For the past 7 days, I have been on the Big Island of Hawaii attending a retreat on permaculture, which is the art and science of living sustainably and harmoniously with the earth and one's environment.
Permaculture is a discipline that combines the skills of organic farming/landscaping, resource management, low-impact ecological living and community planning.
It is really about living together on the earth in such a way as to create the highest degree of harmony on all levels (personally, socially, ecologically and spiritually).
In this way, permaculture is in complete alignment with the laws and principles of Yoga.
Both Yoga and Permaculture are all about the creation of a return to unity and wholeness on all levels.
First of all, let me just say that being on the southern part of the Big Island of Hawaii is, in itself, a great joy and a tremendously uplifting experience.
The retreat center site, called Hawaiian Sanctuary, is located about 10 miles from where molten lava from the island's active volcanoes flows directly into the sea. That means that the earth here is very new and very dynamic. It is perhaps some of the richest and most energetic soil on the planet.
Just walking around the land with my bare feet on the ground, I can feel the tremendous energy of this place. The fruits and vegetables grown on this earth are some of the richest and most nutritious of any that I have had on this planet. The air and water here in this part of the world are incredibly pure and vibrant.
I arrived on the island with a slight cold and since then I have experienced a tremendous amount of healing and purification. Having my feet on the earth, breathing clean air, drinking clean water, eating some of the purest and most incredible food anywhere, swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean and having the warm sun on my bare skin each day has all brought such deep healing to my body and soul.
Again, I am reminded how important it is to visit places like this. It is important to step away from our normal environments and immerse our selves in places that bring light and healing to the deepest parts of our bodies, hearts and souls.
Each day, we awoke, did some yoga practice, had some organic fruit and smoothies and worked with a woman by the name of Tania Leilani, who was from Australia. Tania is a leading authority in the world on the subject of permaculture. Her level of knowledge and enthusiasm about the subject of permaculture is truly extraordinary.
We spent part of the time in the classroom learning the basic principles of permaculture like low-impact living, the importance of living harmoniously with nature and with each other and how to use the land that we are living on in such a way as to ensure the highest degree of conscious living physically, mentally and spiritually.
Since I am planning on moving to the countryside and want to live closer to nature and to grow some of my own food, these topics interested me greatly.
I should also say that the practice of permaculture is not only for those living in the countryside. It is also very applicable for those living in the cities as well. Even in the densest of urban centers, there are always ways to live closer to nature, to live in more harmony with nature and with each other.
Permaculture does not just include elements of working with the earth. It also is very much about building harmony within our social structures. It is very much about how to build harmony within our selves and with each other. It is very much about how to build stronger and more harmonious communities with each other.
After a short session in the classroom, we proceeded to work outside. We walked the land and discussed how to design patterns of moving around and living on different parts of the land.
For example, it is important to design different zones to the land. It is important to locate the places where one will live, where one will grow food, where one will gather with others, where one will collect water and where one will dispose of one's waste. All these places should be located in such a way as to ensure minimal impact on the surrounding environment, as well as, to ensure the maximum ease of use for the inhabitants.
A perfect example of this would be to have those foods that one eats on a daily basis to be very close at hand. For myself, that would mean that I would plant a lemon tree or two right outside my kitchen door!
After we located the best places for the garden, for disposing of waste and composting, of planting certain plants and locating foot paths (all based on permaculture and ecological principles), we proceeded to work the land, clearing away certain plants and planting others. In short, we began to actually create small ecosystems, which were going to best support a powerfully healthy and harmonious life.
In just thinking about the design aspects of the land and the social structures that were going to be implemented on that land, it made us all much more creative and reflective on what it meant to be a human being living on this earth. That process in itself was one that created tremendous joy and increased awareness.
In this way, I saw once again just how similar permaculture is to the practice of yoga. Both permaculture and yoga are both disciplines that are designed to heighten one's awareness of his/her own self, both internally and externally. Both practices are about intense degrees of self-reflection and acts of creativity. They are both about learning to step outside of the automatic and repetitive patterns of the mind and to initiate new ways of being, ways that are more in tune with the essential nature of life and of reality.
So, whether you are living in the heart of a big city or are living out in the countryside, begin to find ways to see yourself and your environment in new ways. See if you can notice the essential patterns of your mind and behavior. Begin to determine if those basic patterns support your life in a way that is harmonious with both nature and your higher self.
Do you have easy access to the things, experiences and people that support your higher mission in life? How can you, where you are now, create easier access to those aspects of life that support you the most?
In my last few blog entries, I spoke about the importance of one's relationship to the water that one uses and drinks. This, for me, is a great example of how one can design the different aspects of one's life to support your higher purpose. Access to the very highest quality water and food is just one of the important parts of one's life that requires the greatest amount of care. To ensure that this is so requires dedication and the capacity to be creative on a regular basis. This kind of creativity requires constant self-reflection and consistent dialogue both with oneself and with others.
Think not just about the personal element. Think also about the social aspect of yourself. Who are the people who form the strongest parts of your social network? How can you create consistent and active interactions with those people? Find ways to participate with others by giving the gifts that you are most able to give and to receive the kind of help that you are most in need of.
My time in Hawaii is coming to a close in a few days. It has been a very powerful experience for me here. It certainly will be a bit of a shock to my system to leave the warm, luscious and tropical surroundings of the Big Island and to return to winter in Japan.
However, no amount of cold weather can dampen the joy and the inspiration and the healing that I have gained through my short time here in these beautiful islands and with these beautiful people.
Aloha and OM!