”Hey, any chance you could lend a hand for a while?”
I clinch as if someone would have woken me up from a dream. I turn my head towards the voice and see a decent looking guy standing few meters away from me, observing me questioningly. He grins and continues:
“I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything. I was just wondering if you could help me out by picking up some herbs from the garden. It’s for the common dinner.”
I clear my throat while trying to get over the fact that he caught me off guard.
“Don’t worry about it, I was just completely merged into my own world“, I manage to say.
“Whoa, arrived here today and already practicing your mindfulness? I admire your dedication.”
We both laugh and he leads the way to the garden. The garden is abundant in different types of vegetables, roots and herbs – a true self-sufficient paradise. I and Elliot, which appears to be the name of this guy showing me around, are greeted by a few goats, chickens, the house dog called Toto and even a charming bunch of mini pigs. All of them are running around freely in a collective, sympathetic harmony. Elliot scratches Toto firmly and finally taps it on the sides as it sprints across the garden towards the main house.
“The animals are part of the family; we only use what’s natural to take. It’s vital for the chickens to lay eggs, crucial for the cows and goats to be milked and well, mini pigs…They’re just adorable”, Elliot notes affectionately.
After a wholesome dinner, I again find myself in my own thoughts. The year is 2030, which marks a 15 year milestone since I last visited Chur. I was an exchange student back then and boy, did I have fun. However, soon after returning back home to Finland, life happened and pulled me in to all different possible directions.
Somewhere along the way I realized I was irritatingly and disgustingly busy. When I forgot my sister’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary, I recognized how self-centered I actually was. I got sucked into the rushed, fast life characterized through ethical blindness and ignorance towards the surrounding environment. I remember living my life through achievements and accomplishments, which would both then contribute to my happiness later on.
Suddenly I feel a warm breeze gently playing with my hair. The sun is slowly setting behind the mountain I marvel upon. Different shades of orange and pink create a beautiful canvas on the sky – the nature’s own masterpiece. The late summer evening is accompanied by joyful laughter, smooth tunes of jazz and lively conversations. People are having fun and I find myself asking out loud “Why not be happy now?”
The next morning I wake up feeling refreshed and brisk, despite the fact that last night continued until to the very late hours. I simply couldn’t oppose the pirate juice, also known as rum, and the inspiring conversations shared by rest of the group here at Sustained Serenity.
After a mouth-watering breakfast, I decide to familiarize myself with the activities Sustained Serenity provides. I am immediately drawn to try meditation as it has been on my “To try-list” for too long. I enter the room, spread the mat in front of me and find a comfortable position. The class is instructed by a strikingly beautiful woman, Zara, whose pure elegance mesmerizes instantly. We start our session. A little fly lands on my knee, it annoys me. I start to feel itchy.
“Yesterday was such a lovely night with Elliot and the others”, I catch myself thinking.
“Wonder what I’ll do after this…Pilates maybe? I hope there’s that delicious homemade bread at dinner again… Darn, I totally forgot to share the snap of that beautiful evening sky yesterday! Wow, I really need to pee.”
It doesn’t take too long to discover my mind is racing. Why is it so hard to focus on the moment, on the breathing, simply on clearing one’s head?
I find myself asking these particular questions from Zara after class. She looks at me attentively and reveals that perfect set of perfectly white teeth. She laughs like she’s been asked for the same questions innumerable amount of times before and says:
“Especially when you’re a beginner, you can’t possibly empty your mind right away. What we ideally prefer at Sustained Serenity, is to plant a little seed in your head which can then grow into continuous acts, a lifestyle.”
Slightly confused I go and search for Elliot, who together with Zara and a few others, is the founder of Sustained Serenity, also referred to as the “House of education, awareness and sustained happiness”. I find Elliot washing one of the electric cars that is used for getting into town center.
“Can you still recall the time when you actually had to stop at a petrol station to fuel up? Gosh, it’s so much easier with these electric vehicles – just plug it in to a power station and that’s it”, I say knowingly and continue in the same breath, “Would you mind shedding some light on the fundamental reasons why Sustained Serenity exists?”
Elliot looks delighted and voices “I thought you’d never ask.”
Elliot takes me for a wander through the grounds of Sustained Serenity. We pass by the charismatic tree houses that serve the purpose of guest accommodation; apparently they are built from logs that were naturally fallen down. The exterior is lined with flexible solar panels yet the roof is made out of recycled clear glass, allowing the visitor to gaze upon the stars by night. After getting over the fact that my little room was hanging from a tree, I can’t remember the last time I slept so well.
“One of the key challenges in setting up our settlement”, Elliot pauses, “was the bureaucracy. It was in 2022 when we hit the jackpot after going through massive amount of paperwork and fighting over construction rules and guidelines. We had to go as far as applying a construction permission from the Chur City Council after presenting them our business plan. Before, however, it was required that the Swiss Government would alter the old guidelines. Crazy. I think the political breakthrough was largely impacted by the promise of how we would construct Sustained Serenity – minimal effect to the natural landscape, thus the fused in tree houses that you just saw.”
“It was also challenging to gain the support of the local producers since they immediately thought we would mean competition; they thought we were a group of farmers. It took us some time to convince them that we would actually need their contribution, since we only use what we can grow to a certain extent and the remaining commodities we acquire from the local producers. Surprisingly, a lot of skepticism arose from the local public as well. Arguments such as “Will it be possible to sustain an all year round community up in the mountains?” didn’t however discourage us – after all we wanted to have premiere seats for the sunrises and sets”, Elliot says with irony in his voice.
He continues: “Aligning with the smaller producers and getting accepted by the other locals was a game changer in achieving publicity and awareness for Sustained Serenity. We have now created a positive cycle in which supporting locality boosts up the economy here in Chur and makes the place more attractive for the young job seekers. On a larger scale, the international visitors, just like yourself”, Elliot nods towards me, “will bring some kick to the Swiss tourism industry.”
We pause in the middle of a dense forest where there’s a spot for a campfire. The area is surrounded by different sized benches and ready cut firewood.
“What are the others doing?” I ask as I glance around the forest and see people crouching over tussocks and attentively examining the trunks of the trees.
“Oh, it’s part of our Gathering course. We teach how to utilize the nature to the maximum without actually harming it. It’s mind-blowing how much we can get out of nature, but it requires an extensive knowledge base to know what to gather and what not. I think they’re now learning which insects are appropriate to eat”, Elliot notes casually and smirks.
Right, insects – the new super food. Regardless, I’m not ready to give up my granola just yet.
We sit down on one of the benches, Elliot takes a deep breath in and begins:
“Essentially, we pride ourselves as a local livelihood. We started as a close group of friends with varying expertise from the fields of wellbeing, conservation and sustainability. The place would not be up and running without our extensive network and these people who are crazy enough to devote their lives to the common objective. Creating a locally sustained community while passing on the message of mindfulness and slow movement is our primary aspiration.
Why? Well, we noticed the world was, let’s say evolving too quickly. Don’t get me wrong, progress is a positive thing, but somehow the world seemed to be racing; who will get the last of the remaining oil, will the artificial intelligence replace human brain, which businesses run the world, which politicians have the last word? At the same time this continuous competition and overachieving mirrored to the daily lives of normal people. As a counterforce to feeling constantly rushed and on the move, we saw it as inevitable for people to stop, simply breathe in and go back to basics. I call it the art of stillness. Living slowly is very much about connecting ourselves more meaningfully to people and places around us without forgetting the importance of seeking the connection to our inner world. Here the essential aim is a gradual separation from fast-paced and consumption-focused life into a more serene, balanced and sustainable lifestyle.
True talent is also knowing how to exploit the existing resources we already have. That’s what we’re trying to transmit here, like you saw with the example of our Gathering course. Through these actions we wish to have a positive impact on the global ecological footprint, reducing it to an appropriate level”, Elliot states after a long monologue.
“Could you further elaborate, please?” I ask curiously.
“Right, well in case we will succeed in teaching people how to live off land more efficiently, not to regress but to harness the existing resources, we are well on our way towards having a smaller impact on our globe. In simple terms, global ecological footprint is a measure which indicates how many Earths we need to regenerate everything we consume in a year. We have many international visitors coming here and once they’re gone, they hopefully take our teachings with them and ideally start applying these learnings in their daily lives, wherever their home might be. Empowering people here locally and afterwards seeing the results globally is one of the key aims of Sustained Serenity.”
Elliot gives me an earnest look and continues:
“You know there is an Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the day when humanity has already used the resources that cover our needs? From that day on we live on the expense of consuming more than our Earth can generate. When Sustained Serenity was established, scientists calculated that in 2030, so this year”, Elliot looks at me while raising his eyebrows, “it would take two Earths to support us if we continue producing and consuming as we have. Talk about a decent motivator to set up this place…”
I stop and reflect of what I just heard. I start to realize there is a larger vision behind Sustained Serenity than just allowing oneself a luxurious break from the buzz. Elliot says:
“I know what you’re thinking of; what is the linkage between the spiritual healing emphasized here and then again the endeavors towards sustainable living? We believe that once people are happy with their personal lives, and thus the teachings of slow movement, only then they can genuinely contribute to their environment. In other words, after getting our own lives together, we can start allocating our personal resources to be used towards common benefits and sustainable means of living. After a visit at Sustained Serenity people will be more concerned to live in a place that contributes to their happiness.
Having said that, Sustained Serenity depends strongly on its visitors. Visitors should feel they are part of a bigger picture. Without them it is difficult to imagine spreading out the message, since the magnificent power of making a change lies in people. One of the anticipated problems we have faced however, has been attracting visitors; the public tends to see us as green hippies who offer some sort of a retreat. That is hardly the case. Above all, we want our visitors to have fun! I mean, we do drink here and enjoy the somewhat hedonistic joys of life, for example Netflix is one of my favorites and social media as a marketing tool is mind-blowing. Technology provides us with amazing things, however questioning the hype around it is only healthy.”
Noticing how much ambition Elliot has in himself, makes me realize how much I admire him. I ask gently:
“So if you could squeeze your vision of Sustained Serenity into one sentence, how would it go?”
“Ha, easy! Sustained Serenity is a sustainability hot spot where experts, wanderers, visitors with ambition, volunteers, free souls and the wild hearts, visionaries and researchers meet and exchange knowledge, contacts as well as stories and thus influence one another in reaching sustainability in the everyday life and beyond.”
I nod and twitch a little as Elliot grabs my hand and whispers:
“C’mon, I’ll show you the rest of our paradise.”
I giggle and understand why people visit Sustained Serenity: being surrounded by such an inspiring community inevitably changes one’s mindset. I feel empowered and encouraged to be a better person towards myself and the people around me without forgetting the place I live, our Earth.
We asked a bunch of young people living in Chur to evaluate the concept of Sustained Serenity and to assess the likelihood of them visiting such a place. Read their thoughts by clicking the ”YOC“ icon.