"Heaven is a Compost Pile" - Podcast Interview with Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com by Marianne West, Sustainable Living Podcast.com (Audio + Transcript)
"Heaven is a Compost Pile" - Podcast Interview with Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com by Marianne West, Sustainable Living Podcast.com (Audio + Transcript)

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Marianne: Welcome everybody to the Sustainable Living podcast. This is your host, Marianne West, and I am here with Willi Paul. Welcome, Willi.

Willi: Well, Hi. Good to be here.

Marianne: Excellent. Excellent. So Willi, first of all I would like to introduce you, and I'm actually going to ask you to do a whole bunch of introducing yourself, because what I know about you I gathered from your presence online, which you're very prolific online, and you founded a magazine, The PlanetShifter magazine. Right?

Willi: Yes.

Marianne: And I'm trying to, you know, usually people like to define themselves with something. I am this. And I am having a hard time finding one name for you, because it looks to me like you're an artist, you're a philosopher, you're a writer, you are a coach. (Chuckle) All kinds of things. So I thought I'd let you do that part for me.

Willi: Okay. Well, I'd like to think of myself as a teacher first.

Marianne: All right.

Willi: And that's my - my main priority is to help others find their way and offer them tools and writings that might help them as a map. So as a geographer, sort of a mythologist, I make the stories and I introduce them to people, and then they can take off and see where they would land, and maybe I can help them in the end find a next stop.

Marianne: Okay, so your magazine is called PlanetShifter.com Your focus is on helping people shift reality as we know it know, in terms of -

Marianne: - I'm seeing a lot of work, we are on the Sustainable Living podcast, right?

Willi: Right.

Marianne: So a lot of this seems we're talking about is like we are seeing a problem in the world, and I don't think this is new. I think people have always seen that there might be a problem and we need to better it. So we are just in a long line of people being concerned. But there are certain problems we seem to need to address more. And from your writing, I see you're writing about trout. You're writing about all kinds of different nature related things and community related things, right?

Willi: Uh-huh.

Marianne: So you mentioned myth. And I was very fascinated by seeing what you do with that. Would you explain what a myth is? And what a new myth is? And how you're working with that?

Willi: Yes, I'd love to. I think I'd back up slightly and let your listeners know that I'm using permaculture and the transition movement as a basis for new mythologies.

Marianne: Mm-hmm?

Willi: These are, well, agricultural movements, political movements, energy saving movements, in the case of the transition people. So these are ripe picking for me to then look at symbols, and ritual, and new stories to replace the old ones. So Planet Shifter really is all about creating new mythology when the old ones are lackluster or have indeed faded away. So that's one of my charges, is to replace those and to reenergize mythology with current forces and symbols.

Marianne: We are talking about rewriting the story in many ways, right? Or working with storytelling as a teaching tool, would you say that's correct?

Willi: Yes, I have done a lot of videos and done a lot of experimental videos with text and sound, and some themes. Yeah, that's the primary thing for kids. It is about fables and story, right. But I wanted them to write them themselves. I'm not somebody who's like Disney or somebody whose creating all this material. I want them to work with it and mold it themselves. That's one of my goals is work with kids and help them do it themselves.

Marianne: Which, you know, kind of in the olden days, stories were the way we were learning, and the stories changed with new tellers and with new events being added to it. So you were saying you're working with kids. And I saw that some of your stories or myth came out of some roundtables. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Willi: Yes, I went out on the road, which is a classic compelling process of finding out. So I went to find out what the other people around here were thinking about mythology. And I did a lecture series, you can call it a roundtable. I went to Santa Barbara and Davis, and - the Bay Area, for instance. And I presented and then we worked with the concepts and the questions. So that was a very interesting process for me to do. And I met a lot of good people doing that, so it was well worth it. The roundtables are like the roundtables of old, where the folks come from far and wide and they discuss the problems and they make solutions.
So that was a similar analogy, I guess.

Marianne: You said you presented. What did you present? Like a problem you were thinking about? Take me through a roundtable. So you went to Santa Barbara, right? And people showed up by invitation, I'm assuming. And then what would you do?

Willi: Well, in a nutshell, I had about 15 illustrated boards, which were about 11 x 17 and they all had a specific image that I picked out. I used those images as a stepping stone for the discussion.

So these images could've been about tradition, a new tradition or an old one. A danger out here, like in HMO, or GMOs or, nuclear power or other things. It could've been about old or new symbols as a trigger for discussion. So those artboards were key to how I did this.

Marianne: So then the roundtable, basically, developed a story out of that describing the problem in story form and kind of coming to a solution? Is that kind of correct it that way?

Willi: Yes. I've also done similar work with the permaculture community. These are convergence events, where they have an annual gathering. And so typically when I would do similar presentations and discussions, I then would take the feedback and write an actual new myth or story from that experience.

Marianne: Okay.

Willi: So yes, that's - those are better places to do it. It's less formal.

Marianne: Okay. So solutions are coming actually out of the community and you are kind of a facilitator to bring those solutions into the minds of people, yeah?

Willi: Yeah, that could be a shamanic process. I acknowledge that that's partly what I do is take things and transform them and give them back. That's a shamanic idea. But otherwise I just have this heartfelt need to process and to produce. So that's what I do normally. Yeah.

Marianne: Okay. I wanted to talk a little bit more about the myth because that's something I haven't seen anybody else do. And I feel like when we think about living and living in a sustainable way, to me this is a lot of community building; having stories, you know, stories have been vital to communities, and creating new stories, I feel, is vital to creating a new way of communicating. Because - correct me if that is not at all the way you are thinking - but, you know, I'm thinking that we are very used to being entertained from the outside in, this stage. You know?

Willi: Yes.

Marianne: You know, and we are not sharing entertainment that much anymore. It's like a one-way street, you know? It's television, or it's the stars, or it's the theaters entertaining us. And we're not participating. And storytelling just feels a way where there is participation, participating of, there is a storyteller. And there is a listener, and a listener who asks questions.

Willi: Yes.

Marianne: So I find that really fascinating, and I think it's a great teaching tool where it's not hitting you over the head with something. Does it make sense?

Willi: (Chuckle)

Marianne: You know? Because we have so much like; oh, this is wrong, and this is what you have to do to make it better, you know, bang, bang, bang.

Willi: (Laugh)

Marianne: So I read quite a few of them and you sent me a few titles, and one of them is the Signal Tree. Would you like to tell that story?

Willi: Oh, man. I've written so many stories, I couldn't just sit here and tell them to you.

Marianne: Oh, okay. So I just recently read it, so the gist of the story said a tree is growing and little saplings are coming up around that tree. And that a child is seeing them and through a dream is kind of taught to take those saplings and plant them all over the neighborhood. And so she goes back and it has become more of them and she plants them everywhere. And they grow into big trees with beautiful fruit very fast. And then the process continues. And pretty soon we have a fruit forest, you know, all over for people to eat from and so forth. So I would think that came out of a permaculture gathering, possibly? Because permaculture is big on food forests. Yeah, so that's one of the things where I find that by storytelling it becomes a symbol and it becomes kind of a guideline; this is what you can do, without saying go and (laugh) you know, plant ten trees today or else.

Willi: (Chuckle) Well, I would hope that folks see nature in a multitude of ways, one of which would be sacred. That's one of my charges, to say to folks that nature just isn't a commodity, that it has a soul, and its soul is connected to us. So we need to take care of nature, elevate that for our survival, you know? Nature can help us with our survival, or we can kill it and we can die.

Marianne: Wow.

Willi: So that's the message.

Marianne: Yeah, and that's a pretty profound message. And I think you kind of really cut to the chase here, it's like we can honor and preserve, or we can kill it, and that's how it is too.

Willi: I know. I know.

Marianne: Yeah.

Willi: That's sustainability for me. But it's a spiritual thing. So much of sustainability is green building, or saving energy, or cutting the water down. But to me, in my work in general, if it's not a sacred thing, then it's not really going to stick. I need to get a spiritual connection for people in a hurry.

Marianne: Yeah. I think you are touching on something which is super important, and which is probably missing in a lot of applications where we get so focused on this one technique to forget everything else. Expand a little bit more on how you see this happen, or how we can support each other to develop that sacred and the connection to the sacred.

Willi: Hmm. Wow, that's interesting. Well, I think one route would be to examine our current rituals and holidays and try to see if they really mean anything to us now. I would wager that they don't really mean much. They're just routine. Routine, routine isn't a spiritual idea. Routine is just routine. So I've often tried to write new rituals and traditions, especially with the transition movement as a backdrop, because they're ripe to do this work. They're ripe to write the new rituals, and they are really based in sustainability. So that's a really powerful foundation. We need to write some new ones and get past the old stuff.

Marianne: If I understand you right, and if I'm hearing you right, is that we need to find new ways of celebrating the connection with nature and the connection with each other, and really bring meaning to it. We talked about it in other podcasts before, not you and I, but you know, with different people. And I'm kind of assuming here that we are probably on the same wavelengths that a lot of the current holidays we're celebrating are buy something and buy more, and eat a lot of food, and (laugh) and that's pretty much it, right?

Willi: Yeah. That's pretty much it. Yeah, that's sad.

Marianne: Yeah.

Willi: That's why we're in the same boat here going down, so we need to turn that around.

Marianne: But you said you're writing new ritual. What are new ritual look like? Can you give me some kind of an example?

Willi: Well, that's interesting. I'm drawing a blank.

Marianne: That's okay. (Chuckle)

Willi: (Chuckle) I'm drawing a blank. But I can give you some of a recipe.

Marianne: Okay, that would be great.

Willi: To find a current ritual like Thanksgiving and apply it not to just your family, or to Safeway where you buy your food, but to apply the ritual to a community level and celebrate somewhere as a community, so that elevation, that expansion is what I'm thinking about when I try to write a ritual.

Marianne: Okay.

Willi: I need to expand it to everybody. That's key.

Marianne:Okay. So basically it could even be the same holiday, only people already have on their calendar and on their books and have some kind of a relationship with.

Willi: Right.

Marianne: But instead of making it about me and my small family circle, start making it about my whole community.

Willi: Right.

Marianne: Okay.

Willi: Yeah. In permaculture you might develop a ritual around the harvest of a food forest. So the community would participate in grabbing the fruit, and maybe even cooking and making jars of jam, and then giving it back to the community so that the idea of reuse and sustainability is part of that ritual. I don't think that's complicated at all, but I don't know that people want to go there. Permaculturalists often are weary of things that are spiritual. We talked about that.

Marianne: Well, some are.

Willi: Yeah. (Laugh)

Marianne: I mean I was thinking, when I was preparing for this, you know, a lot of permaculturalists are very much into the land and the garden, and somebody like Paul Wheaton would call you a Purple Person, you know? They are there.
Willi: (Laugh)

Marianne: They have this like definition that the Brown permaculturalists, the other ones, which are into soil, and there's the Purple People which are more about the spirit and the sacredness and so forth. And I really feel that we all need to have a little bit of all of that in us. It doesn't mean that we all need to do the same thing, right?

Willi: Right.

Marianne: But kind of have the awareness of everything, because in your work, you're still, I don't know if you're a hands on out in the land garden kind of a person, but in your writing nature plays a big part. And I feel when you're going out and you're working the land the spirit needs to play a big part too. Because if you're aware of everything going on, in my opinion, you wouldn't wound up on our, you know -

Willi: (Laugh)

Marianne:- on a land you don't want because you would just know that you're creating an act of extreme violence, in my opinion. It sounds to me like you're very much focused on working with people in creating people connections. Is that correct?

Willi: Oh, yes. I always want to seek out new people to interview and to have conversations with. I published a lot of those. If I am the only one doing this work then it will get old and stale, but these people that I reach out to are incredibly bright and interested in pursuing this work and then adding their ideas. So that's really one of my keys to my innovation, is to have help, have help doing it.

Marianne: When you say your work, are you referring to the Planet Shifter right now? The magazine? Or to your online presence? Would you like to talk about where you all can be found?

Willi: Sure, I'd love to. I have three Twitter accounts. And so I'm blasting my announcements through Twitter constantly. I've got a lot of folks interested in Twitter, which is gratifying. The LinkedIn is, I have two groups in LinkedIn, mythology, permaculture related, and I post my work there. I also have a mythology group in depth psychology alliance, which is an interesting connection. These are the folks who think of your being as a soul, not as a mental, or a brain. So they're looking at the psychology of the soul there. So that's been a nice synergy. I also post on G+. I have developed these over time. They're all sort of mechanical as I release the information. It's not complicated once you get a routine.

Marianne: Right.

Willi: But it takes me probably an hour to actually broadcast through all these channels each time I put something out.

Marianne: So when you say something that could be, I watched one of your videos where you were capturing the sound of the bark of a tree, right?

Willi: Yes. (Laugh)

Marianne: And so you're really tying the two grades, that we're using all of our senses to experience nature? That's kind of my feeling from what I think you are doing.

Willi: (Laugh) Yes.

Marianne: Is that what you're doing? (Laugh)

Willi: (Laugh) Yes, of course. Yes. Embrace everything. Something will come back. You know? Just give it your all and you'll get something back.

Marianne: Right. So when you say you're broadcasting, so that's the kind of stuff, you would do an experiment or an art piece, of you'll write, or you'll have a discussion or an interview, and then you'll share that with the world, right?

Willi: Yeah, that's what I mean by broadcasting. Those are the pieces of information I put out, that I let them go, like a broadcast.

Marianne: Okay.

Willi: Like seeds, of course. Like seeds.

Marianne: Right. You're throwing it out there and then see what people will do with it. In your magazine, it's online.

Willi: Oh, totally online. Yes.

Marianne: You founded it on Earth Day. You want to talk about how all of that came about?

Willi: Sure. That's about six years ago. We launched it from a café in Oakland. It was originally an artists and musicians website that people could come in and share their work and then discuss it. That's how it was actually founded. But later on I decided to go solo and to just do the content myself, make it a little bit easier to manage. Planetshifter.com is a Drupal site, kind of old school code, but I just haven't replaced it. So it continues, the original back-end technology. Well, alchemy, archetypes, mythology, these things came in as I grew, as I became more aware of the situation. And so now I'm juggling all these different ideas each time I want to write or produce a video. So I have lots of tools, I just have to decide which ones are going to work for this particular idea.

Marianne: We didn't talk about archetypes at all. How do you bring that into your work?

Willi: Well, Jung talks about archetypes, at least he did, and I'm fascinated with the deeper themes, or fears, of people. And those are things that I would like to change to make archetypes more positive. I think that's controversial. I think some people want to say the archetypes are the archetypes and you can't screw with them.

Marianne: Yes?

Willi: But my point of view is we can change anything we want, and even if it's a psychological situation. So I'm hoping to develop, continue to develop archetypes. I have like five sets of them now that are associated with symbols and movements. Like I have permaculture archetypes and symbols that go with, and then a description of that. So it helps me, as a template, guide my themeation and storytelling. So they're very powerful things to me. I take them literally.

Marianne: I heard some really, what resonates with me deeply is you were saying that a lot of archetypes were based in fear. And that you want to change that. And I feel a lot of our behavior is based in fear. And when we can make off that fear we actually can come to a different kind of a change.

Willi: Right.

Marianne: So do you want to talk a little bit about that, how you feel that, you know, changing it, I think I understood, you're right, the archetypes you are developing are based in a more positive solution based outlook maybe? So how would we apply that? How can we use that to direct our life to a more sustainable, to our planet type living?

Willi: I think, in my case, I look for symbols. Symbols are very important as they support and transform us and connect us to the archetypes. So if we can adopt a positive symbol, or a symbol set, or a symbol language, as I've done, then we are re-gearing those archetypes. I would also mention that I'm interested in sound archetypes as a way back in or a way forward for civilization. I'm interested in what the sounds symbolize and how they relate to these archetypes that I'm looking at. I'm trying to find all the ways I can to generate something better than what we have. And that starts with the archetypes, I believe.

Marianne: Okay. Can you give me something practical, like a person who is kind of new to this and is now really getting interested hearing us talk about it? And so you are talking about symbols and you're creating new symbols. Can you maybe describe one? And then how we would use that to change something we would want to change?

Willi: Okay. Here's a permaculture and nature archetype, although it's controversial. The symbol is an AK47, or a US flag, or a scene from mass shootings on TV. These are all powerful symbols, largely negative, right?

Marianne: Right.

Willi: So what we need to do is change this deep love for firearms into a deeper love for our fellow man and our communities. Change the fear around gun ownership into an embracement of our countrymen and women. So those are the symbols, the archetype is this crazy freedom, freedom loving firearms ethic, which is paradoxical, it's killing us and keeping us safe at the same time. Then to transform that into trust and into some sort of community togetherness, that would be the hope, that would be my job, to take that gun ownership and have something else instead.

Marianne: You would be using a negative symbol and finding a way to turn it into a positive symbol.

Willi: Right. And then changing the archetype as well.

Marianne: And so how would we change the archetype in that example?

Willi: Well, you could actually write a story and then start talking about that story, or having people repeat it, or adding to it. So that story, the story comes back here in a powerful way, if there is one.

Marianne: Okay. So it could be a story about somebody being so - you mentioned like the mass shooting. So to me that's somebody in immense pain going to lash out in such a violent way, right?

Willi: Yes, ma'am.

Marianne: So that could be, then when we see somebody, I mean at that point its kind of late in the game, right?

Willi: Yeah.

Marianne: Our story would be not to allow somebody to go that far, right? To see pain as it happens and see how they can relate as people lift each other up type of a thing?

Willi: Yes.

Marianne: Okay.

Willi: That's possible. You know, it might be a child who is trying to convince her dad to turn in his guns.

Marianne: Mm-hmm?

Willi: And that's a powerful place to start. Children often have a powerful directive on our lives, and can open our eyes quickly.

Marianne: Mm-hmm.

Willi: So that's maybe where I would start with a story, for instance.

Marianne: Wow, that's pretty heavy.

Willi: Yah.

Marianne: I mean it's very heavy, and it's definitely, you know, so much reality right now, people are in so much distress that they need to lash out that way and just kill a whole bunch of other people. Yeah, so now I can understand better too how your stories are coming about. Because some of them, I read one of them is about a remembering chair.

Willi: Yes.

Marianne: Where a tri parched landscape and a chair is placed in it, and there's a remembrance of water, and then that water appears after a while. So basically you are creating myth by having a problem and tracing the problem, and then searching for solutions and telling them in a story way. Fascinating.

Willi: Yeah, I would hope that through my own pain and my own release that I will be healed too, first, perhaps. And then I realize them to others. And then we can share that solution, or that magic, well, you know, inner-realization, whatever it is. But it does come from a lot of pain, that's true. It's a very painful place to live on the planet right now, to me.

Marianne: Yeah. You know, I think that's one of the things which I listen to recorded books a lot, audiobooks in the public domain, and so they are over a hundred years old most of the time. And there is that same pain. And the same, you know, sometimes if you take the outer circumstances away the human condition still seems to be sustained. You know, that people are experiencing fear and despair in thinking the world is not working right, but I feel that also has always been the incentive for somebody to say we need to change and come to a more positive solution. Basically we're trying to be on the side of the solution finders, right?

Willi: (Chuckle) Exactly, yeah. We're kind of running out of time too, which is another aspect of this world, so we'll see. I don't know that we have that much time to fix some of these things.

Marianne: Well, yes and no. I mean we can only do what we can do, right?

Willi: Sure.

Marianne: And, you know, we can turn it into a positive. Let's write a new myth here. We are running out of time. How can we turn that into a new myth if there's endless time available? The time is relative. You know?

Willi: Got that right!

Marianne: I mean time is something which is, it's not a defined thing, really, because when you think about it, if you really enjoy yourself, an hour seems like nothing, right? So there is no time. And then if you are in excruciating pain or discomfort a minute seems like a whole day.
So, you know, let's just assume that we have endless time to fix everything.

Willi: Okay.

Marianne: We need to - that's a new myth.

Willi: I like that. I'll try it.

Marianne: Good. Sounds good. What do you want for people to do with your work? Do you want - tell me what your ambition is. You're bringing stuff out. You're bringing information to people. And what is your heart's desire what people will do with that work?

Willi: Well, that's a good question, I mean, I would love to find a publisher out there to help me put out a workbook for most people, for people who aren't necessarily online as much as others, because there's an opportunity there. I would hope that people would show their children some of my work, talk to them about it, and then finally I would think there's lots of opportunity to work with me so people can get ahold of me and suggest ideas about collaboration. I would like that.

Marianne: Okay, sounds good. Is there anything else you would like to tell me, Willi?

Willi: Not really, I enjoyed myself and I really like what you're doing over there.

Marianne: Thank you.

Willi: So keep it up.

Marianne: Thank you, you too. I want to - it's very fascinating to me, so yeah, let's write some new myths together. I'd like that. Thank you so much.

Willi: Let's do that! Thank you.