Why Are We Living Like This?
A few weeks ago I discovered this unpublished blog post on my computer. I wrote it in early June 2017, while I was living in a flat in Brighton, in a relationship that was no longer working, fraught with depression and anxiety, and really struggling to make sense of my life. It was before I'd really conceived the concrete idea for Ministry of Change, but I think in hindsight it captures a pivotal moment in the projects conception.
I love the rawness of the piece, and it really reflects how I was feeling at the time, and it contains many of the themes which are living inside of me and this journey to this day around home and how to live.
It was about 3 months after I wrote this (a little under 2 years ago) that I decided to make the changes I needed to make. My relationship ended. I moved out of my flat in Brighton, I bought a van and set out on the adventure that was to become Ministry of Change.
This year and a half of living in the van, house sitting and relying on the kindness of friends, family and strangers to put a roof over my head may be unconventional , but reading back through how I was feeling in June 2017 feels really powerful. I know I don’t have all the answers, but life feels a lot more worth living than it did back then.
What are the necessary conditions for optimum living?
I know that this will vary from person to person, but I’m fairly sure it’s not the way we are living now.
We generally live in small apartments or are split off into separate houses. It’s generally the norm that we don’t know our neighbours. Despite best intentions, I still don't know mine past trivial small talk on the stairs. I did knock on the downstairs neighbours door last week to check they weren’t dead, after a terrible smell appeared in the corridor. Thankfully they were alive.
We are encouraged to strive for a bigger house, with a larger distance between us and the next human being. How many people ever downsize, unless they are retiring or forced to by financial strain. We are in the middle of a housing crisis, that doesn’t look like it is going to go away.
The idea of even owning a house is becoming more and more of a distant myth, as the costs escalate to unimaginable highs. As populations increase, the problem is not going to get smaller.
Maybe building more houses isn’t the answer, or even miraculously making them affordable isn’t the answer.
Maybe we need to completely revisit the way we live together as communities.
I often have the overwhelming desire to escape - but when I look back on my life, I recognise this is the path I always take. When things are not working out, I feel trapped, or at a dead end - I move somewhere else, usually a foreign country. That usually works for a year or so, then the same feelings of dread and despair start creeping back in. Maybe moving somewhere else is the answer this time, but I don’t want to just repeat the same patterns. This time I want to work out where these feelings are coming from. I want to understand the situation, and discover new ways of living and working.
After spending almost 5 years in China, I decided it was time to move back to the UK and to start living a more conventional life. Apart from my time as a student, and a brief period being unemployed and depressed as a recent graduate, I’d never spent any of my adult life living here, so decided it was time to give it a go. I enjoyed the more unconventional, international lifestyle - but was starting to feel the strain of being a long way from my friends and family, and the pollution in Beijing was becoming too much. It felt like time to move back. I also had a nagging feeling that I was becoming rootless, constantly moving around between cities, countries and jobs. I had a notion that I should come back and start building a more conventional and stable life.
For the past few years of trying to live this way, I’ve also been struggling much more with mental health issues. There are multiple contributing factors to this, but one of the overwhelming feelings I’ve had is one of feeling trapped and dissatisfied with the way I’m living - but feeling helpless when it comes to knowing what the alternative is.
I’m renting a nice flat by the seafront in Brighton. It’s a lovely flat and I should feel content. But how do I actually feel? I feel locked in by contracts, crippled by outgoing costs, lonely and isolated from people, weighed down by every possession I own, slowly suffocating.
What were my notions of conventional and stable ways of living and why aren’t they working out?
I have two recurring images that pop into my head on an almost daily basis. One is to get a baseball bat and destroy all of my belongings, the other is to just jump in the car and drive as far away as I can.
The more people I speak to, the more I have realised it is not just an isolated feeling in myself, but an issue that almost everyone seems to feel at some level - but people have been doing it for so long, and don’t really see any alternative but to suck it up and make the most of it.
We have created a society where people don’t know how to live alongside one another. There must be something that can be done, and I believe it is by looking at the periphery that we will find the disruptors. There are pockets of people living on the fringes, exploring the way we live and pushing the boundaries of human experience.
I want to meet these people and learn from them. Which bits can we bring together to sow the seeds of how we live together in our societies. Can some of these ideas become mainstream and adaptable to city living?
This isn’t just a story about the way we live as communities - I think it is a story that seeps into every aspect of our current human systems. The way we live is a symptom of the way we are educated, the way we work, the dualistic approach to the way we view ourselves.
Our current models for education, housing and work are all still based on outdated systems that haven’t worked for a long time now. To break out of these molds and create something new is a scary, complex and will take a long time.
This is a story about separation at all levels of our society.
Over the past few months, I’ve been in situations where I have seen the power of collaboration and community, albeit in short bursts. Having experienced a glimmer of how things could be, it is hard to put those feelings aside and compromise on anything less.
I’ve spent years now locked in the turmoil of my inner mind - trying to come up with the answer in my head. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d love to find out. I want to talk to people exploring new ways of living and working together to see what wisdom there is in the collective intelligence of the many.