One day in October, my friends and I took a day trip to Asheville, North Carolina. We were living on a commune at the time, about 40 miles north of the city. We took a rare break from farm life and wound up in a café: tall glassy windows, looking out on to scores of small, dingy windows, office buildings, parking lots.
“Cities will fall,” I muttered casually, and explained to my friends how clearly I could see it: abandoned buildings, taken back by nature, possibly Will Smith as the last man standing.
I am not a pessimistic person. In fact, I dedicate most of my life, and all of my artwork, to optimism and hope. I trust in the power of human beings, and I think we’re a miraculous species capable of all kinds of magic—not the least of which is kindness to ourselves and to each other.
Living on that farm in North Carolina—nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains with fourteen of the loveliest, most creative, and caring people I’ve ever met—was one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to do. And spending almost five of the adjoining months staying at other communes, farms, and eco-villages around the East Coast of America, was maybe even better. But it did create, for a while, a duality in my life—a binary: on the farm / off the farm.
In our first few weeks of traveling, we would rough it, work long and hard days, helping to build houses and taking tours of alternative-technologies; going to sleep shortly after the sun went down and the bats came out, in a tent, just the two of us — me and Jesse, one of my best friends, & co-creator of Anima Rising. When we left the farms, especially the more hardcore ones, we would high tail it to the nearest Mexican restaurant. Neither of us are high-maintenance — this trip wasn’t even close to being our first long stretch of time spent living out of a suitcase — but there were certain indulgences to be had (flush toilets, ice water, straws, baked goods, privacy…).
As the trip wore on, the distinction between the farm-folk, commune dwellers, back-to-the-land pioneers and us lessened. What they had to teach us began to sink in. The way they were living made sense, more sense than the worlds in which we had grown up. We found ourselves feeling happier, healthier, calmer, more purposeful. Our Mexican restaurant pit-stops became less enjoyable the more we could feel the buzz of the electricity, the wastefulness of the paper napkins, the questionable origin stories of the produce on our plates. Why were the lights on when it was daylight outside? Who flushes pee?
Our eyes had been opened to a new and important truth that couldn’t be ignored – we need to live more softly, more mindfully. We need to be conscious in our decision-making. We need to be considerate. We are biting the hand that feeds us by ignoring the impact we’re all having on Mother Earth.
I don’t think the world is ending. I believe the world will survive. But many of us may not, especially if we don’t clean up our act—and fast.
Who do we think we are to take advantage of the planet the way we do? We should behave as good house-guests, grateful to be here, making sure always to clean up after ourselves: treating our world, ourselves and each other as sacred and worthy of respect.
We spent time at approximately twenty communes, eco-villages, and co-operative farms. We learned whole new ways of living—communally, mindfully. Ways of communicating—we studied Non-Violent Communication (pioneered by Marshall B. Rosenberg), a system that breaks down conflicts into the expression of needs and un-met needs. We learned new ways of farming, including biodynamics (a spiritual approach to growing, based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner); and new systems of building, using passive-solar design and lime-mortar walls.
Cities will fall. Back to my moment of clarity: cities, as they stand now, do not work; and I don’t believe in the society of which they are a product. People are overworked, tired, and detached from nature (from their bodies, the seasons, the food we eat, and from each other). This is an unsustainable way of living. Sustainable means an act/system that could be repeated indefinitely, forever. I’ll tell you now that we couldn’t even if we wanted to, but do we even want to live like this forever?
I am from New York City. It’s my favorite city and a beautiful place, but I can’t go back there now. I can’t go anywhere, now, without this newfound knowledge in my head. What I’ve learned has changed me and, like a shark, I can only keep moving forwards. My moral compass is crying out too loudly now to ignore. There are so many changes we can all make in our daily lives, to live more gently, more kindly, and ultimately more simply.
Harper Cowan is a 26 year old vegetarian that has been living out of a suitcase for a long time. She is one half of Anima Rising, a creative collaboration dedicated to raising consciousness, inspiring viewers to live gently and love ourselves, each other, and our planet more.