Resilience in dark times


When we were looking to buy a smallholding, one of our priorities was somewhere where we could be or work towards being “off-grid” for our utilities, or at least some of them. We thought that it would help us achieve our goal of keeping our outgoings to a minimum and feel more in charge/in control of our consumption. We figured that a more sustainable and self-reliant way of living would make us more resilient in an increasingly fragile and unsustainable world with rising living costs, limited resources and the serious challenges we face to tackle and respond to climate change.

We are not completely off-grid here but we have our own water supply via a borehole, our own sewage treatment plant to deal with waste and solar panels and a wind turbine to meet some of our electricity needs (still connected to the grid as we supply electricity we do not use). Over the past year and a bit since we have lived here, our belief that off-grid would make us feel more resilient has been tested on more than one occasion!! What we have learned is that it can make us feel vulnerable when things go wrong or stop working!

The sewage treatment plant gave us trouble for several months last winter, despite repeated (and expensive) callouts by the company supposedly capable of fixing it. They changed various parts but still it did not work properly. When we started doing Bed and Breakfast through Airbnb, we had to have our water tested because we are on a private water supply. When the tests came back saying it had failed (marginally) on a couple of parameters, we had to take measures to get rid of the bacteria. The Council also had to do a risk assessment of the water supply, necessary procedure for anyone having paying guests in their home with a private water supply. All this caused frustrating delays and unplanned expenses. We discovered a few months ago that the solar panels, which kept tripping, were wired incorrectly and therefore not producing the amount they should have been. More recently, when we had the wind turbine serviced, the workmen caused some damage to the power cable by trapping it when they winched it back up! It was out of action for ten days. Two weeks ago, when the hot water tank sprang a leak, our investigations lead us to discover that the pump for the shower was also leaking.

Each time, what was most stressful was both feeling dependent on someone else who supposedly could fix it but actually could not, people saying they would come and fix it but did not but also not being familiar with the equipment, not knowing how it worked because all these machines were new to us. Each time, we (mainly Peter) solved the problem by learning, observing, paying attention, getting to know the workings of the particular machine ourselves. By really getting to know how the sewage treatment plant works, how the various parts inside it behave and interact with each other, Peter has been able to fix it and keep it working well. We will not need to call out the technician if there is a problem. There’s resilience in that! Same with the solar panels and the wind turbine. Peter is considering learning how to service it himself to avoid the costly callout by the technicians, our trust in whom has now been diminished given the damage they carelessly caused. Peter’s excellent skills in problem solving, electricity and generally anything DIY have proved essential to us here. They have greatly reduced our dependence on "another" and increased our resilience.

Each of our experiences above reminds me that, just like the equipment we use and rely on will inevitably get worn, break down and run into difficulties, dark and troubled times are a part of life too. They bring much pain, grief, frustration, anger and fear. Yet, if we allow ourselves to stay with that vulnerability without getting swamped by it, if we can connect with the difficult feelings and use them to make sense of something that needs to change rather than allow them to consume us, we come through it with increased strength and resilience. If we can accept the dark times and integrate them into our lives, they have a valuable place in life: they lead us to learn, move us into action and help us grow. And they come to pass too… We are days away from the Winter Solstice, a reminder that the darkest Midwinter when days are at their shortest and sunlight is weak and vulnerable will end and the light will return.

Back to our smallholding, the experiences above have been very grounding. We have let go of the fantasy of “off-grid” and connected with the reality of it, which is a positive thing. Through skillful observation and interaction, we have developed a relationship with the things we saw as problematic when they were going wrong and now feel stronger as a result of an active approach to problem-solving rather passively relying on an "someone who knows". We have adapted our expectations and are developing a flexible attitude to finding solutions. We needed to go through that process in order to feel resilient, which is what we were seeking anyway! The Universe can teach us in very unexpected ways! I wonder what it is we need to learn next?...