My first roots started to grow as a nomadic seed, an active ecologist wandering from project to project, leaving a positive trace in my wake – compost piles, composting toilets, native plant gardens, botanical inventories, gray water recycling systems…I was wandering and unable to ground myself in a long term vision.
Becoming a Tree
I was looking for the right grounding for my life. My background was from EARTH University (Agriculture) and Schumacher College (Holistic Sciences), both alternative institutions that urged me to dream a new vision of a sustainable society. I took my first Permaculture Design Course in 2010 with Scott Pittman, who brilliantly introduced me to the concepts of Permaculture Design and the invisible structures. Invisible structures are a part of permaculture that teaches us to understand the underlying effect of legal and financial systems on our lives, landscapes, and societies. And it teaches us how to find and create alternatives that are life-affirming and non-destructive. And that knowledge helped me to find my ground.
I started my search for a spiritual community, one of the longer lasting social structures in human history. That is how I ended up at Sat Yoga Ashram in my native Costa Rica. There, I started to become a tree, grounded in invisible structures combined of fertile garden soil, love, and inner peace – peace for which I strive, lovingly, daily.
Humility and Humus
Nowadays, my role at the Ashram is to co-coordinate permaculture projects and some day-to-day administrative activities. I guide and supervise local workers and volunteers, and co-design our daily life/projects/emergent situations. I am very conscious of the flexibility required to be part of a community and my role changes constantly. I am open to washing dishes and sweeping floors with the same love that I put into designing gardens. There is no work that I see as more or less valuable for the holistic functioning of a community, and humility is a key skill in designing – whether I work with a garden, or with a community of fellow humans. Humility comes from the word “humus” – the organic component of soil, the component that makes it alive.
My Permaculture Work
I have observed and let unfold the potential of the land and the people around me at the pace that is allowed by nature and human capabilities. By hearing and feeling the needs of the social and natural ecosystems instead of imposing beliefs and techniques, I have learned so much. What I do is sometimes successful, sometimes not, and I have learned more from failures than successes.
On a practical level, I work with the land to stop soil loss. Water is the main designer of our landscape in Costa Rica, it can be very destructive and very healing to the land. Rainscapes are my favorites and my main teachers! I have collaborated with nature in the creation of many gardens in different parts of the world, some that are edible for people, others that offer forage for bees and butterflies, some for wildlife, some for fertilizers and mulch, while most of them are a mix of all of the above.
At the Ashram the garden designing is endless, especially the food forests. In the past 3 years we have planted more than 4000 trees, each of them like a new friend that joyfully receives our love and care. Tree pruning and caretaking is one of my favorite activities.
Composting and finding sources of fertilizer within the ecosystem is part of my daily life too. Graywater and humanure recycling (and sewage) are also processes that I deal with daily, from designing wetlands, banana circles, compost toilets, to improving their design and functioning. Design is a conversation between us and the element being designed…a toilet speaks, a plant too…and they tell you if things work or not.
Choosing what to plant and all the complex processes behind that decision is also something I enjoy tremendously. Gradually I have learned from that complexity instead of being frustrated or intimidated by it. Humanity/nature is a complex embroidery and learning to observe their patterns and my patterns, to surrender to the infinite complexity – that is a never ending exciting engagement.
What changes have I observed since I stayed still in one place to really observe? Well, the most beautiful to observe is the unfolding of natural life. Predators and wildlife starting to arrive again to the Agriculture Ecosystem…and re-integrate in the Play: I see a white falcon eating a rat that is foraging on our peanuts – I hear and watch lots of frogs in the little ponds that are formed by the introduced soil sculpting to control soil erosion – and I harvest fruit from volunteer plants that have adapted abundantly to this created, yet fully naturalized permaculture ecosystem.
My Permaculture Favorites
I love working with patterning on macro scale – observing the land and community evolutions in their larger expressions. Permaculture helped me to gather many fragmented understandings/techniques/methods/principles and place them in a coherent framework that could be applied to ever-changing scenarios.
Permaculture has been a great concept that gave me hope and guidance; and meditation and silence are constantly giving me the strength and peace to continue giving forth, forgiving, loving. No weapon more powerful than love, unconditional love.
From Composting Toilets to Permaculture to Inner Peace
There was a time in my life, when nothing seemed to make much sense. It was back in 2001, in the year when a new capitalist strategy was initiated in my country, the one using war to boost economic development. I was not sure yet if I wanted to be part of the system, no activity seemed rational to me. Back in that time I was doing my internship work in Ibiza, Spain, when I found a composting toilet. Designing and building composting toilets became my “organizing principle”, my mission in life (back then). This action gave me the clue of how to close an open loop of waste, pollution and destruction of the environment – all of which are causing so much suffering to nature and to human beings.
Composting toilets led me to so many realizations about ecology, but above all ecological insights, what I learned that all the ecological problems were deeply rooted in our psyche, in the human mind. This strange passion for composting toilets let me to travel a lot (Ecuador, UK, Costa Rica), to have many funny conversations, to have the opportunity to begin teaching, and to engage in many more adventures. That passion for humanure took me to the Permaculture Design Course back in 2010 where Scott Pittman gave me the valuable concept of invisible structures which changed my way approach to ecological problems, ultimately leading me to the inner journey of growth through meditation and silence in a spiritual community.
At the beginning of any journey, you don’t know where your heart will take you… but you continue, even though the idea you believe in does not fit. Our lives are part of a much bigger pattern that goes beyond our mind, and the certainty that comes from doing what you truly love is the best guide into this journey. Composting toilets, in my case, were a great fun stepping stone in my life, nowadays they are part of my life, but not my “organizing principle” anymore, even though I still continue designing and using them.
My Life Path Is…Now
Today I see my life as service for the re-designing and re-dreaming of the whole world, fully for one garden and community right now. I’ve stopped putting band-aids on a terminally ill society/world. I fully trust that a new world is possible and it has to start on a new foundation. We cannot use the same “principles” that present society is based on. This moment is a time of passage, of transition, and paradoxically what has given me more clarity is to stand still, observe, to stop, to find-discover-change my own destructive patterns. Miracles happen when you change…the world changes around you.
By: Durga (Natalia Vega Araya)