In 2013 I was chosen along with other 20 people to be an Econaut for an Earth Odyssey with the purpose of serving communities in need of skilled ecological and regenerative design specialist. Instead of traveling in rocket ships we had eco buses that run on veggie oil, capture rainwater and serve as movable facilities for our campgrounds where we would live.
At the beginning of the Earth Odyssey, definition of it being an adventurous journey into the magic of nature, a communion with lands and peoples soon to meet.
I joined the eco-bus caravan on December 27th 2013, the Earth Odyssey was a journey that would last until March 2014. I met them in Guatemala at a transformational festival called the Cosmic Convergence hosted on the edges of Lake Atitlán Panajachel (Pana) the name Panajachel derives from the Kaqchikel Mayan language and translates to "place of the Matasanos," the white sapote fruit tree, native to the land. It is a town in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, with a beautiful large lake that dissolves into the horizon to meet with the sky, surrounded by 3 volcanoes Volcán Atitlán, Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán and also various mountains.
An outstanding view it was, for daily yoga, meditation not to mention a pleasure to bathe in this lake it was, a daily morning ritual. To receive the glory of the morning sun.
When I first entered the festival realm it seemed like a party to me and was a bit disorienting understanding what the Earth Odyssey's place in it was. Later on I observed that the transformational festival scene is really more than a party. It is a crowd that is searching for experiences out of the ordinary, young people yearning for living a life that is outside of a square box, that society has tried to lock them into, it is the beauty of nature, the sounds of unique electro cosmic music, the tastes of the earth, and the connection between hearts that is the common denominator for festival world traveler seekers, of meaningful experiences.
If we look up the definition of a transformational festival online this is what comes up:
A transformational festival is a counterculture festival that espouses a community-building ethic, and a value system that celebrates life, personal growth, social responsibility, healthy living, and creative expression. Steering the transformation of culture toward sustainability.
Transformational festivals resemble music festivals, but are distinguished by added features such as seminars, classes, drum circles, spiritual ceremonies, installation of visionary art (or other visual art), the availability of whole foods, healing arts, bodywork, and a leave no trace behind, 0 waste policy.
Our place at the festival as Earth Odyssey was to bring and shed the light of ecological, regenerative design. I found peer econauts busy organizing reusable dish collectives for the event to prevent use of disposable plastic or styrofoam, organizing waste management systems, others installing composting toilets to save ourselves from participating in water pollution , temporal natural bamboo structures were being prepared for the festivities and other prep activities were being completed. Everyone was hustling and bustling.
I started assisting by helping with workshop space setup and creating educational charts with permaculture principles for passing by festival attendees who would soon ask what we were up to. Many people were in awe of the intentions of our projects that were lined up for the upcoming weeks and we had a very supportive response.
Our caravan hosted a village building workshop after the festival where we would facilitate a weeklong Introduction to permaculture and village building from the ground up, after all we were living in a mobile eco village!
The weeklong workshop was a hit and by the end of the workshop we had new volunteers who would join forces with the econauts to make the odyssey's projects a reality through collective hands on efforts.
We no longer were a pack of 25 in the group our camp grew to be up to about 45 at one point including the students taking the workshop and then settled to about 35 with the people who stuck by after the workshop to proceed assisting further projects.
The second stage of this experience came at a time when the originating group was encountering some conflicts, which is a normal phase in-group development. In order to apply social permaculture and community governance practices, we took some awesome exercises from the Star-hawk empowerment manual (Star-hawk is an amazing author, film maker, speaker and leader figure in social permaculture).
Star-hawk describes there are four stages of-group formation these 4 stages also represent the 4 elements, 4 directions, 4 seasons.
Four stages of-group formation
1. Forming: East, Air, Sunrise, Spring - Group begins with new ideas inspired by a vision. Fresh energy and enthusiasm, a time to define mission and goals.
2. Storming: South, Fire, Noon, Summer - Group gathers power, rapid expansion and growth also a phase for conflict and struggle as people jockey.
3. Norming: West, Water, Autumn, Twilight - Group reaps the harvest of its growth through the struggles, members may feel like they have passed through the fire together, trust develops.
4. Performing: North, East, Midnight, Winter - Group strengthens boundaries, accepts limitations, and grounds the vision into hard solid work.
Star-hawk also states that conflict between people and organizations is inevitable and healthy, we can turn them into creative opportunities for learning and growth. Sometimes groups may need to repeat one of the stages if it is not performing well.
It was at the time of Storming when the group decided to do a re-vision of the entire Earth Odyssey, there was many people who did not have their needs met and in order to move forward we would need to repeat step 1, Forming. To redefine goals, vision and mission. For this to happen we would have a weeklong retreat dedicated to do nothing more than this work.
The first step to the re-visioning process was to get clear and to release any past grudges, stored feelings and thoughts.
I was also getting to learn how the group communicated, through a specific form of consensus-organized structure. I will wright an article just on this later, since it is pretty complex but an efficient way for communal decision making.
These were the 5 steps for clearing and releasing
1. Set it free and into the fire, a time for ranting for letting out emotions freely and to express what you need to.
2. What do you want to set aside? Put it into a basket
3. Set it straight, a time for sharing deep with in your heart. Through poetry, writing or any other creative way.
4. Voicing expectations concisely and briefly also voicing fears
5. What are your preoccupations?
I was pretty new to the group so I was observing this clearing of past baggage that the group may have been carrying from past experiences, though I would also share my own inputs, I felt like some sort of witness watching the process unveil. A great lesson for me to learn of about community governance! I was really digging this experience of realness.
After a good amount of hours going around the circle with a talking stick to get each one of these steps completed by each person in the circle, there was a sense of release and straight forwardness. No more masks to hide anymore.
This experienced taught me that when we take care of the small stuff, telling each other truths that we may not want to hear and being opened enough to receive those truths without taking things personally only then we have an opportunity to learn from the feedback we receive. When living in a closely knit community like this it is necessary for us to drop our ego's and to allow for the reflections of the mirrors that we encounter in each other to lead us into seeing what we may not be able to see for ourselves. This is a growing and transformational process
Following after the clearing I though it would be nice to facilitate a gratitude and forgiveness meditation, to channel the energy into the heart. Where the past would be dissolved into the past and we would be prepared to welcome the present on a clean slate.
Afterwards we were ready for envisioning, an exercise that helped us make a collective collage of what we wanted to create out of our being together.
We followed the dragon dreaming process to map our next moves.
Dragon Dreaming (how to make dreams come true)
1. Dreaming: Common, cohesive, collective vision
2. Planning: Discussion, talk, deadlines,
3. Doing: Implementation making it happen
4. Celebrating: When task is completed it is time to celebrate!
During the following days the collective revisioning process continued, now rewinding our steps to get all aspects of dragon dreaming.
This included understanding each person’s weaknesses and strengths, each other’s needs, creating our vision, mission, group agreements, and core values. This was central to the integrity of the group in order for everyone to know how to move about.
As part of celebrating we also took some time to just dance and shake around the room like monkeys to the rythm of funky beats, before and after each meeting. Always bringing our hands to center and reciting PROJECT NUEVO MUNDO as loudly as we could, rising and exploding our hands up into the air. This was a brief reminder of our original intentions to sow the seeds for a new earth and a new paradigm for social organization, one based in listening to everyones needs and including every voice.
After a few days of working together on dreaming the vision, it was time to start planning the projects that we would embark on. For this task we came up with an opened space session for each of the potential projects that would be incubated.
Each econaut chose what project they wanted to be involved in; we would also be supported by our new assisting and passionate volunteers.
There were 3 projects that were on the table.
1. A natural building project for a kid’s classroom in Chacaya primary school.
2. A solar dehydrator and solar oven project for a nutritional center that feeds kids with malnutrition
3. A natural dye, textile, & medicinal permaculture style garden with rocket stoves for cooking with colors.
Once we broke into different groups it was up to each team to develop a vision, mission, budgets and timeline. I happened to choose to take a lead on the natural dye garden to support Guatemalan women revive their ancient art of natural dyes, that has been lost do to synthetic colorings which harm the environment.
I felt like I wanted to participate in all of them! But one thing is what I wanted and another is the reality. I still got to learn a lot from my peers working on the other projects. These projects were supported and funded with the support of JUSTA an organization which is a holistic network that connects indigenous artisans, global designers, and sustainable projects.
Each group would have to meet several times in order to incorporate the 4 phases of dragon dreaming into the project plan. Once we were done with dreaming and planning we would be ready to rock and roll and get our hands and feet dirty, implementing and doing!
In between time of the re-visioning process, group meetings, project planning and project implementation we had a blast in our community camp. We would often gather in sitting circles for oracle readings, story telling, joke telling,cacao ceremonies, Mayan calendar exploration, healing trades, exchange of great ideas and aha! moments, fire circles, drumming time, time for breakfast, lunch and dinner cooking on our fabulous hand made rocket stoves, dishwashing time, and be silly time.
I specially loved interacting with local children who would love to come in and play with us, I think we were a bit alienish to them at first with all of our eccentric ways, but they loved it! I believe it helped them expand their notions of the world. Keep in mind these are very humble kids who have not been lavished with luxuries and electronics from the day they were born, they are very appreciative and all our toys and gadgets bedazzled them! They really loved the drums and the hula – hoops, they would help us in any task they found us doing, and we once watched movies with them till 2 am on a laptop. Their parents the local farmers knew they were in love with us, and us with them so they would let them hang out.
One of my favorite nighttime activities was looking up ! stargazing; the night sky was so different from the city. It was rich, pitch dark with depth of an indigo hue as the sky tunneled upward, hardly any clouds blocking the view. Geographical position allowed my eyes to perceive the roundness of the spherical galactic dome. The stars were like showers of dancing, luminescent, glimmers, lighting the darkness of the night.
On my daily walks from morning rituals at Lake Atitlán, on my way back to camp I liked to observe the native flora and fauna, to get to know more about the conditions of the land. I also gazed at the farmers laboring; my heart would hurt seeing the backbreaking form of chemical agriculture that was being practiced. Ahhh! If they would only use mulch! (And other practical permaculture techniques) the farmers life would be so much easier, not to mention it would prevent use of all these toxic agrochemicals which are leeching into the water table :(
Also the slash and burn techniques they were using would make me nod my head. Slash and burn agriculture is the process of cutting and burning down the vegetation in a particular plot of land after the crop has been harvested, the remaining foliage is then set to fire, using the ashes to provide nutrients for the soil for use of planting food crops. The problem with Slash and Burn is that it causes desertification (dries the land), causes soil erosion, nutrient loss, biodiversity loss and kills soil life.
Thankfully we had the opportunity to provide a big workshop for the local farmers and introduced them to permaculture practices. The farmers were so thankful and even recognized some of these techniques as something their ancestors practiced before being sold to the green revolution of industrial farming that would enslave them with low wages and market standards that keep them in poverty, besides hurting the land.
At the same time they felt like they did not know where to start, like they were to deep in the shit hole. I had a heart to heart conversation one morning with some of them who expressed these feelings to me, while I was in camp milling my super food seeds in the morning in the back of Joe’s blacksmith eco-bus. They literally worked where we were camping so I had opportunities to talk and get to know more about how they felt.
I told them just start small. It is one of our permaculture principles, slow and small solutions. I pointed out to them 2 piles of some mulch they threw on a side of the land, what they though of as “waste”. To me it was a wasted resource!
1 pile was fresh whole mulch and the other pile was old mulch that decomposed over the course of time into a big pile of black fertile dirt
I said : " look at the soil build up you guys created from just dumping that wasted organic matter into a pile"
Try heavily mulching a small patch of your land for starters and notice how it will build up your soil, soften your soil and conserve water, try to intercrop and companion plant at a small scale before you do it big scale, get a feel for these practices, when you feel safe, just continue shifting that through out the land.
These farmers depend on their production to feed their families, so there’s some fear for new changes to go wrong. But starting small means they don't have much to risk, and get to learn by doing new things.
I hope to return to that land one day and see the farmers field's mulched heavily, as a starting point, then they will have more time for applying thoughtful design that can get them better incomes for an organic production and less time having to till and plow the soil, a back breaking labor intensive practice that degenerates soil life. What about the tedious work of spraying detrimental chemical fertilizers and herbicides that degrade the health of the land and the health of the farmers themselves.
A piece of my heart now lives in this land. I have a glimpse of hope, I prey that the seeds of awareness planted in the farmers and in the children’s heart bear fruit one day with the practice of permaculture farming in this land we called home for a time being.
It was good to live in this mobile eco-camp even if it was for a few moments, hearts we touched and my heart was changed for wanting to give more, more than I ever though I could.
I now have an intention to return someday and offer more assistance to these farmers. I would love to organize an advanced permaculture course for permies that would like to join this mission. I envision my self and the participants of this course offering these farmers a transition plan to switch from chemical mono cropping agriculture into a permanent agriculture.
I hope you can join me one day. In the meantime get your permaculture basics, start with a PDC and start planting the seeds of change in your own heart, one day you will be part of the clan of the eco-rainbow warriors, those who will restore the health of the earth, out of love and a sense of brother/sisterhood with all that is living!
When the earth is tired and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds, and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the Warriors of the Rainbow.
-Old Native American Prophecy-
To go further into stories from an Earth Odyssey Visit: Project Nuevo Mundos's Blog Post: