A number of people have asked me if I miss my old career as a Psychologist – a career I held for exactly 20 years. The answer I give is simple ‘no’. That might make it sound as though I didn’t enjoy my work – when in fact I loved it. Working with people, sharing their stories, holding a space for them to explore and grow, being invited into the deepest thoughts and feelings of another human being – I will always consider these experiences to be remarkable and profound. I cherish the time I spent in this career and all of the people I met over those 20 years.
However, in the last couple of years, changes in the Government have seen Medicare become increasingly involved in Psychology – this meant an increasing bureaucratization of the system in which I functioned previously as a ‘private’ practitioner. Once the Government got involved, things began to change rapidly and my daily bliss on the job drastically deteriorated. There were some benefits for clients, but not that many and there were absolutely none for me! Simply an increase in unnecessary paper-work, annoying delays in getting paid, and hours on the phone to bureaucrats trying to solve problems which shouldn’t exist.
My growing frustration with these systemic changes started to wear on me and I realised that I had to find a way to embrace them or to integrate the disturbance internally and move on. Finally, I chose the later – to integrate and move on. The integration of this systemic annoyance came when I saw it as an invitation to expand my career and life horizons. I kept hearing myself saying that “if I’d wanted a job with the Department of Health, I would have applied for one” – I had to accept that psychology and private practice as I had known it was gone for good and there was therefore only one option for me and that was to leave. But what on earth would I do. I had just turned forty-one. I had always intended to work in psychology until I couldn’t work anymore. I loved my job – it was fulfilling on so many levels. I was highly trained, highly sought after and well paid.
The more I started to think about moving on, the more it felt like the right thing to do. Many other changes were happening at that time. My desire to live sustainably and grow my own food was churning away inside, pleading for an outlet. The books I was reading and the documentaries I was watching, began to deeply shift my thinking about society, happiness and sustainable living. I began to see the system – the whole system of our society – as corrupted, broken and outright damaging. I began to realise that I was simply another player in this broken down model of humanity. That as a Psychologist, I was merely providing Band-Aids for the pain people were suffering – but they were still trapped by the same system in the end. I felt that the system was annihilating us all, slowly, deeply, profoundly. But like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water – we hadn’t even noticed we were close to dead. I would read articles telling me that despite the fact that our society now enjoyed better access to health and psychological information and care than ever before, we were fatter, sicker, more depressed, anxious and lonely than at any time in history. How could that be? This fact alone speaks volumes to the sickness of the overall system which underpins our society.
It began to dawn on me that I couldn’t actually help people from inside the system in a significant way. Gandhi’s “Be the change” started to ring loudly in my ears. Einstein’s comment that “we cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness which created the problem” also spoke to me at a deep level. These ideas I had always applied in my work with people – but I started to become aware that my work was part of the paradigm and therefore it was still a part of the problem.This was a big turning point, because I came to see my work, which I had always believed whole-heartedly was valuable, in a new light. It was no longer this ray of light in people’s lives – but part of what kept them trapped and unwell. It was as though I was removing them from that pot on the boil for an hour or so then simply popping them back in as they left my office. I was deluding them by making them think that help was available – when in fact, I was only helping them stay alive within a toxic system – rather than to truly thrive, which is what my heart truly desired for each and every person.
And of course, I had ceased to thrive. I was getting sicker and going down with the ship too. I was deluding myself to think I was outside it all. I was in the same pot of boiling water. I too was the slowly dying frog!!
The day that this dawned on me was the day I had my melt-down (see first post) which preceded our move to this farm. This was the day that I knew I had to leave the system behind and find a way of living that was truly sustainable and free. This would involve moving away from everything our society values – primarily consumption, globalization, greed and isolation. It would mean choosing a simple life, a life outside the desire to consume for the sake of consuming, a life filled with people and love, not stuff and objects.
Not even at this point had I considered becoming a farmer. Really our goal was to live off the land, grow some veggies, get a goat and some chooks. Live simply and quietly. Of course, we had almost no clue how to make a start at this, nor the resources (i.e., land or cash) with which to make this start and that’s what brought us here…Now a year has passed since we began to volunteer for Rod and Tania and I am asking myself – have we succeeded in stepping outside of the system that is making us unwell and unhappy?
To this self-inquiry I would have to say that we have made a jolly good start, but there’s more to achieve. We have succeeded in that we have downsized our life so massively. Our needs rather than our wants dominate our life. And our needs are few and simple ones at that. We pay no rent, although we are currently still paying off land elsewhere. We hope to sell this piece of land soon and we don’t intend to ever own land again. We will simply be caretakers, with Rod & Tan, of this land, and pass it onto the next generation in better condition than we found it.
We are happy in our caravan (and can see ourselves living this simply for up to 5 years). We hope to one day build a small, cozy dwelling, probably on this very spot. Just enough to meet our needs. Nothing bigger. Our home must maintain the closeness with nature that we feel right now. To lose that would be a big step backwards. We are inspired by Japanese design principles which bring together the inside and outside space.
We got rid of TV years ago, but we are choosing to keep the internet out of our living space for good. We can access it up at the shed when we need to and that’s good enough. We choose to keep the internet at a distance because it is such a great energy and time waster. It masquerades as a way to stay in touch with people, with the world, with information and news – but in my mind it simply creates overwhelm and increases isolation. Before moving here, I would lose hours to the computer. It took over when TV was ejected. Whilst I value some of the technology as a way to keep informed or to inform and reach out – as we are doing through this blog. I feel I have allowed it to take up too much space. Too much centrality. Now the frogs croaking are more central. As is the rain falling or the stream gushing. These things bring a sense of connection, of aliveness, of peace and tranquility. Frogs, streams and rain fill me deeply and remind me of my interconnection with nature and with God/Universe/Buddha (or GUB). TV and the internet create a low-level tension and agitation. They are stimulating without being fulfilling. They promise to connect, but actually reinforce the disconnectedness of our community.I have heard it said that the body never lies, and so I ask this question directly to my body – have we succeeded?
My body tells me ‘You are well on the way’. My body was somewhat unwell before we moved here. I had been suffering with digestive issues for a number of years and they had been worsening. I also had a throat symptom for which I had never received an adequate or helpful diagnosis – but I suspect that it was connected to my gut and both symptoms were no doubt connected to my increasing stress and unhappiness. I had stopped drinking milk, was avoiding all dairy and wheat and was taking herbs daily to alleviate my symptoms, with slow but marginal improvement.
In approximately 7 months I am thrilled to see that my gut and throat issues have been gradually improving and are now at a point where they have all but disappeared. Even better than this – now I eat dairy every day (including lots of butter), I drink raw cow’s milk every day, I eat pasta whenever I wish (although I do enjoy spelt and kamut pasta these days too). And I haven’t taken any medication or herbs since we moved to the farm! Almost everything we eat now is totally organic and minimally processed. I believe this is having a dramatic impact. In addition, the vegetables and greens we are eating are fresher than ever before. We now barely store greens in the fridge, consuming most of them within 1-24 hours after we pick them from the fields.
Rachel’s health has improved dramatically too! We are both stronger, fitter, happier, and we feel more connected to each other too. We have just started a daily meditation practice. This has arisen organically out of the peace and stillness that surrounds us.
In some ways, every day is a moving meditation. Working in the fields is supremely peaceful – except for my mind – which continues to natter on about ridiculous stuff. However, the simple and repetitive work of weeding or harvesting allows me to focus on my breathing, or the task at hand, or the sounds around me – effectively turning down the volume of my mind’s chatter. I can feel stillness growing inside me on a daily basis. And in retrospect I realise how much noise (inner and outer) was part of my daily life in the city and even in Byron Bay. Noise created by traffic, by people, by TV, by radio, by advertising, by shops, by lights, by neighbours – really by all parts of life. In cities, towns and suburbs, life is noise.
I can feel the ‘noise’ recede the longer we live here. I can feel the desire for unnecessary ‘stuff’ diminishing every day. I can feel nature’s heartbeat growing louder in my soul. I can feel my mind learning to rest. I can feel myself relating deeply, honestly, naturally. I can feel the barriers between myself and others disappear and my heart opening fully to life. I can feel my spirit unclench, and begin to accept and enjoy whatever is happening right now.
We have chosen to rule out certain things during the week – alcohol, movies – these are remnants of our addictive selves. We are attempting to be more conscious with them – not rid our lives completely of them as they still provide some joy – especially in moderation. So now we have ‘treat night’ on Fridays, with chocolate, cheese and a bottle of organic wine…and movies are a weekend only indulgence.
Weeknights are now open to more of the things we really value. Music, silence, relating, cooking, hobbies, caring for our land, writing, art and building community.
Well, I’m not sure what more to add…I guess I wanted to share a little about how the ‘inner growing aspect’ of this growing adventure was going. It feels important to share, to dialogue about alternative realities. We have all been sold a bunch of untruths: progress is good; big earnings equal big success; bigger in everything is better; technology keeps us connected; nature is unfriendly; humans can conquer the natural world; death must be feared and avoided…etc etc…
Actually, right now, I am happier than I have ever been, living in the smallest space, with the lowest wage, with minimal possessions, closer to nature than ever before, and completely unsuccessful in the eyes of the mainstream world…
I know in my heart that this is the change we all need to make in some way, as a collective…I don’t mean everyone should buy a caravan and live on a farm…but what if you could, in your own way, choose to simplify, unclutter, unload, unclench, embrace nature, embrace death, embrace life, reach out, go inside, earn less, shop less, eat simpler, diet less, laugh more, forget success…
At this point…what have we got to lose?