Saturday, January 14, 2012

Prana and Permaculture -- The Adventures of Having Pink-Eye at Earth Activist Training

I’m at Earth Activist Training right now, on my day off from student teaching here with Starhawk, Jason, Laura Maples, and Erik.  In spite of the fact that the training is so intense, I feel completely renewed and impassioned – I felt a shift happen on that first day, during our first brainstorm about what this course is about, as I listened to the course participants share what the word "Permaculture" meant to them.  Thrivability.  Restorative.  Spirals.  Food forests.  Earth working earth.  Living harmony.  Relationship.

Being here at Earth Activist Training and the feeling of renewal that it has brought could not have come at a better time for me.  I came here suffering from post-Occupation burnout, heavy financial challenges, biting and sometimes debilitating self-doubt, stress, and a bad case of pink-eye.  Even though I only have a couple of bucks to my name and it’s a fairly stressful situation here, with 14 hour work days the norm,  the pink-eye has cleared up and my heart feels listed.  I’m present to the beauty of the world again, the blue sky marbled by wispy clouds, the tapestry of green trees blanketed over the steep Cazadero hills, the warmth of the sunshine (even if does seem is a bit too-sunny for mid January), and the feel of the living earth under my feet.  She is not simply ground.  She is a being, and my feet touch and are touched by her skin of rock and herb and soil.

Starhawk told us during the opening circle that in studying and teaching permaculture, she found a “how-to” manual for living a spiritual path that centers on healing the earth and living in harmony with the earth's natural systems.  Synchronistically, during the many hours I spent lying on my back with chamomile and eyebright compresses on my teary, irritated eyes, the one thing that I productive thing I managed to do was to listen to a beautiful set of podcasts about Ayurvedic medicine by Jai Dev from Floracopeia.  Ayurveda is a holistic science (related to yoga) that studies how lifeforce – called prana – takes shape, moves, and manifests in nature. 

Both of these courses of study -- permaculture and Ayurveda -- stem from the natural human craving to understand the miracle that is our world.  For many of us in industrialized societies, this natural yearning has been exploited to bolster a mythology that tells us that humans are inherently disconnected and even at odds with the forces of nature, rather than nurturing and deepening an understanding of the inherent interconnection of all beings and the divine intelligence of life – which is my mythos, the story that I align my life with now.  It is also the mythos of indigenous people all over the world, and my own indigenous ancestors. 

That one thing – the act of aligning with a paradigm of interconnection rather than disconnection, life rather than mechanism  -- is itself an act of healing, a balm for body and soul.  Actually, I don't doubt that my heart is always present to the interconnection of life and the beautiful, overarching divine intelligence of the cosmos.  The issue is really that I become disjointed inside of myself: mind from body, soul from mind.  Ayurveda philosophy teaches that one of the most prominent causes of disease (perhaps, actually, the most detrimental) is that disjointedness, which they call “forgetting of our true nature.”

How can we forget our true nature?  What makes this happen?  It depends on so many factors, but for me, it is the things that spin me into a wobbly irregular orbit: electric lights overhead as I stay awake long into the night reading one day (only to fall asleep after a late dinner the next), flying on jet planes and going through radioactive security checkpoints, a sporadic but busy schedule, the addictive buzz of the internet and cell phones, anonymous relationships with most of the people that I interact with in my daily city life.  It’s a certain kind of crazy.  I don’t feel that kind of crazy here, in the hills of Cazadero, submersing myself in the beauty of this gorgeous natural place and the hopeful determination of the Permaculturists.  I can also see, delving deep into this science of sustainability and integrating ways to restore what has been damaged, a way out of the trap of craziness... a way out of this disjointed lifestyle that fosters the forgetting of my true nature.

I wonder what it would be like to interweave some of these systems of traditional healing with the cutting-edge world of Permaculture, which is so focused on earth-healing.  Wouldn't it be amazing to apply the study of prana and how lifeforce manifests into matter to a radical design system that focuses on the ways that plants help protect one another from pests, and how to recycle graywater, and creating alternative currencies and timebanks?  Sounds like a rich possibility, perhaps one to keeping thinking on.  Of course, it isn’t like David Holmren and Bill Mollison and the other founding members of the Permaculture movement birthed their ideas out of nowhere -- they too studied the methods of traditional cultures.

I feel excited about where this is all going: Occupy, Permaculture, the Transition Town Movement, and the plethora of people studying nature-based healing arts and spiritual practices around the world.  It’s the beginning of 2012, a year that for many hallmarks the beginning of the end of the world -- yet another thing we learned from an indigenous culture, and like many of those things, was butchered during translation (aka appropriation).  This is not the end of the world.  It’s the beginning of a new way of living on this earth that involves reclaiming the wisdom of our ancestors, healing the miraculous life-giving systems and our own sanity, and deepening our understanding of balance, relationship, and our truest natures. 




Food forests.  

Earth working earth.  

Living harmony.  

Blessed be.

* * * * *

Want to be inspired?  Here are some good places to start:
Earth Activist Training
What is Permaculture? from Penny Livingston and the Regenerative Design Institute
Another article on Permaculture by my co-teacher Eric Ohlsen, owner of Permaculture Artisans
A good article on the Transition Town Movement at Huffington Post
Permaculture at Occupy Wall Street
A beautiful page about Edible Forest Gardens
More of Mona Caron's beautiful utopian images of the future