Living in close contact with the elements has meant a lot to me since I was a teenager. I was drawn early on to primitive peoples who still live in connection with the earth. Even before I held my high school diploma in my hand, I was on a plane to Jamaica to circumnavigate this island on foot. From there I went to Australia to finally get the feeling of having arrived in Asia and to find a deep fulfillment in cooking on the fire, sharing my straw hut with small (at best) four-legged friends and a life without electricity. Most of all I was fascinated by the life of the Buddhist monks and nuns. In Burma -now Mynamar- one offered me to stay in her cave to practice and study Buddhism…almost, almost, I stayed.
When I arrived in Germany from Sri Lanka at the age of 27 with a baby in my belly and a Buddha statue on my back, my possessions consisted of five banana boxes filled with things that I was supposed to give away in the following weeks. Admittedly, today I sometimes find it a pity about the diaries…
Now -17 years later- I left our house behind with a large part of my family for this one-year bus trip. Had accumulated so incredibly many things that we had hoarded in recent years. Although we already have a circulation system in our house, which means that when something new comes in (which is mostly fortunately already second, third or fourth hand) something old is sorted out and brought to the fundus. And I know that most other German families have a lot more stuff. Why on earth do we accumulate so many things? And not just objects. Also, my life is usually full of appointments, dates, conversations, to-dos, and lots of back and forth. And full of thoughts.
Now we are here. Central Portugal. The words find their way through the keyboard here with difficulty. My gaze lingers on the expanse between the mountains and the autumn-colored oaks, which are a splash of color against the green eucalyptus and pine forest. Idyllic it is here in this spot in Portugal, lying in the forest inhabited by two women, two of their children and more than 50 animals. Animals that are not killed, we asked in advance. Seven children have grown up here, or are still growing up here. Nature as far as the eye can see. Children who have not gone to school. When I ask one 12-year-old boy if he is learning English, he looks at me questioningly and replies with astonishment: “Learning? What do you mean by learning?” and continues to communicate with me in fluent English. Like many children who don’t go to school, these are walking encyclopedias and craft freaks.
The river rushes beside me, its water arriving at our outdoor kitchen through a complex system of hoses. Most of the time. Each of the children here, who grew up in this wilderness, knows exactly (and here I mean in this case WHOLE exactly) how the water arrives in the tap, how the electricity comes in the socket. The latter is available only from time to time. What I find wonderful. I consciously have to look for what I want to use the little electricity on rainy days.
At first, my 13-year-old daughter had a bit of an arrival crisis. Like no shower? No toilet? Only cold water and no wifi? Meanwhile, this very child would like to stay here even longer than planned. Because less is more. Because that’s exactly what happens when we let go of our habits, do without our everyday things, stop our sluggish often unconscious consumption (even of electricity, water and gas): We unfold. Just as I sit here now and everything in me and around me softens as the autumn light rests on my skin from its long journey. And my gaze takes pleasure in the fireplace and our bathtub, under which we can light a fire for hot water. What a luxury to have hot water here under the starry sky in the evening!
Buddhist teachings speak of the 10 Paramita. The 10 transcendent virtues that can transform our being and lead us to the “other shore of wisdom”, to the shore of liberation, of becoming awake, of enlightenment. When we cultivate these virtues and give them space in our lives, something opens up, a new understanding. Also joy, fullness and lightness. The first of the virtues is generosity. The second ethnically alert behavior and the third is renunciation, renunciation. Called Nekkhama Parami in Pali. Why does this virtue bring up resistance in us humans so quickly? We are so used to our comforts that it is difficult for us to live with less. And it is not primarily about renouncing things. Renunciation here means letting go of our attachments, not letting go of our desires and cravings, in which we would only fail. Nekkahma Parami is an alignment. The intention to cultivate in us the loosening of our want-to-have and want-not-to-have. Especially in relation to our supposedly fixed “I” and our emotions that hurt ourselves and others. A letting go of the attachment to our desires and longings.
For me, this means renouncing my urge for perfection, my pattern of criticizing and improving. A letting go of habits that I know do not benefit anyone. Silence, on the other hand, is a gain, a gift, often especially for my counterpart.
Instead of leaving my family behind like Buddha and turning my back on worldly life, I took my family with me on this adventure of renunciation. Actually, we still have much more on the bus than we actually need. And only a fraction of the things that surround us at home. What a gift! Much more overview of smaller mountains of laundry, less to clean, to take care of, less what we could lose, that could break and so on. I would love to describe our bus life at this point. But how do you describe life on 4 square meters, which are living space, kitchen and bedroom at the same time. Every step is well thought out. When we open a drawer, everyone has to move. It’s like a sliding puzzle board game. All the pieces have to be moved in the right order for there to be any movement at all. That’s funny. And when it’s cold, wet and stormy outside – like on Menorca – it’s challenging. I think we are coping fabulously!!! Only whether we listen to Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, The Cure or a radio play, we often do not agree.
Renunciation. All in all: simplicity. Within three weeks, we didn’t see a shower. Except once at our friends’ place on Menorca. Instead, we went swimming in the Mediterranean, found out that you can wash in café toilets, and: I bathed myself in a puddle (!) in the forest. That was a premiere! In this case, doing without our usual heated bathroom means: running naked through the forest to warm myself afterwards by a fire. This is pure quality of life for me! A toilet we have seen in the last four months only rarely and we are happy that we save at least some resources, the bus also consumes quite a bit of fuel.
Renunciation also means to renounce our usual food, and not to consume some great Indian or Thai dishes but actually because here the shelves are not as full as here in Germany and restaurants are out of the question for us. I realize only very slowly that Portugal is a poor country, where the minimum wage is 3.50 euros and many people do not have a toilet. And realize once again on this trip how incredibly spoiled I am by the country in which I grew up.
Renunciation still means that less is more. That my daughter is actually happy about the outdoor bathtub and I enjoy the chilly morning cold that creeps under my skin while I’m out chopping wood or boiling water. In the middle of nature. Pure luxury 🙂
Above all, this journey means much of: Just being. Laughing together, talking, cuddling, knitting, cooking, baking, listening.
And what can you let go of? What would be good to give up, to discontinue, to stop? A good time for something new!
And while I’m writing this, a video of my big daughter from Estonia reaches me, how she goes ice bathing at minus 10 degrees. I wonder who she got that from?? Unfortunately I am not allowed to publish it to show you how she gets into the ice water so consciously centered in her breath and awake in her body.
If you like to get more impressions about our trip, watch the first 5 minutes of my YouTube videos, often I show the place where we are and tell something about it…