The Mechanics of Living With Less – Economy, Part 2

In my previous post I talked at length about some of the philosophy behind the ideas of minimalism and radical simplicity, but did not really get into the semantics of how I plan on implementing these goals in the pursuit of a nomadic existence. Being that I want this blog to be as much about putting things into practice as about philosophical musings, including a second part on the subject of Economy seems more than pertinent.

So I plan on simplifying in a major way, in order to maximize freedoms and minimize the amount of time I am obliged to spend doing things I neither enjoy, nor support. That was pretty well established in Economy, Part 1. But what does this look like? How exactly do I plan on simplifying? Where will I live? How much stuff will I own? How many bills will I have to pay? How much money will I spend on food? Will I be driving? Will I own a cell phone? How much money will I need to pay for the expenses I end up retaining? How will I acquire that money? Could I go hard core like Daniel Suelo, and ditch money altogether? Even if I could, would I want to?

It is these and other topics I intend to discuss here. But before we get started on  what my goals are and on imagining what life will look like in the future, once I’m well established on this journey, let us first look at where I am at now, and discuss the sort of life I am accustomed to living. This will provide a good framework, and a point of contrast to see what I must accomplish, and how far I have to go.

I’ve always been a fairly simple kind of man (Lynyrd Skynyrd, anyone?). For most of my life, I have generally preferred being out in nature and engaging in a select few outdoor hobbies over anything that the city might offer. Aside from the outdoor gear that I have always loved – the essentials needed for pursuits like camping, wilderness backpacking, fly fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, and outdoor photography – I’ve never been a big consumer. There was a brief point a few years after college where I was considering the whole wife/kids/house scenario with a longtime girlfriend of mine, but even then I was looking at property to buy with cash, and planned on building a small cabin and starting a sustainable homestead, with the intention of doing it mostly through my own labor. The most stuff I ever accumulated, even back then, could probably have fit into single medium sized U-haul truck. Those were the heights of my consumerist days, when I had a full time career in corporate America, and a lot of excess cash at my disposal to spend on whatever superfluous junk I wanted. Even then I spent relatively little, and mostly put money away in the bank. That was roughly 5 years ago now.

Things can change a lot in 5 years, it turns out. Since that time, I’ve acquired a pretty dismal chronic illness, lost my ability to work in the profession in which I was educated,  and my girlfriend of 10 years did not last long after that. Basically, I went from being well on my way to achieving the American dream, to losing pretty much everything. At that point, I went through period of fairly intense suffering, and eventually turned towards spirituality as an escape. A few years later I found myself pretty immersed in the study and practice of Zen, which in turn led to a rather abrupt process of awakening that would ultimately change my life irrevocably. One thing that you will find if you spend enough time absorbing Zen concepts, is that minimalism will slowly but surely become the only way of life that makes a lot of sense. Or perhaps more aptly, with Zen one ceases trying to make sense of everything, and with that, minimalism sort of emerges by default. This has certainly been true in my case, and over the last two years or so I’ve been getting rid of more and more stuff, and learning how to spend much less money. This was also in part due to necessity, as I haven’t really been able to hold any kind of solid employment as a result of my illness, and the business enterprises that I have tried starting for myself haven’t been very successful either.

But even now, I feel as though I have a long way to go. Up until this year, I’ve been able to augment the little bit of money I made here and there with the rather substantial savings I had accumulated back in my professional days. But after the savings was gone, I dug into my retirement fund. When that was gone I sold my newer SUV, bought a much less expensive van, and lived off of those proceeds. What I noticed was that during all that time, as long as I had money to spend and a permanent, comfortable place to call home, I was living far from the minimalist life that I knew I wanted. I had grown very domesticated, and there were certain things that I’ve had a really hard time giving up. As a result it’s been a rather continuous hemorrhaging of money going out, and not enough money coming in. This has been stressful and has kept me up more than a few nights worrying about my future. If there is anything I lament, it is living in the future in any capacity. Somehow, I needed create a more balanced life.

Fortunately, there is little else which is more motivating than necessity. Right now, I’m at a place where I not only want to finally live within the constraints that I’m about to outline, but I’m also sort of in a place where there aren’t a lot of other options. Yes, I definitely want to live as a pure minimalist, but at this point I also kind of need to. So as it is, this is where I stand.

I currently have about $1,200 in cash reserves, and a camper van conversion worth about $3,000. Those are my primary assets.  Right now, I would say that I could probably fit around 75% of the things that I own in my van and still  have it be functional as a camper for one person. It would be a bit cluttered, but it would work (this is not my ideal; just where I am currently at). I also own around $500 in silver bullion, five or so firearms worth around $1,500 cumulatively, a nice mountain bike worth maybe $500, a full-frame SLR camera that has a used market value right now of about $1,000, and this new fancy laptop I’m typing on. The rest of the things I own are divided mostly between clothing, outdoor gear, and food/cooking items. I also have a few antiques and pieces of art from when I experimented with selling as a dealer in a local antique shop, but I’ve sold most of that and what’s left I plan on leaving with the person I’m currently renting from, as a way to say thanks for the generosity she has extended me while living here.

Now for income. The one source that I have coming in every year at this point is my nutritional consulting business. I got into holistic health several years ago in an effort to address my own health problems, and ended up becoming extremely knowledgeable in it. Eventually I obtained a simple certification and have been working on a part-time basis ever since, helping others navigate the throes of chronic illness. Right now I probably average a net income of around $4000 annually from this source. This is not always reliable as there are certainly dry spells in consulting, and fluctuations in demand. I’m also a very poor marketer, so I struggle finding new clients and this trend seems to be getting worse. Aside from what I make consulting, I will often also work part time jobs occasionally for as long as I can last doing them. Unfortunately this is not often very long, as my health is quite an obstacle that renders just about any job quite difficult to maintain. The last solid period of work that I had was during the summer of 2015, when I worked part time for about 6 months and made around $12,000 over that period. By the end of it, my health had degraded substantially and I spent most of the ensuing winter recovering.

That’s probably the most unfortunate thing about having a chronic illness. When I don’t have to work I can generally keep my condition relatively stable with tons of rest, and by taking really good care of myself through proper nutrition and other means. But as soon as I have to report to a job every day, the combination of the stress and fatigue that results, and the lack of time to take adequate care of myself, prepare healthy meals, etc, pretty much destroys me. And that’s during the good times, when my condition is in relative remission. When it is at its worst, the idea of working any kind of job whatsoever is pretty much laughable. Bummer, huh?

Maybe on some future post I will do a dedicated piece on what it’s like to live with a chronic illness like the one I must contend with. For now, I just wanted to outline a bit of the challenges I face, and what this really means in terms of economics. It is really difficult to predict what I can expect to make in a given year at this point, as there are a lot of variables, but right now if I had to make a simple analysis, I would say I can probably manage to pull in an average of around $6,000 per year as things currently stand. Some years will be better, when I am feeling reasonably well, when I find a good paying part time job to work for the summer, and when my business does well. Some years will be less, as when I go through one of my sicker spells, and when less economic opportunity presents itself in general. So $6,000 per year, or $500 per month, is going to be the income figure I plan my life around. I feel this is conservative enough to be fairly constant and reliable.

Alright, what about expenses? Lets take a look at how I have been spending money over the last few years, and see how that jives with my expected income. Here is a rough outline of what I estimate my expenditures have been:

  • Groceries – $400/month
  • Eating out – $200/month
  • Gas – $200/month
  • Rent – $100/month
  • Insurance – $50/month
  • Cell Phone – $90/month
  • Alcohol – $200/month
  • Coffee – $90/month
  • Entertainment – $50/month
  • Other – $50/month

So that’s a little less than $1,600 per month, or right around $19,000 per year. As you can see, I’ve got a bit of a cash flow problem. I’m spending about $1,100 per month MORE than I can expect to bring in. I’ve only been able to continue doing this for the last few years because I began with a pretty significant savings and a few other assets, which I was able to liquidate and live off of. In addition, my rent has been really cheap because family has taken me in and helped me out while I try to get this chronic illness thing resolved. But even so, I’ve been spending WAY too much. Obviously. As you can see, I have a few addictions which are inordinately expensive. I also drive more than I need to, usually going places just out of boredom, or to keep myself occupied. Judge me if you will. I’ve been pretty isolated for many years now, generally feeling too unwell to do a lot of socializing, and alcohol has been a way to self-medicate. Similarly, since chronic fatigue has been one of the hallmarks of my illness, coffee has also been a crutch, and a bright spot in the day. Hiking in the wilderness is also a staple of my life, and I have to drive my van, which gets about 12mgp, about 80 miles to get to any appreciable wilderness area.

If there is one thing that is evident about this situation at this point, it is that something has to change. Not only am I spending more money than I have coming in, with no real expectation of that changing, but I have also run out of help. I’ve bounced around and lived with various family members and friends since my troubles began 5 years ago. First with my mom, then my dad, then back with my mom again, and most recently I’ve lived in my ex-girlfriends studio apartment attached to her garage. Now my stay has come to an end there, and I truly and honestly have nowhere else to go. My dad has an illness which is very likely terminal, and my mother is having health and financial problems of her own. I have no other viable options in terms of family, or friends. I am now for all intents an purposes alone, with no more savings in the bank, and a grossly reduced ability to generate income for myself, to the extent that what I do make, has not been enough to live on (in the manner in which I have been living).

This is not a sob story. I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I expect nothing different from anyone else. I love my life, even to this day, and I view this situation as an opportunity, every bit as much as I view it a hardship. If there is one thing that is seen quite clearly through the practice of Zen, it is the utter futility of being at odds with the circumstances that manifest in life. Nothing could ever be more absurd than arguing with the universe. All suffering is caused by desiring present circumstances to be other than they are, and by refusing to surrender to what is. So for me, everything I have described above is simply the reality of my situation. It is what is. Further, it’s not in my nature to paint over issues that are present in my life, or to manipulate outside opinion to make things appear other than they are. As I said in my very first blog post, the pursuit of the minimalist life is, for me, not so much a choice as a necessity at this point. Fortunately, it also happens to resonate very strongly with my beliefs, and is very much in harmony with my inherent nature anyway.

For a long time, I would lay awake at nights trying to think of ways that I could make more money so that I could be fully autonomous, bringing in more than I spent each month, without having to rely on any outside assistance. But then I got into Zen and Taoism and Non-duality. And I read some of the American greats – Thoreau, Emerson, Edward Abbey, and others. Later, I stumbled into the work of John Zerzan and  became immensely interested in a philosophy called Anarcho-Primitivism, which I will discuss in detail in a future post. As time wore on, my view began to change entirely. All throughout my life, I had always went to the Wilderness for my recreation, and for my spiritual fulfillment. If I had a week to spare during the summer, I didn’t go to the tropics to spend my time on some beach; I went backpacking in the mountains. I chose to live in a manner which is about as minimalist as it gets, sometimes for weeks at a time, purely for fun. And I loved it. When I was healthy, backpacking was basically what I lived for. Even when sick, I still get out as much as I possibly can.

Somewhere along the line, a light bulb went off in my head. I loved backpacking not because it offered something different from ordinary life; I loved it because it’s the closest medium to the life we are supposed to be living. I love the wild, because I am meant to be wild. I love to wander, because wandering is in my DNA. The modern world makes me feel  hollow and empty, because that’s what a zoo does to the wild creatures of earth. That’s what domestication does. If humans once lived entirely without money, wandering the earth freely and autonomously, and if that way of life was actually better for the cumulative health and well-being of the individual (see: The Original Affluent Society, by Marshall Sahlins), and if the Zen monks of old could find enlightenment by forsaking settled society and wandering from place to place, then why couldn’t I do the same? This, I realized, was very likely the best solution to my cash hemorrhaging problem. Then I read about guys like Daniel Suelo and Mark Boyle who were apparently both quite successful living entirely without money in modern society. This helped me understand that living a life of radical simplicity is not a death sentence, but if done rightly, can actually be a form of liberation.

Over time, my fear of being “homeless” dwindled, and was increasingly supplanted by excitement. Eventually I came to understand that there is actually no such thing as being homeless. One may be house-less, to be sure, but so long as one views the Earth as one’s home, then there can be no such thing as a condition of homelessness. If home is where the heart is, and my heart is out on the road, under the open sky, then no matter where my travels take me, I will be at home. Once this idea rooted itself firmly in my consciousness, it’s become something of an obsession, to the extent where living as a nomad has become my ultimate goal in life. I am 32 years old, and I have lived a very full and rich life up to this point. There is little left that I feel called to do. If the time of my death were to arrive tomorrow, there would’t be anything I felt I had missed out on, save one single thing. I never got to experience the freedom and exhilaration of a truly nomadic life.

So here I am. My primary goal has come into focus, and I know what I need to do in order to bring it about. I need to structure my life in such a way that I am spending less than I bring in, so that I can live out there, as a free and autonomous human being. Since I don’t bring in much in the way of income, I have to do quite a bit of restructuring. Ideally, I want to be in a position where I am saving at least a hundred dollars each month, on average, to serve as a rainy day fund. With that, this is the task that I have before me, and what follows is the rough outline I have established to achieve it.

We already know my expected income. This probably won’t change a lot in terms of going down, and if I am successful with a few enterprises I have in the works, it may even go up quite a bit. But for now, I’m left assuming a net income of $500 per month. So I need to spend $400 if I want to have $100 left for savings. This seems extremely daunting at first glance, but I have to assume it can be done reasonably easily, if other guys are living with no money at all. So what am I going to do?

First, my van will be my only shelter expense, but I am going to have to drive it much, much less. So I have found a place to park it on a permanent basis near the city where I currently reside, and close to a central bus station. The parking fee is $15 per month, and while sleeping in one’s vehicle is technically prohibited by city code, this doesn’t seem to be something which is enforced to any appreciable degree. I will have to be discrete, and I will move my van periodically to other nearby locations which are entirely free, so as to draw less attention. If you have ever followed the van-dwelling crowd on the internet, then you probably already know that this is what is considered urban stealth camping. Others call it boondocking. In addition to parking, I’ve gotten my insurance down to around $35/month, and if I’m smart with my driving, I should be able to keep gas expenses down around $30/month. This brings total van expenses to $80/month.

So I have $320 left to spend of my monthly $500 income, with $100 going into savings. Of that, I’ve decided to budget $200 for food, $30 for public transportation, $20 for a gym membership (this will by my primary source for showering), and $20 for misc. expenses such as the occasional clothing purchase from a thrift store, repairing or replacing essential gear when it breaks down, getting a haircut every once in a while, etc. Finally, I will budget $50 for coffee or tea, so that I can have access to WiFi at various coffee shops. I view this mostly as a business expense, as the internet is a necessity for me to generate income, and I really don’t want to be stuck using only public libraries. So that’s it. Here it is in list form:

  • Parking – $15/mo
  • Insurance – $35/mo
  • Gas – $30/mo
  • Food – $200/mo
  • Public Transportation – $30/mo
  • Gym Membership – $20/mo
  • Coffee/Internet – $50/mo
  • Misc. – $20/mo
  • Saving – $100/mo

There you have it. This is how you can live comfortably on $500. You will see that things like alcohol and having a cell phone have been cut from the budget entirely, and that all other expenses have been reduced significantly. Spending $200 per month on food may sound rough to some, but it is more than possible. In fact, one can actually eat reasonably healthy on this amount. This is something I also plan on detailing in a future post. As a nutritionist by trade, I want to make an art out of eating as healthfully as possible with as little money as possible, to show impoverished families and those with few economic resources that it can be accomplished. For now, suffice it to say that if it is possible to get enough calories into your system by spending no more than $2/day, then it is certainly possible to eat relatively healthfully on more than triple that amount. It won’t be an easy task, and will require much dedication, but this is a challenge that I look forward to.

Let met also state that the above list does not take into account what can be acquired freely. So while my food options from stores may be limited by what $200/month can buy, I am still free to eat as much wild food as I can manage to forage, to dumpster-dive if I deem this a worthwhile pursuit, and I will not turn down free meals offered through the generosity of others. In this way I am confident that I can eat extremely well on what amounts to slightly less than $7/day. I’m obviously going to have to do away with eating out almost entirely, and will have to be extremely conscious of the calories-per-dollar ratio of the foods that I purchase from stores (more on this later), but this is part of what it means to be a minimalist.

So that’s pretty much it as far as economics go. There will be much more to come in regards to how I chose to live, especially in terms of how to maximize the amount of time I am able to spend in the wilderness, ways to engage in the process of Rewilding, and how to minimize the amount of time I am required to spend in or around cities. For example, while I am grateful to have a van to sleep in – to get me out of the weather when I really need to, to provide a sanctuary during the really cold and wet months of winter, and to use for transportation when I really need to – these are all things I intend to rely on as little as I possibly can. If my plans go reasonably well, I will be spending a much greater portion of the year traveling on foot, and sleeping out under the open sky, than I will spend using my van as either a vehicle for transport or as a shelter.

Many people live a completely nomadic existence without owning any vehicle at all. Perhaps this is something I will aspire to someday, and to be honest, if I lived in a warmer, dryer climate, I might be inclined to consider it right now. I definitely want to rely on natural modes of shelter and locomotion as much as possible, and to eschew all forms of artifice where and when I can. But as it stands, the region I call home has some pretty awful winter months in terms of weather, and life would be resolutely miserable, and possibly dangerous, without some form of shelter to retreat to in order to ride out the worst of the cold and the biggest of the storms. Being that one of my goals is to maximize personal autonomy and freedom, I certainly don’t want to be relying on others to provide me with shelter, whether they be family, friends, or charitable institutions. Someday I may choose to relocate to a more southerly locale where I can get by year-round with a simple outdoor shelter and sleep system, but for now I’m still using the Pacific Northwest as my primary base of operation, and if you’ve never spent a winter here, let me tell you upfront that you don’t want to be stuck outside all day and night, with no option for reprieve, in mid-January. Some people manage to do it, but I wouldn’t want to.

But there again, semantics. I will be covering these topics, and many more, at great length in the future. Now that I have outlined the nuts and bolts of the economics of the minimalist life (or my version of it), and because I want to make sure I am adhering to the themes of either Zen, or Primitivism, or both,  throughout the course of this blog, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite philosophers, which in my opinion describes in something approaching perfection the experiential feel of the awakened life:

“But Brahman as One Reality is all-inclusive, for the Upanishads say, ‘It is made of consciousness and mind: It is made of life and vision. It is made of the earth and the waters: It is made of air and space. It is made of anger and love: It is made of virtue and vice. it is made of all that is near: It is made of all that is afar. It is made of all.’

What, then, is nonduality in terms of a state of mind? How does the mystic who has realized his identity with the One reality think and feel? Does his consciousness expand from out of his body and enter into all other things, so that he sees with others’ eyes, and thinks with others’ brains? Only figuratively, for the Self which is in him and in all others does not necessarily communicate to the physical brain of John Smith, mystic, what is seen by the eyes of Pei-wang, construction worker, on the other side of the earth. I do not believe spiritual illumination is to be understood in quite this sensational way. We shall answer the question sufficiently if we can discover what is a nondualistic state of mind. Does it mean a mind in so intense a state of concentration that it contains only one thought? Strictly speaking, the mind never contains more than one thought at a time; such is the nature of thinking. But if spirituality means thinking only and always of one particular thing, then other things are excluded and this is still duality. Does it mean, then, a mind which is thinking of everything at once? Even if this were possible, it would exclude the convenient faculty of thinking of one thing at a time and would still be dualistic. Clearly these two interpretations are absurd, but there is another way of approach.

Spiritual illumination is often described as absolute freedom of the soul, and we have seen that the One Reality is all-inclusive. Is the mind of the mystic singularly free and all-inclusive? If so, it would seem that his spirituality does not depend on thinking any special kinds of thoughts, on having a particular feeling ever in the background of his soul. He is free to think of anything and nothing, to love and to fear, to be joyful or sad, to set his mind on philosophy or on the trivial concerns of the world; he is free to be both a sage and a fool, to feel both compassion and anger, to experience both bliss and agony.

And in all this he never breaks his identity with the One Reality-God, ‘whose service is perfect freedom.’ For he knows that in whatever direction he goes and in whichever of these many opposites he is engaged, he is still in perfect harmony with the One that includes all directions and all opposites. In this sense, serving God is just living; it is not a question of the way in which you live, because all ways are included in God. To understand this is to wake up to your freedom to be alive.” – Alan Watts

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Why Minimalism? – Economy, Part 1

“Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.

I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?” ― Henry David Thoreau

If there is one key to living a free and autonomous life in today’s world, I would cast my vote for a minimalist life of deliberate and radical simplicity. The degree to which one can be said to be free is directly  proportional, on any given day, to the amount of time which can be claimed as one’s own. If from the time I first rise in the morning, to the time I close my eyes to sleep at night, and every hour in between, I have no human being to answer to other than myself, then my time is my own, and I am 100% free. Correspondingly, for each hour that I must do work in order to satisfy any person other than my self, I am less free. Let us not make the mistake, however, of assuming because we don’t have an employer, and therefore a direct “boss,” so to speak, that we do not have to answer to anybody. It is true that working for oneself does lead to a certain amount of freedom, and perhaps more aptly, a certain variety of freedom compared to the typical 9 to 5 day at the office, but it is far from total freedom. In fact, when all of the elements are considered, it can be said that the common small business owner is actually more a slave to the system, and has less truly free time, than your average individual under someone else’s employ.

Let us imagine for a minute how many people, or  how many entities, the owner of the average company must engage with, and how many compulsory hoops (bureaucratic and otherwise) he or she must jump through, in order to be even marginally successful in a given industry. Most companies, regardless of profession, must answer to numerous different bodies of government and regulatory agencies, and meet a whole host of bureaucratic demands, just as a function of daily operation. Virtually all professions answer to at least a few. None escape regulation entirely. Then, once the regulatory hurdles are cleared (until next year, of course), the business owner must contend with the landlord and/or mortgage lender, a conglomeration of utility companies, network providers, insurance agents, financial institutions, healthcare organizations, accountants, and so on. And finally, there is perhaps the most crucial entity of all – the customer – to contend with. Under capitalism, the customer may as well be considered one’s sovereign in many respects, for if you find yourself in the position of business owner, your very livelihood depends on convincing a wide variety of other consumers, and a large number of them, to buy your stuff. Couple all of this with the demands of a growing population, increasing technological innovation, and consolidation of the manufacturing sector to a few global mega-corporations, and we are invariably left with ever declining opportunities for fruitful pursuits in entrepreneurship.

What this does, is create a situation where there is actually very little left to do that has true practical value (meaning, starting a business in a sector that furnishes actual real human needs). In spite of this, we have erected a system whereby everyone must still put in their 40 hours in order to pay for the bare necessities of living. In fact, 40 hours of work today actually buys far less than 40 hours of work did 50 years ago, as food and housing prices have risen much faster than wages have. So with less available options in the way of producing necessities, the modern day entrepreneur is thereby compelled to think up some new fad or scheme, and then put all of his efforts into convincing the rest of the people to buy it. If he is lucky, he will be one of the first to get into the game of whatever the new scheme happens to be, but soon other people, also starved for good ideas in a declining civilization, will follow suit. As more and more people enter into a burgeoning new niche, competition goes up drastically, profit margins dwindle, and if the industry gets big enough, sooner or later the mega-corporations  enter the picture and start doing whatever it is on an incomprehensibly large scale, and begin pushing smaller business out.

And while there is certainly a growing movement towards local cottage industry economies, this unfortunately does not obfuscate the problem. It is extremely difficult to make a living wage as a cottage industry. Here again, if you have a good idea and nobody else is doing it in your area, you may be successful for a time, but as competition enters the picture, as it invariably will, you have no choice but to scale up and sell more, in order to compensate for declining profits. This is Economics 101, governed by supply and demand. Under the capitalist industrial system, a business must continue to grow, or it will either stagnate, ore die out altogether. And all the while there is the customer to contend with. It is not enough to make a great product. One is also compelled to sell it. Selling today means much more than simply getting your product to market. The product must also be marketed.  As mentioned above, you must win your customer over by convincing them that their life will be better off if they spend their own hard-earned cash on whatever it is that you are selling, and in the grand scheme, that they probably don’t really need. Every day the average American wakes up and will face thousands of consumer choices throughout the course of a given 24 hours. As the entrepreneur it is your job to make sure that they choose your product, over all other kinds of products, and then, over the competitors in your particular industry.

There are a select luck few who will rise to the top and actually become independently wealthy, thereby actually creating a situation where they can basically buy their own individual freedom, if they are very smart with the way they go about setting things up. and lucky enough to pick just the right niche. But there is very little room at the peak of the mountain, and most of those who currently stand atop it are what can be considered old money. There is less and less room as the years go by, and the increasing population must crowd together at the lowest valleys and fight for the scraps. Today we hear the term “the 99%,” and this is not arbitrary. There is not much difference in what we see at present under the capitalist economy, and that which was present under the feudalism of medieval Europe. Try, if you will, to make an argument that there is not today what essentially amounts to an elite landholding class, who live off of the compulsory labor of the majority, and a peasant class, which must sell themselves in a life of continuous labor just in order to survive. Make this argument and you do so fallaciously. The opportunities that existed which allowed a poor man with an entrepreneurial spirit to rise to the top back in the early days of industrialism simply do not exist today. Period. For most people, there is no way out of the trap. You are either a wage slave, or you are a slave to your own small business, which will almost certainly remain small, or fail outright. In either case, you are far from free.

Oh the woes of an empire in decline. There comes a certain point in such a system whereby, if a man looks at his circumstances rationally and logically, the effort of contributing is simply no longer worth the reward (assuming it ever was worthwhile to begin with). The human environment becomes more ugly, artificial and hollow as cities grow and expand and rural workers are forced to concentrate in cities with declining farming and natural resources jobs. Our occupations become more ugly, artificial and hollow as technology works its way into every crevice of our economic system (and yet amazingly, work seems only to get more and more complex as we virtually invent things to do out of boredom, egotism, or to simply justify our existence). Our dollar depreciates in value and the cost of “living” continues on rising, so that 40 hours of toil tomorrow buys us less than 40 hours of toil did today, and life becomes so sterile, inane, toxic and stressful that it can hardly be called a life at all.

Oh yeah. And throughout this whole wonderful process that some are so fond of, the very environment that makes the system possible is being decimated by that same system. Ironically, this sinister byproduct of the industrial market economy is fundamental to its very existence and functioning. Under capitalism, especially industrial capitalism, growth must occur. It is utterly built into the system. Growth and capitalism are inseparable. We also happen to live on a finite planet. The consequences of growth remained more or less hidden for a long period of time, as we always seemed to have somewhere else to expand when the local resourced had all been used, and the environment desecrated. We have now reached a point, however, where industrialization has spread to every habitable place on the planet, the bulk of the once abundant resources have been pillaged, and there is simply nowhere else to expand into. It’s been a good ride (or not), but it’s reaching its inevitably conclusion. This is the end, my only friend. Deny this if you will, but the laws of the material universe do not cater to the human ideal.

So what to do when faced with an insoluble dilemma such as this? Here we are then back to the point I began with at the beginning of this article. The solution, if there can be said to be one at all, is that of radical simplicity. It is important to state here that I do not intend this as a solution to the collective problem that we face. With thorough analysis and examination of the evidence, it does not appear that that such solution exists. What follows, then, is my recipe for individual salvation, to the extent that, even in the midst of a decaying world, one can still carve our a decent life, enjoying what few pockets of beauty and wildness that remain, while living as freely as possible within a system that seeks to enslave all of us.

This brings me to a very important point. It is not possible to escape the system fully. The system is everywhere and it has total control over all of the land and resources on the planet. Every square inch of habitable land is owned by somebody. In order to live on earth you must either rent land, or buy it and rent yourself to pay the bank back for its purchase. This is true even if you are a nomad, for the food that you eat will come from land which is either owned or rented, and you will be paying for that food. Thus, you are paying your portion of the rent cost in growing it. If you have not land to provide all of your food needs for yourself, without having to pay anyone for the use of that land, then you are not free. Even if you “own” a piece of land outright, you must still pay property taxes on it, and the more you improve that land the more taxes you will pay. Similarly, even if you own the land and are doing all you can to maximize sustainability, you will still be relying on outside society for a few essentials. Everybody does today, because the conditions that are needed for full autonomy are simply no longer present. They don’t exist.

Given this reality, I believe there are a few ways that one can maximize freedom and autonomy, to the extent that is possible under this system. It is precisely these ways that this blog will be exploring. For one, I will be endeavoring to live in one of those ways myself, but in addition to that, I will be traveling as often as possible to visit other people who are pursuing their own unique solution to the same dilemma. In this I hope to learn as much as I can, and to share a very broad spectrum of solutions to a very defined problem.

So what is radical simplicity, and why do I think it is the best way towards liberation? The quote I included at the very beginning of this post I think outlines my reasoning quite well. If the problem lies in a system that compels one to “weave his unique kind of basket,” and then to find a way to sell that basket to others, then the solution, if this ridiculous basket-weaving is seen as deplorable or otherwise unfavorable, is to eliminate the necessity of weaving them all together. In other words, instead of figuring out what wares you are going to sell, and ruminating over how you will sell those wares, strive to set up your life such that you have no need or compulsion to sell anything at all. Even if you cannot manage to eliminate the need entirely, you will still succeed to a degree whereby your freedoms will be increased, and ideally, maximized.

When I say that an art can be made out of being a wanderer and a nomad, this is a significant part of what I mean. If one reduces what he needs from civilization, he will correspondingly reduce the amount which must to put in to it. It’s really a simple economic equation. Increased utilization (of consumer goods) demands increased contribution to the market economy in order to pay for said goods, which begets increased dependence and compulsion to “make a living” by renting yourself out. Welcome to domestication, compadres. The desire to acquire more stuff has the unfortunate downside of making you an indentured servant. In order to be free, this cycle must be broken, and to break it means learning to do with less. Much, much less. Your freedom, under the model I am advocating, will come in direct proportion to the number of things you can afford to do without. Lets look a bit deeper into this beautiful equation.

Money doesn’t buy happiness. We’ve all heard this age-old axiom a thousand times. And yet, if we but look around us, it becomes immediately evident that the full truth of this statement has not infiltrated the collective consciousness. People are still consuming like mad. If it is not happiness that they seek in purchasing consumer goods, then I am clueless as to what they are seeking. If those thousands of people clawing their way through the open doors of the big department stores on Black Friday are not sailing under the delusion that some material good inside that store will provide them happiness, then I open the floor to anyone who might suggest what it is that they are after. And good luck with that.

The part of the equation that is missing here is goes much further than the simple fact that money cannot buy happiness. The truth is that no material thing can provide happiness at all. Not any kind of meaningful, lasting happiness that is. The reason, however, that material goods cannot provide happiness is not because we have the ingredients of the happiness recipe wrong. It is not only that material wealth cannot produce happiness; it is that nothing can. And this is where, especially here in the West, things have gone badly awry. Look around you and it becomes difficult to deny that everyone is seeking this mystical state called happiness. Our entire economic system is based on the fundamental premise that one will be happier if the circumstances of life are improved sufficiently. It is this very illusion that powers the entire machine. If people knew fundamentally, at the deepest level, that once the basic necessities of life are met so that one can be free from hunger and sufficiently protected from climactic extremes (eg. appropriately clothed and sheltered), nothing beyond these essentials will make a single degree of difference in happiness, then why on earth would people be spending their entire lifetimes working jobs that they hate in order to pay for all of the excesses?

But is it really true? Is it absolutely accurate that there is no such thing as happiness? To put it bluntly and shortly, yes. Happiness is not but a judgement of conditions; it does not exist as an actual condition itself. In other words, happiness does not exist until we think it into existence, by examining the existing state of the world (and our place in it), and then by making a judgement that things would be better in the future if certain elements of the existing state were modified in some way, by adding certain elements that we calculate to be missing, or subtracting certain elements that we find disagreeable. If this judgment never occurs – if a human does not think at all, or if he thinks in a way whereby he accepts his lot in life without ever having the inclination to improve it – then there is no such thing as happiness or unhappiness in his reality. Happiness is based in thought and thought alone. When we really examine this, and understand that thought is actually never real, that it is forever and always an illusion, then we can begin to understand the true nature of happiness, and the implications that follow from misunderstanding it.

But it goes further than that. Even if happiness does not exist in the absolute sense, it is none the less possible to create all manner of the most intense forms of suffering by believing it exists. Here is why. When we believe in happiness, then it follows readily that we will believe that it is the supreme state that should be pursued. Happiness is good. Unhappiness is bad. Good is the ideal state. Therefore, happiness should be maximized, and unhappiness, eliminated.  Or so the judgment goes. But  hidden within this syllogism lies a deep, deep flaw that renders the object of the game – persistent and unencumbered happiness – impossible to achieve.  The reason lies in the duality that is created the very moment we begin to imagine the existence of two separate and opposing conditions. Alan Watts describes the nature of duality quite brilliantly here:

“The point is not to make an effort to silence the feelings and cultivate bland indifference. It is to see through the universal illusion that what is pleasant or good may be wrested from what is painful or evil…To see this is to see that good without evil is like up without down, and that to make an ideal of pursuing the good is like trying to rid of the left by constantly turning to the right. One is therefore compelled to go around in circles. The logic of this is so simple that one is tempted to think it over-simple. The temptation is all the stronger because it upsets the fondest illusion of the human mind, which is that in the course of time everything may be made better and better…

Yet Zen is a liberation from this pattern, and its apparently dismal starting point is to understand the absurdity of choosing, of the whole feeling that life may be significantly improved by a constant selection of the “good.” One must start by “getting the feel” of relativity, and by knowing that life is not a situation which there is anything to be grasped or gained-as if it were something which one approaches from the outside, like a pie or a barrel of beer. To succeed is always to fail-in the sense that the more one succeeds in anything, the greater is the need to go on succeeding. To eat is to survive being hungry.

The illusion of significant improvement arises in moments of contrast, as when one turns from left to right on a hard bed. The position is “better” so long as the contrast remains, but before long the second position begins to feel like the first. So one acquires a more comfortable bed and, for a while, sleeps in peace. But the solution of the problem leaves a strange vacuum in one’s consciousness, a vacuum soon filled with the sensation of another intolerable contrast, hitherto unnoticed, and just as urgent, just as frustrating as the problem of the hard bed. The vacuum arises because the sensation of comfort can be maintained only in relation to the sensation of discomfort, just as an image is visible to the eye only by reason of a contrasting background. The good and the evil, the pleasant and the painful are so inseparable, so identical in their difference – like the two sides of a coin – that fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

This is precisely what we are not taught in the West. Everything we learn from childhood onward is centered around the idea that life is a race towards constant improvement, and that it will only get better and better as we age and collect our various prizes along the way. The strangest thing about this whole setup is that we continue on with this fallacy even though it should be starkly evident by now that it’s all a big hoax. Nobody has ever succeeded at this game, because from it’s very conception it sets a person up to constantly engage a problem which is insoluble. A man can spend an entire lifetime acquiring wealth and experiences, and by the time he reaches the pinnacle whereby he has done everything he has ever wanted, and has everything a man could dream of, he will feel exactly the same as when he began the game in his youth. Probably worse, actually, for at least back then there existed the misguided hope that life would be better in the future. And because all of his life was spent chasing after and romanticizing that future paradise, he rarely if ever stopped to enjoy what he had in the present – the only place anything ever can be enjoyed at all. Looking back on his life it is hard to wonder how he would feel anything other than having been cheated. With the end fast approaching, there is little time left to truly live. Because he could not live in gratitude for the present moment, he missed his whole life.

We have coined the phrase “the human condition” for a reason, and it is this very nature of duality that is at the heart of it. And here is what I can guarantee you. Without a firm understanding of this  dynamic, life will always involve suffering and misery. The default condition will be rooted in scarcity and lack, and only rarely broken up with temporary and fleeting highs of attainment, followed by further and probably deeper sorrows.

In a way, Zen Buddhism could be characterized as a philosophy of life specifically oriented towards addressing this problem. This is why I chose to name my blog PrimitiveZen. While the realizations that Zen may produce in an individual will likely share many similarities and qualities, they will by no means lead to the exact same path in life. I would definitely posit that just about everyone who becomes intimately familiar with the ways of Zen will cultivate some form of simplicity that was not practiced previously, but there are sure to be differences from person to person, varying in style and degree. Some people may join a traditional Zen order and spend the rest of their lives as devout monks. Some people with existing family obligations, or for other reasons, might simply jump back into lay life and continue on much as before, but with far less desire, and much more silence, peace, and introspection.  Some will become writers or speakers and make a living discussing what they’ve learned with others. The spectrum varies as widely as can be imagined.

That’s another one of the most beautiful things about Zen – it will help you awaken to the truth, but it does not provide instructions on how to live there. If Zen emphasizes anything at all, it is to embrace the “naturalness” of things. Humans, being part and parcel of nature, should not be considered an exception. There is no right or wrong way to live. To believe that there is, is to make the same error as believing light can exist without darkness. Rightness is just as much a judgement call as anything else, based only in thought and not in reality. In our culture, the difference between what is considered right and what is considered wrong is almost exclusively determined by the social collective. What we feel we know to be certain about life is mostly that which was instilled in us by those who we assumed to be authority figures in our youth. That opinions vary so widely from culture to culture is testament to this fact. There are as many ways to live as there are grains of sand, and no society can rightly claim to have figured out the right or the best way. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped the same from occurring. There used to be a much wider, richer, and more colorful array of culture across the globe. Today most forms of ethnic diversity are being swallowed up by the industrial machine, and as a byproduct of the West being the leader in industrialization, many formerly autonomous cultures are also absorbing Western ideals.

This, I say, is a travesty of epic proportions. It is also one of the many reasons I’ve chosen to become a Primitivist. I’ve always been drawn to the kind of life that many of those in our society refer to as “primitive.” Since I was very young, I’ve always had a deep affinity for nature and for wildness. Many of my books growing up were oriented around outdoor survival skills and indigenous, hunter-gather lifeways. Much of my free time was spent practicing such skills in the woodlands behind our home. I learned how to hunt, how to identify dozens of native edible plant species, how to build a viable shelter from only materials found in the forest, how to make a fire without artificial materials, and most importantly, how to be alone in the wilderness, not only without fear, but in such as way as to derive deep fulfillment and satisfaction from the experience of simply being out there. At the same time, nothing about the “civilized” life that was expected of me ever felt right. I remember driving down the interstate when I was very young, looking at all of the incomprehensibly large and expansive infrastructure around me, and somehow knowing that something wasn’t right about what I was witnessing. Something wasn’t natural there.  I felt this even though I did not yet understand the difference between nature and artifice.  But the woods always made sense to me. I knew the forest represented how things were supposed to be, even if I couldn’t conceptualize or articulate it yet.  Little else in settled society ever made sense to me in that way. But as all indoctrinated children do, I eventually learned to accept the box I had been placed into (institutional education is not exactly a choice, now is it?).

Fortunately, Zen is known widely as a vehicle for liberation, and for me this has been undeniably true. Some people, however, mistakenly believe that the kind of liberation it offers can only be found in Enlightenment. This is absolutely untrue. Enlightenment, if it can be said to exist, offers no other realization other than that of becoming aware that you have always been enlightened, and so seeking comes to an end. In my opinion, it is the conceptual understandings that one gains while on the path, through the cultivation of a spiritual practice like Zen, and through a combination of right-understanding and a quieting of the mind through meditation, that offer the most profound benefits. As I mentioned in my first post, industrial civilization has become a global phenomenon. That being the case, one is faced with navigating this society effectively in order to survive. But as we also discussed above, most cultures are rampant with all manner of delusion which does not serve the well-being of the human individual. In this way, I have come to view Zen not simply as a method of finding inner-peace, but also as a way to understand what is true about nature and the universe, and perhaps most importantly, what isn’t true about it.

If society is operating primarily in delusion, and much of the delusion can be said to be harmful to the individual (as I maintain is the case), and if children are indoctrinated into society beginning at such a young age that they have virtually no means at their disposal to effectively resist the brainwashing that takes place, then the conclusion which follows is I think is pretty clear. Society is maximally harmful to the individual so long as he  is trapped within the framework of delusion imposed upon him. Society may be harmful all of the time to some degree, as it is not possible to escape civilization in its entirety, but the harm it causes can be greatly reduced, and perhaps even quite nearly eliminated, in direct proportion to the degree to which the individual can liberate himself from the delusion imposed upon him.

Zen is pretty badass in this way. When I started to understand non-duality and the implications such an awareness had, my life was changed forever. Since my first introduction to Zen, it has been one continuous process, not so much of learning, but of discarding. This does not occur with any direct effort. When a previously held notion is seen very clearly to be untrue, it has no choice but to fall away. What often happens in the awakening process, then, is a continual realization that the culture which surrounds us is operating in a manner which might be best characterized as insane. The insanity, it becomes evident, is caused directly by an odd form of consciousness that most other animals on planet earth do not seem to share. Those other animals also seem to live in balance with the earth. With a little bit of anthropological study, it can also be seen that at one point many thousands of years ago, humans also used to live in exactly the same way. That is, in ecological balance with the environment.

So what happened? Well, this odd form of consciousness (the very one which erroneously convinces us it is possible to have a life of all good, and no bad) is actually something which probably developed quite recently, in terms of evolutionary time. It did not occur through any effort of planning on our part, however. Nor did it appear magically through divine ordination. As things do in evolution, our consciousness appeared randomly. Basically, by accident. It just so happened, though, that this strange trait that we developed, while it would ultimately lead to our universal misery and probably, ruination, was remarkably effective in allowing us to achieve domination over the environment.

And that’s exactly what happened. At first it must have seemed glorious. We departed from our deep heritage (millions of years deep) of living as part of the cycle of life on earth, to becoming temporary lords and masters over it. Our early successes reinforced this delusion, and before anyone knew what was happening, we’d erected entire belief systems around this very notion.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26

We are at the center of the Cosmos, and all of this was made for us! Oh happy day. Until it isn’t so happy anymore.

Zen has served as my liberation from all of this. Or from believing in it, anyway. How successful I will be in getting free from the physical confines is yet to be seen, really. That’s what this whole Blog is about. I now realize that the conceptual phase of my spiritual path is mostly over. I’ve learned about as much as I care to. I’ve discarded most of what I am able to discard in the form of the un-true. What delusion remains (there is always some delusion hiding in there), if it is to fall away, will do so when it is ready to. So if there can be said to be a “second phase” of my spiritual path, I think it is going to occur in the physical sense. What there is left to gain (and lose), I believe, will be gained (and lost) by immersing myself in a way of life that was at first demonized, and later, all but forgotten by modern civilization. It is our oldest way, and the way humanity will invariably return to, sooner or later. I am going to feel what it’s like to be a human being living with the earth, instead of treading upon it. I am going to follow as best I can the philosophy of Primitivism. What all of that entails I will get into later. One of my next posts will be an in-depth outline of what I think it means to be a Primitivist, and successive posts will be all about how I put that philosophy into practice. But there is a first step, and this brings me full circle from the beginning of this article.

Money. It has got to go. By this I mean, I intend to structure my life in such a way that I need as little of it as possible to meet the bare essentials of life. I am also going to eschew most of what is not essential. I will obtain my spiritual sustenance from the Great Mother Earth, and that shall be all that I need. I’ve been wanting to pursue the primitivist lifestyle for some time now. If there has been one thing that has held me back the most, it has been my ties to the money economy. Put simply, I have too many things that I have to pay for. In order to pay for those things, I have to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging around in the artificial deadness of the city, doing remedial tasks that I would never choose to do if I didn’t feel like I absolutely had to. The reason I have to, is because I have put myself in a position where I am overly reliant on money to pay for too many things that I neither need nor want. This first step, then, will be a systematic abolition of all expenses that are holding me back from living the life that I feel called to live.

Such is why I entitled this post “Economy.” Henry David Thoreau maintained that it was possible to live an entire year on the proceeds of a few weeks labor only. Of all the chapters in Walden (all of which I have read several times), I would say that it is this chapter in particular I have found most profound. With its pages are contained many of the answers to life dilemmas, most of which can be summarized in one singular passage:

“Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify, Simplify.”

It’s mid January right now. I currently have a place to stay, and adequate space to store way more stuff than I should ever have owned in the first place. My nomadic journey, if all goes according to plan, will start early this Spring. Between now and then, my objective is to rid myself of the dead weight of all the stuff that will not be instrumental for living in the manner in which I intend, and to cut all expenses that are not absolutely necessary. What exactly this will look like will be detailed as I go along. For now, I feel it worthwhile to discuss the philosophy behind the choices I am making. Or, rather, the lack of philosophy behind them. This is manifest choicelessness.  I’m heading the direction that I am, more or less, because it is what feels natural to me. I do not expect to gain anything special from this. I’ve tried, even sense becoming firmly rooted in the Zen way of life, to continue forcing myself to conform to this society that my deepest being has always rejected. The more awake I’ve become, the more I’ve realized this effort to be futile and, to put it bluntly, not very bright. My nature speaks quite loudly. When I do not listen, I suffer. But I’m learning to listen.

So no, I do not expect this journey to be any kind of salvation of deliverance. Nor do I hold any kind false notions that the nomadic life will bring security or ease. This will probably be extremely trying, and at times, painful. I will likely suffer from it as much as I will prosper. This recognition I embrace fully, and with a smile. If there is anything true about life, it is that we are meant to experience it in all its fullness, in whatever shape it may take. Our life is not what we make it. This is a false notion. We do not create our reality. Reality creates, and we seem to have been put into a strange position where we are fortunate enough to witness it, and to understand that we are not only a part of it, but that we are it. That’s as much as can be said of anything, if we are seeing clearly.

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“Through unconditional surrender I have mastered the universe. By releasing all control, I am in perfect control. Controlling nothing, I control everything. Only by taking control could I lose control. Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.” ―Nisargadatta Maharaj

Where I Lived and What I Lived For

I intend to make an art out of living as a nomad. That’s what I intend to do. I have a rather uncommon idea of it though. My life, in the way that I am envisioning, I think will be somewhat offbeat, and certainly engaging. Most of all it will probably be a hard life. I have not yet begun this journey. Up until now it’s just been short trial runs. But soon enough. It is just around the corner now. This spring. Early spring is my goal. The time is drawing near. It will be here before I know it; probably before I am ready. Oh well. I don’t think anyone is really fully prepared for this; not anybody who has been conditioned to the comforts and provisions of domestic society. That’s part of what I want to break free from.

I’m going to finally leave the settled life behind, and it’s been a long time coming. I’m not sure how to describe what I’m feeling right now. Without a doubt there exists some trepidation. There will be danger, of the kinds that I haven’t had to face before in my life. Foreign dangers, some of which can be vaguely foreseen, and others that I am likely entirely blind to. One cannot help but feel a bit of that shadowy emotion which we call fear. But there is also excitement, and sense of grand adventure that I can’t say I remember having felt since my boyhood years. This will be an odyssey in the truest sense, and this is something modern man has largely (and tragically) been deprived up.   I also feel a bit of ambivalence. Indifference. Acceptance. In a way, it feels like a kind of an end, as much as it does a beginning. I’ve had a very defined sort of life up until this point. It hasn’t always been a kind or an easy life, but it has been relatively familiar, and with familiarity comes comfort. Of all the effort I’ve put into thinking and planning for the life that is ahead of me, I’ve appropriated at least an equal amount of energy towards letting go of the old life. With that letting go, as so often happens when one engages in an act of surrender, comes a tranquil kind of trust. Trust that things are as they are supposed to be, and will turn out as they are meant  to. Because ultimately, that’s how it all works in this universe.  Who really chooses anything? Choices happen, just like a rainstorm happens. I choose the path that I find myself walking no more than a storm cloud chooses where it shall rain.

Today, there are as many different varieties of nomads wandering the earth as there are shades of blue. Well maybe that’s not entirely accurate. The point is that there are nomads everywhere. Many of them. And the vast majority are very different from one another, not just culturally, but in the way that they live. There are traveling athletes, traveling businessmen, rodeo cowboys, world travelers, hobos, airline pilots, sea captains, traveling nurses, migrant farm workers, hippies, ski bums, surf bums, drug addicts, alcoholics, pilgrims, monks, and all manner of homeless and destitute transients who have fallen on hard times. This wasn’t always the way it was. There once was a nomadic mode of life that all of humanity held in common. There were certainly cultural and regional differences all along, even in our deep past, but the way our hunter-gather ancestors lived, from place to place, tribe to tribe, were fare more alike than different.

And I believe that original nomadic life was the best. The gold standard. The ideal. My ideal. And while it is almost impossible to recreate the life of the hunter-gatherer in today’s world, I believe that we can study the way that they lived, learn from it, apply as many of the principles as we can, and that from this application, we have an opportunity to lead healthier, fuller lives. There is much evidence for this, although it isn’t widely discussed. Or hasn’t been. Indeed  these ideas do seem to be re-emerging in the social consciousness more and more today. Some folks refer to this philosophy as Rewilding. Others call it Primitivism. There are also other spin-offs, but all more or less sharing one central theme. The idea that the planet was better when it was truly wild, that life was better when we were truly wild, and that civilization is basically a death machine/garbage dump/prison that we should strive to disconnect from as much as possible. This resonates with me. I love the wild and I would love to be wild. But at the same time, it is quite naive to believe that one can throw off the chains of civilization altogether, and become truly wild again, in every sense. Even with a determined effort, there are limits to how successful we can be in this quest, at least in the present world that we inhabit.

This is a complex issue, just like all ‘civilized’ issues, but there are at least three primary reasons that I would say are pretty obvious upon examination. First, every person is beholden to the current law of the land,wherever the live, and the current law of the land mandates participation in the money economy in order to eat, and even to have a legal place to sleep at night in a lot of places. There is thus no place where one is permitted to live as a hunter gather, even if it were physically possible. Secondly, most of the resources that our ancestors lived off of are now gone. The populations of wild animals have been decimated both land and sea, and the territories that are (were) most habitable and hospitable for human life have been converted to either urban cities, industrial  infrastructure, or farmland. All of these clearly prohibit the hunter-gather mode of life. Third and lastly, even without these first two challenges, it is extremely difficult for any domesticated animal to return to a truly wild way of life once it has gone a certain length into domestication. Some species can crudely and roughly manage. Others struggle. Cats do ok. Dogs, not so much. Humans may have perhaps the most difficult time doing so of all species, as we must rely on tremendous knowledge and skill, acquired over a long process beginning in childhood, in order to survive in the wild. We also require cooperation and collaboration in a tribal format. Without either of these, a modern domestic human adult has not a prayer of rewilding totally, even if there were a place for it, and no laws to prevent it. These are general perceptions, but this is largely how I see it.

With these recognitions, here is the place that I have come to. I plan on incorporating as many elements of the hunter-gather way of life as I can manage into my life. Even if they are heavily modified, imitation is better than nothing. As there can be no truly meaningful escape from civilization today, we can at least recognize it for what it is. It is a zoo for humans. And humans are biological animals. It is well known in the zoo industry that the health and vitality of captive animals rises in proportion to the degree to which the zoo proprietors can recreate the habitat and conditions of each species’ native habitat, and to permit each animal to function in a manner in which it normally would in the wild. To think that humans are somehow different or exclude from this, I believe, is an error in judgement.

So if I must live in a zoo, then I am going to do everything in my power to keep that fact in perspective, and to structure my life in such a way that it re-creates, even if artificially, the ways of our past. There are many things I intend to do along the way, and I’m sure many things I will discover as I go along that I never intended or envisioned. To begin, however, I want to outline a few of the most important goals that I have in this respect.

How I Intend to Live:

  1. I intend to live nomadically, as much as possible given the constraints that I face. I wish to move about the earth. I wish to conduct as much of my movement as possible under natural forms of locomotion. This means walking. Walking is perhaps the single most imperative activity in my life, and it brings me the greatest joy by far. I live to walk. This  being the case, it is a wonder that I’ve come this far engaging occupations that prevent my doing it. I will also choose other forms of locomotion as circumstances dictate. When walking is not feasible, I will ride a bike. When a bike is not feasible, and necessity calls for it, and I can afford it, I will drive my van around.
  2. I intend to live outside, as much as I can. Our ancestors lived outside, in the mountains and valleys and forests. Under the sun and the moon and the stars. In the hot of summer and the cold of winter. I’ve only ever felt truly alive outside. If I remain year round in the PNW, some kind of shelter is imperative. For that I have a camper van. I need not a fancy shelter. I need not all the amenities. The more comfortable a dwelling a man has, the more apt he to be held there against his will. For he will have no will when he becomes overly comfortable. I also intend to erect more primitive shelters in the wilderness and along various greenbelts. Seasonal camps, if you will. And when traveling by foot, well, I’ve been backpacking my entire life. If I can hike and sleep on the ground in the mountains for fun, and enjoy it so thoroughly, well then I can certainly do it to live.
  3. I intend to be FREE. Not just kind of free. Totally free. In all the ways I can throw off the chains of control and domination by others, I will strive to achieve them. The instruments of control are numerous and often quite a challenge to avoid. I will do my best. My number one asset here is to require as little money as possible to survive. Money in all forms, but especially in the form of debt, is the enemy of freedom.
  4. I intend to eat healthy foods and drink clean, pure water. I will mimic the eating habits of my ancestors as much as I can. This is self-explanatory. I’ve worked in health and nutrition for many years, and an imitation paleo diet is second only to a real-life paleo diet. This will be difficult to balance with my perogative to rely on as little money as possible. Good food isn’t cheap, and what I hunt and forage will be sporadic at best. I’m going to have to strike a good balance here between the two.
  5. I intend to discard everything that I am addicted to that is produced by civilization. Mainly coffee, alcohol, and internet. These are the three things that attract me most to urban areas. I don’t mind spending some time in the city, and will certainly have to a lot of the time, but I definitely won’t want to feel like I need to be there. Ideally I will spend at least 75% of my time in a wilderness setting. This will be a challenge, but will be made much easier if I don’t miss being in the city. These days I miss little about civilization when I am away from it, except for the few things I’m addicted to. They have got to go.
  6. I intend to pursue only the bare necessities of life. Less is more. He who dies with the least toys wins. The things you own end up owning you. After he his fed and clothed and has secured a warm and dry place to sleep, all that a man needs can be found within. One just needs to understand how to take sustenance from the universe.
  7.  I intend to spend as much time in Wild Nature as possible, and to acquire as many of the necessities of life as I can from from the Wild. Nature is essential for the human spirit and for healthy. Just being around a lot of green plants and trees, they say, diffuses depression. The sounds of the wild have a calming effect on the nervous system (the noise of the city has the opposite affect). Fresh air revitalizes. The earth itself is full of essential microbes, and has a magnetic field that we are meant to be in constant contact with. Natural water has the correct concentration of minerals, and is free of poisonous chemicals. Many of the wild foods found in nature have tremendous healing power. Biological rhythms are optimized, and sleep enhanced, when we are not exposed to artificial light. The list is endless.
  8. I intend to cultivate a spiritual practice that emphasizes naturalness. Taoism and Zen are thus far the best that I have found. I have found a peace and a tranquility in non-duality that has been essential for navigating life in the city with some semblance of sanity. It has also been instrumental in facing life’s challenges. I love reading about these subjects and meditating is a great way to spend time. I’m going to have lots of time when I’m out traveling the more remote corners of the land.
  9. I intend to make my time my own. In fact I intend to do away with time altogether. Time is not but a human construct invented so maximize efficiency in a slave society. Time does not actually exist, in truth. If time is present in one’s life, it is because one is engaging in too many unnecessary tasks. Those tasks are also likely unnatural. A bird knows nothing of time. Neither does a donkey unless we impose it upon him. That we do is not a sign of progress, but of having lost our way.
  10. I intend to seek out other people who share in some of my beliefs, interests and values. Human companionship is important. It is possible to live entirely alone, but probably not ideal. I also desire to learn from people who may have been living a similar kind of life for longer than I have, learn a few tips, and gain inspiration from them.
  11. I intend to promote and facilitate the protection of wild nature that still remains, and the rewilding of areas that have been developed. Standard environmental conservation, with an emphasis on letting nature alone, rather than interfering. I’m not sure how I am going to achieve this, but if there is a way to do so without sacrificing to much of the nomadic way of life, then I will.
  12. I intend to share my experiences in this journey with others. If I can make an art out of living this way, to the extent that it brings me peace, health, and fulfillment, then anybody can do it. If I have important things that I learn that might help other people if shared, then share I will. Such is the purpose of this blog, and is also a good way to facilitate #10 on this list.
  13. I intend not to be too dogmatic or rigid with any of the above. I will do what I can, to the extent that I can. Perhaps I will surprise myself and attain much more than I ever thought possible, but probably not. In all likelihood this venture will be only a moderate success, at least in terms of how free and autonomous I can manage to become. But success in its truest sense has nothing to do with attainment. The purpose of life is life itself. It is not to live it in a certain, predefined way. I have a notion of the direction I wish to head, but I do not cling to it or grasp at it. What happens will happen organically and in accordance with what the universe dictates. I am not at he helm of this ship; I am only a passenger on it.

It is important, I think, to discuss also some of the other reasons that have led me to this place in life, where I am committed to abandoning having a permanent home and job in favor of a life that will almost certainly entail a great deal of physical and mental hardship. I’ve gone through briefly the way I intend to live. Ensuing blog posts will go into much greater detail, in real-time as much as possible, so the reader can follow along as I go. But who am I? And why am I doing this?

These are complex questions to answer, actually. Again, in the same way I will be sharing in future posts how I live, I am sure to also get into much of the philosophy as to why. But this introduction would not be complete if I didn’t at least give a basic outline of my disposition and my motivations. And as much as I abhor the culture of endless list-making on the internet, I’m going to make a second one. Only this one time, in this introduction. Future posts will be devoid of lists as much as I can help it. So here it is:

Why I Choose to Live This Way:

  1. I am chronically ill. In some ways, this wasn’t all that much of a choice. For about 11 years now I’ve been plagued by some pretty menacing shit in terms of health. This has made it almost impossible for me to hold a permanent full time job. Sometimes I can’t even hold a part time job for more than a few weeks. Jobs suck anyway, so I’m not all that upset about it, but it would be nice to know I could make a bit of money here and there if I felt like it. I put this first on my list because even without considering everything else below,  my physical health dictates a lot of the choices that I make. I will go into more details on this at some point. Living this way will be quite a challenge because my body doesn’t always function the way I need it to, but if I can manage a life on the road with the cards I’ve been dealt, anyone can. At the same time, there are aspects of a nomadic life that can promote healing, especially if one takes advantage of natures provisions along the way. I hope the pluses outweigh the negatives in the long run. Let us see how it goes.
  2. Civilization destroys what I love most. I cannot participate in this insanity on moral grounds. Wild nature has always been the singular thing I have loved most. Since I was a young boy, it has been something that has always been indispensable in my life. Personally, I would not want to live on a planet where all of nature were conquered and replaced with human artificiality. While I believe civilization will likely begin to collapse in my lifetime, thereby giving wild nature a chance to begin to repair and reestablish itself, I none the less cannot in good conscience contribute to the current destruction and degradation any more than I must in order to survive.
  3. Civilization is unsustainable. Setting aside morality for a second, it doesn’t make rational sense to participate in this. We are utilizing the finite resources of earth at a very rapid pace. The non-renewable resources will soon be distant memories, and the renewable resources are being gobbled up much faster than they can be replenished. At the same time, we are befouling our atmosphere and killing off other species at a rate which exceeds any of the previous five mass extinction events. This is not only a matter of right and wrong. It is plain stupid. We need a healthy, abundant biosphere to survive. We need clean air to survive. We need population numbers to be within the range that our environment can support – within the biological carrying capacity of the earth. These aren’t philosophical matters or matters of convenience. There are physical and biological limits that define the sustainability of any system, and we have grossly exceeded those. This means we are in a state of ecological overshoot. Support of and contribution to this system, this civilization, is simply not a logical choice. It may seem at times like a compulsory one, but it is not rationally defensible if there are alternatives which can be pursued.
  4. I am an Anarchist. True freedom is more important to me than just about anything. Most animals on earth live completely free and autonomous lives. Remove humans from the equation, and all animals are free. Freedom is the natural state of wild nature and of the universe. Humans are an anomaly in this respect. We are the only species that subjugate other animals, and we are certainly the only ones that subjugate ourselves. Domination is never justifiable in my view. It may occur through force, but beyond the notion that “might is right,” there is never justification for bringing other living beings under one’s rule. Democracy is not but tyranny disguised as liberty. Rule by a majority is no less despotic than rule by one. A group of people gains not one ounce of wisdom, intelligence, or morality by way of superior numbers. In fact I have come to believe the opposite to be true. All associations should be free and voluntary. Violence is never justifiable unless in response to unprovoked violence from an outside threat. Government is coercion under threat of violence, whether democratic or otherwise. This is something I can never, and will never, agree with. I will be apart of it no more than I must.
  5. I identify with Primitivism and Rewilding. I’ve discussed this some above, and will much more in future posts. I believe the paleolithic life to be the one humans are biologically suited for. Thus, we are happier and more robust within that framework. This also has a lot to do with the point mentioned above involving Anarchism. A society comprised  of free and autonomous individuals, whereby only voluntary exchanges are permitted, becomes more and more difficult to implement as a society grows and expands outward. In a large-scale industrial civilization, voluntarism is nearly impossible to implement and sustain. Collective world history confirms this. The issues here are complex, just as society is complex, but this is something I hope to explore in greater detail at some point. The question of private property and allocation of resources lies at the heart of this dilemma, among other things.
  6. I don’t have much of a tribe left. Most of the connections I had tying me to my old way of life have gone by the wayside, and the few that remain are increasingly strained and fragmented. Our modern way of life is doing this to families and communities across the world. This has become a culture of loneliness and quiet desperation. We appear more connected than ever via technological mediums and the internet, but the way we feel does not reflect this. People feel alone and isolated. This is something that has been occurring especially rapidly for me in recent years. My explorations into the Eastern Philosophies of Zen and Taoism have changed my worldview drastically, and I simply don’t resonate with most of those in my old social circle. Neither do I resonate with our collective culture of consumerism, our self-imposed indentured servitude, our society of banality and mindless spectacle, etc. I’ve grown to prefer quiet contemplation over filling the air with unnecessary ideas, most of which are delusional anyway. I find myself alone most of the time, and content in my lonesomeness. To be alone is not to be lonely. Alone is a physical state. Lonely is an idea. Hopefully I will connect with other like-minded folks, but first I have to leave a great deal of my old life behind.
  7. My personality has always been predisposed to this kind of life, and has always been averse to the imposition of civilization. This is something that I am simply drawn to by my very nature. It’s like a magnetic force. I just had to allow myself to be myself, and to begin thinking for myself, in order to begin to resist, and eventually drop the societal conditioning and indoctrination that programmed me for a life of servitude and sterility. I grew up spending much of my time wandering the woods around my house, almost always alone. To wander and to seek things that are wild is something that seems to run in my blood. Personality-wise, if you follow this kind of thing, I am an INTP (according to virtually every MBTI personality test I have taken). This basically means that every view and opinion I’ve stated above, I am probably predisposed to hold, by my very nature. I said before that we don’t really choose anything in life. This can be difficult to see at times. Some cannot see it at all, and will flat out reject the idea that they are not in control over their life. All I can say to that is, explore further. All is not quite as it seems.

I suppose that’s it for now. I’ve given a rough outline of where I am going, and a few reasons why I’m going there. Pretty basic, really. Here is an idea about what can be expected from future posts. I plan on describing what happens, and documenting with some photos, and perhaps a few videos here and there. I plan on sharing the lessons that I learn. I plan on being honest, in doing the best I can to describe things as I actually experience them. I want to discuss the highs and the lows. The free and easy times, and the hardship. The ugliness, and the beauty. I want to go into the details about how to be successful as a nomad. As I said, I want to make this lifestyle an art form. That means mastering it. If things go well, I hope I can be successful to a degree that my life as a nomad is far more fulfilling than the life I’ve lived to-date. But I’m not planting my flag on that. I choose this life for better or for worse, and I will face things as they come with gratitude when possible, and stoicism when not. I want to help others who may find themselves living in hard times figure out that it is possible to live a life of abundance and dignity, even if you don’t have a permanent place to call home, and even if you don’t always know where your next meal will come from.

This is going to be a very personal journey, and I am a very private person. To share it, I am going to have to overcome probably one of the most challenging aspects of my nature. I hate being in the limelight. I am very uncomfortable discussing things with people I don’t know, mostly because I’m always questioning myself, and wondering if I am not mistaken or in error about something I say. It is almost an imperative I feel to say things logically and concisely. But this disposition, I believe, is erroneous in itself. In Zen, it is commonly held, that to be without anxiety about imperfection is the highest realization. This, perhaps, has been one of my greatest stumbling blocks during my own awakening process. Perhaps this blog has something to do with getting over that. Either way, I intend to be as open, honest, and complete as possible. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything. I hope, in this way, some of the material I convey can be of use to others, and if not that, hopefully it will at least be entertaining.

“There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. … To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”  ― Edward Abbey

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