The Beauty of Breaking Away

"Most fear is made up from the media, but the media hasn't made the woods scary yet."

I just spent three days off the grid in the mountains at a van life campout. 
I had been in contact with Melissa prior and had the pleasure of meeting her and her husband,
Chris, over the weekend. I find a lot of comfort and understanding in Melissa's words here,
originally shared on their blog Sharing these personal thoughts
and experiences can inspire others to ask questions and take action.

Neither of us lost our jobs. In fact, it was looking much more like the opposite. We were climbing the career ladder, we had 401k’s, we had a house and a big flat screen TV. We were not forced into this lifestyle due to financial constraints. We chose this life because those jobs, the house, the flat screen TV – they were killing us. We woke up to a life in ruins. Our priorities were significantly based on a wish to please others, be it family, society, whomever, and not based on our own reality.

Here we are, and for how long we are here we have no idea, but it’s certainly a very short time, when you stop thinking of time in terms of the clock and calendar. Stop counting down and waiting. And if all we have is right now, what must we do? For us, we must love, and firstly learn how to love. We had learned through our world that other things are more important. We believed it, as is human nature. Everyone makes mistakes, if not there would be no reason to try.

There is always a difference between a plan and reality. Our plan going into this lifestyle was to simplify and discover the core of who we are, prioritize time together over a career, and reevaluate our priorities in life and reasons for living. We thought this would require a lot of time secluded in the woods, reading books worth reading, and discussions together. What we didn’t expect was that most of our self-discovery would not come from books or time alone, but from the people we met along the way.

The people we have met on the road and the relationships that form are quite a contrast to the neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances we had been accustomed to meeting while living in cities and towns. While living in towns, there is always some amount of fear of neighbors, due to either violence or some form of retaliation from not getting along. Most fear is made up from the media, but the media hasn’t made the woods scary yet. It seems it was unnatural to live like a caged animal as we do in cities, so it’s very likely that many of them had those same fears. Those fears seem to stem from the values which we see in the media constantly; excess, money, recognition, consumption, or status – the blanket that makes us forget that we are all the same and that we actually really do care about each other.

It is hard to explain this type of freedom to those that refuse to believe they are not free. Plato does a beautiful job of describing this in his Allegory of the Cave. It goes something like this; slaves are living in a cave, forced to stare at a blank wall in front of them, and have lived there since childhood. They know nothing but the cave. There is a fire behind them, and they see shadows of the world in front of them and begin to give names to the shadows as the real world. One prisoner is brought into the light of the world only to be completely blinded by the sunlight. At first it is painful, but gradually the prisoner’s eyes adjust and she sees the real world as it is and it is beautiful. The prisoner then goes back to tell the others in the cave about this experience, but upon walking into the dark cave her eyes have not adjusted and she can’t see anything in the cave. The prisoners in the cave see her blindness and believe that by leaving, she has been injured, and that if one were to try and force them to leave, they would kill him or her.

People wonder why people slave away at things they don’t love. Chosen slavery likes company and seeks out consolation with others for validity. The counterfeit happiness can make one happy enough just to endure the work week with the excitements of escape. There are dirty things on the road, if a part breaks on your vehicle, you’re in the woods; there may or may not be people around to help, and parts are far away. Yet the neighbors that I’ve met, we only share the space for a few days, and they never have excuses like “sorry I’ve got to work” “I’ve got my own problems” “I need to relax” etc. They simply help immediately because it is who they are, it is their love. They are a slave to their love: life.

On the road, tools and extra parts are given like a neighbor gives sugar. What it really gives is a connection and communication to another person that people care about them. It negates their need spend a day driving 50 miles to pick up the part, burning time, fuel, and money. With that time “saved” organic discussions can occur between two strangers. So many times these discussions bring those involved to a remembrance of the beauty of life. Something that which was not discussed between friends or strangers before is now the main thread pulling us together.

As it turns out, a common thread with free people is that they desire fewer items and more fulfillment in their life. The current legal structure makes this very difficult. Most places we may camp for 14 days legally on public land. Recently we researched fairly exhaustively the thought of buying land and camping on it here and there when we felt like it. We even considered building a little hut. What we found largely was the fine print only allows you to camp on land you purchased for 14 days. Ownership only means so much and is defined by fear and financial priorities. The founding fathers of our country saw a need to protect freedom rights of issues such as speech and guns, I fathom they never considered freedom to camp on owned property. Building a house was out of the question as we want simple things like solar power, water from the sky and ground, not in pipes and a compost toilet to use on the land to fertilize trees. Building permits require septic, some require plumbing and electric utilities. What could cost about $2,000 easily costs $20,000. With the environmental damage caused by all these required connections to the “grid” not to mention the slavery associated with gathering more money, it has created a “tribe” of people living in the woods, for free, for 14 days to meet and share the sunlight of the real world.

In our short time living on the road, we have come across incredibly diverse people with different personalities, beliefs, quirks, and ways of living. We’ll never fully understand why each of them chooses to live and believe the things they believe, as is true with every single human we’ll ever meet – including each other. As much difference as there is between us, there is a clear, undeniable sameness. If we were to strip away and remember that we are so very temporary, and yes we can see many beautiful things and learn more about this existence, the one thing that if we had just one more minute, just one more instant on this earth (which really, we do only have that), we would love people. Not just the people we like, not just the people who agree with us, or just the Republicans or just the Democrats. Even the people who don’t treat people well, who pass us dangerously on the highway. It’s worth it to fight the emotional responses to the endangerment of the things we care about because we are the same as those people. We also put things that people care about in danger, that is part of living. We are imperfect, but we can always choose love.

Many days we wake up wherever we are and see cars passing, cities busy with life. If we take a moment to take life in, we observe other parts of the world growing as well. The trees green up in the sunlight, and the lizards caffeinate with the warmth, soon the winds blow sound through the air and reality that the day arrived passes through our imagination. Cars passing and cities busy with life are as real as we make them to be. Happiness lives in our hearts. Offer a stranger some help, you may be surprised who you meet.