Before returning to Switzerland, I had prepared a little list of goals for myself. I was fully aware that “reality” would be different and that a full-blown tusnami wave was going to hit me and threaten to flush all my newly made resolutions away. I thought I could braise myself and be prepared. However, things turned out to be a little more challenging than I had expected. Now, after roughly two months of being back “in reality” (after 6 months of traveling and living on a farm), it’s time for an interim assessment.
Since one of my goals for this blog is to illustrate my journey and the struggles I face on my way to a lifestyle, which is more in line with my convictions, this is a rather personal post. Some of the descriptions might seem trivial and some of my “problems” might seem petty in a larger scheme. Still, it seem relevant to me to describe my current state and how I intend to deal with circumstances. Any resemblance to other actual persons, is purely intentional and I hope some readers might recognize themselves in the text.
My Personal Manifesto
- Take time to process
- Take space to be
- Meditate and breath
- Focus on what matters
- Stay single minded, one after the other
- Sleep enough
- Spend time in nature
- It’s a process, that’s about balancing
- Be content with not doing everything at once
- Learn and try new things
- Look at things properly
When I look at that list now, I must say that I fulfilled, or partly fulfilled, about two thirds. So all in all quite successful – but I encountered other challenges that I had not anticipated.
Reality means… truckloads of crap to deal with. All day long.
- I lived in a place where my social circle consisted of around a dozen people.
- I was at least half an hour away from any shopping, restaurant or other form of infrastructure
- To get there I had to first walk or cycle a mile and then catch one of five daily busses
- The towns in that range were on the small and quiet side and I wasn’t involved with their social life
- My week consisted of 3 work days and 4 days off, so plenty of time for the few activities and chores
- My belongings were limited to a large duffle bag and I lived in a tent – without internet connection
Now back in Zurich, I know and interact with a large number of people. Despite focussing on the ones I really care about, it still meant to be out almost every night of the week – for weeks. Probably due to the nature of Swiss mentality and/or the circles I’m involved in, there is a constant flow of activity offerings coming your way: go watch a game, celebrate a birthday, participate in an opening party, go play hockey or go hiking, afterwork gatherings, play cards, do a weekend trip – or just grab a drink or food.
On top of that, there are all these temptations: I had to go get a new sleeping bag (that was overdue) and bought a new sports watch to track my cycling activities (because I wanted to) and everyone wears cool new clothes and cares about the latest this and that… Suddenly I worry again about my clothes being clean and stylish, about what my hair and beard look like and – even though I’m not afraid of missing out – I’m still drawn to join a lot of these activities. Because they are fun too!
Staying true to myself at all times is an illusion – or is it not?
So within a few days, I saw the tsunami flood my space, fill up every nook and cranny, and yank on every piece of furniture that I arranged so nicely in my mind, when imagining my life a few weeks earlier. After having endless time on hand, just for myself and for anything I pleased to do, I now left my place early in the morning and did not return to it until late at night.
The hardest part, I realized, is to stay conscious and balanced all the time. When I had my first day full of meetings and workshops, I returned home and all I wanted to do is to distract myself. The only activity I could manage, was to watch a stupid movie, play some mobile game or the likes. I wasn’t happy about that desire – I wanted to fill my life with meaningful, inspiring things instead of just wasting it. I wanted to use that space outside chores and work in a progressing, self-advancing way – but found no energy for it.
I am aware that these kinds of “time-wasting” activities should have their space in life and can be enjoyable and regenerating. Also, going back to my point: “Stay single minded, one after the other” should be a reminder not to get stressed out by the number things I want to do versus the number that actually fit into a day. What I want to fight is the feeling of being too drained by one kind of activity so I’m left with not enough inspiration for other priorities. I believe that will be one of my focus topics for some time to come.
Trying to stop that hamster wheel in my head
I often catch myself not having the calm to quietly focus on one single thing. With work and social life being quick and packed with action, somehow I’m being put into this nervous activeness. I don’t have the patience for just sitting and looking – and worst of all, I don’t have the patience to even start activities like yoga or meditation, that I know would help me to re-center and find myself again. The pressure of limited time available puts me into a mode of constant circling through my todo list. And when I finally come out of it, my brain and body don’t want to absorb any new or constructive inputs anymore.
What I had realized about my life and my personality while living on the farm was that: I don’t take time anymore to process the events of my day, to come to terms with my emotions – which eventually leads me to feeling myself and enables me to know what really matters to me. In my opinion, these are key requirements for pursuing a sustainable and fulfilled life. To let your day pass once more before going to bed, maybe keep a diary and let things sink in instead of piling up experience on top of experience. It sounds like a basic thing but for me it was like rediscovering a part of myself that I had lost since my teenage years. And now I am not (yet) able to live up to my expectations fully and execute on those first few points of my manifesto.
Change is slow and steady – and sometimes fast and drastic
It’s not like all my resolutions passed without a trace: I cut back on distraction, I don’t follow news, watch TV or even follow football, which has been one of my main spare time activities for the past few years. I have moments, like on the train, when I just sit and stare or I read a book. But where it took a few minutes to find my center on the farm, it takes much longer in my current setting: to slow down, to block out stimulus and begin to feel.
On the other hand, my life did see some large transitions. Those 6 months have dropped me off at a very different point than where i left it. First of all I’m divorced now – which sounds strange to say still, but it is just where life has led me and I manage to see it as an opportunity most of the time. Then, despite having returned to my old job, I’m only working part-time now. And I have no apartment of my own currently, but I’m staying with my mom for the time being.
This is what my life has become. I’m loving it!
Living at my mom’s sounds worse than it is: Her house is in the country side, which is something I’ve been looking for and intend to maintain in the longer run anyway. Additionally, I pitched my tent in her backyard and have been sleeping there comfortably and happily, despite falling temperature levels. I love spending my nights in the fresh air and being surrounded by animal noises and life – even if they wake me up at times. I will see if I want to stay out there through winter or if it will drive me back inside. I also haven’t started looking for my own place yet, because I just don’t know what I want to look for.
Regarding work, my 60 percent arrangement really allows me to have space for other things. I have not yet managed to actually keep it to 3 days but it’s 60% spread over 4 days. But it allows me to partly pursue the vision I had described before returning.
- I’ve been cycling a lot – some times to work (20km) and a few day-trips
- One of my weekends I have spent in Ticino, exploring the land and villages – I loved it and will do it again!
- I’ve been reading about Permaculture, first the book by Sepp Holzer and now Gaia’s garden by Toby Hemenway.
Working the land and learning my ropes around the garden
The greatest coincidence and lucky development has been, that my old primary-school buddy Ramon has a Permaculture garden just up the hill from my mom’s house. I’ve been able to spend most of my Fridays on his beautiful property, helping and learning and benefitting from his knowledge and spirit. Those are very grounding and inspiring days in nature and doing physical work, away from the usual hustle and bustle. Without this element in my routine, I’m not sure how positive my assessment would have turned out.
Beyond that, I’m pursuing my principle of following up on any potential lead towards something interesting, without knowing where it will take me. I believe that if you focus on what matters to you with determination and persistence, life will eventually open doors and present opportunities – sometimes where you least expect it.
Changing the world is the New Normal
I have experienced that my newly found topics trigger new kinds of conversations – about permaculture, nature and alternative ways of living – with my existing circle of friends and acquaintances. I’m receiving relevant inputs and great feedback from people, with whom conversations had previously circled around completely different topics. I’m also gaining the impression that the time is ripe for changes: many of my friends, who like me have been living their steady, numb, comfortable life, had enough. They want to break out, find meaning, reduce consumption and so on.
Some of the new realisations mentioned above slowed me down on implementing the ideas formulated in my previous post: I’ve been reminded that I’m a social being. The idea of finding my own place somewhere in a remote valley and spending half of my time there is not that straight forward. Simply because I will need some sort of a community (of at least one other person) to own and build a place. There is so much work involved in a Permaculture project and I don’t see myself spending days and weeks and years in solitary.
I became aware of parallels between my ideas now and the ones I had 7 years ago: after returning from Asia I started my own business “zweii online marketing”. I wanted to execute it by myself and apply my acquired knowledge. Only a year or so later, I had joined the startup Spontacts, because I had figured out that doing “your own thing” in a group of likeminded people is easier and more fun. I’m in a similar spot now: I’m really eager to start experimenting by myself, find a space to envision and execute a Permaculture design. But I’m fully aware that the timeframe, workload and persistence (maybe also financials) needed for that, are not something I will be able (and willing) to complete by myself.
Additionally I’m not yet sure what the right setup for me should be: A small garden? Self-sustainable living? A farm? A community? I will talk to more people and explore more places around Switzerland, read, explore, compare, reflect… Until eventually a clearer picture will materialize.
The road is long and winding – and I’m enjoying every step of it
Going back to my manifesto, there are points where I completely failed so far: I’m not sleeping enough, I’m too hasty to look at things properly, I don’t meditate, I’m definitely not single-minded and there is not enough time to process. Despite the freedom I have and the space I’m taking, I feel like the days are too short and there aren’t enough of them in a week.
The main reason I’m not getting frustrated is that I really internalized one other point on the list: It’s a process, that’s about balancing. I’m aware that I’m in a process – and will be for the rest of my life – of continuously finding the inner and outer balance of things. There will always be aspects that are wonky. But that’s just the way it is. I have maintained – so far – my tranquility through ups and downs and feel confident that lows of spirit and mood as well as external shortcomings will pass. I’ve been able to look at sorrows and struggles with a certain distance. I feel like I’m now watching the rollercoaster ride of my life from outside, rather than just being a passive passenger who’s being rocked around by surprise.