I spent 12 months living and working at an off-grid educational community learning about low-impact and sustainable living. We had gardens to grow organic and biodynamic vegetables for our mostly vegan diet, solar panels to generate electricity, outdoor compost toilets and a river where we could swim.
Used to a reasonably quiet, independent life, living, working and socializing with up to 30 others most days taught me a few things about who I was … and wasn’t. Here are some things that I learned.
1. Living with less often means less responsibility, which means more free time and more JOMO (joy of missing out).
Less cooking, fewer home comforts, less contact with media makes everything easier. On cloudy days when laptops and phones couldn’t be charged, a new world opened up. Attempting self-sufficiency means that it’s virtually impossible to be bored, and going back to basics allows us to fully connect with each other and ourselves.
Being emotionally, and often physically, naked gave us forced us to be open, honest, authentic and supportive, with an immense freedom of spirit. Aiming to live as one with nature and being responsive to the elements, I was deeply humbled by the beauty and reminded why being in harmony is vital.
2. Compost toilets are amazing.
They're simple and hygienic, and have no smell or flies. More importantly, the water supply remains clean, and in a few years, you have great compost for the land.
3. Being lighthearted in your mission, no matter how earnest the goal, is essential.
I didn’t set out to save the planet, as some others who came there had; I just wanted to learn about environmental stewardship. The most difficult times for me were when I was taking myself and the eco-mission far too seriously. If I couldn’t relax and enjoy the day, then I missed out.
4. You can eat like a king on a vegetarian diet.
And leftover porridge is a great base for burgers, desserts and smoothies!
5. Doing your job isn’t necessarily performing your job title.
As hard as I worked in my job, I considered my off-spec duties my greatest achievements: I learned how to really listen, to forgive myself and others, and to sit with very challenging situations. I also developed a clarity between people who found it difficult to communicate.
Being in a close community often challenged me to find the truth within many voices, including my own, even though at times there are irreconcilable differences and contradictions. That explosive energy can bring sadness or powerful steps forward.
6. Sometimes, your opinion doesn’t matter; compromise is more important.
Living with many strong-minded people, you hear opinions all day long. There’s a limit to how questioning one should be, and sometimes you'll do something you may not understand.
7. Being around others can inspire a new way of working or living.
We can all see traits in ourselves that we’d like to change. Being around others is an amazing way to learn how to see and do things differently.
8. One of the most important things you can do is know yourself and what you love.
These won’t really change, even though your environment might. There are plenty of things that can bring you fulfillment and a sense of purpose. You have to honor those in order to honor yourself.
It takes courage to not only own, but also celebrate what you love. Don’t fear the judgment because, if it does exist, it's weaker than your joy.
9. People are more than their basic needs.
I could eat all the organic home-cooked food in the world, drink natural spring, solar charge my devices, calculate my carbon footprint, exercise every day … but without the spark of spirit that keeps everyone interested and inspired, it means very little. It's naive to think that happiness rests on a singular thing or group of things. People are incredibly complex; life is created by having the ability to listen to what you need.
Photo courtesy of the author