Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
One of the greatest boons with our homesteading lifestyle is how closely related it is to physical and mental/spiritual health. The fundamentals for how we pursue our days – outdoor work, homegrown, organic food and a relatively stress free environment – are important components for a healthy life. But there are other aspects too for why I as a homesteader see a much greater chance for enhanced and sustained well-being than in the conventional western lifestyle. To go “back to basics” usually refers to a move towards down scaling, simplicity and a more conscientious life style often lived closer to nature. For me, back to basics can be taken even further: to move towards some of the basic, life sustaining elements that we as humans have evolved for, something that I believe is the most fundamental aspect for health and inner balance.
To follow my food from seed to plant and back to soil brings me closer to nature and to some basic elements for our existence.
Throughout the entire existence of humans, our brains have developed for a certain range of input, environments and nourishment and our anatomy has evolved parallel with that. Some aspects of this are more obvious, like that we're built for physical activity, but I believe these evolutionary traits go deeper and are more subconscious and intangible than we're able to fully grasp. It's easy for me to imagine that inner city environments with their sights, sounds and artificial materials, screens on devices or blaring loud speakers add stress to our systems, simply because we have not evolved for that kind of input. Balance, and good health, is found when our brains on the most fundamental level understand the surroundings and our place and function in that: when our lungs understand what we breath – clean oxygen and not pollution, when our cells go about their task without confusion from foreign substances or toxins and our organs can do what they are “taught” to do without external stress from for example increased cholesterol or heavy doses of sugar.
The last century has drastically and rapidly altered many of the contexts we've evolved for, and one of the more concrete examples of how our modern western lifestyle has diminished our well being is the introduction of heavily processed food. The most common line of reasoning is that we have evolved to eat and digest certain types of food and the rapid and recent change in our diet now leads to overweight and diseases such as diabetes, gluten intolerance and other allergies, all being symptoms of unbalance.
As a social and cultural creature I believe our brains have a great elasticity, and in a society with an exponential rate of change, we've gotten used to adapting new circumstances, technology and even realities, such when we move to a new town or country or change our job.
Even though a conventional western life style in the 21st Century often is far away from the genetically recognizable context we've evolved for it, becomes a state of a “new normal” that we can get used to on the surface, but on a deeper, intuitive level, as biological creatures, we might not be as easily adaptable. As we keep progressing further away from the basics, we will see more and more health related consequences of a mental unbalance.
Factors such as exposure to unnatural substances, artificial food and materials certainly have a huge impact on our well-being and hence on our balance but just as many things have changed rapidly on a psychological level and the link between physical illness and spiritual stress related to the many non-biological circumstances we now face starts to be obvious. Fewer people than ever have a daily and direct connection to nature even though our belonging to the natural world is deeply inscribed through millennia of evolution. Not only do fewer people than ever live in rural areas, but fewer than ever also rely on nature for their sustenance: food is bought in the store, houses come from factories and oil furnaces and air-conditioning controls the climate. We are here and nature is there. To not only understand the indisputable role nature plays for our sustenance but also to acknowledge, and deeply feel, our connection to nature is to me the most important factor for “back to basic” and in extension, for our well-being.
As a homesteader I've found that much of my every day life brings me close to the physical and spiritual factors for well-being. My days follow the rhythm of the sun and my year follows the rhythm of the season. I'm outside every day, no matter the weather and in non-sterile living conditions, my body is used to handling bacterias, microorganism and fungi, all being ever present in a natural environment. My life lends itself towards physical activity and eating our own food means eating wholesome, organic and nutrient dense.
But even more so, I've also found that many aspects of a homesteader's life lies close to basic spiritual elements for human existence. Not only do I eat healthy, but to follow the basic means for life, my food, from seed to plant to fruit and through composting, and to see it transformed back to soil aligns my life on this planet with all life and the dial for my inner balance comes to an equilibrium. To live in this direct relation to nature opens my eyes for the interconnectedness of nature: that the source of my food is also the source of food for other life – wildlife such as voles and deer but also fungi, bacteria and microorganisms – and that my source of heat, a tree in the woods, can be someone’s home and that all this can be both our source of recreation and a way to make a living. This basic concept – the dependence on nature for our sustenance – has been a consistent factor throughout human evolution and is therefore a concept that my mind can understand and recognize on a deep level.
This interconnectedness to basic natural elements can't be achieved if not physically present in the elements for it and for many people in our part of the world this has changed drastically, lately due to globalization and digitizing. The general rule of thumb for a direct, physical contact with one's mean of living and for one's social communication through face to face conversations have largely been replaced by a complex, world wide chain of distributions, trade, transactions and online social networks and forums. Internet has incredible potential for instant and global exchange and it provides an unprecedented opportunity to connect with like-minded and achieve not only a sense of belonging but also rapid social change. But I can't help to wonder though, how this substantial change in interactions impacts us as human beings when we no longer have to be physically connected to how are needs are met and when we rely largely on fast-paced, abbreviated communication with people we might never have met in real life.
My own observations of what happens when there's a demand for immediate responses to online communication, when we're assumed to be constantly reachable and when we communicate simultaneously with several different individuals through several different platforms is the same as with other previously non-existent phenomena: it becomes a “new normal” which we as culturally adaptable creatures to some degree can handle, but that on a spiritual and evolutionary level leads to high stress and imbalance. While I too tap into these ways of communicating and staying connected to friends, news and information, I largely remain in this physically present and tangible reality that I feel is mentally easier for me to relate to and therefore more nourishing.
In times past, I too have lived the same conventional lifestyle as so many do today, in an inner city area with an indoor, computer based office job with very vague results on how I spent the majority of my waking time. Back then, this was for me a state of normal and I gave little or no thought to alternative ways of going about life. But, it was also a state of inner instability, high stress and a general feeling of being out of touch – I didn't see the outcome of my efforts as work, I had very limited time to pursue personal interests and felt confined by the artificial grid made up by my apartment, the commuter train and my office.
Had I kept at it, one can only guess the outcome – perhaps I would have come to rely on the fairly generous paycheck and accepted this as normal, but probably been ground down by the almost impossible feat to ever biologically adapt to such a reality. Maybe something in me already back then called out loud enough that I couldn't ignore it – that “back to basic” could be a forward movement towards balance, health and well-being. As a homesteader, I have found purpose and meaning and by being in touch with my context, I am better capable of creating long lasting soundness for me and all that's around me.
Photos by Anneli, Colleen Delaney and Dennis Carter.
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