Our first class of the 12-weekend intensive Sub/Urban Permaculture Design Course (PDC) focused on Intention, Presence and Community Building. We were welcomed into a rectangular room with yellow painted walls and windows opening to the East, which invited the morning sunshine in—excellent feng shui! There, along with about 30 others, I learned to Slow Down, Go with the Flow and Establish Connections as Slav, Sage, Jay, Helen & Jonathan led a series of exercises, in which we formed circles, linked hands, expressed gratitude, established common ground, swayed our bodies like Elm Trees, took in the presence of each other in silence with prolonged eye contact (with optional embracing) and by touching hands with eyes closed, etc.
In Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium, the most memorable statement was about the privileged who feel they have a right not to know the ramifications of our affluence (Americans make up 5% of the world’s population yet consume 25% of its resources). It’s so unreal that people choose to be so clueless to avoid responsibility so the status quo remains. In the follow-up exercise, I played the role of Elder speaking to the listening Future about my views on the current state of affairs, my actions in response and how I maintain hope in this crazy world that we live in. At this point, I remembered the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I met outside the Berkeley BART station in the morning; referencing the Bible, they pointed to prophecies that foretell these “last days” of worsening world conditions—characterized by wars, famines, pestilences, lawlessness, ruining the earth, inordinate love of money, etc.—and hope for restoring Earth to its original Paradise Garden where the righteous live forever in harmony with nature as God intended. I shared some of this information and talked about my intention to apply permaculture principles for a more sustainable lifestyle.
Our 12-hour day included 1-1/2 hour each for lunch and dinner, plus 1 hour optional yoga during these meal breaks. For lunch, I joined a few classmates at Berkeley Farmers’ Market and then visited Half-Price Books (“waste not, read a lot”). For dinner, another classmate joined me for a quick bite before I ran off to yoga class.
What did I learn from our first class that can be applied to a garden? After all, permaculture principles can be applied to our social, not just garden, environment.
- Interconnections can empower us with resiliency: Slav explained that Joanna Macy, who doesn’t speak Russian, introduced the Elm Dance as a healing exercise to help Russian-speaking people process their trauma following the Chernobyl disaster; the linking hands and swaying emphasize solidarity and then letting go to raise our hands to call out what we want healed can be cathartic. It’s empowering to know we’re all together to work things out. Similarly, Toby Hemenway says “an ecological garden looks and works the way nature does, by building strong connections among plants, soil life, beneficial insects and other animals, and the gardener, to weave a resilient, natural webwork.”
- Learn to get along with “enemies,” which may be real or imagined: In Bowing to the Opponent exercise, we bowed in “gratitude” & “compassion” to the Opponent who has destroyed Earth for profit because this caused us to realize how much we value and seek to restore what’s lost. Rather than stoop to the level of the opponent, we rise to the occasion when we counter this evil opponent with good actions. We can follow the Biblical injunction to hate what is bad (action), but continue to love enemies—who can turn into allies if they change their behavior or we use them in a beneficial way. For example, it’s helpful to understand allelopathy, or the biochemical effects of some plants. Peas and beans are stunted by chives (their “enemy”), but roses thrive in the company of chives, which make the flowers more fragrant and help repel aphids.
- Yoga is good, but not after rushed meal: Our natural movement involves bending forward a lot so bending backward during yoga class should help flex our spine after gardening exercises. But I won’t try do it all again as I would have preferred a slow dinner instead of a rushed one!
While the trainers introduced themselves earlier in the day, my PDC colleagues and I did not have an opportunity to formally introduce ourselves until the 9 pm Closing Session when we finally stated our names, where we were from and our intention. I was impressed that several came as far as Palo Alto, Sacramento and Bolinas to participate 12 hours on a Saturday in addition to their commute time. The next day, I read Nicholas Kristoff’s NY Times Op-Ed piece about “The Happiness Hypothesis,” by Jonathan Haidt, who stated, “one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is to work with others on a cause larger than yourself.” It’s an awesome feeling to share in the work of my PDC colleagues to create a more sustainable future.
– Carmen L.