from self-sufficiency to Togetherness

Several years ago I was enamoured with the dream of van life. I had re-furbished a VW crafter van to be my home and architectural office while I travelled around the UK designing and building. My dream was to become self-sufficient, to feel independent, to be free. At that time this meant earning a living and contribute to the world through architectural works, while feeling more connected with the spontaneity that life could offer in the form of exploration, with new experiences of the great outdoors always at my doorstep. I had significantly reduced my footprint, my ‘taking’ from the world, as I embarked on a more frugal lifestyle. Solar panels on the roof provided electricity, water could be collected from springs, some elements of food from forests or meadows, and with the flexibility of an internet connection I could be almost anywhere to work. Whatever else I needed I could buy because of the work I was doing alongside the adventures.

Now I see self-sufficiency very differently. I feel less and less that it is a goal that I want to achieve by myself or for myself. Sensing how the rhythms and fertility of the earth are critical for human life, it feels challenging to desire independence.

More and more I want to be in relationship with the earth; to nurture her fertility and to be nurtured by her abundance. Compost is prepared through everyday actions, at both ends of the process of eating, creating nutritious soils which are the base from which life can grow. With the energy of flowing stream water, a ram pump fills a tank on top of the hill, and from here we irrigate the lands during dry-seasons and drink beautiful fresh water. With the beginnings of rainforest permaculture we cultivate a growing selection of edibles, for which I feel more delight the more I interact with their growing processes.

It might be because the nearest shop is a forty minute drive away, or because we are in a rural area where almost all people here cultivate some of their own produce, but living in connection with a locale means there is a constant flow of gifts – lemons, cacao seeds, turmeric roots, cucumber seedlings and coconut saplings, amongst many delicious tropical fruits. It is such a joy to give and such a pleasure to receive.

Perhaps the idea of self-sufficiency can be seen as a network that is self-sufficient, including our family and neighbours and the land on which we live. Supposing we decided to be independent of global trade for clothing, electricity, building materials such as screws or impermeable roofing elements, this network would also need to extend to include: the water systems all over the world that allow rains to fall; the sun whose rays make life on earth possible; the birds, insects, animals, vegetation, who also live in accordance with the celestial rhythms, who are part of the web of life… Where does the network include the sources of inspiration that conjures dreams in our hearts? Or the moments of bliss which motivate us towards acting with kindness and love?

I have come to realise that to cultivate sufficiency for life to be wonderful, which can also be called abundance, togetherness is a key ingredient. This means: togetherness with all aspects of myself … the challenges and the joys … nature’s flows and rhythms … all beings on the planet both visible and invisible to where I am right now … and as much as we can scale up to include the entire cosmos with its future and its past, the seemingly minutely personal scale of what I, as a human being in a network much larger than I could possibly imagine, can contribute to a space of abundance is also a precious ingredient not to be overlooked.

Dwelling in Symbiosis