Stories from the Ecovillage

Keep your faith in all beautiful things.

In the sun when it is hidden.

In the spring when it is gone.”

~ Roy Rolfe Gilson


The forest...
The forest…

I’m back: back to the city, my work as a counsellor/facilitator and community resilience builder. Back to my family and all the many little commitments, responsibilities, joys and challenges…


Last week (March 27 to April 5) I spent my time as a teacher assistant for Jude Hobbs “Advanced Permaculture” course on Permaculture Teachers Training…as other times before in the magical O.U.R. Ecovillage experiment, I learned more about myself and the world than on the obvious “subject” being taught at the PcTT course…I met extraordinary people and became (once more) inspired by the many stories that create the thread of life: stories of courage and awe, stories led by seekers and risk takers who know life is much more than this dumbing-down, fake-lives we are encourage to live “out here”…

Wonders everywhere we go…


I’m surprised at my “easy” re-integration to “normalcy” after living a full-immersion week into the social aspects of Permaculture…I was expecting a much more traumatic transition. But no, I came home after a long trip through Victoria and the first thing I did was transplanting the kiwis and checking on the salad greens and herbs I had planted before my leaving the city. I cleaned and organized the pantry, washed all the clothes and cooked meals for the week. I’m back and work keeps me busy.


Work keeps the mind and the heart from wondering…as Javan Bernakevitch (from Permaculture BC) says: “Action dispels despair”


In the upcoming weeks, I will be writing about my experiences and creating summaries of what does “teaching Permaculture” implies. I will also share some resources for those who are interested in deepening their understanding of the social and “inner” part of Permaculture.


Today, I want to share (from my perspective) the highlights this amazing week offered:

The pond…


It Depends(by Brandy Gallagher)


In Permaculture, we have ethics and principles to “guide” us…but there are no formulas written in stone, and every landscape (physical, community-wise or spiritual) is different.


That is why we don’t work with answers but with questions: what, where, who, how, why, why not and what if…those are our main guidelines.


What works for you in a specific place and time may not work for me in the same time and place…it may not work for you when you change the characters of the story!

Being open to understand (and accept) that everything “depends” on so many elements, interactions and implications is a skill we all have to learn…it requires more than openness, it also requires awareness, compassion, patient, acceptance, courage and strength.
Observe and Interact (by various participants)
Because every situation, individual and relationship is different…

In our current society, we make assumptions, judge and react very fast. Reality is that we don’t know all the variables: what is happening? Comes before we can figure out “why” is happening…

Observe involves much more than just taking a quick look: it involves deep listening (and, in the case of real landscapes or structures, smelling and touching)

The interaction requires us to ask questions or just “be” there and understand what’s behind the scene: behind every landscape, person or community, there is a story to be told (and heard)


All Hands on Deck (by Javan Bernakevitch)


Full engagement of caring and wonderful souls
Full engagement of caring and wonderful souls

We face enormous challenges as a species: from soil, water, biodiversity and raw materials depletion, to erosion and pollution; from social injustices, war, hunger, poverty and unrest to individual pain, depression, mental and physical health issues…I could be here all day enumerating the issues, and that is why need (as Javan said in his “Cultivated Life Design” presentation), we need everybody: “all hands in deck”, each one of us with our passions and gifts…


It is Not About You (by Kayla Feenstra)


Some people are bigger than life, and that’s the case of Kayla, from Valley Permaculture Guild, Tiny Houses, Dragonlily Gardens and Farm2FoodBank…and a ton of other great projects!

Kayla gave us an inspiring and powerful presentation on what’s possible when you follow your passion and put the heart where it belongs…

She talked about how is important to do more than to talk about (although I would add that talking sometimes gives us the strength and connections we need to do what we want to do) and how the stuff you do is not about you but about those you are impacting: children, the land, the community, etc.

We have a lot to learn from Kayla and her projects, but not all of us have the youth, strength, time and energy to do so much…instead, we can do what we can with what we have. As long as we are truly following our call, we will not wasting our time.


100% Responsible? (by Kenix)
Communication may be one of the main issues causing human pain and suffering: we are continuously hurting others and ourselves as a result of miscommunication…who is responsible for what? Are we 50%-50% responsible, 60%-40%? 70%-30%?

What about 100%-100%?

This reminds me of the eternal discussion about nature vs nurture: who is responsible when a human being seems to “go wrong”? her parents? Her teachers? Her peers? Genes? TV? Video games?

It also reminds me of the illusion of “control”: that we are in control of our destiny, our emotions and responses to what happens to us.

Initially, I agree with the 100%-100%: if both parties at the “conversation” are healthy, fully educated and comfortable enough when the event is happening, we may expect both are equally responsible for what’s being said, including gestures and reception of the message…but is this true all the time?

Most of us carry different types of baggage, untold stories, values, beliefs and expectations. Most of us are at different levels of awareness…so yes, we are “responsible” for 100%, but my 100% may not measure as much as your 100%…


Meet People Where They Are (by Kayla Feenstra)
So many times we think we have the “solutions” and want to fix the world. So many times we think we “know” what a landscape, a community, an institution or a person “needs”.

Top-down “solutions” usually don’t work because they are imposed.

Similarly, when we are with others we expect they would behave in certain ways, judging them and making assumptions if they don’t. We may get frustrated (even angry) when people don’t seem to “react” as we thought they would.

Should we bring drums and awake everybody from their fantasies? Should we challenge everyone we meet and force them into awareness and activism? Should we expect everybody to be as caring and responsible as we think we are? Should we try hard to convince people to go for the lifestyles and solutions we think are necessary?

Where do “care for the Earth”, “care for People” and “care for the Future/share the surplus” meet? Where do they collide?


Tell Your Story Before Others Tell it For You (by Silvia)

Most of the time we carry our own frames and schemes: we force everyone else to fit into these, we are always looking for patterns and explanations, making assumptions and behaving as a result: this person is clueless, that person is mean and that one there doesn’t really care…what do we know?


If I don’t know your story (both the big picture and the details), how come I pretend to understand and judge you?


On the other hand, if you don’t tell your own story, somebody else will tell it for you. And when somebody else tells your story, it may be very different from reality (or at least different from how you perceive and feel your own story).


Telling our own stories is terribly hard and painful: it makes us vulnerable and exposed…”telling” doesn’t carry all the details either, because words are sometimes not enough…why is this person angry? Withdrawn? Shy? Detached?


Only they know…allow them to tell their stories and tell yours. It may be the starting point of an understanding.


Five Fold Path for Facilitators (Starhawk)
As part of my TA role, I presented a brief intro to decision-making and group facilitation. I used Starhawk’s Empowerment Manual which I consider one of the best in this matter.


Is consensus always “the” solution? When voting or imposed solutions may work? When is a top-down model better than a grassroots, organic and self-organized/community-oriented one? Are we including those who need to be, are we using the best facilitation style for the type of group, meeting and outcome?

One of the beauties of the “Five fold path to facilitation” is that is sooo…”permaculturist”!

Remember, nothing is written in stone, “it depends”


Invisible Structures (by all)


Angels live among us...and we all carry demons
Angels live among us…and we all carry demons

More than about how to teach Permaculture, this course (and the environment where it took place) taught me even more about what in Permaculture we call “invisible structures”.

What are these? Some see the surface: invisible structures may include the cultural, legal, social and economic framework within “physical” structures function: for example, we may not be able to have chickens and goats, harvest rain water or even grow food in a suburban backyard because of by-laws restrictions.

Invisible structures also limit (or support) what we study, where we work and live or even how we communicate or spend our “free” time.

However, invisible structures affect us at deeper levels: spiritually, emotionally, relationship-wise and as communities, they also influence how we make decision, establish systems and behave with each other.

It was truly interesting to listen (observe and interact) to the different views expressed towards how O.U.R. ecovillage system of governance, orientation and training works as well as how the PcTT course was being taught.

There were the ones arguing for more structure, guidelines and clear expectations…and those supporting self-reliance, proactive-ness and ground-up interactions and expectations.

Should we expect everybody to jump and figure out things by themselves? What are the drawbacks of a system like that? And would clear guidelines, a fixed curriculum and expectations, structure and objectives be considered as “spoon feeding” or a nurturing environment that may allow people to transition from A to B?

As always, it is easier to plan and implement a garden, a water harvesting system, a composting toilet and so on…than creating harmony within ourselves, a relationship or a community!


Feed What you Want to Grow (by Silvia)

Walking through life we will always encounter things we don’t like, experiences we want to reject, moments when we are exhausted or plainly bored to death. We will also face diverse people, some of who will approach us with different intentions and expectations from what we would have liked…all these experiences and encounters are out there, it is our choice whether we want to feed or starve them: if we keep thinking and digging into emotions, relationships and activities or places that erode and pollute our energy and skills, we better be learning some from that process…otherwise we are just feeding something that may grow even more, making us miserable.

This is one of the reasons I keep going to the ecovillage, keep taking Permaculture classes and working on certain projects: I want the feelings of connection, support, care and love to stay with me for longer…

On the other hand, is how we face the discomfort: we will always face some type of discomfort as that is the nature of life. We can choose to run away from it through denial, entertainment or just “not feeding” it, but what will we gain? What will we learn? Or we can choose to accept and sit with it (the discomfort coming from vulnerability of being exposed, being ourselves, or working in community or in a relationship with people who may not be perfect)…and we may learn something in the process: something from us and something about the world.

Knowing when to stay and feed something that feels uncomfortable and when to leave and starve it is a skill many of us need to develop. And it may take all our lives to start grasping it!


Action Dispels Despair (Javan)

I tend to become terribly depressed when I come back from experiences like this one…in the “real world” out here (where we have full-time jobs, imperfect families and neighbourhoods, mortgages and debt) we rarely encounter people like the participants in this past PcTT: we rarely find people who are so aware and awake, willing to take risks and live a life that is closer to their values and beliefs.

While I don’t dislike my work, it just takes too much of my time! It also makes me physically tired and lazy (because is a job that requires heart and head, but not hands or feet)…so other projects I would like to invest more of my time, get neglected.

I also long for connections such as the ones I made with almost everyone of the 17 participants. There is no such a thing in this, the other side…

Javan Bernakevitch says that “action dispels despair” and this is (most of the time) true: but sometimes, action may also be a form of denial.

As usual, I am left with more questions than answers and the ever question of “why are you here?”

The answer to that question lives in the fresh mornings walking through the forest and hearing the many birds of that magical place…it also lives in the nights going “home” to sleep under a full moon and a sky full of stars, listening to the frogs and small critters…it is hidden in days and hours of service for the love of it, when joy was found in collecting leaves for the lunch’s salad, staring the fire early in the morning and washing the pots along another caring soul…it is hidden in that simple room made of mud with a backpack and a book as my only possessions.

I may be now closer to my truth than I was two weeks ago.

Paraphrasing one of the songs played by the participants last Saturday’s evening, “I wish I was there”


This was my path to and from every morning and evening...
This was my path to and from every morning and evening…
So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

“Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd)
A window at one of the ecovillage's cob houses
A window at one of the ecovillage’s cob houses

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson



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