Before or After?

IMG_1392Progress on the house has slowed to a steady trickle. This is due in part to finances, but equally to myriad other demands on our time, as well as the inherent nature of house-building: The end-stage always demands deep reserves of patience. Any semi-competent fool can frame and put a roof on a modest house inside of a handful of weeks, and it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of accomplishment by the speed with which the outline of a structure can rise into a space where there was once only air. If all you did was frame and roof houses, you’d think yourself superhuman, a conjuror of shelter, a home-whisperer, a king among the commoners. But a frame and a roof do not a habitable home make, and thus my delusions of self-grandeur have died a quick and pitiless death. As they deserved to do.

We are closing in on three months of living in a single room with no running water and only a wood stove for both heat and cooking. As such, it sometimes feels to me as if we live inside that old Buddist saying Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Which inevitably raises the question: Are we before or after enlightenment? I suppose the fact that I cannot say is answer enough. Furthermore, I assure you that nothing about the way we’re currently living feels particularly enlightened. It is just living, by turns difficult, joyous, frustrating, gratifying, tiresome, energizing, and probably a few other things I can’t think of right now.

I’m not sure exactly what I’ll ultimately take from this summer and fall, not to mention the experience of living with my family in such humble circumstances. Perhaps it will simply become a footnote in our lives, an anecdote to recall at some later date while we finger feed each other lobster tails in the Jacuzzi. That would be fine. I have no designs or expectations.

But even now, in the midst of it all, I am aware of one thing: That my own resourcefulness has expanded, and for this I am grateful. It’s not just the increased depth of skills and experience (though that’s part of it, to be sure, and it doesn’t hurt a bit). Mostly, it’s the confirmation of something I’ve long suspected, but am nonetheless relieved to have corroborated: Much of what I might have assumed necessary to live contentedly was, in fact, superfluous. Two thousand-square feet did not make me any more (or, let’s be honest, any less) content than 500; a shower every day (or, let’s be honest, every other day) did not make me any more content than a sponge bath every week, though it might well have made me smell a little better. At the risk of sounding a bit trite, it’s actually a fairly powerful thing to be reminded of this.

There’s some sort of lesson here, I suppose, but I’m not really in the mood to figure it out. Or maybe I’ve divulged it already, and am just too thick to realize such. In any case, this house ain’t gonna finish itself. I’ve gotta get back to work.

TEIP Spring Flyer7 copy

Also, I wanted to draw your attention to our upcoming winter/spring session of Teen Earthskills Immersion Camp, run by our dear friend Luke Boushee. The fall session far exceeded our expectations, and there’s a whole lot more fun in store. Here are more details.

21 thoughts on “Before or After?”

  1. That made me smile. Thinking about my great grandparents and their parents/grandparents migrating west, setting up homesteads, living in much like what your blog describes while they got established into the dwellings and outbuildings in old photos. What would they have said about modern McMansions pre-built that you just move your gazillion boxes of STUFF in and then work in town to buy more stuff to store in that huge house and buy your food via third party without ever knowing the farmers or looking the dinner in the eye? What would they have thought of GMO? Shipping “fresh” produce out of season from other countries? Plug-in everything? Talking on phones that aren’t plugged in? Microwaving…. I think they would be shaking their heads. =) When you’re an old man and your children’s children bring their kids to hear your stories, I doubt you’ll have regrets of living a simpler life and raising your kids with TRUE old-fashioned values of family, nature, integrity, knowing who they really are. That’s priceless.

  2. The “some sort of lessen here” you hint at here is this: That “the end-stage always demands deep reserves of patience,” Absolutely. But not just for housebuilding,

  3. A couple of your recent posts have me worried for myself… I have a feeling I’ll be learning some of those lessons you describe. I was really hoping to be done in October ’16.

  4. I suppose it makes a lot of sense to not shower for a few weeks before hosting the wilderness thirsty youngsters.
    Still.. I think Finns had some great enlightenment with the sauna buildings, in the sauna case, chopping wood and carrying water comes before. Wishing you that all around. 🙂

  5. I remember seeing that Buddist quote in the documentary “The Kingdom of Survival” and passing it along to you all way back yonder. This is one of the best doc films in my opinion and can be had thru slowboatfilms.com. As a kid here in AR we had to chop wood and carry water, but fortune got me fat and lazy “down in the easy chair”. Fancy dinners in the Austrian Alps, rubbin’ elbows with Aristocracy in Paris Art Museums, buying whores in Amsterdam, or is that amsterdamn…Never been happier than to be back here in AR and to “chop wood and carry water”. No matter where life takes you Ben, I’ll bet when you are old like me and you look back in time, you will have never been happier than you are now, i recomend to all, chop wood and carry water, and it is sunstainable…

    1. Noah, I appreciate you mentioning this! I really want to check out all of their films, and looking forward to Armenia also. Thanks as always and stay well carrying wood and water.

  6. One thing you said reminded me of an experience I had once. (“Much of what I might have assumed necessary to live contentedly was, in fact, superfluous.”) I was on retreat once and many of us chose to go into silence to deepen the experience. So for two weeks I didn’t speak. If there was an emergency it was ok to write a note. At first not speaking was excruciating but as time went on I began to really enjoy my own thoughts and observations. When the end of the two weeks came I didn’t even really want to speak any more, realizing that much of what I assumed was important to speak out was, in fact, superfluous. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. It’s funny how for some, a bigger house or extra showers feel superfluous, and for others, nothing but a $30k vehicle will suffice. Last night I was really hungry, but decided not to stuff something in my face (like I usually do). I thought, ‘What if I just go without?’ What if I suffered a little? It was a new concept, being a spoiled person who has been able to eat whenever I feel like it. Then I came to the conclusion that all of this is ‘superfluous’ (except I didn’t use that word), this weird excessive life that many of us live. But then I have this theory that if you can enjoy your existence and feel the bliss of being alive by coming into enlightenment and consciousness, not needing anything more, then they kill you. They let you stay here if you’re miserable and dysfunctional, destroying things in your path, but the good ones….dead. It’s a fine line you walk…might wanna be careful :}

    1. Tricia, you’re so cynical! You make me laugh. In a good way! There’s plenty of enlightened ones that aren’t dead. Seems like they’re all croaked but they’re not. “They” just want you to think they all are… but I’m sure you know that already! Kudos for not giving into the “urge”. If more people were like you the world would be a different place. I believe in the power of the small gesture.

    2. “then they kill you” ? Perhaps nobody can kill us unless we kill ourselves? Even Ghandi, MLK, Lennon, Kennedy are not really dead, are they?

      I quoted Rumi today, so I am re-posting for you:
      “Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
      and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
      and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.
      Let the beauty we love be what we do.
      There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

      Hundreds of ways to let the light in. 🙂

    3. There are showers in the guest rooms and basements in a couple of our properties that I have never used If guests use them a handful of time each year, does that make them superfluous? You almost make living a superfluous life seem like a bad thing. Almost.

      I don’t know where you live, but $30K doesn’t buy a whole lot of new car/truck/suv where I live. Which is why, when I buy a vehicle for myself, I buy used vehicles and then run them until there is little value left in them.

  8. There is no “Are we before or after enlightenment?”. There is only right now. There is enlightenment and there is identification with form – both – right now. ❤

      1. Noah, I by far exceeded my comment limit and gotten off topic, but your comment on Paris and Amsterdamn above somehow reminded me of this article on Hayden Carruth and his journey from “loony bin” to “a yokel, a countryman, a guy who split wood and worked in a potato field”: http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0504/features/carruth.shtml

        And I suppose he was a homeschooler also: “My aim is to live to be 90 and complete my education at 85. This will give me a five-year vacation.” 🙂

  9. …”Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands,”…(NIV) Hang in there Ben.

  10. Like the old, 1970s, Yamaha ads said: “Different folks, different strokes”.

    Ben, would you shoot me an email? I have a question that I don’t want to ask in this open forum.

  11. Hi Ben and family. This is the first time I’ve commented but your circumstances at present got me thinking and comparing. You see a way out of your situation and so have something to work towards.

    In Guayaquil, Ecuador, I sponsor a young girl, Angelica, now 9 yrs old. She lives with her parents, (she is one of the lucky ones, having a working father), 2 older male siblings, 15 and 11, 1 younger female, 6. Her mother is pregnant with another child. They live in one concrete room with corrugated metal roof, gas stove, running cold water. The toilet is communal in their complex, not sure if it is flush or ‘pour a bucket of water down’ type. They have 2 mattresses between them. (They probably have hammocks as well, most homes do.) Not sure if the other children have sponsors or not but I really hope so. The older boy probably works now but hopefully still manages to attend school.
    This may sound rather dire but the home has a concrete floor so are better off than most in that area. Angelica and I correspond frequently and she seems to be a happy, carefree child interested in school and the world in general and extremely happy about the coming sibling.

    In comparing your situation and hers, made me wonder how you would feel if suddenly there was no way out for you; that the rest of your life would have to be spent in that 500 sq.ft. space. Just a thought 🙂

    The space I call home is smaller than that, about 400 sq.ft, bachelor type. I live alone with my cat so lots of room for me, never been a fan of large rooms, too much housework involved!

    What you are doing sounds amazing to me. (I have 3 grown children and 3 grandchildren and could not conceive of home schooling any of them!) I love reading about your exploits and how you react to the world you are creating. More of my time these days is living vicariously through others so keep up the blog so we who follow you can sit in our warm homes and send out vibes of encouragement.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s