I am not a hater of technology – far from it. I’m two years into a Computer Science degree, and I think technology has tremendous power to make positive change. Having said that, there are times when it’s good to get away.
A month ago, I was spending virtually all day chained to my laptop, trying to churn out fiction to send to journals. I wasn’t making any progress, but I felt guilty about doing anything that was supposedly less ‘productive’. In reality, all I was doing was wasting time on the Internet. Despite eating healthily and exercising, I felt drained and sometimes unhappy. It was obvious that something had to give.
Change happened, in the form of a two-week volunteering stint at an off-grid vegan permaculture farm deep in the Welsh countryside. There was nowhere to charge or plug in laptops, and if we wanted to use the Internet we had to go to the pub in the village. There was also no hot water (unless we boiled it ourselves), no flush toilets (compost all the way), no fridge or freezer, no phone signal and none of the labour-saving devices we in the West are so accustomed to. Nobody lived in the house, which was essentially used as a shed – we volunteers slept in old touring caravans.
I instantly fell in love. We were outside for most of the day and I felt so clear-headed. Despite not eating the healthiest diet (far too many peanut butter and jam sandwiches!), I had far more energy than usual. Back home, chores were an annoying distraction that took away valuable work time. But here, chores were the work. That made it much easier to live in the moment – once the work was done, there was no need to think about it any more. There was no stress and no money worries, especially as the farm is aiming to be completely moneyless. The only thing that made it harder was missing my boyfriend. I didn’t really miss modern conveniences at all.
I experienced many moments of pure contentedness, sometimes in situations where I wouldn’t have expected it – tramping through a field in waterproofs in the pouring rain, shovelling earth into a wheelbarrow, sitting round a campfire listening to the stream, painting signs in the workshop.
When we went to the pub to use the WiFi, I realised I didn’t really want to. I dreaded opening my email to find 60+ new messages, and had no desire to scroll down my Facebook news feed.
There were few mirrors on the farm, and my friends and I noticed that our self-esteem improved as a result – we rarely thought or worried about our appearance. But as soon as we looked at our reflections again, the negative thoughts started to creep back in. It’s amazing that something as innocuous as a mirror can so drastically affect the way we view ourselves.
I stopped washing my hair, just because it wasn’t convenient to do so. To my surprise, it became softer, glossier and even curlier. I don’t use shampoo or conditioner, so I guess the hot water had been damaging it. When I got home, I caved in and washed it, but it then became limp and greasy. I’ve now resolved to wash it as little as possible.
After leaving the farm, I worried that I might slip into the same rut I was previously in, but took measures to prevent that from happening. I unsubscribed from the majority of the mailing lists I was on, and now receive only a few emails a day. I use Facebook only to keep in touch and make plans, not as a source of entertainment. If I find myself sitting in front of the computer too long, I get up and do some chores or some baking. Now the kitchen is clean and there’s always something nice for dessert! I’m also making more effort to get outside. My boyfriend and I have been on several very long walks into the surrounding countryside, and it feels great to explore our area and get lots of exercise. I feel that I’ve found a much better balance in life and am far happier as a result. It’s nice to be home, but I’m so glad I got away for a while.
Click here to read my previous post about the farm, where I discuss the way it operates and whether it’s a sustainable model for the future. And check out this video made by my lovely friend Aisha, who also came to the farm. You can see me hovering awkwardly in the background of some of the shots!
Be sure to leave a comment if you have any thoughts. Do you think it’s healthy to get away from modern comforts from time to time? Have you had any similar experiences? I’d love to hear from you!