Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Does Having A Job Equal Contribution?

Many people, when they first hear about the moneyless lifestyle, imagine that a person who lives without money does not contribute in any way to society. This amazes me and to me it is proof of how much we have lost touch with nature and ourselves. I have discussed the topic of contribution briefly in previous blogs (such as this one and this one), but I would like to address it in more detail in this article, since it seems to be a recurring theme. 

Let’s first look at the opposite of the statement that people who live moneyless do not contribute anything, because it seems to be the implicit assumption that underlies it: Having a job means you are contributing to society
Is that really true?
Sure, you are part of the economic exchange because you have a job and you get paid, but more so than being part of the economy (which seems optional, even though it is forced upon us from many directions), you are also part of the ecosystem (this is not optional; there is no way not to be a part of it). So why should we define contribution purely in financial terms? Let’s look at it in terms of contribution to the ecosystem, or contribution to the environment. 

Animals do not have jobs...
 … They do not get paid. They do not pay taxes or rent. And yet they each play a part in the ecosystem, just by being themselves and doing what they do naturally. They do not have to wonder what they will be when they grow up. They never have to ask themselves: What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Because life is the purpose. 
For example, bees help the plants and flowers to grow by pollinating the plants as they collect their own food. We owe many of the foods we eat to the bees. Cows and horses graze the land, thereby making room for and exposing other plants (for smaller herbivores) and leaving the soil fertilized and ready for new growth. Sharks keep food webs healthy by going after weaker fish and other predators. Birds help spread the seeds of the berries they eat. And so on, and so on.

They do not get paid, they do not get any reward. They are not employed and so technically they do not have a job. And still they contribute. All play their part. 

Plants do not have jobs 
Plants and trees play an immensely important role. They provide us with food, oxygen, clean air and shelter. They do not get paid, and yet they contribute to our most basic needs. Without them, we would not be able to survive. Phytoplankton also provides us with oxygen, as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

The sun does not get paid for shining 
The sun shines every day whether we like it or not. Whether we appreciate it or not and whether there are clouds in the way or not. It shines because that is what it does. In fact, every part of nature does what it needs to do, without any reward, manipulation, force or threats. Everything gets done, because everything does what it does naturally. What about humans? What do humans do naturally? Do we even remember?

"The Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone". ~ Tao Te Ching 37

Humans contribute by…. 
… well, what do we contribute?
What is your contribution to your ecosystem? In what way do you enrich your environment? Do you cause destruction or help nature thrive and flourish? Do you promote and support life, or death? This is an important question and when we look at typical “jobs”, we can conclude that most of them contribute more to destruction (pollution, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources) than to creation and/or restoration of the environment. This is something to think about. 
With the creation of artificial jobs, humans have lost touch with their natural job: the part they play in the ecosystem. Nature can only function well when everyone and everything fulfills their small task. We all work together to create balance. With most humans no longer participating and no longer feeling part of the ecosystem, the balance is lost. We can restore it by rediscovering our role. 

Some questions to ponder:
1. What positive role could people play in the ecosystem? How could we contribute to creation rather than destruction in our environment, locally as well as globally?
2. Look at your daily routine. Does it contribute to creation or destruction of the ecosystem / environment? Look at the details as well as the bigger picture.
3. Are you making the economic system more important than the ecosystem and if so, why? Without the ecosystem, there can be no other system. 
4. What could you do to contribute to creation rather than destruction? How could you step out of the system that denies your very nature and the part you play as a being on and of the earth? You can take the first steps to free yourself today.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

How To Overcome Excuses

Are you a "Yes, But..." kind of person? I used to be this kind of person: making excuses instead of making things happen. I had a lot of excuses for why my life was not working out for me. It was all about other people, society's rules, circumstances, and everything else. I was a victim. There was not much I could do about it. It was all too difficult. Too many obstacles that I did not see any way around.

Not anymore though.

But interestingly, some people (who are not regular readers of the blog but people who randomly encounter my articles on Facebook) comment on my posts by making excuses for themselves. They say things like: for you it is easy because you live in Norway, or because you are a PhD student, etc. And yes, of course I certainly have some advantages in my life, but so do you! You have tons of things working in your favor. You just have to find them and make them work for you, so that you too can reach your goals. The whole universe is conspiring for you to reach your goals (in your own unique way) and to make each of your dreams come true. If only you could see that, then you would get started right away.

Life is about priorities
Of course each person is different, and each situation is different. But there is also always more than one way to reach a goal, so if you really want something and keep your mind and eyes open for your unique opportunities ahead, you will find a way and you will succeed. Your journey may not be the same as mine and you may encounter different challenges along the way, but overcoming these will be the most exciting part of your journey! You will need to put your creative thinking skills at work. Do you think I knew exactly how I was going to do everything when I first started on the Stop Shopping Challenge? No. I didn’t know where the road would take me or how I would overcome certain 'problems'. But I dealt with them as they came and a solution always presented itself. If you trust the process then problems will practically solve themselves. But you have to take that first step. You have to get started. If you wait, then the universe will wait. If you trust and get started, then the universe will respond. It is a law of life.

Now I know that anything is possible. It may take some time, it may take some work, but you can do whatever you put your mind to. You don't need money, you don't need to wait for governments to change things first, and you certainly don't need other people to do it for you. You don't need others' support, permission or approval either. Most brilliant ideas were perceived by others as crazy at first. It's just to be expected. And finally, you also don't need to plan everything in advance and account for all of your what-ifs. In fact, this would be impossible. You can't see all the solutions that are out there before you get started, and the majority of the problems you can imagine will never happen (and some you would never think of, will). But once you start, you will experience that there are so many more solutions out there than 'problems'.

All you need to do is prioritize your goal, which will give you the conviction, courage and determination that is needed to trust your path and let go of anything that holds you back. Let go of the unimportant to make room for the important. And along the way you will find out what really matters to you, because the way to find this out is by doing what matters to you now.

Let go of limitations
We often learn to limit ourselves from an early age. We are told we should be 'realistic'. What does that even mean? I say: Don't be realistic. Or, be realistic and expect you can achieve whatever you want to achieve unless and until you have tried everything. This means that as long as there is still another way, you have no reason to give up. This is how people succeed: they refuse to give up. They make it a sport to find new ways.
You learn to be creative and to test the boundaries of your mind. You learn to stretch your mind and get out of the box. You will make it a habit to question ordinary thinking and let go of limiting perspectives. Before saying something is impossible or unrealistic, you will take the unbiased scientific approach beyond just your assumptions of what works and what doesn't work (based on what you see around you or what you've heard from others). You investigate what works for you. It may be different than for other people. Situations and circumstances are different. People are different, even from moment to moment. 
An outcome can hinge on so many different factors; but one of them is always your level of commitment to making it happen. Commitment to your goals brings clarity to what you have to do. It will create a clear path for you to follow, step-by-step. When you have faith in your goals and enjoy the journey, your mind will filter out all the noise and leave only the necessary information. So follow your bliss and challenge yourself. Experiment. And don't let anyone stop you by telling you it's impossible. It may be impossible for them, but that doesn't mean it is impossible for you.

I love this quote on the subject:
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it" --- A wise person

The best possible outcome can only happen when we get out of our own way. And if we can't do that, then in the meantime life will help us along by bringing us the circumstances and situations that can get us there... until we get it. This is what challenges and obstacles are for. They are not meant to deter us, but to get us ready to go deeper. 

So next time you think it is impossible, ask yourself: Have I really tried everything? Or is there another way?

There is always another way.

“I didn’t have the time, but I made the time.  I didn’t have the knowledge, but I did what I knew.  I didn’t have the support, but I learned to support myself.  I didn’t have the confidence, but the confidence came with results.  I had a lot going against me, but I had enough going for me.  I had plenty of excuses but I chose not to use any of them.” - (Unknown source)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Are Our Comforts Killing The Planet?

Have we made our lives too comfortable? Is our desire to be comfortable the root cause of (most) environmental destruction?
When I moved to my new home, the tiny house, I had to give up some of the comforts I had grown used to, such as having instant access to running water and having a lot of space. This has shown me the direct link between comfort and unsustainable habits.

Wanting to be comfortable is a natural tendency for all living beings, including humans. We invent ways to make life simpler, easier, faster and in the process we want to ban out any pain or discomfort. But sometimes we seem to get lost while on this quest for comfort and convenience. We forget about the cost of these 'improvements'; not just to the environment, but also (paradoxically) to our own quality of life and well-being.

Convenience detaches
Convenience usually means that someone or something is doing our work for us. Because most of us work for other people all day in our jobs, we like to have someone else or something else do our work when we get home. So we have devices for entertainment, ovens and other equipment to cook our food, and machines doing our dishes and our laundry. But this detaches us from the task and puts us out of touch with reality, including the reality of the resources that are used. For example, do you know how much water a load of washing uses?
The average washing machine uses about 150 liters of water per load. In my tiny home I don’t have a washing machine nor in the nearby barn, and even though I have been offered the opportunity to do my laundry at the main farm house, I prefer to do it by hand, because it connects me to what I am doing and it helps me see what resources I put into it.
I put my clothes in warm to hot water (depending on what fabric it is) with a bit of soda, and I just let it soak for a while. Then I knead, swish and/or rub the fabrics together, wring them out and hang them out to dry.  It is quick and simple. Per tub I use 3 to 4 liters of water and for a comparable load in the washing machine this would add up to about 9-16 liters when washed by hand, compared to 150 liters in a washing machine. Now that is a big difference. And it doesn’t really take that much time either.
Another way is to put your clothes in a stream or river, so that the water does all the work for you. Just leave them in there for a couple of hours and they should be clean. Unfortunately this is not an option for me at the moment because it is still too cold, but I will definitely try this in summer.

I have noticed I use a lot less water for other things as well, because my tiny home is not connected to the water grid. So whenever I need water, I need to ‘leave the house’ and walk the cold and often slippery 15-meter path to the tap (in the nearby barn). Not too much trouble, but enough of a barrier to break my previous routine of mindless water consumption. I now have to think about when I need and use water. I have to plan it and have it ready. And wherever possible, I try to avoid going to the tap by exploring alternatives. For example, I often use snow to 'wash' my hands (or sometimes to rinse the dishes), or I use rainwater that collects in a bucket outside my door.

Convenience breeds habit
Convenience creates habits, and habits can make us slaves of routine and lull us into half-comas. Together with the detachment factor and our desire to hide away from pain instead of moving into it, we run the risk of losing our sense of aliveness and awareness. Pain and discomfort can teach us a lot. Also, simplifying your life and letting go of certain comforts and conveniences doesn't have to be uncomfortable. It can actually be fun and enjoyable. It can add spice to your life. If you find your daily chores boring or unpleasant, you may need to wonder what is missing in your life, because I am willing to bet it is not about the chores themselves. It just never is. Perhaps it is time to reconsider your day job.
I enjoy doing my laundry and washing my dishes. It is not uncomfortable or inconvenient, and I don't feel like I am missing anything at all. I would not want it any other way. And if I do feel the occasional discomfort, I question it. It helps me grow and expand. That is why it appears. If I were to run away from it, or find a way not to experience it, life would get dull, and I could get numb and lose my awareness of being in the process. I have been in that place before and never want to go back there. Some call it depression.

Comfort can hinder change
Being too comfortable can make you stagnant. Like water, you need to be in motion sometimes to be able to cleanse yourself and leave a positive impact on others and the world. Motion allows you to flow with life and adapt to the inevitable changes with ease and grace. Being too comfortable can lull you to sleep (if you are prone to that) and make you rigid, which can make it much more difficult to change and more difficult to see where you are and where you are heading in life. It can also make you lose sight of the big picture and the part you play.

So this is my solution for getting out of habits (and boring routines): avoid getting too comfortable by making things just a tiny bit more challenging for yourself in some way. Also look for ways to simplify your life. It will make your life more fun, help you to stay in the flow and make changes more easily (without getting stuck in apathy). It will also help you to practice creativity and discover new ways to do things (or rather to rediscover the old ways). It will help you stay connected and present. And this will help you come alive.

"To be awake is to be alive." -- Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

How To Retire In 3 Years Or Less

If retirement sounds good, then why wait? Here are some steps on how to retire in three years or less. Of course this is just one of many ways to go about retirement, and you can fine-tune it to suit your wants and needs. This article is meant to bring hope and inspiration to those who want to get out of the rat race as soon as possible; those who feel restrained and limited by the general lifestyle imposed on them by society; those who don't fit society's mold.

I was "one of those people" who did not fit into society. From an early age I was thinking about retirement. How wonderful it would be to retire early and start doing the things I was really meant to be doing; things that I felt a huge desire to do, to make a difference in the world (such as learning about self-sustainability). But retirement seemed impossible to achieve in a short time. After all: don’t we need money to survive? Well, I have put it to the test and in fact, the answer is: no, we don’t need money, so you could retire today if you wanted to. But if you insist on having some money (for example enough to buy land and build your own off-the-grid, self-sustainable tiny home or community), then here is a plan for you.

1. (optional) Find a job that is not too labor intensive and (reasonably) enjoyable
Key features are:
-          You get enough freedom and autonomy to avoid stress.
-          There are not too many hard deadlines. Deadlines cause stress, which can prevent you from exploring other activities outside your job.
-          You are not too attached to outcomes or perfectionistic about it. This is something you can work on by practicing letting go.
-          Ideally the work you do is somehow meaningful to you / you are passionate about the work you do and the contributions you make to others and the world.
I was extremely lucky to find a PhD student position with a topic I am very interested in. PhD positions (if interesting and meaningful) are very suitable for the early retirement plan, because you get a lot of freedom, opportunities for self-development and (in most countries) an OK salary. It is also always a temporary position, and mine happens to last for 3 years: more than enough to get ready to retire comfortably with a backup plan, while doing what matters to me.

Cats and dogs never retire: why bother? Their job is to enjoy life.
2. Find a way to live for free
Stop spending money for a few years, long enough to save up the amount of money you need to feel safe enough to step out of the work force. (Read more on how to do that here.) If you can, find a way to save your entire income. This is what I am doing at the moment. Not only will your savings add up very quickly, but you will also learn the important skill of survival without money, and you will experience a whole new way of being when you are not using money. It has been the most incredible journey for me so far, and it just keeps getting better. The experience of living in this new way has been tremendously valuable and rewarding. I would not trade it for any amount of money.
Living for free doesn't mean you stop contributing. In fact, contribution is the cornerstone of this lifestyle. And that is exactly what makes it so rewarding. Giving to others and helping wherever possible is a natural tendency we all possess, and in my experience it is the most meaningful way to live life. It is also easier to live this way when you live without money, because you tend to be more naturally focused on what you can give than on what you can get out of each situation.
But since I still have a job and an income, I happen to be saving some money along the way as well. To me this is just a bonus, and definitely not the main goal anymore. I don't know whether I will need it or use it in the future. I am not thinking about it. I am hardly ever aware that I even have a bank account, because I have not used my debit card since December 2014.
The moneyless lifestyle also helps you change your views on the world and to let go of myths and long-held beliefs about what life should and should not look like, and it helps you to get clear about what is really important to you and what you really want and need. It also helps significantly reduce stress levels, which saves up so much energy for more meaningful things. While you are living for free, you will no longer have to stress about bills or about potentially getting fired, because you can support yourself without any income. This means you can focus all your efforts on following your inner voice and maintaining your own integrity.

3. Get yourself a tiny home on wheels and find a place to settle down
You can build a tiny home from found materials, or things that people give away. If you have practiced living simply in the meantime, you know that you won't need that much space or stuff. And once you have your tiny home, you are all set. You do not need building permission for a house on wheels, and so your property taxes will not be so much (and maybe even non-existent if you can find some land you can use). You may be able to arrange to live on someone else’s land (for example, many farmers would be happy to have a site manager who can take over chores when they are away). Just ask around! You never know whose lives you could actually enrich by asking the question. Alternatively, you can find a community you can join or set up your own.

My current home

That's it!
Up to three years of salary is generally more than enough to get the chance to buy some land after the experience -or at least build a mobile home- and retire; if that is what you would want to do. Life is about increasing your number of options, because options create freedom. And options are created through open-mindedness and creative thinking; not through money. The (over-)use of money can make the mind dull and un-creative, because it can get everything done in the same way. But when that way fails (e.g. you run out of money), it leaves you at a loss if you haven't practiced mental flexibility and creative problem solving.

If step one doesn’t work for you, and you absolutely cannot find the right job for yourself, just go straight to step 2 and see where life takes you. If you keep an open mind you will be surprised what will show up for you. And remember you have nothing to lose! My heart was telling me to retire years ago. Other people just laughed at me, told me that I was crazy or said that ‘this is not how the world works’. I am glad I took a risk and followed my own voice. It doesn’t matter what other people say; it is not their journey – it is yours. They are not laughing anymore, because they see now what I saw before I started: that it is realistic and possible. No one can deny it or belittle your ambitions once you are living the dream; leading the way for others to go beyond what they imagined to be true or possible.

Your new life awaits you! If you believe you can make it happen, you will.