Episode 18 | The Third Way

I grew up in Perth in a loving, down-to-earth and rational family – we were Church of England types, of the anaemic variety. Now I would call us Cultural Christians. It was clear we were there for the singing, rather than the god bits. And I’m still fond of those hymns and I still love singing with others. But I really had no way to access the idea that ‘religion’ had anything to do with ‘spirituality’ or with me as a being, despite the gorgeous churches and the sense of reverence that hung around the occasional visits to holy places.  The mystery of it all evoked in me a sense of longing.                                                                                                 

 Things of the spirit were private and secret, like sex – we didn’t seem to have the language or even the context to talk about spirit. My folks had long standing friendships with Catholics and at a certain point I had a secret interest in them – they were the high end of woo-woo for me, A wafer as the The body of Christ! Wine as the blood of Christ. Really? They might as well have been druids.

 When the 70s hit, I was a teenager, Catholicism had lost its allure and it all became clear: real spirituality was in the ‘Far East’ (as steeped as I was in Somerset Maughum and Kipling it didn’t occur to me for ages that India is actually north of where I was and the FAR east came from the English perspective of the world I had swallowed with my rusks). Bald headed blokes with long beards, dressed in orange robes on snow-capped mountains at the top of India. Yoga, mantras, chanting, gongs….that’s where spirituality was.  Because how could it be here, in Perth?

 What I find really refreshing about the concept of spirituality today is how down to earth it is. Enlightenment is available to anyone, right here, right now. In fact that’s the only place it has ever been and will ever be. Right here. Right now.

And the tools are a curious mind, clear and open enquiry - and honesty - radical honesty. Hence my annoyance at the paraphernalia of the new age that still feels the need to anoint the idea that we are more than flesh and blood with incense, dolphins and pictures of American Indians. And I don’t want to be grinchy about this – I LOVE salt lamps. Just that my mission is to encourage the ordinariness of spirit , the fact that spirit is what we all are, and its deepest manifestations can be found sitting under a mulga tree just as well as under the Buddha’s famous fig.

 I was thinking the other day how no-one has a problem with the idea of measuring the pulsing of the human heart through an ECG … That’s the medical test that monitors the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts and expands. Normal medical procedure and a tool the profession uses to see how the heart is functioning.   Also the (EEG) the medical test used to help diagnose a number of conditions of the brain.

But to call that electrical activity ‘ch’i, or ‘spirit’ or ‘prana’ and detect it in all other organs and systems in the body without a machine? Oh no THAT’S ‘woo-woo’! This, despite centuries of Chinese and Ayurveda medicine, and indigenous tribal knowhow.

And despite Einstein and all those scientists now paddling around in integrative disciplines like psycho-neuro-immunology.  Science has met - has even hopped into bed with spirit – but there are those who would still rigidly separate the head from the heart, the body from the soul and glorify the practices that maintain these separations….

 The thing is, spirit is as ordinary as vegemite and toast – and just as awesome.

 The concept I am opposing to this way of thinking is Holism. Holistic might be one of those words – like ‘sustainable’ that has been thrown around with so little context that it has become threadbare. But holistic thinking is big thinking, it is whole systems thinking, it is inclusive and capable of allowing complexity where all the cycles that make up life, work together to create something that can be much more powerful and much bigger than the sum of all the parts.

 When I told friends about the idea I had for this podcast they said  that I should not on any account mention Quantum Physics ……but I am going to, because there is an expansiveness in Quantum Physics that I find enthralling and who knows, if this is news to some of you, you might also get a kick out of this as a way to background the paradigm shift I am always going on about..

Bear with me. It would be good to have a little slide show here and three images for you to look at. I’ll put the images up on the website – but if you are listening in a non-visual situation, I will describe what I mean.

The first slide demonstrates the Newtonian atom, a conceptualisation of what I was told growing up, were the building blocks of life.  This shows a nucleus at the centre with elegant movements of matter orbiting around the nucleus like planets around the sun. This bottom up type of scenario posits that matter builds on matter until a thing – say a frog – is made, and bobs your uncle, there is a frog. But is it possible that life is miraculously formed from raw, insensate material? Quantum physics posits that it is a lot more mysterious than that.

The classical atom.jpg

 Slide two shows the New School Quantum notion of an atom. A tiny little pinprick of a nucleus sits in the centre of a cloud of electrons. The atom here is depicted as being 99.9999999 percent energy and .000001 percent matter – Materially, there is not much there.

The quantum Atom.jpg

The third slide gives us the atom that quantum physics tells us is the most realistic version of an atom – for the benefit of ears, there is literally nothing there –the emperor’s clothes version of an atom. It is (and I quote) ‘no thing materially, but all things potentially’.

The real Quantum Atom.jpg

When the smallest particles of matter are broken down into sub atomic particles, what is left is vast amounts of space filled with possibilities and probabilities … particles/matter, it seems are just ‘’concepts”.

A recent BodyTalk lecturer gave us this following description to help us to visualise what is going on. Imagine a footy field with a grain of sand in the centre. Imagine another footy field next to it with another grain of sand in the centre. This is the ‘no thing’ materially – there is a lot of space.

 But wait, it gets stranger – Quantum Physicists discovered that the person who is observing the tiny particles that make up atoms actually affects the behaviour of energy and matter. They have demonstrated that electrons seem to be able to exist simultaneously in an infinite array of possibilities or probabilities in their invisible field of energy.

But only when an observer focuses attention on any location of any one electron does that electron appear. In other words, a particle cannot manifest in reality – that is, ordinary space-time as we know it – until we observe it….So at the subatomic level, energy responds to mindful attention and becomes matter….in this sense, we create our own reality….

 (These three slides are courtesy of Dr Joe Dispenza from a book called BREAKING THE HABIT OF BEING YOURSELF)

 This ‘explains’ (air thingies) spontaneous healing, the throw-away-your-crutches-stuff that happens way outside the norms of medical understanding. But possibly doesn’t help us in th day-to-day, step-by-step way that normal humans require….Holism and Quantum Physics are concepts that open up our minds to realities it can’t grasp, but doesn’t necessarily allow us to manipulate matter to achieve real world outcomes…things are what they are, until they aren’t (which is the kind of annoying statement people who swim in the world of consciousness and awareness like to make).

 From a physicist: ‘the material universe is a dynamic web of interrelated events”. …obviously we are part and parcel of this dynamic web. The self is actually a collection of actions, networked with every other action, stretching all the way to the beginning of causality.

.This is where science meets metaphysics – in fact, this is where science hops into bed with metaphysics and creates new life! But anyone who as ventured into the world of consciousness work understands that thinking about the nature of reality just doesn’t work for the everyday mind. I just wanted to come at the paradigm shift that feeds into Energy-based health systems and Regenerative Agriculture with some top science as well as spiritual teaching as backup.

Let’s leave Quantum Physics for some examples of whole of landscape thinking – holistic thinking - from the agricultural world:

 Rod O’Bree is a fan of biodiversity. I met him in 2014 when he kindly let me use a few paddocks to grow a crop of spelt – I bought a tractor and spent a season as an unpaid farmhand putting in a modest crop and working with sheep.

If you are interested, the story of the Spelt Project is in a little booklet and is available to read online. I’ll provide the link on the website https://view.joomag.com/the-spelt-project-1-july-2014/0880724001404873632?page=21

This property, Yanget, which is just east of Geraldton has now been applying land restoration and rehydration techniques for 10 years. Yanget is 800has of what used to be some of the most desirable grazing/cropping land near Geraldton. It obviously made the first settler’s, the Grants, big money as it has a grand old house on it – 15-foot ceilings, a sloped roof built for snow, massive rooms including a ballroom with sweeping staircase and a tennis court.

By the time Rod got there in 2009, the servants were long gone, the grandeur was somewhat faded, its rolling hills were bare and crops were the result of intense applications of chemical weedkillers, pesticides and fertilisers.

 Before Rod and his family bought Yanget, they had a few acres in Woorree (a semi-rural suburb closer to Geraldton) where they kept racehorses. He and his family hand-fed these athletes the finest quality nuts and grains money could buy and lavished the sort of attention that horses need to perform at their best.

 The family then bought another 40 acres nearby so they could rest the 50 or so horses that they weren’t actively training. This scrubby bit of bush out of Geraldton had not been grazed or cultivated for years. The family made regular trips to make sure the horses were happy. Eventually they noticed that the horses were not just looking happy, they were positively glowing, and sported the dappled coats that signal a truly contented and healthy nag.

 Why were the hand-fed nags lagging behind the pasture-fed mob? When Rod walked this land and looked at what was on offer for the grazing horses, he realized that the paddocks were alive with over forty different types of herbs, grasses and weeds. The horses were able to eat what they needed when they needed it. It occurred to him that no amount of careful feeding could emulate the effect of grazing done on paddocks where the soil is truly alive and the plants correspondingly nutrient rich and varied. This was Rod’s eureka moment: he became a big fan of biodiversity.

 Rod carried this transformational experience with him to Yanget. I am currently working with Rod and the loose crew associated with Yanget to position this land as a template for rehydration and restoration of the whole of the Chapman River catchment area. As Rod already runs a food distribution business out of Geraldton, he is keen to tell the story of food coming out of the Chapman Valley area and link it to a bigger story of local farmers and their co-ordinated efforts to rehydrate and regenerate the land while increasing production and farm profits.

 When Rod first arrived at Yanget in Feb 2009 they got a good rain event of over 20mms… and watched it run off the property carrying sediment and chemicals down to the sea in Champion Bay 25 kilometres to the west. Twenty four hours later there was not a puddle or sign of water to be seen.

Ten years later the water stays in the creek for 100 days and there is the expectation that there will now be enough water held underground as well as is the pools to maintain permanent water supplies whatever the season brings.

The small amount of water that now leaves Yanget land is clean, a gift to our fishing industry.

 Rod worked with hydrologist Peter Andrews applying his principles of rehydration using techniques to slow the movement of water across the land. They did this by blocking at strategic points in the gouged-out creeks and creating banks along the contours of the land to keep the water high in the landscape.

Understanding where to place these interventions is key – but, with trial and error, Rod got a handle on the interplay of water and earth and started seeing great results from inexpensive methods.

 Peter Andrews is a controversial figure, but by any measurement an original thinker and genius hydrologist whose knowledge of how the Australian landscape functions is second to none. He and Rod met and connected through a love of horses and Rod credits Peter with giving him the tools to read the land and the water flow to create a whole of landscape approach to regeneration.

Yanget is named for a type of wetland bulrush –  the roots  of this water loving plant were a major food source for the Aboriginal people, harvested in autumn just after the first rains. It was admired as a tasty carbohydrate in diaries of the first white explorers. There are now healthy stands of this food ready for the coals if need be. NOTE Yanget (suspected to be Typhus dominengus or typhus orientalis)

The old paradigm when trying to restore the land would be to replant - to bring in the tubestock and a load of spades and busloads of school kids to do the work. Great idea as a value-add, but the main event should be to start fixing the water system and allowing nature to do what it does best: clothe herself in green.

Once the water starts staying in the land, sediment, instead of storming off the property with rain events, starts to build where it is dropped as the water slows and starts to pool. As high ground develops, seeds, especially the natives, start sprouting in numbers.

 This is exactly what happened on Yanget when the water system started functioning… the native seeds started growing in exponential numbers. The first to appear were the pioneers, the woody shrubs which at Yanget meant prickly acacias (Acacia tetragonaphila) or the Hakea pressei (you know the one with big hard seeds and needle like spines that would take your eye out.) and the weeds of course. The unloved Star thistles used to be a monoculture on some paddocks at Yanget, and kicked in early-on in the plant sequencing as the soil started to build.

Annie Rasor-Rowland – expert weed eater – names plants like thistles as the rock stars of any landscape, in that they have evolved under tricky conditions to live hard, have heaps of sex, seed up and die in quick time. These plants evolved in conditions that made them disturbance specialists, so they have a particular fondness for humans –the biggest and most effective of all the disturbance specialists..

As the star thistles bloomed the powers-that-be represented by the Ag department and surrounding farmers were calling for Rod’s head. ‘Good’ farmers would be bringing in the herbicides to knock these weeds out – allowing the whole cycle of bare soil, erosion and loss to repeat with the next rain event.

Rod held his nerve. Peter Andrews had convinced Rod that there is a natural succession of plants that needs to cycle through as the land heals– weeds aren’t weeds in this scenario, they are simply plants with a job to do. From the pioneers, we go to the broad-leafed plants and by the time they are taking hold the soil is becoming fertile enough to allow the sweet winter annual grasses to thrive. They steal the sugars out from under the noses of the hardliners and usher in the native perennials.

 Once the glory of this land, native perennials were the first to be eaten out under the land management efforts of colonisers - there is a bit of a push in Agriculture to reinstate perennials, mostly South African varieties. But nature, if given the green light, can coax long forgotten seeds out of the beleaguered corners where they sit in secret, biding their time, waiting for the colonisers to finally get out from under their European filter and join the dots on what could be. Perennials used to carpet the Rangelands and much of the wheatbelt in WA - the rich purple, gold and brown colours provided food for biological communities and held the soil fertility and moisture together through the dry summer months. (If you want to read more on this the original Wildfood from the Rangelands podcasts had a few stories based around the perennials and the role they played in the Rangelands, accessible at:https://hmopodnetwork.com.au/show/wildfood-from-the-rangelands/)

 There are weeds on Rod’s land now, but they are part of a much bigger mix of plants - the soil conditions are now ripe to support anything he wants to grow and Mother nature, the god in this context, continues to do what she does best – clothe herself with green, instituting biodiversity and fertility.

 MAGIC happens when you start working with whole systems

Yanget 2009

Yanget 2009

Yanget, same aspect, same time of year, 2019

Yanget, same aspect, same time of year, 2019

Out near Perenjori, the other Rod, Rod Butler has been having his own revolution on Gimlet Ridge Farm, tough land that lies between agricultural and station country. This Rod has been trialling regenerative farming methods for years. He grows sheep. Now with pastures rich with a healthy mixture of greens he is observing and conducting the complex relationships that play between his animals, the land, the plants, the people, the energy and mineral cycles – all within the context of holistic management. Since 2000 he reckons he grows about 4 times more pasture c than he did before and has reduced his farm running costs by about two/thirds.

 Now these are loose figures - you could drive a truck through them – as Rod himself said. But that is the nature of Regen Agriculture. At the moment it is reckoned in the lived experience of individual farmers who are stepping into a new way of managing their land. It lives at the kitchen table and at BBQs and in conversations over the fence – the serious scientifically verifiable,  peer-to-peer data is yet to be gathered. But it will be..

 In 2018 there was a breakthrough for the soil carbon sequestration credit story -  a process designed to measure soil carbon was finally legislated. Called, not surprisingly: The Measured Soil Carbon Sequestration Methodology we now have the base line government approved method that will allow the soil carbon industry to get going. Once carbon capture can be quantified, it can be traded and farmers can start to be be paid on their capacity to boost soil carbon in their paddocks. The gains are enormous, farmers get soils with the capacity to hold water, grow fertility and gain resilience in the face of the changing climate – and they get to increase production and farm income as they do it.

 Back to Rod, the Perenjori sheep man. One of his main regenerative tools is intensive rotational grazing . Here is just  one story to try and express that magic of whole systems work.

He needed to move 1400 lambing ewes through a number of paddocks. Conventional farming produces a lot of ‘no’s’ when it comes to how to deal with lambing ewes. But Rod had been working closely with his sheep for some time, and they trust him to show ‘em a good time, so even though he might be needing to push a mob through many gates he is finding that they work with him. He closes the gates after him as they mooch through in an orderly pack and has been finding that even if there are a few stragglers, those with newborns or those waiting to give birth, they will be waiting for him at the gate to let them through to the mob when they are ready to move.

Rod let this mob into a 20-acre paddock. The sheep tackled the whole spread of greens on offer. Two hours later he moved them out, noting that all plants had been eaten down to within 2 or 3 inches and every square inch of the paddock had been trampled, urinated and poo-ed on.

 A few days later Rod returned to the 20-acre paddock and was blown away by the exponential regrowth on the stubble. It is counter-intuitive to me that intensive grazing within these brittle landscapes can stimulate such turbo growth – but this is whole systems magic.

 Such fertility-tickling is a testament to a bloke called Alan Savory –the grandfather of Regenerative agriculture. His holistic management ideas are being trialled worldwide under the general umbrella of techniques that define the term Regenerative Agriculture.

There is great stuff brewing – a lot of it centring on the ERF, the EMISSIONS REDUCTION FUND established by the Federal Government – another brick in the edifice that will become carbon trading. Things are finally moving after the very low point over 10 years ago when Tony Abbot destroyed the Carbon Tax – a Tax that would have seen us light years ahead of the pack had it been allowed to develop.

It is the big polluters that will be driving the new carbon credit industry – they have factored carbon in on their spread sheets for a long time now waiting for Government to settle the chaos and make a jump into this new world. Those in the oil and gas industry in Australia – think of the pollution heavy LNG projects coming on line in the North West of WA – know that they will be exporting into a global market to nations that are serious about become carbon neutral. They face being hit with tariffs that will screw with their profits – fossil fuels always came with a heavy environmental price tag – now they are looking at actually having to redress and deal with that cost.

 Behind the scenes a lot is happening and the opportunity for businesses to start trading in carbon credits and supporting ecological regeneration is huge. The bigger game is in Natural Capital – soon to be launched on the digital stock exchange as the new asset that will replace? run alongside? I don’t know! the gold standard – At the moment carbon credits are the only aspect of Natural Capital able to monetise processes that support ecological biodiversity and health. Imagine when clean water, clean air, biodiversity etc start being the go-to measures for business operations. And this will be backed by real assets – the land, and the state of its ecological health.

Here is a news flash from the land of primary producers. Did you know that the first farmer in the world to ever be paid for sequestering soil carbon on a farm under a Government backed carbon credit fund lives in West Gippsland, Victoria? His name is Neil Olsen and it came to fruition in March this year. (Patricia Karvalas of Radio National introduces the story on ABC news online if you want to read the details by tapping in the relevant data) .

 Farmers will be able to continue their farm businesses producing food and fibre, while being paid to practice regenerative methods of farming that build their soil and increase production. Win Win. The numbers have been crunched. According to global group Regeneration International https://regenerationinternational.org – if just 15% of agricultural land in Australia was developed to store rather than lose carbon by changing their production practices, then we could become a Greenhouse Gas neutral nation.

 None of what the two Rods have achieved is easy – let’s call it rather Profoundly Simple. Principles are great, but every farm and farmer are different and have to find their own pathway to redemption as they embrace the complexity of working with whole systems.

 There is a big gap that lies between deciding to transition to new land management ideas and believing that it can be done. I haven’t even touched on the social difficulties, the isolation and derision that the two Rods and their families have copped over the years as they came up against the sanctioned farming conventions and all the entrenched beliefs and societal structures and behaviours that have grown up around these beliefs.

 There is nothing easy about implementing a paradigm shift on the ground and long term, back up will be needed to support transitions to more nature- based farming methods. But I can’t think of a better or more sane investment to make.

Sign me up!