Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Why We Named Him Iver

Our son's name, Iver, solidified in our minds a few days after his birth.

Several weeks prior, we had been gifted a poem at my wife's baby shower.  The poem was from Harshida auntie, who has played a significant role in both our lives for many reasons.  And the poem was by Khalil Gibran, called 'On Children':



The poem continues to hang in Iver's room, and in the first year was right above the changing table for the repeated reminder :)  While we much appreciated the poem, there was no direct connection to a name at the time.

However, after he was born, we were sitting with a small list of potential names.  We had an intention of carrying forward a name from my wife's background, a Scandanavian or Nordic tradition, knowing that his last name would come from my lineage.  And upon looking through, we saw Iver, meaning 'archer' from the Scandanavian tradition.

Our intention is that name acts as a reminder (for all of us!) that while the 'bows and arrows' are what we see in the journey of the family, the grace of the archer is what is behind it all.  

Monday, June 10, 2019

Regenerative Agriculture, Veganism, and Inner Transformation



For the last decade of my life, I've had elements of my work connected to the food system.  As I journeyed on this path of 'waking up' in terms of my relationship to food, I have seen so many systems and approaches to potentially take on.  Of course we have seen innumerable 'diets' and super-foods and questions of privilege and beyond.  I wanted to focus on a couple approaches that I've seen and been involved with - regenerative agriculture and veganism - which some would say are antagonistic but I'm not so sure.  Part of the impetus to reflect on this topic came from being inspired by this post from Dr Bronner (there's a tremendous amount of value there which I won't discuss, highly recommended read).  The point of this reflection is to name that both approaches have value in terms of their affect on earth/mind, both can co-exist, and both have a relationship to the journey of inner development.  This is not a post about health impacts.  In some ways, it is an explanation of the embodied life I have been living.

As context, my own background has been using multiple forms of capital in support of both movements through Armonia and Mobius.  In both areas, I have felt like a cross between a foreign substance and a bridge.  I find myself engaged in activities that support people in increasing their plant-based food consumption, reducing meat consumption, increasing regenerative meat consumption, and increasing regenerative plant-based food consumption.  I am multi-generationally a vegetarian (trending both vegan and regenerative), yet I have also helped with the growth of holistic management of cattle to build soil across the world.  It's this unique background that is what had me thinking it might be of value to offer an integrated perspective.

First off, regenerative agriculture and veganism do not strike me as an apples to apples comparison.  The former is an approach to producing food, the latter is a dietary/lifestyle choice.  That being said, there has been a conflation in recent times of 'regenerative' and 'animal agriculture' - eg regenerative meat, dairy, eggs.  Similarly, there has been a conflation in recent times of veganism and processed foods (nut milks with locust bean gum, impossible burger, etc).  Both conflations are not crazy in that processed food consumption seems to be rising in the plant-based world and the most well-known regenerative products tend to be animal products.  And this whole inquiry gets more confusing with cellular agriculture, creating things like clean meat and cows milk without cows.



The regenerative approach has had plenty written about it, in short the primary question they are asking is 'how can we support nature to have the system as a whole have more life?'  On the vegan/plant-based side, the primary question asked is 'how can we minimize the needless suffering of sentient life?'  I think both questions would of course resonate with everyone, it's a question of what is primary.  Of note that right now, less than 1% of people eat a fully vegan or regenerative diet, but many more folks who are interested in the values behind these approaches and are trending in their direction.

The main point here is that all of this, all of the approaches we're looking at in society, is a manifestation of people waking up.  People are realizing they have been eating (and living?) with a limited conscious awareness of what they are eating, its impact on themselves, their community, their ecology.  That process happening is what unites all these folks - and important to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of food produced/consumed in USA (and the world) still reflects this lack of conscious awareness.  This is not to blame any party (we're all in different stages of waking up in different parts of our lives, with different creative constraints), but rather naming that if this is the case, all the more reason to appreciate and value those who are asking questions of waking up.

While the overlap on intention to grow in conscious awareness may be there, what do to about is not so clear.  What I've seen in my work is noticing that plant-based approaches have a pragmatic view in looking to reduce harm in the current system; regenerative approaches are asking how we may be able to transcend the current system.  To me, both make sense.  The current system is highly entrenched, kills >100 billion land animals/year in gruesome ways, provides cheap/unhealthy food while causing untold imbalance - making even a 2% dent in that seems like a major win.  AND, the current food system is degrading the environmental system as a whole, such that its only a matter of time till we have an environmental collapse regardless of slight reductions in consumption; building another approach that works in harmony with environment after the inevitable, even if only 2% take it up right now, seems like a major win.  Of course, both approaches have the possibility to shift the entrenched system very quickly also.

File:Production still from "Final Straw, Food, Earth, Happiness" shows rice harvesting on a natural farm.jpg

These approaches are not either/or.  It is possible to be a 'regenerative vegan' - to support nature, have a system with more life, and not contribute to the intentional killing of sentient beings.  There are approaches trying this today, not just veganic agriculture but natural farming and lots of other alternatives.  Most calories eaten globally, about 75%, are from cereal grains (corn, wheat, rice) - they are mostly not grown in a regenerative way, but could be.  The pathway to eating in this way runs straight through the underlying values of capitalism.  While it may be biologically possible (and healthy) to eat and live in this way, it is not financially profitable to produce - in our system, this means it is not viable.  That raises interesting questions about our collective values - and what happens if those values evolve.



Where Inner Transformation Intersects

Worth noting is the 'shadow' of these approaches.  If anyone, in the process of waking up, holds to this idea that 'this is it, i have found the right answer' - we quickly open up our blind side in regards to where we may miss the next level of integrated approach.
As it relates to plant-based eating, this could include:
-contributing to a degrading system, thus contributing to the extinction of countless life going forward. 'not as bad' does not equal 'good'
-shaming-based approaches and the ramifications of being seen as fringe in society because of it
-contributing to the needless death of countless non sentient life (eg soil microbes)

as it relates to regenerative approaches, this could include:
-contributing to the killing of sentient beings, usually relatively early in their life
-contributing to the maintaining of dominion over sentient beings
-engaging in what has been called psychological refuge, where we feel good if 10% of our consumption is regen/humane, even if 90% is not
-difficulty to compete in current mass-market on price (eg getting into big drivers of CAFOs like McDonald's)

and of course there are some across the board:
-contributing to loss of jobs in conventional paradigm
-contributing to the continuation of financialization of life as the default approach

And it is this shadow that leads to an uneasy coexistence.  Everyone's looking at the missing pieces of the other, and the places where the worldview doesn't overlap (eg, 'but killing is natural!' ... 'one bad day of slaughter is one too many!').  There are 2 different worldviews here - one is that natural ecology is supreme and reverse engineering that is folly; the other is that the level of suffering in the conventional system is so obscene that any approach is worthwhile to take on in addressing it.  And so we have solutions like mom-and-pop farms and genetically-modified burgers, all interested in addressing the tremendous disharmony externalized by the current system.

The point here is that its a long journey and we all may have a ways to go as we walk each other home.  My dietary choices (and beyond) do not reflect any sort of purity either, nor am I advocating for it.  I am, however, interested in walking towards the collective of values that seem present in these approaches.  The pathway there may not be straight-line - there are ways to reduce animal suffering that are not regenerative; there are ways to regenerate the whole that involve suffering along the way; there are ways for the system to shift that follow an emergent path.  By supporting people to walk the path of their own development, I've seen people who manage animals shift their relationship to slaughter; i've also seen advocates of plant-based living start to inquire about how to make sure those plants come from the wisdom of nature; i've even seen folks developing cellular agriculture asking about organic growth medium.

Again and again, those who walk the path of inquiry and growth continually develop and shift in their thought, speech, and action as it relates to this broader topic.  I won't share specific people as this is continual and in-process, but it includes leaders in both movements.  The pathway there seems to be strongly related to relationship and love, which creates the psychological safety and trust to continue the growth journey (as opposed to 'fight, flight, freeze').  I have to be willing to die to my need to be right, to die to my need to think I see the full picture, to die to my assumption that the 'others' myopia doesn't exist in me as well.  If you're interested in this path and work in this space, i'm part of a team that hosts bi-annual farm animal advocate meditation retreats in the spirit of gift culture, happy to share more with you.

To me, the key question is 'are we continuing to grow in our cultivation and understanding?'  There's plenty of human development models that break down what it means to not get stuck in a way of thinking.  Forcing a person to think in a way they are not ready for doesn't seem to produce harmonious results - seems more skillful to support the journey of waking up and help folks keep growing in their upward cycle of wisdom rather than get stuck (which might manifest as 'i am right!' or 'they are wrong!' vs 'how could it be that there is an integrated approach here that speaks to all?')

That's the path I've been on.  Even as a person who has never (consciously) eaten meat, I couldn't avoid that 97% percent of humanity does on most days, and the details of it are tough to swallow.  I also couldn't avoid that my dietary choices were ensuring we'd have no viable topsoil within a couple generations.  Each day is another attempt to dive deeper into how to integrate these and more perspectives into compassion and wisdom.  I've included below the end of the Dr Bronner's post with his suggestions on taking next steps on that path, along with continuing to ask nuanced questions.

Wishing you a continually unfolding food experience that supports your inner journey!


1. Regenetarian omnivores and vegetarians are willing to spend more for, and eat less of, meat, dairy and eggs, sourced only from correctly pastured and fed animals.
2. A boycott of “bad meat” is a hallmark of the regenetarian ethos. Animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) fed conventional carbon/water-intensive grain are an environmental and ethical disaster, inefficiently converting plant into animal protein and calories, especially in the case of feedlot (vs grassfed) beef.
3. Regenetarian vegans are committed to eating regenerative organic grains, legumes, and vegetables, and modelling the discipline for their regen omnivore comrades to just say no to bad meat. The scale of death that attends overuse of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on non-target wildlife in conventional cropping systems makes eating regeneratively a vegan imperative.
For everyone who believes in the power of regenerative agriculture to restore soil and rebalance the earth, I recommend you become a regenetarian. To start, I suggest you go vegan for 21 days to learn how to live life easily on a regenerative organic plant-based diet, and then:
1. Reintroduce a lower level of meat, dairy and/or eggs. Eating only meat, dairy and eggs certified by the Global Animal Partnership 4 or 5 (pasture based); Animal Welfare Approved; and make sure that it is cross certified to USDA organic standards as far as feed; OR
2. You know your local farmer inside out and they are raising animals humanely on pasture as well as using organic feed/grass only, and you eat only meat, dairy and/or eggs sourced from them OR
3. Stay vegan entirely.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Regenerative Living: The Banyan Grove Toilet


Banyan Grove is a relatively new gathering place in the ServiceSpace ecosystem.  I think it's pretty great :)  Yes it looks good, but for me, the approach is what really speaks to me, and I wanted to highlight one place in which that approach plays out - the toilet.

In my world, we talk a fair bit about this concept of regeneration.  It's used a lot in some agriculture circles.  The concept is fundamentally about leaving something better than we find it.  And the path there is about understanding nature - that over time, abundance inevitably arises when we surrender to nature.  The below graphic is one that'll I'll keep referencing to this end.



The Toilet System

On the Banyan Grove volunteer team, I've been the one most focused on sanitation.  I've felt like I won a sort of prize as that shook out, given that many of my inspirations focused on sanitation for those who had none, and even setup a Toilet Cafe to bring awareness!  We stand on the shoulders of giants :)

At Banyan Grove, one could say that the water system is not in abundance.  That is for a variety of reasons, but primarily because the 'out' line of water, the septic system, is not connected to a city system.  It is fundamentally 'off grid.'  So that means we can't just add it to a city's use and have it average out.  The off-grid system is made for an 'average use' by common USA standards.  And within the 'average use' paradigm, that means the average family uses about 80 gallons of water a day - more than half a days total water use, for flushing alone.  Those 80 gallons relate to about 4 gallons flushed into an industrial processing system for every use of toilet.  Once it's processed, we don't drink it - it actually takes a long time to make it back to be usable water.  In industrial systems, we treat this water with chemicals to just make it usable for non-human things, like industrial or agricultural uses (where most water goes nowadays), and is part of the reason why we are 'running out' of freshwater.  We would call this a conventional, degenerating system - and unfortunately this is more than 90% of all toilet systems in the western world.  At Banyan Grove, this approach doesn't really work, so we had to be creative.

What you'll find at Banyan Grove are 3 levels of 'choose your own adventure' as it relates to toilets.  They are not exhaustive or holistic, but a manifestation of working with the circumstances that are available.  Each are a major step up from prior approach, and perhaps a paradigm shift, transcendent of the previous. 

The 1st are toilets in the house.  They have been retrofitted to be 'ultra low flow' - what that means is that instead of 4 gallons of perfectly good water being put down the drain at every flush, there is now 1 gallon.  75% reduction in water 'wastage' - yay!  The toilets look not very different from what you would normally see in the western world, and a lot better in resource usage.  We would call this a green system, which is to say it is 'less bad.'  Actually, it's significantly less bad, and a large step up from most systems out there... AND, if we used only that at Banyan Grove, we would not be able to handle the total effluent that would come into the system.  


That's actually a great metaphor for society more broadly also - the way of thinking espoused by green approaches fundamentally has our civilization still heading towards a cliff, but now at a slow jog rather than a sprint :)  And there are even more green options out there - .75 gallons a flush! .5 gallons a flush even!  and if we push that logic to its logical conclusion, we find that of course the best possible solution would be for us to die - then finally we will have achieved 0 gallons a flush.  I don't mean to be overly negative about green solutions - I am grateful for them, but not as the ultimate solution - rather as a functioning bridge on a path.  It is a solution that in its implementation is 99% the same as a 'conventional' toilet, and should thus be easy to behaviorally adapt to, and yet provide major benefits.

But of course there is the 2nd level!  At Banyan Grove, that means a system that exists outside a house.  There, you'll find solar, waterless toilets.  Run by solar panels installed on the roof, they incinerate waste at a temperature of over 1000 degrees, leaving just a fine dust of ash - which can actually support flower growth in the garden :)  We would call this a restorative system.  Aside from the obvious benefit of not using a single drop of water, the toilet also is not dependent on a grid electrical system (which in most cases is powered by coal).  Furthermore, it functionally operates quite similarly to a 'conventional' toilet.  Amazing!  But there are drawbacks.  


One drawback is functionality.  It's not as simple to use as a conventional toilet.  One needs to put a small filter in the toilet bowl before utilizing.  instead of a flush mechanism, there's a pedal to step on.  instead of a push flush, we now have a button that results in a 'whirring sound' of a lot of heat being generated :)  Additionally, as we dive deeper into its function, we find a limit to it's eco-friendliness.  solar panels are amazing - compared to coal.  that being said, they also are created using plenty of precious metals (which we are running out of and do not have a circular system to handle waste) and have a life span of about 30 years.  That's a long time, but far from the timescales of nature.  Eventually, even a solar, waterless toilet results in mountains being blown up and quarries being dug up for precious metals, and at some point, it's not clear that even that approach would do the trick.  As I said before, I don't mean to be negative about this approach - it is amazing!  and it has limits to it.

And that brings us to the 3rd level :)  Another system that exists outside the house.  On the surface, it is simple as grass.  Inside some bamboo curtains are some hay bales for urination - a compost toilet.  We would call this a regenerative system.  Here, we find that not only is no water used for processing, but we use no additional energy at all.  Once the hay bales are saturated, they are moved using human labor (pitchfork and a wheelbarrow) to function as compost (not for human edibles just yet, but not far away).  


Again, there are drawbacks.  It doesn't smell the best.  It doesn't look like a conventional toilet at all.  Manual labor is involved in processing it in order to maintain usability.  And yet, it is a different approach entirely, not just in manner but in paradigm.  Using the hay bales, every time the toilet is used, the world gets more compost, better soil, more life being supported - one can make an argument that every toilet use is now an act of service! Whereas, in the conventional system, toilet use is thought of as something that degrades our resources.  

These are the options available on site at Banyan Grove, and they are all of value.  It now turns out that as it relates to water and septic at this location, we happen to have enough for everyones need, but not everyones greed :)  This doesn't mean everyone uses the hay bales, but rather that everyone stands at the edge of their comfort zone, and we trust each other to commit to our personal and collective growth.  After all, each of these 3 options is far beyond the conventional system in use today, and more than espousing a 'right answer,' the ServiceSpace approach is about inviting inner development and then trusting.

The financial costs vary for personal implementation of these septic approaches, but over 10 years all are personally and collectively cost effective over the traditional approach, as far as I can tell.  Interestingly, the most regenerative approach also requires the least financial input, and of course creates the most wealth as a result (through soil building and cycling water).  And yet, again, more than 90% of systems are trapped in the conventional approach.  Why is that???


It's Not About the Toilet :)

This gets me to the point of why I felt compelled to reflect on this topic.  It's actually not about toilets at all.  The toilets are a metaphor :)  There is a shift in living that occurs from all of these admittedly wonderful approaches.  In each case, joyful utilization requires some sort of shift to happen, but it is only the 3rd option that is in deep alignment with nature, and consequently strongly regenerates ecology.  

And regenerating ecology is what it will take to actually feel abundance in our life - if we deplete natural stock and then keep repeating an abundance mantra, it may not do us much good.  It's not just septic systems.  The food we eat can be produced in a regenerative manner (fyi, 'organic' certification is basically a green approach).  The clothes we wear, the same.  The products we use, the waters we swim in, the forests we breathe in, the medicine we take, and beyond.  It all touches the environment, and there is a way to engage with it so that by using it, we have engaged in an act of service.  Of course, at this point that is not a collective reality - but also at this point, for the most part its rarely even conceived of.  

The upcoming regenerative organic certification aims to bring this approach to food

This starts to get important when service is applied to approaches where the system continues to degenerate, or is green.  Seeing from this lens, there's plenty of examples of how big and small approaches fit into an approach that has varying amounts of surrendering to nature.  the green revolution was about service, but not necessarily about regeneration.  Today, we build levees on fundamentally non-viable cities and create robots to pick strawberries in service to the hard lives of migrant farm workers.  On the other side, kernza is quickly turning into a viable regenerative grain.  It's all 'service' - and like the toilet analogies at Banyan Grove, I'd say it's all of value - but not because it's a final solution.  Rather, it provides a scaffolding for humanity to step forward in wisdom and understanding, and to keep stepping forward beyond the initial step.

But that's not the crux of it either :)  The elder, Satish Kumar, has talked about the 3 forms of wealth that are 'real' in the world - Soil, Soul, and Society (ie, everything else is a collective agreement that we can withdraw).  I'll build on that to speak to what I believe he is referring to - Ecology, Inner Transformation, and Community.  It's not just ecology that benefits from a shift to a regenerative lens, but the other two as well.  



ServiceSpace's Regenerative Role

In the context of community, there are many 'technologies' within the ServiceSpace world that are utilized to support regeneration.  It's an interesting question to ask - what are the lessons from nature that are applicable to community?  Holding space, being in circle, talking stick, supporting ripples, assuming value, integral nonviolence, service, generosity, gift culture, and so many more.  As time has gone on, we've seen more relationships, deeper relationships, depolarization, and continued emergence of what is referred to in shorthand as 'many to many.'

And the same approach to the inner landscape.  What is in deep alignment with the evolution of human nature?  There are many ways to engage with the inner life which are degenerative, which are sustainable, and which are regenerative.  Again, we see the ServiceSpace approach, utilizing broad tools of meditation, compassion, gratitude, kindness, and beyond.  To be so bold, I would say it's an inquiry into love :)

The kinds of exemplars in the ecosystem speak to a sort of ultimate trust in nature, whether Vinoba Bhave (community) or Masanobu Fukuoka (ecology) or SN Goenka (inner development).  Learning how to skillfully get out of the way so nature can do its work may be the core of regeneration, and it may be applicable moreso in life as a whole than in any particular area.

Yes there are projects going on in ServiceSpace, but the point of them is not in the doing alone (especially considering the gift ecology approach) - they are vehicles to engage with a life of regeneration.  Learning to trust nature, witnessing abundance arise as we practice the tenets of a regenerative life, and thus diving into a virtuous cycle supporting a transformative process.

Which brings me to the earlier question - why is it that most toilets are the opposite of regenerative?  is it that people just don't know, and if they did, everything would change?  Evidence shows this isn't the case.  The solutions are out there, the explanations are out there, but they are not utilized.  What holds us back seems internal and communal.  This is a core of why I feel called to offer in my particular context - in my experience, it has been the journey of inner regeneration, that then flows to community regeneration, that then flows to ecological regeneration.  

What it takes seems to be the inner practices, and over time, we see the qualities arise that allow for other components to head in a regenerative direction.  In my case, it's a slow process (and I mean that not just in a self-deprecatory way), but, like nature, it seems to grow in non-linear ways.  Metaphorically, we all get to choose the practices that support the edge of our comfort zone, and grow from there - whether it's food, relationship, meditation, or the simple toilet!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Sharings

Some conversations in recent years that happened...

Lift Economy conversation and Greater Good conference

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Years have passed



It's been a few years since i've written in this format.  Partly related to a bit of a block.  I'm not sure if there is much of meaning to say.  And what I do have to say doesn't seem best suited to a medium such as this.  I have written a little on the ServiceSpace platform in the intervening time.  I've also done a fair bit of journaling.  But I think mostly it is related to life's pace.  I'm now the father to a wonderful baby boy, who is 18 months old :)  Though I won't be sharing much about him on this medium as his story is his own to share.

I think I do want to write again, but more from a perspective of helping me see me.  Others may of course read along the way, this is not meant as a journal :)  I think of times in my life, usually when I'm in the process of something - maybe driving, or exercising, or feeding my son - and i'll think of a topic that is meaningful to me.  And I'll think 'oh, i really want to write about this.  to process it through prose.'  and i think that's why i'm writing this now, and whatever comes out later.  less about polish, although i do have a lifetime of bullet point thinking to work through!

One of the topics that has been a guide for life in these last few years is gratitude.  Just how much there is to be grateful for, and paradoxically just how much there is to grieve.  To my body, they feel related in some way.  I don't mean this just in a macro sort of way, but in a 'my life' sort of way.  the list for what i'm grateful for in my life is long, and very micro.  while i had seen it before, i'm not sure i had felt it.  what it feels like to be in touch with the first conscious breath in the morning.  to see my parents for a video chat.  to touch my family.  to simply know that certain dear ones exist.  to hear a poem that i can't really understand, but something in my heart aches anyways.  it's not owed to me.  it can go at any time.  i'm not sure i'm really in touch with that.

And grief.  to be willing to feel it.  to tear up, to sob.  for whatever reason, whether the underlying driver is my separate self feeling hurt and small or my separate self slowly dissolving into a glorious whole.  i've been appreciating the opportunity to feel it consciously, to the extent i can metabolize it.  trauma, my own, my inheritance, our inheritance.  where i don't feel seen.  where i feel scared.  and where i feel lifted and looked around and wondered how i could have lived a whole life and missed this

All this to say i'm going to be writing a little more.  that's my intention at least.  and it'll be less coherent, or meaningful, or complete, or depolarizing.... that actually sounds really good to me :)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Animal Rights Retreat FAQ

Below is detailed FAQ for the upcoming Pollination Project retreat for Farm Animal Advocates-

Why meditate? 
Here is a link from the Harvard Business Review on Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity and an book passage by the man known as the happiest man in the world through brain scans who is vegan and an animal rights advocate. Organizationally, this blog discusses places where employees are benefiting from mindfulness and this one where mindfulness promotes a more compassionate workplace.

Why go on retreat? 
Since ancient times all wise cultures have known the value of retreat. Time in retreat allows us to step out of the complexity of our life, to listen deeply to our body, heart and mind. Meditation retreats offer practical instruction and group support for discovering inner understanding and freedom. The retreat will combine the fertile atmosphere of silence with extensive time for meditation and walks in nature, supported by systematic teachings. Careful guidance and training is offered in meditation. 

A retreat provides an opportunity and a caring container for undertaking intensive meditation, like an immersion course in a language. The central practice is mindfulness, which enables us to see the ways we create difficulties in our lives and to discover a freedom of heart in the midst of all things. The mindfulness practice on retreat will be ​accompanied and complemented by training in loving-kindness meditation. 

Most of the retreat is held in silence; retreatants do not speak to one another. Writing and reading are also discouraged, so that retreatants can better stay with their own present experience as it unfolds, moment to moment. In this silent and mindful environment, awareness sharpens, the body quiets, the mind clears, and space opens for insight and understanding to develop.

With no diversions there is nothing to distract us. Since there is no place to hide from ourselves, there is a good possibility that we will know ourselves better after a retreat than we did before. Self-knowledge and understanding grow as we see that we can live each moment either with inattention, fear and judgment, or with clarity, kindness and wakefulness. By cultivating the power of awareness, clarity and kindness, we discover our path to liberation, inner freedom and a peaceful heart.

Can I participate in less than the full retreat? 
You are required to attend the full retreat. Requests for late arrivals or early departures must be approved by the teacher(s) before the retreat.

Will we be in silence during the retreat? Why? 
During most of the retreat the participants will be in silence while the teachers will offering guided meditation and teachings, as well as be available for individual or group meetings. The result is a pervasive silence that serves as a foundation for the meditation practice and creates a palpable and nourishing atmosphere of stillness. Most people come to cherish the silence of retreat.  Even those who were intimidated by it in the beginning often find such peace in the silence that they are reluctant to give it up at the end.  As people become aware of its richness, they come to look forward to silence rather than fear it.
Retreat silence has many benefits. Because social conversation keeps the mind active, periods of not talking help the mind rest.  Silence settles the many emotions that are activated by talking, listening, and even in the anticipation of talking.  As our mental and emotional lives calm down, our bodies relax.
Silence allows for a heightened sense of intimacy with the world.  In sustained silence our senses become more acute, and both the inner and outer world can appear to us with greater clarity.  For example, we may begin to notice the birdsong we previously failed to hear, or we may tune in to our quieter thoughts, which normally get drowned out.
For most people, the silence of a retreat creates a space in which they can see themselves more clearly.  Rather than being actively distracted by work, relationships, the internet, music, or various external events, they have an opportunity to notice overlooked feelings and concerns.  The sustained periods of silence give people a chance to observe the subtle, important motivations and values behind how they live. As you relax into the collective stillness, participants often discover that being together with others in silence allows for a rich sense of connection that is more satisfying than if they had spent the same time engaged in conversation.  Rather than knowing others through the stories of who they are, what they do, and what they have done, the silence highlights our shared humanity and a direct feeling of empathy and rapport.  
How are the teachers compensated? 
The retreat will be using the system in practice over thousands of years of paying forward the generosity teachers offer in sharing their wisdom called dana.

What clothing should I pack? What other essentials should I bring? 
We will be sending an email to attendees in the weeks prior to the retreat that outlines these elements.

What if I get sick on retreat? 
We have first aid on hand and there is access to local area hospitals if needed.

Is it possible to stay extra days before or after retreat? 
We can discuss on an individual basis.

Can I arrive early on the day the retreat starts? 
Yes, but rooms will not be available until 3pm.

Can I arrive late and/or leave early? 
We ask that you stay for the entirety of the retreat.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

"Honeymoon"




I'm actually not a big fan of the word 'honeymoon.'  To me, it implied indulgence, or even willful ignorance of the state of the world.  Over the last several months, that perspective evolved as I saw the opportunity to have more space for dialogue with Anne-Marie, and even the possibility to reframe the experience towards our shared values.  Several months ago, we were both beyond surprised when we were gift bombed a honeymoon - completely open, do with it as we please.  We reflected on it for some time, and took a leap in receiving :)  We came up with a trip that smacked of indulgence at one level, and heart-connection at another.

India, then Thailand.  First, we would connect with our family that taught us the value of service to others.  Then, deepen relationship with inspiring individuals devoted to inner cultivation.  And finally come to a space to expand our understanding of living in ecological harmony.  What follows is a bit about a few of the many inspirational people we met in our travels, as we came away enriched through exposure to their hearts.

Archan Trivedi
Archan bhai is on the right here, and on the left is Amitabh Bachchan, a well-known Indian actor.  My family has had a long relationship with him. When Anne-Marie and I arrived in India, my parents had planned for a gathering to introduce her to my local family - so we had the pleasure of reconnecting with Archan bhai.  It was a 'small gathering' of a few hundred :) and Archan bhai began our time together with a performance.

He has had a most amazing journey - himself a well-known actor/singer in his state of Gujarat.  And along with that, he would volunteer his time with the local slum children, teaching them to dance and sing as well.

Several years ago, he was diagnosed with blood and lung cancer with middling survival chances, and 2 things happened together.  One, the Gandhi Ashram community was there supporting him through the process of treatment in every way imaginable.  Two, he himself shifted his approach to one of even deeper service.  Every conversation from then on began and ended with 3 words - I love you.  He has said it over a million times, and he no longer has cancer.  Just being in his energy field was a joy for both Anne-Marie and I!  Here's a short video of him sharing that bit himself-


Cows

How many? +6000.  It is part of a broader animal sanctuary that is within a  Jain spiritual community on the border between Gujarat and Rajasthan.  The community was started with the help of Parag and Mita, who held an intention of a place of nonviolence where human and non-human could cultivate.

These animals live for 14 years, and they are fed every day (for more, here's a video I took).  They are not milked and they are not killed.  The average cow in the US lives 2 years, about the age of an adolescent, before they are slaughtered.  The common reason given for this (beyond human taste for meat) is economic.

Certainly, these folks have chosen to forgo tremendous economic gain with their choices, but given that their compass is driven by a more holistic form of wealth, and led with compassion, the choice starts to make sense.  Interestingly, when they share this message with people who come there, they are met with the same compassion, and the animals are actually cared for without a financial shortfall.

Sant Amitabh & Jitendra


You'll see Sant Amitabh in the center on the chair and Jitendra as the darker-skinned man in the back left.

Sant means saint in Hindi.  A few days after meeting Archan bhai, a few of us took a trip to Mt Abu, a sacred mountain in Rajasthan, where one of our stops was at this ashram.  Sant Amitabh was originally a Jain monk, but after 30+ years of that, he discovered the value of meditation for the insight and peace he was longing for (Jain monastic practices placed less emphasis on meditation).  And so for the last 40+ years, he's been focused mostly on being present in his inner journey, and offering insight to anyone who came by.

Jitendra was one of the volunteers at the ashram.  Himself a 70 year old man with decades of inner practice and service, his energy was a revelation.  Anne-Marie and I may have never seen a man with that context be so ready and willing to serve so humbly.  Endless energy (cooks for everyone, fights you to clean up, and wins), caring (never focused on himself, even when we ask him questions, he shifts the inquiry to how wonderful others are), and humble (on multiple occasions, fully prostrates before Audrey, 40 years his junior, in love and respect).  We left the space feeling like we'd received a crash course in how to combine inner practice and outer service!

Kiran Patel


Just to the left of me is Kiran bhai.  Most people who know me have heard me share about Jayesh Patel, who I've been inspired by for years.  As we left Mt Abu, Jayesh bhai told us about his elder cousin, who we had to meet.

Kiran bhai runs a Gandhian school in rural Gujarat.  Calling it a school feels like a misnomer - its really a network of schools, educating +30,000 children, all for next to no money and geared towards the poorest of the poor.  It was actually his fathers mission - to combine the worldly activities of education with the spiritual teachings of Sri Aurobindo.  A mission continued by Kiran bhai and his brother.

The rural-based school focused on teaching Gandhian lessons of self-sufficiency, ecological stewardship, inner cultivation, and service to our fellow man.  I asked him how this can be done financially, and he says he'll do whatever he needs to, including taking jobs on the side, always with the intention of doing everything to support the children.  In a land where GMO's, pesticides, and 'conventional agriculture' is taking deeper root by the day, this man is educating thousands in a different way, driven by a heart of compassion.

Uday and Ragu



Uday bhai and Ragu bhai were both in the house as we got back to Ahmedabad in time for the beginning of the first ever 'Sabarmati Festival.'  The original idea was to draw attention to the artisan crafts that this region of India is behind, but on this evening it was a showcase of the continuing work in the line of Gandhi.

This was highlighted by Nimo's performances throughout the evening, but also included talks by these 2 super inspiring individuals.  One of whom is a rickshaw driver and does it with a heart of love and no price tag.  The other is the head chef at Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad, again all heart and no price tag :)

Click this link to hear Uday bhai's talk - https://goo.gl/photos/NqSwYUMGuQfqLAha8
And this link to hear Ragu bhai's talk - https://goo.gl/photos/jv3wrShx79Z7zyZeA

Suresh Parmar


While my time with Suresh bhai was limited due to illness, his story was nonetheless super inspiring - and to have him leave all that to come visit me bedside and give me a footrub with the same energy that he has revitalized an entire village armed with $10/month and love in his heart (link highly recommended :).

Rongrit

Rongrit is directly next to me here.  He is a monk in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition in Thailand (Chiang Mai, specifically).  We met at a Buddhist university, where everyday there is a practice called 'monk chat' - where monks sit outside on park benches and meet lay people to answer any questions they may have on any topic.

So here was a monk who had been practicing for 10+ years with much earnestness.  We spent the day together and Anne-Marie and I peppered him with many questions on what it means to live such a life in a country that is 95% Buddhist.  In some ways Rongrit would not stand out at all - his appearance, his demeanor, everything is geared towards not being seen as 'somebody.'  And yet, to actually come close and inquire - and we started to see embodied insight towards living a life in constant service.

Of the more interesting reflections we heard from him - in this country of Buddhist practice, only 2 out of the 3 themes were put into action.  Ethics, Concentration, and Insight.  Laypeople practiced the first, monks practiced the first two.  However, insight/Vipassana practice was reserved from most folks, and Rongrit even mentioned that he didn't feel ready to take the practice on.  There was a sacredness that these things had that I felt was less present in western practice.  You could be a monk your whole life and never practice the crown jewel of the practice - Vipassana meditation.  Meanwhile us lay people can be initiated into practice in 10 days or less.  I was left reflecting on what is lost when I cultivate such a mind of impatience.

Tony

Another monk Anne-Marie and I 'ran into' while in Thailand (either our good luck or Thailand has been doing some amazing things!)  24 years old, been a monastic for more than a decade.

We asked him what led to that choice - he says he hadn't even heard of Buddhism, but he did know that to ordain meant a free education, and he signed up.  Imagine that - i know of a few countries where if you're a young man seeking a free education, the nationally recognized route is to put oneself in the line of violent action.  Over the years, Tony actually started to feel connected with what he was being exposed to, and took it more and more seriously.  He is now teaching at a local school along with his other duties.

We asked if he saw himself staying ordained through his life, and he mentioned interest.  Interestingly, he mentioned how Thai monastic practice felt to him as the most watered down, and a part of him longed for Myanmar/Burma and Laos, where the traditions were more directly connected to a life of insight and a spiritual practice rather than a religious one.

Peggy Reents

Anne-Marie and I originally came across Peggy because of her connection to her partner Jon Jandai, whose TEDxTalk had deeply inspired us years ago.  We had planned visit to visit Punpun Resilience Center (Punpun means '1000 varieties' in Thai) and learn from them both while also going through an earthen building course.  Life intervened.  I was beset with a stomach bug and Jon was traveling.  And yet, we started to build a relationship with much to learn.

Peggy is originally from Colorado and had strong interest in ecology and activism.  In her travels she met farmers who were living in service to the land, but none like Jon Jandai.  Jon told her to 'be poor.'  Farming with a mindset of voluntary simplicity.  The seed-saving center that is Punpun came from that mindset - and yet, every year was an abundance from nature as they served the land.  And with that mindset, was a shift in what was valued.  She had more time, more spaciousness.  Punpun evolved to be not only a center for ecology but also a center for intentional community.  A center for inner inquiry.

We left the center feeling like we had not even scratched the surface, and the biggest learnings were not related to the tangible, despite all the mud pits that Anne-Marie stomped through! :)

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These are just a few of the SO MANY PEOPLE that just blew our minds for a few weeks in January 2016.  If interested in more, we took many pictures, a subset of which are here :)  As if our gratitude weren't deep enough, I feel that we are carrying the hearts of all we met as we continue our best to grow within back at home in the bay :)