By Paul Doffing
I’m on a north facing terrace in the Swiss countryside. The sun is shining but it’s not too hot, and cows and sheep are nearby but mostly out of sight - hidden by the hills and trees.
If you walk south, away from the Emme, over a few hills you are confronted with a view of the southern alps rising like a wall in the distance. To even arrive here you weave your way through small towns, up and up a small road. For Americans it’s confusing because a road this size in America is called a driveway. But here it is nicely paved and dotted periodically with cattle gates to keep the huge brown and white Swiss Cattle to their normal routes of circulation.
The hills here were covered with trees one hundred or so years ago, but they were cut to grow lush green grass for grazing. The grass sits lightly atop a soil of rock and gravel, and rotational grazing keeps it in form.
I’m staying at an old school house that has been obtained and repurposed to a multi family dwelling. It is currently home to a handful of wonderful people.
Maybe they’d be called “alternative” people by someone, but they’re only different from the rest in the best of ways. There certainly something special in the way they sleep, eat, enjoy conversation, work and laugh. It’s hard to characterize exactly what this special quality is but it’s something uniquely sensible, aware and alive. It’s a sort of openness and honesty. Maybe even selflessness.
I’m here as a Workaway guest, along with one other guy from Costa Rica. We’re working primarily on the terrace above the newer half of the building. It’s a wet roof design with gravel and pavers atop a layer of tar paper. The pavers were set in the mid 1990s and have developed a low spot in the middle which causes them to drain ineffectively, making for a big puddle in the middle after each rain.
I’m working with the man of the house Theodore. He speaks in high German, the rest of the house in Swiss German, unless they’re talking to me or John, in which case they usually use English. He lives here with his middle and youngest sons who are thirteen and 6 months old respectively. The baby is named Luneo.
In five mornings we’ve made good progress on the terrace. We’ve evened out our the low spot and created a new section in the northwest corner where you’ll be able to sit in the sun even in the fall and spring.
As we’ve worked we’ve discussed many things but this morning is the last and the conversation is more philosophical than ever.
“I believe there is a great collapse of modern civilization coming. That is why I’ve moved here,” Theo tells me. “The interest rates in every major country are now negative, and they never recover. This spells the looming end for confidence based currencies. I’m not an expert in farming, or making terraces, but I am in economics, and the writing is on the wall.”
“I’ve been feeling the same way for quite some time,” I reply, “But since the great collapse never seems to happen I’d started to loose hope.” We both laugh.
“I am curious though: do you think another great war or some sort of evolution of consciousness will bring about this change?”
“Look, there isn’t a square meter of the world that humanity has not touched. We’ve built an inescapable system of debt. Essentially these were the same forces that initiated WorldWar II, and that wasn’t enough to create any real change. Even after that we went back to doing things the same way as before. No, for this there must be the greatest war the world has ever seen. Probably at the end of it there will be less than 500,000,000 people left on earth. These remaining will know that we will never view things so incorrectly again.”
“How many people can this house house?” I ask Theo.
“Probably 10-14,” he replies, “but we’ve had as many as 30 here for workshops.”
“Wow, that’s a lot. What kind of workshops do you host?”
“We teach polyamory. Actually we’re quite famous for it all around Central Europe. If you come to our workshops you don’t pay anything, but you must bring to things: a “good” offering and an energy offering. Your “good” offering is usually did for a meal. Your energy offering is something you’ll share free of charge- it’s your gift. These gifts are what makeup the workshop. For example, some people come and play piano. Some give messages. Some just listen to others. I believe this is the only way to live harmoniously: by doing everything you do as a gift. Because there is nothing better than giving or receiving gifts.”
He paused and smiled while he thought for a minute, then went on: “When I see people in the highway in traffic I know that none of them are there because their heart wants to be there. They are there because they feel that they need to be there, to gain something, to earn something, because they owe it to someone. Hardly one of them is there because they are freely, happily giving them self to someone else.”
“Oh that doesn’t look right!” Theo says, stepping back and reviewing our pavers work. “One side looks quite high.”
He grabs the level and checks. We’re a full 4 cm too high on the outside. I’m in disbelief. I set the whole thing up, and I was really certain I got it right. Thinking it over for a minute I realize my mistake: I had aligned with the top of my leveling board when I should have aligned with the bottom. I feel awful because we just wasted about two hours of time.
“I’m so sorry! I guess I was just too sleepy when I set this up,” I say as I realize my error. To my surprise Theo doesn’t react negatively at all. He doesn’t rub it in my face or even seem at all concerned.
“Look, Nietzsche or Carlos Castaneda has a theory: we are all definitely going to die some day, so you should accept your death as if it has already happened, and then you should relax. At least that’s my practice.”
“Ok but now what are we going to do with all of the extra sand on the roof? Carry it down? Throw it off by the shovelful? It’s nice and windy,” I say smiling.
“I think maybe we’ll make a sandbox up here for Luneo.”