I recently returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest. This trip started in Seattle and worked its way down to Portland, through Oregon, down to the Country Fair in Eugene and all the way back up again. During our time in Oregon, my fiance and I stayed at an intentional community. Some of you might be more familiar with the term “commune”. Our friend bought a considerable amount of land with a group of people and they all live on (and off) this land. They’ve each built their own semi-permanent home, dug an irrigation system by hand from the nearby river to have fresh water and grew a massive garden with all the food you can imagine. They even have toilets that use sawdust to break down waste into compost. They are happy, they are healthy and, most importantly, they are successfully off the grid.
It is important to note that this is not a new concept. Communities like theirs have been around for quite some time. And not just in our country. For example, in Israel many people live in kibbutzes. Each of these communities operate according to guidelines established by their own respective community members. Some share one bank account, some don’t use any money at all. Some communities share all of their resources, some divide responsibilities, some have thousands of people, some have ten. The community we stayed with had about ten or so people, all of different ages and backgrounds. They each had their own jobs and made their own money. They bought their own food and resources. The one thing they all absolutely shared, though, was their dedication to living intentionally.
This is the one thing I’d say all of these communities have in common. Intentional living. Now, what does that mean? In short, it means living on purpose. Being mindful about the choices you’re making…for yourself, for your community, for your world. There is a shared mindset within intentional communities, a cohesion that roots them to the same cause. When we stayed on the land, I learned that their unifying thread was a shared love of the land. They owned about 40 acres yet only occupied two. They were preserving the land and letting it remain wild. They thanked the garden for providing fresh food, they thanked the river for offering fresh water. They loved the land and trusted it loved them back.
I get if this isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Not everyone can have a relationship with the land quite like this community. But I can bet you understand the idea of caring about something enough to live intentionally & tap deeper into it. Whether its your love for the land, animals, spirituality, human beings. You get what it means to live with intention. And that’s what I want to expand upon. Because, for most of us, we aren’t living in communes. We don’t get to wake up and bathe in a river and grab breakfast from our garden. Most of us wake up in a house, with a kitchen counter full of bills and kids that need to be driven to school and a deadline that needs to be met. BUT, I believe that we can all inject a bit more of intentionality into our daily lives and reap the wonderful benefits of this lifestyle.
I believe one of the best souvenirs to bring back from a trip is a miraculous shift in perspective. Below are a few ways I’ve been practicing intentional living in order to feel more connected to my own higher truth:
As someone who has lived with an eating disorder, I understand what it’s like to have a reactive relationship with food. Since I’ve been in recovery, however, I’ve learned how to have a more proactive relationship with the food I put in my body. I no longer eat to evade emotions, I eat to thrive. I make choices that fuel my body and help it run at its optimal capacity. I’ve educated myself on what food is best for me. What I eat has nothing to do with my body image and everything to do with my body’s performance. I try to eat my meals sitting down, stopping between bites to actually experience what I’m eating. If I choose to indulge, I do so knowingly. I call it a “mindful cheat”. That is to say, I know that brownie isn’t going to help my body perform at its optimal capacity…but I also know that one brownie isn’t going to keep my body from performing at its optimal capacity. It’s just a matter of being present and conscious about your choices.
I hate clutter. One, because it’s messy. But, more importantly, because its gluttonous. It shows that I have more than I need. And this is obviously a natural by-product of our consumer-driven lifestyles. Inevitably, we continue to end up with more than we need. So, my method is to stay mindful of that. I consistently clean out my house of clutter, or excess. I compartmentalize my home and tackle each space on its own. My closet one week, the kitchen another, the next I’ll clean out the office. Some things I will try to sell, other things I happily donate and some just need to get tossed. Specifically the mountains of paper that suddenly appear all over the house. Receipts, bills, invoices, to-do lists. My house is littered with paper, constantly. And no matter how many times I’ve “opted to go paperless”, my physical mailbox is continuously stuff to the brim with physical paper. So, I am always in the process of collecting and recycling piles of paper from around my house. De-cluttering the excess is the best way I’ve found to clear space in my world. Not only is my physical space clear and functional, but so is my head space. When everything has a purpose and is in its own place, my head free to focus on what matters.
This is something I am vigilant about. Mostly, because no one else can do it for me. I can’t rely on anyone else to know when I need to rest. Therefore, I am dedicated to listening to my body and knowing when its nearing burn out. I have put certain systems in place to avoid burn out, such as my meditation and spiritual practice. It is my responsibility alone to know when to speak up and say, “No, not right now, I need a break”. That’s a trap I see a lot of people fall into. They run themselves ragged to be everything to everyone and expect someone to say, “You look tired, why don’t you take a rest”. That is just not how it works. People will take as long as you’re giving. And, as the old adage goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. So we must be mindful and tune into our own needs. Know when to stop, lock yourself in the bathroom and sink into the tub of warm water.
Today, time seems to be our most valuable resource. Mostly because we don’t seem to ever have any of it! We are stretching ourselves so thin that there is absolutely no time to just be. To just sit with other humans and connect and engage. That is why we have adapted to this world of screens and messages. It’s all surface-level interaction. There is less depth to our relationships because we don’t have the time to dive deeper. So, I have made it my personal mission to combat that. I am conscious about the time I spend with my friends and family. I make sure its valuable and connected. I make an effort to unplug and focus all my attention on them. I actively listen to them, I make mindful choices about how we spend our time together. Rather than scream at each other over drinks in some loud bar, we can hang at someones house and drink wine and catch up. Rather than binge watch TV shows with my fiance for the sake of understanding what everyone else is talking about online, we choose shows that force us to engage in discussion and illicit a response, which leaves us interacting and connecting once the credits role. I try to host family dinners at the house every Friday where we can all sit around the table and, quite literally, break bread. No matter how busy our week’s might have been, we can all sit down at that table for at least an hour and connect.
Connecting, participating & living with intention. That is MY brand of happy. If you want to learn how to tap in to your own brand of happy and live it every day…make sure to join my FB group!