A Counsel of Resistance and Delight in the Face of Fear – Martin Shaw
My cherokee white eagle corn grew a special mushroom! I am going to cook it. Where did it come from? Who had grown corn in this little subdivision I’m currently staying in; where was the fungus living this whole time?
Edit: I ate it in a quesadilla. It was like delicious chewy mushroom corn and so far I have not died.
In 1995, a new invasive* species was discovered in a lake outside of Butte, Montana. The body of water where it proliferates, known as the Berkeley Pit, is a defunct open-pit copper mine that is slowly filling with groundwater that leaches heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and aluminum from the mine’s 2,000-foot-deep surface. […]
Though the water in the pit has a pH of 2.5, as acidic as lemon juice and considered inhospitable to life, a novel species has emerged and is slowly but surely changing the lake’s toxic brew to one more habitable. [….] a colony of Euglena mutabilis, a single-celled organism that forms algae-like mats. How Euglena came to grow in the Berkeley Pit is unknown, although some attribute its spread to a flock of 350 snow geese that landed (and subsequently died) in the lake several months prior to the discovery of the organism. The geese may have carried spores of the Euglena in their feces.
Euglena are among the oldest organisms in the world, having survived since the time when conditions on Earth were not too dissimilar to those found in the Berkeley Pit – ancient acidic oceans were full of heavy metals and other free-floating elements. [….] Euglena are ecosystem engineers. […]
They thrive in the heavy-metal laden waters of the lake and are removing the iron, zinc, and cadmium out of solution, storing it in their bodies, and rendering the metals biologically inert. When they die, their bodies and the metals they contain are deposited in the sediments at the bottom of the lake. The chemistry of the Berkeley Pit is changing slowly but surely, and research is underway to encourage the proliferation of Euglena and similar organisms to biologically treat the water before its spills into critical waterways. Since the discovery of Euglena mutabilis, more than forty species of similar microorganisms have been discovered in the lake, several of them new to science. Many of these have found suitable habitat because of the pioneering work of the Euglena, and they also serve to neutralize and remediate the pit’s toxic water.
–Tao Orion from Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration
In Permaculture, teachers often say “the problem is the solution.” Beyond simply being a helpful design principle, e.g. ‘your slug problem is a duck opportunity,’ I’m starting to perceive within it something more personally transformative: a total invitation of opposite, enemy, and other into synthesis, birth, reunion; an alchemy of sickness into medicine, and a Great Wiggle through the line we each choose to draw between them.
For me, “the problem is the solution” points us towards taking a stance of brave curiosity before our darkest places, our slug places – those for which we might construct an entire life of consumptive rituals just to avoid having to see because of how painful the truths they conceal may at first be. The problems are that the crops will fail, the waters will rise, countless forms will go extinct, our bodies will be torn apart, and our lives will be forgotten. The dance of life makes and unmakes us in the same sudden and shameless whirl. The “problem is the solution” calls us to look into the terrific shadow wisdom without which we can never have a hope of creating a whole.
In an ecosystem, everything anything produces becomes a source of life for something else. The shadow of one being is the shade of another. The death of one being is the food of many. Nothing is an accident, nothing is an isolate, and nothing is useless – and, even if something were all three of those things, there would be nowhere but here to dispose of it, anyway.
When we say “problem is the solution,” we’re talking about an output (“problem”) that holds the possibility of life, somewhere, someday. It may be the most toxic frightening horrible mining waste – or, the basement shoebox of our ancestors’ traumatic pain that we are relieved to lose in the floods. All of these problems / outputs can become, like the Berkeley Pit Superfund site’s toxic heavily metaled 2.5 pH water is for the Euglena, a beginning, a solution; the beginning of some rare bacteria that can create medicine and begin, slowly, to clean the water – so that one day it may be abundant again with life, story, “solution,” the beginning of the clear waters of self-acceptance and self-compassion so that we may be free again to fully love others.
Other ways of saying this:
I imagine Zen teacher Thich Naht Hahn saying that the problem is made entirely of non-problem parts and the solution is made entirely of non-solution parts.
I imagine my partner saying that the separation of good and bad, this and that, is the fundamental pattern of the dominator culture we are working to heal.
Finally, another riddle, and one I’ve found useful for Permaculture design:
Ecological Philosopher Dave Jacke: “A problem, a question, and an intention are the same.”
May we serve life like goose shit in a toxic lake.
*The author Tao Orion uses the word ‘invasive’ in a way here meant to deconstruct it. I highly recommend her book, Beyond the War on Invasive Species, as what may be the best Permaculture and ecological text I’ve ever read.
In March, I left my job. With so much support and love from the beings closest to me, I was finally able to be very honest with myself about what I needed in light of the feelings in my heart and how I felt I could personally best contribute to the collective shifting of our collapsing earth and human systems towards regeneration.
The second wild leap I made after leaving my job was to continue my learning in Permaculture and creating community by throwing myself into a 3-month immersion at Earthaven ecovillage in Black Mountain, NC. Making this sudden decision was a commitment to the new way I’m setting out on, and a way to prepare me for full-time creating community, practicing Permaculture, and growing most of our food when I get back. P. has been completely supportive of this abrupt adventure as a way for me to collect a basket of cultural seeds to bring back to our region and home. I’m now 2 months into this experience, and wanted to share it.
I know it’s with great privilege that I’m able to make these leaps in this specific time in this specific way. Deep gratitude to everyone who has supported me, fed me, taught me, and believed in me, and especially to P., who has been insisting patiently and firmly from the beginning that I follow my heart completely and fearlessly.
Here is my experience at Earthaven so far.
Living like a mountain pt. 1
There is a flowering mountain valley in which culture grows. Culture: songs, feasts, rituals, grieving, healing, hollering, learning, sharing, loving, dancing, praying, working, surrendering, rising up. Some small subset of the real modern humans we are and know and love and hate find themselves for whatever reasons in a mountain stream valley somewhere in the foothills of the Blue Ridge region of the Southern Appalachians, and culture slowly but inevitably begins to grow all over them like lichens landing on a tree. Culture there is woven by the birdsongs and watersongs and curves of the winding hobbit homes and gardens and budding trees and pollen barfs and potlucks almost as insistently and 24-7 as the media weaves the consumer culture it insists we are born solely to feed our lives to. Like everywhere, culture emerges from the tools we hold each day, the resources we harvest with them and rely on, and the way we order ourselves in relation to each other and all life – all of it echoing in a steady insistent cyclical drumbeat story of how ‘I’ relates to and comes to co-create all that noise.
People of Earthaven, in the sudden grace of the slowness that is a forest’s waiting gift each at some point miraculously came to notice this silently glimmering jewel that was mysteriously and subtly concrescing and metamorphosing subtly, almost invisibly on the flesh of each of them every day they lived out there in the Valley, it somehow feeding off the light that mazed through the almost blanketing canopy of their old fears and desperate arguments and always uphill efforts fighting the slugs and pill bugs that ate the food they actually really needed to grow to live and stopped. Struck by a shared recognition of that slow growing light in occasional moments, before then of course inevitably relapsing into modernity’s learned baseline of struggle and amnesia and pain and despair, they collectively forest-gardened these fertile gaps in the pain and the old story to quickly feed and fix in the soil some part of this holy beauty named Possibility that had somehow been working on them in the background all the while even while they thought they might be making nothing more than old newspapers clenching a rain-stained piece of paper with flower language and a group mortgage, after all.
This is the gift that Earthaven has to share: a heartbreakingly believable glimpse of one fragile and shaky like a newborn fawn creation of the very possible beginning of a maybe open-eyed real-and-so-flawed-and-breakable human-scale earth-regenerative gloriously therapeutically wireless-less and just maybe still somehow resplendently alive love- and life-generating cooperative culture that comes from beings who have lived through, metabolized, excreted, and then hot composted some portion of their personal experience of the post-modern buzzworded, sponsored by, cookied, and push-notified, war-fueled and screen-enslaved, anti-depressed, overnight-shipped, and genetically modified microwaveable and 0% approval rating but 5 stars in the app store standard american life that does a great job of persuading us we, the most courageous and deeply companioned lifeforms that have ever existed, are somehow pitiful and alone.
Oh yes! we Valley people are still messing up all the time. Elders have to go to the forest to cry and swear and shout because trying to get along with each other this intimately is so hellishly brutally exhaustingly impossible, and after giving twenty years of their lives to just barely holding it together, it is still as ready as twenty years ago to in a moment’s notice schism violently into the thousand jagged moons that some Charlotte developer standing at the property line is already anticipatedly drafting brochures and drooling pooled investment saliva towards carrying the millions of legal system enzymes that scientists have reliably found to digest authentic village life into “authentic village life TM.” A voicemail on the shared phone system that we use for announcements has an apology from a community member for screaming at the top of her lungs outside her home at 2am because the pain was so great that she absolutely needed to shout like an emerging newborn towards the womb of the sky. Crops fail, legal trouble happens, people quit in sorrow and anger, neighbors fly apart, marriages shatter, and new people walk in and we inevitably point out that for an ecovillage, we sure aren’t growing all of our own food yet, we sure do still need to go into town a lot for income and groceries, we sure do cost too much for half of americans to live in, we sure are almost 100% white, we sure don’t have the answers like many people desperately hoped we did because someone somewhere has to have them when the questions are this piercingly eschatologically loud – right?
Up in one of the many neighborhoods that grows out of some curve of the mountain, there is a poster that says “all life is an experiment.” I’ve been experimenting with calling to the cardinal at dusk, the show-off generous beginner-friendly high-contrast bird that flies between Durham and Earthaven. If I answer his nighttime call with my best imitation, he adds in a few more verses. We go back and forth until one of us dares the other to take it too far. Then the other stops. In that cessation, I can hear the glimmer of the jewel of this experiment in its most simple form: in this Valley, all we really do is we occasionally get to remember that we are in intimate relation to everything and everyone. For a moment, we are back in the loop, back in the web, back in the garden, and we’re an equal and welcomed resident, a humble and impermanent part of the most grandiose, a grandiose and irreplaceable part of the most humble.
On this: MLK and Ghandi and Buddha and elders of almost every indigenous culture and just about everyone who ever glimpsed this glimmer of Beloved Community, of the original garden, tell us that we are interdependent and, believing them, we nod our heads or raise our fists or maybe hold a mudra; but I and maybe others have found that it is so so so so so hard to actually hold and carry that truth, past the hip ironic credentialed skeptic of our caffeinated forebrains, past the public school learned reply of our corporate-leased and clenching throats, through the future-anxious tightness of our city traffic congested lungs, through the wasteland of factory food paving over the seafloor folds of our warm guts, through the confused and commodified shame-blocked creative longings of our genitals, all the way back up and still at least recognizably intact to our ready, kneeling, beating, patient, ancient, attentive, spacious hearts where we can really, for once, after a whole life of secretly weeping inside and wanting to die because we’ve felt so damn lonely and seperate and unwelcome and fundamentally unworthy since childhood, to finally and healingly perceive, feel, be invited to, reunite with, and abide fully and worthily and humbly and so especially musically in the ancient and future unending symphony of all singing and cooperating wet laughing squirming dying birthing building pluriform prism-hued earth intimately interdependent life.
Media, money, and militarism, those three tired accidental demons whose dull digitized empire we now find ourselves and our children born into require a 24-hours-a-day instantly on-demand livestreaming HD 4k shout spectacle trillions of dollars loud and 10,000 e-waste landfills big just to clawingly and only falteringly keep us from the absolutely terrifying-to-them possibility of us once again hearing the simplest, oldest, and most transformative of truths that is shamelessly and blatantly danced by every flower and every grandmother’s face.
Earthaven is a Valley where this hearing, this remembering of our intimate interbeing with all life, is finally truly just about inevitable at some point for everyone because everything is so alive and unrepentantly beautiful and because there are distractions few enough and time slow enough to at least momentarily come to reinhabit our real selves. There is no media (except the loveable phone system and occasional, cumbersome use of internet), no money (except paying dues, which can admittedly still be a lot for many people, and the alternative currency, the Earthaven Leap), and no militarism – none at all, because non-violence in the deepest sense is woven into everyone and every act, right down from the way that we grow our abundant juicy ecstatic food without cutting and breaking and spraying and fighting the teeming life-scented ambrosial mother soil to how if someone is experiencing rage in a fiercely contentious meeting that is breaking their heart, they’re given the real welcome chance to shout, scream, cry, curse, and then be held by a dozen old friends and family who honor and witness how heartbreakingly hard it really is, has been, and always will be to be all human beings with language and awareness and love for other beings.
End of part 1!!
FRIENDLY ATTACHED QUERIES:
How many people live there? Where is it? What is there vision, mission, cost of living, etc.?
Why are you there?
Since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve been overwhelmed with the pain of our world and I just kept watching things in my lifetime, with only a few small exceptions, continually get globally worse for almost everyone and definitely for all plants, animals, bees, rivers, and mountains. For a long time I would just get more and more sad and angry and fearful and bitter and I was sure I didn’t want to give my life to passively feed the Terrible-Nothing-Much of Western civilization gone global, but I had no real idea what else I, as a shy ashamed cyberwired individual who is not really being asked by anyone in power whether or not I think we should stop war and climate change and systemic racism and consumer culture madness, could do to intervene. A few years ago, Permaculture found me, and I found the path I can choose to walk to do my small part in this Great Turning we’re all born to be a part of. I took my Permaculture Design Course in 2015, but still didn’t have the learning in my hands, my muscles, my bones, and there was so much to learn. Simultaneously with this, P. and I found our dream of creating a small community together to explore and gift to the world another way of living, but we knew that was a really hard thing to do. Going to Earthaven to learn for 3 months was my answer to feel prepared for the immense transformation from working at a computer to becoming a Permaculturist and community founder; it was also answering a deep need I identified in myself to heal from a life that conflicted with me so deeply, from the constant construction of a condo next to my rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, to my dependence on megacorporations to meet my needs, to my landlady who didn’t let me grow food, and to the computer-imprisoned livelihood that I was fortunate in many respects to have, but nearly being destroyed by daily as my soul screamed to work more directly on our Big Shared Mess.
What about your partner?
I love her with all my soul, have become even closer to her in many ways, go through days and nights of missing her tortuously, practice gratitude for her every evening for being my soul traveler that supports me in this work, and I count the days until I will absolutely come home to her to grow these seeds I’m receiving together, watered and fed equally by the genius in her that is the real reason I can believe in myself and what we’re doing at all.
What do you, Matt, usually do in a day?
Wake up to bird song, pee in a jar to feed to plants, poop in a bucket to turn to soil, let the ducks & chickens out and collect their eggs, go for a slow mindful dawn walk in the forest and offer my anxieties and sorrows to the streams I cross, cook breakfast, garden for a few hours with friends, cook lunch, clean the house together, read about permaculture or work in the nursery or work in the forest garden or go for a walk or nap, bless the food together, share dinner with everyone, clean up with everyone, get into a discussion about permaculture or spirituality or the future or a nature mystery or each other or sing songs together or support someone emotionally together or read a book aloud together or play a game together or go get up to something fun at the council hall or just spend time alone.
What are some of the things you learn or experience at Earthaven?
Making tortillas and pupusas the old old old way, making cordage from Tulip trees, making medicine from weeds, holding people while they cry, jumping over a Beltane fire holding hands, using a scythe to clear a field, dancing to a Marimba band, hearing the eerie similarities in the maize songs of Italy and Guatemala, learning tons from children who know much more about edible weeds and nature than I do, diagnosing a leaking greywater system, cooking for 12 people, getting diarrhea as a community (not related to my cooking), jumping in the freezing swimming hole, inhabiting yomes and gnome homes, feeling relieved that you couldn’t even go online at night if you wanted to, fixing a duck pond, ‘shopping’ at the free store, learning consensus, and how confusingly fast time goes when you garden together and how confusingly slow time goes when you live in an ecovillage.
What are the things you are most freaked-out excited about?
Biocharring bamboo and just about everything else, Milpa farming, coppicing, growing food together, and how loving and courageous people can be with each other when you give them a chance.
I want to come visit! Can I?
Most likely yes 🙂 Call or e-mail me.
When do you come back?
July 3 or earlier.
What are you doing when you get back?
With P., trying to create our answer to the Great Turning based on what we’ve both learned about Permaculture, creating community, and ourselves, which will most likely take the form of a small intentional affordable permacultural community in the Piedmont within 30 minutes of Durham. I also am going to be trying to build community interwoven with what’s happening in Durham, and to be some part of the weaving together of our struggles and lives that I know in my heart we need.
Do you miss e-mails / web pages / the internet?
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…. but I miss you.
Mother Earth has been through changes far greater than those we are creating.
At one point, her entire surface was a blanket of glowing magma. She was as near to a perfect to sphere as she has ever been, shining with the heat of her birth.
Sometime after, another beautiful body collided with hers. When this happened, our Moon was birthed from her side.
In those 5 hour long days of early Earth, Moon, then only a couple hundred miles away, would pull with great tidal force a mile high wave of magma that would wash over her surface continually, rising and crashing down cyclically in each place throughout her 5 hour day.
Each precise moment of Mother Earth’s life is an entirely unique display of the rarest and most surprising forms of beauty. If we heat the planet so much that the ocean currents cease and that anerobic bacteria once more cover her waters, changing the color of her skies and altering the composition of her breath and life, beauty will still follow – beauty on a purple-skied Earth worthy of weeping over.
Lifeforms impossible to imagine will make a home of our changed Mother, who is always above all else offering herself as home to all. Like the great biodiversity that has made a home in her scar of Chernobyl, innumerable beings will sing undiscovered harmonies from the rearranged notes of a yet unborn scale. The pressed gold of her heart will still hold close the warm elemental breath that she draws and exhales through all life.
What we lose in the changes we are causing are the specific perfections that have made this time and place home.
Oak trees. Foxes. Blue whales. Apples. Owls. Corn. Rabbits. Bears. Songbirds. The Eno River. Tomatoes. Honey. Squirrels. Manatees. Dogs. Horses. Deer.
Human culture. Languages. Rituals. Songs. Stories. Relationships. Memories. Crafts. Dwellings. Awe. Our human descendants.
Each form we share this time and place with is the perfected jewel of the moments that came before it. Beauty has found countless ways to inhabit this moment so richly and so fully, and with such commitment as to let itself become forms that would be utterly heartbreaking to surrender back to the formless possible. In fact, all we know about beauty comes from the specific forms of this time and place. All we know about wonder, gratitude, and love comes from making this time and place our home and its forms, our companions.
What we will lose when Mother Earth changes are all the specific impossibly luminous and musical expressions of life through the prism of this moment that are our companions. What we will lose are all of our friends.
What we are trading it all for is the most barren grey engine of mass unhappiness that we just don’t seem to be able to climb out from under. It’s not a few people sitting atop this engine keeping us trapped. It’s just the nature of the trap, that while we’re under it, it’s very hard to move. Someone at the edge gets a limb free and the people in the middle can’t find the heart to believe them. The big grey engine digests our fear that we’ll stay trapped into greed, ignorance, and aggression; and then it does the only thing it can ever do, which is to convert those three ingredients into consumerism, media, and war. The more we feed it, the heavier it becomes on us, which then brings us to feed it more, which makes it heavier, and then –
– under this engine are all of us, our warm bodies carved from the radiant cliffs of pure time. Our ears are the shape of bird song, river run, coyote cry, human laughter. Our hands are the shape for planting seeds, playing drums, our throats are for singing into being our ancestors and ourselves, the impossibly perfect compacted clay beneath is full of the minerals of our home that are just waiting to come alive again and feed trees towering hundreds of feet above us and roots that drip life to all the beings who gather near to them. The Great Figuring Out of all life we share home with never ceases and, most miraculously of all, it will never give up on us. It will try to welcome us back until the very moment we either give ourselves to its love or perish along with the fox and the oaks as humans, leaving forever the last human forms back to Mother Earth’s long dreaming.
Here under the engine, I feel the brush of your hand reaching for the sunlight. I feel the hairs in the seashell of your ear stretching outwards to listen for a friend. I have this sorrowful and sweet laughter somewhere in my belly that knows the weight of the engine above us is only so weighty because of the magic of the human ability to imagine. The power that lets us trap ourselves in a demonic ritual of ceaseless conversion of human and earth communities into dead economic growth is the same power that gives weight to the songs we sing, the words we speak, the earthen shelters we build. In this moment, it is only our own gifts that give weight and substance to the labyrinthine fictions trapping us in a daily clicked and overnight-shipped spiral towards the death of all of our beloveds, all of our cohabitants of this place and time. The mazes of dualisms and debates are lonely wisps distracting us from the simplicity of life’s original and eternal calling: to give ourselves completely to the beautiful co-creation of home.
I’m 100 pages into Edible Forest Gardens Vol. 1 right now, and reading this article from Dan Allen on resilience.org today made me feel really good – especially, this quote:
Look, I’m under no illusion that my food forest will save the world. I strongly suspect that nothing I do will influence whether my children and grandchildren will inherit a healing Gaia or a Gaia thrown into spastic fits of illness.
But that’s not really why I spend so much time planting and communing with my trees.
I do it because it’s beautiful. Because I feel that, in my own bumbling, imperfect way, I’m making something so damn pretty that it sometimes brings me to tears.
I do it for that one moment on a warm Spring morning when a bluebird alights up in one of my chestnut trees and belts out his crazy warbling song, with the rich smell of fungus drifting up from the leaf litter.
I do it because the land on my farm tells me it wants trees.
I do it because the sweet, buttery taste of a ripe American persimmon is what I strongly suspect food tastes like in heaven.
I do it because I like to sit in the cool shade on a hot humid day in July.
I do it because the dead-tired feeling in my muscles at the end of a long work day with my trees is one of the best feelings I know.
I do it because I will never stop being floored at the beauty and mystery of a chestnut sprout poking itself defiantly up through the soil.
I do it because I want to be remembered by my grandchildren as the totally awesome dude who planted this one peach tree that makes the most incredibly delicious fruit you’ve ever eaten in your life. Come here, taste one…
I do it because it makes me feel alive.
I do it because it makes me feel part of something bigger that’s alive.
I do it for love.
And that’s really the only reason to do anything.
- Sat for 15 minutes
- Read chapter 4 of “Coming Back to Life,” on how to lead The Work That Reconnects
- Read chapter 1 of “Edible Forest Gardens” Vol 1.
- Went for a walk around outside Durham in the sun
- Made lunch
- Baked bread
- Started replying to way too many e-mails and set up a bunch of filtering rules
- Wrote this
- Walking around in the sun alerted me to how much I’d been deprived of walking and sun. Though it’s hard with work, I’m going to try to take more walks. I could try walking to work instead of biking.
- Monuts is loud and packed at 11am on a Wednesday
- I deeply miss gardening (my cold frame wasn’t assembled yet)
- I find myself longing for some human cooperation on these Wednesdays. I read a lot of meaningful writing, but then I don’t have anyone to share it with.
- The experience of being behind on personal e-mails was once again one that I find to be a big problem. These are people I care about or would like to have relationships with, but replying to them ends up being part of a stressful task list in a way that I suspect is only possible in a digital medium. I’m going to consider moving to replying to personal e-mail twice a week. My aim is to be more present.
- I still have a lot of unanswered old e-mails flagged as important from as far back as July. They’re not ones I needed to reply to, but ones I wanted to revisit at the moment. All these months passed without me revisiting them, and I seem to be OK.
- I am still looking for some system to capture and commit some of my learning and reading, but what I am lacking most in learning is doing. An example today would have been to, after reading about forest ecology, go for a walk in a forest and try and observe the living examples.
I’m going to try four short-term commitments that may be difficult to keep, but that I will try for:
- Sit for at least 15 minutes a day, but try for 30. Get a little more deep with this for a while, including attending meditation services
- Reply to personal e-mails on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
- Use smartphone even more sparingly. I’m tracking this usage to help.
- Find more ways to work and talk with others on days off. Some of this will look like volunteering, while other aspects of it will come from things like the Permies group.
…[people] have been raised in a system that has taught us to think in bits and pieces and pixels and soundbites. That’s not the real planet, that’s not the real solar system, that’s not the real cosmos that we live in. The real cosmos that we live in is incredibly complex. It is a system of systems of systems of systems.
What Bill Mollison was talking about is that [Permaculture] is a system of systems for designing human habitation on this planet.
We’ve been trained to think in bits and pieces. There is one true answer, go online and look up: “What is the best spacing to put my apple trees?”
People go to [permaculture] courses and say: “There’s so much in this whole entire culture that needs to be changed – what can I grab onto?” They mistake the detail for the pattern.
Seeds, Soil, Shelter, Water, Air, Community, Care, Health, and Spirit. These are our needs.
Our seeds need to be open-pollinated, so that they can continue without proprietary hybrids.
Our soil needs to be ours to learn from and restore, so that we can build soil organic matter and grow healthy food.
Our shelter needs the ability to keep us reasonably warm, reasonably cool, reasonably safe, and reasonably dry.
Our water needs to be clean and available, held in the soil, and free of chemicals that harm animal and soil life.
Our air needs to be safe to breathe, clear enough to let the night sky through and free of advertisements and manufactured desire.
Our community needs to be deep, democratic, mutually supportive, healing, non-violent, and diverse.
Our care needs to be mutual, courageous, and given and valued as a gift.
Our health needs be approached holistically, free of drugs and procedures that treat symptoms without treating causes.
Our spirit comes from our ability to meet all of these other needs for others and ourselves and from existing in communion with the earth and each other.
This is the good news. Our real needs are old and simple. We can meet them if the power goes out. We can meet them without a commute. We can meet them without invading other countries. We can meet them without spending a life saving for retirement. We can meet them without developing new condos. We can meet them without fracking. We can meet them without smartphone reminders. We can meet them without college debt. We can meet them without pharmaceuticals. We can meet them without militarized police. We can meet them without corporations. We can meet them without violence.
We can start to meet them today. We can start caring for each other today. We can plant something, wherever we are, whoever we are, today.
My hope comes from knowing that all we have to do to be OK is to let go of things that make us suffer. We just have to open our hand, and let all the work that we all contribute to maintain this alienated system fall out of our grasping. We don’t have to hurt anyone or convince anyone or endure deep austerity.
It takes so much work to fight wars, to maintain a consumer economy, to manufacture plastic objects, to mine the earth, to program an app, to get ourselves to keep looking at that computer, to deal with hierarchies, to ignore the resources our work depletes, to leave our home and family and community each day, to keep up with the competition, to stay relevant, to pay interest, to treat the depression that originates from a life without purpose or the anxiety from knowing just about everything we do to make money is hurting the earth and each other. We use so much energy to do everything that does nothing good for anyone. Even the wealthy are trapped in a life maintaining this grey and lifeless structure.
Don’t try to rebrand it. Open your hand and let it fall. Stop feeding your life to the machine a little more each day and feel the incredible letting go. You will need others for it to work, because care and community must be part of it, and growing food is hard alone; but once enough of us become good at feeding a purposeful life for each other and the earth, it will be easier. Each time one of us opens our hands and stops feeding our lives and our childrens’ lives to the terrible-nothing-much, it gets easier for the next person and the next person to do the same.
It will take us a lifetime to let go all the way. Only on our deathbed will we be able to let go of all of the conditioning that makes us feel obligated to maintain the systems of oppression we were raised to serve; but before that, we can let go of so much, one step at a time. Each day, find a way or make a plan to stop feeding some part of it. Each day, find someone else who is doing the same. If it doesn’t do any real good for anyone, you aren’t hurting anyone by letting it go. Let’s open our hands together and grow miracles in the time of the rising waters.