by Lisa Picard (February 2015)
Five years ago my partner Arn and I gave up our upwardly mobile corporate careers, our executive ego-toys and our jet-setting city party lifestyle to retire to a smallholding bordering on the indigenous forest, high up in the majestic Outeniqua mountains of South Africa’s Garden Route. We paid off our debt, sold our fancy sports cars and yuppie city home, sold or donated tons of belongings and cashed out of the rat race. From now on we would live on a debt-free basis and attempt to wean ourselves off of our addictions to excess.
We pretty much built our new home with our own hands (other than the basic timber frame, which was built by a registered builder). In the process we developed a host of new skills, not to mention muscles, calluses and a whole lot of respect for each other and for our own bodies. Physically building your own home is, quite possibly, the ultimate test of any relationship! It was exhausting, frustrating and, ultimately, unbelievably rewarding. Our home is 100% off the grid (solar-powered) and we collect and store rainwater and clean our own wastewater using a reed-bed filtration system, all of which we built ourselves. We organically grow most of our own food (except for meat, which Arn still eats, and items such as condiments, eggs, tea, dairy produce etc). Arn supports us financially through his writings and client consultations via Skype and my job is food growing and processing and home maintenance. A huge departure from our previous life in which we had domestic help and very rarely actually used our kitchen for much more than making tea and toast!
We believed we were moving from the city to the country, but the move was actually from our egos into our hearts. The journey has often been challenging, sometimes downright terrifying, hugely surprising, but always incredibly worthwhile.
As the city distractions melted away and the work of finishing and moving into our new home gradually abated, things got very real, very fast. When you can’t blame your lack of happiness or your bad mood or your blues or your sense of anxiety or incipient panic on all the things that you used to blame (the traffic, the boss, the hectic work schedule, the pollution, your debt, etc, etc, etc…), then you have to start looking deep inside of yourself for the reasons. In this very quiet and beautiful place, it becomes impossible to hide from yourself any longer. That’s when the real work begins. The work of confronting your deepest shadow-shelf; the work of taking ownership of your life and of the reality you choose to create. The work of moving out of victim-consciousness into creator-consciousness.
I had always considered myself to be a city girl, through-and-through, and so I had naturally expected to miss the restaurants, the clubs, bars, designer coffee/book stores, trendy clothing, international travel and other baubles, delights and compensations for city dwelling. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I would hardly even notice the loss of these things in the activity of building our new home and in the delights of discovering new ways of being. But what was completely unexpected was my intense struggle with the loss of all the ego identifications that I hadn’t even realized were integral to my view of myself. It is a fascinating journey to discover who you really are if you are not your possessions, your qualifications, your job title, your achievements, your lifestyle, your crazy busy-ness and all the myriad other things that give you your sense of self and of value. In stripping away all of these ego-attachments, I have had to find OK-ness with who I AM, rather than with what I DO. None of the new people I’ve met since moving here knew me when I was a corporate warrior, clawing my way up the boardroom ego-ladder. To them I am simply a housewife / subsistence farmer and it has been surprisingly difficult to come to terms with being “just” that. Only latterly have I finally stopped regaling new acquaintances with tales of how I “used to be…” (fill in the dots with the ego-craving du jour). It’s been a hard-fought journey to wean myself off the ego-addictions and to find a new centredness, under the direction of my heart. Ego is a great servant, but a terrible master and I’ve had to pry the white knuckles of my ego off the reins of control and hand them over to where they truly belong – my heart, which is, of course, the portal to my most authentic inner-self. I still sometimes struggle with the dreaded question: “What do you do?” or, “But, don’t you get bored?” Then my ego wants to rear up and find ways to convince whoever is asking the question that I’m really an interesting / intelligent / worthwhile person, even if I’m currently “just a housewife”. Which brings me to yet another struggle –weaning myself off the need for approval.
I hadn’t realized quite how addicted I had been to approval and affirmation from others, particularly from so-called “authority figures”. And there is ALWAYS someone who will tell you exactly what it is you should be doing and how and when, with promises of all that you will gain if you do exactly what they tell you to do. The problem is that either you don’t receive the touted rewards, or, even worse… you do! But somehow they simply don’t satisfy. And worse, if you’re just a little bit observant, you will notice people all around you doing exactly what they are told will bring them most of everything that they think they want – wealth, fame, health, happiness – and yet, look a little deeper and you will find that they’re really not happy at all. We are tricked into thinking that we will be happy “when…” and of course, we never are.
Well, I had to very rapidly relinquish my need for approval because the reality was that nobody was going to approve this “crazy choice” of mine! I have discovered, however, that peoples’ judgments and opinions of me or of my “crazy” choices tell me absolutely nothing about myself, but quite a lot about the person holding that opinion. There are no guidelines, or manuals or gurus who are going to show me how to proceed (or give me pats on the shoulder or prizes should I “succeed”). I have to reach deep within myself to find my own inner truth and knowing, and then have the courage to follow the dictates of my heart, even when (especially when!) these don’t lead to approval, recognition, money or sometimes even make any sense whatsoever to my logical mind. And the more I find the courage and tenacity within myself to do so, the more my world opens up with new insights, higher consciousness, more truth, beauty, deeper connection and yes… joy, peace and love.
One of my main reasons for this move was that I could no longer find meaning or purpose in the chase after money and other ego gratifications, but my journey over the past 5 years has given me some interesting insights into meaning and purpose. I have realized that meaning is something that we choose to attribute to something and so, although corporate and city life became meaningless to me personally, it is not inherently so for others, and I hold no judgments of those still wishing / needing to live that lifestyle. However, I have to admit that I find far greater meaning in growing carrots now than I ever found in running a business and in making money! But the search for meaning is a deeply personal journey that we have to make for ourselves.
Purpose is, of course, completely different. When I first moved here, I embarked upon an exhaustive (and exhausting!) search for the purpose of my life. Because, of course, it HAD to be something important and worthwhile to justify giving up my big, important corporate career, didn’t it? But now, 5 years later, the only purpose that seems worthwhile to me is the search for, and expression of, my own, deepest and most authentic self. This is also the most meaningful contribution I could possibly make, the only thing I have come to this reality for and, moreover, the most that I can ever expect of myself. It’s probably never going to be anything “big” or “important” in the eyes of the world and it’s probably never going to make me tons of money or gain me approval or recognition. However, I’ve already explored those avenues and I know that they lead to bleak, meaningless dead-ends that provide no real lasting joy, so why go there again?
So much for the challenges! What have I gained from the experience? Well… only space, time, (almost) complete freedom, true health on every level, the understanding of what abundance really means, boundless happiness and, even more importantly, contentment, deep connection with myself, with Arn, with my community, with Nature and the gradual unfolding of a kinder, gentler, far more centred version of myself.
A few words on the meaning of abundance… Arn and I now live very comfortably on less than we used to spend on entertainment alone in the city, but somehow we have absolutely everything we need (and even much of what we want), whereas I often felt a sense of lack and emptiness and a constant desire for more “stuff” when I lived in the city. When I bring in a basket absolutely groaning with fresh produce that I’ve grown myself and when we eat meals that are 100% comprised of food I have grown and made myself, then I feel such a sense of deep gratitude for the abundance of my life, which I never experienced, even when partaking of the finest restaurant meals in my previous life. When I open my cupboards to find row-upon-row of bottled and preserved food from our own garden to see us through the winter months; that is abundance. When we sit on the deck and look out over the forested gorges or watch a magnificent sunset behind the mountains, that is abundance. When we simply watch the dogs playing or spend hours talking or even not saying anything at all, that too is abundance. When I wake up every morning, filled with exciting plans and none of the dread that for me formed an almost imperceptible backdrop to city living… well that is an abundance of inestimable value.
Arn and I are now together 24/7, whereas before I had a hectic work and travel schedule. We have reached very deep and ever-unfolding levels of understanding and compassion for each other as we have witnessed each other’s challenges and struggles and have shared in each other’s triumphs and joys. We feel a great sense of awe and wonder at the courage and majesty of the other, which we would probably never even have noticed in the distractions of city living.
Was it worth it? Yes, yes, a million times, YES! Would I ever go back to the city / corporate lifestyle? I sincerely hope that never becomes necessary and, given my new understanding of how we definitely do create our reality with our intent, I’m certainly not choosing to create that ever again.
What lies ahead? Well, every day is filled with novelty, interest and excitement, but I do believe that there is some brand-new adventure lying just beyond the horizon for me. I sense that I have been pupating for the past 5 years; first needing to remove a lot of the old “flaky paint” off the canvass of my soul before I would be ready to undertake the fresh, new creative endeavours that lie ahead. The next steps on the inner journey of my soul.