Friday, March 26, 2010

Why the forest?

If you’ve been following this blog, you will by now know that my partner and myself will shortly be leaving the city to move to a beautiful piece of land in the indigenous forest on the East coast of South Africa, where we will be building a largely self-sustaining life. Several people have asked me, “Why the forest?” Indeed, why did I not choose the coast or the bushveld or the desert or any number of other natural, unspoilt areas in this beautiful country I am privileged to call home?

In order to answer this question, I would like to share with you what it is that I feel when I am in the forest. My partner and I regularly go walking on the forested slopes of Table Mountain, which is about a 10-minute drive from our city home. Below I describe my experience of a typical walk.

Shortly after commencing the walk I become very aware of my body working, my muscles stretching, my breathing deepening, blood rushing to my feet and legs as I move my body up the incline. I find myself releasing the accumulated stress of the day, and the multitude of small concerns occupying my mind diminishes with every deep breath that I take. Gradually the incessant chattering of my mind quietens and I start to take notice of the incredible beauty of my environment.

For me the forest is a perfect example of co-creation in action: each fern, moss, lichen colony, tree, plant, insect, bird, animal, not to mention the unseen micro-organisms, simply expressing themselves perfectly without concern for what the other plants and animals are doing, and yet, together forming a perfect, harmonious whole. How wonderful if we humans could each enact our greatest, most loving expression of Self in every moment without concern for how we might be judged by others (or ourselves). Imagine what an incredible co-creation could ensue if we simply embraced love as a motivator!

As my walk progresses, the forest around me starts to take on the appearance of a stage or movie set – it’s simply too intense in its “is-ness”, simply too perfect to be real. The almost psychodelic colours, the myriad textures, the richness of smells; the placement of every tiny stone and twig seems simply too perfect to have happened by chance. Somehow I can’t accept that there isn’t an incredible design, an awesome intelligence behind it all. As I walk with reverence through cathedrals of trees and gaze with awe upon delicate green lace-light filtered through living stained glass windows, I become convinced that I am in the presence of a collective intelligence – a “spirit of forest”, if you will. This is MY church, my place of worship where God seems very close.

At this point I generally become aware of myself at several different levels – my human animal body experiencing the challenge and joy of the exercise, my human personality concerned with thoughts and emotions and experiences, and then there’s another, broader perspective of myself, which encompasses the other perspectives and so much more besides. It is a version of myself that starts to experience the inter-connectedness of everything around me and to feel my own integral connection to all that I perceive. I begin to feel expanded, as if I no longer end at the borders of my body; my senses heightened, I start to experience the forest as Self, the Self as forest. My single, limited perspective multiplies to become an infinite number of perspectives. I become a part of this amazing co-creation that I perceive with my senses, but also a part of so much more that I cannot perceive with my limited human abilities. It’s as if my act of loving observation allows me to become an integral, participating, creative part of the whole. This is the closest I ever get to feeling at one with God.

Sometimes at this point I find myself overwhelmed with emotion. Tears start to course down my cheeks and I feel SO incredibly alive, SO incredibly grateful to ALL THAT IS for being a part of it all. A bubble of happiness works its way up from the pit of my stomach to explode into a riot of ecstatic, joyful, fizzing colours behind my eyes and suddenly I feel unbelievably light and free and elated. I find myself running and skipping and dancing like a child without any concern for whether I might be observed or judged by anyone around me - joyful in a way that I simply cannot replicate anywhere else.

And THAT is why I love the forest and why it is the only place in the world that I could possibly be happy to live!

Next: Coping with impatience

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ego revisited

In this blog I’ve often written about my ongoing battle in dealing with ego issues. Despite this, today I find myself needing to write about this topic yet again. I suppose that’s not really surprising, seeing as this great adventure upon which I have embarked is all about moving out of the ego and into the heart, in my quest to discover my true purpose.

A few years ago my partner and I went on holiday to a lovely eco-friendly resort in the Tsitsikamma forest (no surprises there!) At the reception we were signed in and given the key to our cabin by a sweet old man with an unkempt beard and shaggy hair, dressed in an ancient baggy pair of trackpants, filthy bare feet and a jersey that had egg down the front. Surprisingly we felt an immediate connection to, and affinity with, this person. We assumed that he was one of the workers at the place, however the following day we met him again, working on one of the electrical boards. He was at great pains to inform us that he had been the founder and CEO of a large corporate company which he had sold for an astronomical sum of money, with which he had developed the resort, after he had tired of the corporate world. At the time I found this interaction very sad on 2 counts: firstly, we had assumed that he was simply a worker because of the way he was dressed and secondly, he had needed to inform us that he was actually someone of value and importance by telling us his history. Three egos fully engaged! Why did any of this matter to us at all? Why had we not all simply acknowledged the fact that there was an instant rapport and explored this to mutual benefit?

Have you noticed that most social interactions (particularly when we meet someone new) are actual permutations of a sort of egoic “pissing contest”, as we subtly (or sometimes not so subtly!) try to establish our rank in the social hierarchy by ensuring that all present are aware of our qualifications, titles, sporting prowess, knowledge, intelligence or other forms of rank (including looks and sexual appeal)? Have you also noticed that, whenever someone else in the room is operating from his or her ego, the urge to move into one’s own ego is particularly powerful?

I had decided that I would resist the urge to inform people of the rank I had previously held once I had embarked upon my new life. However, recently I have had to confront the fact that all the old ego inducements are as powerfully seductive as ever:

My partner has taken responsibility for the selling of our home. As such, he has had to deal with all the estate agents and people wanting to view our property. The agent who finally succeeded in selling our home obviously decided that I was just the “little lady”, of very little importance or value, as all her business dealings had been with my partner. She speaks to me in a very patronizing and pedantic fashion, as if I were an idiot child. Every time I am with her I find myself wanting to create an opportunity to work into the conversation the information that I have 4 degrees, that I have, until very recently, managed a highly successful business and that I’m actually someone with a working brain!

Why should it matter in the slightest what a service provider thinks of me? If she wants to earn her commission, she will do her job irrespective of whether she thinks I’m someone important or not. Why do I feel this need to have someone, who is of absolutely no long-term importance in my life, validate my existence? After all, I have CHOSEN to give up my impressive job title, my fancy car, my personal banker and all the other trappings of success. How can I be upset to be dismissed as someone of no real value if I CHOOSE to wear tracksuits, cargo pants, ponytails and no make-up instead of power suits and heels?

I guess we all have a box in our minds into which we put all of our concepts of Self that we develop over the course of our lives, such as:

I am a successful businessperson
I am a wife
I am a parent
I am highly educated and intelligent
I have style and great taste
I am organized and on top of everything
I am attractive and sporty

Etc, etc

And then we feel the need to defend these concepts of Self against any perceived threat, which is exactly what I was feeling in my dealings with the estate agent. But, what happens if we lose some of these Self-concepts (either willingly, as I have recently done), or if they are taken away from us? Well, let’s see…

If you take away my job, my possessions, my status, my money, will I still be me? Very few of us would particularly relish the thought of losing all these things, but, as someone who has willingly given up several of these things, I can confidently say, yes, I am definitely still me. How about if, in addition, you take away my relationships, my youth, my health, my strength, my freedom? I would obviously hate losing all those things, but I would certainly still be me. The reality is that sooner or later ALL of these things will either be “taken away” from us or we will willingly give them up – we simply can’t hold onto them forever (mainly because we don’t actually live forever!) OK, so how about if you take my body away from me (ie: you kill me)? Would I still be me? For myself, I don’t believe that I am my body. I HAVE a body and if you take it away, I will still be me, forever unchanged.

If I become really quiet and go within, I find that there is a part of myself that is, and always has been, unchanged and unchanging; the part of me that is the silent observer of my own life; a spark of consciousness that is untouched by the drama, the illusion of this life. This is the part of me that is eternal, that can never be taken away from me and requires absolutely no validation whatsoever in this illusory world.

I think there is a fascinating ambiguity that I need to learn to hold in my mind - the fact that I am both an actor in the movie and the screenwriter, both the author of the book and a character in the book. And once I understand myself to be both the creator and the experiencer of my reality, I am free to enjoy all the wonderful experiences this illusory reality can offer me, while still remaining aware that I am so much more than this. Then, I can consciously use my ego as a tool for the purpose to which it is best suited, namely, to go forth and create things to experience in the world, rather than to use it for that to which it is not suited, ie: to create my concept of Self. I think the ego is a wonderful tool, if used in service to the heart.

So, next time I feel a powerful urge to start telling someone about how important I used to be, I am going to stop, take a deep breath and move into an awareness of my true, eternal Self. Then I will be able to look with compassion and listen intently to what the person in front of me really requires from me in this moment. I will be able to see this moment for what it truly is: not a threat to my sense of Self, but rather an opportunity to create a higher version of myself and, thereby, a more magnificent reality.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Why the forest?

Saturday, March 13, 2010


After weeks of discussion, debate, and intensive research, we have finally made the decision that we will indeed be creating a completely self-sustaining home on our piece of ground outside Knysna. Well, actually that’s stretching the truth just a little bit, as we will still be buying some necessities such as toilet paper and olive oil, but we will be self-sufficient with respect to water, energy, waste management and will grow most of our own food requirements. This was a daunting concept before we started doing the research, but it’s even more daunting now that we know exactly what will be required! However, it makes sense to us to “go green” from the very beginning rather than trying to gradually implement it afterwards. This means that we will be designing our new home from scratch to be as energy-efficient as possible, with self-sufficiency in mind. Below is a list of just some of the systems we will be installing:

- A solar heated geyser
- Solar panels and battery array for electricity requirements
- A rainwater collection and pump system
- A grey water treatment system and storage tank, linked to a drip irrigation system for our vegetable garden (no more Jik, Handy Andy or Sunlight liquid – only biodegradable, environmentally friendly options permitted)
- A small black water system for the kitchen sink
- A complete recycling system for paper, metal, glass, plastic and organic material comprising hatches in the kitchen, linked to chutes and bins in the basement (there is no garbage removal in the forest!) We do anticipate that we will be generating far less waste than we currently do, as our food will mostly be provided by our garden rather than by the corner Woolies and we will be reusing containers.
- Compost heaps and a worm farm
- Composting loos (we simply cannot justify the wastage of precious water resources required for a flushing loo, but, I must admit, this decision was very difficult for me to take)
- Solar-powered electrified fencing to protect the veggie garden from baboons
- An aeration and biofilter system for the dams to ensure the water doesn’t get stagnant or become a mosquito breeding ground and also to ensure the survival of the fish we will be growing for another protein source

Of course all this infrastructure is rather costly and hence the house we are building will be a really simple timber home, with a focus on optimal layout and efficiency. We have considered the possibility of building a packed earth house or even using recycled material to build the home, but I guess that’s where I put my foot down. I’m not particularly keen on living in a Hobbit-house or a rabbit hutch! I really want my home to be both beautiful and functional and I’ve always had a romantic attachment to the idea of a timber cottage in the forest.

The good part about all this is that, once the systems are installed and operational, we will have very minimal further input costs, other than routine maintenance. As we will be actively involved in the installation process, we will ensure that we understand how the systems operate so as to reduce our dependence on outside contractors for maintenance services in future.

I have also been planning my veggie garden and learning all about companion planting and intercropping and pest management strategies so as to ensure that we can grow 100% organic veggies.

This is becoming a very exciting and rather frightening adventure, as we venture ever further down the self-sufficiency rabbit hole. But those who know us well will not be at all surprised to discover that we aren’t particularly good at doing things by half-measures!

Our home has now been sold at a very good price. We are pleased that we held out and were not tempted to reduce the price in order to make a quicker sale. We plan to visit the property in Knysna within the next few weeks to start engaging with the builders and the suppliers of all the systems we require so as to do a complete detailed costing and project plan. We will probably be moving to the guest cottage on the neighbours’ land within the next 2 months so as to commence the building of our dream.

And so the journey continues..

For those interested – a quick update on Twiggy the stick insect:
Twiggy stayed with us for about 3 months. For a while she was joined by another smaller stick insect that we named Stalky. We thought that perhaps the insect grapevine had spread the word about the stick insect Utopia in our home and that we could expect to have an ever-increasing colony of stick insects taking up residence in our house.

But no, Twiggy was merely training her successor. After about 5 days Twiggy disappeared and we have not seen her since (we suspect she has subsequently moved on to stick insect heaven), but now Stalky has taken up residence in the ivy in the jug on the bedstand. So, Mother Nature has insured that we always have insect company. At night, when the lights are out, Stalky starts to feed. You would be amazed to hear how noisy stick insect mandibles pulverizing ivy can be! How privileged we are to experience this.

Next: Ego Revisited

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Going with the flow

When I was a kid I had absolutely no sense of having any limitations. I was supremely confident and I simply never doubted for a second that I would be able to excel at anything to which I had set my mind. And so it was! People used to remark that I was “charmed” because it really seemed as if I could do anything whatsoever that I chose to do. I used to have a feeling, which I can still remember vividly from so many years ago. It was a feeling of being “in the flow” of things. I wasn’t trying or fighting or struggling – I simply decided to do something that looked like a fun thing to do, and then I did it – excellently! I didn’t have any ego or arrogance about being excellent, nor did I believe that I was somehow special or different. I never really thought about those things. If anything, I suppose that I believed this was simply the natural way for things to be - for me to be. And actually I was rather detached from the outcome of the things I set out to do. The prizes and awards were really very unimportant (and sometimes rather embarrassing!) to me. I suspect it was more about the process of doing things that were fun and interesting rather than achieving any desired outcome or the resultant accolades.

But somewhere in my teens I started to attach my ego to the things I accomplished; it started to become important to me to achieve, and to receive affirmation and recognition for achieving. And that is exactly the point at which life started to become more of a struggle for me. Things that had previously seemed effortless now took a whole lot more effort and energy and became difficult to achieve. In fact, I even started to attach my ego to the fact that I was able to accomplish things that were considered a challenge. However, self-doubt and fear that perhaps I would not achieve the standards and therefore the recognition that I desired, also started to manifest.

As an adult my ego-reality had become that I had to work really hard and long hours and show a whole lot of dedication, perseverance and resourcefulness and then I would achieve most of what I had set out to achieve. But, even when I achieved my goals, my elation was always tinged by a whisper of fear that perhaps next time I would not be able to achieve the same success. After all, you’re only as successful as your last deal, right? Life is just an ongoing struggle, isn’t it? Well… I’m not so sure of either of these statements any more!

Lately I’ve been asking myself whether life really needs to be a continual exhausting struggle or whether there is another way of being. Is it possible to recapture that feeling of effortlessness, of being in the flow, which I remember from my childhood? Wouldn’t it be great to have fun in the moment and really enjoy the process rather than obsessing about the outcome all the time?

These questions are particularly pertinent to me as I am experiencing the transition from an egocentric mode of being to a more heart-centric mode of being. My heart tells me to set my intent and then to relinquish attachment to the outcome and simply be present, enjoying the NOW. My ego tells me this is absolute BS! How will anything ever be accomplished without constant, focused attention to detail and endless driving? The difficulty is that the reason I now have the luxury of 2 years in which to find my purpose and to express my heartsong is that I have been rather successful at the egocentric mode of being! And when something has really worked very well, it is extremely difficult to give up on it and try something else. Particularly when the pressure increases (for example when our house is taking longer to sell than we had anticipated or when I contemplate the endless to-do lists required to move from the city to the country).

Of course we all know that when the stress levels increase, we tend to fall back on the old coping mechanisms, so, I have found myself applying all the strategies and techniques that have enabled me to be a success in the corporate world to my transition to the forest. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s simply not working! Which is hardly surprising, if one thinks about it for a minute. How can I be in my heart if my ego is forever trying to micro-manage every single detail of this transition? The reality is that all I am doing is causing a whole world of pain and suffering for myself, as I get increasingly frustrated and annoyed when things aren’t working out according to the schedule and plan, as set by my ego.

But, when I do relinquish control, bring myself present to this moment NOW and simply allow things to be what they are, then suddenly… miraculously… things start to fall into place. Suddenly the impossible is completely do-able. Suddenly I start to see the absolute perfection of the way things are working out, which is: far more joyfully and perfectly than my limited ego-plan would have been able to engineer.

I suspect that it is simply a choice between whether to struggle and suffer and work myself to a standstill or whether to stand back, view the whole picture and stay open to the miraculous. If I am unable to see the perfection of this moment now, then perhaps I am simply standing too close to the picture? Doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to relax and remain in the flow rather than to struggle and fight for ego-control?

So, here’s how I think it works for me. I very clearly set my intent as to what I want by using my imagination to visualize the desired outcome, spending time on imagining the way I would feel if it were already true and accomplished. Then, I take care of the minimal admin (doing) that is required for it to happen, relinquish control and attachment to the outcome and sit back and enjoy the ride. And, amazingly, miracles ensue.

And they truly do. Since taking the decision to create my reality in this fashion, our house, which has been on the market for 4 months, has sold at a really great price and several other long-outstanding elements of our new life have fallen effortlessly into place, often in delightfully surprising ways. In addition, I’m feeling far more relaxed and having far more fun this way.

Of course I always have the choice to make my life a difficult struggle, but I think I would prefer to take life, and myself, far less seriously. What about you?

Next: Self Sufficiency