Ever since I was a baby, many of my family’s holidays weren’t spent going overseas, or far away from home. We didn’t go to fancy hotels or holiday resorts, because my father had a passion and a vision for something else: living with nature.
Currently, I’m a third generation owner (along with my two brothers) of a plot of land hidden in the middle of the wilderness on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. It was bought by my grandfather who then subdivided it amongst the family until eventually, I joined them.
Some of my first memories come from this place, where my grandmother lived in a small caravan overlooking my home town.
Of course this was close to twenty years ago, and as a result the caravan is now quite overgrown with local flora, but I have returned numerous times as I grew up, each time discovering something new from this secluded piece of paradise. My home here is almost entirely self-sufficient, as we collect rainwater in massive tanks and use solar panels for our electricity.
Not needing to rely on a power company, or almost anyone else to survive gives you the sense of true responsibility and freedom. What I learned from the land will stay with me for my entire lifetime, so here’s some of the more important lessons:
A basic life doesn’t mean an empty life
Half an hour to get up the “driveway”
While staying just for a weekend is easy, when I began living in this place fulltime I realized that it would take a lot more work just to get by compared to living in a town or city.
The first thing you need to know is that there isn’t much in terms of road access. It is possible to take a 4WD vehicle, but that wasn’t my style. In order to get in and out to the nearest town, you first need to hike for twenty minutes through thick bush followed by at least fifteen minutes of kayaking across the Purangi Estuary to Cooks Beach, a tiny beach town nearby.
That might not seem so bad, but now imagine carrying all of your groceries while doing so, any alcohol you may want, or your gardening equipment along with roughly 100kgs of fertilizer (which I did).
You want an extension on your house? Build it yourself. You want hot water? You’ll have to boil it and carry it yourself. You want to eat meat? You’ll have to kill something and prepare it all yourself.
Basic things I took for granted before soon became luxuries, but it only made me appreciate them even more and want to work harder to make sure I had them. Even when I began working for money again, having to spend an extra half hour hiking and kayaking just to get to my car felt like an invigorating privilege rather than a hassle.
This new found appreciation forced me to enjoy the smaller things in life, and while it was hard work, I enjoyed it more this way.
Be thankful that you can just drive down the street and buy food at a whim instead of going hungry, and keep in mind that many people all over the world do not have access to the necessities of life such as water, food and good hygiene. The basic life taught me how to feel fulfilled with having the little things.
Having less comforts doesn’t make life any less comfortable
“How do you live without internet? Or TV? How do you survive?! It must suck being so secluded.” These are some of the common comments I received when I would tell people what I was doing.
Whilst making my first move to my home, I decided to try and take a laptop with some movies with me because having some form of technology would be comforting in the wilderness. Well, half way through my kayaking journey, I capsized and lost my phone, laptop and other electronics to the salt water.
Of course it was frustrating losing these things, they did cost me a few hundred dollars, but after a few days I began to realize that all I had lost was a distraction from the world around me.
The sense of instant gratification you get from playing computer games and watching movies was gone, and was slowly being replaced by a more natural form of entertainment. I could sit in my seat and listen to the birds singing, or hear possums, pigs, rabbits and other wildlife running through the trees just a few meters away from me.
Instead of being “plugged in”, I spent more time fishing, hunting, and began to realize that the best company is my own, and that my home wasn’t in my house with all of my “stuff” but outside, where the world is. I felt that this was important, since it seems a lot of people are always chasing the next external stimuli to feel good and staying inside a lot more where they are comfortable.
It’s important to realize that material possessions such as big TV’s, cars, gadgets, clothes, and other accessories are useless outside of practicality.
Be careful about how much importance you place in material possessions, because as well as entertaining you or giving you instant gratification, they can also serve to distract you from the real world. When you get used to being overstimulated, it can be difficult return to a normal state of consciousness, similar (but not as extreme) to what a recovering drug addict may experience. I recommend following this link for Bucknell University for a deeper insight.
A longer lasting satisfaction comes from creating, not from owning.
Have you ever felt an impulse to purchase something, anything, just because you were bored or wanted a little pick-me-up only to have that satisfied feeling fade away in a few days, or maybe even hours? It’s easy to just hand over cash in exchange for anything, that’s the beauty of capitalism.
However the downside to this is that it doesn’t require much of an emotional investment compared to if it was your hard work, planning and time that gave you your finished product. If you can choose between being just the owner of something or being the CREATOR of something, I would highly recommend the latter.
I learnt this lesson first from my father. That house that I was living in was built with his own two hands (with the help of a friend since my father isn’t a builder). and every time I see it there is something magical about knowing he created that home for me. Knowing that it was his sweat and hard work that erected it makes me appreciate and love it even more.
Secondly (I learnt this lesson myself), in order to stave off the inevitable fact that I would have to return to paid employment once I ran out of money, I decided to start growing and hunting for my own food. What turned out to be a way of conserving money soon turned into something which filled me with pride. As the garden grew, expanded and started producing, so did my sense of achievement.
When you feel empowered from creating something successful, you then begin to drive towards other things that previously seemed out of reach, because suddenly you realize that the sky is the limit. The garden was just a small start, and I began working to preserve the native bush that surrounded me one day at a time, since it was always back breaking work that is always put off.
While these examples might seem mundane, I mention them in reference to the small beginnings of something quite powerful. In the following months, the contentment I found drove me to success in work and in getting closer to some of the things that I truly wanted but had been indecisive about.
Sometimes the only thing preventing your success is you not believing that it’s possible. Create something you are proud of and realize how powerful you are, because it’s something you won’t soon forget. Be satisfied in the present moment so that you leave your mind clear to plan the future.
At the end of the day, the main lesson out of them all is that true beauty is not cosmetic. It comes with the deepest understanding of something.
Realizing how much back breaking work this lifestyle takes made me appreciate the end result even more.
Removing desensitization and technological comfort made me open my eyes to what really surrounded me; the myriad of life, energy and peace.
Creating something myself and watching it grow every step of the way let me get to know every plant, every stone, every detail intimately.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is not something that can be bought, it is something that has to be grown, with hard work, care and appreciation.
That’s kinda deep huh