by Karen Sliwa
When Guy asked us to write about our experiences because we chose to “chase a different carrot”, and leave our jobs to learn how to be more self-sufficient over the last 18 months, my husband Mike (who wrote an earlier essay in this space) asked me if I wanted to write this time. We spent the first three months at the Mud Hut and Guy helped give us the confidence we needed to go further.
I don’t comment or put all my thoughts out there on Facebook or Nature Bats Last very often, but I read most of what is written in those forums and I agree with much of what is posted. People ask Mike what I think a lot. I am the type to sit back, learn, and when I feel comfortable in a situation, I bloom. I usually don’t write or comment because I am comfortable with letting Mike express our experience because he is at ease putting his thoughts out there, and he is good at it. For the record, I agree with most of his beliefs and words although we differ in that I have come to a point in my life where I don’t want to argue with people. Stating my position and then putting it out there without the intentions of constantly fighting with people or trying to change how they feel is where I am at.
With that said our journey so far, for me, has been about connecting with people and opening up myself to the moment. People are people regardless of where they live. They have different cultures, life circumstances, belief systems, institutions, traits, genetics, reactions to life, etc… just like all of us. The journey is about learning about everything, understanding others, and more importantly, myself because if we don’t work on ourselves, it is difficult to help others. Let’s just say I am more focused on the emotional impact of interacting in a world where I am not constantly distracted by consumerism and civilization as most know it. A very different experience and one I am embracing wholeheartedly.
I struggle with writing because I am so critical of it. I avoid it because I get anxiety from just thinking about who will read it, what I want to write about, and how I will react to the results of my writing. This is what I perceive as the results of competitive education for consumerism, and anxiety from achieving “perfection”. It isn’t that I think I am a terrible writer, but it forces me to focus my thoughts. This is coming from someone who doesn’t participate fully in civilization, and has time to focus her thoughts; but still my thoughts are constantly scattered like a puppy sniffing here and there, chasing leaves, bugs, squirrels, and cars. Everything is interesting to me and avoiding writing is comfortable; therefore, I chose to write this essay because it forces me out of my comfort zone. At this moment I keep thinking about writing an essay that is in the correct format or grammatically sound and it is annoying. So bear with me and understand if this essay isn’t exactly how it is “supposed” to be, otherwise it would never be written. My goal is to write something that folks can understand or feel regardless of the rules and the expectation that my intelligence is directly related to my writing ability. I also like the idea of breaking the rules and just expressing myself.
I will share a few specific experiences from our life journey so far! I will keep it brief because all of them would take even more focus and I think I explained that already.
One of the experiences I had on our journey was eye opening because it forced me to look at myself and see that I still struggle with my intelligence and I am constantly questioning how academically “smart” I am. I am a former teacher, a person who understands the different intelligences we all possess. Let’s just say the light bulb went on. This example is progress I can relate to. An eye opening example of the kind of progress we all need in our lives, not progress in that I have to make 2,000,000,000 instead of one million this year or I need to grow 20 more tomatoes this year compared to last. Progress in self-realization or personal understanding is what I think we all strive for whether we see it or not. I realized that there is so much more to understand and learn about myself and what my role is in our world. I also embraced one of my intelligences as being able to deeply feel compassion and empathy which allows me to listen to people so that they can feel their feelings. This understanding brings me to the conclusion that all communities need diversity. Just because a person works harder at a physical task, doesn’t mean that another person isn’t contributing to a community if they don’t. They have something else to give to the community. We all may not be equal in specific tasks but are equal in personal contribution, whatever gift that may be. In other words in a community such as Guy foresees, a doctor may have more “education” in that field but he or she isn’t seen as better than the person who digs a 35-foot trench. They both contribute to an agrarian community, albeit in different ways. It is a hard concept to grasp and living in a community is difficult with these diversities, but setting aside the ego or perceptions of competition or hierarchy, and keeping score so to speak, may make a community stronger.
The next thing about community that I learned and gained great pleasure from experiencing is the realization that a gift economy can work. What we really need and what we desire are two different things and working with people and seeing them understand that we will work for food and shelter, two of the necessities in life, was awe inspiring. It gave me hope for a different future. A future in which progress and money may not matter.
Another experience was watching Mike grow in his realization that he can do things that are hard for him. Let me explain. Mike has lived a life of privilege and never really had to fend for himself. He has never had to do things like fix things or make things that may challenge his ability or his temperament. He has experienced some challenges on this journey and I have loved seeing him grow and understand his past reactions to difficulty. I am very proud of him and one of our jokes now is him stating, “I almost gave up”, when he starts something and figures it out on his own or with help; and seeing him enjoy the challenge and task at hand. He has developed a desire to satiate his growing curiosity and he has helped me to see that our contributions are different, but still desirable and for the benefit of the community.
As you can see, I keep talking about community. This is the last lesson or experience from our journey that I will share. Community is the key to a certain percentage of folks surviving whatever it is that life on this beautiful earth has to show us. I know Guy and many of the folks writing on his blog talk about peak oil, how we have lived on this planet, how long before economic collapse, etc… I am not diminishing the essays or work people are doing to make this world a better entity at this moment in time, and I appreciate and enjoy the education that I get from them all, but the earth will prevail. She just will. Being present in a community in which people can at least try to stop judging and working together for the future of the few who will survive the uncertainty is my goal. I work on the non-judgmental thing every single day. I have learned to step back and see myself and others in different lights and to take each moment and reflect on it so that I can learn from it. Living in the moment is the key for me because the future is uncertain. Preparation is important, but for me it will take years to be fully prepared for whatever lies ahead and I am sure we all have learned at some point in our lives that being prepared doesn’t always mean things will work out as planned, and that is ok. Geez, another realization! Letting go of control-not so easy for me, just ask Mike! Being present for your community regardless of where it or they may be at the time is a wonderful lesson learned. Mike and I have started to build our worldwide community and will continue to do so forever, I think.
I hope that what you take from this essay is the importance of reflection on your own personal journey and realization, seeing the man I love grow psychologically and spiritually, and realization of the importance of community in an uncertain world, and not how poorly this essay was purposefully written. Sometimes we allow fear to control our ability to “progress” and I understand that we all grow at our own pace, but maybe reading my words will help you reflect on your own comfort zones in life and you may have a light bulb moment for yourself. Thank you for reading, peace to you all, and we will see you on the road!
Karen Sliwa and I am part of a the team of Mike and Karen Sliwa. We quit our teaching jobs and decided to live a simple life and we are learning how to be self-sufficient and leave less of a footprint on this wonderful place called Earth. In other words, we decided to chase a different carrot. It was a personal moral decision and one we have zero regrets in so doing. This essay reflects our journey so far. You can follow our blog at Chasing a Different Carrot.