“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” —Henry David Thoreau
It’s a complicated world we’re living in. One not only of unexpected election results but also a world today where no concept of time can catch up with the fleeting tails of the present moment. The incessant rate at which life seems to be passing by is thanks to our ever growing demands in technology and this speed that only seems to accelerate at an unstoppable force can become overwhelming. But beyond the flipbook momentum is also the humdrum lifestyle that is all laid out for us. The monotonous 9 to 5 office jobs that make us question whether we are living to work or working to live. That conflation of sameness met with the inability to chase the minute results in confusion as to why we allow our life to slip away rather than spending each waking moment living it. Suddenly, there is an urge to seize the moment, to breathe in and out at a peaceful pace your heart can handle and grant your body and mind free space to unbind itself from the constant demands. Off grid living has become a viable solution that only seems to become more relatable to the needs of many millennials as time goes on… The desire to get out.
Today over 1.7 billion people in the world live off grid and the numbers continue to rise. Producing your own food, energy, and hot water, you are living in an alternate universe that may not be that far away geographically but miles away in philosophy. Whether it’s a tiny home, caravan or an eco-village, this form of living prides itself on the foundation of self-sufficiency. It can be an acquired taste but there’s an appeal to not having to rely on the urban sprawl and existing in a home surrounded by nature. Not to mention, lessening environmental impact and reducing carbon footprint. However, many do it to simplify their lives and minimize by living within their means. You’d be surprised of how much the consumerist grid tells you that you need, which you really don’t.
Last January, I was traveling in Portugal as I came across an opportunity to live in a permaculture project out in the Geres mountains, something I had never experienced before. I spent one week with about eight other individuals differing in age. Two couples had a planned year ahead of hopping between eco projects around the country and beyond. This idea of home was not uncommon in Portugal and I was told how many Europeans (mostly Germans) chose the country to set up camp because of its natural beauty and year round warmth, but also it’s affordability. Websites like Pure Portugal make it easy for interested buyers and Workaway for volunteers wanting to get involved. Sitio Da Floroi was the name of the plot of land I ventured to, where a large farmhouse was occupied about 30 minutes to the closest town. While the house had running water and fireplace to for heat, there was no electricity. Some reconstruction was needed both inside and out, so we worked daily in exchange for the stay. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor during meal times where we’d eat homemade bread and whatever simmered on the stove, and tranquil times when we would paint and read dusty books over candlelight until the reminder of slumber overcame us. That sense of community was omnipresent and I didn’t know if it was the absence of phones, our cultural differences or the fresh forest air that strengthened the bond. We’d wake up with the sun and look out to a picturesque view of mountains and the nearby waterfalls. The leisurely rhythm of time here grew on me and as someone who always felt there were not enough hours in a day, I suddenly realized I had all the time in the world. There was something about the rushing stream’s cool water that was so refreshing and the earth’s soil we dug into so grounding. It was as if the nature that grew around us nurtured and fostered an inner growth that is achieved through autonomy and communal living. It only took a few days to fall into familiar step and it was clear that it was an intrinsic craving for this kind of living, even if only for a little while. I spoke with my friend Pedro Marques, he is the volunteer organizer of Sitio Da Floroi and also the founder of a collective called Lights One.
What is Lights one (gathering project)?
Lights One Gathering is a project that wants to create a large network of sustainable projects for people around Portugal.
You mention social permaculture in your project, what is that? How does it differ from the physical form of permaculture?
Social Permaculture is a new concept where people with specific skills help other people with minor skills through experience and application. These communities help other communities by exchanging knowledge and helping the planet to grow green again.
What do you think draws and attracts people into the life of living off the grid? What draws you in?
The love that exists here attracts people. The compassion, creativity and a passion of learning together is what attracts me to work on this project.
What are the lessons and values to gain from this experience?
Well, life is one big experience. We learn confidence, we learn to let go of our ego and connect again with that higher force of mother Earth. You can learn a lot about how to care for the land and ourselves; To be in perfect balance with the planet and accepting who we are.
Are there true sacrifices to be made by living this way or do we underestimate ourselves in our ability to live independently and sustainably?
I don’t think there are really any sacrifices because you are choosing to live this way and once you choose to live free within, nothing can stop you. That feeling trumps any negatives when you are true to yourself.
It seems as if more and more of these eco villages and permaculture projects are popping up left and right. What is the nature of this?
I see a new social system arising like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I see people accepting themselves, the true nature of themselves, and becoming more aware and eager to deeply connect with the nature around us.
These projects are also a growing scene in your country. Why particularly in Portugal are we seeing this movement continue to rise?
Yes, I see more and more projects popping up, you can feel it here in Portugal that people are awakening and discovering their real “quest” in life. With these everyday crises that we suffer, people will start to help each other more, be in more contact and share more. These are the positive outcomes of a crisis. Portugal has great potential, they are the people of atlantis, with lots of creativity, spiritual awakening, humility and I think they can become a great example for the world.
The recurring philosophy in many of these communities is the ideal of going “Back to the roots”. Have we humans lost touch with the earth? Can we truly go back as it once was?
Yes humans have lost touch with the planet and their care of it. It is the ego that kills that. We can never truly go back but we can definitely part with this ego and reunite with the earth again!! She needs us.
What do you see in the future of eco communities?
I see the earth as big living organism, in which we are the cells. I hope we will start to understand how we are all connected and everything influences one another. In the future, I hope we can construct these links and reconstruct our history.
What are your own future projects?
My future projects are all connected with the same title: Lights One. This includes areas of: intuitive music and cymatic sounds, healing crystal jewelry, intuitive dance, and gathering in the fields of creativity, compassion and community. Love and Light for all beings!
—words by Maya Amoah