“Spiritual Permaculture” - Rethinking Permaculture Vernal Equinox Convergence: Everyday Strategies for Compassionate Living. 3/25 – 27, Kailash Ecovillage, Portland, OR. Interview with Ole Ersson, Kailash Ecovillage and Satya, Food Not Bombs, PDX. By Will
“Spiritual Permaculture” - Rethinking Permaculture Vernal Equinox Convergence: Everyday Strategies for Compassionate Living. 3/25 – 27, Kailash Ecovillage, Portland, OR. Interview with Ole Ersson, Kailash Ecovillage and Satya, Food Not Bombs, PDX. By Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com
Willi: …Do you see a place for a personal spiritual connection to land design?
Geoff Lawton: Only if you keep it personal and do not teach it.
(from Planetshifter.com Chat)
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Interview with Ole and Satya by Willi -
When you say “spiritual permaculture”, how does religion play a role if any? Are you familiar with the practice of the Society of Friends (Quakers)?
Ole: Religion, one might say, is organized spiritual practice. Kailash Ecovillage attempts to avoid organized religion, as often this can lead to divisiveness. We stick to the core values that most spiritual practices, including religion, share, without the identification with individual religious practices. In that way, we avoid the divisive aspects of religion while focusing on the common spiritual practices.
On the other hand, organized religions promote many positive and introspective behaviors among their adherents, and this is to be encouraged. The question is, can we maximize the benefits while at the same time minimizing the negatives?
For example, our values statement emphasizes the following core values that are embraced by most or all spiritual practices, including religions. We value:
• Sustainability: organic gardening, composting, local food production, frugal use of energy and resources, alternative sources of energy and water, reducing, reusing, recycling, human-powered transport
• Safety: ensuring community safety through a stringent screening process, neighbors looking out for each other, and other measures
• Respect: for other beings and our earth
• Diversity: our community includes different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, incomes, ages, family types, sexual orientations, and spiritual paths
• Children and elders
• Each others’ privacy
• Vegan community gatherings and celebrations
• Education: learning amongst ourselves and teaching the larger community about sustainability
• Open-mindedness: welcoming new ideas
• Experimentation: exploring new methods of sustainable urban living
The Quakers are an organized religious practice, although, in many respects, they minimize many of the usual practices of religions, such as ownership of churches, moral dogma, etc. In that sense, they maximize the benefits of organized religious practice while minimizing their negative impacts.
Satya: People mean very different things by this word "religion." Originally, it means to re-connect - so in this sense it is crucial to my vision of a sustainable way of life - to feel connection to each other, to the natural world, to the universe. We obviously aren't advocating a particular religious tradition at the convergence, but we will offer some meditational practices, and talk about how becoming deeply present can foster the realization of connection, and the courage to change.
I'm a little familiar with Quakerism, and have respect for what I've heard, but have never participated in their gatherings. I wonder why you asked this last point?
Willi: Just a reference point. I have spent time with the Quakers.
Food not Bombs and Kailash Ecovillage have teamed up for this unique event. What values and actions do you share together?
Ole: Food not Bombs does free vegan food serving outreach events on a regular basis to many communities. Kailash Ecovillage emphasizes veganic gardening techniques as well as other sustainable and compassionate practices. Thus, one of our principal shared values is the non-exploitation and harming of animals in our activities. However, many other values are also held in common.
Satya: Both groups are working to create a more healthful, compassionate and sustainable culture. Reducing food waste, and redirecting it toward community meals offered free to all, is the work of Food-Not-Bombs - this practice of treating our resources with respect and care, and sharing our abundance with others is a crucial part of the new culture we seek to create. Growing our own food, and learning how to reduce the environmental impact of our dwelling places is the work of Kailash, and this, too, is an essential part of the picture. Both groups contribute to a way of living that can help us drop away our reliance on industrial and consumerist systems that are destroying the planet, and foster a new way of living that increases our joy while reducing our harm.
Is permaculture the same as sustainability now? Can you see linkages between permaculture and what folks in Silicon Valley are promoting as “Ag-Tech?”
Ole: In general, permaculture practices are designed to be sustainable. However, from the description of AgTech published on the event web page, AgTech appears to be a corporate sponsored event promoting an interest in permaculture and technology. Increasing interest of the technology sector in sustainable agriculture practices is a laudable goal.
Satya: "Permaculture" and "sustainability" are both very loose terms that mean different things to different people. I am interested in a holistic way of life that incorporates all aspects of one's daily practices in the direction of least harm to all beings, and the greatest nourishment of joy. For me, this means not taking from nature more than we really need, and sharing our resources with everyone. I don't find this vision very compatible with a money-directed culture bent on infinite accumulation, which is what we find as a dominant story in today's society.
I don't know anything about AgTech, but I looked at your link, and I didn't find anything particularly appealing to me, or in line with the above vision. Their approach seems firmly in the "increase profit" camp, at least with the little info provided. I don't think technological improvements are what is primarily needed in the agricultural realm - we already know how to provide for the world's population in a sustainable way - I think we just need to make it politically feasible by changing our cultural attitudes, and replacing the profit motive of contemporary big Ag with ethical and ecologically sensitive motives instead.
Is there anything spiritual about being a consumer? How can you guide us to a more diverse and holistic Capitalism?
Ole: We are all consumers, as well as producers. Contemplating our consumer habits and choosing those that are more sustainable, and compassionate, is where we need to focus our attention. We make our consumer choices based on an idea that we are increasing our well-being. Most would agree that ideally, this will not be at the expense of other beings human and non-human. That is the crux of the matter. How do our choices affect others? Do we make compassionate choices that minimize negative impact on others, including non-human beings?
I am not sure what holistic capitalism means. In general, capitalism is the practice of increasing capital, by creating a profit during business transactions. As capitalistic practices are currently conducted, there appears to be minimal attention to the harmful effects of such business practices. If a practice increases the business's bottom line, it is encouraged. If it does not, it is discouraged.
Little attention is paid to the impact of business practices on the well-being of others besides those immediately benefiting from a business transaction. This needs to change. Those practices that have a detrimental effect on other beings, and on the ecosystem, even though profitable, need to be re-thought.
Satya: "Consuming" (in the economic sense) tends to mean paying money for something which you are not particularly involved in the creation of, and are probably ignorant of its origins. This leads us to inadvertently support industries and processes that are unethical. Also we tend to value the objects and services less if we are not aware and involved in their creation, and we waste more. And by using money we are reinforcing the idea that we cannot freely share with each other, as most natural resources - air, sun, earth, water, plants - are freely shared in nature.
So, no, I don't think there's much spiritual about being a "consumer" - I'd rather be a creator and a sharer - but I acknowledge that spiritual aspirants in today's world might often feel the need to buy some stuff at least occasionally, while we create a culture in which that's less and less necessary.
I don't think "holistic capitalism" is possible, at least as I understand the term capitalism - in my understanding capitalism requires a motive of material acquisition for oneself in competition with others, which I see as fundamentally destructive of both nature and human society, and incompatible with true joy. As for how we may be guided to something better - see my response to your second question.
Please discuss a few of your specific spiritual places / spaces and tell us how you came to understand these places as such.
Ole: We encourage thoughtful consideration of all our practices. It is essential to incorporate full consideration of the impact of all that we do on the rest of the ecosystem. Do our daily behaviors result or depend on exploitation of other beings? We endeavor to minimize, and ideally, eliminate, any such exploitation.
Specific practices encouraged at the Ecovillage include: reducing our consumer waste through reducing, reusing, and recycling, including our excreta, encouraging compassionate consumer practices as much as possible, and embracing compassionate land use practices such as veganic gardening.
Satya: I try to move in the direction of perceiving all spaces/places as sacred, but I do find certain places as more conducive to realizing spiritual joy - generally those with a rich and healthy natural ecosystem, and without the domination of technological control which pervades so much of our usual surroundings. So wilderness areas, mostly, are where I go for inspiration. Also I find it easy to see the sacred in land where I'm growing food - as the miraculous gift of nature for our subsistence is manifesting. And sometimes spaces in which art is being performed.
Any reflections to share with us on my post: “Soul and the Spirit?”
Ole: We see here many common threads of interest, such as protection of nature, appreciation for the arts, and encouragement of healthy body and mind.
Satya: No more reflections than what I'm sharing in these other questions.
Please define “compassionate.” Any local examples?
Ole: Compassionate practices are those that fully consider the interests of other beings. In our current society, non-human beings' interests are usually minimized or even ignored altogether.
We endeavor, in our practices, to restore their interests. In practical concerns, our ecovillage practices encourage living and gardening practices, those that foster optimal vegetative growth without supporting harmful societal practices.
For example, we all excrete (pee and poop). Recycling human excreta can allow us to be self-sufficient in our nutrient inputs without participating in or supporting animal based "organic" practices. The ecovillage gardens have become nitrogen (and other nutrients such as potassium and phosphorous) self=sufficient. We have confirmed that there is no need to include animal exploitation to attain remarkable growth and productivity.
What a delightful realization!
Satya: "Compassion" originally means to "suffer with", but we might extend the meaning to sharing both suffering and joy with others - a process that delivers us from the prison of our own small self-hood, and allows us to realize our unlimited nature, and our profound belonging to the universe. Food-Not-Bombs is a local example of a compassionate project, as is Kailash Ecovillage. As is every act of caring for the earth, making responsible, less harmful decisions, and sharing both resources and joy.
I often refer to these times as the “Chaos-Era.” How will you help transition Human-Nature to what you call “living in a way that honors all living beings, and all the diversity of life on our planet, as our family.”
Satya: I don't know if these are more chaotic times than before, but they are definitely busy, with lots of people, and lots of destructive practices. I think I've summarized my vision for a way forward in the questions above.
Are you seeking people to host a presentation or workshop at the convergence? Any details to share?
Ole: We are seeking participants in our Rethinking Permaculture convergence who share our compassionate values. We encourage anyone interested in participating to contact us via our event page, or simply show up on our first event night, where we organize the events of the convergence.
Satya: Yes, we are hoping many people will want to host their own workshops, or work with others. The first night of the gathering we will have a time for people to suggest, and schedule in, what they would like to teach. Some more guidelines for what would fit with the vision of the gathering, and some preliminary workshop offerings, will be posted on the Kailash website and the event Facebook page in the next few days.
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Rethinking Permaculture Vernal Equinox Convergence:
Everyday Strategies for Compassionate Living
Hosted by Kailash Ecovillage and Food Not Bombs
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Satya - touchingearth at riseup.net
Ole Ersson - ole.ersson at gmail.com
Willi Paul - willipaul1 at gmail.com