools.
Now we have additional 400 W of solar pannels and 220V AC system attached to all improvised housing units – huge abundance compared to what I had before! We can have many LED lights on, up to four laptops, we can use a strong mixer, drilling machine, jigsaw and more.
Since we’re using solar panels we’re experiencing a lack of electricity in the winter time. Therefore we got used to be especially sparing in those months and use the electricity consciously — we always plug out the chargers, we never leave anything on stand-by, we turn on the computer only when we’re really using it (watching a movie is not forbidden, of course). We’re accessing Internet through mobile phone providers, so we’re in touch with the world and we’re well informed.
Instead of refrigerator we’re using holes in the ground and “evaporating” cooler – a double clay pot that cools by evaporation (30 degrees C outside, 15 degrees C inside). Both function without electricity, and the hole also keeps things from freezing in the winter time.
Many of my friends have a washing machine. Approximately once a month I visit them and we have a chat while the laundry is washed. Sometimes I wash the laundry by simply hanging it while it rains; if it’s very dirty I let the rain fall over it twice.
I use wood burning stove for heating. A small space is not hard to heat with a cubic meter of wood per winter. On the land where I live there is an abundance of wood, so I don’t need to buy any wood.
So, I really use what I have.
4. Everything can be reused
How many perfectly good items we throw away only because we were convinced that we need newer ones? Our society encourages wastefulness: throwing away perfectly useful things and buying new ones. We could call our society consumer society only if we actually consumed the products and left no waste behind. What the present society is doing is literally wastefulness.
I use all the things totally until they can be used no more. I wear out the clothes and then use them as mats, rags, garden mulch. Waste paper ends in the stove, just as waste oil and candle wax. Sometimes I use the wax to make new candles. I dry orange and lemon peelings and they also end in the stove.
At home I only have a compost toilet. My shit ends up as manure for fruit trees and sometimes in garden beds – I never throw away food therefore I have hardly any organic waste. I collect urine in plastic bottles and use it, diluted with water, directly as excellent fertilizer in my garden. Urine is well researched as fertilizer in farming so I am not afraid I’ll do any harm.
I use all the water from washing the dishes to water the garden. I use bran to remove grease. I put bran on the compost heap. I compost all organic waste and put it to garden beds.
I’ve always had old cars and I’ve been taking good care of them. The last one I got for free from a friend and I’ve been using it for two years now. I am an expert in economical driving — with 5 l per 100 km. In the last 10 years all my travel expenses — including car purchases, insurances, services, spare parts, parking expenses, plane tickets, bus and train rides on many trips I had — sum up to 21,000 €.
When my friend changed the roof, he brought to me the old roofing tiles. I am using them to fix the channels along the pathways, collect water and more. I made a gutter from old plastic bottles to collect rainwater from the trailer. Instead of buying a net to keep mosquitoes and leaves from the barrels, I stretched halves of my old T-shirts over them – one T-shirt is enough for two barrels.
The neighbor had been throwing cut grass by the road for years. I brought well over a cubic meter of semi-composted organic mass from there and dag it into garden beds. I bring used card boards as mulch and cover the grass where I intend to make beds — this saves me weeding time.
Even today I use my ancient sleeping bag with cotton inning. My friend wanted to throw it away more than 10 years ago, but I kept it. Another, indestructible old Yugoslavian army sleeping bag is older than me but it still serves it’s purpose. I found a really good umbrella some years ago hanging from a dustbin, another one was laying in the grass by the road.
The source of my heating is an old wood burning stove that used to collect dust in the corner of my friend’s cellar. I got old chimney pipes from another friend.
In the society where everything is designed for single use we end up with the chronic lack of imagination and versatility. The worst consequence, though, is indifference to absolutely everything. This indifference often culminates in harshness. In the end we end up with incapable and angry people who can’t see and utilize opportunities, what to speak of creating new ones. Such people passively blame others for their own troubles. They are always a burden to the society even when they are “working” for it.
5. What I do is my choice
Living is much more than surviving. To really live you need choice. The choice is the greatest challenge of humanity – not only philosophically but practically, in the everyday sense.
When we figure out we’re doing something wrong, we’re already so deep in trouble that our iron habit doesn’t let us change anymore. How can we choose something different in the face of the fact that we’re harming ourselves? How do we get free from the confines of our past choices?
“Enjoy what is” comes handy in any situation with no other solution. Just like in that great Italian movie Vita e bella. But it is not right to use it as an excuse not to attend to the inner call.
Those who are safeguarding the status quo are not happy about people deciding on their own, attending to their inner call. They prefer those that respect the order and server the system with their work according to the system’s measures. Whoever thinks with their own head and chooses a different life will disturb stability even when working for the common good.
But that’s when real work actually begins!
Working is not having a job to earn money – impersonal and detached from the rest of life: from family, community, fun, art, supplies with live’s necessities.
To me work is when I go pick wild plants or vegetables for myself; when I am lying in my hammock and dreaming of a better world for all of us; when I am making a beautiful place for plants where they are going to grow abundantly; when I am cautious to animals and don’t consider them as enemies but instead try to find a natural balance with them; when I am writing this article to inspire you to live more consciously … I work when I am the servant of Life.
When I work to express my purpose and meaning I don’t need to look for work. The work finds me. It took me a while to become who I am, but investing in myself was worth it! Now I keep being invited by various groups to give them the knowledge and skills I acquired: I lecture, coordinate groups and projects, facilitate events, write articles and books, occasionally I translate a text or two … Everything I do, I do voluntarily because it inspires me and makes me happy. It also creates enough income for me to live without too much stress.
However, there are occasions when I am not able to say “no”. In the last months I got entangled into too many amazing activities: more than 10 projects and that can be exhausting!
But how to say no to a project of evaluation of intangible cultural heritage? Ecovillages are a part of my life for a few years already, so I helped with the 7th ecovillage day. I organized permaculture workshops and the village party. I am deeply involved with the Sustainability Park that is forming in Slovenian Istria. The time of planting is near with too many beds to plant … Then there are articles, books, lectures, workshops … No lack of work.
I know everything I do is my choice. And the choice can always be altered. What if I travel to USA in autumn once my book Human — Instructions for Use is finally published in English? What if I actually move to the Sustainability Park in a month or two? Maybe I’ll get inspired by something completely new on the annual GEN conference in Germany in July?
The secret of the right choice is in accepting everything that follows it.
Anon said: “Between indecision and a wrong decision better to risk a wrong decision. A wrong decision can be adjusted but indecision is hell.”
And what if you’re convinced you really can’t do it? Anon has the answer for that dilemma as well: “The man who believes he can do something is probably right, and so is the man who believes he can’t.”
In the end go through this post again and you will notice that underlined words form a sentence: “Everything I do is really important.”
In this sentence each word is carefully measured!
It is crucial what I find to be important – that is the axis of all my activities.
I always have only what is; that is all I can experience, nothing more – that is the key to lasting joy.
I show what I really want with my actions, not with my words; if my desires resound with reality my actions will really lead me joy.
I have to share joy and spread it to encompass everything; the joy of one person among misery of many can’t last for long. What I find important has no sense if it has no breadth.
When the axis of my personality aligns with the axis of Reality everything I do is blessed. My work turns out to be the service to forces of nature, god, spirit, self. What I chose with such an attitude is holy even if I chose wrong.
That is the essence of discoveries of the man who had helped himself. What he’s written down was written in a way that might trigger something in you, too. It might kindle the courage you need to help yourself step on the sacred path of being unique, holy, without comparing yourself with the others, without being dissatisfied over the lack. Let’s hope he is right.