This article is based on our conversation with Rob Greenfield for Episode 2 of the Happen Films Podcast.
We’ve been fans of Rob Greenfield’s work for a number of years, and before the Covid-19 pandemic were planning to make a film together. An American used to travelling freely but now under lockdown in France, we caught up with Rob to find out more about his approach to life.
“Basically this year, the idea was [that] I was on a world speaking tour,” Rob outlines. “I was in Amsterdam when things started to really accelerate and I wasn’t going to get stuck in a City. So, I hopped on the train before the whole lockdown happened. I arrived in South France about two hours before locking down.”
Grateful to be isolated in the countryside and able to go for a walk in the woods every day, Rob has continued to forage for food within the limitations of the lockdown. But when we spoke to him, he’d had no physical human contact for 17 days.
“I’ve designed my life to be impermanent for quite a while now, so for me as long as I’m balanced inside it doesn’t really matter where I am. [But] I am a hugger, and I haven’t had a single hug in seventeen days. That’s a long time, so I’m definitely feeling some of the isolation.”
Continuing to serve
One focus for Rob has been to continue to be of service, putting out an offer to have one-on-one video calls with anyone having a hard time in isolation. So far, he’s had around fifty conversations with people from around the world.
“It’s very easy to really get caught in just this moment of chaos and panic, but you can also zoom out and you can see humanity has gone through things very similar to this as long as humanity has lived. It’s actually been a beautiful experience to talk to people all over the world, really interesting to see people’s perspective and share [in] that.”
With the current interruption to daily life giving many the opportunity to reflect on the type of life they’d like to lead, it was interesting to hear about Rob’s personal journey. He hasn’t always been an environmentalist, radical, sustainability change-maker.
“It’s been about a decade now since I really shifted my life,” Rob explains. “I was living a very materialistic life. I was very focused on financial wealth, I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was thirty and I was very ego-based. Then I started to listen to other perspectives and I just woke up to the fact that my life was not what I thought it was at all.
“I was buying into all these lies that corporations had sold me on what I needed to do in order to be a happy, healthy, successful human being and I pretty quickly decided that I was going to radically transform my life.”
Leaving the delusion
So Rob began to transform his life one action at a time, and pretty quickly began to see significant changes within himself. Moving more and more into the systems that felt right, he evolved a way of living that wasn’t destroying the world and was improving the quality of life for the people around him.
“One of the big things was realising that the state of being human is a state of delusion. When you realise that your money in the banks is invested in projects that are destroying the world, and you’re a part of that, that’s waking up to the delusion,” he adds.
And in the clarity that follows, what’s important are from the relationships we create with people, with other species and with our environment and our skillsets. The less you can be tied to traditional systems, the more resilient you are.
“I do believe that, and then at the same time, I’m not going to act under a state of delusion that if the world goes into utter chaos that you’re necessarily able to take care of yourself.
“Although I’m a person who practices permaculture and resilience and sustainable living, I’m also at the mercy of the state of humanity at the same time. So that’s also where I have to let go of control.”
Living the extreme
The result has been a deep fascination with, and connection to, the impermanence of human life. With the 44 items in his backpack representing Rob’s entire material wealth, he’s a self-confessed extremist, but also a powerful counter to the extreme reality we currently live in.
It’s a way of life designed to get others to take notice and self-reflect.
“I mean, I grew and foraged a hundred percent of my food for a year,” Rob continues. “My goal through that is to get people questioning what they’re currently eating, and if they don’t like the answers to what they find, then going into the alternatives.
“That could be connecting with local farmers and growers, or local food co-ops. There’s a deep connection with growing our own food even if it’s just a little bit. It could mean harvesting dandelions or purslane or amaranth that’s growing up through the cracks in the city or in the abandoned lots or in people’s backyards.”
Making positive change
However, many people find it hard to take the first step towards living in a way that feels less impactful. Rob’s suggestion is to start small, and not underestimate the impact this can have, because the biggest change is the change that takes place within yourself.
“When you make fifty changes like that, what you do is you create an empowered human being. What I did is, I made a goal of making one positive change per week, and after two years I had made a hundred positive changes.
“The other suggestion would be to start with what you’re excited about, not with the things that you feel like you have to do,” he adds. “Maybe you’re interested in learning how to make things, whether it be knitting or sewing or leatherwork or metalwork or woodwork.
“Then let those little parts of the web just start to weave into other areas of your life.
“One other tip I want to mention is [to] change your surroundings – it’s so much easier when you are surrounded by the things that you want to be. That could mean living somewhere else or it can mean just finding it within your community.
“We need everybody to be a part of the equation, to work for a more sustainable and just and equal world, and we need people to use their skills. Whatever that skillset is, people can be a part of this movement to create a better world.”