Over twenty years ago, Emma Orbach made the decision to leave the modern world behind.
She lives in the Welsh woodlands on her own land, at the base of the Preseli Mountains.
She grew up in a ‘rundown’ castle and attended Oxford University to study Chinese. However, following her intuitive connection with the Earth, she chose to pursue a life entirely without electricity, modern technology, or furniture.
For her home, she built a Celtic-style round hut from straw bales and horse manure, with a wooden reciprocal frame roof. Instead of electric lights, ovens and heaters, she has a fireplace. She collects fresh water from a stream, grows her own vegetables, keeps goats for milk and uses horses for transport.
Emma Orbach, alongside a few others who wished to live off the land in a similar way, transitioned to this style of living in the 90s, initially without planning permission. Over the years, she has faced substantial legal pushback in her effort to uphold her lifestyle. Eventually, she became the first person to be granted permission to live as she does under the ‘One Planet Development’ policy.
I spoke to Emma Orbach, communicating back and forth via handwritten letters (and one postcard), to learn more about the philosophy behind her unique lifestyle.
The Indiependent: What would you say gave you the awareness to first hear the call of the wild, and then what gave you the courage to step into eco-conscious living in the way that you have?
Emma Orbach: It was natural for me to find a way of living that enabled me to express my love for the Earth and feel it reciprocated. ‘Eco-conscious’ living is not necessarily rooted in the heart and love, quite often it is fear-driven and in the head. I never found a way to feel happy in the modern world—so it didn’t take much courage to leave it, and find a more beautiful way of living.
Describe an average morning in your life.
I tend to wake up at dawn, so that can be a bit early in summer. Usually, I’m up and have had my breakfast by seven, and then I check in with the plants in the garden. I milk the goats around eight. Then I have a meditation with my out-of-body friends from the spirit realms until 9ish. Then it’s on to washing up/cleaning my hut. 10 am—[I have a] meeting in the community building with others staying on the land who feel like doing some physical work. 12:30/1—Lunchtime.
You named the land on which you live ‘Tir Ysbrydol’ meaning ‘Spirit Lands’ in Welsh. You built a ‘Spirit House’, you’re clearly a very spirit-led person; in what ways has your natural lifestyle shaped (and worked hand-in-hand with) your spirituality?
We have all had many lifetimes during the patriarchy. The patriarchal religions do not include the Earth (and often persecuted people who loved the Earth e.g. burning witches). As I found my way back to living simply on the Earth, many things ‘woke up’ in me—memories—which I feel I knew and understood from long ago. For me, it is not about doing things in a particular way—because that is how it is done—it is about feeling in my heart how I want to do things and express my spiritual connection to the Earth. Living naturally without electromagnetic or microwave disturbance also allows easy access for our spirit guides from the higher dimensions.
You’ve stated that you believe artificial light is a mistake and emphasise the importance of darkness. Seeds first need darkness in order to grow, and perhaps humans do too. What is the significance of darkness in your life?
Darkness is the Yin. The feminine, right-brain—receptive, intuitive consciousness, nurturing, still, silent, peaceful and inactive. In the ideal, in balance with, and informing, our rational, active, Yang/male left-brain consciousness. However, in our culture people are afraid of the dark and there are so many lights. It is hard to find darkness in much of Britain. I have come to realise how much I need darkness and silence. I have many of my clearest realisations lying awake in the dark between 1—3 am. I feel that moonlight, starlight and darkness nourish our non-rational intuitive right brains.
Do you believe people are actively discouraged from living in a way which does not centralise the economy in its priorities?
I suspect that the most subversive thing you can do in a consumer society is to live simply and not make anyone rich.
You live a life that fully embraces the elements and seasons. How do you cope with the cold of winter? And what is your advice for embracing times of discomfort?
The straw bale huts that we live in are very well insulated and probably warmer and less damp than most ‘normal’ houses. I wear layers of wool in winter and several layers of woollen ponchos when I’m outside. My lifestyle is physically active and that helps me to have good circulation and keep warm. For me, modern life with all its electromagnetic and microwave energy, traffic, pollution, fear etc. is deeply uncomfortable, so I tend to avoid it.
Do you believe freedom is rooted in simplicity?
There is freedom from being a wage slave that can be found in living simply. A greater freedom would be freedom from fear which is a life choice.
As time goes on, it feels like your message will only increase in potency. Many people who see your life call it the dream, although perhaps not every person would be physically or logistically able to fully realise it for themselves. In broad terms, what would you consider to be ‘progress’ for humanity? What is your hope for the future?
‘Progress’ for humanity, in my mind, would be to stop polluting and destroying Nature. To have respect and love for all beings that share this planet with us. To end wars and fighting. To share the abundance of the Earth to end poverty and hunger. To go beyond fear.
Words by Jake Walker-Charles
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