Ending a Legacy: My Goodbye to Western CULTure

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By Kathleen Calder

At the end of this letter, I sign off as Kathleen and “Katie”. “Katie” is the part of me that had to form in order to live in Western culture. She is the main part of me that I am working with now, as I continue unplugging from old, deadening conditioning and embrace my new life and the intense rebirth of who I authentically am… something I can only truly know in emerging moments, yet my process now is sorting through who I am not and who I no longer need to be now that I no longer live in Canada and am making new choices based in a love of love and a deepening love for myself.

Dear Western CULTure,

You twirl around like a seductress, drawing in so many with fancy promises of a certain standard of “success” and pictures of “love” and “beauty” that can be achieved if only one learns to follow your often unspoken rules. Your unconscious influence that holds so many in a hamster wheel while they continue to give up their sovereign right to choose, or at least the right to see that they have a sovereign right to choose, still dances in the conditioning and self-stomping habits I am only now learning to shed, now that I have been away from you for long enough that I can finally feel what I agreed to buy into. You helped to create a “me” that held all of your “truths” about love (or what I allowed you to convince me was love), success, beauty, worthiness, goodness, and even who ‘God’ is. You’ve pretended for so long to be an altruistic matron of how life is supposed to be, but despite your preaching, you have really just been a thief in the temple this whole time.

I consider myself lucky to have only spent 27 years in your sphere of influence before realizing I was missing something – a solid, spineful “me” that has the power to say “no” to your themes of rejection, scarcity, miseducation, smokescreens, and false power. You co-create with your devotees, impossible debts; unhealthy workplace climates; false comforts provided by industries and governments who are raping the Earth, the very Mother who has provided us all with the privilege to live, learn and love on this planet; and relationships of all kinds and categories that hold some form of unconscious (or very conscious) abuse while it is considered okay to tirade, poke, kick and bruise each other without taking personal accountability for the wounds that led us there in the first place, constantly suing and pointing big, fat, bloated fingers at each other.

You have an accountability, Western CULTure, for the harm you’ve done and are doing to the people who worship you and to the planet you are very quickly killing for the sake of keeping your mirage “gassed up”.

As I sort through and begin to feel all I have agreed to let you tell me I was and maybe could be if I was lucky or guessed the right code, I am learning more and more about the places in my being where a strong healing balm needs to be applied as I continue my deeper unplugging from you. I am uncovering my buried power while owning my role in perpetuating your cycles of abuse and false love in my relationship with others, the Divine and ultimately my very sacred human self, who is transmuting daily into more of the sacred human I want to be, who takes care of the planet and lives in a daily, deepening love transaction with others who have chosen to unplug as well. I think it has been too long and it really is too late for you to turn your own Titanic around. You can only surrender to the iceberg now. But rest assured that I and the others will be here, right where we are, offering help and recovery to those who still choose to make up the pieces and parts of your starved status quo and have believed so much in your terrible messages of rejection, your carrot-dangling tactics to keep them hanging on, and your propaganda that has fooled them into believing they are protected, always, as long as they follow blindly your impossible list of fine-print rules.

Things you taught me about how to be in life and how to shape myself into who I want to be, I am sorting through in a big way right now. I am picking up the lost pieces of myself and learning to actually believe words that say, “I AM beautiful, I AM beloved, I AM deserving, I AM capable, I AM, without a doubt, incredibly powerful.” I am learning to humbly unlearn and re-learn. Being humble isn’t easy. I’ve had to build walls around me to protect me from the remorse and humility I’ve needed to feel all these years, but just couldn’t in the name of not letting you and your soldiers, who operate from anything but real love, beat me down into a hole I couldn’t find my way out of with just enough of myself intact that I could keep moving forward. I had to make do with a false spine made of rusted tin, passed down by those in influence over me. This rusty old piece of flimsy metal is now quickly disintegrating as I learn how to actually live in my real spine and power, which was there all along though misdirected with my permission and lack of alternative templating, and is now fueled by the authentic love of those around me and my growing love for myself.

It’s hard to imagine much of what I’ve said really going in to anybody who hasn’t yet chosen to part from you. I get the temptation of sticking with the comforts, but the cost of being with you again and losing a large fraction of my authentic power and self, is far from worth it. I am finally starting to see you for who you really are: a robotic, power-grabbing entity, entangling millions with your shadowy webs of glittering fool’s gold promises dipped in offerings of a lifestyle that is anything but sustainable, courageous, or growth-stimulating.

Fuck you very much.

Kathleen and “Katie”

Cows, caterpillars, and cabbage: Life At El Rancho Blog

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By Jillian Vriend

Nature is a better partner than slave- Gaia’s Garden

I am dreaming of plants. Last night, the big crisis of my dream was about providing a trellis for a runner-type sweet pea plant to weave and wrap around. Would I be able to get it supported before it collapsed onto the soil in defeat? Big drama. My dream was most likely a reflection of an increasing reality this week of troubleshooting and responsive problem solving related to our gardens.

We entered our Tranquila garden a couple days ago to discover hoof sized indents over many of our garden beds. Tranquila is more like a nursery than a garden, with many fragile seedlings and still germinating seeds that still haven’t woken from their slumber. The vacas (cows) had busted through a weak area of fencing (now fortified with 3 higher courses of well anchored barbed wire) and found, fortunately, that little in our fledgling garden was to their liking…..other than all the black bean seedlings and most of the one inch tall amaranth and quinoa plants.

My heart hurt as I cleaned up their damage, especially since I had spent the morning ‘saving’ our first flowering and fruiting tomato plants from hornworm caterpillars, hand picking them off and dumping them in a bucket of soapy water. It felt a bit like we were under siege by nature. I was reminded of the wild setting for which we are attempting to grow our food. We are trying to domesticate nature. I like to feel that rather than a bending of nature to our will. We are in communion with it. This connection is the essence of producing home grown food that is chemical-free, nutrient dense, and, also, doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment.

Nature reminded us this week that it is ultimately uncontrollable. If we get a good harvest of any of our vegetables, it is nature’s desire even as it is also due to our skill and responsiveness (and sourcing good, quality heirloom seeds and deeply efforted compost.) Instead of getting hugely upset at the cow damage, I surrendered to it and immediately noticed something interesting. All of the beds that the vacas had left their marks on were ones that I had planned to replant or change in some way. Every one. The black beans were spaced too close together (something I learned after watching our frijoles negroes in the Rio Garden get bushier and bushier), so I was able to replant and respace them. I wanted to create rows of amaranth and quinoa rather than scattering the seed as I had done originally, so I could see them better as well as be able to provide mulch around the rows. Now I could do that while still preserving seedlings that had survived.

So nature created more work in some ways, but, also, it worked out in the end for the best. It is difficult to get too stressed about anything here on the ranch as resourcefulness and responsiveness just seem to come more naturally than in the western, more industrialized world. Every crisis has a solution and doesn’t push up the same levels of stress and anxiety as the common workplace drama.

We are entering the season of Kali or the dark madonna face of the Divine Mother. Kali represents death and rebirth; cycles of change and transformation; temperamental weather and emotional patterns. I was reminded of this also as I felt the edges of how easy it would be for all of our ‘hard work’ on the gardens to be wiped out by animals, a strong storm, or a swarm of damaging insects.

When we get our food from the grocery store, we have no sense of this fragility or of our fortune either. We fill our shopping carts and drive food that has been imported from all over the world home to be stored in our cabinets and fridges. Here on the ranch, because we don’t have refrigeration (other than two zeer evaporative cooling pots) and the nearest grocery store is 90 minutes away, food harvest and preservation is a concentrated and connected activity.

We picked some bok choy cabbage leaves today intending to use them for cabbage rolls for dinner tonight. I share the recipe below. No fossil fuels or chemicals were needed (not for working the soil, the fertilizer, the ‘pest control,’ the harvesting, the packaging or transport!); just our labor, our love, and our time. When we eat our cabbage rolls tonight, this energy will come through and increase our enjoyment and appreciation. Nature does make a better partner (however unpredictable), than slave.

Harvest this week and recipes: Daikon radish, mizuna (asian lettuce), arugula, tatsoi (asian cabbage), bok choy, kale, and cilantro

Right now is about greens and lettuces. Mizuna and arugula are braving the heat to produce leaves of nutritional goodness. Bok choy, tatsoi, and kale provide earthy flavor and plenty of antioxidants. They are so welcome since greens and most lettuce are not sold here in most tiendas in Mexico, only iceberg lettuce and traditional cabbage. Faced with a harvest of greens, we came up with two vegetarian recipes that used them in way that was beyond the usual stir fry and ensalada.

Bok Choy Cabbage Rolls-

Cabbage Rolls:

Eight to Ten large bok choy or kale leaves (two per person), the leaves need to be 3 by 4 inches

one cup of cooked brown or wild rice

one cup of TVP (or tempeh), add one cup of hot water and stir together

one half daikon radish, chopped

stems of bok choy leaves (if using), chopped

cilantro, cumin, soy sauce to taste

Asian Sauce:

Combine half a cup of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, one garlic clove minced, chili powder to taste

Bring to boil a couple inches of water in a pot with a steamer basket. Combine TVP, rice, and chopped daikon in a bowl and add seasonings to taste. Heat stuffing ingredients over medium heat until TVP is cooked and rice is heated. Lay out bok choy or other greens leaf by leaf being careful not to tear them. Place the leaf length wise in front of you and fill it with the stuffing just along the middle along the spine of the leaf. Don’t overstuff as it needs to be easy to fold without tearing. Fold the side closest to you first and then the two top and bottom edges go in and then roll it the rest of the way (similar to a burrito). Place the rolls carefully in a steamer basket for three to five minutes. Serve with the asian sauce on the side.

Eggs In A Nest-

This recipe has been modified from one provided in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is an insightful and inspiring book about a famous author who ate only foods produced from her own garden and locally grown for one year.

2 cups uncooked brown rice

Olive oil

medium onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

carrots, chopped

daikon radish, chopped

1 very large bunch of bok choy, kale, chard or other leafy green

8 eggs (if you need to make more eggs because you have more people just poach extras in another pan)

soy sauce, cumin, and salt to taste

Cook rice with four cups of water in a covered pot while other ingredients are being prepared. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in a wide skillet until lightly golden. Mix in carrots and daikon radish and cook for a few minutes. Add greens and cook with the pan covered for a few more minutes. Uncover, stir well, then use the back of a spoon to make depressions in the cooked leaves, circling the pan like numbers on a clock. Break an egg into each depression, being careful to keep yolks whole. Cover pan again and allow eggs to poach for 3 to 10 minutes depending on how runny you like them. Remove from heat and serve over rice with guacamole salsa (or without).

Guacamole Salsa-

2 large ripe avocados, seed removed

8 tomatillos (or omit if you don’t have them and substitute with another tomato)

1 red tomato

handful of cilantro

Juice from one lime or lemon

half a jalapeno or tablespoon of chili powder or omit if you don’t like spicy foods

cumin and salt to taste

Boil tomatillos for five minutes or until soft. Combine them in a food processor with the other ingredients until mostly smooth. Serve chilled and is best if used within the hour.

Jillian Vriend is co-founder of SoulFullHeart and author of three books. Visit soulfullheart.com for more information about retreats, volunteer program, sessions, and to buy books.

Brace for Impact: Life at El Rancho

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By Jillian Vriend

“The most difficult thing we have to do in order to survive the coming crash is to renounce the life of artificial luxury that has been the temporary product of the systematic destruction of our life support systems.” – Brace For Impact, Thomas Lewis

Renouncing a life of artificial luxury. Yes, I can relate to that. And especially the word, ‘artificial’. Artificial luxuries compared to natural luxuries. Artificial luxuries need to be attained, maintained, and possessed. Natural luxuries arise to be experienced and cannot really be owned. Artificial luxuries are temporary while natural ones are enduring. Maybe it’s as simple as artificial luxuries are man-made and natural ones….well, they are natural.

Systemic destruction of our life support systems. In every way that is imaginable, humans are indeed destroying the very things that are vital for our survival. That we can do this for so little reward or benefit (beyond the very artificial and temporary luxury of money attainment) would be baffling without the picture of the false self and its evolution. The false self, in a way, is an artificial luxury, created by modern, egoic circumstances that require a strategic, self image-based, money-focused, and non-vulnerable way of relating to the world. The false self developed as a core defensive structure that is a product of an industrialized environment.

I recently read Brace For Impact by Thomas Lewis again. Thomas Lewis has a beautiful generalist mind, able to analyze and present information without mentally getting bogged down too much in the details or needing to ‘prove his case’. He presents a compelling and inspiring argument for inevitable collapse of industrial society due to the areas of water scarcity, peak oil production, industrial agriculture and meat production, global climate change-related weather events, political corruption, economic unsustainability and much more. Reading this book is to have your eyes opened, your heart hurting, your gut aching, and your initiative charging. The last chapter about the urgency of finding an off grid, rural, safe sanctuary and learning ‘back to basics’ homesteading skills was particularly validating to me related to the choices I and three others have made recently moving to an off-grid ranch in Mexico.

While it was immensely validating, I felt there was a missing piece in the writing. Thomas Lewis talks eloquently about what is happening, but less succinctly about why it is happening. He offers a picture of addiction to money and to greed that feels true, but without a specific sense of why this addiction has been necessary. We feel that all addictions have unfelt emotional congestion at their roots. The addiction is an outward manifestation of an inner need going unmet and unfelt. If money subconsciously represents love and how we feel about it (which I feel is true after coaching and facilitating people around their ‘money issues’), then the need for love is the biggest one that is going unmet in all the money accumulation that is leading to so much destruction of our planet and ourselves. It is our disconnection from our deep need for love that manifests into acting without love toward other humans, animals, and the living planet.

In my experience of the last ten years of healing my own false self and others, I ultimately hold the false self with equal parts love and challenge. Love invites the false self into authentic expression through nourishing and real experience of the love it never knew that it always needed. Challenge holds the false self accountable to keep being vulnerable, surrendering to the growing authentic self, and letting go of things (such as artificial luxuries) that keep it falsely powerful.

The loving challenge our false selves are being offered at this time in modern history is to shift very significantly our lifestyles to sustainable, authentic, and love-based ones. If our false selves are unwilling to shift or to even see that there are very compelling reasons to shift, then there is little to be offered by me or anyone else about the coming collapse and how to survive it. For those that are ready to shift and also see that there is an absolute necessity to do so, I invite them to feel how it is their false self that has feelings of resistance, doubt, trepidation, and fear of change. It is the false self that is attached to artificial luxuries and it takes a lot of natural luxuries such as love and the bounty and magic offered by nature for them to let it go.

The first time I read Brace For Impact, I was still living in Canada in a fairly comfortable life, although I had already started letting go of many things. Reading the book inspired me greatly to keep going with my search for a sanctuary and to actually make the move to living off grid in Mexico. There was little to no resistance inside of me (no real false self protest) to letting go of the artificial luxuries that I’ve known my whole life. And, I am now experiencing in my daily life that I can not only survive without them; I am thriving in deeply nourishing ways that bring me back to the luxuries that only nature and living an authentic life can bring.

My Decision To Be Here: My Exodus Journal- Entry Nine

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 By Kathleen Calder

“Why exactly are you moving to Mexico?”

“Because I want to live sustainably in a climate with a year-long growing season, but also because of the coming collapse of industrial society.”

…I waited a few moments for the laughter I knew was coming. Why did I say that, part of me wondered, especially to this particular manager, who had not shown me much worldly consciousness or any consciousness at all beyond our shared place of work?

This was one of many conversations where I seemed to unconsciously set myself up, more or less, to filter through some disbelief and ridicule from others about my decision to move to an ecovillage in Mexico with those I am closest to in the entire world. Often I ended up with a “concerned mom” reaction, though not always. Most of the time it was the men who understood though, at least in part, what I was doing and not the women (the aforementioned manager was male and is an exception to this). It’s obvious to me by now that any notion of the strong possibility of collapse of our industrial world as we know it, has been (perhaps) unconsciously reserved for what feels to me like a men-only, cigar lounge-type conversation. Every time I’ve brought it up with a man, I feel part of me putting on a smoking jacket of sorts, while another part of me dresses like Hilary Clinton in a slim-fitting pencil skirt with black pumps and a blazer, trying to dominate and be heard in a room full of male politicians, harrumphing about the state of things.

In the months leading up to my decision to “exodus” out of Canada, I found myself reaching for conversations with others that reflected the growing discord I felt happening inside myself regarding the bubble of Western culture. Gosh, even writing that out just now I feel myself (or part of me) trying to find intellectual ground when really my reasons for leaving were all founded in the heart first. Yes, there is endless, ENDLESS data out there to suggest that we are overtaxing the planet and have been living in blissful ignorance of that fact, but it’s the heartbreak of that, the disconnected relationships with others, the distant rumble I could feel inside my human ache to be closer to others and the planet I’m living on, that all led me here. On the surface I could say that I am preparing for collapse and this is the smart move to make, yet underneath that is a budding young woman who wants to become a woman who is connected and deeply rooted to something solid and real. A beating heart that wants to be seen and connected to, even when that connection brings up challenges to who I’ve believed myself to be for the past 27 years of my life, all the while living into a potent and grounded picture of a genuinely sustainable life.

This major lifestyle change hasn’t been without its hiccups. It’s still difficult sometimes to not give in to the desire to enter a virtual reality for hours on end. Luckily there is only so much solar power available for me to keep my laptop, my main portal into this virtual reality, juiced up. I was born into a generation that didn’t know the internet or anything more advanced than Windows 3.1 or Dos until we were well into walking and talking years. I remember too, having big ol’ floppy disks that held only one game at a time on them. I also remember the evolution of these disks into those smaller, harder ones that could hold much more, but incidentally could also become corrupt rather fast. Regardless of how primitive the vehicle, I learned how to drive it into a world that wasn’t the one I had to be in to live every day.

I guess you could say that parts of me have had some mourning to go through, around not having such easy access or even as many hours in the day available, to enter an alternative reality. I’ve learned to lean back into books as a source of entertainment. Yet there’s something else bourgeoning in me. A longing to just be in life, since life is now so much better than it has been. There are times when I need to breathe deeply while feeling a bit overwhelmed by a “no escape” feeling in part of me. Ironic in a way, but sometimes without the usual portal of adventure into the internet or a game, there is a sense of being trapped. I remember always having been so imaginative as a child. Now my childhood imagination gets to integrate into visions for my unfolding life. Visions are important, for they are what keeps you going, but there is a way they can serve to medicate if they aren’t balanced with an experience of practicality and a daily reality of having to be physical and very much in your body. I don’t know how much I like the feeling of floating above my life anymore. I now live with people that I want to only fall more in love with and experience them falling more in love with me. I also want to keep falling in love with myself, appreciating who I have been and who I am, while living into who I am becoming.

So I guess, in a nutshell, I’m here because I want more love. I want to experience love coming out of me and pouring itself into the seeds we are hoping will one day feed us and more. I want to experience a love of nature that includes being loved back by nature in many ways. I want to love my body and its capacities in a new way. I want to love my gifts, some of which are still being born into my consciousness, while loving and appreciating the gifts of others. I want more love and I want to be more love. I want to be there for those I love and who love me in a more grounded and mature way than I have been until now, and I want that love to reflect and be reflected in the undying, incomparable love I share with the Divine. And, to sweeten that pot, I want this love to include a mate of my own. Maybe even soon…

So, why did I decide to move to Mexico?

Because I want to experience my own ongoing collapse into real love.

Kathleen Calder is a SoulFullHeart facilitator, SoulFullHeart retreats volunteer coordinator.

The Emerging Me Through Natural Education

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By Christopher Tydeman

In my former life, I was a teacher. I taught a range of ages from 7 to 12. I taught reading, writing, mathematics, history, science…et al. While I was teaching I was wondering if I was really teaching anything at all. I mean, yeah, I was helping with some basic fundamentals that are the building blocks of an education. But the content was a mixture of somewhat useful and interesting to downright drab and boring. I tried my best to bring in something meaningful and engaging but, to be honest, it was a lot of work. It all had to tie into the “Standards” of the prevailing curricula. Oh yes, the Standards.

We want our children to be “competent” so that they are “successful in today’s highly competitive world.” As a former parent to a school-aged child, I bought that with half my heart and all my mind. I passed that down to my students and their parents and care-givers. If they could demonstrate “proficiency” they would have a much better chance of “making a better life for themselves”.

I agree that my use of quotes is a bit tongue and cheek seasoned with sarcasm. That is my intention. Even while I was buying and selling those words, I could feel how devoid of humanity they really were. The Standards System, or Core Knowledge, or whatever the hell they are calling it now, is nothing more than a conveyor belt by which the Industrial Machine can create its submissive robots. I couldn’t participate in that system anymore without being guilty by association.

Why am I writing about this now? Great question. It has been two years now that I have left my teaching career. I am also now just learning what real education is all about…self-sufficiency, emotional awareness and fluency, and a place to discover and nuture our Divinely-given gifts. I guess I just realized I am in school for the first time since I was a child, where learning happened through creative play and experimentation. As an adult, I can add a lot of physical work to that list. This was the education I wished I could have given my daughter and my students. This is the shit that really matters. I knew it mattered because my students went crazy for nature, food, play, and art. They, as well as us older children, were born with the Divine Fingerprint. The desire to be with what we need most as human beings.

Somewhere we forgot that along the way. Convinced ourselves it must be more complicated than that. But as I sit here in Mexico with gardens literally popping out the ground from our own research, intuition, play and labor, I can tell you it isn’t. Granted, it is hard work. I have worked hard before, but this is for our food. Our sustenance and currency. Our hearts and our souls. You can’t get more real than that. I am learning more about myself and nature, as Mother intended. This is the real classroom.

So, I am back to being a student again. That is hard for the Industrial part of me who thought we had it all figured out. Put in the time and retire in peace. But once you feel your true, wild, natural self you can’t stay in the System without feeling the rub, the pain. The un-naturalness of it all. The insanity. This part of me is becoming more aware of how much happier he is now than he was then. I am beginning to feel a new me arising from this transition from teacher to student. From Industrial Self to Natural Self.

At some point I see myself teaching again. Not sure what that would look like, but I know what it wouldn’t. Been there, done that. I see being a part of a new reality for education. One that will emerge from the collapse of the old. For now, I am enjoying the ride of sitting in the student seat. Learning from my SoulFullHeart family, the ranch workers, the animals, the plants, and the Divine. They are the best teachers I have ever had. Time to rewrite the standards from the inside out.

Organic SoulFullHeart Gardens At Rancho Amigos- Jardines Organico De SoulFullHeart A Rancho Amigos

Our Gardens

By Jillian Vriend

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One of the most pressing issues in our modern age is the need for chemical-free, environmentally sustainable, diverse, preserved, and homegrown food. The majority of food stock in grocery stores is shipped in by eighteen wheelers from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Anyone who has eaten a banana in December and doesn’t live somewhere tropical has experienced transit-based produce. Most stores hold very little back stock, only about three days worth with no regional supply houses available since the ‘just in time’ delivery system was implemented many years ago. Produce has especially high ‘fuel miles’, the amount of distance that it traveled by truck to reach your location. The produce that does reach the stores has usually been genetically modified (even patented in some cases!), sprayed very liberally with toxic substances, and harvested before it was actually ripe. And it tastes about that good too.

Awareness of the dismal state of modern food brings an increasing need for everyone to grow their own organic produce if possible. We’ve had a strong desire to grow our own food organically following permaculture and ecological design principles. We wanted to create garden spaces that would meld conscious design with respect and understanding of nature’s principles. We also wanted to blend modern practices with indigenous and native ones, creating a mixture between the two that would honor both.

We started our first garden project in January, 2015, just a couple of weeks after arriving to live on the ranch. We were gifted a 30 foot by 30 foot space here with a rock wall already built around it. Rather than fill it with linear and straight rows of crops, we created a main, raised, keyhole bed (a ¾ circle bed with a keyhole shape in the middle for turning around) with another raised circle bed enclosing it and raised beds around the edges.

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For compost, we spent many days gathering ‘green’ (kitchen scraps, sheep manure) and ‘brown’ (dried leaves and straw) manure creating a lasagna layering pile system as the organic matter compost to add to our soil. We trucked in silt soil from the banks of the riverside nearby to add to the soil in the garden and the compost. We collected dried bamboo leaves on the ranch to use as our 3 to 6 inch cover mulch (with thicker layers to come as the plants grow taller) to help with water retention and weed suppression. We lined all the paths with river rock to help with erosion and because it looks good. This we call our “Rio Jardin” (River Garden), as it is right next to the river.

We’ve filled the beds of the Rio Garden with three kinds of tomato plants; eight varieties of beans and legumes; three kinds of peppers; greens and cabbages such as kale, arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, bok choy; yams and potatoes, red/green/white onions, cucumber, jicama, daikon and regular radish, and cilantro. We’ve already enjoyed the radish and some of the greens. We look forward to the next few months of harvesting and learning; adjusting and responding. Eating! This is truly our experimental garden with many lessons happening around seed germination, plant placement, and adjustment to the tropical yet arid climate here during the dry season.

The next garden we started is our “Casa Jardin” (House Garden), a ‘zone one’ garden, meaning one that is close to home and therefore includes plants that are used regularly and need more attention. Once we moved into the house we are staying at here on the ranch, we started trucking in soil from the river again because the top soil around the house had been destroyed during construction. We spent days clearing out debris and pulling weeds (that weren’t edible we hope) to clear spaces to plant. In a cleared space right by our outdoor kitchen, we created an herb spiral- a four by five foot mound of dirt with river rocks moving up from bottom to top to form a spiral shape. An herb spiral takes a 30 foot linear planted bed and reduces it to a much smaller footprint. Plus it looks really neat and mimics a shape regularly found in nature (always a good thing when designing garden beds.) We filled the herb spiral with dill, thyme, oregano, basil, cilantro, cumin, mustard greens, green onions. We included some medicinal herbs such as calendula and Echinacea.

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We also created a greens garden bed next to the spiral garden with mizuna, kale, mustard, tropical lettuce, tatsoi, and a native medicinal green called qualite alvaro obregon. Greens are impossible to find here at tiendas (stores), beyond iceberg lettuce, because they don’t store and transport well due to the heat. We have all felt a deep craving for more greens, especially after being used to regular doses of greens in BC, Canada. Radish greens and morenga leaves (a medicinal and edible tree grown here on the ranch) have helped meet this need so far. We filled beds along the path in front of and the sides of the house with sunflowers, artichokes, more mustard greens (good ground cover and green manure crop), and some native flowers. Keeping the four ranch dogs and our own three dogs out of the beds using twine and bamboo fences has been important. How to keep the wandering and hungry ducks from the pond next to the house out of the greens bed is the next dilemma, although we put down bamboo leaf mulch, spray with the pepper-garlic solution, and planted mustard nearby so that will hopefully help. We are still waiting to catch a pato (duck) in action as it tugs on our kale!

And, our grand vision and most recent garden manifestation is a ten minute walk from home called ‘Tranquila.’ A sloped piece of land with large granite rocks, this is the plot of land that we have purchased here at Rancho Amigos. The lot contains a water cistern located over a natural spring so fresh water is no problem. The top soil is dark brown, has some good worms, and the years of cutting down feed grasses for sheep and cows and letting them mulch in place has kept the soil in good shape.

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It is the work of hardscaping, double digging out soil and creating paths that leads us to get up at six in the morning to get some of it done before the hot sun comes up. It is foundational work, work that we won’t have to do again. It is hard, but, it is also satisfying…watching raw land become the infrastructure for our garden. We are planting seeds as soon as the soil has been double dug, formed into circular, raised winding beds with plateaued tops, and sprinkled with compost. We’ve been adding the same mulch back to the beds that we raked from the ground before we started tilling. It forms straw nests around our sleeping seeds and a light blanket of cover for our scattered seeds.

We planted more beans since they germinate quickly, seem to grow well in this climate, can be dried, and are great nitrogen fixers. We planted sunflowers, artichokes, and other tall plants for privacy and shade. We started several trees in bags and will plant them as soon as they are ready to add diversity, shade, microclimates, and environments for wildlife. We planted eggplant, squash, and pumpkin (and soon watermelon) where they will have room to sprawl and spread out. Making a mound, we created a ‘sisters’ planting inspired by Native Americans. Corn, pole beans, and squash form the perfect combination of support, both structurally and in the soil. Scattering seeds across the soil, we sowed quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, chia, and, soon, flax. These will form the foundations of our diet, along with the beans for protein. Joining the party are medicinal flowering plants, more peppers, and tomatoes. Our future plans for Tranquila include creating a small pond in the middle of a natural gathering of rocks, a stream leading to the pond, pathways to the large sitting stones and boulders on the lot, tall plants all along the fence line for privacy next to the ranch road, and whatever else our imagination comes up with! We envision a place where design has given form to the food and function to the wild. A place where we and others can come to study the plants, sit on the rocks, meet in a circle under the shade tent, dip our feet in the pond, and wander the paths, foraging as we go.

We’ve held some books like bibles along the way, combing over them time and time again. Two such books are Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Homescale Permaculture and Rodale’s Organic Gardening. Yet, also, we’ve been learning as we go, responding to the needs of the plants as they arise and feeling what the land and nature wants. It’s important for us to access our soul’s knowledge of cultivating the land for food; its’ experience with growing food which is actually much more familiar to us than the more recent industrialized experience of easy and disconnected non-food grocery shopping excursions. We’ve forgotten our native roots as hunters and gatherers and buried our instincts about plants and how to grow them in a sustainable way.

Our gardens have brought us joy and peace already, even as they’ve required some sweat and effort. Every seed we plant is like a new baby needing attention and focus until its more mature and can stand on its own. We pick off every caterpillar and unidentified Mexican bug with love and care; spray every leaf with a combination of garlic and pepper spray that bugs hate. We support the garbanzo beans with sticks because we didn’t plant them close enough together to let them lean on each other like they like to. Each plant is held with gratitude and given energetic attention. That’s a lot of babies to care for!

Our gardens have already drawn attention here locally. There are very few personal gardens in this area, even though poverty is a common here. The nearest grocery store is 90 minutes away (when the weather and roads are good) and yet the village closest to us doesn’t stock anything more than a few tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and eggs. The locals who work on the ranch have gone from feeling perhaps a bit confused by what we are doing to more and more interested in it. They ask us many questions about what we are growing and give us tips related to cultivating in this climate. We have already started giving away baggies of cilantro and radish greens and received cucumber and cacao seeds in return. Many more are expressing interest in exchanging with us when the real harvest comes in.

Gardens can invite the imagination to come to play. If we allow ourselves to move beyond the linear rows, typical crops, and pest warfare of mainstream gardening, the possibilities are as limitless as nature’s manifestations. In the garden, there is both a strong sense of the present and the future. We are enjoying the process of creating the infrastructure of our garden beds and paths, which will serve us for many years. The first layer of weed suppressing and water retaining mulch that we lay out begins a legacy of layers of decaying organic matter that will serve the soil and our bellies for a long time. The compost piles we create today serve to fertilize the soil for the rest of its (and our) lives.

It is the gardens that have received most of our time here at the ranch so far and, also, every bit of time spent feels worth the rewards, both in the present and for the future. This legacy of growing chemical-free, ecologically friendly, and truly local food is one that we are proud to be creating and to leave for future generations. Or, at the very least, for the immediate future needs of our hearts and bellies.

To come visit our gardens about three hours south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, become a volunteer, or attend one our retreats, please visit soulfullheart.com and email us at soulfullhearts@gmail.com.

Building The Ark: Life At El Rancho

By Jillian Vriend

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The ark is about learning what I don’t know; remembering what my soul knows; and using my intuition to feel out the rest.

I have felt like Noah at times; holding a prophecy of a big storm coming and making plans and taking actions to survive that storm. Like Noah, with some foresight and surrender to the Divine, doing something for which most of the culture is not understanding or seeing. My version of the ark was my passenger van and the human and dog companions that came along with me on the journey from Canada to here in Mexico are as treasured as the pairs of animals saved to repopulate the earth. We landed here in our ark on the shores of what feels like our safe sanctuary. A place where water flows not from city taps but from natural springs. A place where exotic fruit grows year round from trees. A place where no insulation is needed on homes or on bodies. A place where having no electricity or refrigeration is not a big inconvenience but a manageable work around. A place where many people ride horses to get around and cars are just another option. A place where traffic slowdown is caused by a swarm of cows not frustrated commuters.

The storm is growing, building strength in the skies of the world. These are dim skies to me right now; they feel far away from the daily realities here on the ranch. But, I can feel the thunder rumbles of war in ISIL occupied areas and the Ukraine; in the economic contentions of European nations faced with growing debt that can’t be repaid; in oil price fluctuations due to diminishing reserves and bubbles bursting fracking empires; in the diminishing fresh water resources around the world and especially the southeastern United States. And maybe the lightning from these events is still far off and hasn’t charred the ground and struck near or in your world. But, as so many people have foretold, the storm that will end this industrial age as we know it is coming. Whether in ten days or ten months or ten years, the world as it being run and experienced right now just isn’t sustainable in any kind of long term picture.

We’ve become so out of touch with our intrinsic nature as hunters and gathers and growers. Becoming so out of touch has made us disconnected about where our food comes from, how it is grown, how it is treated (in the case of animals), how chemicals are used on it, and how synthetic or natural it is. Becoming so out of touch has made us easy victims for the storm that is coming. Rather than being able to tough it out relying on ancient instincts of survival, so many people will be unable to respond in any way that is beyond feeling helpless, hopeless, and immobilized. Many people, sadly, will simply end their own lives rather than have to find the will to survive in a world without all the easy conveniences that they are used to.

This last week has felt like another phase of ark building. The ark this time isn’t about transport to sanctuary; it’s about reconnecting with my human instinct and imprint for feeding myself. The ark now, for me, is about growing my own organic food and incorporating what grows here on the ranch already into my diet, even if I’m not familiar with it. The ark is about learning what I don’t know; remembering what my soul knows; and using my intuition to feel out the rest.

We have all been building this ark with dedication, getting up by the rooster’s call at six am to work at Tranquila, our third garden space here at the ranch. Tranquila is described in much more detail here. We’ve put in five or six hours a day during the hardscaping and shaping of earth phase that is required to sculpt raw earth into a garden space. This is the laying out of floor and wall boards, pounding in of nails process of building our ark. And inside of the ark, instead of just animals, there are beans, tomatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and much more. Inside of the ark is true self sustainability and connection back with a primal instinct that has been numbed by easy living.

As I watered the gardens in Tranquila for the third time today, I felt how I don’t resonate with the idea of being a gardener. For me, it’s not about being something outside of who I am just because I am growing seeds, tending them, harvesting them, and eating them. I am not a gardener; I am a human. A human reclaiming the inner gardening abilities inherent in my soul and embraced by my heart.

Jillian Vriend (soulfullhearts@gmail.com) is co-founder and facilitator of SoulFullHeart and author of three books. Visit soulfullheart.com for more information about SoulFullHeart retreats and volunteer program.