It’s possible that when I first began to make changes in my lifestyle, to align my choices more with the values of simplicity and sustainability, I did it out of some sense of moral duty, disturbed by the mindless waste and consumption that I witnessed and participated in. It’s possible that there was an element of self-righteousness and smugness involved. It’s possible that some of it was motivated by fear and worry, especially as I learned more about things like peak oil.
But if that was all that there is to it, I probably would have given up long ago. A sense of moral duty or pride or fear are strong motivators, but not strong enough to keep one going when things get challenging. (“Challenging” means different things for different people, but for me it means things like planting seedlings at our kitchen table at midnight during an intense work week, because otherwise it wouldn’t get done.) What I’ve found – like many others who have chosen to live closer to the source of their food and other resources – is that this way of living won me over because it’s inherently so pleasurable.
Being able to make things oneself is truly magical for someone who grew up in the urban world of the latter quarter of the twentieth century, disconnected from many of these processes. I feel nothing short of an alchemist when I am able to transform one substance into another – fresh cream into butter, milk into cheese, flour, water and yeast into bread, fiber into yarn into socks, oils and lye into soap, roots into medicine, vegetable scraps into compost, a seed into a plant that yields pounds of food.
Getting our hands dirty working with the soil, or kneading the dough, or spinning yarn, we awaken the cellular memory in our bodies that still carries the knowledge of our ancestors making exactly those movements, engaging with exactly those materials, to create fertility and nourishment and shelter for them and their loved ones. Not to mention that, as a result, you get to eat real food – food made from scratch, with love, from fresh ingredients bursting with flavor. Every gardener knows that no carrot will ever taste sweeter, no tomato juicier, than the first one you grew yourself.
When we know the source of that which sustains us, and know how to tap it and collaborate with it, we cut back on our dependence on a system of production that is wasteful, destructive and unjust. It gives you a sense of power and abundance that money cannot buy. Being able to walk through your neighborhood and see food and medicine and fiber and pigment where others see only weeds is a kind of power and wealth. You literally see the world with new eyes, and know how to meet your needs with less. Yes, it requires work. Yes, it requires effort and sweat and a true commitment. Yes, you will likely have to redefine the meaning of “abundance” for yourself. But none of the rewards are beyond your reach. So, here is my confession. I no longer do any of this because I feel I “should.” I may have started that way, but before I knew it, I was hooked.
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
— Howard Thurman
I now engage in these acts because I cannot help myself, because I find it irresistible, because it makes me feel juicy, because it makes me come alive.