- Using Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit to as a tool to design my journey to Andalucía
The meaning of spirituality I connect with is one which is Earth based and includes being guided by, grounding in and celebrating the different moon and sun cycles which of course in turn determine our patterns of days, months, seasons. Central to this form of spiritual experience are the 5 elements - Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit. These aspects are deeply linked to my permaculture life, work and activism.
This year I have undergone a big life change from being a hill farmer and palliative care nurse in a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales, to moving to the hills of Andalucía, Spain with my partner, dogs and cats, to a house with just under 2 acres of land. This post shows how I have used the 5 Elements to explore how my knowledge and practice of permaculture can be transferred and adapted to my next life chapter design.
In the Dales I spent years using permaculture tools to improve the health of the soil on the farm. Carefully designed grazing systems with a wide diversity of agricultural animals made big differences to the biodiversity in the grazing land and the edge with forestry land. I used animal manure combined with structures such as raised beds, hot beds, polytunnels, and then lots of successional planting. This greatly improved the fertility of the soil and also generated extra heat to be able to grow a range of species and variety of both annual and perennial plants I never thought possible.
Here in Andalucía, the soil is dry, rocky, dusty and steep. I wont be farming any agricultural animals so I need to design how I am going to create and maintain the highest level of soil fertility as I can. Many different perennial and annual plants grow here that I have no experience in growing before so there is much learning to be done.
The Earth Element is also about ensuring life force and motivation is given to other aspects of life, and I intend to use the specific qualities from this element to design and carry out some of the ideas and projects on my ‘to do list for my move here. This will include looking at what I will do in terms of my right livelihood, creativity and taking responsibility for my own health. Designing for this diversity should help to ensure that my life here is as resilient as possible.
Winters were long and cold in the Dales. Soon after we arrived there we invested in a heating system that heated the cottage there well, provided hot water and allowed us to be able to cook slow stews and soups through burning local wood. We often needed to keep one stove lit for most of the year, so needed a constant supply of dry wood. So we also designed a storage system for the large amounts of wood needed, to be as effective of human energy and time as possible. Our outdoors fireplace was also a really core part of our lives, providing a focus to cook outdoors and celebrate events.
Sun hours in our remote part of the Dales were very few and we designed food growing, animal care and our own holistic health to maximize the use of the available sunlight.
We need to heat our house for the coldest months of the year here in Spain and are already planning a wood burning system and accessing local wood to burn. Wild fires are also a very real danger in the summer months and how to avoid them and then protect our home and animals if they do occur, is something that is really key to our future life here.
The sun shines for about 340 days of the year at our new home which is a really big change for us Yields we can obtain from that amazing energy include growing a much more diverse and abundant range of food and the potential for heating water and generating electricity for power. The strength of the sun can also be damaging in the hottest part of summer, and creating shade for both our food growing and outdoor living spaces will be part of the design.
Energy and action are also inspired by the element of Fire and I am in the process of using this inspiration to explore how I am going to take my permaculture work (lots of energy and action!) forward from here. I plan to finish my Diploma soon, but then what? And how will it integrate and balance with the other aspects of my life to make sure my energies are used as efficiently as possible?
It rained a lot at our North Yorkshire home, with the yearly average being over 100 inches. Improving the compacted soil, and planting trees, (especially willow). helped to improve the impact of excess water on the grazing land. The raised beds and a human made drainage channel, (which used a wide water pipe, perennial plant growth and a mesh outlet, to avoid soil erosion), had a really positive impact in avoiding plants being damaged by excess water.
Water here in the hills of Andalucía is precious. There is virtually no rain between April and September, and the winter rains are often short and very heavy, with potential for damage to land through flooding and erosion. Systems such as capturing and dispersing rainwater, utilizing grey water, optimizing organic matter in the soil, mulching and growing drought tolerant edible plants are already being considered as part of our design
Water in the non-physical aspect guides our emotional selves. Water flows, as do our emotions. Healthy emotional health can mean working on aspects of our mental heal that we are ‘stuck’ in, so that positive flow can take place. How can I use permaculture principles and tools to promote my emotional well being during this transition time? Starhawk talks a lot about the connections of grief and the water element, (‘the well of grief’). Being mindful of the loss I have experienced over recent months and years will also feature in this part of my people care/self care designing.
The exposed location and height of the farm meant that there could be damaging winds through out the year. Restoring many of the barns and dry stone walls on the farm and planting trees along field edges improved the shelter and then health and welfare of our agricultural animals. Also choosing native hardy breeds of sheep, cows, pigs and poultry ensured they would thrive well despite the weather conditions that the strong gales brought with them. Where we chose to site the various edible gardens, raised beds, polytunnel, planting further windbreaks and then choosing type and variety of edible plants designed for short growing seasons, meant we could protect our growing spaces from winds that contributed towards limits to maximum potential.
The winds at our new home can also be strong, and especially so in the winter Designing our food growing areas to include shelter against strong winds will make a huge difference to the varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs we can grow and the length of the growing season they will have.
Communication and connecting is the inner strength from Element of Air, and here in Andalucía there is an abundance of different factors emerging for this - making beneficial connections with new friends, community and neighbours. Sharing permaculture knowledge and experience with them: Finding systems to have positive communication with friends and family now many miles away: and engaging further with parts of the global permaculture community particularly those who are undertaking permaculture work in the local area or in similar geographic and climatic locations.
Glennie Kindred describes the Fifth Element, Spirit, as ‘the force that unites all the actions of the elements together, so that there is no separation….’ Back in the Yorkshire my spiritual practice mainly focused around celebrating the Wheel of the Year sun festivals, alongside the cycles of the moon, in connection with patterns the farming seasons. My nursing work and interest in using permaculture in designing how we die, also links deeply to spirit and that same cycle flow of life an death. In addition I spent time on a daily basis appreciating my spiritual connectedness with the land I worked on and grounding myself in the present, while honouring the power and energies of the five elements.
It feels reassuring and comforting to know that in Spirit, the patterns and practices that have given me so much meaning and peace in the past will transfer to my future. There will be changes of course, open outdoor fires will be saved for winter months for example, and I can already see that the arrival of rain will be a time for celebration and gratitude…but fundamentally the wheel will keep turning just as it has done, and within it there is much here to connect to.
Using the five Elements has been a really useful tool in my move here to Spain. As well as exploring the differences in using permaculture principles and ethics in our two homes, its also really helped me to identify some really beneficial connects between the knowledge and practice I feel confident about in my life in the Dales and my design for our resilient future here in Spain.
The following resources have helped with this post
The Earth Path – Starhawk
Sacred Earth Celebrations – Glennie Kindred
Earth Pathways Diary 2015
Earth Activist Training PDC, California 2013 - Starhawk and Charles Williams
Growing food In a Hotter, Drier Land – Gary Paul Nabha
The text from this post is published as an article "Permaculture and The Five Elements" in Permaculture Magazine Winter 2015 No 86
Ive seen such wonderful posts throughout social media today, to mark International Women's Day 2016 - #IWD2016 -my favorite was this beautiful film from www.wiseatheart.com and shared via Permaculture Magazine
Inspired by so much of the energy from #IWD2016 I’ve been spending some time reflecting on all the wonderful women who impact my life at the moment – here are some of my thoughts of gratitude
Women who write the books I read, (and often review);
Women who I rarely (if at all ) meet face to face, but who are my friends and positive connections in the big wide world of social media;
Women who teach me, through courses, workshops, by example, and the other women who attend those events, with many of whom I stay friends with long after;
The global network of women who inspire me with their practice, knowledge and stories;
Many women working at strategic and national levels to generate political changes towards equal, balanced healthy lives, w3that are prioritised and happen , and women working for grassroots organisations with similar goals;
Women health care professionals I work alongside, who inspire my passion about quality of life as we die, Many of my patients and their families too ;
Women who design systems for healing and regenerating land, communities and self using permaculture principles and ethics;
My diverse group of friends, long term, and transient;
Women who farm to grow the food I eat;
My wonderful WISE (Women Inspiring Stories of Empowerment) group whose monthly Skype presence and space has given me so much so far this year, even in its short life;
Women in my local communities who work in local business and run services to help and support me with my day to day life needs;
Women and girls in my family, present in this world, and those no longer alive - especially my mum, Mo, whose letters wrote before my birth are teaching me about the similarities in politics, adventure in life and compassion we share ;
My Goddess daughter and other young women who inspire hope for your next generation;
And of course my beautiful partner and soul mate , H x
A few weeks ago, I started drinking a glass of water with freshly squeezed lemon juice in it first thing in the morning. I also drink hot water with lemon slices, plus fresh ginger in it throughout the day too. There have been lots of articles written about the positive outcomes of drinking lemon water over the past year or so. One of my favourite articles, with quite a few evidenced based links, including protecting your teeth from any harmful effects from drinking lemon juice, is here .
Here in our new edible garden we have planted a beautiful lemon tree, though its too young to fruit yet. Our neighbours however have a great tree, producing a huge abundance of wonderfully smelling lemons, and the fruits have just started to fall from the tree, indicating they are ripe enough to eat. A post I read recently suggested freezing freshly squeezed juice in ice-cube trays, making it super easy to create lemon water on busy mornings, but it also sounds like a good way here for preserving the harvest too.
I reckon its too early to know whether or not drinking lemon water each day improving my health and well being, but I'm certainly drinking less caffeine and more water because of it, and in the last few mornings have woken up really looking forward to its sour, floral, citrusy taste...will keep you posted
Last month I spent a wonderful 10 days on a residential course learning about facilitation of social permaculture courses…to fuel us through our long, productive days of learning, Rebecca, the cook for the course, created some amazing meals.
With a variety of diets (including vegan, high protein, gluten free, allium free!) to cater for, our lunches and dinners often included a variety of delicious toppings and accompaniments (toasted seeds with tamari, sprouted pulses, various seed/pulse ‘dips’, cheeses, eggs, salad leaves) to meet our diverse needs.
Back at home now, and feeling inspired by our course meal, I have started making a lot more yummy healthy plant based additions to our main dishes of the day, and snacks …first up, ensuring we grow a continuous supply of sprouted seeds and pulses, and toasting pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds each day.
Also posted in Nomadic Food Divas
...end of summer, winter commences....thin veil between different worlds..dreaming, recording dreams....remembering those who have died, how they have influenced who we are now...plans for dark winter evenings , reading, writing, crafts, games, music...pause and regeneration time...further work on edible garden ready for early spring planting ....tree planting...fires to cook, keep warm, reflect and celebrate...
Beautuful artwork by Jaine Rose at jainerose.co.uk
Ive just finished reading People and Permaculture by Looby Macnamara - or should I say re-reading, its actually the 3rd read for me!. I initially read P&P from cover to cover when it was first published, (helpfully as I commenced my Diploma!), and then used various parts of it throughout the designs created for my portfolio. Reading it again in its entirety, a few pages each day, including journaling the suggested activities as I finished my Diploma has been really useful. P&P is one of those books that the more you read and use it, the more you gain from it. But in addition it made me realise how much I had developed and matured as a designer and practitioner throughout my Diploma journey. Alongside reading Looby's latest book 7 Ways to Think Differently, Ive spent time in the last few weeks identifying areas of ‘people care' and ‘social permaculture’ that I would now like to explore further in my design work . Aspects of these very much connect and Edge with the exciting Liberation Permaculture ideas, currently evolving within work undertaken by Nicole Vosper and Graham Burnett in the UK. (Spookily as I write this I’ve just received a questionnaire from Graham inviting me to engage further in the dialogue around Liberation and Permaculture!). I’ve also just signed up to attend thePeople and Permaculture Facilitators Training led by Looby and Peter Cow at Ragmans Lane Farm later this month, which is hopefully going to be a great step in taking my practice to a greater depth.
There are lots of reviews about People and Permaculture out there, and I’m not going to attempt another one here, only to say that its definitely one of the key resources I recommend for any one wanting to learn more about permaculture, and/or wanting to look at personal development design.
Many reviews have been left on Amazon and there is a great one at Permaculture Magazine. If you decide to buy a copy of either People and Permaculture or 7 Ways to Think Differently then you can order them directly from Looby or support the fab work of independent publisher Permanent Publications by purchasing through Green Shopping.
Designs in my Diploma in Permaculture Design portfolio using The Design Web, the framework at the core of People and Permaculture, are
Action Learning Pathway
Journey to Spain
As part of my ongoing responsibility for my own holistic health and well being, a couple of months ago I designed a time each day where I could use some of the tools I know really benefit my health. I had heard a lot from various friends and social media about a book called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and so decided to listen to it on an audio book one day. I didn't connect with all of it, but I did really like the concept of undertaking positive self development and health activities in the first hour of the day, (getting up and hour earlier than usual to do this if necessary), and making it a daily routine.
So my adapted version (Which I've renamed 'Magical Morning' routine) looks a bit like this
(make a pot of tea...obviously!!)
Grounding/mediation (working with 5 senses to be totally present)
Choosing a wisdom/affirmation card ( Im currently using Louise Hays 'Wisdom Cards' ) to focus on for the day.
Journalling gratitude in my Earth Pathways Diary, plus connecting with the written information for the day/week the diary provides
Planning my day using the Reflection and Planning tool I designed as part of my Diploma portfolio
Reading a chapter of a book
I aim to take an hour for the above routine, but it can be done in more, or less time if needed. If for some reason I have to miss the morning routine, I do it all in the evening ('Magical Evening' - ME time!) instead.
I'm really loving the new routine....it gets me doing so many things I know benefit me at the start of the day, which in turn gives me a really fab beginning to the day in terms of mood and energy. I'm also feeling physically fitter through getting an extra 15-20 mins of moderate exercise into my day. In addition I've found that I spend far less time in the day thinking that I should be doing these activities because they are good for me, but then not doing them because other more 'essential' things come up. So I automatically feeling less stressed and more in control of how I choose to use my time throughout the rest of the day.
There is also a super active motivating Facebook Group for folk around the world who are using a similar routine to benefit their lives.
regular updates and reflections about the permaculture designs in my life