Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 in Review

It has now been more than a year since I started the Stop Shopping Challenge, so I think this is a good time for a little review. Here are some highlights of the journey, more or less in chronological order:

Stop Shopping

1. The Challenge started on 1 December 2014. From that date on, I no longer spent any money on food, clothing and other stuff. The only money I spent was on rent (all inclusive). It did not even occur to me at the time that I could try to find a free home as well. I was hoping to save enough money to build an ecohome and thought that would be my only way to live (more or less) for free, eventually. But as the time went on and the initial challenge of not spending any money turned out to be so easy, I thought: Why not try it? So I gave it a shot. And sure enough, it worked out very well: I found a wonderful family from India who adopted me into their family.

100% bill-free

2. So from 1 October 2015, I had no more bills at all. Before moving into the new space (a bedroom of about 3 by 3m), I had to get rid of a lot of stuff, because I was living in a 70m2 two-bedroom-apartment and had gathered quite a lot of (free) stuff during the time that I had been living there (which was exactly one year: since October 2014). Having a lot of space and doing a moneyless challenge had put me at risk of hoarding, because you never know what you might need later on. However, with the move I needed to let go of that safety net. And that turned out to be a good thing and very liberating. It was another reminder of how material possessions are a form of baggage (and not just in the literal sense).

Some extra cash

3. Right before the move I gave away a lot of items and sold some as well (such as 4 bicycles, a flatscreen TV, and some other things that I had found for free). This gave me around 2000 NOK / 200 EUR / 230 USD in cash for emergencies in case I would need to use money after all. But of course my intention was not to use it at all.

Some unavoidable costs

4. So, did I manage to stick to that plan of not spending any money? Unfortunately, not entirely.
- One of my fillings broke (this actually happened twice), and so I tried to find a free dentist to get it fixed. But three different dentists (recommended to me by friends) told me it would be against the law for them to offer free treatment, mainly because of taxes. I think technically they would be able to agree not to take money, but they would still have to pay taxes for the treatment. So I paid for the treatments. It cost around 600x2=1200 NOK, but I was happy to pay for it. Dental health is very important to me.
- The second unavoidable cost was for my phone: At the end of last month I was reminded that, in order to keep my phone number, I needed to top up my phone credit at least once a year with at least 50 NOK. I was unable to dodge this cost without losing my number (and I am not ready for that just yet), so I topped up my credit with another 50 NOK. Perhaps with some more research this cost could have been avoided, although I am not sure if there are prepaid SIM cards out there that do not require this yearly top up. Either way, I now have a lot of phone credit, since I hardly used any of it in the past 12 months (I only sent a handful of text messages).
So in total I spent around 1250 NOK (130 EUR / 143 USD) on unavoidable costs.

Some things to remember in 2016

The dental costs were a great reminder of the importance of looking after my health. When I started the moneyless journey and was exposed to all the free food, I noticed that I ate much more of the healthy foods (fruits and vegetables) but also much more of the less healthy stuff (cakes and chocolate), because I would find all of it in large quantities on a regular basis. So, it is good to be reminded that these unhealthy foods do impact health in a negative way and that it is not a good idea to eat too much of it. This will be yet another advantage of going on a nomadic journey and off grid for a while in 2016 (living from foraged foods only) because processed foods are not available in nature. Only the good stuff is.

So, that was my year, mainly with regards to the challenge that started this blog. Let me know how your year has been in the comments! I would be interested to hear about the challenges you faced and the changes you made.

See you in 2016!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Free Energy Is All Around Us

Living moneyless and reducing one's environmental impact usually go hand in hand. But when it comes to finding or developing free sources of energy, it can require some out-of-the-box thinking if you want to create a system that works off the grid (without making use of existing (traditional) structures) AND without making any investments.

I would happily go without electricity (and internet) if it wasn't for my blog. But since I want to keep sharing the changes I make in my life, at least for now, I need to find a solution. Plus I think many others are finding themselves in the same situation and are not 100% convinced they want to give up electricity just yet. 

Because I am far from being an expert on this subject, I asked my friend Arno de Hoon, who is a mechanical engineer, to shed some light on this subject and give me some pointers on how to get started. This article focuses on 100% free options (from found items or waste material) and also includes solutions that would be easy to use while traveling (because I may be starting my nomadic life soon). 

The article contains some relatively easy options and ideas to get started. However, some of these techniques might still require some background knowledge, so it is a good idea to ask help from someone who has a bit of background knowledge on the subject before experimenting with any of these methods for the first time.

***Contribution by Arno de Hoon***

In this article I will explain some basic things you can do or tools you can build to provide yourself with heating/warm water and basic electricity. I will give a small-scale solution which you can carry around and a larger-scale solution to be used as part of a more permanent dwelling, both for electricity and for heating / hot water.


Solar power
The starting point of generating electricity will be the small solar lights which people use in the garden. Often they survive only one year, and after that year they are just thrown out and replaced by new ones. But in these lights it is not the solar cell that stops working, but it is the circuit board inside. If you would take the lamp apart and take a look inside, you will see it is just a small battery charger with the function to turn on the light when it gets dark. We are going to use this solar cell as our own charger. People throw these away on a regular basis so it should be easy to find them for free. Apart from the solar lights we will need some old electronic device as a donor for wiring, a USB port, electronic resistors and diodes (a component which lets the current flow in one direction and blocks it from going back). These items can be found in your nearest electronics store's dumpster, or taken from electronic items that people give away (or anything you are no longer using). You also need 4 NiMH rechargeable batteries (1,2 Volts each).

To make a phone charger out of these parts is pretty straightforward, as long as your phone charges through USB (but all modern phones do). To make a charger, you connect 4 solar cells together to get enough power to charge 4 NiMH batteries (*important note: Don't use other ones! The NiMH batteries are 1,2 volts each (in total 4,8 volts with empty batteries and 5 volts with full batteries), while others are 1,5 volts. When using NiMH you don’t need electronics to protect your phone from overcharging or any additional parts that keep the voltage down to 5 volts*). Then you place one diode, which you can get out of nearly any (broken) electronic device, in the positive wire (usually the red one) so the power can only go from the cell to the batteries. In the drawing you can see how it is done and how to connect it in the right way (the little line on the diode must be facing the batteries). One thing you have to take into consideration is which phone you want to charge. For most brands it doesn’t matter what the setup of the USB socket (D-lines) is, but Samsung and Apple require a specific setup to “know” they are connected to a charger. The schemes are very simplified so people who have no knowledge of electronics can try to build one as well. I know there are better ways to build a phone charger, with regulators and so on, but this is a way to build one from items you can easily find or collect for free.

One thing to keep in mind in this design is that you can’t charge your phone while charging the batteries. You can also use this setup to charge the batteries using a bicycle dynamo. Everything is the same; just replace the four solar cells with the dynamo. So if you are traveling by bike, you can charge your batteries while you are on the road!

Now the next question is: Is it easy to expand this setup into a larger system?

The answer is yes and no. We can come up with a system which charges a car battery. It is possible to make the standard 230 or 110 volt out of a car battery with a converter. But you will need a lot of power to actually supply enough for an average household.

With one car battery you could power a small fridge which is built for motor homes (compressor type because this is the most energy efficient, only 12 volts). To make sure it can keep running you will need strings of 8 solar cells to match the charging current. Apart from that you will need enough power to keep the battery charged. That means you need extra strings of cells, at least 50 of them, so 50x8 cells. But if you can get them for free, why not? In the scheme you can see how to connect them. I have only drawn 4 strings to keep it simple, including a diode for every string, so just imagine 50 strings instead of 4.

Home-built solar panels are another possibility, if you can get the cells and have some time to build them. 
All of the  above are solutions that can only be used off-grid (and cannot be connected to traditional electricity sources).

Wind and Water power
When generating wind and water power, the movement (rotation of a wheel that has been turned into a turbine) is used as a powertrain / driveline. In these designs there is a rotating axle, so you can power a dynamo with it or use it as a driver for any kind of motion as desired (for
operating drive belts, grinding stones, pumps, or even as a firestarter). To create this structure, you have many options. For example, you can attach blades or buckets to a bicycle wheel, to make it rotate in a stream or turn it into a wind turbine by attaching blades (like a fan) and attach a dynamo to charge the charger, or power a light bulb. The dynamo can be connected in the same way as it can be found on a bicycle, with the small turning part pressing against the wheel.
The best option for this type of energy is to use a wheel that already has a dynamo built into the wheel, because it has a low resistance so the wheel will spin more easily. In the past, before the steam engine, nearly everything was powered by windmills and waterwheels. However, to make a wind- or water-powered generator to charge a 12V car battery, requires a lot of know-how and it can practically only be done in a stationary location. A built-in reduction is almost always necessary. It is an efficient construct, but you will need knowledge of dynamos with current regulators. This article would get way too long if I were to get into this in detail, but there is information on the internet on how to build windmills for charging car batteries. However, before you build your own, make sure you do enough research on this. If you don’t have the knowledge, stick with the bicycle wheel.

Potato Power
With fruits and vegetables you can make your own battery cells. The potato is most well-known for this purpose. What you need is a zinc-plated nail or screw (only zinc-plated will work... about 50% of screws and nails are zinc plated; they have a silvery color) which you stick into one end of the potato, and a solid copper wire which you stick into the other end: and there you have a power cell. A small LCD clock can run on 2 potato 'cells'. To power a LED flashlight you will need approximately eight of these potato cells (you can connect them in the same way as the solar cells). The latest research has shown that if you boil the potatoes first, you can power the flashlight for days. Raw fruits like lemons, apples and oranges work as well, but they are less powerful.


Hot Water
Another type of energy is heat. Heat can be stored in all kinds of materials, such as water or rocks. If you go camping and you have warm sunny days with cold nights, you can collect rocks that have been exposed to the sunlight, just before it gets dark. Put the rocks inside your sleeping bag and it will radiate warmth for several hours (the bigger the rock, the longer it lasts)

If you have a camp fire, this works even better. Put some stones close to the fire for 1-2 hours until they reach about 55°C and put them in a sock (just put your hand in the sock, grab the rock and pull the sock inside out, covering the rock). Make sure it doesn't get too warm, because then the rock can explode. Read more about this technique here. Also, after you put out the fire, you can place some new rocks (perhaps you already put some around it) in or near the hot ashes so that they heat up. Then when your hot stones get cold you have new ones to stay warm throughout the night. 

With found items, you can also build your own solar water heater. It is easier than you might think. All you need is a dark bottle (such as a glass beer or wine bottle) and a bigger, clear  plastic bottle (soda bottle). You cut off the bottom of the soda bottle, put the beer bottle inside with the neck through the neck of the soda bottle (maybe you have to cut that as well to make it fit). Tape, glue or slide the bottom of the soda bottle back on and there is your heater. You put the water you want to heat in the dark bottle and place it in direct sunlight. 

To make it work even better, you can use something that reflects light, shape it like a satellite dish and put the bottle in the middle. Place it in a way that as much sunlight as possible passes through the bottles. If you can’t glue or tape the dark bottle in place, you can put the beer bottle on the ground and use the soda bottle as a cover (upside-down). The temperature rises to up to 90 degrees Celsius (194 F). So you can sterilize small items in the water, or you can use the device to sterilize water before you drink it (you may still need to filter it though). You can also wrap it in clothing and use it as a hot water bottle to keep yourself warm at night.

If we scale this up, we can build a complete system which can be used off the grid. To build it you will need a 60 liters drum, some piping, a sheet of glass, a metal plate, some plywood and isolation material. You will need to fill this system up at dawn and due to natural convection (thermosiphon) it doesn't require a pump. The water will heat up to 80-90 degrees, which takes about a day in Dutch summers. The speed depends on solar strength, so the stronger the sunlight, the faster it will heat up. Close to the equator it may only take 4-6 hours. Around there, the system can be used year-round, but in northern or southern parts of the globe (relative to the equator) only in summer.  
The pipes inside the collector (=the black rectangular open-box-shape in the drawing) are resting on a big metal plate to get as much surface for heating as possible. Inside the closed box the temperature rises quickly and this is how the water gets heated. The easiest way to make this is to find a discarded radiator (= the pipes) which you put inside a box. Then you cover the box with glass, and there you have the collector. You connect the bottom of the collector to the bottom of the barrel and the top of the collector to a place near to the top of the barrel (it has to be beneath the water level). The box can be made from plywood (which is easiest to find), or any other material that can withstand the heat. Next, just let the sun work its magic. (N.B.: This system only works without pressure and therefore cannot be connected to town water).

This article explains only the tip of the iceberg of available options. The ones described here are some of the basics and involve rather low-risk mechanics and electronics. However, if you are interested to learn more and are willing to do some research, then there are many more options out there. Free energy truly is all around us, if we know where to find it and how to harvest it. Just be creative and think about ways to utilize the forces of nature that are already out there. I hope this article will inspire some of you to start creating with nature!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

My Declaration of Independence

The following declaration describes my personal guiding principles for life. Some of these are not yet compatible with the realities of today's societies around the world, which can leave non-compliance with the current establishment as the only option that doesn't require sacrificing one's integrity. As long as you can explain how your disobedience serves more than just yourself and doesn't harm anyone, no one can really argue against it (even when what you are doing is technically against the law). (For some examples of purposeful non-compliance, see the bottom of this page.)

I believe that non-compliance and peaceful protest are important instruments of feedback, to let the system know where its rules and regulations are no longer serving humanity or the world, or simply have lost their purpose. Actions speak louder than words, and this is just as true in politics as in any other area of life. As more people start to live for the benefit of all (sustainability) instead of just the benefit of one/some (fear-based greed), and more people refuse to comply with unjust (or redundant) rules and systems, the easier the path will become. In this way we can co-create a completely different world together.

Therefore I hope that more people will consider living their lives strictly according to their own principles instead of the ones that were handed to them by others, to pave the way for future generations and create space for alternative ways of living and thinking. We can get back to a world where we all fulfill the task of the government together and look after each other and the earth, instead of leaving it up to a few individuals of power (who usually have very unilateral ideas about what the world needs (or rather what they need and want)).

I recommend everyone to make a declaration like this for themselves. It can serve as a great reminder of what is important to you, which can be useful when you are faced with a difficult decision or going through a rough time. Don't worry about perfection - just write a draft (as I have done here) and keep perfecting it along the way. Review and edit it often. It is an exercise in awareness of truth, questioning everything and a way to train yourself to see the many ways in which you impact the world - which also provides opportunities for you to discover more ways in which you can send out positive ripples of change. If you train yourself to be constantly aware of the impact of your actions on the environment in relation to your principles and values, you will always know what to do and never second-guess yourself again. It is therefore also a character-building exercise that boosts your confidence and instantly gives your life purpose and meaning.

The Declaration

[**N.B.: This declaration is a draft of my ideas and not an official document in any way. I may update it from time to time. For now it simply describes some of the core principles that I live by to the best of my ability, and concepts and ideas that I value. 
This article is mainly intended to challenge certain hard-wired societal notions and customs that most people seem to accept as the norm without ever questioning them. It is an invitation to engage in critical thinking and reclaim the freedom of choice in individual and societal matters**]

The following is a declaration of my freedom, independence and sovereignty.

I hereby declare that I renounce my rights and duties towards any government or institution that allows oppression, money and/or power to be the cornerstones for maintaining social order and for determining the degree of access to resources, thereby artificially creating lack/inequality and disorder. I no longer wish to be "owned" in any way by any government, organization or individual of power. I no longer wish to participate -neither directly nor indirectly- in the destruction of the environment in the name of growth and progress and the mindless obedience of the law and authority figures out of fear, lack of trust and as a way to justify certain behaviors/situations and evade personal responsibility. I set myself free so that I can claim back my natural birthrights, while also accepting the responsibilities I have as a being on earth.

***Leading principle (above all else)***

My highest priority in life is my commitment to a balanced, healthy environment on earth, serving all life on this planet. With every decision I make, I solely base my actions on what is best for the earth, which is our collective home. My only task in this is to maintain balance as best I can; creating as little disturbance as possible and leaving little to no impact on the environment through my existence. If I do cause damage in some way, I look for ways to correct this: I plant trees if one has been cut down. And I grow as much food as possible and plant seeds wherever I can, because I eat food to survive.
 "Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints" ~ Chief Seattle
If any shifts in the existing balance would be required, then it is up to nature itself to initiate those (e.g. through natural disasters). Nature rules the world, not people.
In my treatment of other beings (including but not limited to humans), I am mindful that I treat them either in the same way I would like to be treated, or better. I aim to never compromise my integrity, so I let honesty be my guide (even when it hurts).

1. Healthcare and other public services
I no longer wish to hand over my freedom, independence and sovereignty in exchange for access to (for-profit) healthcare and other government-provided "services". I also release myself from all the compensatory duties (such as forced labor) that are intended to fund the existence of these 'services', yet ironically can jeopardize my health. Instead, I want to take back my own responsibility for my health. I choose to learn about natural medicine and maintain a healthy lifestyle, so that I can remain in the best possible shape. I believe that any medicine that the earth provides, unaltered and unpatented, can outperform anything made by mankind when used in the right way, without the adverse side effects of inner and outer pollution. I intend to learn much more about this in the near future and then perhaps someday I can become a resource for others who are struggling with health problems.

2. Freedom to settle
I believe that as an inhabitant of the earth I have the right to live anywhere (and travel anywhere I like) as long as I am not harming anyone, including the earth. This means my natural responsibilities are to travel mindfully (without polluting), to build only ecologically friendly structures (shelters/homes) and to use only natural energy sources. Whatever part of the earth I will choose to inhabit, I will not be using the facilities provided by any government other than the ones that are forced on me for lack of alternatives (due to ongoing destruction of natural environments), such as use of roads where no natural paths have been left, and use of tap water when all surrounding sources of water have been polluted by irresponsible human activity. But I will prefer to avoid these places as much as possible and stick to the wilderness.

3. Ownership
I give up the belief in the myth of ownership. The earth (and its resources) cannot be owned, no matter who lives where or is using what at any given time. We can only borrow things from the earth, but ownership is an illusion. There is no "mine" on this earth; so from  now on "my" and "mine" will simply mean: "that which I have borrowed temporarily". Even time is borrowed. My life does not belong to any government or individual, but neither does it belong me. It belongs to nature. This is why I feel called to live my life in service of the earth and all beings.
The earth is our collective home and shared with all species. Therefore all resources are here to be shared with the collective and cannot be dominated or claimed by anyone or anything. It is our collective responsibility to use resources in a sustainable manner. When this is not happening, or someone is trying to cause destruction - in the name of ownership or for whatever other reason, I have the right (and duty) to speak up. If I do not attempt to prevent destruction, I am silently condoning it and therefore passively participating in it. The solution lies in active support of the earth.

4. Food (and shelter)
Even though resources are shared and ownership does not exist, I do respect natural habitats and boundaries (territory), and will not override others' efforts for (personal) survival, for example by finding my own food instead of taking someone else's food supplies, growing my own food instead of taking the crops others planted and building my own home/shelter instead of trying to take over someone else's (unless it is abandoned of course).
When I am not sure whether an area of land is in use by someone or not, I try to determine whether the food was planted for that purpose or not, so that I am not simply taking advantage of someone else's hard work. After all, independence is one of my main goals. When in doubt, I ask. However, I may simply seek out food that is clearly left behind (such as potatoes that are left in the field after harvest and food in supermarket dumpsters).
When I am foraging for foods, I also harvest with respect for nature. I only take what I need, and I make sure that the plant I harvest is growing in abundance. No matter where I find food for survival -whether I am foraging in nature, finding leftovers or accepting help from others- I always contemplate ways to give back. For example, I can give back to the earth by planting new seeds or by helping existing (native and non-invasive) vegetation grow and spread.

5. Money
I do not believe in money as a leading force for decision making, as the main form of exchange or as a construct with absolute value. Instead of using money to get what I need, I choose to rely on unconditional giving and forms of direct exchange (barter). This would be a much more rewarding structure for communities also, for it builds trust and mutual care. Also, it will force selfishness out of the system naturally, as people who are selfish and do not care about others will simply be ignored as a natural consequence of their behavior and therefore they will be forced to change. Selfishness and greed, which are very much rewarded in money-based societies, will no longer have any benefits, and will even be harmful to someone's social status. Instead, sharing, helpfulness and kindness will be rewarded and encouraged. These traits will be the new adaptive qualities for 'survival', or at least for a prosperous life, in communities that are based on this principle.
In addition, as long as money and rules concerning money do exist, I will not engage in the payment of unjust fees, such as property taxes or building permits for zero-impact off-grid homes / shelters. I also don't believe in forced payments for healthcare, roads, and other shared facilities / amenities when I have no intention of using them and yet have no choice to opt-out (for example, if one is registered as living in the Netherlands, one has to have (and pay for) health care insurance). I think that providing services when they are not even asked for takes away people's natural desire to create, to serve and to develop and innovate.
I am also not worried that if we stop the flow of money, the availability of these services will come to a halt. I think there will always be people who will want to help out and who will try to improve (and maintain) the system, because it is important to them or because they genuinely believe it is necessary. When not everything is 'given', this also stimulates people's personal responsibility and gives them an opportunity to contribute. It encourages a sense of purpose and involvement, because there is a need for creation and development. People will have to take initiative for improvements if they feel that something needs to change; and they will have the freedom to do so (as long as it is not hurting other species or the planet), which creates a healthier mindset and will result in a culture with a more positive general attitude and less blaming and complaining.
If you would be worried that no one will want to become a doctor anymore in a world where there is no money to be earned, then this would also have several benefits. First of all, we would all probably look after our health better. How many people truly look after their health now (with health insurance as a back-up)? How many people eat a 100% unprocessed, mostly plant-based diet? In addition, we would naturally appreciate life more, because there is a greater awareness of death at all times. In other words, people will be much more closely connected to life and death. At the moment I feel like many people take life for granted, and even postpone living because they have lost all connection with death and thereby also with life.

6. Equality of all species
I declare myself equal with all other species. I, as a human, am not worth more -or less- than any other form of life on earth, including trees and plants. All of us have the right to be here on this earth and to thrive, and all of us have purpose. Just because I am human does not mean I can use other animals for my own benefit, but I can enter into an equal partnership with them. When I do, my friendship with them is always my main priority and their collaboration with me should be voluntary at all times. Therefore I will constantly be on the lookout for possible signs of distress or discomfort. I make an effort to understand them, learn their language and communicate with them.
The equality principle is also true for people. Again, I have as much worth as any other (human) being on the planet, and as much right to be here as everyone else. I see no need for hierarchy or power structures, and therefore will not accept them. I do not support any system that tolerates and even encourages people to cause destruction to the environment, to use up more than their fair share of resources and to rule over other people (and other life forms).

7. Freedom from society's roles
I free myself of the made-up roles and labels that society has forced on me, and of the duties that are associated with them; most notably 'employee' (including all possible job titles), 'employer', 'consumer', 'citizen' and 'owner'. I will only adhere to those responsibilities that are naturally connected with the things that I choose to do in my life, and the agreements that I voluntarily make with others (which never span too far into the future). Forced contributions, as invented by man, easily become conditional ways of giving. Unconditional giving, however, is always free and without obligation. It either happens naturally or not at all. And if someone happens to be perfectly happy living their life without ever working or contributing to a society in any way (e.g. living in a cave as a hermit) then that is perfectly okay with me, too. Life is too short to be forced to do anything, especially if it doesn't even serve the planet (which, sadly, is the case with most jobs).
However, I do believe that -in a world without (artificial) obligation or rewards- unconditional giving would come back as the new normal, because it is in our nature to give. Without incentives (or punishments), giving will naturally happen unconditionally, motivated by the internal drive to give. People will continue (and even be more likely) to help each other in the absence of rewards and punishments. Not because of some role or label that society gave them, but because that is who we are. The absence of rewards and punishments also helps to bring sincerity back, which is an aspect of unconditional giving.
Unconditional giving is perhaps even more rewarding for the giver than for the receiver, and most people are missing out on that experience most of the time due to a sense of obligation (because money is involved or because of some role or duty prescribed by society). I have personally experienced this shift towards unconditional giving as I stopped using money. Money is one of the things that can poison the mind if you believe in the value that it has been given.

8. Freedom from insurance (security is an illusion)
I am no longer participating in the madness of insurance: health insurance, insurance of "property", life insurance, etc. Life offers no security and we are all going to die sooner or later. I have made peace with death (which is a good idea, since it is the unavoidable outcome for all of us) and will accept my fate when nature decides it is my time. This does not mean I will not try to heal myself if I get sick by looking for alternative medicine, asking for advice or trying to regain my inner balance when it seems lost. But I see no need to turn to governmental health institutions that operate within the parameters of profit and therefore benefit from sickness.
Many people have lost their connection with death and fear it; they want to avoid it at all costs. This goes against all principles of life and a preoccupation with death in this way ironically prevents you from making the most of life. Alternatively, if you stop living in the future and start living now, you will no longer fear death, because there is no need to extend life when you have not postponed living. Therefore, when it is my time, I will accept it. Meanwhile, I trust that life has a plan for me.

9. No law
Because it is hard to express all these principles in a written text, I also advocate the abolition of the legal system, not in the least because I don't believe in systems that promote revenge and retribution. Instead I would prefer a global system of guidelines and principles (such as this), while encouraging people to write their own. Also, where in the law is the most important rule of all: that we should look after and protect the earth and that we should be mindful of our use of resources?
So the law does not necessarily promote justice for all. In fact, the very existence of the legal system is based on inequality, as it requires authority figures to implement and uphold the law. Also, I don't believe that the existence of laws regulates people's behavior in any way. I think people will do what they do, with or without the law. So I don't think people will get more violent without a law (or less violent with one). Although I do believe they will get less violent in the absence of money (at least once they figure out how to look after themselves). Additionally, in the absence of rules and structures that create power and hierarchy (and thus artificial inequality), I think the world could be a safer, freer and more peaceful place.
The law limits a system's flexibility and forces rules onto people who had no part in the creation and formulation of those rules. It also disrupts the flow of natural behavior, making people fearful of authority and each other. On top of that, it can strengthen a sense of victim-mindedness in cases where one person harms another, or it can be used as an excuse for destruction of the environment or other types of immoral behavior when something is considered 'legal'. Another difficulty with the law is that it does not fully support all parts of this declaration yet (nor would it be possible to translate these principles into specific and all-inclusive rules).
With a system that is based on punishment and retribution, it also further promotes inequality and it even promotes violence by role-modeling the seeking of justice through revenge. For all those reasons, the law seems to be an inadequate and counterproductive component of societies. Again, it will be necessary and beneficial to accept some risk or uncertainty (i.e. that some people may act in violent ways from time to time), because it is unavoidable and the existence of laws cannot change that either.

Short summary: Freedom from the system

With this declaration, I free myself of the following structures that were put on me by governments to keep me a prisoner of the system that I was born into:
* I am no longer property of any state nor do I wish to be registered as such.
* I no longer accept any form of inequality, limits to travel & settlement, or destructive behaviors that upset the delicate balance of our ecosystem (in the name of the law, ownership, or any other excuse).
* I no longer accept society's forced roles, such as that of consumer or laborer (except when freely chosen), which means I free myself of the obligation to "work" in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. as a slave of the state and the system)
* I will no longer trade my freedom for governmental 'services' that offer a false sense of comfort or security (and again, cause destruction).

My natural duties and responsibilities are as follows:
* I vow to do no harm to others (or the planet) and be an honest, productive and contributing inhabitant of the earth and its communities.
* I will follow my own moral compass and take full responsibility for my own contribution to a better world for all beings (not limited to humans).
* I seek out my own ways to contribute positively to others and the earth.
* I do not need anyone else to tell me what is right, because I use the capacity that I have been given to think for myself.
* With the earth and all beings as my highest priority (instead of just myself), I will protect the earth and other beings in times of need.


This is my vision and I promise myself, other beings and this beautiful earth that I will live according to this declaration as best I can.

Examples of purposeful non-compliance:

- building a zero-impact home or shelter somewhere in the barren wilderness (on public land), without disturbing the animals that may already live there, with the intention to tend the soil and improve it for plants and trees to grow there.
- not paying property taxes when you have an eco-home and don't use any city water, electricity, plumbing, telephone connections or other town facilities to do with your property.
- opting out of mandatory healthcare insurance when you are eating/living responsibly and using alternative and natural health care remedies only.
- not having a job and having no intention to find a traditional job, because you contribute in ways that benefit the earth more than would be possible with a regular job (and that is actually pretty easily achieved). Also, you do not require any government money because you have found other ways to sustain yourself.
- not sending your kid(s) to school but instead allow them to learn from and about nature and how to look after it, which is far more important (and strangely enough not part of the curriculum in most schools).
- growing your own food and harvesting natural resources in an earth-friendly manner (such as collecting rainwater) should always be legal (although some reports claim it is illegal in some places - which would qualify as a perfect opportunity for peaceful protest and purposeful non-compliance).
- planting non-invasive, native trees on public land.

The bottom-line is: If it is good for the earth and all living beings and causes no harm, then it is good for us too. And anything that is good for us, should be legal. Let's make it so.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Is It Time For Radical Change?

Two weeks ago I was in Paris during COP21 to research climate related artworks, mainly by handing out questionnaires about each of them, to learn more about the way people experience climate art and whether it can move people to action. The experience was both inspiring and depressing. It was inspiring because I met so many wonderful people who care about the environment and are actively living alternative lifestyles and trying to inspire change around the world, through being the change and peaceful, powerful protest. But it was depressing at the same time, because so many of the artworks that we saw had an ominous, sinister feel to them, and confronted me once again with the very real threats the earth's inhabitants are facing. On top of that, the 'agreement' that came out of the COP21 climate discussions was very disappointing. There is no binding agreement, which makes me wonder if anything will be done on a worldwide, governmental scale.

This means the future of our planet is 100% in our hands. It is not up to governments to save the world (in fact, it never was): it is up to us. The good news is that everybody has an equal opportunity to make a significant difference in this matter. This is an issue that concerns all of us and can bring humanity together, especially when we no longer worry about governments and society's rules, and instead start to follow our own peaceful path of moral justice. But the downside is that there is no plan B. If we don't make the changes, there is no one else who will do it for us.

Here is a list of what I am currently doing for the planet:
- Remaining purposefully childless
- Creating zero waste (because I stopped shopping)
- ^ This also means I don't finance the destruction of the planet (> every penny you spend goes somewhere...)
- Being mostly vegan 
- Being meds- and substance-free, and being responsible for my own health
- Reusing and recycling society's waste
- Reducing food waste / Saving food by dumpster diving
- Donating rescued food to others (although not so much now as I used to)
- Not owning a car (and I don't have the desire to own one ever again)
- Biking and walking everywhere, even though there are plenty of hills here, and icy roads in winter (I also don't use public transport, which still makes use of fossil fuels)
- Taking the train whenever possible when traveling for my PhD (after I finish my PhD I no longer want to travel by plane, car or public transport at all (only by (hitch)hiking, horse and bicycle))
- Limiting water use (for example by taking short and infrequent showers)
- Sharing a home with others (instead of renting my own house or apartment), which curbs the use of heating and electricity
- Blogging about my experiences so that these ideas can spread and so that change can be created on a larger scale

It's a good start, I suppose. But my week in Paris made it all seem futile. Climate change and world pollution are such huge problems that it can easily become overwhelming and we can start to wonder what the point is of individual change, because one person is only a very tiny part of this huge world (and an even tinier part of the whole universe). And when you are reminded of (and bombarded with) all the reasons why life on earth as we know it is on the brink of destruction due to human activities despite all of your efforts to make a difference, it can be quite depressing and discouraging. It is not that it made me want to go back to old ways (because I will never go back), but I can understand that people who have not made changes yet just feel like there is not much point for them to even bother. And this realization made me lose some of my hope for humanity.

Then I came across this sign:

... and suddenly it all made sense. I realized I was only feeling hopeless because I was slowly getting into other people's business (check out Byron Katie's blog for more on this), which -of course- I don't have any power over and therefore is frustrating and inherently disappointing. Giving up all hope for humanity helped me to once again focus all of my attention where it matters: on me and on what I can do to help the earth. Because that is all I can do. The rest is pointless and likely to demotivate and dishearten me. I am only responsible for my part, but only for 100%. There is no hiding behind rules, cultural traditions, job responsibilities, or other excuses. If there is a will to change, there is always a way.

I still feel dissatisfied with the state of affairs and the outcome of the COP21 though, so I still want to do more. I feel it is time to take more drastic and radical action. I have had plans for a while to take my activism one step further, but why wait? What am I waiting for? I have pledged that the earth is my first priority, so what could be more important?

Therefore I want to take my commitment to care for the earth to the next level. To prepare for moving completely off-grid and thereby reducing my environmental footprint even further, I want to learn more about basic survival skills (I have been wanting to get serious about this for years now): for example advanced foraging skills and learning to build a shelter. I also want to start giving free workshops and talks around the world, to spread ideas, knowledge, skills and inspiration. Additionally, I would like to start an eco-community, where I can help build a new future with like-minded people. If you are interested in contributing to any of these ideas, please feel free to get in touch.

Another thing I really want to do more of, something I have not done enough lately, is appreciate the earth. I want to take the time to sit in nature and admire the beauty around me. I want to enjoy the fresh air and the wildlife around me. I want to appreciate the trees and admire plants and flowers. These are the reasons why I am on this journey to begin with and so it is a welcome and much needed reminder. Besides, the very reason we are in this mess is because nature and all that the earth offers us free of charge has all too often been taken for granted.

At this moment I am therefore planning a nomadic adventure, where I will live completely off-grid for a while. I would like to travel through Europe on foot (or maybe on horseback or by bike), living on dumpster-dived and foraged foods only, and along the way giving free workshops and talks wherever I go. I will also attempt to source my own drinking water as much as possible (from natural sources). Living the nomad lifestyle without a tiny home on wheels means I will have to stay within comfortable temperatures, so I am planning to move from north (Norway) to south (Spain/Portugal) during wintertime and possibly back to the north again during the following summertime. I have never attempted a trip like this before and of course I don't know whether it will even be possible. But I can try. At least it will be a great opportunity for me to learn and practice my foraging skills (and other survival skills), and to take the time to appreciate nature along the way. If the nomadic lifestyle turns out to be impossible to realize or maintain, I may go for plan B instead: setting up an Eco-community.

In everything I do, I always try to demonstrate alternative ways of living. I believe that options create freedom, because if there is another way, you don't have to stay where you are if you don't want to. By sharing my story and experiences, I am hoping to inspire change in others as well. But my main motivation for doing what I do is that doing good feels good. It feels good to take care of the earth. It feels good to support what is important to me, not just with words and thoughts, but also with targeted actions. If this inspires others, then that's great. And if it doesn't, then there is nothing I can do about it.

Nevertheless, I still hope some of you will join me on this quest to reconnect with nature.

PS: Have you looked yourself in the eyes lately? Find a mirror, look yourself in the eye and ask yourself: Am I doing enough? What else can I do for this planet... today? Remember that today can include planning for tomorrow. But do it today and follow up tomorrow.

Feel free to send out your own ripple of change to inspire the world and add your commitment to the planet in the comments below.

The Balance of Masculine & Feminine Energies

Balance and flexibility are two of the most important ingredients for a successful and happy life. And identification (with concepts / labels) and rigidness can be obstacles that need to be overcome, or let go of, along the way. A simple example of a common concept that people can (sometimes rigidly) attach to is that of male and female, which can distort our capacity to tap into both masculine and feminine energies and takes us away from our inherent strength. If you can regain your flexibility and openness (and let go of rigidness and identification), then you can maintain your adaptability. And whoever has adaptability, has the biggest chance of survival in any kind of circumstance.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."   ~ Interpretation of Darwin's Origin of Species by Professor Leon C. Megginson

Different situations call for different responses. Sometimes life requires you to be tough, sometimes vulnerable. A lack of flexibility stops us from flowing with life. This is also an important reason why many societal structures and other regimes fail in the long run. They are created in a certain time period to satisfy a certain need at the time. But they fail to adapt to changing needs and circumstances, and usually long overstay their welcome (in the name of tradition) after they are no longer needed or useful. They may even become obstacles to the very purpose they were originally intended to serve.

My own process of identification and letting go

When I was a young girl growing up, many people described me as a tomboy: tough, bold, a little bit on the aggressive side, strong and independent (at least most of the time). This was the most effective way for me to be at the time, as school was an atrocious battleground from the very first day. I had to be tough. In that environment, kindness was a weakness without any rewards. The only rewards came from coldness and detachment: it allowed me to remain relatively untouchable. As I grew older and stayed in that same type of environment for more than ten years, I started to identify with that self-image and it became my 'behavioral set-point'. I lost touch with my 'softer side', which by then had become a scary, vulnerable place that I did not wish to explore. I did not see any benefit in it. I also didn't understand others who were more emotional than I was and saw them as weak and spineless. I lacked empathy and compassion, because I had given up on feelings.

It wasn't until I got older and after experiencing some serious long-term turbulence in my life, that I also started developing my softer, vulnerable and feminine side, but only because life forced me to do so. Life literally broke down the wall I had conveniently built around myself. (Life tends to do that.)

Now, after having experienced both energies very intensely for an extended period of time, I have come to see the beauty (and possible darkness) in each of them and I believe that having access to both energies and being flexible enough to live life with either one of them taking the lead depending on what life throws at you, is the most natural way to be, and a way to feel complete and balanced as a person. It happens naturally when you start to get comfortable in your own skin and stop caring about what other people think, want and do. And of course it helps if you stop comparing yourself to others.

Masculine and feminine energies

There are still many gender role expectations that put pressure on males and females to behave in a certain way, in accordance with what is culturally acceptable. We are conditioned to believe that we should only develop ourselves in gender-specific directions: females should develop their femininity, and males should develop their masculinity. Or sometimes, such as in my case, it is rather the circumstances that get someone to develop and identify with one side more so than the other. Both factors contribute to people holding themselves back from exploring and strengthening their complimentary energies and practicing flexibility.

When masculine energy is not balanced, or when it is forcefully displayed independent of external circumstance, a person can become closed-off, distant, indifferent, cruel, arrogant, superficial, over-analytical, violent, cold, selfish, remorseless, dominant and aggressive. When feminine energy is not balanced, the person can become weak, whiny, claiming, clingy, gossipy and blaming, helpless, victim-minded, manipulative, lacking initiative, passive-aggressive, demanding and overly sensitive (taking everything personally). However, when you are balanced, non-identified and flexible, and when you can tap into both qualities whenever the situation calls for them, then you can access and develop qualities like courage, presence, humanness, a grounded sense of unshakable self-confidence (because it is not about you), determination and purposefulness, compassion and love.

So let's celebrate people (men and women) who have the ability to tap into their feminine / emotional side, while remaining balanced. I appreciate your soft, loving, compassionate energy. I feel safe, taken care of and cherished when I am around you. I feel safe to express myself and I feel safe when I am around you. I am grateful for people who allow themselves to be open at all times and are able to share their feelings and experience heartfelt compassion. You teach me how to be vulnerable and stay strong, especially in the face of adversity. You show me what strength and freedom really mean: it is a balance of yes and no, with courage, passion and integrity as the core ingredients. You teach me how to deal with difficult people without getting into conflict. You teach me how to treat everyone with love and respect, and approach everyone with a basic understanding of their humanness and a natural acceptance of any perceived flaws. You show the world how to suspend judgment, or sometimes even refrain from judging someone or something altogether; not because you don't care, but because you care more about personal freedom and acceptance than about being right (and because you know that you never know the full story, even if you think you do). You remind me that strength has many faces, including vulnerability and the freedom of emotional expression, and that beauty has nothing to do with what a person looks like on the outside. You show me the depths of being and just how far-reaching love and compassion can be. You teach me about true wisdom, peace and unconditional love.

Also kudos to the people (men and women) who are in touch with their strong, masculine, protective side. You prompt me to remember my purpose in life, and give me the drive to overcome all the challenges I encounter. You teach me to never give up on my dreams, no matter what happens. You show me the power of NO and the importance of being principled and honorable in everything I do. My decisions and choices reflect who I am; they make all the difference. You teach me about personal responsibility; this is how I can change the world single-handedly (at times when there is no one to collaborate with). You inspire me to trust the universe: success will draw others in; it is only a matter of time.The ripples you create will affect everyone and everything around you, no matter what you choose to do in life; so make it count. You teach me that love is always free; and that true freedom encompasses all that matters. You teach me to think clearly and to express myself in an eloquent and precise matter, and why that is important. You show me what grounded confidence looks like: it is not about how great you feel about yourself, but about remaining balanced and having an unshakable groundedness about you, because you know that nothing is about you (nothing is personal). You show me how to stay clear-headed and not lose myself in the oceans of emotional turmoil. You remind me to stand by myself before anything else; to be my own best friend and sometimes even my only friend.

The energies complement each other: feminine energy gives depth and masculine energy brings action. This is why masculine energy without the feminine can seem superficial and cold (ungrounded) and feminine without masculine energy can cause others to lose themselves in the intricacies.

If you can maintain balance and flexibility (freedom from identification) and if you can see that no single thing is better than another (there are only differences); if you can go beyond form and tap into the universal energy source that contains all, then everything will fall into place. Separation disappears. Gender disappears. Right and wrong disappears. Black and white disappears. Everything melts into one. Let's celebrate our differences, because they offer us an opportunity to learn and expand and grow. And let's focus first and foremost on our similarities: what we all share and have in common. We truly are on big family. Not just humans, but all of life. Let’s stop pulling things apart that belong together. Let’s nurture our humanness and explore all of our strengths, removing all boundaries (and defenses) in the process.

We need more men (and women) to let boys know that it is uncool to act macho and we need more women (and men) to let girls know it is not self-serving (and very unsexy) to behave in a whiny and helpless manner. If we condone destructive behavior without any natural consequences, then we may be contributing to it. Love does not assist destructive forces. Not in oneself and not in others. This is different from condemnation: not assisting and not participating in behavior is much more powerful (and peaceful) than judgement and condemnation.

A new you is born in every moment. Allow, observe, relax, enjoy.