Monday, December 15, 2014

Seeds of The Extraordinary

If you ever start reading articles or watching videos about extraordinary people, it often seems that the individuals in them fall into one of a few categories. Sometimes it is the case that they have survived some death-defying, eye-opening ordeal. Other times they have either had an unusually magical upbringing or an extremely difficult one, which has shaped them into someone with amazing gifts to share with the world: art, selflessness, courage, etc. However, the truth is that not everyone's parents were shamanic healers or diplomats; not everyone traveled the world as a child, collecting stories, seeing different realities. Not everyone broke through the shackles of abuse, poverty, or discrimination to emerge on the other side wise, kind, and with an inner drive striving towards positive change. Some people were born and raised in rather mundane environments; some people did not break free of those shackles of their childhoods and emerged scarred, scared, withdrawn, isolated. So are these people also extraordinary?

I am a child of immigrants and my parents were extremely brave, as are all immigrants, for picking up their lives and transplanting them into unknown soils. But my country, Canada, is buzzing with immigrant families... it's easy to get lost in the crowd. During my childhood I was relatively content and I grew up never wanting for anything I actually needed. It would be easy to say that I am not so special. But... there has always been a little voice inside me telling me that there is something alight within. Interestingly, this voice is much stronger when I am in a natural setting like a forest or a meadow or in the mountains, or even in a park looking up at the big trees swaying gently in the wind. Something inside tells me that I am a part of something bigger - not in size necessarily but in scope, depth and dimension - but that I am uniquely me at the same time. It doesn't matter what is happening in my life, if I am sick, healthy, sad, happy, at home, traveling, I always feel that little voice there. Of course it is my choice to pay attention to it or to disregard it, and a few times - I have to admit - I have disregarded it and forgotten about it. But then something always comes along and reminds me of it and I am so glad for that. Maybe it's because I wrote it down. As a teenager, I wrote in my journal: future me, never forget that voice you have inside you, if you start to forget, come back to this page, and I think that writing it down actually cemented it in my mind even more strongly so when I take my mind into my past I always bump up against that memory... never forget.
So am I extraordinary? Of course I am; life itself is extraordinary and the fact that there are so many millions and billions of individual expressions of it on the Earth is even more so. That's why the voice is stronger when I am in nature, because then I hear the other voices of other expressions of life unclouded by modern day superficial worries and artificial values; by the buzzing and clicking of incessant technologies whose voices we have become much more attuned to than our own inner voices. When I quiet my mind (which doesn't always happen on the first try), I just know that there is a language there. For lack of a proper (de)education I cannot really understand it, but I do not question that it is there. Maybe that's why when I am alone in an apartment I feel lonely, but when I am alone in the woods I feel at peace, surrounded by voices.

I think we really need to work through this feeling of I am nothing special. It can be so stifling to compare ourselves to others and their achievements and stories. I feel like this from time to time of course, but then I always try to come back to myself. My point here is that I believe that feelings of insignificance are fully a product of the modern industrial media age. It is so easy to think that in order to feel significant we have to compete with close to 7 billion others like us, with ever-smarter technology, with ever-shinier and ever-shifting images, icons and styles. I say, this is an illusion and simply not the case.
A few years ago, I slowly became acquainted with an approach to systems design called Permaculture. Permaculture literature teaches us that when an element is placed in a system correctly, its gifts get released and it is able to bestow them on the rest of the system, while at the same time benefitting from the other elements that are present. So I believe, it is like this with people too; it is not that some of us are extraordinary and others aren't just because we have been brought up a certain way or have experienced life in a certain way - there are plenty of people who have realized and unleashed their gifts later in life or simply not as a result of a media-worthy upbringing or experience. For me, it's all about finding a nurturing system in which to place yourself. This might start with taking walks in a forest ecosystem or in any green space, where the excessive stimuli of the city are not present, which allows one to become conscious of the voices of the spirit and the mind. For me, these kinds of activities led me to realize what kind of a physical and social system I wished to be a part of; it led me to reflect on what kind of social interactions I wanted to have and where/how I could have them. I realized what I wanted to see out the window when I woke up in the morning, and what I wanted to spend my days doing. I reflected on my gifts and what kind of system would allow me to share them.
Luckily, many others have gone through this process of self-realization already and are inspirations to the rest. I recently watched a TED talk video - which was unlike many I've watched of late - by Jon Jundai, the founder of the Pun Pun Centre For Self Reliance in Thailand. He proved that it was not even necessary to physically go into a nurturing system to awaken his inner voice. After moving from his country house to the city, he simply remembered the system he had previously lived in and mistakenly undervalued, he then realized how happy he had been there and what he could do to make it function even more abundantly, so that's exactly what he did. Instead of working over 8 hours a day, eating poor quality food in a setting that made him feel repeatedly inadequate, he moved and took all the steps needed to build his own house, grow his own food, and get the rest of his needs met by the community of people around him - the extraordinary part was how simple and easy it all was once he realized that is was possible. He never mentioned any extraordinary upbringing or death-defying ordeal, in fact, what was eye opening for him was simply inner reflection. That was all it took to lead him to become part of a system that now allows him to share his extraordinary gifts of teaching people how to live self-sufficiently and in touch with the natural world (the video can be watched here).
Individuals like Jon Jundai show that people are capable of being extraordinary if they are able to connect to their inner drive and ask themselves honestly and without self-judgement what they really want their life to be, then realize that this way of being is possible as long as we can somehow be part of a nurturing and sustainable (social, economic, and ecological) system. This step might be counterintuitive, it might require a great deal of creativity and thinking out of the box, not to mention stripping down our lives to what is essential and truly meaningful for us, then going forward from there. It's funny, if everyone was able to live in a way that soothed their soul and gave gifts of abundance to others and the planet, we would all just be extraordinary in our ordinariness.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

This is a poem I made up when I was sitting in the Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona this past summer.

Oh sigh again and breathe the world into being once more.
This pulsing beneath me threatens to shake me off my feet.

Oh blink again and I will be different than before,
Maybe you won't recognize me when our eyes meet.
Maybe the road I thought I took
looped back around and became another.

I didn't realize and then I felt this strange pulsing
heart that lies
just beyond our sight.

This mischievous heart that beats however it likes,
This ambivalent heart that shakes you when it strikes.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

PDC Day 4: Trees (Sunshine Coast)

I start classes for my Masters Degree in Human Ecology in Lund, Sweden tomorrow. I recently recovered from the final stages of jet lag and from some unexpected food poisoning and I have decided that I'd better get this blog post out so that I can make room for all of the the new stuff to come, and of course so that I can share with you some photos and comments from my last Permaculture class with Delvin and the PDC crew.

Victor and I by the cob cabin at Rolling Earth (photo by Beata)
 The module was Trees and we were up at beautiful, family-run, Rolling Earth Farm ( on the Sunshine Coast. We spent the day exploring the Permaculture farm with it's cute cob cabin and cob oven/solar water heater combo, then through the gorgeous evergreen forests surrounding the farm as Delvin led discussions about the many multitudes of functions that the trees provide. We mainly talked about the linkages between trees and the different life cycles of the planet such as the water cycle, the nutrient cycle, the flow and purification of air, soil creation and much more.

The functions of trees are really infinite: they purify the air and water, add organic and nutrient matter to the soil, act as water pumps, moderate harsh climate, CREATE (yes, create) rain clouds, stabilize the earth, shelter plants, provide habitat and food for innumerable species, including humans, and so much more. Trees are the wise kings of the forests and way too often we take them for granted. Even ecologically minded people often don't stop and think about all of the services that trees offer. I think it's really important to pause and consciously do this every-so-often as a grounding exercise and to get back in touch with this sacred knowledge.
A slanting lecture hall (Photo by Paola)
Walking through the forest we paused in areas going through different phases of succession. For example, we stopped in one zone that had been logged and replanted about 80-100 years ago and compared the straight rows of nearly-identical trees to those in the old growth zones (perhaps these areas had been logged a long time ago and were allowed to regenerate naturally - I'm not sure, but there were many big old trees and it looked like old growth).
Logged and replanted area (photo by Lucie Bardos)
The difference between the two is quite stark. It's important to remember that when logging companies say they will replant the trees they cut, it does not mean that they will replace the forest or that the forest that grows back will be the same as the one that was there prior to logging.
Forest area that was further along in the natural succession process (photo by Lucie Bardos)

As we chatted and listened to Delvin's teachings, gathered for lunch and snacks, I became sad to think that this was the last time I would be with our great group of people. I have learned so much during this first part of the PDC course and I certainly hope to pick up where I left off with another great group sometime in the future!
Our PDC group! (photo by Lucie Bardos)

Monday, July 15, 2013

I Dream of a Life in the Country

I dream of a life in the country. A rural life*.

City people would say "boring", "nice for a get away but then it would be boring", "seriously, what would you do all the time?"

Take a look at the above statements. See the words "get away" and "do all the time". It seems to me that people are addicted to being in prison states of stress. The obsession that people have with taking vacations, going on "get always" or just "getting away from it all". Doing things ALL THE TIME. This is "normal"?

There is this huge fear of not having enough to DO. Like when you stop rushing and working and stressing, you are wasting your time. It scares me. It scares me that people think stressful city lives are normal. Please, I urge you, take one evolutionary biology course that touches on our species. Or maybe just employ your common sense. City life, the 9-5 daily grind, needing to be on time, in place, on your best behaviour, being better than your friends, better than your colleagues, not being good enough, stressing about getting this funding or that promotion, processed snacks, beeping, ringing, roaring, droning. This is NOT natural and it is NOT normal.

Monte Adone Wildlife Protection Center, Italy (Photo: Lucie Bardos)
Monte Adone, Italy (Photo: Lucie Bardos)
I suppose that if you have never known life in the country, you might very well think it is.

Think of your best childhood memories. Mine are at my grandparents' cabin in the mountains. When I ask people this, for them it's usually something like playing outside, building forts, climbing trees, etc. Why do children always cry when parents try to sit them down in a nice restaurant, imprison them in a high chair surrounded by loud munchers and the clinking of hundreds of pieces of cutlery with dull music in the background? I remember a Permaculture
workshop I did a few years back. The teacher had her 1-year-old strapped to her back or sitting beside her picking salal berries as we built berms and mulched vegetable beds in the semi-wild garden space around the main house. This was for hours at a time. I don't remember hearing this child cry.

La Hesperia Biological Station and Nature Reserve (Photo: Lucie Bardos)

Read some poems by the romantic poets or essays by the American transcendentalists. They had the right idea. They understood that humans are only at the peak of their happiness and intelligence and understanding of life when surrounded by a natural landscape. They knew that getting back to nature was getting back to ourselves.

"Getting away" from what is "normal"? That doesn't even make sense!

La Hesperia Biological Station and Nature Reserve
(Photo: Lucie Bardos)
Now lets talk about DOING. I have lived in the country. I have been to my grandparents' cabin, I have spent lots of time at ranches, animal rescue centres tucked in the mountains, cloud forest nature reserves. Every time the same thing happens. Time slows down. Everything you do makes sense according to your surroundings, has a purpose and a meaning to you. You feed animals who will live because of you, you tend to plants which will feed you in return, you walk in the woods that teach you about ecology and imagination, you hike and exercise your body, you build something and receive a structure to serve your needs for years to come. 

You work with others and build relationships that are not founded on unnatural amounts of competition and stress. You work hard and are tired but still have energy at the end of the day for talking, dancing, and music. Food tastes better. Your body feels better. Your mind is clearer and you take time to think by yourself, problem solve, meditate without feeling like you are wasting time. You have enough time. You may not realize that you are happy until you get back to "normal". Then you realise you were happy. Then some of us forget. And go back to what is normal.

La Hesperia Biological Station and Nature Reserve (Photo: Lucie Bardos)

Well I haven't forgotten. I need to live in closeness with nature. I am not against cities but too many of our cities are not build with human well being in mind AT ALL. Redesigning cities for human and other species' well being is essential and a whole other topic.

For now, I dream of a life in the country. I am working towards a life in the country. A rural life*.

*By "country" and "rural" I don't mean huge monoculture farms as those who know me may have already presumed. I mean a rural existence in accordance with the laws of nature, specifically based on Permaculture principles. Don't know what Permaculture is? Google it. It's awesome and it makes sense.

Friday, June 21, 2013

PDC - Day 3 Soil (Roberts Creek)

PDC - Day 3 Soil

Owl at the centre of the Roberts Creek mandala. Photo by Lucie Bardos
Today was a day of going with the flow and a series of unexpected events. Paola, Jordan, Victor and I were meant to catch the ferry to Roberts Creek at 9:40. Due to some unexpected website changes, we ended up missing the ferry and having to wait 2 hours before the next sailing. At first we all felt a degree of frustration but creative minds are never idle and soon a song was a-brewin'. We decided to use our spare time to come up with a rap song about the soil - the topic of the day. We even came up with a band name "The Permie Wormie Dirt Band" and song title "This Earth Beneath My Fingernails" with such fantastic lyrics as:

Refrain (sung):
This earth beneath my fingernails
Ain't grime or dirt or filth,
It's one fine slice of paradise
It's Earth's delicious tilth
Finger lickin'!

(Thanks to Jordan for these awesome words! Perhaps a secondary career as a rap artist is in the works?)

We ended up performing the song in front an enthusiastic audience - Delvin and the rest of the class - after we arrived just before lunch. I guess this was a classic example of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. I think we made some pretty good lemonade!

                                          The Permie Wormie Dirt Band. Photo by Jocelyn

After another potluck feast we headed to the Heart Gardens where Delvin talked about soil health, mulching, explained key nutrients, biodynamics (including key biodynamic plants and practices), composting and worm composts. He also showed us how to inoculate the soil with beneficial fungi and brew a biodynamic tea to feed the soil. 
                              Beneficial fungi. Photo by Lucie Bardos

Upon reflection, it seems strange to me that we are losing such quantities of topsoil every year when there are so many simple and effective soil-building techniques (mulching, teas, green manure, cover crops, nutrient accumulator and pioneer plants, composting, worm composting, etc.). It makes me realize that people need to wake up SOON so that this doesn't continue happening, and also that the world needs more Permaculture teachers.... hmmm that's a thought!
                                      Biodynamic tea with plants including as yarrow, dandelions, and nettles. Photo by Lucie Bardos

Afterwards we all gathered in a circle to play a card game where we had to create a mandala by matching Permaculture principles to folk sayings, drawings, and photographs. It's always neat to see the associations that people make and in this case it was interesting finding out the "right answers" at the end, as there was an actual answer key.
                                              Mandala card game. Photo by Lucie Bardos
At the end of the day my wallet was left at the health food store in Roberts Creek. I feared I'd have to go a week without it when one course participant was kind enough to drive it to the ferry terminal. She probably wouldn't have made it in time but the ferry was late and all was well.

Next week we are back on the Sunshine Coast to talk about trees - those wise sentient beings that are willing to teach us so much. I look forward to it!