Naturopath and herbalist Sebastian Runde shares his journey of sustainability from Scotland to the hills of central Italy.
Donkey Years was the title I had chosen for my autobiography – the title referring to the years before I actually had donkeys in my life. Now, I have 17 of them. The book, however, I haven’t started yet.
Life as I know it has always been full of drastic and sudden change, breaking with everything that was before – nothing ever worked out as planned. However, when I was a little boy, I could have much rather envisioned the life I live now than the life I lived 15 years ago, when I was working in advertising and was part of the corporate world. The person I was 15 years ago would never have thought that he would end up on a woodland farm in the hills of central Italy.
Home, whatever that meant back then, I left at a very young age – I was 14. An article I had read about a school founded by the philosopher and teacher J. Krishnamurti was so incredibly inspiring that I took off, hitchhiking, to find the school of which the only thing I knew was that it was in southern England. I was lucky, after four days of travel I found it and eventually became a student there. Little did I know what impact those years at Brockwood Park would have on me. They have shaped my life since and led me to where I am today.
During the 18 years I spent in Zurich, Switzerland, advertising and film was my life; I enjoyed what I was doing and apparently was not bad at it either. I had a good life, big cars and bespoke suits. Working 90-hour weeks was not unusual, nor was earning good money. One day I bought myself a rather costly sports car. At the first red traffic light driving away from the car dealership – like a bucket of ice water in my face, an epiphany – I was suddenly aware that I really did not need all this, I wondered whether I was really doing what I loved. At school, the main objective was to find out what you really loved. The red light did not want to change to green, the halt was very welcome, the good life I felt I had seemed so utterly superficial and senseless. And no, I was not doing what I really loved. I might have functioned rather well, my executive life had its own momentum, the swirl of its g-force embracing me comfortably, but it was numbing, it utterly lacked the vitality of life. My life was so crowded with stuff, an accumulation of things, useless things. I had too much of everything. And I decided to get rid of it all, to start anew, fresh, and begin to do what I loved.
We all know what we really love, it is not that one needs to look for it. Shedding one’s life of the superfluous helps to let it shine bright and clear. In my case it is a deep and profound love for nature. My plan was to move to the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, where I still had a house (well, a ruin). I closed shop in Zurich.
But a phone call to a friend would change all my plans: “Oh hello Sebastian, sorry I cannot talk right now, I have friends here from Italy”, and then jokingly, “wouldn’t you like take over a farm in Umbria?” I replied that right now in my present situation I might even consider that possibility, and he replied “no, no, for a folly like this you need to be young, full of power and above all, full of illusions.”
When I went to bed that night, my gut-feeling said ‘why not? Why not try something completely new?’ Going back to something is not half as attractive as trying something never done before. I had never been to Italy, nor did I speak the language, but the idea to move there appealed to me tremendously. It felt right, I couldn’t explain why.
My gut feeling was right, I found what I had been looking for all my life, I found home.
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity
Good life is something completely different today, it means doing as little harm to the environment as possible, embracing a sustainable lifestyle, challenging oneself to live off as little as possible. And enjoying and loving it.
It has been 11 years now that I have been here in the woods and during all this time I haven’t bought a single item of new clothing; everything I own I had before or is second-hand. I grow my own food, even mill the flour for bread and pasta. And as not to waste precious drinking water, I installed a compost toilet – mind you, not a terrible latrine, but an amazing ‘Loo with a View’. It is a life of great luxury, because every single step makes sense and is integrated into the natural cycle of Mother Nature. There is a right time for everything and one develops a great sensitivity for those natural cycles.
Plants are a great passion of mine, well, they are at the bases of our life, aren’t they? Be it for food, fibres for clothing, building material, medicine and, of course, the oxygen we breathe – we are nothing without them. Every little weed deserves our love and respect.
Plants are so inspirational, too, and I love to investigate the different possibilities for inspiring that love for plants in other people through my work as a naturopath and herbalist, by producing natural cosmetics and through my love for a plant-based diet.
Life As I Know It is full of surprises that want to be embraced. To be happy is a conscious decision of how we choose to view our world, a filter we install into our perception of our reality. I am happy and blessed. While harvesting olives last week, high up in the trees, a dear friend of mine talked about life being all about relationships; I believe that is very true and we are here to inspire each other.
While writing these lines I have a fire crackling in the stove, a view across the fields with the donkeys peacefully grazing and Adriano, my wonderful husband, spoiling me with tea and biscuits. Could life get any better? Most certainly, with every moment it does. When I was about five years’ old I was convinced I’d live to be 120 years’ old – the childhood me was so right with many things and I hope with this one, too, I do love life.
See Sebastian’s recipe for a warming winter bowl with cavolo nero and chickpeas.