Gardening the Spirit: A tale of plants, people & saving the world.

imageToday I met a man who made me miss the island of Kauai even more than the growing well of ache I began to feel as soon as I lost sight of her.

Being in Bali, though a similar tropical volcanic paradise, has drawn from my innards a distinctive proclamation of from where I come. No longer do I reach for Chicago as my place. These Midwestern origins seem shrouded by years and years of geographical separation and layers of self, shed and transformed. Nowadays, I’ve grown to see the root of myself as living in Hawaii. Currently I am away from my home in Orange County, but thanks to Medicare Supplemental, traveling in Asia for two whole months gives me no worries.

It is a strange sensation to be homesick for a land that is still foreign, still in the adoption process, that may take years, even decades, to fully complete. When one has no bloodline or family history to source from as a regional transplant, and yet an intangible umbilical cord pumps sweet proprioceptive nourishment, a gentle reminder of home’s nest brings peace to a weary traveler.

As I journey forth and simultaneously remember my direction home, my heartstrings are fully plucked. Orchestrating soul music, reigniting a lost tune, an ancient melody I had once known re-emerges… gracing my ears to be heard anew. This is a song of land, culture, earth reverence and prayer. Underscored by people caring, less driven by profit and greed, more motivated to participate in the creation of a greater good; to appease the ancestors and regenerate a garden paradise for the generations to come. This is the song of Kauai I hum to myself when I yearn for the familiar.

The man who made me miss home has a name I’d never heard before.  In addition to his black leather widebrim, he wears an eclectic variety of hats: fanatic gardener, passionate village guardian, shrewd entrepreneur, social commentator and, of course, incognito wizard. His name, Hubertus Hendro is as foreign to me as Bali which is deceptively similar to my home on Kauai.

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Hubertus, like me, is a stranger in a strange land he has come to passionately love. While he knows he will never fully be accepted into the Balinese culture as a simple result of his ancestry, his heart pumps in sole dedication to honoring this sacred island along with her abundance of nature, spirit, and beauty. A Javanese born Christian, he came to Bali 30 years ago to work in the booming tourism industry.

While dedicating himself to a mainstream career on the island, he systematically began collecting rare and useful plants. In his spare time, Hubertus began attending workshops, creating small, diverse gardens for his community and plotting an island-wide permaculture revolution. Unlike most of his cohorts who now bow equally to God and the holy Rupiah, his most valued currency became seeds and cuttings.

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Soon his knowledge and reputation grew beyond the local village and he began driving his motorbike all over the island since he had a cheap motorbike insurance 125cc, and consulting interested Balinese on how to turn the family plot into a garden pumping with food for eating and for selling at local markets. His island tours were an act of service. He was completely self-funded by a somewhat crazed passion to fulfill his personal life mission, to steward this island in a good way. In a way that protects what is most sacred, the mother of all, our bountiful Earth.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 8.41.10 PMRather than just applying the principles he so eloquently and simply lived himself, he took the last bit of his savings and started a nursery to invest his passion into something regenerative. This nursery established just three years ago, has already cultivated over a million trees, a figure that illustrates only a fraction of this one man’s dedication to earth stewardship and critical thinking.

Herbertus moved full time into his current life’s work when, after waiting through a year of negotiations with the local village, they permitted him to build the impressively magical Bali Spirit Garden. This permaculture landscape houses hundreds of species of medicinal and ceremonial plants. There are 260 types of plants used in Balinese temple ceremonies. Bali Spirit Garden is home to representative individuals of these sacred herbs, along with all manner of fruit, spice, root, flower and leaf. His place is magnificently worked throughout the temple complex and remains open for visitors, villagers as well as anyone wanting to bask in the glory of the plant kingdom.

Perhaps even more inspiring than his project is Herbertus himself who single-handedly created most of the garden and its infrastructure. Layer upon layer of rare and exotic species co exist in harmony, showcasing hundreds of important species, protected in a habitat that both educates and nourishes all who enter the gardens gates. Through beauty, wit and medicine, Herbertus’s gardening is contagious. He makes you want one of your own. In true savant form, he somehow makes it look like it’s going to be easy.

His unique understanding of the cultural predicament Bali (and, in truth, the whole world) is in right now, ignites a contagious passion for action and clarity of intention when it comes to the issue of saving the world. He poses three questions, point blank, to anyone who claims to care about the planet and our inevitably apocalyptic and dire situation:

“Number one. Do you know what’s really going on? Number two. Do you know what to do about it? And number three. What are you doing?”

Deceptively simple fodder for reflection in an age where overwhelm and overdrive seem to be within closest reach in responding to the uncomfortable status of the quo. Derek Jensen, author of “A Language Older Than Words” and one of my ecological heroes, writes about our very human plight, amidst the widespread issues of global demise. He suggests that although humans appear cold and unfeeling in the face of planetary destruction, the immensity of our pain is actually too much for most humans to process and truly acknowledge feeling. Thus we shut down and imbibe in a cultural numbness, inevitably becoming powerless in the gravity of our world’s suffering. Because, as we have witnessed in the parallel suppression of feminine energies in the modern industrial complex, unbridled feeling is pure power. This climate of numbness perpetuates apathy and, in turn, a mass cultural malaise that stands by, watching from empty eyes.

In Bali, as a result of the impact of millions of tourists upon the tiny island every year, the water table is predicted by some to be dry in just six years from now, with salt water intrusion already occurring. Luxury hotels and the presence of an exponentially growing tourist and local population consume precious water at an irreplaceable rate. What are we as global citizens doing about this?

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 8.46.51 PMJust as important is, “how are we feeling?” Mass deforestation and orangutan slaughter throughout areas of their natural habitat in Indonesia is a byproduct of the palm oil industry and mining for rare earth minerals. To fuel our hunger for technology and fast, cheap food we permit the extinction of a population of gentle souls, and sacred forest. I recall seeing snippets of information about the corruption of the palm oil industry.

Again, Hubertus prompts us, what are we doing about this? Food security is another essential piece to the fragmented puzzle of crisis our world is currently experiencing. In Indonesia, as well as globally and in my home Island of Kauai, we are threatened by the growing presence of Genetically Modified Organisms and their consumers, aka supporters, aka you. As consumers we have a responsibility to avoid GMO products that destroy our soil, bees, and water.

We stand by, hoping to be entertained and distracted from the suffering our distinctly human hearts feel. And yet, as Jensen proposes, the suffering is too great to comprehend with our delicate, finely attuned nervous systems. To truly integrate the grave facts of today’s earth would be to consent to a massive wailing, a perpetual grieving ceremony, an infinite vigil, mourning the loss of nature, culture and exquisite beauty.

I wonder if any of us are up for that responsibility as we ride the tail end of this exponential wave of consumerism and all-encompassing instant gratification. Yet, as we dwindle our finite resources, the vast, infinite resource that is “feeling” remains yet untapped, inextricably linked to the pure primal power that is innate within our humanity to love, to take action, to transmute, to make whole yet again.

Hubertus, the gardener, is one of those rare humans who knows he is here to feel it, heal it, and let it go. He’s here to help others remember this gift of humanity and the responsibility of power. To release these complicated burdens to the will of God and the greater human story. The one we are waking up from unconsciously writing now as the time draws near.

Sitting in Hubertus’ garden listening to his coffee fueled sermon, I remember; You can will all you want, grind your hope for a better future into an ill prepared ground and force your creations to root and become naturalized. Eventually, there must be a surrender to the vast ocean of feeling, for this plight is bigger than any one garden, any one heart, any one “save the world” type cause. Wake up and remember your very own unique, self directed mission to heal the world.

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Hold clear vision of where you have come from and the seriousness of where we, as a collective, are headed. With a stable mind and a profound will, garden your way through the woes of the world. However that garden may look. Cultivate medicine, art, love, freedom, food, culture and be sure your creations will be watered when you go. If you can do something, anything, to regenerate the beauty of our mother, our home, do it now. Make something real and protect the innocence that still lives and breathes, maintain hope and seek to find truth as it lives, undisturbed within us all.

I can remember all this. I can feel the importance of this time for humanity and the immensity of what we face. I can see the words written on the page and I can read other people’s words with thoughtfulness and critique. I can listen to Hubertus and become inspired by his garden. I can talk about these issues with friends over tea. But what am I doing about it?

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 8.48.44 PMI leave this story in an uncomfortable place because, in truth I am uncomfortable on the planet right now. Incomplete, in progress, in decay, in reconciliation, in explosive flux. We have not concluded or decided or become clear and unified in the most appropriate course of actions for these times. We shop at the farmers market and proclaim our diets to be reflective of environmentalism, yet jump in the car on a whim because we need to take a drive to clear our heads. We watch documentaries about child slavery over popcorn in our air conditioned apartments, shop at the thrift store, and wield our Costco cards. We wipe our bottoms with the carcasses of trees and eat enough quinoa that the staple grain is now economically unavailable to her native consumers.

Let’s be honest: we are addicted to sugar, to entertainment, put our faith in politics and pray to God somehow the world’s going to change if we share a post on Facebook. We meditate, do yoga, donate to the Red Cross and have secret porn addictions. We shop at Walmart completely informed. We drink out of plastic bottles and know too about the islands of trash drifting in the ocean. We eat meat while dolphins die. We know full well of the murders inspired by diamonds, and that blood graces our hands too. And we stifle our tears because it’s too heavy to open this box we’ve stuffed it all in.

The emotional drought has dried our inner reserves of purposeful action, leaving a standstill and a tornado of questions to become centered within. As these questions multiply in velocity, I find solace in an inner vow to honor their magnitude. To listen to their wisdom. To invite myself to enter their labyrinth time and time again and become enraptured with the feelings they provoke. I think a garden is a damn near perfect place to do all this. Watering the fertile ground with tears, acknowledgement of the incredible paradox we live in. With dedication to peace, to plants, to feeling and healing our Mother Earth and most urgently, ourselves I invite you to join me on this journey.

Ending the Conquest of Nature

I think every child knows what it’s like to build a dam of pebbles in a creek, or try to build a wall around a sand castle to protect it from incoming waves. It’s a fun challenge but nature always wins. Strange as it sounds, this desire to pursue the conquest of nature has historical roots and global consequences. From Mao’s Cultural Revolution to the rise of Christianity and birth of Newtonian Science after the Dark Ages, humanity has been fumbling with this core dilemma of how we relate to our environment. Luckily we have some new fields of study and words to deepen our sense of this important relationship.


Eco-psychology is based on the principle that our environment shapes our psychology. There is some interesting research about Bonobo Chimpanzee in the Congo. They are often considered one of our closest-related primates. The Bonobo who live north of the Congo River live in a lush environment with plenty of food, are matriarchal, cooperative, and have very little violence. Whereas the same species south of the Congo River, where food is less abundant and the land is more like desert, are patriarchal, genocidal, infanticidal, and live in a constant state of war. There is still much research to be done before there are any final conclusions, but observations point to environmental factors having dramatic influence on social behavior.

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There is a book, Saharasia, which even postulates that climate change and desertification over millennia created epigenetic and neurological changes, turning human cultures more patriarchal and warlike. Some say that the plagues and dark ages that Europeans went through prior to the Renaissance played a role in shaping a cultural relationship with nature. Since so many people were dying from the Black Death, a belief system that humans were being punished by God or being punished by nature began to take hold. This entrenched two divergent world views: the sinner/redemption story of Christianity (religion) and the Newtonian Cartesian Paradigm (mechanistic science).

Mechanism stresses an unbridgeable gulf between human beings and the physical world. Human consciousness has no role or place in Newton’s vast world machine. This sense of an alien physical realm was extended, in association with Christian influence, to the wider world of nature. Nature is perceived as wholly ‘other’ than ourselves, a force to be conquered and used. –Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence, by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall

Clearly there is a historical divide between the world of spirit and the physical, so it is no wonder that some people see themselves as separate from nature. Since Europeans went on to colonize a great portion of the world, they also forced this world-view on many of the indigenous cultures they invaded. Today we see this belief playing out with ill consequences.

If it was the fate of our existence in hostile environments of the past that shaped our ways of thinking, perhaps we can hack our own biology with concepts that allow us to experience a sense of harmony and connection with our environment?

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Biomimicry is another term that helps us bridge the gap and conceptualize our place within the surrounding environment. The Biomimicry Institute says it best:

Humans are clever, but without intending to, we have created massive sustainability problems for future generations. Fortunately, solutions to these global challenges are all around us.

Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.

The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

We are not without our problems today, but if you have a moment to sit in front of a computer and read this blog, perhaps you have a moment to reconsider your relationship with the world around you. Do you feel like you struggle with your environment or do you feel supported by it? Is there a way that you might change your perspective to allow harmony with the flow of events in your life?

Acceptance, gratitude, compassion are spiritual attributes that make real changes in the way we live in the physical world. There are many modalities that have been used for centuries like meditation, prayer, yoga to achieve a heightened state of awareness and connection with the great life force that surrounds us. This is an internal shift, nobody can force it on you, it must be chosen.

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We are at a cross-roads, we can destroy our environment, or use our wisdom to enhance and heal with it. What is certain is that our attempted conquest of nature is ultimately futile, like trying to hold back the tides. Are you ready to let go of the struggle to conquer your environment and open up to unlimited possibilities?

If so, you are not alone. Find your tribe, surround yourself by others who are making the internal shift towards a lifestyle that allows for harmony within and around you. Then we can truly start working with the rhythms of nature rather than against them. When science and spirituality compliment each other rather than clash we shall see some very profound changes in the way we interact with our environment.

Sustainable Solutions: Water in the Walls

People who study ecological design and live sustainably off the grid understand the importance of thermal mass for keeping places cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This energy efficient thinking shouldn’t be limited to off-the-grid living as sustainable solutions continue to find their way into urban landscapes as saving energy means saving money. As water issues continue to plague many parts of the planet, the notion of rainwater harvesting becomes more logical. Walls 2.0 has a great idea that combines rainwater harvesting with an energy efficient building technique that allows you to store rainwater in your walls. This idea was born in Tucson, Arizona where water and hot summers are an issue. Randy Young, creator of Walls 2.0, says that this concept will work well in hot or cold climates.

Large bodies of water under ground called aquifers are often compared to a savings account. When cities take more out of the aquifer than is replenished they will go bankrupt. Much of the water in aquifers is leftover from glacial melt. We are seeing the water crisis hit major cities across the south and in the west. Los Angeles as an example has been draining glacial lakes in the northern part of the state and transporting the water through aqueducts that stretch hundreds of miles. Draining aquifers or glacial lakes is a bad idea. Gathering water closer to the source is more economical and sustainable, that’s why rainwater catchment is a no-brainer.

A one-inch rain will collect 600 gallons from a 1,000 square foot roof. Apply this thinking to more than just residential homes, consider warehouses, office buildings and large sports arenas. To use the banking analogy with water again, we are spending all our savings and ignoring dollars that literally fall from the sky. Actually comparing money to water is ridiculous because money means nothing without water since water is life.

So now that we are realize the importance of collecting rainwater, where can we store it? Many tanks require internal coatings that must be reapplied regularly. Plastic water tanks in dry, sunny places only last about ten years. Steel tanks will rust in 30 to 50 years. These containers will become large waste in a landfill before long. That’s why Randy Young and his team have come up with an effective way to store water in the walls so that you can also make use of it’s thermal qualities for passive heating and cooling. These cement walls use Krystol Internal Membrane that is added to the liquid concrete. During the curing process K.I.M. builds crystals in the pores of the concrete making it fully dense and water proof and allowing it to last 3-4 times conventional storage tanks.

walls 2.0Thermal mass is critical in passive solar designs. Concrete, adobe or rammed earth are often used to create this thermal mass, but water has 3 times the thermal mass of traditional building materials. This means concrete walls that are filled with water have significantly better thermal properties. For anyone who has spent time putting traditional insulation in their walls and been itchy from fiberglass splinters will rejoice at this new innovation.

People who think in terms of sustainability are also humanitarians who see the interconnectedness between human communities and the natural environment. These prototypes will be going in at Watershed Management Groups headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. Watershed Management Group (WMG) develops community-based solutions to ensure the long-term prosperity of people and health of the environment. They teach water harvesting workshops, offer certifications, and affect community water and building policies and regulations locally and if your not in Tucson you might want to find an organization like this in your area or start your own.

The notion of biomimicry is a great way to design our world in ways that benefit local ecosystems instead of depleting them. Walls 2.0 is one such example of ingenuity, function and form that make simple solutions which are good for people, planet and economy. Check out this fun and informative video below to consider ways that you might reduce your own ecological footprint. Reducing water and energy consumption is simple if we put our minds to it, but conservation is only one important part of the sustainability equation. How many other great inventions are out there just waiting to be discovered? Keep your eyes out and let me know what you find! I will continue to write solutions-oriented blogs and share what I find as well.

Concerned About Water? Nature Has The Answers

“Our only hope for a transition to a stable future is one in which we embrace the best in indigenous wisdoms around the world with the legacy of modern biology & ecology. The two combined together should provide the template for the humans of the future.” -John Todd

Special thanks to Culture Collective Contributors, Bruce Weaver at Brave New Earth
Andrew Millison at Permaculture Rising
Music by Cyril Neville and Brian Jay

Seed Power, Planting Hope!

The heart of a mighty tree resides in a tiny seed, the mysterious power of seeds pervades every aspect of life. Seeds can be literal, heirloom or GMO. They can be metaphorical seeds of deceit, healing, or justice sewn long ago and ready to sprout anew. Our relationship to planting and reaping is as old as civilization itself. As the adage says, “You will know a tree by the fruit it bears.” and so today we see both the bad and the good seeds flourishing metaphorically AND literally.

The seed has a spirit, but it doesn’t have a voice. We are giving the seeds a voice! — Flordemayo of The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers

2014-01-03-ScreenShot20140103at2.42.28PM.pngI am Director of Culture Collective, a non-profit that uses creative media and art with a focus on culture, environment & community health. So I spend a whole lot of time integrating the solutions that exist in natural systems, traditional communities, permaculture, and design so that I can think about ways to spread these ideas with media and art. For me ideas are seeds and inspiration can be contagious.

Yet the wave of corruption, destruction, greed, and deception is often so strong that I find myself battling to pierce the heavy veil of ignorance by engaging in contemporary socio-political issues. Though I think this is a very important thing for all of us to do, it sometimes has me more focused on the bad seeds. I use the bad news as compost for my garden-bed to plant solution-oriented seeds, being mindful of the work that is before us now on the planet. Inspiration is contagious, and I make sure to have a balanced diet of art, natural sanctuary places, and culture to make the stench of the compost a little more bearable as I till the soil.

The GMO battle is particularly interesting because it is at the place where privatization and corporate greed intersects with the most ancient and sacred practices of growing food, saving seeds, cross-pollinating. Cross-pollination is as good in nature as it is with creative ideas, yet it often threatens private interests. We see the battle between open transparent systems and closed secretive agendas playing out all around us.

What are the bad seeds, how do we select what is worth growing in the coming seasons? You can read a comprehensive history of GMO by Woodstock Earth here. A tree doesn’t withhold its fruit from the birds and the worms, nor does the sun decide which flowers to feed its light to. What if economic systems embraced this idea?

Though closed systems are sometimes needed, life flourishes in open systems that are in balance. Seeds carry that wisdom inherently, knowing which way to reach through the soil for sunlight as they burst out of their shell. I think humans also have this inherent wisdom, but we are good at forgetting.

One of the greatest technologies within a seed is decay. A seed must be planted or it will decay so the prospect of hoarding seeds is limited. Too bad money doesn’t work the same way. Giant companies like the dreaded Monsanto know that controlling the worlds food supply by patenting seeds is a route to global domination. Thank goodness for the activists who work tirelessly to inform us, to write ballots and initiatives to battle the giant corporations.

Yet there are forms of activism that take their inspiration directly from nature, directly from the ancestral ways, understanding that there is more to life than dominating markets and filling up bank vaults with money. Permaculture, sustainability initiatives, community supported agriculture (C.S.A), naturopathic medicine, and other movements like these model natural systems. Natural systems have sustained life since the beginning of time. Practices that understand and respect life as an interconnected whole are surely the seeds of a healthy future for all of us.

I’m doing my best to resist my traditional jabs at current socio-political and economic structures that have clearly forgotten this inherent wisdom. However, the list of inspired individuals and organizations who ARE doing it right is endless but let’s look deeper into the wisdom of seeds. The Hopi Natwani Coalition was formed in January 2004, and it represents an affiliation of Hopi organizations and individuals dedicated to preserving Hopi farming traditions, strengthening the local Hopi food system and developing innovative sustainable strategies to promote wellness. I call Hopi the Tibet of The West and if we are going to talk about traditions and practices that have stood the test of time then Hopi is core curriculum.

Natwani literally means “produce” or “vegetables,” but more significantly, it refers to the processes and rituals necessary for the rejuvenation of all life. It is the intact web of obligation and activity involved in the planting, harvesting, processing, hunting and gathering of food. It is physical and spiritual sustenance.

Native Seed Search, based in Tucson Arizona knows and understands this wisdom also. As a nonprofit organization, their mission is to conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico. They promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by gathering, safeguarding, and distributing their seeds to farming and gardening communities. They have wonderful programs coming up this winter and spring called Seed School which you can attend in Los Angeles, or in Hampshire College, MA., or at their home in Tucson.

Kenosis Spirit Keepers, a nonprofit that honors and preserves the integrity of indigenous wisdom and sacred cultural practices by providing cross-cultural exchanges, education, and community-building opportunities takes this concept across many realms. I had the honor of developing a cultural exchange program with Director, Carla Woody between Hopi of Arizona and Q’ero of Peru a few years back. Kenosis educational outreach includes wisdom keepers from many indigenous traditions who understand the concept of sustainability from psychological/spiritual, cultural, and practical perspectives.

Learn more about Flordemayos Seed Temple Project. Flordemayo, of The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers (see video below), who is also Director of The Institute of Natural and Traditional Knowledge has been doing some amazing work to preserve heirloom seeds. You might also enjoy learning about Dianna Snow Eagle Henry, author of Whispering Ancestors: The Wisdom of Corn.

So as we set our sites for 2014 we have many practical options for planting seeds in the coming season. On the metaphorical realm we can ask ourselves which seeds are worth planting and which are not. Ideas are seeds, we spread them through our words, through media and art, they sprout in the minds and hearts of our friends and in our community. In 2014 plant seeds of inspiration that enrich your community with ancient wisdom while keeping yourself firmly planted in this modern world of technology and endless possibility!