THE WORLD AS ONE GIANT ORGANISM
The study of carbon, the building block of the material world, is what made me sit up and notice the whole climate change controversy. The idea that every molecule on this planet can be accounted for within a closed system is enthralling. I cannot now envisage the earth without seeing it as one gigantic organism that recycles the same elements over and over in churning cyclic systems of energy.
The way energy works is that it never goes away, it just transforms. If matter is energy or vibration then in its most stable manifestation you get say, rocks, in its more delicate state, you get sunlight or steam..
Here is Wendall Berry, the philosopher farmer, writing about energy, defining the difference between machine and natural energy.I’ll quote from Berry’s book THE UNSETTLING OF AMERICA. With very little paraphrasing:
The moral order by which we use machine-derived energy is comparatively simple (and he is talking of course about oil-based energy). Whatever machine u - ses this sort of energy, works simply as a conduit that carries it beyond use: the energy goes in as ‘fuel’ and comes out as ‘waste’, the waste becomes pollution. This principle sustains a highly simplified economy having only two functions: production and consumption.
The order appropriate to the use of biological energy, on the other hand, requires the addition of a third term: production, consumption and return. It is the principle of return that complicates matters, for it requires responsibility, care of a different and higher order than that required by production and consumption alone, and it calls for methods and economies of a different kind.
On an energy economy appropriate to the use of biological energy, plant, and animal and human, are joined in a kind of energy community…indissolubly linked in complex patterns of energy exchange. They die into each other’s life, live into each other’s death. They do not consume in the sense of using up. They do not produce waste….in short, Wendall is describing the Wheel of Life.
Now in his 80’s, Wendall wrote this in the 1970’s when agriculture was becoming industrialised and small biodiverse farms were making way to broadacre monocultures. The latter were becoming completely reliant on the oil industry and the machine, rather than biological cycles of nature was becoming the driver of production.
MY RESPONSIBILITY TO THE WORLD
When I was young, maybe pre-teen I have a vivid memory of holding a hose and watering a part of the garden behind the house I grew up in. As I watched the water arc through the sunshine the conviction grew in me that by my action of raining water, filtered through the sun, onto plants and into the earth I was contributing to effects that would eventually wind their way throughout the entire earth and end up touching the penguins in the frozen waste lands of whatever pole they lived on.
I was an earnest child, and my hand on the hose became a rigid claw as the implications for the responsibility I owed to my every action dawned on me. I sensed in that moment the intense wonder of deep connectedness. That every breathe should inform every action and every action mattered was then followed by a kind of moral panic. My direct experience of reality, I can now speculate, fed into my confused rebellions against the way society worked as I grew up and started to act – or rather, flounder around - in the world.
There was very little in my world that encouraged me to hold onto or explore or put into any context, the sense of the wonder of connectedness that I had experienced. I didn’t know that what I actually experienced was my conduit to life. Somehow what came through to me was that I needed other people to tell me what mattered – and a story like the one I just shared became an anomaly, a dinner party anecdote.
Maybe because this kind of stuff –the non-habitual, the experiential, even spiritual moments - were parked in the zone of religion, in my case a pale and godless type of Christianity that had long lost its sense of glory – only occasionally surviving in the stones of a lovely church or the shared ritual of hymn singing. This kind of stuff belonged with Catholics, those people who looked ‘normal’ but seemed to take to Christianity with a fascinating array of arcane rituals and what looked to an outsider like sentimental or violent images of long haired blokes in robes. Later on, the focus shifted to Asian blokes in robes, who lived on snow-capped mountains in Asia. It was never connected in my mind to suburban Perth.
Now, entering my 60’s, it is my daily mantra to strengthen this investigate this sense of connectedness. I am surprised by how few people adhere to these ideas in whatever form they might manifest. The ineffable is inevitable, I reckon, what are we waiting for?
AGRICULTURE AS THE NEW RELIGION
I have already indicated in previous podcasts that I think agriculture and the food-growing industry belongs at the very heart of cultural and ecological life. If soil is cared for, you can spiral out from there and see that all plant, animal and human systems will be positively affected. So the creative, independent, forward-thinking farmer with his or her nose pressed to the mycorrhizal aspect of existence is the bottom line for me. When it comes to thinking about abundance and health, Farmers are the healers and heroes, for present and future life.
I have anointed Agriculture as the new religion. With farmers the high priests of the ancient soils of Australia. I like it. I am not eschewing the use of tractors and the like, I am after-all, an inclusive kind of hippy in the age of broadband, encouraging anyone to use what works in the system of energy rejuvenation and return. It is the broad principles that I am interested in.
But if going back to small holdings and horse-drawn ploughs work, why not? I can’t really make pronouncements on this, the only thing I’ve ever done with a horse is feed it a carrot when it was safely stowed on the other side of a fence. But I have spent two seasons on a tractor, I have experienced firsthand the daunting scale of the workload and the huge amounts of non-renewable energy used in the planting of a crop, even over a modest area – so I am not going to go all fundo on this and make pronouncements in the way of old style religion. This new religion is going to be more a direction that a directive – it is about respecting and working with natural systems with a good application of relevant science.
Wendall mentions the Amish, the people in the USA who refused to take part in the shifting of agriculture out of its regenerative role into the industrial machine age. He appreciates their style of agriculture, but is careful to note that this way of life also has its problems.
MY EXPANDING PROJECT
In terms of my own life and how to find the project that works for me, the path keeps broadening and opening up until I find I keep stepping back to take in the scale of what I am learning – the canvas keeps getting larger and larger – or another way of putting it – more and more holistic.
As listeners to these podcasts will know, I have been banging on about agricultural and pastoral practices (and the cultural overlay peculiar to our colonial beginnings). Talking about the people developing new ways of looking at land management, or in the case of Aboriginal life, new ways of re-interpreting and re-incorporating the land management of pre-contact times.
The latest influence on my thinking has come from a NSW farmer, Charles Massey. His recently published book, The Call of the Reed Warbler, is a rambling and beautiful overview of what he calls one of the biggest evolutions in agricultural thinking that has happened in 7000 years. He pulls together all the work done by regenerative farmers across Australia and filters it through the lens of his own growing understanding of a more heart-led approach to working with nature.
That this new way of thinking is happening in some of the least fertile areas in our land is par for the course – where else is innovation going to happen except where the soils are least fertile and the rainfall most patchy. What struck me about his thinking was his thoughts on the capacity of the land to self-regulate, to self-heal – more on that later.
I have documented how in my own life seeing the native perennials, millet and kangaroo grasses, growing on station country was a revelation for me, the word made flesh so to speak, and it seemed my task was clear: to grow and plant native perennials. But I’ve hit a snag, the built in evolutionary blocks that these seeds contain do not allow for easy germination – the word from those who know is that trying to raise these plants from seed is highly problematic. David Blood, a man who has spent most of his life in the Murchison used the term ‘fairy dust’ when talking about their viability. Grant Bains, WA farmer, innovator and planter of South African perennials grown in Queensland, talked grants and the need for long term science-based trials and experimentation.
I started to understand that the project was going to have to be about encouraging Native perennials to grow and spread in a landscape where they already have a presence - but this involves major land work and control of grazing pressure…and the way to achieve this is via the financially crushing forms of destocking and other forms of grazing control, including the building of exclusion fences.
So we are talking land, lots of land, lots of interventionary-style practices – which really brings me back to the model being developed by Wooleen station in the Murchison, WA. (mentioned in a previous podcast). Wooleen has found a way to encourage small surviving colonies of perennials to creep out from the areas where they are gathered in defensive huddles against the forces that have banished them from site – with the right conditions in place, these plants are starting to establish themselves in numbers across the open rangeland.
I found myself stepping back, from visions of grasses planted in neat little pots in shade houses to the vast paddocks of station country or agricultural broadacre plots. But from this vantage point, nose lifted from the soil, I started to look at the whole thing as something much bigger than the reestablishment of perennials grasses. What I am looking at is the total rehabilitation of the land, from the ground up, and that of course has to bring in culture - so I am dealing with social as well as natural capital, which means the rehabilitation of the human soul, starting with mine.
REHABILITATION OF AMANDA’S SOUL
In my own life I have been doing my own versions of erosion control and soil rehabilitation via investigations into the precious hidden perennials of my own soul. As with the paddocks, I have been peering closely at the untrammelled corners of my consciousness to find evidence of plants long pushed to the edges of my psychic paddocks, growing secretly and timidly in fertile pockets out of sight.
To help me get in touch with what I would call a more authentic version of the Amanda I have been living with all these years, I have been gravitating to what might loosely be called consciousness work. There have been years of sporadic study, but the one that has really worked for me is a heart-based exercise modality called Soul Vida developed by Perth woman, Makita Gabriel.
Over 5 years this work had done several things. One, put me in my own body – or at least allowed me to notice how much time I spend in my head, and not in my own body, and has given me a whole new way of looking at the mind/body connection and being present/not present.
I have invested enough time in these exercises to have learned to trust the process and have found them to be a powerful way to unlock energy in my body and mind.
Makita is interested in going big; for some time she has been testing the ‘product’, the series of exercises called Soul Vida, positioning herself to launch into a mass market. This work has the potential to be rolled out in every gym in the country and beyond. This is Les Mills with heart; yes, you can tone the body and chew up the calories – it is an effective workout- but with this process you can also take the challenge and go much deeper into the uncomfortable realms where real change occurs. Anybody, anytime.
Peter Ralston, a Texas based martial arts champion has developed a method that can point interested humans to the expansion of their own consciousness. The Expanding Consciousness work involves contemplation, deep open-ended questioning and a Zen-based style of meditative work done with a listening partner called Diads. Peter is the genuine article, the pointing finger to transformation and enlightenment, even a small engagement with this work has been effective in shifting my perspective on life.
For me, these two teachers offer effective pathways to unlocking aspects of my own familial and cultural conditioning and a chance to free myself from patterns of behaviour established in childhood that no longer make sense in my life..
Like the best of the agricultural and animal innovators; both these teachers constantly direct the responsibility for learning back onto the one seeking to learn. I have been lucky enough to be in workshops with Fred Provenza (an influential animal behaviourist) and Bruce Maynard (a farmer who amongst other ground-breaking agricultural work has developed stress free stockmanship programs based on exposure to Fred’s work). All are gurus in the sense of Gee.You.Are.You. They insist that participants find their own pathways using the tools and techniques on offer according to the conditions they find themselves in. For all of these teachers it is a directive of the work that the participant makes it their own.
Another piece of the jigsaw that I seem to be filling in, is the BodyTalk system that recently dropped into my lap in terms of a course being offered in Perth in March. This healing modality was developed over 20 years ago by South African man, Dr John Veltheim. What hauled me in, apart from the systems non-invasive nature and connection to consciousness work is the promise that the techniques can be applied to plants. ( https://www.bodytalksystem.com/)
This is a quick precis from the BodyTalkSystems website: BodyTalk is based on the principle that the body is capable of healing itself at all levels - as evidenced by the healing process that is automatically initiated when a person cuts a finger or twists an ankle. This automatic, self-guided healing process is part of the body's inborn intelligence, or the "innate wisdom" of the body. Every single cell, atom, and system is in constant communication with every other cell, atom and system within the bodymind complex at all times.…Stress can cause these circuits to become compromised. BodyTalk helps to re-establish these energetic circuits and efficient communication in a quick and effective way, which then allows the body to very quickly recover and catch up in the healing process. This is witnessed in how quickly symptoms disappear and function returns, often within just one or two BodyTalk sessions.
What’s not to love? There are synergies between this work and the work I have done with Makita’s Soul Vida method. I was also struck by the body’s capacity to self-heal as described in the BodyTalk blurb and Charles Massey’s repeated referencing in the Call of the Reed Warbler of ‘the inherent self-organising capacity of natural ecosystems”. The farmers Charles interviews tell him the same thing in slightly different ways, over and over again: This, from Colin Seis, a farmer from central west NSW ‘Most of the time all we’ve got to do is get out of the way, stop interfering and it’ll fix itself.’(p202)
That resonates with me – and it is precisely in the ‘getting-out-of-the-way’ zone where all my investigations seem to be concentrated.
I’m in. For healing the planet, one paddock at a time. And thanks to Makita for that phrase, slightly altered to fit a different beating heart.