As I peer out the window of our plane, gazing upon Nature’s premier patterns, islands and vibrant blue water, I’m filled with joy and gratitude in knowing that my permaculture design course at the world-renowned Sivananda Bahamas Ashram is finally here. The sun enlivening the world outside speaks to my very soul as I acknowledge this beautiful journey. When I had been asked to present the ashram’s first 12-day permaculture design certification course my heart was charged with the opportunity to speak to a yogic community about what I often call “yoga for the land”, that is, permaculture. Additionally, I would be speaking with the permaculture community about the divine system of yoga. In my own life I feel the wedding of these two systems as I never fully feel at home on either “side”. More still I see clearly how they are more than sister sciences: they are two perspectives on the same thing. What else could there be at the core of reality other than what there Is? Who else could be there at the center of ourselves other than who we are? Living misaligned with these questions is the source of the current world situation. We can no longer afford this misalignment. Nor can the Earth. Permaculture then is the realigning of ourselves within the greater ecosystems of Nature. Yoga is remembering who you are. It seems then only fitting to remind who we are how to honor these selfsame ecosystems.
As the plane lands I thank the Earth for allowing me to arrive safely, though I know how destructive our flights are to her health. I see a day in my future when I will no longer fly and instead enjoy intimately knowing one bioregion for the rest of my life. After being stopped a dozen times and being asked, “Hey, has anyone every told you you look like Jesus??” I make my way out of the airport with my younger brother Caleb, who was taking the course, and my co-teacher Terry Meer of the Green Education Center. Kim, our Bahamian Taxi driver, drives us along the blue waters we witnessed from above to Nassau, the busy epicenter of the Bahamas. Seeing the congestion, the lack of design, and the disconnection reminds me how we could be doing so much better. It is the same lack of pattern and design one sees all over the world. This all changes, however, as we board our small boat at the dock which will take us across the beautiful blue waters to the ashram.
Stepping onto the ashram for the first time I could feel both my lungs and my heart pause with peace, such a contrast to the city. The shade of the canopy of Royal Poinciana and coconut trees a heralding of the sadhana (spiritual practice) of the space. Our escort, the wonderful Saraswati, kindly shows us the grounds and rooms. Amidst the thick green I see swamis wearing earned orange robes as the smell of incense finds me in another moment of awe. A moment I will stay in for the next twelve days. The people here walk differently than the people in Nassau. Socially this place is a microclimate of peace. One can easily feel God’s presence in such microclimates, be they social or ecological ones. As designers it is our goal to create more and more of these oases.
One by one I meet the students who will be joining us on the journey and they are all truly wonderful without exception. It is a blessing to be able to constantly be involved with individuals so devoted to restoring Earth’s equilibrium. Permaculturalists are bold individuals willing to stand and take responsibility for the current state of affairs. Why responsibility? Because it is the ability to respond. If we as healers and permaculture designers constantly put responsibility on others then we constantly give others the ability to respond. In essence leaving none then for ourselves. We want full responsibility! This ability to respond is sacred and empowering and it will be your most powerful ally. Take responsibility and support others in doing the same. Only then will we accomplish our dreams.
The sky is breathtaking by night. Especially now as Jupiter and Venus are shining together in the sky. Everyday they move closer together in Cancer where they will dance side by side for a few days. One evening as I walked with a dear friend toward the sunset we watched as the sun dipped below the horizon. As we stood there spell bound by its burning beauty a certain sadness existed knowing the moment was almost over. As we turned around there was the full moon enlightening the night sky. Yes, the world truly is this amazing.
Through some amazing God-incidence my course was scheduled during Swami Swaroopananda’s 60th birthday. In the Vedic tradition one’s 60th birthday is one of the most important. In theory in marks the time it takes for Saturn to come around twice again to the place it was when you were born. I say in theory because it depends on how long it goes retrograde, backwards through the constellations, which delays this return (often called a Saturn Return in Western Astrology). For this auspicious time they brought in many well-known individuals including tabla maestro Swapan Chaudhuri, the great bansuri player G.S. Sachdev, kirtan artist Krishna Das, Swami Atmananda (one of Sivananda’s few direct living disciples) and many others. The energy on the ashram was incredible with so many devout yogis walking amidst the gardens, pools and shrines.
Teaching a certification course amidst this energy is such an honor. Typically when I teach a permaculture design course I can’t “let my yoga out”, at least not all the way out. However, here it is warmly welcomed. One of the students in this course is a close friend of mine, Anisha Durve, who is one of Dr. Vasant Lad’s foremost students. I invited her to teach a few sections on āyurveda and vāstu as part of our study of Zone 00, or the Inner Landscape. The conversations that emerged as you could see the students feeling the profound ancient connection between all these systems is something I will never forget. My deepest passion is the edge where these two healing patterns merge. Below is something I wrote concerning these systems as I was laying in a hammock under the coconut trees.
In a landscape water carries life. Where the water goes so to goes the life energy of the landscape. In the human being sexual energy carries life. Where our sexual energy goes so too goes our life. Both water and sexual energy are sacred. We can learn much from a culture merely by looking at the state of its water, its quality, clarity or simply its presence. Many cultures have very little water because they have misused it. Now their landscapes are dry and difficult for life to thrive and find its fullest expression. We can learn much from a person by seeing how they direct their sexual energy, their physical essence. Many individuals have arid inner landscapes where it is difficult for their life to find its fullest expression because of their misapplication of their vital essence. Their inner landscape is in need of the nourishing structure that a divine science such as yoga can offer. When the outer landscape is depleted or in need of healing, a permaculture designer will implement strategic earthworks based on sound observation to allow the damaged landscape to once again focus its vital energy, that is water. Yoga in turn is based on ancient observations of the energies of the human body that we may sublimate this energy. This recharges our inner landscape even as swales and earthworks recharge our outer landscape. These observations are still valid today. Indeed, they are needed more now than ever.
In permaculture we would say that there are three tracks of water, meaning that it can only do three things on your property: evaporate (or evapotranspiration), run-off, or sink in. In order to heal the landscape we take the above notion and apply a sense of balance, e.g. slowing down water that is rushing too quickly. In āyurveda there is the Law of Similars and Dissimilars as written in the Aṣṭāṅga Hṛdayam, which states:
Vṛddhiḥ samānaiḥ sarveṣāṃ viparītair viparyayaḥ
Or “Like increases like and opposite heals”. In the human example this would mean balancing our hurriedness with peaceful activities like mindfulness, meditation or yoga. So in āyurveda and permaculture alike there is an acknowledgement of how to heal and it should come as little surprise that they are the same.
The ashram is wonderfully excited to have us here. Though this is their first full permaculture course other Sivananda ashrams, California and New York for example, are going full steam with permaculture already. In July I will be visiting the New York ashram to check out their permaculture projects. Other ashrams I’ve worked with in bringing permaculture to their sites have been Kashi Ashram in Sebastian, FL (see Sustainable Kashi) and the Amrit Yoga Institute in Salt Springs, FL. Despite the profoundly amazing spiritual practices of most ashrams the ecological situation is almost always the same: degraded soil, the use of cleaners that aren’t biodegradable and/or are completely toxic and little or no food production. What is beautiful though is the Sivananda ashram’s recognition and desire to do more. They are just now beginning some major design changes to the property and the new buildings will be dramatically more energy efficient and incorporate some sustainable energy. We are already discussing the next course and Terry Meer will be back in October for a shorter intensive. Incorporating permaculture principles and design will be the mirroring of their timeless and beautiful yoga practice. It warms my very being to see this. The truth is that the permaculture community needs the ashrams spiritual practice of health just as much as an ashram needs the permaculture community’s example of sustainability. One can not only see this wave of synergy building but as you look around here at this beautiful ashram you realize that we are the wave. The students, swamis, karma yogis, all of us represent the rising of this wave of consciousness and the return to a sattwic age once again. The students will be the ones who inspire others as our collective wave rises and rises more. Rise it will until it fully washes away the filth of our current tamasic culture.
This course was the smallest one I’ve taught, having 7 students. However, the intimacy and strength of the group due to this was wonderful and it was delightful to witness. In between classes most of us would run down to the water and dive in its neon color basking in Nature’s splendor (and our non-stop laughter. We were easily the loudest group there!). After our last class of the day we would often be found in a yoga class and then again in satsang chanting timeless mantras for healing. I’m deeply proud of all of our students for completing this transformational course as its not easy. One has to deliberately set aside time and be very devoted to this knowledge. Similarly, in one’s yoga sadhana one must be devoted and create deliberate space. It is this deliberation the world needs. Why? Because the world is waiting for us to take full responsibility.
*Thank you to Anisha Durve for many of these pictures. You can visit her blog here. Additionally I am eternally grateful to Terry for joining me on this course and to the amazing Sivananda Bahamas Ashram which guides so many souls to their divine essence.