If you think you are free, try to go somewhere without money.
And this is the crux of the matter, and it is what lies at the heart of what shall become known as the OptingOut! movement.
In current modern society, we are all under the illusion that we are free; free to do as we want, go where we want, say what we want. However, what most people forget here is that these freedoms come at a price, and I mean that quite literally – they are all subject to having money.
If you have no money, you aren’t free to move around.
If you have no money, you are severely limited in what you can do.
If you have no money, no one will listen to you.
Hence, the freedoms our current system affords us are not simply given, they are in fact bought – they are subject to us obtaining money. In order to do that – unless you are fortunate enough to be born rich – we need to sell ourselves out; we have to enslave ourselves in a soulless rat race of 9-5 office jobs, of student loans, of self-employment. This creates a vicious paradox – in order to obtain freedom, we need money, and in order to obtain money, we have to give up our freedom by selling ourselves. The system works such that the very act of striving for freedom already precludes us from obtaining it; this is not a flaw in the system, but rather a feature that is there by design. The system only functions as long as it can ensure the participation of the masses. Opting-out is not only discouraged, but actively opposed, since it is a threat to those who control the system. The natural tendency of people wanting to be free and happy is what drives the system, like a machine, and the paradox of the impossibility of obtaining freedom is what ensures the existence of the system – again, a vicious paradox. The system provides us comfort – we don’t need to worry about where our food comes from ( just go to the supermarket ), we don’t need to worry about our safety being taken care off ( just ring the police ), we don’t need to worry about shelter ( just close your door, turn on your lights and heating ); we are trading all of these things away to others, in exchange for our freedom. That is how modern society works – you trade your freedom for your comfort.
Of course there is the illusion of freedom – not having to go hunting, build shelters, learn how to fight etc etc seems to give us more time to pursue other things; but then again, those other pursuits aren’t possible if you have no money, which can only be obtained by – you guessed it – trading in freedom.
There must be a better way to live – and that is the central premise of the OptingOut! movement. The rat race isn’t the only way, there are always other options. The challenge is to find these options, and to find the courage to pursue them. In order to do this, I propose the following central tenets, which I consider to be crucial in the quest for a better way to live. Most of this is common sense and self-evident, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the deeper truths.
I may update this list as I go along, and find new tenets that I consider important.
Learn to carefully distinguish between what you need and what you want. You may want a bottle of Coke, but you only need water to stay hydrated. You may want the latest cool-looking car to get you to where you want to go, but you only need that 20-year old banger that still drives just fine, or your bike, or perhaps even just your legs. You may want a big screen TV to keep you entertained, but you only need a good book from the local library. You want a fat juicy steak for dinner, but you only need bread and a few vegetables. You may want a bank account with a million dollars in it, but you need only a fraction of this to live a comfortable life. You may want a big house, but you need only a trailer or camper to be safe and sheltered. And so on. Train yourself to be content with your needs, not your wants, within reason and within the parameters of your life situation. This is a process that can at times be quite difficult, because we are accustomed to all our little and big comforts, but with some willpower and perseverance, this can be changed. If you cease to be a slave to your wants, then your dependence on needing lots of money will be greatly reduced.
Recognise that much of what we consider basic needs are in fact wants that are imposed on us by social convention. For example, owning a TV or five different pairs of jeans aren’t needs – they are just social conventions. Likewise, having to have lots of money – and chasing that goal – isn’t a need at all; it is just something that is ingrained in us by how we have been brought up. Learn to focus on what really matters in life – you are not defined by what you own, but by who you are, and that is what you will be remembered for. See beyond the materialism.
Learn to rely on your own ingenuity, intelligence, and creativity. When things go wrong, it is tempting to just pick up the phone and dial for help – ring the plumber, your lawyer, your therapist, the mechanic. Run to the supermarket for our vegetables. Sometimes this is of course unavoidable, since on occasion special skills may be required which we do not ourselves possess. However, just as often we do this out of sheer convenience – because we don’t want to get ourselves dirty, because we are too lazy, because we have no time, because we don’t want to learn. Put in the effort to try and solve problems yourself – research solutions, teach yourself new skills, stop relying on everyone else. By reducing your dependence on others, you also reduce your dependence on money.
Stop enslaving yourself to Big Utility for your energy needs. Energy is abundant around you – sunlight, wind, water. Make use of it. Put solar panels on your roof. Install a small wind turbine in your garden. Collect rain water. And so on. Much of what you need is right there for the taking, so don’t fall into the “but that’s not normal” trap.
Celebrate your individuality, and express yourself. We all have talents, passions and skills – do not be afraid to express them. Make self-expression part of your life, and understand that through self-expression, you develop yourself too.
Learning and Knowledge
Never stand still. The acquisition of knowledge and understanding does not stop the minute you graduate from school or earn your degree – it is a life-long process. Be inquisitive. Explore and investigate. Become a fierce reader. Take things apart, only to put them back together afterwards.
Do not mindlessly take anyone’s word for things; learn to think critically. Not only does this entail putting in the effort to do your own research, instead of just regurgitating pre-digested contents; but it also means remaining open to information that may contradict what you feel about a certain subject. Train yourself to be critical about what others say, and what you yourself feel. Before you make up your mind – open it.
Sex is natural, it is beautiful, it is healthy and normal. Embrace your body, embrace your own sexuality and be tolerant towards that of others – so long as it is safe, sane, and consensual, it is something to be welcomed with open arms, and not anything to be hidden away and be embarrassed about. Be open, honest, and genuine when it comes to your sexuality. This is not how most of us are brought up, but you can train yourself to become that way. Make the effort.
Live your life in ways that are sustainable into the future; only take what is available to you, and leave nothing but your footprints. Do only what is of no harm to others. In practice, this is difficult, so for most of us compromises have to be made; and that is ok, so long as you make the effort and strive towards becoming more sustainable. It is a process, not a state of being.
Find the courage to walk your own road, and do not blindly bow to social conventions; you don’t have to do ( or not do ) something just because everybody else does the same. You aren’t a lemming, but a unique individual with intelligence, empathy and determination. See beyond “normality”, and dare to become yourself, in everything you do. As Van Gogh rightly said : “Normality is like a paved road – comfortable to walk on, but no flowers will grow on it.”
Empathy and Compassion
Always practice empathy and compassion; when deciding on a course of action, take into account how that will affect others, and the wider world around you. Be open to how others feel, and offer your help if and when necessary. Also, realise that it is not always possible to avoid hurting others; sometimes it is necessary to do what is right, rather than what is easy, even if people get hurt in the process. This is a hard lesson to learn, and one of those particularly cruel little sarcasms of life. When faced with such a situation, be strong and remain true to yourself, and practice harm minimisation. But whatever you do, don’t deviate even an iota from the road to what you believe is right.
Embrace the value and strength of community spirit. No matter how unique you are, there are always others out there who think like you do; perhaps they keep themselves hidden, and are glad not to be known. Find them. Network. Form connections, join or form communities. Change cannot be affected by going it alone. Also, sometimes when the road is particularly stony and hard, and we have lost all hope, we may need the help of like-minded others to give us renewed strength and to remind us of who we truly are.
Teach yourself to value and appreciate the sheer and immense beauty of the universe around you. Go out and explore, find the hidden places, the magical moments. A starlit sky over the ocean, the wind through autumn trees, that fox playing with its cubs. Be open to the music of the spheres. You are part of all of this, and all of it is within you. This is where you came from, and it is where you will eventually return to. Go out there, experience it, learn all you can about it.
Life isn’t about what was or what will be – the past exists only as memories, the future only as potential. Life happens nowhere else but here and now, and you live it by opening yourself to experiences. True spirituality is direct awareness, direct experience – it cannot be learned, it cannot be preached, it cannot be written down in a book, and it cannot be forgotten. Be open to the good, the bad, the ugly, the horrible, the happy, and the ultimate. Embrace it all, and wisdom will grow in you like a flower.
Freedom from Attachments
Happiness is found not in what you have or who you are, or what will be – happiness is the freedom from all attachments. Learn to let go of everything and anything that holds you back; this is a painful and difficult process, because we tend to superficially value much of what holds us back. These aren’t just material things or relationships, but they are also our treasured and cherished emotions and beliefs. Learn to recognise them as what they are, and teach yourself to let go. Happiness is the natural state of being; it was never absent and has never been lost, so trying to somehow “find” it is just another attachment. So long as you seek happiness, it will forever remain elusive. Just understand that all you need to do is let go.
Be The Difference
The world is not changed by opinions, but through actions. If you want to affect change, you need to provide a positive example – don’t just oppose and rant and rave, but become the difference yourself. Show others an alternative way to do things, or to live life. It is all about positive action. Don’t seek to destroy the old, but instead create the new, and let others come to you once they see the alternative you show them. The old and the superfluous will slowly die off by itself over time, if a better option becomes apparent to those around you.
So how will you know that you have succeeded ? OptingOut! is a life-long process, a trial and challenge unlike anything you have encountered before, and many of us will never reach the end of this particular road. But there may come a morning, when you open the door of your house ( or caravan, or trailer, or tent,… ), and it seems a particularly beautiful day; you feel the wind and the rain, hear the birds, smell the plants around you, and it is all perfect, just as it is, and not how you may have wanted it. So you laugh at the cat, or your neighbour, or nothing in particular, just because you are happy, and everyone you look upon that moment will laugh with you, because they can feel that you are finally free. You are free because you have let go of everything, and precisely because you have let go of it all, your existence no longer lacks anything.
And that’s when you know you made it.