Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Going 'Bos': A Reforestation Retreat near Rheenendal

This article seeks to introduce you to Chris Auret, a 29-year-old artist and maker currently staying near Rheenendal, Western Cape.

In August 2016, Chris, while in the process of looking for 'ways to be a better human being' and ways to move out of the city into a more rural area, discovered a plot of land that was for sale and decided to 'put the ball in the universe's court'. By September, he teamed up with his close friend, Cassandra Hellberg to start a crowdfunding campaign, 1000 Prints No Footprints. It ended up being successful in raising just over R1 million (US $72,750) in order to buy the 11-hectare plot of land just northwest of Knysna in the Western Cape, near to the town of Rheenendal. In Chris's words - "everything happened rather quickly" - as the land was funded by November 21st! He says, "Normally with crowdfunding campaigns you need a plan... we just launched the video and planned from that point onwards!"

Chris's rented tiny house, neighbouring the newly bought land
Chris paints a mural for the Sedgefield Mosaic Market

Chris's involvement as an artist was critical to the success of the campaign. In the way the campaign was set up, art prints were used as rewards for donations to the campaign. Chris's own personal artworks, including photographs, explore nature, our place within it as human beings, and his frustrations and observations of the wrongs and rights that we as humans act out in city environments and outside of the city. Within this work lies Chris's reasons for a 'leap into the forest', or a transition into rural living.

The campaign was successful, and raised more money than was expected!

People could also contribute to the campaign by sending in artwork to a gallery that Chris was using at the time of the campaign. In this way, the gallery became a metaphor for the land itself. They hosted yoga, group meditations, environmental talks and documentary screenings, short film nights, live music and poetry.

During the actual crowdfunding campaign, Chris did something quite unique - he took a vow of silence and lived in the gallery window for ten days!

In his words, the idea was to focus peoples' energy by not speaking. As a result, he observed a difference in the way people interacted with the art in the gallery.

Since people were unable to ask him questions, it resulted in the people engaging more closely with the art in the gallery.

People then used body language more to communicate, which allowed him to see into peoples' eyes, feel their hearts and be a 'mirror' for them.

During one of his days of silence, he also meditated for nine hours, which resulted in some interesting expressions from people as they walked past, taking pictures. He recorded the experience with a Go-Pro camera, while deep in meditation and oblivious to what was going on outside.

Along with the public donations that helped to fund the purchase of the land, Chris and Cassandra have two other major investors on their team: Mark D and Chris F. Between the four of them, and any other investors that seek to join, they will be the stewards of the land. Chris explained that he would certainly welcome more investment, especially to fund infrastructure that will help develop an off-grid forest paradise. Among possible infrastructure plans are camping areas, a wood workshop, compost toilets and communal food-making space.

The extent of the 11-hectare plot

While Chris and Cassandra lay out the reasons for the campaign in their inspirational video very well indeed, I shall summarise the intentions of the campaign and land purchase as I understand them below:

Reforestation: This would involve the removal and productive use of invasive species presently on the land (wattle, blue gum and pine) and the reintroduction and conservation of indigenous species (such as yellowwood, stinkwood and wild fig - you can find a more complete list of indigenous afro-temperate tree species here). The Knysna area is especially famous for its Big Tree, an 880+-year-old yellowwood which is over 36 metres tall!

Invasive, yet useful
Productive Use of Invasive Species: Productive uses include ecological building techniques, including use of recycled materials, passive solar design, mulching, composting, and the construction of compost-toilets, furniture and beehives. As most of these uses require wood processing, construction of a wood workshop is a recommended early step.

In August of last year, Chris attended a wood-building course in Wilderness, South Africa, facilitated by Roy Trembath. This gave Chris experience in building with blue gum. He relates that he enjoys cutting, measuring and sawing, and that building with blue gum is relatively simple because you can build out of logs instead of having to cut the wood into planks. He also wants to find new uses for wattle (which is usually not considered strong enough to build a house out of, but can be used in secondary furnishings).

To build a Creative Retreat: While modern city life can sometimes be the catalyst for creativity and generativity, it can also happen that the pace and noise of the city can be overwhelming and a distraction from our creativity. Chris seeks to provide artists, painters, musicians, writers and others with a quieter, more distraction-free, yet ultimately fun space to bring their works into manifestation. Indeed, as Chris says, "Everyone is an artist - we've all just suppressed our creativity".

Chris relates his experience as an artist 

Chris first became an artist about five years ago. He relates how he soon discovered that artists have to draw from their own personal experience and actually share that experience with others - the better they can experience what that artist did, the better job the artist has done.

Today, Chris's approach to art is that, unless he is doing something for the good of the Earth and the people - in his words, unless he 'feels good as a human being, living a life he is proud of', eating healthily and freely giving of himself - he will not feel inspired to make art. Without this spirit of giving, he revealingly says that painting "[can be] quite a selfish, self-indulgent job".

This is something I can certainly echo - I know I feel most creatively inspired when I am generous with my time and money, and when I give love and care to others.

With the land as a retreat, Chris sees opportunities to read and write more, to draw more influences of surreal and dreamlike states into his art, and to share the space with others. He sees the built retreat as something to form part of the 'communal space' of the land rather than a private studio.

For those who come to the space, it can be used as a place to host informational workshops or for a band to play together. If artists volunteer from 9am to 1pm in the physical work required to set up the land, it may well result in them feeling energised and refreshed and ready to be creative! The inherent energy found in artisinal, hand-crafted design will add to the flow of the space.

With 'creative brains' coming into the space, the permacultural design and manifestation of the land will emerge from a multitude of perspectives. Chris sees his role as something of a 'lighthouse keeper', stewarding the land and connecting people who may have something to contribute. Overall, he wishes to experiment, 'colour outside of the lines', and simplify processes, with his understanding that "creativity is simplification". Chris says he wishes to 'embody the simple life we could all benefit from', cautioning us that there is always a price to be paid for luxury, such as in the number and embodied energy of materials used, or also in approaching the limit of the number of structures legally allowed to be built on land.

For Chris and his friends, this year (2017) is mostly going to be about assessing and surveying the land in order to understand it as a whole, and then planning and designing appropriately. Water collection, forestry and wood work are early priorities on the dream list, with a view to stay 'off the grid' wherever possible.

A magnificent vision for the land, created by Cassandra, along with Chris and schoolchildren from Imizamo Yethu

My own interest in Chris's land venture is my work towards establishing an eco-village in the Western Cape of South Africa. In my work as a web designer, project manager and secretary for the Eco-Village Collective, our group has often discussed crowdfunding as a potential option. However, I often thought that people would be reluctant to donate money into a project for 'someone else's land'. Chris showed me that I was totally wrong, and I was thrilled to be proven wrong so decisively. No more shall I underestimate the generosity of strangers towards supporting a beneficial cause!

There are many links between a creative art and reforestation retreat and a permacultural eco-village farm, and I look forward to collaborating with Chris and his team, as we have many wonderful ideas to share. I loved meeting Chris, Mark, Chris F and Alexandra and had a fantastic working holiday with them. After the passage of a few months, I look greatly forward to a return visit! Chris generously provided me with a half-hour long interview, which I am planning to make into a documentary - watch this space!

Finally, if  you have any ideas that you feel inspired to share with Chris, or if you have any connections with forestry people, borehole engineers, or municipal (Knysna) government links, e-mail him at chrisauret@live.com, or, even better, set up a visit with him!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My Trip to the Garden Route - February 2017

In February 2017, I decided to take a drive, from where I usually live, Cape Town, to the Rheenendal  area (Knysna Forest) in order to follow up on a crowdfunding-assisted piece of land that I had encountered online.

A firebreak bordering the land Chris Auret and his friends Cassandra, Mark and Chris bought the title to

I left for my trip on Monday 20th February and returned home on Saturday 25th February.

The first four nights, I stayed in a pretty part of the forest, a meditation/yoga retreat. We went down to play in the river one afternoon.

Homtini River, Rheenendal

The retreat borders the 11-hectare piece of land the Chris Auret and three of his friends: Cassandra, Mark and Chris F have invested in with the help of crowdfuning. The land has successfully been transferred to them, and now Chris A and his friends are planning next steps with the land.

I am currently in the process of planning an article and making a film about my experiences meeting Chris A, Mark and Chris F, which are planned to be published soon.

The last night of the trip, I stayed in accommodation in Sedgefield and went to the beach. Later, I met up with Chris again, who was painting the mural for the Sedgefield Mosaic Market:

After going to the market on the Saturday morning, I headed off home again to Cape Town.

Falafel, lemon and lime juice, pineapple juice, ice coffee, boerenkaas, camembert, strawberry jam and chilli mustard

Now that I am in Cape Town again, I have the space to produce exciting content, such as my review of  five selected environmental change organisations in Cape Town, and the up and coming articles and videos about the journey of finding land in South Africa. Watch this space!

Five Environmental Organisations Making a Difference in Cape Town

While there are many things presently wrong with our world and some people making decisions that endanger our collective welfare, there are also plenty of positive, forward-thinking and regenerative enterprises at work in the world.

There are plenty of articles and thoughtpieces that discuss mostly what is wrong with the world and problems, and, while those are needed, I personally prefer my blog to be a home for solutions, showcasing engaging, optimistic people.

The groups that I have profiled below represent, to me, the optimism, creative thinking and bravery required to improve the world around us. If you live in Cape Town or know someone who does, someone who is interested in collaborating with a diverse group of people, someone who is ready to participate in fulfilling and productive activities, this article might be of benefit. Here, I introduce five different organisations that I feel are making a difference in Cape Town, summarise what each group is up to and provide contact details.

It is my hope that a pattern should emerge, a pattern in which the efforts of those working for positive change become more visible, and that it should become easier for us in Cape Town to network, by meeting people involved in these organisatons and, where possible, supporting their work. In this way, we will strengthen in the network the attractor patterns of optimism, creativity and energy flow.

As such, I've profiled these five organisations to provide an overview of some of the people I've met in the last four years on my journey of integral transformation.

1) Tyisa Nabanye

Tyisa Nabanye is located at the old military base (Erf 81) on Signal Hill, between Tamboerskloof and Bo-Kaap.

Andre in the garden - by Dimitri Selibas (2014)
In 1994, Andre Laubscher started a foster farm at the abandoned military base, looking after vulnerable children from the street and integrating them into farm life, providing them the ability to play with animals.

Later, organic gardeners joined their occupation, and with consulting, designed a garden in the space.

Since then, they also started and host a market every Sunday to sell their surplus and provide other organic farmers in Cape Town a place to sell their goods.

For a more complete history on Erf 81 watch A Farm in the Rainbow, a short and moving documentary about the farm.

A small group of occupants and gardeners ended up forming the NPO Tyisa Nabanye, in August 2013. It is a collaboration between food security activists, neighbours and people living on the site. Their mission involves exploring the possibilities of growing food in an urban environment. In isiXhosa, 'Tyisa Nabanye' means 'feed the others'.

The garden and the community hall
Garden Party, May 2015

Members frequently host and give workshops and events encompassing their goals of food security and employment creation.

In the attendance of one such workshop in July 2015, I presented a talk on Ecovillage Development in the Western Cape in collaboration with Tyisa Nabanye, Western Cape Ecovillage Collective, Sacred Earth Association, and SEED.

They have an organic garden that is capable of feeding up to six families and producing a sellable surplus!

Tyisa Nabanye's community garden in 2014

If you want to find out more this interesting community, be sure to meet Mzu, Chuma, Unathi and Lumko on a Sunday at their farmers' market! The market is usually held from 10am - 1pm.

They are in the process of redeveloping their volunteer programme, and I shall update this space when they are ready to restart their programme.

Here is a link to their Facebook page.
Here is a link to an article about them: 'The Guerilla Gardeners' by Dimitri Selibas. (August 2014).

2) SOUL Trust

S.O.U.L Trust is an acronym for Sharing Our Ubuntu Legacy, which is a Public Benefit Organisation founded in August 2012 and registered in 2013.

The focus of the organisation is in transforming the way South Africans donate and receive. After initially performing charity work in Langa, Philippi East and Westlake, they were inspired to change a mindset, in which people receiving donations and assistance do not feel like they are begging for help, but that they are uplifting themselves.

In my own words, this involves the shift of one's mindset from thinking "I am being granted help out of mercy" into "I am uplifting myself while being supported".

Methodology used thus far has been the establishment of an Exchange system. From their Facebook page, founder Tracy writes:

We envisioned a space where impoverished yet active community members were able to shop for items they needed. We also understood that outsiders can’t change a community; a community can only truly change when its own members actively worked together to change it. So we developed a system where community members were connected with grass roots projects, where they could volunteer or learn or both. For their participation they would earn credits which could then be redeemed for resources.

In this way, people who are economically disadvantaged by having less access to the formal economic system of Rands can receive community credits for participating in learning/volunteer events that are aimed at benefiting a community.

This means that even from poverty-threatened communities, individuals can make a difference. In September 2016, Cynthia and Roland from Jabulani Day Care Centre in Westlake helped organise a donation from Ferndale Nursery in Constantia! This donation was supported by SOUL.

The children of Jabulani Daycare Centre
Community members help clean up

New plants on a pavement in Westlake, Cape Town

Beneficiaries who wish to apply to support community programmes can apply to SOUL either by giving sponsored time to a project, or by paying a monthly donation to SOUL's community projects that will support the Exchange program, and events such as the tree planting (as above) and community recycling initiatives.

SOUL is currently in the process of updating their web site. In the mean time, you can contact Tracy at tracy.stallard@sharingourubuntulegacy.com.

3) Shift

Shift is a Social Organisation aiming to co-create a peaceful, united and sustainable Earth in collaboration with people. Their mission is to inspire and create change through self-empowerment, social development and eco-sustainability.

In October 2014, they started hosting the popular Full Moon Meditation events at Camps Bay Beach, which are now attended by up to 1,500 people!

Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town

The meditation events are held with the objective of sharing the practice of mindfulness meditation with people in Cape Town. Meditation events typically include yoga practice, qi gong, large group guided meditation, silent meditation, hooping and fire breathing.  I recommend watching a video of the Meditation event, because it's free to attend and usually happens on the weekends, so it can include people who work full time. Camps Bay Beach is on a MyCiti bus route from Cape Town.

Meditation practices of yoga, qi gong and group guided meditations help us become more in tune with our bodies and also our Earth.

In a heightened state of awareness we become more sensitive and aware of where there is stress and pain and how it can be healed, in ourselves, in others and in our environment.

Silent meditation while the sun slowly sets can be a time for us to reflect on the Earth's movement around the Sun, which involves becoming aware of the cycles of Nature and reminding us to work with Nature and be in its flow.

Shift facilitates yoga, qi gong and hooping classes at their studio, located at Soul Studio in Salt River, Cape Town, and has also done outreach programmes teaching yoga in townships at under-resourced schools.

Shift has also helped start up the company GezaKapa, which is a community-driven recycling collection service, waste processor and compost manufacturer. At present, you can drop off your waste with Joseph at the Gardens Bowling Club on Upper Orange St, Monday-Friday at 7am-4pm or Saturdays 7am-1pm.

GezaKapa recycling centre in Cape Town

If you would like to know more about possibilities for recycling in Cape Town, see this article by Cape Town Magazine.

See Shift's web site and their Facebook site.

4) The Philippi Horticultural Association

The Philippi Horticultural Association helps the community protect the Philippi Horticultural Area, a 3,000 hectare Agriculturally-zoned area of land from the incursion of  would-be urban developers and sand miners, in order to safeguard Cape Town's food security, water security and soil security. They are working to declare the P.H.A a national asset - the country's first protected agricultural area.

At present, the Philippi Area produces 200,000 tons of vegetables per year, and is on top of an aquifer with an area of 630 km2. It is hard to overstate the importance of an area that:

-can produce 50-80% of Cape Town's food
-can produce up to 30% of Cape Town's water use needs, while Cape Town presently suffers a drought
-is a vulnerable wetland ecosystem with high biodiversity
-employs many disadvantaged South Africans
-is home to over 200,000 people.

For these reasons, I consider it essential that no one should be allowed to get away with any behaviour that may threaten the health of this already vulnerable ecosystem.

Recently, development companies have attempted to rezone areas of Philippi, Cape Town without an Environmental Impact Assessment, something that is typically not allowed in South Africa. Officially, it has already been recommended twice to maintain and preserve the horticulural land, but the City has thus far been determined to proceed in satisfying the wishes of would-be developers. When members of the civic association have attempted to contact the Mayoral committee, they have been ignored. 'Public participation' processes have already excluded the public.

PHA protest (16 Feburary 2017)

The public were not impressed about being ignored.

It seems that the peaceful protests are startting to make headway. The PHA has recently won a victory, in which Heritage Western Cape has dismissed an appeal to rezone 96 hectares out of the total 3,000 ha of the PHA.

The campaign is headed by Nazeer Sonday, and supported by agronomist Brian Joffin. You can view their Facebook page here.

They have a volunteer gardening programme on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I previously shared my experience volunteering here.

Vegkop Farm in Philippi, where volunteers are invited to help out

Contact the Philippi Horticultural Association at phaletters@gmail.com

5) Guerilla House

Guerilla House is a learning platform for the experimentation and pursuit of regenerative technologies and regenerative worldviews. 

Guerilla House provides an impromptu and organic training space where people can learn practical urban permaculture skills, deepen interconnection, and actively engage in regeneration as a collective.

Soil mixing: Grow Your Own Food

They currently offer weekly workshops on topics, including:

-introduction to urban permaculture and food growing,
-soil fertility,
-plant propagation and starting a backyard nursery,
-grey water systems and water harvesting,
-biodegradable detergents, soap making, biochar, herbalism
-low tech mushroom cultivation

Build a Geodesic Dome
Sheet mulching: Grow Your Own Food

They also offer a design and consulting service for those wanting to bring permaculture into their lives. You can join their mailing list to be notified of upcoming workshops (which usually take place on  weekends, so even if you work full time you may still have a chance to attend.)

They have a volunteer programme every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30am - 12:30pm. To volunteer, or to contact them, message them at info@guerillahouse.org.

Something I feel that makes Guerilla House special is how Imraan and Josh include all participants in a collaborative network. They emphasise that permaculture skills can be found in each of us, and that all we need to do to bring it out is facilitate and hold a creative space. Imraan and Josh's enthusiasm and wisdom transcend generations, and their workshops have appealed to people of all ages and from different backgrounds.

You can view their Facebook page here.

* * *

It is my hope that through providing this overview, that it will be easier to network and connect the dots of positive progress in the environment in Cape Town.

There are many more organisations - off the top of my head, SEED, Greenpop and Abalimi Bezekhaya come to mind. There are just as certainly so many more organisations that I've never heard of, where people are doing brilliant environmental work. We as people are not going to let the problems in our society go unanswered!

It is important that we work together, just as it is important that we view these apparently separate organisations as part of a greater mission and objective, which is to help us become more conscious as a species about both the mistaken danger we can inflict on the environment, but more importantly, how we can regenerate and improve the lives of others by growing food, educating others, buying locally, recycling, protecting important ecosystemic resources and showing one another love and care.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Farming with the PHA

I've been silent for a while, as I have some ideas for new directions for this blog, but have presently not made a decision on where to go next.

I thought that in the mean time I'd share my experience volunteering with the Philippi Horticultural Association.

Philippi is a large area in Cape Town, zoned and repeatedly recommended for small garden, community-based horticulture, and it possesses the city's most reliable, voluminous discharge into an aquifer.

Essentially, it is an area that makes much more clean groundwater available in Cape Town than there would otherwise be - which is an essential ingredient for a food production area! Small farmers often cannot afford municipal rates for water, but water is abundant and cheap in Philippi, which is unique in the otherwise brittle, dry, drought-prone Western Cape!

This area not only provides plenty of food in Cape Town, it also localises the economy of urban food production, which uplifts people far more reliably than big agricultural business. Small agriculture is more intensive, and results in the upskilling of the local population.

However, Philippi is under threat from property developers. Read more about the campaign to preserve the community land  here.

Vegkop Farm

Last week Tuesday, I spent the day volunteering at one of the community farms in Philippi - Vegkop Farm.  I worked with and chatted to Nazeer, community activist and farmer, Brian, a local agronomist and volunteer, and James.  We planted tomatoes and marrows, weeded beds and carefully hand-mulched strawberries. A filmmaker from SABC2, Danie, came to chat with us as well and to interview Nazeer about the PHA campaign. This programme will be aired on SABC2 at 6pm tomorrow, the 25th of September.

The volunteers' day begins at 9am and ends at 3pm. We enjoyed lunch while sitting on straw bales in the PHA community event hall.

I enjoyed spending the day in the sun and with my hands in the soil again. I feel that the gardening communities of Philippi have an essential role to play in the upliftment of people in Cape Town, and I was glad to be of support to the community.

If anyone has their Tuesdays or Thursdays free, contact Nazeer Sonday at nasonday@gmail.com or on Facebook to help out with this venture.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Living in Community, Guest

From Sunday 20th March to Friday 15th April 2016, I participated in a programme called Living in Community Guest, at the Findhorn Foundation in northern Scotland.

A requirement of participating in LCG is to have completed a previous Findhorn programme, called Experience Week, or one like it. I completed Applied Ecovillage Living on the 11th March, and took a few days for myself in Edinburgh, before returning north to Findhorn.

LCG can begin on any Saturday of simultaneous availability and a participant’s choosing, and end in multiples of four weeks hence.

The LCG programme is structured as follows:

2 work shifts on Monday, 08:30-12:10 and 14:10-16:50
2 work shifts on Tuesday, 09:00 – 12:10 and 14:10-16:50
1 LGC group sharing on Tuesday, 20:00-22:00
1 work shift on Wednesday, 09:00-12:10
1 attunement/workgroup sharing on Wednesday afternoon, 14:00 – 16:50
1 work shift on Thursday, 09:00-12:10
1 group meditation on Thursday, 13:55-14:30
1 education session on Thursday, 14:35-17:15
2 work shifts on Friday, 09:00 – 12:10 and 14:10 – 16:50
1 fortnightly Homecare session, Saturdays 09:00-10:15
1 weekly Kitchen Patrol or KP session, 18:40-19:30 (mine was scheduled for Sunday evenings)
-1 work session off – ‘Creative Shift’

‘Work’ time per week – 24 – 2.5 = 21 hours 30min in garden, 1h 30min in kitchen/homecare (total 23 hours)
‘Group’ time per week – 6 hours
Education time per week – 2h 40min

During this time I learned a lot about myself, and my inner world. You don’t get much time ‘off’, although slightly more than you might, from a ‘job’. 

Work or ‘Love In Action’ sessions

Before each work session, everyone present for the shift gets to say a sentence or two about how they are feeling. Then, each ‘senior’ person on the team gets to say what work they plan to do in the shift, and how many people’s help they need. After that, each ‘junior’ person is asked which senior person they wish to join. 

In the garden, work group sizes ranged from 4 to 14, depending on who was present and how many extra guests there were.

Each team has one or more ‘focaliser’, the leader of that team or, more rarely, leader of a specific task. The garden team had three focalisers who seemed to be in-and-out, while focused on other goals in their lives, and so more on a part-time basis – Luke, Martin and Britta.
Focalisers are often employees of the Foundation, or at least, participants in LEAP, their 6-month-or-longer apprenticeship programme, if no staff are available to fill the position.

Departments that take in volunteers and apprentices include Cullerne Garden, Park Garden, Park Maintenance, Park Kitchen, Park Homecare, Cluny Homecare, Cluny Garden, Cluny Kitchen and Cluny Maintenance. I have volunteered in Cullerne  (20 working days) and Park Garden (4 half-days).

In most or all work departments, there is a subtle hierarchy in place, which I felt OK with because it seemed reasonable and was more flexible and flat than it needed to be, because focalisers or task leaders often ask volunteers and LCGs how they think they should approach a project rather than simply instructing them. One unexpected, though retrospectively logical aspect of this hierarchy is that it is usually those lowest on the hierarchy that have the most choice or freedom about what they would like to participate in.

The  (unwritten) hierarchy presented to me as follows

1. Staff/Foundation Members
2. LEAP – Living Education Apprenticeship Programme (these people can be promoted to Staff upon completion of LEAP, which can take six months or more)
3. LCG – Living in Community Guest (these people can join LEAP after three months of LCG)
=4. Programme participant, - e.g. Experience Week, Spiritual Practice, A.E.L
=4. Registered, residential volunteer
5. Temporary, non-residential volunteer

While I was working in Cullerne Gardens, the activities I participated in included food waste collection, compost making, seedling transplanting, sowing seeds, measuring and folding netting, measuring, folding, cutting and repairing Mypex, trench digging, trench filling, compost/manure spreading, soil preparation and food harvesting.

A normal work-day consisted of working from 9:05 to 10:30, taking a tea break, working from 10:55 to 12:05, breaking for lunch, working from 14:05 to 15:30, taking a tea break, and working from 15:55 to 17:05.

Initial guidance

On the first week of a participant's LCG, they will have a session with the LCG focaliser, in which they will discuss their purpose and how it relates to the LCG programme.

I intially wrote the long, complicated sentence "I, David, intend to discover the way to improve the world/myself, and am presently investigating whether community is the way that 1) I and 2) others 'should' direct our efforts and energies of transformation, or whether our focus can and/or should be directed elsewhere." I challenged the focaliser to be able to distill this into a simpler sentence, and expected her to find it difficult. However, she surprised me pleasantly, by, through a process, coming to the sentence "I, David, intend to discover ways to improve myself in life - in community and as a sovereign entity". I was impressed! I decided that maybe there was some wisdom to the process after all.

With this intention, I drew Angel cards, that offered me guidance as follows:

Group sharings

During my month doing LCG there were four sharings, each of which happened in a two-and-a-half hour session on Tuesday nights, from 20:00 to 22:00.

Each meeting had as few as twelve or as many as twenty people sharing, which would usually take between two and eight minutes per participant. A few people allowed their sharings to go on overly long, but I found that on many more occasions, people recognized when a good time to finish would be by considering the needs of the group.

I did feel that 20:00 was too late to begin such a process as, within an hour I am feeling tired and burnt out (if I am waking at 7:30am)

Something that did annoy me was being censured for talking about the 'work' sessions as being 'work', for legal reasons. I felt it amounted to an erasure of the actual effort involved in participating in the programme. Naming what you do is important in order to feel valued, and in this particular instance, I did not feel as valued as I would have liked to be.


Meditating in groups often felt very relaxing and like a good bonding session, but doing it right after lunch made it very difficult to concentrate.

We would walk into the Chapel-like Cluny Sanctuary, with soft white carpets and massive East-facing windows. There was a smokeless candle burning in the centre of the room, with the chairs arranged in a circle around the candle.

Meditations had a nice personal touch to them, when people on the programme were leaving, we would honour them by saying what we appreciated about them, or maybe share a funny moment that we had with that person. For example, when my room mate Roland was being ‘tuned out’ or said goodbye to, I appreciated him both for our interesting philosophical talks, and also for the fact that he didn’t snore (this got a good laugh).

Apart from weekly sessions held on Thursdays and department attunements on Wednesdays, there are also multiple open meditation events throughout the day. A few times, I attended the morning meditation sessions at The Park, held from 8:30am to 8:55am. Sometimes I found it very easy to drift away, other times I obsessed, thought and my mind just wouldn’t be quiet. However, each meditation I attended turned out beneficial, and I often met a friend of mine after the session to have a brief chat, before I would run off to Cullerne to try and be there by 9:05.

Education sessions

Education sessions were fascinating and full of wonderful and intriguing insights.

Week 1 was based off Don Miguel Ruiz’s work The Four Agreements. In our group session, we were transported off to the farm house Logie Steading, and then given a brief introduction to the Four agreements – Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions, and Always do your best. For each Agreement, we all paired off with a different person in the group and given five minutes each to discuss where we were at with each Agreement in this stage of our life.

Week 2 was Spiral Dynamics, presented by Jonathan Dover, as taught both by Ken Wilber and Frederic Laloux. I had recently read Ken Wilber’s novel Boomeritis, and after this class I downloaded and began reading Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations. The introduction we had with Jonathan served to introduce the group to the very interesting concept, which puts human, biological, social and organisational evolution into eight distinct, progressive stages. My names for these stages are Survival (beige), Superstition (purple), Domination (red), Civilisation (blue), Progressiveness (orange), Pluralism (green), Autonomy  (teal) and Enlightenment (white). For a summary of the concept of Spiral Dynamics, try this article by Mark Lewis.

Week 3 was on the  Elusive Obvious, or Non-Dual Selfhood. In this session, the presenter, Roger Linden guided us through a session in which he encouraged us to relax all our muscles. When we did this, I felt myself rapidly becoming emotional, almost tearful. When I allowed myself to feel it, I gained the insight that, for the first time, I was missing home and missing Cape Town, after 56 days of being away.  I realised that, far from being a sad feeling, that I actually was happy that I had a home and family to return to.

Week 4 was on Tarot and Self-Discovery, with  Jörn Fiebig. Jörn presented his knowledge on Tarot in two ways: first, he had us engage in a process of self-discovery without any cards: he had us focus on a question, which we would then walk around nature for 15 minutes, noting our observations and seeing how they relate to our question. Using Jörn’s guidance, I asked the question, “What blocks me when planning travels, job options and careers?”. On my observations, I received the following insights:

-When parts of us get old or unusable we may discard them.
-When your field of view is narrow, more surprises you.
-So much variety meets the eye.
-Softness in a tight place brings about more comfort.
-Shape follows function.
-Too much orderliness grows stale, but fractal nature never ceases to captivate.
-How life bursts before my eyes, when two months prior, it lay dormant.

From this I processed the insight that planning itself may be what is causing my ‘tightness’ in a tight space, and that the softness involves trusting in the good of the world and ‘going with the flow’. I wrote “Don’t try to hard to plan, just enjoy [life], for it is yours to enjoy! You are a designer, so if you’re not enjoying designing your own life, it probably means you’re thinking at the wrong scale or trying to force something”.

This is very difficult for me, for it means I need to let go of my need to control or even understand life, because this may well be detracting from my ability to enjoy and experience life to the fullest.

Expanding on this, I have recently read about Human Design and how I am a ‘projector’ type. A Projector needs to be invited to guide others – and guiding others is his or her true calling. If a Projector is not invited, he or she will often burn him/herself out trying to help. Projectors often fear that they will not be invited, but my research suggests that people often can’t help but notice Projectors’ unusual nature and highly focused, charged aura. People often do notice that there is something different or special about me, and this is how I can seek an invitation in order to guide. For Projectors tend to have great insights about how to guide others in the best use of their energy. Projectors also tire out easily when they are not around other ‘energy’ types of people, which explains why I experience narcolepsy in some boring classes, but hyper and continued energy when around fun/exciting people.  Projectors also have a hard time falling asleep, for they are frequently tired throughout the day, when it is inappropriate to sleep, and so they learn to ignore their bodies’ ‘tired’ signals.

This may mean, that as far as my future career aspirations go, that instead of burning out by trying to apply for lots of jobs, and eventually find one that’s a bad fit for me anyway but prepared to take me out of their own desperation for the post to be filled by someone, that I should instead put myself in situations where a job is offered to me. It is a similar wisdom to what I have learned about myself in relationships – I have had better relationships when I allow my partner to select me, rather than attempting to select a partner for myself. I never need worry that I am too boring or uninteresting to be selected for a relationship or a career. It is not my position to initiate directly, although I can certainly still be proactive by putting myself in a position where I am likely to be noticed and then ‘invited’.

After the observation session, we returned inside to meet Jörn again. He then introduced us to the Tarot, explained some of the Major Arcana cards and had us each ask a question, and then choose a card.

I asked the question, “What role does my new relationship with my
girlfriend play in my life?”

The answer was the Queen of Wands.


Saturday Morning Homecare, while initially seeming like it might be an annoying chore, actually turned out to be easy, and left me feeling productive and helpful when I was done. On both occasions I ended up vacuuming (or ‘Hoovering’ as the British call it) the passages, rooms and bathrooms. I was able to take seriously the invitation to bless the rooms with good energy as I cleaned them, and Homecare actually ended up cleaning my aura as much as I cleaned the rooms, for I felt good about my ability to help the place look better, and the Homecare teams I worked with contained positive and energetic people that I enjoyed working with.

Kitchen Patrol

Similarly to Saturday Morning Homecare, Kitchen Patrol seems like it might be an annoying chore. It involves washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen after a food-making shift. However, thanks to people’s good and positive energy, with the knowledge that it is almost always over within 45-60 minutes, makes it more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. People usually play music, and working as part of a team and contributing to the community feels good. So, while not one of the most exciting or interesting aspects of LCG, Kitchen Patrol was worth its while.

Time Off

During time off, I mostly lay in bed, or had philosophical discussions with my room mate Roland, or texted my girlfriend, or drank cider, or occasionally read books in the library at Cluny Hill.

On one Saturday, I went on a highly enjoyable excursion, a cycle track called the Dava Way from Forres, which terminates in Grantown, 22 mile South of Forres. With my two friends Karin and Martha to accompany me, we rode 9 mile, stopping along the river for a chat about conspiratorial topics.  By the middle afternoon we realised we needed to get back, and we had returned to Cluny by 18:35. In all, we rode about 20 mile (32 km).


Throughout all of these experiences, as well as experiences from the Sweat Lodge during the Applied Ecovillage Living course, I found that I still did not know who I was, and that now, writing in May, I still do not. The feeling of non-selfhood, and loss of personal identity, has persisted. It does not distress me or cause me to feel dismay, but it does cause me to feel a little confusion, in that I’m not quite sure what to make of future objectives, and that my ambition and motivation seems to be lower than it has been before.

 I think that this is a combination of the results of travelling, meeting my partner overseas and then living with her, living with a highly spiritual community, and not getting that much time by myself, along with all of the experiences as described above, that leads to me feeling this sense of confusion, and re-evaluation, about who I am and what I really want, if I even exist.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016


As the course ‘Applied Ecovillage Living’ came to an end, we were warned that, as we journeyed out of Findhorn Ecovillage into the world at large, that we should beware the transition into a world we know only too well is less caring, compassionate and affectionate than the one we’d grown used to at the Findhorn village. For example, it is not likely that in the rest of the world that you can expect to receive no less than one hug per hour you are awake, or begin your work shifts with a calm meditation, hand-holding and ‘tuning-in’ – the process of becoming attuned to the intentions and wishes of those in your work-group.

How this process of attunement worked, in practice, was that for my service group, Park Garden, we would start a shift by sitting in a circle, holding hands for about a minute, and then the 3-5 experienced gardeners who felt most inspired, would declare what work they were planning to do, and how many people they wished to help them.  Then, the remaining 3-5 of us would choose one of the jobs mentioned. This way, we could all contribute whichever work we felt most ready for.

Various authors, interviewees and long-term guests have described the ‘magic’ of Findhorn as being , most commonly, love, acceptance and sincerity. People look you in the eyes, and say what they mean, most often in a kind way. Many new arrivals at Findhorn, myself included, find that within a few short days, that they ‘love everybody’.  I can report that this feels unusual. I have participated in many groups, and found myself liking, appreciating and empathising with the others in my group. Yet there was something different about this. I found, truly, that there was no separation between myself and the others, even those I am very different to, socially, culturally, physically and emotionally.

The end of the course brought about a certain sadness, the sadness of parting from the others that I had come to love, along with the tear-inducing knowledge that those you love, never truly leave you. Of course, nowadays with the level of Internet penetration, there is no excuse not to stay in contact.

Another feeling, slightly more surprising, yet on some reflection far from unexpected, was the feeling of anticlimax at the end of the course. I suppose it is hard to top the spiritual experience of the Sweat Lodge, even with Pete’s, Christopher’s and my 30-minute presentation Hemp Ecovillage Portugal to graduate the course with. 

We had spent two nights up until very late doing research and preparing our presentation, this being all the time afforded to us on our very busy course. So by Thursday, our presentation date, I was feeling thoroughly burnt out, and even a little depressed, a feeling belied by our cheery group photograph.

We spent Friday saying goodbye to one another, by which time I had recovered some composure (and sleep), and Saturday was departure day… for some.

For the rest of us, Findhorn hadn’t released its grip on us yet. I stayed with friends in the Park until today, Tuesday, catching up on rest, and by Monday morning, I was feeling quite directionless, which was even leading to feelings of apathy and tiredness. I know I have until Saturday 19th before my planned 28-day Living in Community Guest programme at Cluny is due to begin, and with the whole of Scotland potentially open for me to explore, I was starting to feel a little spoilt for choice.

Dillon provided the impetus to make a decision, suggesting Edinburgh as the place to go. I mentioned Edinburgh to a few people, and
got very positive feedback, in that it’s a pretty city, with many parks and tourist attractions, not to mention interesting people to meet!

So now Dillon and I sit on a train, bound for Edinburgh and arrival at 22:19, and I intend to stay there for a couple of days at least, quite possibly until Saturday itself!

At 23:00 we arrived  at our hotel, safe, tired and happy.

Here's to a new adventure!

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Sweat!

On Saturday morning I woke feeling particularly pensive, not quite as reflective as I might have liked.  

Somehow I’m not at all preoccupied, nor trepid. Indeed, when prompted, I described myself as ‘calm’, not an adjective I usually associate with my feelings.

I have elected to participate in a Sweat Lodge ceremony. The plan is to crawl into a tent, with burning hot rocks and water vapour inside, outlast the desire to leave when the tent is hottest, and somehow, in the end, emerge a changed man.

Something has been different about today. We participated in a short sharing. Everyone is more taciturn than usual. Their auras are different. Perhaps smoother, but also colder.

Perhaps not having breakfast was an unusual experience for everyone? I also noticed a change in my own aura, though I am struggling to find the words for it. It is fairly common for me to not have breakfast.

Another thought is that everyone is still feeling a little burnt out by the previous two days, which felt more like one continuous day of 36 hours. We walked in the Scottish Highlands, danced on the table, sat together on the couch, planted minuscule seedlings, and sat on the bus for many hours.  I was definitely burnt out by the evening. Too much information and plenty of inspiration. Where are we now?

At 14:30 we will regroup and dismantle the existing sweat lodge in order to build a new, bigger one.

Perhaps we were all feeling spiritual overload. If that is indeed what that was, then for me I can describe it as a pensiveness just short of active sadness.

All in all we spent about 48 hours mentally and physically preparing to do the sweat lodge, which at times felt very drawn out, and certainly served to, at times, heighten my fear, and at other times, allow me to find space, peace and calmness. It was like jumping between the two emotions relatively quickly.

 One of the other directives was to fast, or at least to eat as little as possible. I, already a light eater, elected to eat half what I normally do, on the Saturday, and then eat almost nothing on Sunday. This apparently reduces feelings of nausea during the sweat, and also has an apparent spiritual purpose. Personally I've not seen much value in fasting, as it usually has the consequence of making me feel weak and ill. 
 We built the new sweat lodge, slowly and mindfully. I felt a bit torn between accepting the mindful silence gracefully, and thinking it all a little ridiculous and frustrating, and wanting to ‘get on with it’.

 I went to sleep feeling less pensive than I had felt that day. When the next morning rolled around, I didn’t feel pensive and spiritually overloaded anymore. Instead, I felt collected, focused and ready.

Christopher and I went on a long, silent, contemplative morning walk....

Findhorn Bay

 and then we went back to the bunk house for a short preparation, and then walked to the sweat lodge area. I felt as if I was going to my execution, but was determined not to falter in step nor stance.

We spent hours preparing wood and stones, and eventually lit a giant bonfire, whose flames shot up over four metres high. This was to cook the stones to a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius.

So, some of the uninitiated might now be wondering exactly what a sweat lodge is.
It is a round structure, in this case built on flat earth, from bendy sticks, in the shape of a womb (more or less).  In a way this makes it more primal (and creepier). 

Over the sticks, we draped sixteen fur blankets, and then covered the blankets with two large tarpaulins, leaving the inside completely dark. 

We sat around the bonfire we had made, made a dedication to each of the Four Elements, and played with musical instruments until the sun went down, and the rocks were glowing red.The wait was over.

And then the sweat lodge began.

The first round was held for women, and lasted just under half an hour.

On the second round, after the women had exited, I pulled off all my clothes and joined the men and entered by the Southern side of the entrance due East of the lodge. (Directionality is very important to sweat lodge rituals.) I went to the ground, whispered “For all my relations” to the earth around me, and crawled inside, clockwise.

It wasn’t too hot… just yet. That is because air does not conduct heat very well. Even with six red-hot rocks inside, it was just pleasantly warm.

Then the entrance was closed, and the room sheathed in complete darkness. The only visible light was from the glow of the rocks.

Splash! Craig threw some water on the rocks. Within a few short seconds I could suddenly feel all my pores opening at once.  Before much longer, my body was covered in sweat. Behold, the ability of water to conduct heat much better than air.

Each of the men took a turn to honour the other men in his life. I myself stated how, while I have no hangups about being a ‘man’, I have always found the concept of gender quite divisive, and far more often unnecessary than necessary.  Yet I also found in myself no opposition to holding a women’s and a men’s space separately initially, for the plan was to bring us together in the third round, which I do appreciate. If my life could be in the service of more gender equality and gender unity, then this should make me happy.

I don’t feel that too much time passed before every man had spoken, and we were allowed out again. It had taken perhaps just over twenty minutes, by my reckoning. Craig asked us who was ready to go again for round 3. I eagerly accepted, and crawled out, clockwise, of the Northern side of the entrance. 

Dizzily, head spinning, I brought myself to the ground, lay in silence for about a minute, and then made my way to the ‘plunge barrel’, filled with cold water.  I jumped in, splashed myself, breathed audibly, got out, almost fell over from dizziness, and then lay down and looked up at the stars.

Not long after, everyone was ready for their second round. The women and men came together this time, repeated the entrance ritual, and soon we were all inside.  In our discussion, we honoured the present (remember to breathe), and also made some very loud noises as a group. I said that I was feeling very happy to be where I was, and felt that my whole life had led me to coming to Findhorn. In my expression I yelled “YAAAAAAAY!” at the top of my voice, and the rest of my group joined me. It felt so good!

But, after each and every speech given by a person, the focalisers would throw water on the rocks again, and again, and again. By the half hour mark, I was lying down in the sand (cold air falls, cold air falls, cold air falls… eeeeeek! Remember to breathe!) edging as far away from the rock, and covering my body with about as much moist sand as I could, feeling more and more faint.

Eventually we managed to make it through the second round of speeches, and when given the chance to do so, I made my way to the exit as quickly as possible. I knew I was close to passing out.

* * *

We sat around the fire in near-complete silence, holding each other for warmth, affection, and yes, I dare say it, love.