Seeking a disconnect from the ordinary
I choose to live outside the system. This achieves a sense of place, time and self sufficiency for me. The system I am seeking to escape from, is the consumeristic capitalistic model. Seeking to disconnect myself from this system has become a life endeavor. Perhaps, I am searching for my faith or spirituality, or maybe I am running from my past. The reality is that, I am uncertain what motives I have for making certain choices in my life. I have more questions than answers. I do know that each choice I make is an intentional scoff on the American system of economics. If I can, I try to buy something previously used, or find a way to reuse or repurpose things, rather than buy new. I have always done things this way.
To start off, I want to declare that I am a minimalist, not to the point that I live in a cave, I like a soft bed, but I can live with just the basics. One thing I cannot give up is music, be it live or recorded, I have to have that in my life. With that declaration let me expound. I live in a 3 bedroom apartment, only because of my kids. If I were alone or with my intimate partner I would definitely choose a studio. The less space I have, the less things I can collect. I have found from my own experience growing up that too much stuff is never a good thing! I come from a family of pack-rats and find that I have that tendency as well. The thing I find that helps me to give up things is to just look upon them as just that, things! I love my books, but do I need them? Not really that is what the library is for. Do I need all my dvd’s and cd’s, no again the library, streaming online or downloadable to a computer or kindle.
I am a non-conformist, always have been. I had a period of time, the first 28 years of my life where I fought with my non-conformity to fit into the path that was chosen for me. I grew up very religious, I lived my life believing that the World was ending soon. I tried to live a life of piety and grace, the problem with this, was that I was an empty shell. I was being dishonest with myself and those around me. I married young, bought a home and had kids, because that was the path I knew. I never deviated from that path, even after my divorce. I kept along this path to show others that I was a good person, but I sat alone in my own personal agony. I lost my faith one day, well actually it was a cumulation of things but the final point, was when the pastor’s son died in my arms after a car accident. How could God do that to me? I am not Job and I am not that strong, my faith was already waivering, what possible purpose was this for me? I turned my back shortly after and have never crossed that line again. I push any form of spirituality deep down and buried it.
Seeking disconnect from Family
My upbringing is so different from my current lifestyle. I went home last week, to the home I grew up in, to drop some things off and pick up a few boxes of books. I realized a few weeks ago that as I downsized my stuff, my mother was storing some of my stuff, things that I did not even know she had. I came to the decision that it was silly to have her store stuff I may not even want. I took boxes of stuff that she should just let me donate, but won’t and picked up my books. I was slightly hurt and upset when I told her there were boxes of puzzles she could discard and I was uncertain what to do about the collection of plastic horse statues I had accumulated over the years. She informed me she had already decided what to do with those. I had that momentary twinge of what the hell, those are mine, you cannot give them away. A brief moment of time passed and I realized that I didn’t want them, I was just holding onto that ownership of stuff, once again that cultural pattern of ownership reared its ugly head. I have gotten much better in the past few years of letting go faster. In the past I would have been upset for weeks about it, she is giving my stuff away, but last week I realized it was just clutter and the reason I left it with her was because I did not want or need the clutter. This is a huge victory for my disconnecting from the ordinary.
Escaping my past goes on beyond my own personal conflicts. A few years ago my brother informed me that I was white trash. This is something that I cringe to be called. I denied it and argued with him, he then said Carol we were raised that way we can never escape it. I was so angry and confused that he would say such a terrible statement to me. I had strived so hard to escape my past and here he was rubbing my nose in my past. It was a callous and cruel thing to do to me. I felt betrayed, and then I realized something that I had never considered before. My brother was also running from his past. We were on completely different paths, but we were definitely headed for the same goals. Of all my family, my brother is the one I have the most in common with and the one relationship that I cherish. Maybe it is because we are kindred souls.
After my parents divorce, my brother was eight or nine, my mother basically abandoned him. She abandoned my sister too, but that was more about allowing her the freedom she so cruelly kept from me. My brother had no boundaries, which led to no guidance and the feelings of abandonment. Both my sister and I have allowed my brother to stay with us on numerous occasions. Although as an adult I have housed him more than her, simply due to the fact that she fell into methamphetamine. She was in no place to care for anyone not even her son, which I have custody of. My son, that is the only gift my sister ever gave me that was worthy or meant anything.
My faith was based on the teachings that if we trust in God he will guide us and answer our prayers. I suffered in poverty, below poverty. I tried to depend on others, I moved in with many boyfriends in an attempt to become more financially secure. I prayed and sought to find God on his terms, but never quite there. Upon deeper reflection, I can see that I truly was a broken soul. I gave up religions, spirituality and faith and decided that the only person or entity I could depend on was myself. I have worked hard to become self sufficient in every thing that I do. I never want to feel that helpless again. Maybe this is why my faith was never good enough, I could not live with that totally helpless feeling. My faith, I suppose is in myself and my ability to become as self sufficient as possible. It may also be in the ideology that I can live outside the system.
I realize that having tried to attain physical wealth, that no matter how much ownership I had, I was still not fulfilled. Although faith is not about materialism, the modern system of faith that our society works within is in that monetary system. In retrospect, I can see now that my prayers were about financial security and moving into that circle of people in faith and solidarity of an economic tie. I could never be there. I was never good enough simply because, deep down I knew it was not my place of growth and happiness.
I have been living life without a spiritual context for many years now. I can tell you that I have made drastic changes in my life, my whole focus has become more about creating a minimalistic lifestyle. This is my personal paradigm shift, and I suspect it will continue changing for many years, if not for the rest of my life as I search for the answer to a question I have never asked. I find ways to enjoy the simpler things in life. I manage to make my budget, barely each month. I am more focused on finding ways to enjoy life than owning things that I have no desire for or use for. Maybe this is the key to happiness, finding joy in life itself.
Searching for an answer without a question is my internal struggle. I equate spirituality with religion and have turned from this chapter in my life. Maybe I need to look at my struggle and the question as am I seeking to find my faith or looking to escape my past, as I research this paper, I realize that all forms of lifestyles incorporate some type of faith into them. So am I looking to find a new path or for a journey on a path not yet paved? I think the answer is a little bit yes and. I am looking to be bigger than my past and my family. I choose to shed my past just like a snake sheds its skin, the problem is that to shed my past I need to create a new paradigm otherwise similar to the snake I am just entering into the same skin with a new layer. So I took this to a whole new level. I changed and challenged all of my beliefs. I moved past the consumeristic cultural pattern and into a simplistic lifestyle.
can look back at some of the moral values I learned in my past. I can also see portions of the Bible that I could embrace that never seemed to mean much to those that carried the same faith as me. My cross was much tougher to bear simply because I sought out more from my faith, I think than those around me. I saw ideas like: environmental stewardship, poverty, taking care of those less fortunate and above all the idea that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, as the most important parts of my faith. These ideas were not really taught nor were they practiced in any real fashion, unless you were a missionary, and again here we see taking our cultural patterns and “helping” those is lesser societies succeed. These facts left a bitter taste in my mouth.
I have always wanted to help in foreign countries, but I never wanted to be a missionary. I remember once a guest came to our church and sat down with each person in the congregation and helped determine our gifts. I remember my gifts were that of poverty, missionary and evangelistic, which is not the same as missionary but similar. I was stunned, because I knew I had that calling in my life, whether it was divine or of my own desires, I do not know, but to have it pointed out to me by a stranger was powerful. The problem I have with being a spiritual evangelist is that feeding the soul doesn’t help the devastations of nature or the body. Seeking to heal the physical wounds seems to be a priority in my eyes as opposed to bringing them to “God” while their bodies or land rots away. What good is finding “God” if you cannot heal the wounds first?
Spending time thinking about my motives and my reasoning has given me greater insight into myself. I originally thought this paper would be about alternative lifestyles, living on a boat using bicycle transportation and the sustainably aspects of those choices. The resounding reality is that this paper is more about the reasons for those choices, am I seeking something or running from something? I think this is one of those both and situations. I am running from my past, as I have always felt that I had to “Pay for the sins of my father” (Tom Waits), and that I am seeking to free myself from my past. My present and most definitely my future both look paradoxically opposite from my past. What my family holds in value I hold in disdain. How can a person be brought up with specific values and grow up to discard them so easily like a snake losing its skin? The key to this was to move away from the clutches of my family to make it not on my own.
I moved here and for the first 8 months here, no one knew where I was. This was a great move, yet totally isolating since I had no one up here other than my boyfriend I moved with. I learned about my own inner strength, I learned that I had more street savvy than I ever imagined, and I learned that when someone degrades you continually it is time for them to go. Relationships end, be it a good ending or a bad ending, the fact is they all end for a reason. Fleeing a family relationship is often the hardest one, since you cannot totally end it, all you can do is remove yourself from it as much as possible.
My choices are based not only escaping my past but on lessons from my past. During my marriage I lived in an idealistic paradigm. I was living the American Dream. I had the house, the two cars, two kids, dogs and cats. The little manicured lawn with the porch and the white picket fence. On the outside I looked to be living the dream, the reality was that I was trapped in a nightmare. I was so far in debt and my husband could not let go of those things that appeared to make life better. I went to school and he refused to support me. He whined and cried about how it was causing us financial difficulty, in my mind I thought that all the credit was our undoing and I was trying to make a better life for us. The sad part is that you cannot be in solidarity if you live in different paradigms.
Not too long ago I got into a conversations with Pauley. He was talking about his competitive nature and I simply stated that I cannot and will not compete with others. I am not physically in the same ability as anyone else. Call it genetics or a bad lot, but I have no desire to actually win a game, but more likely to stretch it out and cause those that have an edge great grief. Pauley was confused, he asked me why I am continually seeking to better myself if not to compete with others? I thought about this for a moment and realized I am competing with myself. I strive to be better than I am. I can never be better than anyone other than myself. The measurements of ourselves are based on our genetics, our past, our choices and our present perceptions of things around us. Trying to measure up to others is the basis for the consumeristic model. If we all stand up and decide to only compare to ourselves, we would all learn one of life’s most valuable lessons.
Living minimalistically in my determination is the reduction of my waste stream, consumption and finding happiness is things that are not purchasable. Realizing several years ago that the pursuit of things was the cause of not only my financial problems but of my general discontent, I reevaluated my needs as opposed to my wants. My realization was that my needs and my wants did not align with my pursuit of material goods. I needed to know where and how my food was grown. I needed a roof over my head, and space for my family. I needed to be able to get around without feeling stressed about how I was going to pay for it.
A major part of my journey is about transportation and how I utilized it. I bike and bus and on a rare occasion use a car. I have a certain disdain for cars in general. I find the bike to be a point of freedom. I love riding in most weather, I love the idea that I can be self sufficient on my bike. This represents a certain amount of freedom to me. I know that no matter what, and no matter where, I can get where I need to go by simply putting on my helmet and some shoes and riding down the street. Some journeys are more difficult, due to hills and such, but in the end I have found a way around most obstacles and remain very astute that biking, for me is my most intimate activity. I spend however long it takes to get somewhere, in total silence with my own thoughts. I ponder many things as I ride, I see the salvation of the World and the destruction of Capitalism all in the span of a ride. Spending so much time inside one’s head, would seem to be reflective enough, but I tend to find more questions then answers.
I have goals and dreams just like most people, mine differ in the fact that I have not focused on owning things in a long time. I have focused on enjoying life and learning how to create a lifestyle that suits not only my life goals, but my values as well. I would love to live on a sailboat, utilizing the idea of self sustainability in this endeavor. I want to live in a self contained paradigm, yet I desire to build community, these two ideas seem self exclusive and unrelated. I am seeking to reach common ground with both aspects. I also want to continue my passion of gardening and food security.
In the end I want to know that my impact upon the Earth was nothing more than dust in the wind. I want to be able to obtain a lifestyle that incorporates living on a sailboat with nomadic tendencies, while utilizing local food and leaving no footprint behind. Bicycling for land transportation would be priority. Wind and solar energy to minimize my energy usage. Utilizing compo stable toilets and a biodigester, along with biodiesel energy production and usage would be necessary to create this minimum impact. Food would be the most complicated, it is on land as well. Growing food on a boat, raw foods diet along with utilizing local markets as we dock and drying foods to store for long journeys are some ideas I have for keeping my “forkprint” minimal.
Riding my bike provides me not only with transportation, but this incredible feeling of freedom. I have found that because I picked a unique bike it usually starts conversations on the streets. I enjoy the fact that something so simple can open up a stranger on the street. They ask questions, they inquire and they are typically genuinely interested in what I have to say. The conversations are sometimes very short, other times they segway into life lessons and I share some of my ideas. Having something that breaks the ice is an incredible tool. I have made many friends with my bike.
I have what I refer to as “bicycle love” for many special people. When I talk about bicycle love, those that share it with me know exactly what I am referring to. Those on the outside sometimes ask, but most often just start in amazement at the companionship a single occupant mode of transportation can give someone. Building community is not always about where you live, but about who you choose to share your life with. Riding my bike opens up my community and my family to much more than area. It is about a commonality. Maybe this is the thing that is missing in my spiritual life, I have no commonality with most religions.
By standards that are outside my own, my life is less than successful. I own nothing of value, I have no savings and a small and pathetic retirement. But one thing many people miss is that success is defined by the individual. I deem my life a success, simply by the mere fact that I have found happiness in where I am and the direction I choose to go. I can change my direction at anytime and I can reflect on what makes me happy and what gives me joy. In my eyes those that have money and status are only successful in a worldview, but in reality have built happiness on a house of cards. When that house of cards comes crashing down that individual’s true identity will be bared before the rest of us. Sadly these times are when those that value materials above life stand up and applaud the failure of another. It is a sick and dangerous web we weave. I have chosen to not only spin my own web, but to share my lifechanging ideas with anyone who asks.
Recipes for Success:
- Find your passion! Do things that get you emotionally charged and your mind excited.
- Do it alone. Your journey is just that yours. No one can do it with you, learn to stand alone and accept your own thoughts.
- Be honest with yourself. You have to be honest with yourself to understand yourself. Lying to yourself just promulgates more problems and misery.
- Do not be afraid of failure! To never fail means you are not leading an extraordinary life.
(The Better World Handbook)
- Money and material are not the end. Remember financial stress simply means you should reevaluate your priorities and values. Financial difficulties cannot destroy you unless you allow it to. These are the times when you look at the path you are traveling and see if you missed that hidden side-road that will lead you to a new way of thinking.
- Remember that making life changing choices will look incredibly crazy to those close to you. Who cares, they are not in the same place as you and may never understand. You cannot base your happiness on what other people think.
- Do not be afraid of ridicule. Being a black sheep puts you in the lime light of negative retrospect. Just grin and move onto your course. Those who laugh the hardest are usually the ones that wish they could be that brave. Living an extraordinary life means standing out in the crowd, who wants to be a sheep anyway, I would rather be the sheepdog or the mountain goat on his way to freedom.
- Never allow others to tell you what you believe, you must decide this for yourself.
- When you make lifestyle changes your kids and loved ones will whine and put up a fuss. Do not succumb to these efforts to go backwards instead of forwards. Eventually they get it, they may even embrace it.
- Enjoy this ride we call life. You get one shot at it, make it the best ride you can.
As I look at this list of guidelines, I can see the points in my life when I applied each of them. My life was miserable for so long, I shudder to think that others might be going through the same mental anguish. As I think about the cultural patterns of American society and how we either push them off onto other countries or we convince them that our way of life is great, I wonder how much better off they were before we came along. I have read so many articles and books and seen many movies on our society’s impact on “underdeveloped” nations and see the tragedy that we created in the name of progress. The American way of life doesn’t suit all Americans why would we think it could suit cultures outside our own? Our society tries to put everyone in a box and put a little bow on it. We like things to be cut and dried and tucked nicely in a package. Humanity is not that easy to box up. We are varying in size and shape and concepts. We cannot all be the same, if we were then there would not be any conflicts and most certainly nothing interesting outside ourselves. If I try to put a jigsaw puzzle together that has all square red pieces, the puzzle is not a challenge at all. Any piece can go anywhere, where is the fun in this? But this is how our society tries to deal with the cultures of the world.
I don’t want to be part of the system, doing things that other people do not do. This may be the idea that I continually rebel against. Just like the idea that women belong in the home and I balk at that one as well. I just want to be what I want to be. I do not want to fit nicely in a category, I want to keep those on the outside on their toes. I want to live life the way I feel it should be lived. This means that outside ideologies are often tossed aside. I will never be wealthy in a materialistic manifestation, but I shall be wealthy in heart and soul. My life is full, I enjoy the things that I do, I am less stressed and have way more fun now than I ever did before.
I seek to make such drastic changes in my life, sometimes I wonder if I regret my past. I do not think I regret my past, I just regret the order that I made my choices in. If I could go back would I do things the same way? The answer to that is absolutely not. When I left my husband so many times, I would have just ended it the first time rather than continually going back. I would have went to school and continued on in sequence. I would have moved away much earlier to find my true self. So many things I could have done differently, but ultimately I do not know that I would be in the same place as I have arrived at this moment in time. I am truly content with my life and the choices I have made in the last 3 years. Bad relationships or not, I am glad to have grown from bad choices. I think those choices we make that we feel are mistakes might be our most valuable learning moments.
My life has always been about growth. I do best in chaos, meaning that I have to be under pressure to function at my best. The chaos is self created, the choices are intentional. I intentionally choose to live a life of difficulty. I began to realize this many years ago. I understood that my own needs and wants were not aligned with my personal purchasing practices. I also realized that I was living in a system that I couldn’t believe in and wanted no part of. Peeling away at the layers of my life over the years I have discovered that I made choices based on what I was taking in. I heard that these were things that I desired or needed, I also believed in the system as a whole. This is a look at how my journey began, continued and will never end. I am in this life for the journey. I will always be seeking the next horizon or journey. The journey for me is the destination, maybe it is even my form of spirituality.
Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary
I have chosen to live in a city. I grew up in the country, way out in the sticks where your nearest neighbors were 2 miles away. I remember having to drive 20 miles to get milk and gas and another 15 miles to actually find a grocery store. Having a car was a requirement in this situation. I can never imagine living outside the city ever again. The city provides not only public transit options, but the idea of living where you work is found nowhere else. I chose to buy a bike several years ago. Initially I had chosen to give up my car and ride the bus, this seemed to be the most economical choice for me. The reality is this choice represented so much more. I didn’t understand it until I started biking to work. Now that I bike everywhere I can see the metaphor so clearly. My bike represents freedom, not just freedom of the journey but freedom outside the system. When I bike, I am not putting into a system I cannot believe in. But biking for me is so much more than that. My bike is not a typical commuter bike. It is a heavy 3 speed cruiser, not the greatest for commuting specifically in a city full of hills. My bike is about opening up dialogue. People stop me and ask about my bike and my utilizing such a beast for a regular commute. I regularly get shocked and surprised responses when strangers realize exactly how far I ride daily. I often hear that I need a better bike, but for me I have to love what I ride. I will never love another bike as much as I love the one I have now. My bike is an extension of myself. I cannot imagine life without it. It is as much about me as the choice to live in the city is. Biking and city living are my disconnection from the ordinary life I had in a rural community.
Several years ago I would have never imagined riding a bike downtown Seattle in rush hour traffic. I have gone from a couch potato to an Urban Warriors in about 3 years. I was recently told that I looked like a confident rider and even experience riders respect my abilities. This to me feels so incredible, to have approval of my peers in such a way speaks volumes to me about my choice.
I should probably stop here and pause to mention that I did love living in the woods itself. It was the mentality that went with living there that I was discontent with. To never try to understand anything outside your backdoor seemed so immensely small minded to me. I realize that not all people that live in a rural setting are like this, but for me my family, my neighbors my church congregation, my co-workers and the general populace were of this mindset. I never understood it and always felt like I was off base for caring about things outside our area. So I come back to the fact that I am running from my past. The frustration, the verbal abuse the alienation and that feeling of sadness all come flooding back. How many times do I revisit this before those feelings evaporate? I know I have made choices to ease myself out of this dim realization, yet I continually feel this overwhelming sense of not just regret but sadness. Maybe the fact that I never fit in, and although I have found my place, I still feel the pain of growing up an outcast, in my family, my community, my school and my church. These things all build for a movement away from my past and to live in the now. Although I have moved past this, it is still a part of my past that I cannot seem to accept or escape.
Thinking back to significant moments in my childhood; I remember the home I grew up in. It was huge and we had 5 acres of property. Initially there was a small creek about an acre from the house. I loved that creek, I used to gather up frog and salamander eggs and chart the growth rates all summer long. The rest of the property was covered in old growth trees. Over the years the trees were pulled down to either create a more inviting space or in the end my mom logged it all off to pay her back taxes.
The biggest loser was the creek. That beautiful creek that I loved so much has not run above ground in over 20 years. They changed the path and destroyed the creek bed. It seeped to groundwater and in some spots you can see it burble above the ground. Sadly this destroyed the habitat for the frogs and salamanders. It angers me to know that my family is directly responsible for the destruction of habitat, and again I feel as though I have to pay penance for the sins of my family. I am burdened with the knowledge that they simply do not care. Unless it affects their bank account they do not care at all. I could almost cry over this knowledge. Again I flee the past simply because the pain is too great to bear. I wonder if I will ever find peace in this.
In my desire to escape, I have had one principle that has held me to roots. This is my children. I have my sister’s son, which I feel is my own, and my daughter. I have fought many battles to keep them with me over the years. I have been told that I was not capable of being a single parent, in fact I lived in that paradox throughout my entire marriage. I was the one that raised the kids, alone. To be married and be a single parent is really tragic, and then to feel as though you cannot do it alone makes it even more devastating when your marriage collapses. One thing I know for certain is that we are all stronger than we ever thought we could be. I know from experience that I can endure and conquer anything. It is not about faith in something outside of yourself, it is about faith in yourself. If you live your life expecting something or someone to rescue you, you will find yourself continually disappointed. Again we hit on that subject of faith and spirituality. Is it possible that spirituality is the recognition of your own inner strength and the ability to endure trials? Is this the piece I am missing? I remember thinking during times of great trials that “God only helps those that help themselves”. Now I do believe that no being is going to help you out without your putting forth your own effort to gain footholds along the way. Truth be told this may be the spirituality I am seeking. That guidance that no matter what having faith in yourself and the strength to take one more step is really what life is all about.
Understanding the beauty of humanity is essential in understanding the beauty within yourself. Creating space for your exploration into your own strengths and desire is a necessary step. As I look back, I realize that I hold onto so much pain. Intentionally living in the present while holding onto the pain of the past, really makes you living in the past. I have difficulty letting go of the pain, it is what keeps me grounded sometimes. Realizing that I never want anyone to suffer the pain I have suffered, allows me to hold onto my pain as a reminder of where I have come from. Escaping one’s past, only to hold onto those painful moments seems defeatist in a general sense. The reality is that these pains keep me driving forward. The idea of escaping would not have driven me, had it not been for the pain in my past, that is still very present in my mind.
So am I running from my past and seeking to disconnect from what I view as ordinary? The answer is Yes, but I am seeking to be better and bigger than my past at the same time. Maybe I have just not found the right question to ask myself yet. I can continually ponder the basis for my decisions and my decision making process, yet I know that I will continue to bear my burden with as much strength and dignity as I can muster. Creating change in my life is about intentionally living, and holding onto the past seems counter to this process, but maybe what it does is drives me to really seek out intentional living and mastering that ability to find extraordinary in the ordinary.
In the end all the changes I make and all the intention I give to living in the present, are the same conventions and mechanism I am seeking to run from. They just have new names. This is often the case, people will leave one ism for a new ism, such as Buddhism for Catholicism. So leaving my faith is really not what I have done, I have simply re-identified it into something that works in my world. Sadly to truly escape, I believe that one must stop countering what they are running from and just let things emerge. This is a hard lesson to swallow, and one I will likely spend the rest of my life exploring.
Ultimately what am I asking? I am asking how does one find a way to disconnect with what doesn’t fit in their lifestyle. How do you change your lifestyle and detach from your past and present? I believe that only the person seeking those answers can actually answer these questions. I feel that I have answered them for myself, and opened up dialogue for more questions to ask myself.
Brennan, Kathleen, and Tom Waits. (2004). Sins of My Father (Recorded by Tom Waits). On “REAL GONE” (Vinyl). Los Angeles, CA. Anti, Inc.
The Bible, (according to APA I do not need to reference it here).
Jones, E., Haenfler, R., Johnson, B., & Klocke, B. (2001). The Better World Handbook. Gabriol Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Stewart, E. C., & Bennett, M. J. (1991). American cultural patterns; a cross-cultural perspective. Boston, MA: Intercultural Press.