I am allowed to live like this

I am sitting on a daybed on the balcony of our hand-built rustic accommodation, overlooking a lush scene of trees in all directions, a simple track and nearby hill that makes up the rainforest valley we’re in. However, it is not the visual setting I’m focused on but rather the melodic sounds of the rainforest – those wet, rich, echoing tones of exotic-sounding birds – chirping, whoooiiip!-ing and trilling – with a distant burble of water from a healthy creek. Down the rambling road, I see two people in aprons carrying big baskets filled with fresh produce walking back from a series of bountyful gardens just beyond. Not only is it a signal to me to take a moment and absorb the healthiness, beauty and tranquility of this location but it is a reminder that this is the norm for this intentional community, and not just some temporary getaway for distant travellers like ourselves.

As a born and bred city-goer, I have in the past convinced myself that I was more “at home” in the city, with the so-called conveniences, the comforting ever-present drone of traffic in the distance, and the neatly partitioned off spaces delineating all facets of life so we know who’s-is-whose and culturally how to behave. These travels to intentional communities are, for now, a temporary peek into the way others live, but ultimately I expect to return to a city, even if there are elements that grate against my being. It is simply what I am used to. DSC02430These communities are just foreign places where a different breed of people live, and I think of the inhabitants as “the lucky few” who are able to get away with this lifestyle while the rest of us muck about in uncreative suburbs and traffic congestion.

However, a tipping point is nearing, I believe. I am also beginning to feel like I speak into the same line of thinking and ideals that the people that we meet in these communities now. I need to stop portraying myself as a wishful dreamer and more of a participant-in-training, transitioning to this new life…not if, but when. When I see so many people with multiple practical skills – some of which may seem to have died out or have become unnecessary in modern life – I feel unqualified to be considering such a move. I don’t know how to grow food very well. What can I build besides furniture out of pallet wood? Could I hook up an off-grid solar system myself? How do I identify all the plants or snakes that could kill me? How do you know when you have to appease local councils with something on your land? Doubts creep in.

Sure, I can go on the internet and learn some of these things over time, but the virtue of a community is that all the many skills needed are often supplied by your community members, or you muddle through as a group and figure things out together. Many of the people we encounter seem like ordinary folks (many who have come from cities too) who have had lots of time to try things out and collectively learn these interesting skills. Plus the welcoming, non-judgemental attitude of members helps soften the worrying like the “will they accept a useless sod like me” thoughts that crop up too. Given that most communities we’ve experienced have a trial period (essential for both parties to feel if they will fit), if you simply come with a positive, respectful and can-do attitude, my guess is that most communities will love to have you in due time.

I can’t speak for what other people’s barriers would be to potentially living in a way that allows you to feel liberated from the constraints and pressures of mainstream society, but mine are: acceptance, expectations and relationships. Returning back to my view of the rainforest and the birds, another barrier might be “am I allowed to live in such a wonderful place? Isn’t life supposed to be busy and stressful with hard edges, like in a city?”. It’s that idea that I am not deserving of this. That voice in the back of your head that suggests that it is “time to grow up and be an adult” which I interpret to mean: “hippies, activists and lay-abouts live in rainforests and aren’t productive members of society.” I am finally starting to dispense of this myth. Sure, we need doctors, engineers and lawyers (wait, do we really need lawyers?) in our world, but more importantly, we need folks of all types that have a greater say in how mainstream life should play out. There is an equitable, respectful and trust-filled existence in community that truly needs to pervade our society and show folks that life can look and work very different than it currently does.

I believe we can all live in cities that resemble rainforests, so that we all can cherish life more than dreading many parts of it.

I believe that intentional communities are the model by which this can happen and in the meantime, I’m excited to say that I feel ready to transition into this brave new world.

DSC02433

Check out the rest of my journey on our 2016 Intentional Community trip.

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Community road-trip 2016: an intro

To date, this blog has been a perpetual Work In Progress as I write about living simply, sustainability and choosing an ethical lifestyle.

In April and May 2015, my wife Heidi and I explored Victoria, Australia in search of alternative ways to do life separate from the mainstream. Throughout the journey, I wrote a regular series of entries which documented our experiences and can be read under the menu heading “Intentional Community Travels  >> Road trip 2015“.

This first stage road-trip around Victoria, Australia had us seeking to discover what various intentional communities, groups, individuals and families are doing in terms of living more creatively, sustainably and compassionately. We decided that this country was just too big and interesting to stop at Victoria, especially since we hadn’t visited the intentional community epicentre of Australia around NE New South Wales and SE Queensland.

Here are some quick-links of the journey as it happens:

  1. Community road-tripping, Mark II
  2. Gratitude and choosing a different path
  3. Destination 1: Narara EcoVillage: A model community
  4. Destination 2: Bruderhof “Danthonia”: A sacrificial commitment
  5. Destination 3: Bundagen: Serenity by the Sea
  6. I am allowed to live like this
  7. Destination 4: Dharmananda: On the farm with the Dharm
  8. Destination 4: photo gallery
  9. Queensland Communities and roadtrip wrap

Ultimately, our aim is to further connect with like-minded people and find security in community, not finances; share resources and ownership so as to reduce our negative impact on the planet; participate in non-violent actions to bring about a more just world; use the arts to bring people together, communicate the challenges that humanity faces, and promote positive stories and alternative ways of living; work with the land and protect/respect this Earth.

We have a lot to learn and a long way to go, hence our desire to see what other people are doing and what wisdom we can gain from and share with them. I am looking forward to what the east coast region of Australia has to offer as we forge ahead with Part 2 of our education/adventure!

~ Mike Crowhurst, March 2016

Community road-trip 2015: an intro

As of June 2015, I have completed travels with my wife, Heidi, as we explored southeastern Australia in search of alternative ways to do life separate from the mainstream. Throughout the journey, I wrote a regular series of entries which documented our experiences and can be read under the menu heading “Intentional community trip 2015“. Here are quick links to all the entries on this trip (in chronological order):

  1. Preparations & expectations
  2. On the cusp of departure…and adventure!
  3. Destination One: Di and Ruth: compact community
  4. Destination Two: Cornerstone: Community 101
  5. Destination Three: Strawbales and tipis, native spirituality and hospitality
  6. Destination Four: Working on the margins of society
  7. Destination Five: Discovering a lot of common ground
  8. Destination Six: Intentional community beginnings: Moora Moora
  9. Destination Seven: Time to reflect and heal
  10. Destination Eight: Respecting the earth: permaculture at Fryers Forest
  11. Destination Nine: Urban Seed part 2: Working on the margins in suburbia

This first stage road-trip around Victoria, Australia had us seeking to discover what various intentional communities, groups, individuals and families are doing in terms of living more creatively, sustainably and compassionately. We are considering another journey later this year to build on this first trip.

Our aim is to further connect with like-minded people and find security in community, not finances; share resources and ownership so as to reduce our negative impact on the planet; participate in non-violent actions to bring about a more just world; use the arts to bring people together, communicate the challenges that humanity faces, and promote positive stories and alternative ways of living; work with the land and protect/respect this Earth.

We have a lot to learn and a long way to go, hence our desire to see what other people are doing and what wisdom we can gain from and share with them. So far it has been an amazing exploration.

~ Mike Crowhurst, June 2015

Strawbales and tipis, native spirituality and hospitality

~ DESTINATION THREE: DAYLESFORD ~

I love being pleasantly surprised…

My initial impression was that this was going to be a very different experience than our last stop at Cornerstone in Bendigo. When researching for the trip, Gentle Earth Walking sounded interesting primarily for the potential for strawbale building (something we were keen on trying) and staying in a tipi. Now that we have left, I am re-reading the entry in the WWOOFing guide about this spot, and while it describes everything that was there in a practical sense, we in no way could have been prepared for the things that actually made it such a rich visit. property wildernessFrom the effortless hospitality of our hosts Sue and Don to the peaceful rhythms of nature on their 40 acre property, we felt welcomed as part of the family with nothing being too much trouble. From the authentic incarnation of indigenous Australian and American spirituality that they practiced to the abundance of interesting ideas and projects around the property, their sense of dedication and care for the Earth and its peoples was clear. And while we weren’t expecting it to have an obvious community element, the outreach to community through creative and intelligent means made us realise that Sue and Don were dedicated to living out their beliefs and lifestyle goals as thoroughly as possible.

A feature of the stay that we quickly discovered was that Sue and Don love to tell stories. We heard a broad array of tales from their lives – learning that they were very well traveled, have had colourful and complex family lives, have experienced some amazing and unusual spiritual events, and are willing to throw themselves into any situation with vigour – all told with humour, trust and openness as if we had known them for years. Granted, at times we felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stories and retreated to our tipi at the end of the night with explodingly full brains, but we continually found ourselves returning and increasingly engaged in their intriguing lives. Given how many dozens of WWOOFers they’ve had over the years, you have to wonder how they tell these stories with enduring freshness!

inside house

Often our conversations were around their dining table which is the centre of a very full and cluttered room that houses all of Sue’s office and computer, the lounge room and tv, the kitchen and pantry, dining table, and inventive clothes and pot racks made from ladders hanging from the high ceiling. In the midst of it all is a pot-bellied stove, continually roaring with flames as the weather was cold these nights (even down to -2ºC one night) while we were there. The room is jammed full as the strawbale house they live in isn’t complete and they have had to pile everything into this one room until another area is ready. Mashing everything and everyone in one place meant it was a cozy place to retreat to at the end of the day, and there would always be something going on like a spirited conversation, visiting family popping in, Don bottling some ginger beer, chooks trying to run inside the back door, Sue digging through boxes to find us books on strawbale building, endless cups or tea and coffee boiling on the ancient stove or Don doing his back exercises on the floor. Part of feeling at home there as well was that they weren’t at all precious about anything: there were no locks on doors, car keys always left in their old cars which we could use whenever we needed to, and nearly everything was a found object or had been reused, recycled or repaired.

group shotThe house is a very solid place filled with touches that indicate that this is a house made lovingly by hand. The bales offer amazing insulation and sound-proofing, looking great in an organic, hand-made kind of way. At about 200 square meters (2000 sq ft), it is a big place, and with the wonders of strawbale building (cheap materials and often free labour or simply less than a typical build), it only cost them about $30K. For those uninitiated with strawbale building, it offers so many advantages over brick or timber construction (cheaper to build, less labour, superior insulation, superior fireproofness, longevity), it’s a wonder why more houses aren’t built this way. Sue and Don have clearly been educating and enticing locals as well, as they are directly responsible for teaching or helping 50 buildings be built in the Daylesford area.Mike rendering

My dreams of building such a home were only increasing in intensity as we began seeing all the potential of the various strawbale projects around the property. And sure enough, they put us to work on a wall that had been half-sealed and needed rendering and repair. We spent the better part of a week working on the wall and it was fantastic getting our hands dirty learning about the craft. Both Heidi and I really appreciated doing the work and didn’t get tired of the labour; there’s something invigorating about working on a project like this, particularly if you are typically used to sitting in front of a computer all day like we are.

tipi at night

tipi in morningA unique part of this experience was staying in a Native American-styled tipi which was as genuine as the original ones found in North America. Ours was a 16 foot style (base diameter, about 5 meters) and about 30 foot high (10 meters) at the peak. The cool thing about a tipi is that, like the original ones, you have a fire pit within. Special wind-control flaps on the outside plus an inner sleeve help control air flow so smoke from the fire is drawn up and out the top of the tipi. We had mixed luck with keeping the tipi from becoming choked with smoke, but when we did get it to work it was a great way to warm it up. And warmth we needed as we happened to hit frigid temps a few nights! I was a bit over the tipi experience by the end mainly because of Kito who was never at ease there and had worked out ways to escape the tipi Kito in tipiwhich was a problem if we were off working. So poor Kito was stuck lashed to a pole with his leash inside the tipi and I felt either bad for him or annoyed as he tried so hard to make life difficult for both of us!

inside tipi

At the end of all the work and life on the property there was Sue and Don, two very interesting, inspiring, slightly eccentric (but wonderfully so!), gracious, trusting, open and hospitable folks. We particularly found Don to be a rare wise soul, someone who projects a feeling of goodwill and joy whenever you speak with him. Nothing is too much trouble for Don and he will embrace the opportunity to discuss a situation or have a laugh. Don steaming woodWe undoubtably asked too many questions as Heidi and I are prone to doing, but neither of them appeared to be put out by it. I aspire to that level of patience – serenity now! With Don, his spiritual journey seems to have led him to a place where he has an easy relationship with whatever life throws at him, with a gentleness, grace and wisdom that is difficult to find these days. We had many laughs at the various stories of people thinking he was a bikie or a vagrant, which again reminded me – as with many times on this trip already – that judging someone solely on their looks will almost always get you into trouble. Finally, they are creative and open to try anything – as their lengthy history of jobs and experiences attest – and for the last 15 years, Don has invested his time into bending timber using 150 year-old equipment and positioning himself as the only timber bending business left in Australia. I spent a day filming and editing the following short video on Don and his work and I think you can get a sense of Don’s passion for the work and how it extends from his passion for the earth as he discusses working with the 4 elementals of life.

What a wondrous and rich exploration this trip is turning out to be!

Also make sure you see another perspective of this experience on Heidi’s blog!

Letters of concern

I recently had an email conversation with someone about corruptible actions and thinking in our society and why making positive change in the world is critical, albeit challenging. To me, this type of conversation illustrates the type of thinking that is common these days when trying to get people to consider change. People think that one person’s voice isn’t strong enough to be heard so what’s the point in trying, whereas I believe that change can happen but each individual has to have the strength and courage to move against the trends and face possible backlash for supposed unpopular thinking. Here’s how the conversation went; it all stemmed from my opinion that the whole Royal Wedding is a blown-out spectacle which celebrates the vast gap between the monarchy and celebrity with everyone else, lavishly spending money on a diversion from the UK (and the world’s) much bigger problems (I was probably feeling a bit grumpy to equate these things so adamantly, but I don’t think it’s untrue):

~ Correspondent:

…it’s nice to see some happy news from Britain as they have had lots of negative news in the last few years. Who cares anyway if this is what makes people happy! ….your opinions…makes you sound very preachy/lost your sense of humour…

~ Me:

Just because I don’t agree with the “distraction” of spending huge amounts of time, money and effort on some out-dated show of wealth and pomp doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humour.

This wedding is just another example of how people get sucked in to spending tons of time and money because of “celebrity” and “glamour” which is a HUGE part of why everyone in the Western world is quite complacent that this has become “normal” activity and someone like me is a freak if you think otherwise. I find it frustrating. Had the monarchy said publicly that they were deliberately scaling back this multi-million dollar wedding production so that they could support a good cause with the money that they would’ve wasted on nothing but a showy display of excess, then I would have been right there to support them. But they didn’t and this is just more rich people throwing their money around and giving everyone else an excuse to do the same.

Do you ever just sit and wonder why you live where you do or have what you have while many people – most people – in the world don’t have the same? Should we in the Western world feel that it is our right to be able to live the comfortable life of excess? Why are we so privileged? And yet, that’s exactly what people think; they don’t give a second thought to buying a new giant tv or expensive car because what’s important is themselves. If everyone just shared this wealth around a bit, the world wouldn’t exist with such extremes and so many people wouldn’t be living so miserably.

This wedding itself isn’t just the problem I have with all this but rather the cynical corporate marketing, television and broadcasting, celebrity-idolising, glamourising and bandwagon-jumping that goes along with it. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of problems being ignored because everyone is having such a grand old time.

I guess I can call myself an activist these days as I don’t mind being a bit preachy as long as someone occasionally listens. I try not to be too judgemental, but as soon as you take off the blinkers and really look at the world, you can’t help but feel this way. I want to make a difference. I desire change. I want people to be able to have both personal enjoyment but also really, truly care about their fellow global neighbour and the planet we live on and actually take action against injustices. If everyone did their part, we’d all be a helluva lot better off.

~ Correspondent:

I fully sympathize with your activist stance. The problem lies with the human race itself. If you compare the earth to a healthy cell, then the human race can be compared to cancer, and the cancer is growing exponentially. We are an overwhelming force that is mowing down everything in it’s path and it’s virtually impossible to stop it. The fact is that once those loveable people in the Third World get their hands on the same goodies that we in the Western World have, the planet will start deconstructing even faster than it is now. For the last several hundred years every successive generation has been more spoiled (if you want to call it that) and destructive than the previous one. Concepts such as “religion” and “progress” have driven us down this path.

Anyway, all I’m saying is that I understand the problem but, while I admire the work of activists everywhere, I think that it’s going to take something cataclysmic to turn things around.

~ Me:

The feeling I get from you seems bleak: are you saying that humanity should throw in the towel as we can’t fix ourselves anyway? While it is a challenge to see positive potential from a world that cherishes materialism and rampant excess, I believe we need to use the idea that every lit bit counts and that some of the biggest revolutions the world has seen have come from as little as one person (eg. Gandhi). If we just give in, then we’re all doomed to living a very dark, joyless existence so why not just kill ourselves now to avoid having to live in such a world?

I’m sure you’d agree that there are many wonderful things in the world and life that are worth standing up for and preserving, and it’s that kind of motivated and positive thinking that needs to propagate broadly throughout all people. In order for that to happen, people need to be reminded of their obligations to their fellow humans and to the rest of this one planet we have at our disposal, and start showing respect to it at the expense of some short term pleasures. Sure, they may have to give up the odd possession to ensure that we’re not overburdening our resources, but that gaining back of one’s integrity through self-restraint will ultimately be more rewarding than the material possession. Of course, it’s hard to show someone that money isn’t everything and that they can gain a lot more out of life by looking into other areas.

You might think that the Third World is doomed to making the same mistakes as we have, but I think the opposite: we have a huge opportunity to show them the err of our ways, but it requires each person to make a small sacrifice in time, energy, money and willingness to confront those around them to make the change happen. I really like the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world” as it so aptly describes where those improvements have to stem from: you. And me.

Throwing in the towel in my book is unacceptable if for nothing else than to have respect for this planet. I’m the same as you when it comes to the human race: we are a cancer that has ravaged the planet and who treat each other terribly. I’m not always a huge fan of our species. I have a lot of respect for other species and their ability to not impose themselves beyond certain boundaries. The trouble is, we need to rely on our species to do the hard work to make the world a better place for them, and then, in turn, for us. But like the animals, I believe that there’s a lot of people not being given a fair go either and so I’m a big proponent for equality: for people’s working conditions, wealth distribution, basic needs and well-being plus their general right to have a life filled with security and love.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

What do you think? Am I out of line to press these issues or is it high-time people start opening their arms and embracing positive action and try to make the world a better place? If we stop fighting for something more, something better, then what’s the point to our very existence?

Being poor is good practice

Boy have I been cash-strapped of late; work has been dribbling in at a pace that is slower than my consumption no matter how much I try to make that output as small as possible. There’s some work on the horizon but it’s always just at arm’s reach when I need it in close. Admittedly though, it has been a good challenge and excellent practice at being stingy, creative and disciplined.

The greatest part of my discipline comes into play when it comes to my credit card; it is a necessary evil as I have a great deal of automatic payments that come from it, which is rather thankful as I would be scrambling much more otherwise. However, I have used it exceedingly rarely when it comes to anything that is not a necessity (ie. going out to restaurants, “impulse” buys, “stuff”) which I find is my biggest success during this period of moneylessness. The challenge of course is to maintain this stingy behavior when the cash does start rolling in, and for that I see this period as great practice. For example, I know there are a couple of job-related things coming up that I could use some new gear for, but I have been resisting and looking at DIY alternatives that I can build for much less in some cases. When I have the money, I have to resist just going out and buying those things new and keep on the DIY way of thinking.

Being stingy is actually quite satisfying if it is confined to personal wants and desires but not relegating yourself to never going outside or being sociable. I’ve been guilty of the latter in the past, saying “oh, I can’t go visit friends cuz they’ll all just want to go out and spend money so I may as well just stay at home.” Luckily, I now have a lot more like-minded friends when it comes to living simply and saving money, so it’s easy to just hang out at someone’s place or do something with the deliberate intent on not spending money. My thrifty/stingy attitude extends to groceries and just getting the basics (while trying to remain healthy), driving less and taking the bus or walking more, scraping every last little bit of food from a jar/bottle/box and being more liberal with use-by dates (while not giving myself food-poisoning!). I’m only drinking cask wine and looking for 2-for-1 deals on big boxes which thankfully come along regularly (if I have nothing else, at least I have my grog!). I’m also conscious of things like excess toilet-paper usage, excess shampoo and toothpaste usage, wearing more clothes instead of turning on the heat (it’s been very cold in this house just lately) and feeding the dog slightly smaller portions of bulk-bought food to save a bit (no, I am not under-feeding my beloved pup!)

Creatively, I am managing to look at the cupboard and use what I see rather than just what I want (I know, a lot of my thoughts have to do with food! I do love my food…). This naturally results in eating a lot of rice-based dishes (from my 10kg sack of rice persistently offering itself to me from the corner of my kitchen); a surprisingly tasty dish is just steamed rice, a tin of chili-infused salmon or tuna, some green veg like zucchini or bok choy, and a bit of soy & sweet chili sauce. That’s about $2.50 for a big, tummy-filling bowl, and is pretty healthy too. In addition to food, I am rotating my clothing usage more consciously to get maximum wear requiring minimal washing frequency.

Anyway, tightening the old belt, as they used to say, is not so bad. I like having a few extra frills to make life a little less banal but it really is a good challenge to deprive yourself every once in a while, even if you aren’t financially hard-up. I reckon everyone should sacrifice something regularly if only to prove to yourself that you can, plus maybe save a bit of money/be healthier in the process. It also makes you appreciate all those little things that we all love in life that you tend to take for granted!