Coming home to myself by coming into right relationship with the land and Life
Last July I bought a home on ¼ acre of land which had been seriously neglected by the previous occupants. The lawn was totally dried up and looked dead. I had a very strong, clear inspiration, “Oh, good! I can transform this into a vibrantly alive, thriving space using permaculture!”
Never mind that I don’t know how to do permaculture yet, or that I haven’t ever been a gardener, or haven’t ever even had any desire to garden! That was the beginning of a journey that is not only, or even really, about the land, although the land will certainly reflect it. It’s more about my consciousness, as well as our collective cultural consciousness. It has taken me into some unexpected “territory” on both the outer and the inner levels.
Come with me and I’ll show you the surprising “gold nuggets” I’ve discovered so far . . .
First, a quick tour through the outer level:
Although I haven’t done permaculture yet, its principles have resonated with me for some years. Permaculture is a holistic design system for creating harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth and using all of the resources available in a sustainable manner. (TenthAcreFarm; Bill Mollison; Permaculture 101:The Basics).
· Earth Care ~ We must provision for all life systems on Earth to continue and multiply. We depend on good health in all systems to function for our survival. Our fates are intertwined with all Earth systems.
· People Care ~ All people must have access to those resources necessary for their existence. Cooperation between people makes healthy communities. Helping family and friends aids our own survival as well as the entire family of life.
· Fair Share ~ Continuous growth in a finite system must provide for a return of surplus to the Earth and people to be sustainable. If each person takes only their fair share, then there will be enough for everyone, and there will continue to be in the future.
Then I discovered regenerative agriculture/landscaping/gardening. Regeneration is beyond sustainability. Sustainable practices seek to maintain the same, whereas regenerative practices seek to revive, strengthen systems, and bring things back to a better state.
This introduced me to the critical importance of soil health. Even though I was raised in a rural farming community, I was so disconnected from the land that I didn’t even know the difference between dirt and real soil until now. Healthy soil has been described as like moist chocolate cake with a spongy structure. It absorbs and holds water well, sequesters carbon, and contains a great diversity of life forms (earthworms, microbes, etc.). That’s clearly not what’s here now! Gabe Brown’s book Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture was a real eye-opener for me.
Regenerative agriculture/landscaping/gardening has these common themes:
~ Agricultural practices that focus on the health of the ecological system as a whole, not solely on high production yields of crops. (From Sustainable America blog)
~ Focuses on actively “building health into the system,” beginning with increasing soil fertility. . . a holistic systems approach that starts with the soil, and also includes the health of the animals, farmers, workers and community. (From FoodPrint blog)
~ Rooted in Indigenous wisdom . . . a set of principles and practices to grow food in harmony with nature and heal the land from degradation. (From NRDC)
~ Basic ecological soil health principles based on biomimicry:
1) Minimize soil disturbance, both physical and chemical – also known as “no till, no dig” (disturbance diminishes habitat for soil microbes, resulting in diminished soil food web);
2) Keep the soil covered;
3) Maximize biodiversity of plants and animals;
4) Keep living roots in the soil as long and often as possible;
5) Integrate animals into the system.
Now, the inner level with my “gold nugget” discoveries:
Day after day I’ve sat on the land, consciously opening to see it with “new eyes” from the Native American/Indigenous perspective of “all my relations”, acknowledging my relationship with all the plants, animals, and the Earth itself.
I greet them with “Hello my other self (selves)”. That’s the translation of “Aang Waan”, the traditional greeting of the Unangan people as shared by Ilarion Kuuyux Merculieff.
I also greet them with a statement I had created several years ago: “I am One with ____________ as Spirit’s Presence in matter.” (I fill in the blank, e.g. this land, this tree, this grass, this dandelion, this rock, this bee, etc.)
As I do this, my body spontaneously sighs, my whole system relaxes and opens, and I am conscious of being more deeply connected, in harmony, and right relationship with life.
As I’ve done this over the months, I’ve become more and more appreciative of the robust life and growth of all the plants in the yard, most of which people would usually call “weeds”. I feel the love and abundance given fully and freely from them and feel love, honor, respect, and reverence for all of them, differently than I ever have.
Recently I "told" them what I was planning to do to transform the current dirt into healthy soil. It would start with covering the whole yard with layers of straw and cardboard so all the plants would die and become mulch and then compost as the basis for creating healthy soil.
Oooops! I hit a major “speed bump.”
This felt very “off” because on the one hand, I was connecting with them (or at least intending to) as sovereign beings, as Robin Wall Kimmerer so eloquently expresses it in her article The Honorable Harvest and her TED Talk. She says, “The natural world is a source of gifts—not commodities, but gifts given to us by the earth, plants, and animals themselves. What is our response to these gifts?”
On the other hand, I was “doing” this process “to them” from a typically unconscious, disconnected “colonial” mindset of “I know what I want to do, so I’ll just do it”, which included treating them as commodities and controlling/dominating/”doing it to them”. So no matter how “noble”, well-intended, or beneficial my plan might seem to be for all kinds of reasons, I could feel how “doing it to them” is still violence.
This was a HUGE disconnect! This was clearly not aligned with the deeper connection, harmony, and right relationship I had been consciously nurturing and experiencing. It showed me how ubiquitous and unconscious the colonial mental model is in my life and in our Western culture.
It occurred to me to ask their permission, to ask if they’d be “willing to die” for my idea and plan. That felt awful! I still had my dominator mentality, my agenda and the outcome I was actively invested in. No surprise that I couldn’t feel any connection, and it didn’t work!
So I started consciously opening to more genuine connection, letting myself relax a bit and be open to what they might communicate, although I still had my agenda with the outcome I was very attached to and pushing for. I was aware that if I listened and heard what they might “say”, they might not willingly give me what I want, and I might not willingly accept that and would be inclined to try to “overpower” them and force my way. I felt humbled and vulnerable. This was very different “territory”.
I finally realized I had not even felt, let alone expressed, any gratitude for their contribution, for what they so spontaneously and generously offered unconditionally, just by being their natural selves and doing what was theirs to do. I had a genuine upwelling of gratitude, respect, and some awe.
I also realized I hadn’t really communicated my purposes/desires for this creative project, which are to (1) produce food for myself and enough to share with others, (2) plant some of this yard as a natural perennial meadow for ecosystem restoration and beauty, and (3) be a model to inspire and support others toward harmonious right relationships with the Earth.
As I expressed those purposes and asked for their help, I felt myself coming into more harmony and right relationship, becoming a good steward and co-creative partner. The vulnerability, surrender, and humility felt equalizing, true, and authentically powerful. It was very different than the usual “power over”.
I felt their eager willingness to gladly participate in this as part of their natural cycle to create more life. It gave me deeper appreciation for Life with its unconditional abundance and generosity of expression and a deep joy, connection, and wholeness in a way I’ve never experienced before.
This has illuminated for me how and why “the path that brought us here goes no further.”