This winter I got back into meditation through taking part in a 10 day Vipassana meditation course at their Texas center. I had been to my first course (and served a couple after that) in 2013 and felt like it was time to get back into it. I was looking for something to help my mind become happier, to stabilize my mind, to train it. I had positive benefits from the first course I took, but with time the practice had drifted away.
In this article I’m going to share some interesting scientific findings that recently came across my path, but they simply serve to bolster that which is already lived experience for me, namely the lived experience of becoming happier, more peaceful, loving and not as easily riled. It’s cool when science confirms lived experience, eh?
Wild Elephant Trainer
Goenka, the man who brought Vipassana meditation to the world after it had been hidden for many centuries, often talks about the mind like a wild elephant. Oftentimes when we first start meditating, we have the classic “monkey mind” – the mind that is always running off the trail and finding tangent after tangent to play with. Distractible is putting it mildly.
When one sets an intention to train the mind, as in training a wild elephant, we have to remember that this is what the mind does – how it naturally behaves in its wild loose state and to have unlimited patience and compassion during the process of bringing the mind back to a focus point, in this case the sensation of the breath at the tip of the nostrils.
What strikes me about this practice is that while the natural inclination of the mind is to get loose and run wild (there is some gratifying feeling in letting our minds wander), my mind actually feels clearer and more healthier the more I train it. I can literally feel it becoming stronger, calmer, sharper and increasingly more intelligent.
By now this is heavily corroborated by science,
“What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before,” said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university’s new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. “Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance.” It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.
In his study, in which they hooked up monks with 10,000-50,000 hours of training (15-40 years of practice), they found never before seen gamma wave activity in a healthy person. The researchers concluded that “the movement of the waves through the brain was far better organized and coordinated than in the students” (who were training for 1 week and also took part in the study.)
The monks who had spent the most years meditating had the highest levels of gamma waves, he added. This “dose response” — where higher levels of a drug or activity have greater effect than lower levels — is what researchers look for to assess cause and effect. In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.
Davidson’s research is consistent with his earlier work that pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex as a brain region associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) on the meditating monks, Davidson found that their brain activity — as measured by the EEG — was especially high in this area.
Discovering that the trained mind has different activity and makes more efficient connections than an untrained mind is groundbreaking in my book. We can train the happiness centers in our brain through meditation. How revelatory!
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
From my own experience, I’ve noticed increased overall wellness and contentment. Can this come from a healthier mind?
I have come to believe that it can and that our mind’s behavior patterns are very trainable. The way we think and the way we train ourselves to think change our perception of reality. We see things not as they are, but as we are – comes into play here.
Letting the Good In
This leads me to another article I came across today by Rick Hanson, PhD. I would highly recommend giving this PDF 5 minutes of your time.
Negative experience is registered immediately: helps survival.
Positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for 5 – 10 – 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory.
• Negative experiences trump positive ones: A single bad event with a dog is more memorable than a 1000 good times.
This tells us a lot about how our brain works – how it is wired for survival, yet letting our survival brain run things isn’t going to make for a happy brain. In the PDF I link above, he goes through some helpful techniques on training your brain to imprint with the positive experiences and talks about bringing them to mind more often in order to create a happy mental atmosphere, one in which we believe good things are going to happen to us. The law of attraction is at its peak when we start thinking like this.
Train your Brain for Happiness
So much of our seeking in life is in some way geared toward making ourselves happy and safe. In many ways, these simple and basic pursuits make the world run round and yet I would wager that it isn’t the mirror objects outside of us which can bring us happiness, but what is happening inside of us. That’s why this type of research and practice is so revolutionary because it shows us a way out.
We have the skills, we have the tools and they are free! Vipassana is FREE to anyone and each person who sits a 10 day course sits and eats and is lodged by the money people before them have given. If you are looking for a course to train your mind, I do recommend this one.
Though it is hard to train ourselves, the tools are abundantly available and they are as simple as sitting still, breathing and focusing. That’s a cause for celebration!
Have you experienced benefits from meditation practice or training your brain toward happiness? Please share in the comments!
As you know, dear readers, my thoughts of late have often
been drifting toward climate change. An offshoot of that is that I ask myself,
I ask We the People, What can be done? This isn’t a new question for any of us.
My generation has grown up with disastrous statistics of the earth’s slow and
quicker forms of degradation, yet increasingly we are reaching a critical mass.
Change doesn’t need to happen by 2050, it needs to happen by 2030.
When I started studying Permaculture and having divergent
thoughts about society, politics as usual and culture, my dad and I butted
heads a lot. I remember him often cajoling me that I was a hypocrite because I
drove a car, I consumed, I used electricity based on coal. I was nothing but an
idealist. For many years I let this voice guide me and I acted against it as a
counterbalance. Fine, I said, I will try to be as pure as I can.
For a couple of years I didn’t own a car and when I lived in
the outskirts of Los Angeles, I biked everywhere and when I couldn’t bike, I
took public transit and had a small moped I buzzed around on. This worked, for
a while, but the toll it took on my physical body was too great. I also ended
up waiting a lot and it caused me to be inefficient with my time. The 12 mile
commute on my moped to massage school was brutal in the pre dawn cold and I
would show up with frozen hands – not ideal for massage! When I took the bus,
the circuitous route and many bus changes meant that my commute took around 2
hours. Yet most of all, my body became tired. My lower back started to hurt
frequently and I had signs of adrenal fatigue. I wasn’t a climate superhero, I
was a human who was burning herself out. How could I balance my ideals with my
Our system simply isn’t built (in most places) for people to lessen their use of fossil fuels. Yet for those of us who feel acutely the pain that comes as a biproduct of living with open eyes and seeing the exploitation and theft, what can we do? We witness Amazonian communities where big companies come in for oil and to deforest, raping women, destroying communities and polluting water and land – all for more oil, more timber. How can we continue along as if nothing has changed when we see increasingly that it is getting more and more difficult to extract oil from our earth’s cavities with greater environmental and social cost and pollution? To drive and continue guzzling gas seems heartless and cruel, yet most of us continue to do so out of necessity. Though we care, we are inevitable hypocrites.
As we went around looking for veggie oil we could strain and
process to use in our car, I realized that most people don’t have the psychic
or physical energy, let alone time, to endeavor such a thing. If it’s not
immediately economical for people, it often doesn’t get done. Isn’t that so
often the bottom line? Time, energy and money? In lieu of prioritizing
ecological action, the necessity of capitalism entangles all of our actions.
It’s how we are bread to think and behave. Usually we don’t choose jobs or
lifestyles based on true passion, but because they’re economically stable or
lucrative. We need to change the bottom line, but how? We all have to eat and
wouldn’t a little security later in life be nice?
These days as the next guard of politicians are coming into
office, we are faced with a wave of butting heads. Like my dad, a seasoned “old
guard” of his generation, laughed in the face of my idealism, many “old timers”
see the new politicians and their visions as ludicrous. Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez is one who is daring to dream big and head up the Green New Deal.
Shortly after it came out, she was heavily criticized for using car
transportation (ostensibly instead of always using public transit- do they know
how much longer that takes and how many stops simply aren’t on routes?) and
because other aspects of her campaign weren’t ecofriendly. What a hypocrite,
they said, She wants to implement a Green New Deal and she’s not even green!
Her rebuttal was key because it’s the world we all live in unless we want to be radical variants like the man who lives without using any money. She’s trying to get things done quickly and efficiently within the system she is trying to change. We all live within this system that causes pain and suffering, usually offloading it to developing countries by extracting their resources, polluting their environments and by damaging their communities. Out of sight out of mind. If you are sensitive like me, however, it doesn’t matter whether the pain is caused in your backyard or in a perpetually disenfranchised population states away like the Indigenous people of the United States who face many crimes at the hands of our government, not least of which is continually broken promises and treaties.
The fact is that we are all connected, we are interconnected, and pain and exploitation somewhere is connected to us all, especially if we are living comfortably as a result of another community’s exploitation.
With all of these thoughts lately, I’ve wondered if the actions of those people who are trying to make steps toward a more sustainable life really matter. Specifically, do my actions matter? As @geke so pointedly publishes each day, the military is shelling out billions of dollars per day and it’s depressing and frustrating to think of where that money is going.
In the face of a global war machine, polluting corporations impervious
to checks and balances, and industrial “civilization” that eclipses individual
action, do my actions even make a difference?
I brought this up with a friend who came over last night. She insisted that our actions do indeed matter and gave Paul Stamets as an example. Stamets is the leading researcher on mushrooms and how they can save the world. His research includes using mushrooms to purify contaminated water, clean up toxins in the environment, as well as heal the human body. His work is groundbreaking and inspiring and he is a driving force for good action in our world. He is someone we can look to and feel that our individual actions do matter, that by following our passions we can find the balms to heal the wounds of our world. After she said that, I realized that she was right. Individual change, paired with key policy shifts and pressure on large corporations to be held accountable for their pollution and actions, are where it all starts. We make up the whole, after all.
We live in a time when there is like a knee-jerk reaction to look up – up the ladder. We look to the big bodies to fix things or to stop things. It’s up to the government to shift it or this business or that organization. We are angry at Facebook for stealing our data, yet millions continue to use it and hand over our data each day. We want them to change, instead of taking a different approach to realize that each one of us makes up the We and we are a part of the Them.
It is disheartening that so many people are choosing rampant consumption rather than look at the impact of our human actions. I scream inside every time I read the statistic that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. I cannot change the minds of my fellow Americans. I can’t shake them until they see the destruction their consumption is causing and will continue to cause for eons. I can only change my actions.
For too long we have chosen comfort over aligned sustainable action. I read statistics and I cry and cringe – about plastic pollution, which I wrote about the other day, and studies that say that all of the subjects tested had phthalates in their urine – phthalates that disrupt hormones, neuropathways, cause cancer, and more – and that these are in plastics which are passed around haphazardly (would you like paper or plastic?) and wrapping most of the consumer goods that we buy. I realize that this stuff is taking us over, we don’t know the side effects of it long term, and what we do know is horrific. We’re basically swimming in a sea of hormone shifting plastic, but this is an article I will write for another time.
You may ask why I continue to study these things if they make me scream, cry and cringe.I keep reading because I want to know where we’re at. I want to take an honest look at the state of things and act accordingly. My soul cannot live on this earth and just act like life is going on as normal because it’s not. We aren’t our parent’s generation or their parents who had an American Dream that didn’t already have a bazillion holes poked in it. Unlike them, because of the internet we can see the devastation our actions are causing world round. The American Dream is not a dream everyone can realize – on the way to every human getting it, resources would be long gone and the earth a catastrophic wasteland.
I’m here for a reason and that reason isn’t to blindly
consume and make money at a job that contributes to the devastation of the
earth. I am here to be an earth warrior, not a blind consumer.
How can I enjoy myself when I know that on Navajo reservations that have reaped the negative impacts of having coal plants and mines on their land (tapping already low aquifers, being one impact) thousands of families still don’t have running water or electricity in their homes. How can I live a comfortable life on the back of that inadvertent sacrifice the Navajo people have been forced to make? I don’t see the chasm between their experience and mine.
It is not out of sight out of mind for me, which is why we decided to make our homestead off grid and solar powered (yes I know solar power isn’t perfect and has its fair share of environmental harm.) But you see, that’s the catch 22 I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We cause harm while living within this system. As much as I’ve tried to divest from it in so many ways through growing my own food, building our buildings ourselves with as many natural materials sourced as locally as possible (because the modern building industry is a nasty unexamined business as well), heat with wood sustainably harvested from our forest, and chosen a life of voluntary simplicity thrifting or buying second hand most things, I am still a part of it. Yet that’s not a reason to call me a hypocrite or others like me, for example.
It is my sensitivity which causes me to heed the results of
my actions and which inhibits me from living blindly.
While living within a destructive system, until the system
is dismantled and rebuilt block by block, we cause harm as we seek to shift
things. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t mean I should stop fighting for principles
I believe in and living it out to the best of my ability, and it doesn’t mean
that I shouldn’t, that we shouldn’t start where we are and still speak about
how we wish things could be.
If I light a vision in you, you carry that vision now and it
evolves and morphs inside of your being in a unique way that only your life
experiences and soul can make it. It manifests in a unique way through you.
Never stop dreaming and never stop believing that the seeds of dreams within
your person aren’t the exact things the world needs to hear from you! Imagine
if our great visionaries stopped before they started – if Paul Stamets became
discouraged and never carried on his research into the potentials of mushrooms.
The world would never be blessed with the fruits of his vision. I believe the
same goes for all of us.
The world has enough of the old curmudgeons who have fit their lives to go along with the status quo and who will shoot down every dream you have before it makes its way off the ground. While they may have some wisdom about how the current system works, that’s not the only information we’re interested in. Yes, it’s helpful to understand the current system so we know how to change it, but revolutions happen and will continue happening. I believe our age is ripe for an evolution of that sort.
My age group isn’t having children because we don’t see much hope for the future and we’ve heard statistics about overpopulation our entire lives. How can we add to this mess of humans taking over the earth? These are seeds planted in us and in a myriad of ways they are finding fertile soil, abundant water and sunshine and they’re making their way to the light of day. Perhaps in the end, human action and greed will cause a mass scale die off of all life on this planet. Yet where I stand, I cannot know how this will pan out and I am a hell of a lot more satisfied living out the passions and dreams which make life worth living than defeatedly following along with the status quo. How does it line go?
It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with our lifestyle at Mountain Jewel to know that many of our actions are motivated by a concern for our relationship with our environment. As a youth growing up hearing about the dangers of climate change in relation to species worldwide, it is only a natural outpouring from my generation that we try something to make a change.
Whereas many in older generations become set in their ways and disenchanted with workable solutions, we are faced with a world that might not be here for our children’s children. It’s a drastic time to be a human on the earth, and yet the disasters of climate change are seemingly still in debate at the apex of the United States political structure as many continue to claim that it doesn’t exist and those who do say that we are moving too slowly, too late to do anything about it.
Our lifestyle is a response to this and though I have
stepped back a bit from my “I’ll only ride a bicycle” days in an effort to be
the change I wished to see in the increasingly warming world, our Permaculture homestead
is a step in the right direction, based on what is feasible, practical and possible
for two people.
As I was catching up on the often depressing and bizarre
world of US politics this Sunday morning, researching the Cohen litigation
& US Presidential 2020 Candidates, I started to dig into a relatively new
and inspiring figure on the scene, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC.
A bright star from the Bronx, she is the youngest woman to enter congress and
she did so on a 100% grassroots budget.
I got shivers when I read her testimony of her decision to run for office after visiting Standing Rock Reservation during the Dakota Access Pipeline Activism Gatherings where she quoted,
I found it all to be incredibly fulfilling and satisfying work, but I never really saw myself running on my own. I counted out that possibility because I felt that possibility had counted out me. I felt like the only way to effectively run for office is if you had access to a lot of wealth, high social influence, a lot of high dynastic power, and I knew that I didn’t have any of those things.
The tipping point was was when I was at Standing Rock in 2016, and I saw how all of the people there — particularly the Native people and the Lakota Sioux — were putting their whole lives and everything that they had on the line for the protection of their community. I saw how a corporation had literally militarized itself against the American people, and I just felt like we were at a point where we couldn’t afford to ignore politics anymore. We couldn’t afford to write off our collective power in self-governance anymore out of cynicism.
Soon I saw that she was engaged in a Green New Deal and that, of course, Fox News and Conservatives everywhere are freaking out about her sheer existence and AOC’s audacity to say what she means. They are pulling out all the dirt on her they can find (much of which is illegitimate) and still she presses on. She has this to say about her Green New Deal and the impetus to put it out there at a recent speech to “Girls who Code”,
The power is in the person who’s trying, regardless of the success. I just introduced the Green New Deal… and i’ts creating all of this conversation. Why? Because no-one else has even tried.
People are like, ‘Oh, it’s unrealisitic..oh, it’s vauge, oh, it doesn’t address this little minute thing,’ and I’m like, ‘You try- you do it. Because you’re not. So, until you do it, i’m the boss. How about that?
You need to know about her and the deal and here’s why
My generation is sufficiently fed up with politics as usual and she is only one of the first true representatives of the people.
Noam Chompsky has this to say about her win,
Well, I think there’s—her victory was a quite spectacular and significant event. I think what it points to is a split in the Democratic Party between the—roughly speaking, between the popular base and the party managers. The popular base is increasingly, essentially, social democratic, following, pursuing the—concerned with the kinds of progressive objectives that she outlined in those—in her remarks, which should be directed not only to expanding the electorate but to the general working-class, poor population of the world, of the middle-class population of the country, for whom these ideals are quite significant. They can be brought to that.
As a Democratic Socialist, Conservatives are still pulling out all the stops relating her to a communist, etc. But that isn’t going to stop us. News pundits saying this aboutthe Green New Deal are completely crazy and it’s weird to hear people even say things like this and expect to be taken seriously:
Sebastian Gorka, speaking at the CPAC conference in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday, said the Democrats’ Green New Deal is “a watermelon,” because it’s “green on the outside” and “deep, deep red communist on the inside.”
The Green New Deal agenda is both feasible and affordable. This will become clear as the agenda is turned into specific legislation for energy, health care, higher education, and more.The Green New Deal combines ideas across several parts of the economy because the ultimate goal is sustainable development. That means an economy that delivers a package deal: good incomes, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. Around the world, governments are aiming for the same end — a “triple-bottom line” of economic, social, and environmental objectives.
While many of the details need to be worked out, I am proud of her and inspired by her that in her first term in office she is already taking on something so necessary and so big that so many are afraid to even try.
The backlash she is facing is commonplace for anyone who seeks to step out of the accepted norm, but the fact remains that we humans have to start working out renewable options. An article at popsci.com, supports her green new deal and says it is very possible that total renewal energy systems in the US can be achieved,
Though our current mix of energy is dominated by fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean 100% renewable goals are infeasible. “It’s technically and economically possible to do it by 2030,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor, about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. “But for social and political reasons, it will probably take longer, maybe up to 2050.”
For our generation who has grown up with global warming threats our entire youth, we are done with politicians who want to keep us in the dark ages, sucking every last bit of fossil fuels out of the earth. We know we need to move toward sustainable solutions, even if our first steps are vague and big dreams. We all have to start somewhere and we need to do it now! AOC and her peers and allies are going to take us there, one step at a time.
Oh the slow chilled winter daze! It feels like winter has finally hit! We had our first snow a few days ago and temps have dropped. The Canadian enjoys this weather much more than I do. Feeling like my bundled child self when I do go out, I mainly only go outside to adventure into the woods and to the creek or to make it from point A to point B. Aside from indoor projects (like tiling) and Ini’s work on the Welcome Kiosk, we are turning our sights inward, reading much, and spending time indoors. As previously mentioned, this winter I wanted to teach myself to weave with native materials. I started off looking into the river cane, an incredible native bamboo beloved by the Native Americans who lived here previously. Yet, I feel I need a teacher to move forward in this craft — or perhaps I am trying to peel the cane in the wrong season? Nevertheless, there are some Native teachers I may seek out in Oklahoma- especially if they have a workshop on cane material prep and weaving this year. Instead, I have turned my sights onto other materials and I’ve made two baskets! My first basket – what a thing! Though I did it with a library book tutorial, each step is new and one doesn’t know what one needs to do until ya do it for the first time. It’s cool to already see progress on basket #2 – simply because I knew more about the nuances of the materials and what needed to happen at each stage. Still, the first basket, a true experimental labor of love, is in use and am somewhat charmed by it. However, this second basket.. Ini and I aren’t really taking our eyes off of it! Far from perfect, my second basket is USEFUL. It is this that has me deeply enamored with this process. The indwelling magic of taking nothing but materials from here to make a useful object with them. As I wrote last night in reflection: I finished a basket tonight that’s already holding our cedar kindling and sitting next to the fire. It was definitely a life changing moment seeing it there. Somewhat of an epiphany. So outside of capitalism, untouchable. Made completely from this land I love only using secateurs, following a book from the library, a transmission of a skill long held by humans. Something untouchable by the system, made from here, by my hand & serving a purpose… weaving purpose with the land. Truly I am enamored with this process and its implications. In a throwaway culture to be able to take a wildcrafting jaunt, especially down by wild water hearing the sounds of the fluid creek as I gather willow, sycamore, bramble and other vines, and harvest materials for a much needed basket… this is really something else. Of course something quite old, but marvelous to my modern self. We’ve been needing a kindling basket for quite some time and we love the look of it sitting there holding the freshly split cedar from our land that we use to start our fires. It beautifies and enhances the whole place. And just looking at it.. the hues and textures, knowing it is born of the river, carries the energy of flood and heron, sunshine and the constant gurgle of spring fed creek… but most of all that it didn’t pass through the hands of commerce and I made it! And I can make more! I would like to next perhaps work on a basket with a circular base. It is a bit tricky with the materials I have because they are note uniform “farmed” willow (though I think I will order some of these cuttings to root in the spring so that I can have some cultivated “basketry willow” which is longer, stronger, uniform and comes in neat colors! Yet making these “wild” baskets is a fantastic first step and I read somewhere, and was thinking this too, that if I can weave with the irregular funky pieces, I will cultivate my skill well for when I do have the long ones. And I do love the funk! Happiness is making practical objects which escape the economy, made from the land which we love and tend, adding beauty to our abode. I’ve read a lot of books lately on indigenous stories and I am feeling inspired — and also that sick/raging sadness of the destructive march of civilization/modern culture which erases and kills it at every turn. Yet these are skills that bring life and we are all connected to the land, and can be more aware and more connected if we put more time/attention into it. Blessings, Wren of Mountain Jewel
The other day I read that the 7 Generations thinking (originated by the Haudeneshone ie Iroquois Nation) is about a span of 150 years.
That’s really not that long, if you think about it. Those of us who are fortunate to have family records (or some freak down the line who pieced it all together -and I can say that because I’m likely taking on this role for my family), possibly even know the name, profession, or even the face in a rare still black and white photograph.
Were these people thinking about you?
In our day in age, we are very much geared toward the Individual- the rise, the fall, the accumulation and somewhat the passing on. What strikes me so much about the perspective of 7 generations thinking is that it requires a long term view of our actions. What are the ripples into our environments from my actions?
In a world with so many people, too, I think this Individualist thinking is also spurred on because we inherently believe our actions don’t really have that much of an effect.
We wait for others to do things because of this. Certainly I couldn’t be the one to … start a business on the Steem blockchain… make a sustainable invention… solve a puzzling world mystery, etc. These things are reserved for other people, people smarter, more attractive, wealthier, younger, etc. Yet when we start to think about how our actions ripple throughout the next 150 years, we realize that we do have a say about the shape of things.
Is an ancestor thinking about you right now?
I want to broaden the scope of an ancestor through writing this article. This subject has been on my mind a lot lately because Ini and I are talking with a local man about the possibility of taking on a position in carrying on his life’s work which involves a certain forest in our area. This person has been working tirelessly to create a sustainable livelihood in relation with this forest. The forest is too small to employ anyone to sustainably manage it (usually over 30,000 acres are needed unto that effect) and so this man had to get his creative thinking cap on.
On Balancing Wrong Action
Many people know that Corporations make Wrong Actions, especially regarding our ecosystems. Notoriously, driven by capitalistic bottom lines, extract, exploit and devastate more, while adding overwhelming amounts of pollution to the environment. They cut corners, dump toxic waste, and have leaky pipes in the Gulf and through the veined corridors through which they run in this country, which pollutes bodies of water all over the place.
The EPA and governmental organizations make a farce of stomping down this type of action, usually their pockets are lined with bucks, too. One such idea to balance this is the Cap & Trade System.The idea is totally new to me so I can’t write much on it, but essentially it allows those who produce a ton of Carbon into the atmosphere to pay people, essentially trading with them, who are sinking carbon back into the earth from the atmosphere.
What a Forest Does
Forests, of course, through the incredible respiration of trees, naturally act as carbon sinks. This is now scientifically documented at what rate this process happens and a large corporation, that has scientifically deduced the rate at which they are releasing carbon, can invest in a long term trade with a forest to balance out their negative effect.
Our friend has engaged the aforementioned forest in such a Cap & Trade deal, which will last for about 125 years. It is this role which we are talking with him about managing.
Could someone you don’t know right now be an ancestor to you?
The fact that this person, who we’ve only known for about 3 years, has worked for the past 25 years setting this up and devising a way to make a sustainable business in our local area – for someone who will come after him! Is incredible. He has essentially worked with the next 7 generations in mind not knowing who would take the work on for him!
Ini and I aren’t sure if we’ll have kids and while we have 1 niece and 1 nephew at this point in time, there’s no telling if a blood relative will want to pick up and carry on what we’ve created here. Fruit and nut trees will be abundant by the time they’re entering college, but who can say what their dreams will lead them to. We’ve often wondered who will carry on our dreams. Could we, like our friend, be preparing something for someone not even born yet who we’ll meet many years down the road?
If you can complete your dream in your lifetime, you’re not dreaming big enough.
Winona LaDuke recently crowdfunded a hemp farm that will empower Native American youth and in one of her emails she wrote the quote above. It has sat with me ever since. Am I dreaming big enough? Including a vision which propels and energizes the next 7 generations? Am I dreaming something which is viable or healthy for the next 150 years (and not only of humans, but the entire biosphere)?
Am I thinking of water, soil, income streams, food, shelter, and more? Though it may sound like a lot, I really don’t think it is. It is living in alignment with our true nature which is connected to everything. To be out of balance with this nature creates disharmony and though we may reap short term gains and excuse ourselves for trying to survive, how are we influencing the lives of our great great great grandchildren or even the children of a stranger who will show up one day and fit magically into the puzzle we have created.
I think our friend I mentioned above is the first person I have met who has dedicated so much of his life and toiled to create a sustainable job for someone he’s not even sure will come. He does it because it was his promise to the woman who donated the land into a land trust, which is happening more and more nationwide. How do we not only “preserve” these places, but also allow them to bring in salaries based on good livelihood as we talked about yesterday in our “Putting the Eco back Economics” post? Balancing the negative effects of greedy corporations is one such way.
We’re all familiar with the concepts of economics and ecology, but how often are they combined? Eco economics is not a new concept; in fact it is the original form of economy.
Before a globalized industrialized economy, we were much more closely tied to the capacity of the immediate ecosystems. But we’ve strayed from the path and now, as in no other moment in time, it is absolutely imperative that we reintegrate the awareness that we live and are supported by a finite planet. It not only behooves us to ally with and rearrange our lives in relation to eco economics, but it is imperative for the very survival of *homo sapiens* and countless other species whose survival depends on our actions.
Since the industrial revolution (and indeed before in some cases) the capacity for human’s influence on the planet has increased at an alarming rate. With the advent of liquid refined petroleum, we could utilize the massive stored energy from sunlight from millions of years ago at a rate previously impossible.
We could simply extract a material that contained so much potential energy that our capacities to “get stuff done” grew in leaps and bounds. This ability allowed for previously unknown levels of exploitation of natural resources at a rate far more quickly than they were being reproduced.
Previously (and sadly still currently) the discrepancies between the “haves and the have-nots” are real and felt by us all. The bourgeois own the property and means of production while the proletarians or peasants do the work. Tenant farmers of serfs worked the land owned by people in positions of power and did so at times against their will. Human slavery was the ugly crutch that these systems relied upon.
With petroleum, all of that changed.
No longer were (as many) human slaves needed, for this liquid fuel in the form of gasoline or diesel enabled the enslavement of petroleum slaves. The physical workforce was no longer needed and so fewer people could affect larger areas of land and sea.
What this did was further disconnect us from natural cycles and the innate limitations of local ecosystems. All natural systems have a carrying capacity, an upper limit of growth, after which point the system culls or sheds the excess. Trees in an overcrowded forest get choked out and die, booms of animal populations lead to busts and heavy mast years are followed by lean harvests.
But this is not the case with our human economic system, which strives for infinite growth. With a system that is based upon non-renewable sources of energy (the very core of industrial society), it is by definition doomed to fail. The problem lies in the paradigm, upon which our entire economic system was founded: the belief that there is an infinite pool of resources to draw from to be extracted and manipulated. We humans are not living in accordance with Earth mandated limits. Operating under this false pretense is wreaking unimaginable havoc on many levels.
Humans have created a sick society that is propped up on this lie of infinite growth fueled by infinite resources. The economy that believes and in fact requires constant and rampant growth is one that is destined to fail.
To begin addressing how eco economics might play out, we must first grasp how ecology worked and at least entertain (if not embody) the Gaia theory that espouses that the Earth is a single self-regulating & living organism.
A body not unlike our own that communicates throughout a system of interconnected parts and feedback loops (much like our own aches and pains, joys and excesses.)
This reality runs counter to all the mechanistic understandings and beliefs that are brought to the table with industrial capitalism.
In nature, there are natural checks and balances.
There are shortages, illness and destructive forces of nature, but they occur as a natural balancing tool of any ecosystem. This is one element that is sorely lacking in our capitalistic driven economy. The free market will sort itself (or be bailed out- but where is the true cost of this bailing…) we are told, but where is the feedback for whether the foundation upon which all of this rests is sound or not?
The current model of privatizing profits and socializing costs is one where the many bear the cost while the few benefit. This is never the case in a natural ecosystem, but this excess and imbalance only takes place when fuelled by greed and fear of scarcity. This has allowed governments and banks to subsidize industries that don’t work! Without subsidies, the structure crumbles and the people have borne the environmental and financial cost of continuing to operate failing industries. This is NOT eco economics
Modeling an economy after billions of years of evolution seems wiser than one that is only a couple of hundred years old doesn’t it? The amazingly complex and interconnected web of life has proven effective and supporting life thus far, so why not learn a thing or two?
Wisdom from the Sun
The basis for terrestrial life is incoming energy in the form of solar energy. This is transformed into sugars through the magic of photosynthesis and creates the inputs needed to support life. This is said to occur at about 1% efficiency, meaning that the ecosystems operate with a 1% surplus. The sunlight turns into plant and algae tissue, which feeds the rest of the system. This is a great starting point for modeling our economy after. If we had our economic systems tied directly to real life, we simply could not grow beyond the carrying capacity for life.
Thus as a starting point for eco economics, the growth of any economic endeavor must be directly linked to an ecosystem’s potential to support that growth.
B corporations are making great strides to be more ethical and transparent in their business and this is a great step forward. Fair labor practices, healthier production methods and distribution of wealth are all great improvements. Still there is an undercurrent of constant growth required for business to continue. We must take lessons from past civilizations whose growth outstripped the carrying capacity of the Earth. The result was the destruction of vital resources like water and soil through deforestation, erosion and loss of biodiversity. Simply put, death follows in the wake of this destructive and short-sided acting.
Moving forward there is great hope as many brilliant minds are working towards a healthier and more sustainable future. We cannot rely on governmental bodies or regulations to determine our direction– it is up to each and every one of us to make the necessary shifts to build momentum toward eco economics. Movements like Permaculture, restoration agriculture (pioneered by Mark Sheppard), the work by Paul Stamets, Vandana Shiva, Wynona LaDuke, Rowan White and countless others illuminate the future of eco economics.
We have the potential to turn this ship around and avoid disaster, if only we learn form the wisdom of nature. The fate of the next 7 generations lies in the decisions of us all. What decisions are you making today?
This morning I woke up to yet more news of fires ravaging the landscape in Northern California. Northen California and indeed the Pacific Coast itself is a place I love dearly. There is a feeling of freedom and lightness in the air, perhaps because of the ocean. I grew up going to Southern California to visit family, but when I got older I was attracted to Northern California. I worked on Pot Farms, marveled at the grandeur of the old redwoods and sequoias and I met kindhearted, earth-loving people (and plenty of crazy ones too).
It is devastating in so many ways that the force of fire increasingly ravages the landscapes of California. The fire burns homes to a crisp and displaces entire communities of both humans, wildlife, and trees. We are seeing a full scale cleansing.
I woke up and checked my Instagram feed. It is a cold morning on the homestead- the coldest night yet and after I read the post about the fire, I settled in to make a fire in the cabin to warm up the place. As the poem I am about to share so brilliantly conveys, fire is a friend and, in excess, one of the deadliest foes. Yet instead of pitting fire as the “bad guy,” what if we dig a bit deeper and look at the message fire is bringing.
We see you.
We bow before your power
Your majestic roar of life transforming
Everything we thought so solid & sure
We honor you.
Master agent of Transformation
You teach us
True Radical Release.
Not the wishy washy letting go of some comforts &
With all our habits.
Raw coconut water in plastic bottles,
<< Oh but I recycle! >>
Great Fire, great modeling of this.
When we evacuate
We realize how little needs to come with
How no thing really matters.
When our houses burn
We are left with no thing
We are left so… Alive.
We let go.
All that has been lost.
It is quiet.
Being together is all our hearts want.
And all our business burns away.
Us humans, so important is our doing
Until there’s nothing to do but
Be in it.
You’ll come teach us
Until we learn. “We can’t solve the problems
With the same kind of thinking we used
When we created them.” (Einstein)
So wipe our minds clean
Let the Ash inside of us feed
Dormant seeds from long ago.
Let us remember.
Let us pause.
Let us not be so hasty to “rebuild!” If we build it this way
What most touched me about this poem is the deep reaching respect the author has toward fire. The admission that the way things had been carrying on would no longer work. The truth that the fire is a message, a wake up call.
It is beyond devastating to see destruction on this level. It is even more devastating to think that the clinging of humans (to not let forest fires burn naturally, for example, as is there regenerative cycle, which actually prevents the fuel accumulated which creates large scale fires of this sort) led to this. Their insistency to not pay attention or realize something needed to change.
“We can’t solve the problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Einstein
When Ini and I looked around for a place to call home to create our land-based, long term dreams, of course we wanted to move to cool and hip places like California, replete with likeminded people to form community with. Yet the proximity to huge population centers, lack of water, prevalence of fires, and inflated land and living expenses, ultimately kept us searching.
When my parents said they were going to move to Naples, Florida I had a similar reaction. Why move to a place that is notorious for getting hit with natural disasters? Why move to a place that could be under water within our lifetimes with rising sea levels? The year they moved there Hurricane Irma hit and they evacuated from their home. It was a crazy situation, but surely we all saw it coming. Even now the Atlantic coast of Florida just underwent another crazy natural disaster and many lost everything.
Are We Listening?
These types of things aren’t going to slow down. Weather patterns are erratic, it’s getting colder when it’s cold and hotter when it’s hot and sometimes cold when it should be hot and vice versa. Are we paying attention?
When I asked my dad how they could live in a place that may not be there when his grandkids reach maturity he laughed and said that he would be gone so it wouldn’t matter. I don’t mean to throw my dad under the bus – he takes everything with a good dose of humor – but the truth is that many humans are still perceiving things this way.
It doesn’t matter because it won’t matter for me.
This isn’t 7 Generations Thinking.
Deep in my heart I feel a surge to think 7 generations into the future and align my actions with the wellbeing of those who will come after me. Are my actions creating a better world or simply going along with the destructive flow?
We need to start thinking differently and choosing actions that have different results. I’m not saying no one can have any fun (and why is it that that’s how people immediately react, like to align our actions with the health of future generations is a kill-joy?), but that we need to take a good look at the course we’re on and change directions.
A mentor and guide for me in this time is consistently Joanna Macy. I’ve mentioned her books before. In this passage below she is questioning on of her teachers, Choegyal, about the Shambhala warriors in the prophecy.
“So in this time, the Shambhala warriors go into training. When Choegyal said this, Joanna asked, “How do they train?” They train, he said, in the use of two weapons. “What weapons?” And he held up his hands in the way the lamas hold the ritual objects of dorje and bell in the lama dance.
The weapons are compassion and insight. Both are necessary, he said. You have to have compassion because it gives you the juice, the power, the passion to move. It means not to be afraid of the pain of the world. Then you can open to it, step forward, act. But that weapon by itself is not enough. It can burn you out, so you need the other- you need insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena. With that wisdom you know that it is not a battle between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. With insight into our profound interrelatedness- our deep ecology- you know that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern. By itself, that insight may appear too cool, too conceptual, to sustain you and keep you moving, so you need the heart of compassion. Together these two can sustain us as agents of wholesome change. They are gifts for us to claim now in the healing of our world.” (pg 61 Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy)
Eyes of Wisdom
During these trying times, we must pay attention to what is before us. We are being given signs from every angle and truly life cannot go on as normal, as it has been going on for so so long. We must make a shift. Maybe, as my dad says, it doesn’t matter – Ice Ages and other full scale, sweeping clean catastrophes have happened many times over and this is just another catastrophic epoch. Yet, that urging deep in my heart, that compassion, combined with the insight of interrelatedness, even with those generations who are not born yet, who will come after me, tells me differently. It does matter and it’s for this reason that we’ve come into these times.
I feel like I share it all the time, but here are some key lines from the Hopi Elder’s prophecy, fitting for a closing statement.
Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Where is your water?
Know your garden. It is time to speak your truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for your leader.
Today was an exciting day that marked an important milestone on the homestead. We harvested our first round of humanure! Yes, we opened one of the 2 bays of our composting toilet to use the fertility we’d be accumulating and make way for more.
If you’re not sure what humanure is, check out our previous posts on it:
If you’re unsure what that’s like, think about if you went and buried your head in a big pile of leaves on the forest floor. It’s a smell I love!!
To be honest I was a little nervous at what we’d find, although my nerves proved unfounded. We last used this bay over 18 months ago and haven’t checked on it since having sealed and dated it like a vault. After leaving our fertility deposits on the daily for a little more than a year, today was the day to make our first withdrawal. For those of you unfamiliar with a double bay composting toilet system I’ll explain it a little for clarity.
An early shot of the 2 composting bays. We used local rocks to create the foundation.
The double bay style of composting toilet is a passive way to harvest fertility and safely manage humanure.
As the name implies, it consists of 2 alternating bays that are consecutively filled with manure and urine. After each deposit of humanure and/or urine, a generous portion of sawdust or wood shavings (or other carbonaceous material) is poured on top. This ensures efficient and odorless composting. Using this method, there is no need for lime or other deodorizers. It doesn’t smell if there’s enough carbon!
A look at our composting toilet from the ground up.
The first bay is closed off when full and the second one is put into use.
Depending on timing, the first bay may be safe to harvest once the second one is filled. This was the case for us. Given the fact that we are in need of the space in the first bay and intended to use the humanure, we went ahead and applied it directly to the base of some of our fruit trees. Another option would be to move in to another location where it would sit for another 6 months (making for a total of 24 months) to ensure safe low temperature composting.
A look inside at our system. The bin in the middle is filled with a scooper and sawdust or planar shavings.
Harvesting our fertility is an empowering, easy and rewarding part of homestead living.
Being biological entities, it seem crazy to me that we aren’t more clued into the magical ways in which we can harness the biological miracles we have access to. For instance, black soldier fly larvae LOVE to eat. They happen to dine on a wide range of fare, including feces. They are also known as privy flies, I wonder why?
We can ally with then by allowing them access to egg laying sites on our humanure systems and let them do their thing. This means they further transform our past food into future soil food! We often hear them in incredible numbers taking our humanure one step closre to humus. FYI these flies DO NOT eat as adults (they wont land and spread feces on your food!) and pose no health risk whatsoever. On the contrary, they are of great benefit. (Read more from one of @quochuy’s recent posts on these wonderful beings.)
We can let nature take care. It’s what it’s meant to do.
By using simple biological processes like composting, we can rid ourselves of the idea of labeling things as waste, and instead see them as potential resources. The fertility lab (our aptly named composting toilet) was the first structure we erected. In fact we hadn’t ever built anything before and we knew this was a crucial element of Earth centered living and a priority on the homestead.
Why we didn’t install a Septic System
Where is Away?
We knew that the conventional model for dealing with our humanure (more commonly called poop) was to treat water with chemicals until it’s potable, then contaminate it with potentially pathogenic feces, then mix it with a whole more of the same and either store it in a giant underground tank or send it through a sewer system to be further assaulted with chemicals.
Either option is insistent upon the notion of “away”, some fanciful modern construct where our wastes happily disappear. Instead of buying into the existence of “away” and installing an expensive and unnecessary plumbing and septic system, we chose to let nature take care of us and our outputs, and indeed transform them into a usable product!
When nature calls, we choose to let her take care of it.
Composting toilets are a simple, low tech and affordable step towards a healthier planet and saner culture.
When organic materials are combined in proper ways, aerobic decomposition occurs with the aid of micro and macro organisms and we easily & responsibly mange our humanure.
The result is humus, the building block of the soil food web. This is the life force in soil that binds and connects elements into a cohesive whole. Through understanding a few simple concepts, anyone can safely transform their humanure and urine into usable soil building compost. (Again, we’ve gone into the practice of humanure in an earlier post. See links at beginning of article.)
The way I learned composting was through the W.O.N.C acronym. If Water and Oxygen and in balance as well as Carbon and Nitrogen, the composting process should proceed smoothly.
We achieve this balance by adding planer shaving to our deposits. This simultaneously absorbs any excessive moisture, adds texture (to allow space for oxygen) as well as adding large amounts of carbon to the nitrogen rich deposits. The result is a smell-free system that requires very little in the way of maintenance. In contrast to the popular 5 gallon bucket systems where buckets are emptied into an outdoor composting bin and washed after use, we only spend a few hours a year maintaining the system and never have to handle or move poop (this isn’t to knock the bucket system! We have seen excellent case uses of such a system.)
Closing the loop
We’re happy to return the fertility to the land that feeds us. The food we eat nourishes us, which ends up in the composting bays, which turns into humus, which feeds the soil food web and ultimately the trees that feed us. Closing the loop on the nutrient flows through our homestead is a major part of what Permaculture design is all about.
While thermophilic or hot composting systems can achieve a pathogen and parasite free product relatively quickly, the mesophilic method takes time.
Dealing with poop seems gross, and in its raw state it is. It’s stinky and has the potential to spread disease and parasites. Rather than take on the responsibility ourselves, we let natural systems do the work for us. We eat and excrete, it’s part of our make up. But so does everything else…
Compost really is a magical thing!
If given the correct conditions (high enough temps to kill pathogens and parasites) and/or proper time (some sources say a full 2 years of curing to render humanure parasite and pathogen free) we can transform a “waste” (which don’t really exist) into a resource.
The resulting compost can be safely used on vegetable gardens. In our case we still chose to apply the compost as part of our heavy mulch layer under our fruit trees. This is extra assurance, just to be sure. That said we were both pleasantly surprised how earthy the final product was. It smelled like a forest floor.
For anyone seriously interested in learning more, I can’t recommend The Humanure Handbook by John Jeavens enough! He’s put the time into the research and testing and knows his shit! Read it, buy and it stop wasting your resources.