Monday, 18 July 2016

From 'Moneyless Living' To 'Rewilding'

Lately I have noticed that I have started to cross the fine line between having guiding principles in the service of learning about a new way of life, and having rules and dogma. The aims for moneyless living and caring for the environment have slowly progressed from being an ideal I live out, to something I put on myself rigidly and sternly. Here is how to tell the difference, why it is harmful and how we can prevent it from happening.

Rules versus guidelines
The crossing of this line becomes apparent when we start saying things like: "I will NEVER do this or that again". You cannot know what you will do, and saying things like this limits personal freedom and prevents you from doing what's right for you in the moment. It takes you out of presence and into a future that doesn't exist. Examples are: "I will never use money ever again". I have said this, although I can't know what I will do in the future; I only know what my intentions are right now. I also found there is a lot of disagreement between what people consider "using money" and "living without money". It all depends on one's definition. Of course I know what I mean by it, but it is hard to convey to others without getting wordy (after all, it involves an entire mindset). In trying to explain it, the message usually gets lost.
People often end up disagreeing with some parts of my 'moneyless' definition: For example, they argue I am still using electricity, water and internet that was paid for. I am still receiving a salary (even though I am not using it). I am still using products that required production and that have been paid for (such as my laptop from uni). And I am still using roads and other public services. To them it doesn't matter that contribution can take another form than the standard financial form. It doesn't seem to count.
To make matters worse, I am planning some trips (before I start the nomadic journey) that will be financed through my PhD travel budget. Does that mean I will be using money? Probably, yes, at least indirectly. But to me the answer to this question doesn't really matter, because living without money is not (and has never been) the end goal; it is just something that helps me to get in touch with my true goal (presence and awareness) on a daily basis. And that is all that matters. However, lately (after a series of negative comments on various Facebook pages and constantly getting the same questions about this lifestyle) I have allowed myself to get drawn into explaining myself over and over (and over), which brought me closer to the realm of the 'rules' mentality.
I find myself thinking about "money" more often, and questioning whether I live entirely moneyless or not. And while reflection from time to time is really helpful and beneficial, preoccupation is not.

What's in the name?
When I gave up the use of money in my daily life, it was freeing because I no longer had to worry about money. I simply didn't have to think about it anymore. I still don't have to think about it, because I can survive just fine without it - no matter what happens. This is what appealed to me about this lifestyle. It freed up a lot of mental space to focus on other - more important - things. However, with all the comments I kept getting about what 'moneyless' means and what it is and is not to other people, I still got drawn into thinking about money all the time. Yet this is what I wanted to leave behind.
Some people have suggested the problem largely lies in the term that I use: moneyless. It keeps bringing money into the conversation simply because it is part of the description. I think they have a valid point. So I have thought about other terms that cover the journey I am on succinctly - preferably in just one word. I think the closest term that fits is 'rewilding': the process of getting back to nature and letting go of artificial rules and structures (including, but definitely not limited to, money). From now on I hope to remember to use this term more frequently instead.

What happens next?
Does this mean I am giving up living moneyless? No, probably not. Does it mean I will never use the term moneyless again? No, probably not that either. It has no real practical, outward implications; I am just no longer going to identify as a 'moneyless person'. Instead of labeling myself, it is enough for me to know what it means to me. I am also going to be less preoccupied and (mentally) radical with following some kind of ideal - I am not going to burden myself with rules and limitations. Life is about living, and freedom and peace of mind are my main priorities.
I am also not going to explain myself all the time and explain what "moneyless" means to me, as I have done way too much in the recent past when people kept telling me why my lifestyle was not 'moneyless enough' for them and why it should not be called that. Genuine questions can get a genuine answer, but comments are not questions. I am getting tired of explaining myself, mainly because it doesn't matter - it is not the essence of my journey at all. It is not important whether I use some things that others have paid for or not. The point is to become aware and to experience life from a new perspective: perhaps a more connected and pure way. Making it into a strict rule or dogma would defeat the entire purpose of the practice.

In reality, life has only one rule:  
There are no rules.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today it is my dad's birthday and I would like to honor him by sharing some of the great things he has taught me. I would not be the same person without him!

Thank you dad, I love you! <3

Dad visiting me in Australia

Honesty is most important
There is no one in the world I trust as much as my dad. He always tells me the truth, because he has nothing to hide. He lives a life true to himself. Anyone who does that, has no need to be dishonest. There is nothing to gain from it. This is the type of person I also try to be in every moment. It is my main priority, because I have experienced the benefits of this way of life too. It is not even about other people; it is mostly about being honest with myself. After all, I am the one who has to live with the things that I say and do. Being honest just makes life so much easier.

The importance of backing up words with actions
I can give many examples of things my dad has done that show that he favors actions over merely words, especially when it comes to the things that are important to him. This does not just apply to big decisions, but also to small, everyday actions. He is a man you can count on. He is there when people need him and he gives the best advice. He keeps his promises and lives his life according to his values as best as he can at all times. When he realizes that something goes against his values, he simply stops doing  it. Actions are the foundations of words; not the other way around. I realize now how rare (and valuable) this quality is, and I am always grateful when I meet other people like this.
Dad has often reminded me of the importance of actions, for example whenever he noticed that my actions didn't match my words or when some of my actions were not in line with my values. He has done so all my life and he still does so if necessary, so I've had a lifetime of practice. In this way, my dad has taught me to be mindful, reflective and to take responsibility for my words and actions: to live life with integrity (and true to myself).

If you want something and it doesn’t exist yet (or it is not allowed); create it.
My dad was always fascinated by cars and of course he wanted his own. But he was only a little boy, so he did not have the money to buy one and he didn't even have a driver's license. So he built his own car, with the help of his father, when he was 6 years old. It was made from some leftover car parts and had an electrical motor. He kept refining it and perfecting it until he was about 16. When he was 12 he made his first car with a petrol-driven motor. So my dad had a lot of driving experience when he was finally legally allowed to drive (at age 18).

My dad's first self-built electric car! In this picture he was around 7 or 8

Never give up on your dreams; if you want it, you can achieve it
It is almost like my dad never has any doubts when I share my dreams with him. Sometimes of course he has some concerns or tips regarding practicalities, but he believes in the power of will. If you really want something and if the goal is worthwhile and meaningful, then you will achieve it; there is just no question. That is how my dad also lives his life. He never doubted any of his dreams, and he achieved them all, despite what anyone else thought. I guess it also helps that my dad knows how to keep it simple. He knows that he doesn't need much to be happy. His main dream was to own a small company and run a business making something useful. He achieved this goal in his early forties, even though it was a tough road.
Nobody else believed that he could ever make it: his teachers had given up on him very early on because he was more interested in the occasional fly that landed on his desk than what the teacher was saying. His parents also weren't sure he would ever amount to anything because he was doing so poorly at school. They made him change schools six times, but to no avail. Dad just didn't care much for traditional ways of learning. He has a gift for technical work though, and building things from scratch. Dad knew this all along - which is why he never worried about his future. He knew he would be okay. After all, he was already the proud owner of a car at the tender age of 6. Not many people can make such a claim.

The first car he didn't build himself: A Triumph Herald

Don’t be afraid to work hard for something you really want – and don’t lose sight of what is important in the process
My dad is retired now, but he has always been a hard worker. He never worked for the money, but simply because he enjoys the process of creating things. He worked as a dental technician for all his life. He never counted his hours and often worked 16 hours a day (sometimes more); often with some additional hours on the weekends. He never requested any extra pay for overtime (and never got any), because money was not his main priority.
The extra hours were often necessary due to problems with other staff (prolonged sickness; holidays) while the workload remained the same. My dad is a pragmatic and reliable person so he would always make sure that the work got done; finishing one thing at a time. Of course he got the position of manager soon enough and took over the business several years later. All the while he kept working long hours; making sure that everyone else could always go home in time. And he never complained about it.

The importance of giving
My dad never wanted much for himself. He is happy living a simple life and appreciates the little things. He doesn’t need a lot of stuff and would rather give to others than get a lot of stuff for himself. He was like that even as a little boy. When he was young (around seven years old) he won a competition and he got to choose between several prizes. He chose a sewing kit. Everybody laughed at him because it was a 'girly' choice and his classmates (as well as the teacher) made fun of him for weeks. However, the reason he chose it was because his sister was ill at the time and he was hoping that giving her an unexpected gift might cheer her up.

Having fun watching mum when she is politely declining
the offers of overzealous sales-people

Stand up for what you believe in
My dad is a man of principle. He would never do anything if he didn’t support it on some level, and he expects the same from others. He is not afraid to say no, but he only says it when something goes against his values. If not, then he is always ready to help anyone who may need it.
When my dad was 24 years old, he had to go into the army (it was compulsory at the time). It was a place he had no intention of going to because he does not believe in war, but there were only a few ways to get out of it: one was to get married, one to get imprisoned and the final one was failing the physical or mental tests. Even though my mum and dad were already dating at the time, they decided they wanted to get married for the right reasons and at a time that felt right for them. So my dad went for the final option.
He still gave the army a try for one week, but after that he was extremely certain he wanted nothing to do with it. He stopped eating and started feigning other psychological symptoms. He was relieved from his duties immediately and put under investigation. After three months of thorough investigations and examinations (and losing too much weight due to the ongoing self-starvation), he was free to go. During the process of investigations he was coached by his brother (a psychologist), who gave him useful tips on how to respond to the inquisitions. After he was 'released', he got a permanent mark on his records of his 'disability' and he was warned by government officials that he would never get another job with this. My dad took the chance anyway.
Of course nobody ever cared about it afterwards and the subject was never brought up again (even though it is still on his records to this day). I am very proud of my dad for taking a stand against the army despite the threats and pressure to comply, and for not caring about what others would think or what the consequences would be. Freedom is worth fighting for; borders are not! 

Stand by your own side
You can stand strong by yourself; you don’t need others on your side to stand stronger. If you know how to support yourself no matter what, you will be invincible.
I remember an event that happened when I was very young (perhaps around 6 or 7 years old). I was buying second-hand horse magazines from another child, and we were trying to get to a deal. I was telling her how much I wanted to spend, and the girl said how much she was expecting to get; the typical bargaining one learns early on. Of course we did not entirely agree and the girl quickly asked her mum. Mum got involved and gave some advice on pricing. I still did not agree. The girl kept checking with her mum and eventually we reached an agreement. Afterwards I asked my dad why he didn’t get involved to support me. And he said that he was so proud of me that I didn’t ask his help. He said that I was in a much stronger position because I did not show any doubt and merely expressed my own wishes and beliefs, without involving anyone else. That was a much stronger argument than that of the other girl. He did not want to interfere and ruin that. Even though it was a small incident, it was a defining moment in my life, because my dad gave me a completely different perspective on the situation, which taught me self-respect.
My dad has always believed in me, especially at times when I did not believe in myself (or anything else) anymore. He has always reminded me (and he still does) of my worth and my talents, and the difference I can make in the world. We all have this ability to make a difference. None of us is more special or more talented than another; we just have different kinds of talents. That is the main reason why it is so important to find your passion. Passion is what can - and does!- change the world!

My dad's new-and-improved car (fuel-driven) when he was about 14

Never lose your sense of humor
My dad makes the best jokes in the world, because they are always clever and never mean or cheap (they don't involve bringing down people, subgroups or any other form of life). They are mostly situational, or puns. He is really funny and it is catchy. When I am with my dad, he brings out the best in me and we have the best of times.
Dad has never lost his sense of humor, throughout his life. Even when he was in hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm and we all thought he was going to die, he was still making people around him laugh and changing the hospital into a more cheerful place. Sometimes I take life too seriously, but when I talk to my dad, I am reminded that life is better with a sense of humor. It puts everything in perspective.

Laughing at dad's funny comments. Pure joy! :D

Loyalty and standing up for others (justice)
My dad is a loyal friend who will always have your back and stick up for people when necessary. When my dad started working at 18 or 19 years old, his boss was complaining to all the employees that it was all so expensive. He was paying for the employees to get their training and then they were also requesting a pay rise (minimum wage had just gone up).
This made my dad angry because the boss was a wealthy man who should really not complain about such matters to his staff, so my dad decided to make a statement. He requested a talk with his boss in his office and said that he didn't want the raise if the boss was going to complain about it to everyone and blame his staff members, because my dad had never personally asked for it in the first place. The boss then admitted that that was not possible, because the government forced him to pay this amount. Dad told him that he shouldn't be complaining about it then, and left the office to get back to work.

Dad taught me to be respectful of others, because you never know their full story, even if you think they told you. You can never know people's intentions, or their hopes and dreams, because you are not them. But there is one thing that unites all of us: We all want freedom, happiness and we want to matter. We want to be acknowledged and respected as human beings. We want to belong. And if we keep this in mind, the world is a very friendly place indeed.

There are always inspiring people around us and we can learn from all of them. My dad has always been my hero, and I have discovered many other inspiring people who have taught me various things as well. Different people can teach you different skills and perspectives, and we can take bits and pieces from everyone we meet and combine them to build up our own perfect self; in line with our personal truths, beliefs and values.

May you find inspiration in your fellow beings!

Let me know in the comments who has inspired you and what you learned!

Friday, 1 July 2016

How To Forage Safely And Responsibly

If you want to try foraging, there are a few important things to keep in mind so that you can forage sustainably and perhaps even help the environment in the process.

Why forage?

-Many edible wild plants have more nutrients than anything you could ever buy in a shop.
-Your food is always fresh, because it doesn’t need to be transported halfway across the country (or the world!) and it doesn’t need to lay around in the shop for a while either.
-You get a chance to connect with nature and with the natural resources you use
-It helps you think about how plants grow and how you can help nature thrive (e.g. by eating ‘weeds’ first, by helping plants spread their seeds, etc).
-If you are careful about where you pick, then it’s organic!
-If you adhere to foragers’ etiquette, then you can keep coming back for more year after year. Nature will replenish itself! (sometimes with a bit of help from you – the harvester… Now here’s something positive you can contribute to the earth!)
-You sharpen all your senses! Common sense, sense of smell, eye for detail, touch and taste.


1. Make sure the plant you are about to eat is identified correctly and is not poisonous. When in doubt, don’t eat it. Some plants look very similar!
2. Also, know how the plant grows and reproduces, and how common it is in the area (some plants are endangered!). Does it need its flowers or seeds of the berries to reproduce? If so, leave some behind. If you want the plant to continue to grow after harvesting and you are eating the leaves of the plant, make sure you don’t strip the plant of all its leaves.
3. Beware of man-made poisons that are lurking everywhere (pesticides and such). Picking on or close to agricultural land, railroads, lawns and foot paths (neat looking hiking trails) may be hazardous because these places may have been sprayed with dangerous chemicals.
4. And for other creatures’ safety: Watch out for bugs and take care not to squash any. Try to get all insects off your harvest while you are picking for optimal efficiency.

Foragers' guidelines:

-Don’t take more than you need, i.e. what you are going to use that day.
-Only forage plants that are plentiful and thriving.
-Don't pick protected or endangered plants, but do help them thrive or grow your own at home! Google how to do that, as it differs per plant.
- Don’t go to the same place every time. Allow your favorite spots to recover.
-Make sure you know which part of the plant is needed for it to reproduce, and if that part is harvested, then it is especially important to leave a lot of them behind.
-If possible, do not forage in a way that kills the plant/tree: do not pick all the leaves from one plant (leave some behind), take fallen bark rather than cutting bark off a tree, etc. Rules differ depending on the type of plant that is being harvested.
-Don’t step on your food! When you are foraging, take care you are not crushing any plants in the process.

How to get started

If you are not sure where or how to get started, it is a great idea to do the following:
1. Find an organic farm in your area.
2. Ask the farmer if you can assist them with weeding (and whether you can harvest some of the weeds for consumption). May, June and July are your best bets.
3. The farmer can explain to you which plants are weeds and which are not, and how best to remove them. Perhaps they can also tell you which ones are edible, and if not then just look them up on Google. You can share the news with the farmer as well and perhaps harvest some for them too!
4. Help out with weeding while harvesting your veggies (weeds only!). Make sure you help out with weeding regularly and not just to pick weeds. There are usually a lot more weeds than any of us can eat at one time, so perhaps some will end up as compost too.
5. This is a great way to interact with your local community in a win-win! You will learn more about common wild plants (edible weeds) while making some space for the other plants to thrive!

Foraging Challenge Attempt Number 1

Last week I attempted the Foraging Challenge for the first time, and I already quit on the third day. Here are my notes so that I can try again and hopefully get better results next time. The challenge was to live for one week on foraged foods only. Since this time I did not complete the full week, the challenge still stands, to be completed at a later time. This blog post is intended to show that foraging is not as easy as it might seem!

I also did not manage to forage all of my water intake, although I did learn to source and filter water, and I am planning to make a water filter for when I attempt this challenge next.

A review of my week

Day 1: Monday 20 June 2016
I started the day with some red clovers. In the evening I had some yarrow tea and a large mixed salad with Lamb's Quarters, Hemp nettle and chickweed.

Notes: I noticed how accustomed I had gotten to eating all the time. I have a lot of food around me everywhere due to all the food I keep rescuing from supermarkets day after day. This has made me very careless about my food intake. I noticed how often I would almost automatically reach for a bag of cookies, nuts or berries, just because it was there. Maybe this is why I felt quite hungry on the first day. Also I had a  slight headache on the evening of day 1, although I am not sure if this is related. Perhaps I was detoxing or slightly dehydrated. I think I did not drink enough water. However, I also felt lighter, and more focused and energetic - probably also related to eating less.

Day 2: Tuesday
I felt like eating something salty today, so I went to collect seaweed at low tide, which I ate straight from the sea. I tried a handful of gut weed (Ulva intestinalis). It tasted okay, but it soaks up quite a lot of sea water, which is not particularly healthy. I also rinsed some before eating it, but I found it ruined the taste and texture a bit. I also tried some rockweed (Fucus gardneri), which was surprisingly tasty and crunchy.

I found some wild roses on the way, so I picked some of the petals for my evening salad. I ended up with a beautiful salad with a base of chickweed and some lamb's quarters, hemp nettle, rose petals, ox-eye daisy and even common lady's mantle. I also tried out a few very young (green) large-leaved linden seeds during the day. Those were surprisingly tasty!

No headache in the evening on day 2. I did have some bouts of hunger, especially after eating the seaweed. Perhaps a coincidence. I felt light and energetic all day and my concentration and focus were significantly higher than usual. Therefore I worked productively without breaks and only minimal distractions for most of the day. I did not eat nearly enough because of that, and again did not drink enough water.

Day 3: Wednesday
Woke up feeling feverish, jittery, weak and a little bit nauseous. I felt like I had to eat something immediately but I had no foraged stock on hand, so I had to resort to my dumpstered gatherings. This is where the experiment ended. I think it was caused by slight dehydration (combination of seaweed and not drinking enough water for two days) and subsequent lowered blood pressure. Since I already have low blood pressure, my body did not handle this well.

What went wrong? What did I learn?

I think several things can be improved before my next attempt:

1. Improve my knowledge of plants: I found out I did not know enough about plants to have a varied diet. However, starting the challenge prematurely did significantly increase my knowledge of plants and helped me identify and try out new things. I always remained on the cautious side though (as one should), because even a small amount of the wrong plant can be fatal. In addition to knowing which plants are edible, I should also know what their effects are (e.g. diuretic), so that I don't inadvertently mistreat my body (see also point 2).

2. The importance of a varied and balanced diet: It is quite a challenge to get a balanced diet from foraged food, but this is the most important part. Many wild plants have strong medicinal qualities which means they should only be eaten in moderation. This also means that one cannot rely on just a few plants for survival, but should use a wide variety of plants and trees. On top of that, the food should provide enough fats, proteins and carbs. Now that is a challenge. Of course, when doing this type of survival for a week this is not as important as it would be if I would keep going for longer.

3. Hydration: I need to remember to stay hydrated. Water can be difficult to come by, so it is important to carry enough water around at all times, or to drink a lot when I have the chance. I also need a water filter and be able to make a new one at any time.

4. Try cooking some food: I ate all plants raw. This is not always a good idea and some plants are better cooked: in a stew or steamed. Drinking tea from fresh foraged herbs is also a good idea to ensure water intake.

5. Quit sugar: Our conventional diet is usually loaded with sugar. This can cause some extra difficulties when suddenly shifting to foraged food, because that usually doesn't have that much sugar (especially when berries are not in season yet). Therefore it helps to cut out any (latent) sugar addictions before getting started.

6. It takes time: It doesn't just take time to learn foraging skills, but once you start foraging, it also takes time to gather meals every day. It is important to take this time. I did not spend enough time foraging for food each day and I underestimated the effort that is needed to gather enough food to maintain optimum health (even for these few days).  Also, nature offers different kinds of food throughout the seasons, so gathering some essential items might take careful preparations too. E.g. nuts and seeds are generally only available in autumn. So, gradual shifts may be more effective in this case than radical changes.

My plan of action:

* I will be studying the local flora intensively from now on, carefully keeping track of what grows where and when it is in season. This will help me familiarize myself with the plants and how to identify them. I will learn about edible as well as inedible plants, medicinal effects and poisonous parts.

* I will continue to eat foraged food in addition to dumpstered food so that I can get used to eating and preparing wild plants and encourage myself to continue learning more.

* I will consciously minimize my sugar intake from now on.

* I also want to learn about natural cleansing practices, because I think my body has accumulated a lot of toxins over the years from eating conventional food (as well as dumpstered foods). I am looking for a black walnut tree so that I can make a tincture to take on my travels as well, but I have not found one yet.