If you read this, I don’t want you to feel judged or to judge yourself; to feel like you’re not good enough or not doing enough; I want you to help me hold this question and help me understand what it means to be human in this time.

We live in the woods and try to each year reduce the number of corporations and industrial systems we rely on.

Part of my reason for doing something this comprehensive is that there were all these truths that kept coming into my awareness that I couldn’t ignore. There were consequences of my American lifestyle both far reaching and immediate that, once I knew about them, I could no longer live with.

The Questions Your Soul Asks at Midnight

There are simple questions you can answer for yourself and there are the questions your soul never stops asking. Soul questions may have been with you since birth or may have just run into you at a crossroads one day years ago and asked to tag along for a mile. That mile turns into a lifetime. You know those questions will be at your death bed, eyes still in askance of you.

One of the questions of my soul can be expressed like this:

“What does it do to us to push the suffering of others out of our awareness? Do the people around me know about what I know about the suffering our lifestyles cause and are making choices based on that, or are they unaware?” .. and really under all this, there is maybe this one simple question:  “Am I alone?”


To remain a whole person when I become aware of the suffering my choices cause, I have to address it. I might address my choice by saying, “I will change this,” or “I don’t know what to do about this,” or by saying, “I am not ready to act on this yet,” or even by admitting, “I am not the kind of person who can change this and I am sorry,” but I can’t say nothing. I have to answer the living humans and wilds that are suffering as a result of my actions with something more than silence.

Years ago, I read things like this:

Five o’clock in the morning and the young woman’s eyelids are drooping. All night she has been removing spots of dust from Amazon smartspeakers with a toothbrush. Time seems to crawl. Now she is overwhelmed with exhaustion.

She works on, more and more slowly, until she can do no more. She looks around the workshop. Other workers have rested their heads on the bench. She slumps forward and falls asleep.


Dozens of workers are arriving, casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Most are young and there is a good mixture of women and men. Ahead of them lies a 60-hour week, eight regular hours for five days, plus two more of overtime each day and another 10 on Saturday. They will be expected to hit tough targets and must ask permission to use the toilets. The overtime – up to 80 hours a month – is far in excess of the 36 hours stipulated in Chinese labour laws, but companies can and do seek exemptions and workers want the overtime, to boost their basic pay.


“I was already so tired and my movements grew slower,” she writes later. “I brushed with less and less force. There were 20 or 30 speakers building up in front of me that I had yet to brush clean.

“The speakers that remained to be cleaned kept building up in front of me. The line technician came over and told me to brush faster and that my movements were too slow … but I no longer had any strength.”

Another day she chats to an older woman sitting opposite her.

“The woman across from me said that she had been brushing for so long that her hand was growing numb, her neck was sore, her back was sore, her eyes couldn’t see clearly, and her vision was getting worse …”

Another worker tells her she, too, is suffering: “While working at the same work position and doing the same motions over and over again each day, she felt exhausted and her back was sore and her neck, back and arms could barely take it any more.”

Alexa’s diary makes no happier reading the following day. A woman of about 45 tells her how she has been scolded because she is not fast enough: “It might be because she was getting older so her speed was slower and her reactions were slower. When the line leader was telling her off, she started crying. After I returned to the dorm, an older woman … said that last time the line leader told her off, she also cried.”

She describes long nights of repetitive and relentless work, with fellow workers close to falling asleep on their feet. During a break about midnight she sees that “many people were resting on the assembly line and sleeping, while others had pushed together some chairs and were sleeping on those. Some had even stacked together some foam boards and slept on top of them.”

That’s all from Amazon’s production line in China which makes the Echo and Kindle.

From America  & the UK:

Amazon equals Walmart in the use of monitoring technologies to track the minute-by-minute movements and performance of employees and in settings that go beyond the assembly line to include their movement between loading and unloading docks, between packing and unpacking stations, and to and from the miles of shelving at what Amazon calls its “fulfillment centers”.


at Amazon’s center at Rugeley, England, Amazon tags its employees with personal sat-nav (satellite navigation) computers that tell them the route they must travel to shelve consignments of goods, but also set target times for their warehouse journeys and then measure whether targets are met.

All this information is available to management in real time, and if an employee is behind schedule she will receive a text message pointing this out and telling her to reach her targets or suffer the consequences. At Amazon’s depot in Allentown, Pennsylvania (of which more later), Kate Salasky worked shifts of up to eleven hours a day, mostly spent walking the length and breadth of the warehouse. In March 2011 she received a warning message from her manager, saying that she had been found unproductive during several minutes of her shift, and she was eventually fired. This employee tagging is now in operation at Amazon centers worldwide.

Whereas some Amazon employees are in constant motion across the floors of its enormous centers—the biggest, in Arizona, is the size of twenty-eight football fields—others work on assembly lines packing goods for shipping. An anonymous German student who worked as a temporary packer at Amazon’s depot in Augsburg, southern Germany, has given a revealing account of work on the line at Amazon. There were six packing lines at Amazon’s Augsburg center, each with two conveyor belts feeding tables where the packers stood and did the packing.

Machines measured whether the packers were meeting their targets for output per hour and whether the finished packages met their targets for weight and so had been packed “the one best way.But alongside these digital controls there was a team of Taylor’s “functional foremen,” overseers in the full nineteenth-century sense of the term, watching the employees every second to ensure that there was no “time theft,” in the language of Walmart. On the packing lines there were six such foremen, one known in Amazonspeak as a “coworker” and above him five “leads,” whose collective task was to make sure that the line kept moving. Workers would be reprimanded for speaking to one another or for pausing to catch their breath (Verschnaufpause) after an especially tough packing job.

The functional foreman would record how often the packers went to the bathroom and, if they had not gone to the bathroom nearest the line, why not. The student packer also noticed how, in the manner of Jeremy Bentham’s nineteenth-century panopticon, the architecture of the depot was geared to make surveillance easier, with a bridge positioned at the end of the workstation where an overseer could stand and look down on his wards. However, the task of the depot managers and supervisors was not simply to fight time theft and keep the line moving but also to find ways of making it move still faster. Sometimes this was done using the classic methods of Scientific Management, but at other times higher targets for output were simply proclaimed by management, in the manner of the Soviet workplace during the Stalin era.

This is just one part of consumerism’s life-destroying shadow. What Pickle and I are doing can seem like just two weirdos doing their crazy thing in the woods (and sometimes it’s just that), but under it is a response to this shadow.

If my lifestyle means I couldn’t face those factory workers, means I have to push them out of my vision and bury my awareness in order to function, then I am fragmented. I am building a life based on avoiding painful truths.

I think avoiding this stuff makes for a half-alive person. I think industrial growth society would have us all continue as half-alive. It makes us buy more.

My Naive Questions

What would it feel like for us if in the packaging of the new gadget we bought or Amazon streaming service we used, we saw the exhausted mother in the Foxconn plant falling asleep at 5am while brushing the dust out of our Amazon Smartspeaker only to be angrily woken up by a scared manager who might fire her on the spot?

What would it be like if every time we bought something on Amazon, we could feel the tension in our overworked bodies of knowing we have our every movement tracked by machines and managers, and to feel in the soles of our tortured factory floor feet that we’re disposable, we have nowhere else to go, and that the robots are on the way to replace us?

What if for our children and our neighbors’ children, factories and warehouses like these become the only job left they can get?

Would we still overnight ship that one last thing from Amazon? or would we finally begin the fearless asking of what we personally could do to create a world where we don’t need any of this?

I know I’m not alone, but these questions hang unspoken for me in so many moments leaving me feeling afraid, alone, separate, helpless. It makes a body want to go move to the woods and learn to eat weeds.

Spirals of Abundance

Dazzled by the rattling music of seed packets, you buy a bunch of seeds to start a garden. Maybe for your first garden you get twelve different kinds of plants.

For two of those plants, it turns out to be too late in the season. You can’t plant them now in this region. Oops. Four of those plants you place carefully in the rich well-drained soil keeping them evenly moist and yet, they never show a sprout; they stay sleeping in earth, faces unrevealed. Maybe three of them rise up and sprout but don’t ever really seem to “go” – they stay small, waiting for some encouragement you can’t figure out how to provide; or, they grow and grow tall, your hopes riding them to the sky, only to abruptly fall over leaving some twilight mammal to delight in their lilting remains.

Then there are the two that see just how out of your depth you are and decide to take care of you. Maybe it’s peas and an unkillable purple kale or a mutant okra reaching to pierce the sky and that one squash vine that laughs at your first attempts at a “trellis” and begins conquering your rain gutters instead, fruiting baskets of ancient fruits (that you haven’t yet learned to cure, cook, or enjoy) incidental to its takeover of your roof.

Saddened and maybe even peering over the cliff of despair at the unexplained failure of all your lost crops, the two kind ones that worked become your new mother and father and cradle you. They hold your shaky hand when you offer one of your weird small eggplants to a neighbor who of course has had a garden before where they grew dozens of varieties of eggplants all just like the pictures in the brochures and yet still they graciously accept your humble offering from the earth. It’s enough to keep you going and to secretly have conscripted you for life in an apprenticeship to Emerald Growth herself as she teaches you season by season to make a home for each of her seeds.

This year was the first “big” garden I ever grew. Having apprenticed myself to plants for a few years now, I still felt the anxiety of the seeds that never broke soil, of the kales that disappeared, of the beets that could barely feed a dieting grasshopper. What would happen?

This year, a great mercy happened. The garden grew.

In the compacted dry sandy soil that was formerly pine forest and is now of a tiny shady 1/8 acre gap in the woodland, the plants that had been carrying me to this moment decided to throw me a surprise party by all at once gloriously showing up.

For a beginner, our weather had been unspeakably merciful. Things took a little longer to germinate than I expected and grew slow at first with a kind of patience I struggled to have. Come April, the plants leapt up; into May, they jungled. Now in this, my first “big” garden, I have an embarrassment of friends around me.

I struggle to have the attention span to write a how-to, but I’ll include the brief recipe for this beginner’s permaculture garden because it has a few advantages:

  • It has required very little weeding which makes it dramatically different from my forest Milpa garden, a dancing weird weed haven
  • It started with very low fertility and super acidic soil
  • It has required no watering except to get the seeds to sprout
  • I did almost no digging and certainly no tilling
  • It is space-efficient
  • It has had slower bolting of cool weather plants than is usual in North Carolina
  • All the plants seem very happy

Easy Sheet Mulch Garden in the Woods

  1. Choose an area and plan as many 3′ wide garden beds as you can fit. Consider spirals, keyhole shapes, curvy beds. There are secret advantages to these shapes.
  2. Let the tall weeds that want to grow up grow up. Let them get tall. In fall, cut them at the low part of the stem with a sickle or scythe. Don’t dig. Lay them down in the shape of your garden beds.
  3. Optional – broadfork where you want the beds to be or use a digging fork (slower)
  4. Cover the cut greens with cardboard and / or lots of paper and / or old cotton sheets.
  5. Get whatever bulk organic matter you can. I used free leaves from the city leaf pile and free spent mushroom straw from an oyster mushroom farmer – so, leaves and straw – but you could use woodchips, forest leaves, grass, newspaper, straw, etc. etc. Pile it up many inches high over the cardboard etc.
  6. Mix in wood ash and charcoal in decent proportions. I sprinkled on quite a bit of wood ash for the minerals more than anything.
  7. Optional – let your duckies (if you should be so lucky to have them) hang out on it. They’ll sleep on your fluffy bed of stuff and poop all day long. If you don’t have duckies, use your pee. If you don’t have the privacy to pee on the garden, consider a pee bucket you spill out onto the garden once a day. It won’t get stinky if you empty it once a day or if you add a bunch of charcoal.
  8. Let it sit until early Spring. Fence the duckies out then.
  9. If the bed hasn’t broken down into soil (ours didn’t), make a “trench” in the center of all that partially decomposed organic matter about half the width of the bed. Dig some native soil from the paths next to the beds and mix it with an equal proportion of compost (this was our only expense – one $30 truckload of compost). Add a little wood ash to counteract pH of native acidic soil (if it’s acidic).
  10. Plant into this! and once plants germinate, spread the mulch in the organic matter on each side over them.
  11. By Fall, this whole bed will hopefully be broken down enough to plant into all 3′ width of it; but in the meantime, you get a very well mulched nutrient rich aisle that seems to be able to support dense growing of plants.

This was enough to make a home for seeds and transplants that continue to nourish us each day.

Waiting for the bud break with every breath

Right now, almost a hundred new trees stand in our soil, the most vital parts of their bodies entirely out of sight, dreaming.

I fret over them wondering if any will live at all. Bare root, as inexpensive trees as we can get. Before this I’d only planted a handful. The number of things I don’t know are infinite, and the few kinds of care I do know how to give make me feel happy in a way that is new. This is care I can give.

I haven’t tested the soil, but I know it’s acidic and so a sprinkling (is it too much, too little?) of wood ash around most of my trees can help. Wood ash raises the pH and fills the soil with trace minerals. The Permaculture maxim “the problem is the solution” fits here, because the problem (acidity) is an opportunity for me to safely use greater quantities of the pH raising wood ash without causing the soil to get too alkaline; then the trees also get the benefits of an impressive range of nutrients that they’d otherwise struggle to find with new roots.

Of course I also added lots of biochar.

Meanwhile, the rain and clouds kept a rhythm that was just right. It stayed cool long enough that I think most of what I’m planting would stay dormant. We’re still water scarce, so watering in all those trees and shrubs wasn’t an option; yet the rain came as needed, soothing my worry. When the dance with the weather goes this well in the 21st century, it is a miracle too easy to miss.

For the simple joy of saying and writing the names of plants as if I were writing out my crush in a school notebook, I’ll list what I’ve planted this year:

  • Red Chokecherry – for us and for wildlife, grown in the understory
  • Spicebush – for medicine and wildlife and beauty
  • Black Willow – for infinite uses, but especially to stabilize a ridge from eroding
  • Hazelnut – most for the squirrels – but some for us, too
  • Tag Alder – for nitrogen fixation, trellising, tree hay
  • Black Locust – same, but a different family
  • Paw Paw – for food in the understory
  • Shangri-La Mulberry – for the yummyness
  • Shinko Pear – pears
  • Ayers Pear – pears
  • Ichi Ki Kei Jiro Persimmon – yum
  • Hachiya Persimmon – yum
  • Maekawa Persimmon – yum
  • Red Jostaberry – for diversity and food
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry – for blueberries
  • Forsythia – for Pickle’s heart & for powerful medicine
  • Chinese Chestnut – long term food crop
  • Blackberries – yum
  • Goumi – Food and nitrogen fixation in shrub form
  • Cornelian Cherry – edible dogwood for food diversity

Some experiments we’re trying with these plant allies:

  • Can we grow food in the understory here? I always hear mixed things. Many plants are an experiment in that. Especially curious about hazelnuts in a pine understory.
  • I planted tag alders (n-fixers, small tree) directly in the garden bed. How will they cooperate with the plants? Can I use them as living n-fixing squash trellises? Is it true that the part shade of a small tree can increase garden productivity in the Southeast?
  • We’re hoping for tree hay (i.e. – perennial fodder for animals that sequesters carbon) from the tag alders and black locusts. I know folks in the mountains know how to do this.
  • Can we grow an orchard between black locusts in the Milpa, and can those same locusts provide us building material via coppice?
  • I planted a pattern of tag alders above blackberries on an eroding slope in a loose terracing. The hope is that the tag alders’ shallow root systems and fast growth will stabilize the eroding ridge while giving nitrogen to the blackberries.
  • Can we start some fruit trees in the relative gentleness of a partially shaded area with plans to open it up as they mature, thus helping them grow in more moderated conditions until they’d reach a fruit-bearing age?
  • What magic will happen when we add so much diversity to the forest that wasn’t there? Do these plants want to be here? How will the forest community welcome them?
  • Is the way of planting trees I more or less made up going to actually work at all?

Tune in…

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of


Vast as a Flower, Narrow as the Stars

… and so I find myself again, reading headlines that feel like re-reading; immediate like conflagrations an inch from my eyes, and at once also distant, aged, already rotting like a process whose residues I was birthed into and whose echoes I already know I’ll die amidst.

The news cycle is a cyclicality speeding up. A tightening spiral. Gasp at each weekly, daily, hourly horror and you’ll never again get to exhale.

Underneath the thrashing of dying industries and failing orders there are real faces, bones, acres, funerals, waste; but touching into the media, all there is to experience is that strange empty tentacled addictive pulsar of accumulating ungrieved loss. Even bones and funerals are made somehow unreal. The higher the resolution of the screen, the less reality there is. We consume new media like someone eating themselves into starvation.

I have most of my life been a seeker of perfect information; that is, I look to continually refine my decisions based upon the most comprehensive picture available. When I do Permaculture design, the temptation is to obsessively gather every kind of data available and synthesize it somewhere in my guts until a whole emerges; and then, to continually reassess this as new information inevitably arises. A Permaculture design feels consequential to me, and so I want it to be the best it can be. It tears at me when I make somewhat permanent decisions and can’t undo them as new information inevitably enters. I work with the discomfort of this experience as part of my healing and growth. I practice letting go.

I think when I read the news, I imagine I am getting new information that can shape my decisions. I’ve made what still feel like radical lifestyle choices, and it is hard for my personality type to not want to perpetually revisit them based on new information. For at least three years now, I don’t think consuming media has ever contributed anything useful to influence me. I have so much more to learn about my life path, but I know none of those learnings will come from the noise of mass media. Novel information isn’t media’s job. What seems like new information in the media is really just cycle, repetition; one tragedy published in the document template of the last;  a new research study showing that such and such is … or another hands-off nod to collapse, as if it were happening in a popular serial TV show and not to the families of the newscasters, producers, advertisers, social media personalities.

Maybe I am just part of the collective human immune system exploring this drug of horrible news and rapidly refreshing headlines, trying like so many of us to develop the antibodies so our children will know better. Maybe I am just susceptible because it media is unapologetically addictive by design. It has become so addictive by stepping between us and the reality we wander these halls crying for.

Reality is just beyond this strange invisible anxiety engine. Reality is our lost beloved. We can see them just through the headline. Even the great hollowing of loss, unmediated, would be real in a way that would be preferable to this half-life of headlines forever setting the terms for our conjugal visits with reality.

Today, I miss you reality. I miss truth. I remember that reality includes loss, violence, loneliness, confusion, discomfort. I remember that truth includes my own inevitable death and the impermanence of everything I love; and here, across the gulf of the great distraction, the yawning scream of perpetual media, I miss reality, I miss truth. I remember reality, in every one of their seasons and thorns, is my beloved. How can I come home to them again?

I love you, reality. I love you, whole and full world, wiggling emergent universe, richness of moment, preciousness of breath, dignity of decay, potent inevitability of teeming life. How can I be with you?

Here in my ignorance and longing is what I suggest for myself and for others who are trying to come back home:

Shed any last hope that anything important will ever come from the news. Let it go, once and for all. You already have accumulated reasons enough to live your fragile life to the absolute fullest in service of all life. You already have drunkenly tattooed on every square centimeter of flesh at some point the oath to give yourself to love. You already have converted, you already have been initiated, you already have been enlightened, you already are blazingly awake. It’s enough to just stop and look around.

The news isn’t your teacher; you are drowning in a wealth of teachers. Every plant, animal, breeze, raindrop, sun ray, memory, breath, human face carries an infinite library for your heart to apprentice to. The same teachers that have always taught compassion and wisdom through all time are around you in all directions. They are so excited to begin teaching you again. They won’t make you feel bad for even a moment about playing hooky for days or months or years.

… and so, I guess yet again I am committing to dropping the news addiction I’ve dropped before and to starting again the long beautiful practice of hearing the wild and my own heart, knowing that it is the best chance I have of helping anyone in this world. When you talk about the latest tragedy that we can’t do anything about except continue trying our absolute best to serve love and learn how to live a life that cares for the earth and each other, I might seem a little like an ignorant hermit, unaware of what happened twenty seconds ago as I keep trying to learn the long art of taking care of my community, living without oil and corporations, and planting the seeds for Fall, singing a song to myself that reveals to all: I am lost in my own little world as vast as a flower, and narrow as the stars.

The Secret Joy

there’s a hundred billion stars

to show you where you are

the open hand of space

is holding you in place

-from a song by my friend Pete

Here after this record setting Winter waking up to the whole world outside my Yome glistening; sunlight passing through the prismatic ice crystals into a thousand hues of silence.

Here alone as my beloved is up on a mountain practicing her own sacred silence; alone and fully, utterly, divinely companioned by the Friend the Sufis dance of.

The secret of the life I have been sweating and cowering and weeping to live is that during my struggling someone has secreted into the back pocket of all the emotional baggage I’ve been lugging along a life that is the best imaginable one I could live out on this blessed aqueous earth.

Armored in wool and stripped of stories, I find that this journey into nothing offers the almost inutterably gracious gift of a life I choose wholeheartedly to live until its end.

Time will eat me; may I be delicious for him. I will lose everyone I love and it began happening the moment I was born. Another teacher of my heart, a Permaculture elder whose hand is holding mine whenever I am gentle to a sister weed, who delights with me whenever I garden naked in the sun, who shakes with me whenever I go to the woods to scream, and who harmonizes with me whenever I sing before a meal has become very suddenly sick and in danger of dying. She faces the uncertainty with an open-heartedness that seems no more and no less surprising than the butterflies that came to dance over her mandala garden. She is transforming. Beauty radiates outward.

A month or two ago something physical about our lives was very hard. Maybe it was the cold or lack of water. I told Pickle in great fear ready to give up that under all my pain I wasn’t so upset for my great discomfort, but for the terrifying possibility that this lifestyle turns out to be so excruciating to begin without a lot of money and without a village that when others find out, they won’t want to do it. Beyond the real shame I’d feel for ‘failing,’ beyond the terrible discomfort in my body, there was the worst loss of all: the planet is dying and our demonstration of a possibility will be scratched off the list for anyone who sees what our life is like. We can dress it up and paint signs on it but they’ll know from that sound in my voice: run away from this! take comfort where you can! this life is a mess!

As always, it seems like my healing is the increasingly radical art of staying right where I am.

“Permaculture.” – the art of rooting in place in a way that makes staying possible.

The physical circumstances that brought up my intense despair haven’t changed much yet, but my spirit has. Today I know: this way of life may not be for everyone – but for those it is for: if we can stick with it, under all the suffering a boundless joy awaits.**

I love these 400 watts of power, this tiny little woodstove, this asking sweet neighbors for sweet water, this ability to only afford a dozen young trees for your big Permaculture design, this asking friends for greenhouse space, this absolute necessity to hone with our diamond tears the tools of peacemaking and self-compassion, and this golden miracle piercing the rarest crack in the sidewalk of stories that you are even now trudging towards with your head low like a black bear in a business suit when suddenly choice streams through radiant and sultry saying: “you know, honey – you could choose to leave again but if you want to stay, I’ll be here.”

My life is for learning to stay so I can learn to go. Learn permanence to learn impermenance. Learn wholeness to learn emptiness. When it’s time to die, because I knew what it was to stay, I will know how to go.

** and suffering and thrashing and screaming and hopeless despair…! ***

*** and love as vast as space.

Thank you to all my beloved friends and teachers.

Horizon, Ground, Horizon, Ground

When I am awake, I see us all as one being, one pluriform dream of the earth who is herself one traveling warm teardrop of the universe watering the black soil of void so it can sprout flowering imagination to tickle the face of eternity into the stellar laughter through which tomorrow leaks.

Because I see us this way I know these great currents of life passing through me are passing through everyone else too. We are grains of sand, time is wind, world is dunes. We are waves, time is moon, world is ocean.

It’s this seeing that makes me know my experience, my suffering, my healing are never separate from yours. What lives inside me is at once both wildly its own and indistinguishable from your wild own within.

Since I see this, I offer some of what is going on inside me as I try to keep waking up into what can seem like a nightmare and I offer some of what helps me to stay. I do this in hopes it can serve all of you as my great family and hopes you will share what helps you stay awake, too – because I know in this time of exponentially multiplying distractions, we need to once and all finally decide to commit to staying as awake as we can. To do this, we need help.

Throughout my life I’ve developed the capacity to see in systems – and, I’ve learned that seeing in systems, by itself, can be a deeply painful path.

When offered the most precious gift of food: I often see in the food the fields, the tractors, the workers, the beings the land held before the land made my food, the future beings who will try to ask food from the land, the changing weather the growing of the land contributes to, the priest farmer plant breeders long forgotten by time, the thoughts in the heads of the farmers, the transportation infrastructure, the grocery store, the connection to wall street, the trillions of electronically traded dollars, empire, the military industrial complex, refugees, the rapidly collapsing governmental systems  – and so on. This is all in my food.

Sometimes systems thinking is the kind of thing that can make one feel pretty sick.

Put differently, and because a feeling isn’t just ours, it can make one aware of a very deep sickness below the surface.

This awareness for me ever since I started to consciously develop it in middle school (not coincidentally, the time of most feeling like I and everything around me was completely wrong) mostly just kept growing in the background. The number of things I could innocently enjoy continued to drop each season. I gave up a lot. In things I didn’t give up, I still always saw the sickness.

When I saw a city, I saw wealth inequality, gentrification, concrete, pollution, alienation, economic dependence on employment from extractive corporations, addiction to technology. When I saw the country, I saw farming practices that are destroying the soil, the collapse of small farms into big farming businesses, gmo crops, wells going dry, habitat being lost, animals being lost. When I saw the ocean, I saw the rapid extinction of all coral reefs.

When I saw people, I saw everything we knew about deep down but didn’t know how to talk about and so we mostly weren’t talking about it. Everywhere I looked, I saw loss.

More and more of are waking up to this kind of deep awareness of the loss underneath all modern things. When it happens, we suddenly come, completely unprepared by our educations, to a decision point that no one tells us we have come to. It is a taboo to speak of it, yet it is as real as a fork in the road. It is this:

Do we go back to sleep, a little or a lot, because of how bad this awareness hurts? or do we deepen further into the long learning of the ways required to stay awake?

Going back to sleep is subtly orchestrated and endlessly celebrated. Pharmaceuticals, blockbusters, social media, tv, gadgets, empty food, alcohol, drugs, news, netflix binging, video games, empty sex, politics, online shopping – and the addictions of bitterness, forced positive thinking, self-judgement, resentment, regret, envy.

We can fill a life this way so easily and seamlessly. We can keep hitting snooze on our soul’s alarm – and if we don’t get help, I think there’s little other choice. Staying awake is a communal activity.

Sometimes community is people. Sometimes it is the earth, the animals, the plants, the wind, the rivers, the stars, and the songs. Either way, it is completely and utterly necessary to stay with the awareness of the world right now.

Here is where I am right now: I am 35, sitting in a cafe writing after a night of wondering if the ice crystal canopies of the trees above our yome were going to fall through the thin stretched roof, a week into a slow great re-membering of love, a re-opening of my heart.

All at once, the background awareness of how much my own speech was becoming bitter, harsh, cynical, judgemental, hopeless, came to the fore. It came in a crisis where we cut a sweetgum tree that like an omen went the opposite way I thought it would and then soon after I fell into an argument that almost crushed my marriage. When that moment passed, a dawn began to rise within my soul.

For months I’d been feeling the pain of the world so acutely learning each day of something so painful it would be reason enough to reorient my entire life to love – but instead of that turn into love, I just felt more and more bitterness and fear and anger. I definitely did not grieve. I ached in a tightness in my chest that I could not soften. It felt for months like a stabbing pain. I was becoming armored and stuck and brittle.

I remembered. I have been slowly coming to remember over the last week as I quit coffee and following a ceremony a new friend offered me, a burst of abundant love and understanding from my partner, and some great help on our land from friends. I have been remembering that this work I am doing to be aware of every loss and to in that truth heal myself and the earth requires help and gentleness.

I haven’t for months asked for the help of all the teachers around me. The singing coyotes and the stars and the soil my ancestors used to kiss. I haven’t been praying or meditating. I haven’t cried. I lost touch with the other side of the truth of systems seeing, of loving interbeing. I lost touch with that most cherished life-giving sun at the center of every moment.

To stay awake, we need help. This need is a gift.

In Christianity, there is a philosophical idea of felix culpa – the happy fault, the blessed fall. The fall is blessed because it gives us the opportunity for redemption – and redemption isn’t just a removal of the fault. It is greater to have fallen and to be redeemed then to never have fallen because of what the redemption brings. It is greater to have been sick and to know true healing because of what the true healing brings.

In my case, true healing requires I open my heart completely and connect to the earth, plant, fungi, animal, stellar, ancestral and human communities for help. It requires spiritual practices that awaken me to the ever-giving radiance within every moment. Because of this requirement, I come to know the impossibly rich inheritance of the common life I share with all beings and the luminous beauty overflowing within every atom of even the most terrible circumstances. A life in this awareness is the best life one could ever come to live. It is a life where an infinite loving family walks with us through any and every darkness.

Seeing in systems in the 21st century – and thereby opening to the pain of the world – is the beginning of a journey. It is a journey towards a life held in a love that does not end. It is not a line. It is a cycle. Suffering, awakening, suffering, awakening. Horizon, ground, horizon, ground. It happens again, and again, and again, each time a little different, each time old and new.

Thank you to my friends and all my communities for your irreplaceable help in trying to stay awake. Thank you to every time you work to stay awake. Thank you for the irrepressible wisdom that you cannot help but teach.





A Beautiful Outline of How We Could Be

Living Energy Farm community in Louisa, VA, changed our lives.

They did this by simultaneously articulating the global situation we’re in and modeling a solution upon the same ground.

They gave us a place for our hearts to feel the depth of the danger and loss we are living through while immediately then being able to use this new way of seeing to apprehend the beautiful solution they were growing on the ground around them.

I want to honor the work they did by sharing this to me profoundly helpful publication  about the life-support systems they use to live within the limits of the earth. Please read it:


The critique I often share of renewables (e.g. solar & wind) does not apply to LEF’s approach. This is because they adjust demand to supply; in other words, they live with the earth’s rhythms.

Even so, and very importantly, they live with a great degree of what I would call comfort – defined by having coolness in the summer, heat in the winter, clean water, healthy organic food, many tools of convenience (e.g. power tools for building), and even hot showers whenever they want.

LEF does this by bravely looking at the reality of living within limits and designing solutions that elegantly accept that reality. These solutions are skillfully designed. As a result, the seeming polarities of “comfortable life” OR “ecological life” are dialectically synthesized into an AND – a comfortable, ecological life.

It’s important to note that they could NOT achieve this life within limits by just living in a big house as a nuclear family and adding tons of solar panels. To understand why, see their publication and my previous post’s link to low-tech magazine.

In other words: living ecologically does mean living differently and sharing more, but on the home / community / village scale, it definitely does not have to mean living miserably. An abundant life within limits is possible if we have good design. LEF is a shining light of of one way to make it through the present and coming darkness.

We Must Face Our Shadow: Talking Hard Truths About Solar and Wind Power

While gratefully participating in the brilliant and beautiful recent NC Climate Justice Summit, I did find at least one piece of information on our shared movement I was desperate to hear in the conversation that I did not have the chance to share.

Stated simply: in order for 100% or even 75% renewable energy to work, we would need to adjust our demand to the available supply of sun and wind. High tech batteries can help but do not ultimately change this physical limit. This “shadow” of the renewables conversation is not a small thing. It has radical implications for the economy and our way of life that as a movement we must begin learning to face now.

Tons of smart person data here (and yes, this person is very sympathetic to renewables):


In other words – it would be possible to have a future where we have electricity and we do not destroy the whole planet, but it would mean not having electricity whenever we want or as much as we’re used to. It would mean the current American way of life just can’t be lived without future-destroying overuse of fossil fuels. We would have to adjust our lifeways and our livelihoods to the real patterns of the wind and sun regardless of battery storage. Our lives and our systems have to change – not just our lightbulbs. This isn’t a don’t-use-plastic-bags kind of change but more about actually learning to live within the rhythms of the planet and accept “no power now, wait until morning” as an answer for homes and businesses.

It’s also a pretty sure thing that we couldn’t continue “growing” the economy with 100% renewables. The economic growth imperative as we know it is not compatible with a fossil-fuel free world. Even as we ephemeralize more and more of the economy, growth still requires a growing power supply to support it. We can have economic growth or 100% clean power but not both (…though one of those will lead to its own end anyway).

It is hard for ecological advocacy organizations to accept and speak of this physical limit because it further radicalizes their position from the perspective of business-as-usual politics. The pressure is to adopt a “pragmatic” approach in order to get policy passed and keep receiving funding from large donors who make their money off the industrial growth system coming – but in this case, it can be at the cost of actually meeting the goal of enabling human life to continue on planet earth. That isn’t worth the short-term gains that we can achieve by not talking about the elephant in the room. This is a time to face the darkness together so we can speak the full truth.

The ecological justice movement has done so much courageous work to amplify intersectionalities and see the non-separateness of the different justice movements we work for. This is another of those truths it must learn to incorporate. The narrative around economy, jobs, and increased economic opportunity and the possibility of simply replacing fossil fuels has a shadow that it will need to just as courageously face and integrate in order to be whole.

If de-growth does not become a part of the same conversation as renewables now, it may later be faced as an unexpected limit and be a division point for the movement – or, far worse than that, it will be kept at the margins of the movement and we will continue being enablers of the growth economy’s energy addiction by building the CO2 intensive “clean” but CO2 intensive infrastructure (supergrids, batteries, peaking plants) for a 100% renewable system that can still keep the same corporate-state mess running in the same corporate-state way – which means we could find our grandkids fifty years from now in a situation where we have transitioned to 100% solar and wind with batteries and supergrids that the construction of which put so much CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere that future generations must still say farewell to most humans and much of recognizable life on earth. I think we should avoid that starting now.

This is part of why Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren suggests that the most valuable thing about solar power experiments like we’re currently running is the way they can teach us to live within limits (and right now, with that winter sun, we are feeling the limits! we’ve had almost no power the last three days). This is something missing from all the completely understandable cheerleading for solar panels and wind. I am not stating this to take the wind out of the turbines of my sisters and brothers fighting for clean power but to strengthen the movement with an inevitable truth that will surface sooner or later because of physics.

How can we begin to tell the majority of the people in the US who are used to on-demand almost everything that, rather than a future of flying cars, it will be a future of learning to accept new limits?

I suggest we can do this by becoming the ones who learn the beauty of those limits with our own lives and can speak from the actual joy that comes from the intimacy of living skillfully with the rhythms of sun and wind.

There is a mystery school teaching that the limits of a being are its beauty. The beauty of a flower is the shape of its limitations. The beauty of a bird is everything it gave up. It gave up heaviness, great stores of fat, strong land legs, a hard protective shell, deep ocean diving, warm burrow digging, nimble tree climbing – and in so doing, bird learned to live singing beauty in the heavens themselves.

Will we miss the industrial growth system and the “always-on” digital haze world that we’re all more or less compelled to give our entire lives to serve for the short-term profits of an oligarchy anyway? Let’s talk about whether or not we do when we share food from our gardens decades from now under the finally once again fully visible stars.