Intentional Poverty

Posted on February 24, 2009. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Philosophy, Travel |

bgfun03 I had a friend in California who decided to take six months and live off the land. He had some small savings—he was a typical poor California hippie—and he got a cheap overnight flight to Hawaii. (I don’t know if they still have those.) He found himself a remote cove on a remote beach that didn’t seem to belong to anyone. He had a good, solid tent, a few clothes, a little money, and not much else. For three days, he ate mangoes and papayas and pineapples right off the trees. They were ripe, and there, and free!

The third day, he walked into town. I think he said it took two hours to do so. He bought some twine, and bread, and some more water purification tablets. He didn’t tell the people in the store where he was living. He treated his waste matter and trash organically, and earth-respectfully. He used the twine, tied to a long branch, to catch the occasional fish. They were that easy to catch there. He could broil his fish over a small open fire, and nothing ever had tasted better, he said.

He got quite used to living alone. He spent his time reading (he’d joined the local library in town, and would walk there once a week to return three books, and check out three new ones), gathering twigs for his few small fires, washing his clothes, thinking, singing, swimming, and watching sunsets and other miracles of nature.

He came back to “civilization” after four and a half months, feeling he’d absorbed what he wished from this practice. Even then, he moved into an “intentional community”, on acres of land in a dense redwood forest, north of San Francisco. There, he met a woman who had a baby. They decided to set up house together. They built their small house themselves. They had plumbing, but were not on the local water supply. The water came from a creek, was heated in a large copper kettle, and pumped into their plumbing system for showers and washing dishes. They had a composting outhouse rather than a flush toilet. I know all this because I visited them there. I’ve spent the night in the little loft above their main living space several times. I don’t always sleep well at home, but there, I slept like a log, in the the forest air.

The property had a “main house” which had been there some years before the community acquired it. This had all the mod-cons, as it were: kitchen, washers and dryers, large dining room, and, electricity! Most meals were taken there, communal style, because it was easier to prepare meals and do washing up in a fully equipped kitchen. The little hand-built houses scattered around didn’t have such luxuries.

There were a couple other notable features. One was the large redwood hot tub, heated by a bonfire. Through a series of ingenious pipes and valves, (I never learned who designed it) the temperature could be kept constant. It was open to the stars, and on warm summer nights, as well as cool winter ones, it was soothing and relaxing after a long day growing crops.

The crops were the other notable thing, here. They grew all their own vegetables, of course. After having their lettuce and tomatoes, store-bought were never quite the same. They brewed beer, and attempted wine. They had one other very secluded field I was never permitted to visit. They grew another crop, there—I’ll bet you can guess what kind! Although I’m not a user of that particular crop, I will say that I know this was all fresh, and organic, and not subject to the dastardly chemicals that “imported product” often has. These folks went miles off the property to their jobs (using gas-guzzling vehicles; sigh!) and didn’t believe in doing so “under the influence”. As far as I could tell, this was an article of faith with them. Recreational times were one thing; work another.

Some had jobs because the property didn’t pay for itself. Others contributed by working on their small farm, or doing maintenance, cooking, and other chores. I’ve often wondered what became of them all. I have not been in contact for a number of years, and I honestly couldn’t locate this place, now, if I tried.

So, why have I told you this story? During my evening inspirational reading last night, I read the following: “While money is not absolutely essential to your experience, to most people money and freedom are synonymous.”1.

I was thinking about this in relation to the “economic issues” that are so much in the news these days. I’ll often think that if I had “X” amount of money I could do or have __________(fill in blank), but since I have “Y” amount, I can’t. I remembered my friend, who had lived two distinct lifestyles (actually several other kinds, too; but those descriptions would make this long post longer) one using almost no money, and another with very little. I described him as a “poor-hippie-type”, earlier, but not once, in any reference to himself and his life, did he refer to himself as poor, or lacking in any way.

I got to thinking that many of our possessions; our jobs; our friends even (not to mention our families) can sometimes be anchors; other times be solace. Less can be more. I’m looking for balance in this; how about you?

1. quote from Money,and the Law of Attraction; Hicks


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11 Responses to “Intentional Poverty”

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and i just only published a post about how i feel chained, or drugged, to the money i earn from working!

i’ve always enjoyed stories about people surviving in nature alone (hatchet by gary paulsen and my side of the mountain by jean george are two books about such themes that i enjoyed). i admire how resourceful they are and how they can truly enjoy the simplest things in life.

if i could do that, would i? i’m a city girl and would probably not be able to survive living on my own! right now, i’m looking for more because i feel life has more to offer than what i have. will i find more by having less? maybe. i’m not sure.

Oh, Muse! Thanks for sharing that story with us. How cool that your friend just decided to opt out of living what we consider normal and take a break! I think those who live in a warm climate could almost get away with doing so, for longer than places that get cold and winter. It sounds so wonderful. So free!

I have heard about these intentional communities popping up more and more. I did visit one a few years back. I didn’t know anyone from there, I was just being my nosy self. But I did buy some veggies. πŸ˜‰

It ran pretty much the same as the one you were talking about. A main (common area) and small housing scattered about.Some worked outside to bring in money, some worked on the land. I didn’t notice any of the ‘other’ kind of crop. LOL!

A bonfire hot tub! Isn’t it amazing the things people can come up with.
Mother Earth News is full of great ideas and how to info on all kinds of DIY projects like that.

You even got to stay over night! I bet it was so nice.

Ahhhh….anchors. Hand-cuffs? Guilt? It kind of feels that way sometimes. But yes, then they can be our solace and shoulders. What to do. I can’t make any suggestions because I am in the same boat. If you find the answers, fill me in.

I believe less is more. Though I enjoy the luxuries in life like everyone else. Having internet, shopping. I would be able to do without and not feel like my life was a failure. I would adapt. I think I would be a happier more content person.

But I don’t think I would be suited to a communal style of living. I like my alone time. I like eating in peace and quiet. I like my music loud. I don’t want to make assumptions, but when I think of these communities, I think about what you mentioned. ‘The other crop.’ And I am so not into that. I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by people who did that. Nothing against them, to each their own. It is just my personal feelings about it.

I wouldn’t mind running a huge community garden though.:)

Great post and thank you!

I wished I could live like your friend. It sounds like real adventure and bliss. And you are right when you say money and freedom are not synonymous.

Hey Muse,
I think we all long for a more simple life at times. Perhaps the economic situation will nudge us into actually accomplishing that. Perhaps not to the extent your friends did, but simpler nonetheless.

I have read about such “intentional communities” in some fiction books, but did not know that they actually existed!! Wow!!
I have often wondered if I could do the living alone thing! No…I think to me I need people. I have learnt not to be attached to possessions, but have a long long way to go before I can say that I can live alone! Have said this a million times, to me loneliness is my greatest fear! Living & dying alone!

This is a very interesting topic.

So that’s what an intentional community is like? I’ve heard of such things, but I’ve never really heard anything about them. It sounds like a very different way of life. As you describe it, it sounds very peaceful and relaxing, although it doubtless brings its own stresses and problems.

I can’t imagine living on my own in a tent for four and a half months, though. It sounds like a very lonely existance. Out of curiousity, what happened when he ran out of money? Did he have enough to buy four and a half months’ worth of water purification tablets?

I’ve often wondered what life would be like without things like television and computers. In some ways, I think it would probably make life a lot simpler and more pleasant, but I still have no intention of abandoning technology, any more than I plan on isolating myself from other people.

I almost found the balance. I took a massive pay cut to move from NYC to New England to try to get back in touch with what really matters. Mostly good, but unfortunately, I’ve discovered culture and the arts matter too, far more than I expected, and New England is poverty-stricken in that regard. Even Boston’s just a big small town. What’s next? I thought I knew September 14 then the market went kablooey on the 15th, so I don’t know.

In some ways, Mae West was right. But not entirely.

… yes, we’re bloated with ‘STUFF’. Over 4/5ths of the world would KILL for the luxuries we take for granted, like fresh daily produce at a supermarket, safe roads, and available ‘energy’ to drive all our ‘gadgets’…. Robin Williams quipped that Americans have been for too long duped by ‘WMD’ – “weapons of mass DISTRACTION”. Too true.

I think alot depends on what you started with. If you started with little, the adjustment to a ‘simple’ life is not a big deal. If you started with ALOT, and had everything SERVED to you, it’s going to be quite the ‘adjustment’.

Personally, I grew up on a farm, so much of the ‘good simple life’ is ‘second nature’ to my nature. Re-connecting to the planets as the true sustainers of Life is a mighty powerful ‘mind shift’ if you’ve bought into or been brought up with the whole ‘Hollywood’ glib & glam, fame & fortune, ‘pitch’ – ie. we NEED the earth for food and the sun for light/warmth and growoing. When you start to think THAT way FIRST, MUCH of what passes as ‘necessary’ kind of falls by the wayside. I mean, Prada? Gucci? Vuitton? Benz? Jaguar? Hummers? Pinot? Merlot? Champagne? ….

Being ‘plugged in’ is not critical to my enjoyment or survival. Dipping in and out of the cyber-cyborg community is very much like reading a book – except that the ‘characters’ border on the ‘extreme’ and are most often anonymous, whacked, startling refreshing, or deadly dull. I also think men would find ‘de-teching’ or ‘unplugging’ more difficult to do then women cuz they really haven’t spent much TIME over the past few decades DEVELOPING other mechanical or mental skills that are kind of fundamental for survival of them Selves, their loved ones and the species … Coach cyborgs who push buttons are not particularly ‘inspiring’ or, in a crunch, ‘useful’. Are they?

Of course, we can’t all live the ‘Walden’ life-style, and many don’t want to. But when our CONSUMPTION far exceeds our capacity to PRODUCE, the ‘balance’ flies way off kilter, as it has done, and will continue to do, until we begin to PRODUCE as much as we CONSUME … and that, dear cyber buds, is why North America is shivering & quaking in it’s boots cuz everyone kinda ‘secretly’ KNOWS this but too few are willing to truly ‘adjust’ their excessively CONSUMPTIVE lifestyles, and ADMIT it …

You did, and I posted this one before I read yours! (Which was excellent BTW.) Then I ran off for a couple of days—family business. New baby in the family (No, not mine! Whew!) πŸ˜‰ I like those stories, too, and I actually knew this guy who did it. It seems it might be nice to do once in a while, just to change ones perspective, even if it’s just for a week. I’m not advocating having less; not at all. I believe people ought to have what they want. I am in favor of looking at what’s really important, though, and by that I mean what’s important to each individual, not necessarily dictated by society. Thanks, sulz! I appreciate your words! πŸ™‚

You’re most welcome, BD! πŸ™‚ Wow, you visited one of those communities? Most people don’t have or take that opportunity! When I lived in a communal household (it was just a house in a large urban area, not a farm) I actually liked the balance between community and privacy. We each had our own room, which was off limits without specific invitation. We had dinner together, several nights a week, like a family, but the rest of the time were on our own. I moved in there initially to save on rent, but ended up valuing the experience. πŸ™‚ As for the “crop” we mentioned, as I said, I don’t use these kinds of substances myself, but they do have their uses, at least medicinally. I read in the news that during the past couple of weeks several more states here are moving towards legalizing marijuana for medical use. I also think it’s a good idea to “take a holiday” from “real life” from time to time. There are good ways to do that without drugs, though! πŸ˜€

Well, you could, Poonam, you’d just have to find the right place. πŸ˜‰ Money seems to be an important component of our lives. Most of us would not really know how to get on without some way to pay for the Internet conncection. πŸ™‚

There is a certain longing for simplicity, for “the old days” isn’t there tee? Still, there are things which are much better now, in spite of all the head-spinning complexity. I think downsizing is good. Keep what has value, quality, and usefulness, and recycle the duplicates. That, at leas is a start. πŸ™‚ You’re right, not many would go to the extremes my friend did (including me) but he will always have that valuable learning.

They really do, Apar! I do think the solitude aspect of all this would scare many people away. And, it’s not for everyone. We are, inherently, social creatures, and I think, meant to interact. My friend thought this would only be temporary, planned to stay six months and came back after 4 1/2. It’s possible he could have fallen in love with the lifestyle, and stayed forever, but in the end, he was ready to be around people again, and fell in love with a woman instead. πŸ˜‰

Thanks, glad you think so, B0bby! Certainly there are pluses and minuses to any situation.
Well, the main thing that happened when he ran out of money is that he went back to California. He was able to stay with some friends there until he decided what to do next! As for the purification tablets, if I remember correctly, he gradually adapted to drinking local spring water, and so, after a while, didn’t need the tablets. He may have boiled it before drinking; he must have had a pot and pan or two. πŸ™‚
I’m sure it was quite lonely, although I’m told you get used to that after a while, too. It’s very lonely at first, or can be after the initial relief and glee wears off. Then, it becomes routine, and one gets to know oneself very well.
Funny, four months doesn’t seem that long to me. I moved to Hawaii myself for one year (I lived in an apartment, not a tent) when my life was particularly chaotic. One of the reasons I chose that place was that it was far away and I didn’t know anyone! I didn’t want to know anyone for a while. Soon, though, I got a call from a member of a philosophical community I’d been a part of in California. One of the California members knew I was over there, and felt I needed a friendly hello! (I didn’t, but I was nice to them, as they were to me.) Then, unbeknownst to me, I found that my cousin’s husband’s daughter lived a few miles away. My cousin encouraged her to call me, and we spent a nice day together. My family back home was concerned, and wanted to check up on me. I realized I’d have to go much farther afield, and/or not tell anyone where I was, if I wanted to be left alone. In the end, I made local friends, and renounced my reclusion. I’d just needed a break! πŸ™‚

Oh, my goodness, ella! I’m shocked to learn that Boston is so small-townish! I’d have thought they’d have amazing theater and music and art there. I’ve always said I need to live in a University town, because then one gets all the art and cult-chah one can handle. But, the Boston area certainly has no dearth of higher educational institutions, so now, my platitude is de-platted. πŸ˜‰ So your future is in flux? We do live in uncertain times. I hope things settle down so you can do what is right for you! Mae West is right? You mean, “A hard man is good to find.”? :mrgreen: Oh, you must mean the other one: “I’ve been rich, and…” Surely, given the choice, I’ll take being rich! πŸ˜€

Huh! “Weapons of mass Distraction”—too true, canadada. I think too much “stuff” clutters up our minds and hearts as well as our homes. Both my parents grew up on farms, too, but interestingly had no desire to return to even a smidgen of that life. Me, I’m sort of sub-urban: not too big, and not too small; just right. πŸ™‚ We all have different temperaments, and it’s probably a good idea to know that about ourselves. Indeed, most of us are not “Waldenites”, but all of us can review our values and sort out what really is important, and helpful, and kind. Thank you for much insight!

I did take pictures when I was there, Muse. They are on my old computer. 2 before this one. LOL! If I ever hook it up again, I’ll send some to you. They had solar panels all over and were doing quite a bit of work to the place. The one woman I talked to was so interesting and I wished I could have stayed longer.
As for the other crop. I wish it were legal. I do believe it is less harmful than alcohol. And I don’t think less of anyone who uses it, but it is the fact that it is not legal that I wouldn’t want to be around it. Oh and the smell! LOL!


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