“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.” ~H. L. Mencken
Let’s be completely honest. The current system simply does not work. From rampant pollution to wars waged for profit. From greed driven fractional-reserve banking to terrorist-generating drone strikes. From unsustainable state-driven politics to rampant homelessness. From hyper-violent cops to overflowing for-profit prisons. From epidemic nature deprivation to pandemic Stockholm Syndrome.
Never has there been more of a reason to discover new ways of being in the world than right now. We are deep in the throes of the Anthropocene, and it is high time we took responsibility for our power. One way to become more responsible with our power is to subtract ourselves from the rat race.
Who among us has not dreamed of living off the grid? It’s a longing for nature, a call to adventure. It resonates at the core of our spirit. Beneath the rigmarole of so-called civilized life, beneath the suffocating layers of cultural conditioning, bipartisan propaganda, and societal brainwashing, there is the primal yearning for healthy equilibrium and balance with Mother Nature.
But how do we untangle ourselves from the ever-tightening knot of the all-too-comfortable, domesticated, safe, and secure society? How do we escape the cultural conditioning that has a stranglehold on our perception (or misperception) about how the world really works? How do we get to a place where we can finally understand that everything is connected to everything else?
The short answer is to get off the grid and, paraphrasing Gandhi, gain the courage to live simply so that others may simply live. To overcome our fear of discomfort. To dare ourselves to be risk-takers. To double-dog dare ourselves to take safety in moderation. As Tacitus advised, “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.”
1.) The peripheral lifestyle:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau
With the peripheral lifestyle you are a being of two worlds. You’re living in between wilderness and civilization. You dip into the wild by camping, backpacking, or going on a walkabout; and then you dip back into society by staying in hotels or at various friend’s houses.
The peripheral lifestyle is a way to have your “civilized” cake and eat it too, without the guilt (Note: this is the lifestyle I’ve been living since 2007, with sprinkles of the road warrior lifestyle and stints of the feral lifestyle).
It’s a lifestyle lived on the outskirts, at the invisible boundary between civilization and the wild. It requires living extremely light. Preferably to the extent where everything you own can be carried on your back. Two bags are ideal. One small bag for your technology and another bag for your tent, sleeping bag, and camping equipment. You could even get to the point where you have zero bills. Although your cellphone would probably have to be pay-as-you-go.
2.) The road warrior lifestyle:
“There is no destination, there is only exploring.” ~Gary Bishop
Today’s road warriors are the modern-day gypsies of the world. They are the cosmopolitans and worldly flaneurs, taking it all in. Whether by car, truck, RV, boat, or plane, they are constantly on the move. All they need is a driver’s license and a passport and the world is their playground.
Traveling is a road warrior’s lifeblood. Their wanderlust cannot be satiated. They are nomadic because they feel like they might go crazy if they stay in any one place for too long. So they move, and they keep moving; living out of RV’s or out of the back of their truck, or sleeping in airports or foreign hostels.
Their way of going off the grid is to keep the grid fluid rather than inert. They tend to be digital nomads: new age entrepreneurs and freelancers traveling as they work from their laptops. Living light in possessions but living large in experience. The world is wide open with this lifestyle.
3.) The communal lifestyle:
“Our best chance of understanding nature, society, and ourselves is to open our minds to a plurality of imperfect depictions that together allow us to manage and interpret our world.” ~Kwame Anthony Appiah
This is probably the most practical of the off-grid lifestyles. This is because we are social creatures. We need each other. So finding a group of like-minded individuals, who are also willing to go off-grid, is vital, not only for our personal health, but for the progressive evolution of our species.
Self-sufficient, sustainable communes are the ideal. Eco-villages made up of like-minded people who practice the constant renewal of ceremonies, cultural practices, and the arts. A humane culture that generates new knowledge, healthy food, adaptable skills, self-understanding, and various modes of spiritual (non-religious/non-dogmatic) self-transcendence. A truly human community that practices a diverse set of authentic and viable social forms that will enable it to respond to shifting times, long-term weather patterns, food sources, spiritual needs, cultural longings, and relations with other healthy, nonviolent, sustainable communes.
They are out there. Don’t allow your fear of the unknown to prevent you from seeking them out. Don’t allow your cultural brainwashing to prevent you from transforming boundaries into horizons. Sure, it’s a risk. People are messy. You won’t always get along. But in the long run it’s worth the struggle.
Life is too short to waste it grinding away at a job you hate or a in a lifestyle that depletes your soul. Don’t be an inglorious cog in the unsustainable clockwork of our times. Instead, find wholesome work with wholesome people that has the potential to fulfill you and make your heart sing. Find like-minded people, true interdependent friendships that trump the independent ownerships (disguised as friendships) that we all grew up with.
4.) The solar cabin lifestyle:
“Nature is busy creating absolutely unique individuals, whereas culture has invented a single mold to which all must conform. It is grotesque.”~U. G. Krishnamurti
Between the communal lifestyle (wolf pack) and the feral lifestyle (lone wolf) there is the solar cabin/tiny home lifestyle. Whether you want to go solo or with a family, this off-grid lifestyle is ideal for those of us who wish to opt-out of both the communal and societal lifestyles. But this one will take a lot more personal work to maintain.
All you need is some land, a cabin to put on it, a water-catch system (or well), a robust garden, resourceful solar panels, and perhaps some free-range cows and chickens for milk and eggs.
You will have to be quite the handy-man/farmer type to make this lifestyle work for you though. It’s a lot of hard work. Typically, your entire day will be spent on survival. If you want more free time, the communal lifestyle is always an option if you can find it. But what you gain in free time, you lose in having to deal with the messy drama of others.
5.) The full-on feral lifestyle:
“We are never alone. We are wolves howling at the same moon.” ~Atticus
Going full feral is not for the fain of heart. Not everyone can handle the brutal swings of this lifestyle. It’s ideally reserved for lone wolves and survival experts. These types are nomadic and free, never squatting in one place for too long. They live off the land for their food, hunting and foraging their way through the wild. Think Christopher McCandless (before he perished in Alaska) and Eustace Conway (before he opened his mountain commune).
This type of lifestyle usually parts ways with all but the most rudimentary of human technologies. Armed with a knife, a rifle, and all but the most basic survival gear, the person living the feral lifestyle is more animal than man. More in touch with nature, but less in touch with others. More adaptable to the ebbs and flows of Mother Nature, but out of touch with the slings and arrows of Father Culture.
In order to become aware of the full measure of our character, I think we should all attempt this lifestyle at least once in our lives. Especially during those times when we are experiencing physical initiations like rights-of-passage and coming to age thresholds. But also during spiritual transitions like dark nights of the soul and mid-life crises. It’s an extreme lifestyle, sure, but there is always a way back if we can survive the ordeal.
Ultimately, how we live our lives is up to us individually. Your off-grid lifestyle will be different from mine. It might be a blend of all five on this list. Or maybe even some ways that are not listed.
Life is a choose your own adventure. The problem is that most of us are not brave enough to choose adventure over comfort. Or maybe we’re not aware enough to hear “the call.” Or, more likely, we’re just too damn lazy. As Tom Robbins said in Still Life with Woodpecker, “What limits people is that they don’t have the fucking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it.”
It’s time to star in your own movie. Make of it what you will. It’s your life. Just remember the golden rule, the nonaggression principle, and, above all, these wise words by Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”