The Yoga of Ecology blog originally began in 2008 as a chronicle of the spiritually inspired agricultural exploits of the Small Farm Training Center project at the New Vrindaban bhakti-yoga community in the foothills of the West Virginia Panhandle. I wanted to share the unique experience I was having not only of monastic life in the 21st Century, but also the experience of being part of a community and project focused on the ideals of "simple living and high thinking."
Inspired by the practical wisdom of bhakti-yoga scholar/teacher A/C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, communities like the Small Farm Training Center were and are presenting a model of anticipation as we move from an unsustainable model of industrialized and commodified civilization to an ecologically sound civilization.
The waves of time has moved my own journey and the journey of this blog in new directions and vistas. I am now studying for my master's degree in eco-theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and once again I am drawn to the work of the soil, of the spirit within the soil, and to those people creating what has been coined by eco-theologians, including Larry Rasmussen in his latest book Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics In A New Key, as the anticipatory community.
These are sacred sanghas of individuals who are determined, courageous, knowledgeable, humbly setting themselves to the rhythms of our Mother Earth, showing us today the ways and means of harmony that will lead us to the cultural, ethical, and spiritual adaptation that tomorrow calls for.
I have realized that if I am going to be any kind of eco-theologian, eco-activist, eco-ethicist, or simple tiller of the soil, citizen of the Earth, my studies must include but not remain solely in the head-space. The Earth is the realm of the hands and heart, and with this understanding I have embarked this summer on a series of organic farm internships that will help me to learn the fine arts, skills, and meditations of grounded ecological life.
This is an experience that I hope will help me to overcome my nature-deficit disorder. In this mood, this blog will return this summer and beyond to a chronicle of experience in the communities I am serving in, as we share the bounties of our harvest that fill our plates and our spirit.
First, a brief word on what I mean by the the yoga of ecology. Having been a practitioner in the bhakti-yoga community for nearly a decade now, I have come to understand that the values of yoga, values that connect us, that yolk us, to the Divine are values that inherently create ecologically-sound lifestyles and communities.
Bhakti means devotion to the Divine, and this devotion, when it is the foundation of a spiritual community, creates an understanding of the boundless potential for spiritual grace and happiness that can only truly be found when we respect and understand the boundaries and spaces that Mother Earth asks us to live in. Devotion is a value which removes the dust from our heart, the dust of greed, envy, and selfishness, the internal pollution which manifests in the external pollution that wrecks our planet.
To farm, to till and love the soil, for the purpose of loving devotion to the Divine and to each other, is a form of yoga, and the soil also teaches us much about the true essence of spiritual values if we become tuned in enough to observe and listen.
I have spent the last three weeks in Brewster, N.Y., an hour north of the City, at Bluestone Farm and Living Arts Center, which is part of the Community of the Holy Spirit. From their website the resident Sisters explain a bit of their history and standing:
"The Melrose house was established in 1961, in Brewster, New York, about an hour northeast of New York City. In 2004, we began to pursue our interest in sustainable living by starting Bluestone Farm and Living Arts Center. Grown organically, the produce we cultivate and store (by drying, lactofermenting, and freezing) feeds us throughout the year. Over the last five years, the farm has come to include beekeeping, duck and chicken flocks, cows, maple syrup and honey production, and wine-making among other activities.
Together, we are engaged in weaving together our worship and our work, inspired by the writings of the late Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Ellen Davis, and Cynthia Bourgeault, among others. (Learn more about the "new cosmology" and thespirituality of farming.) "
Sisters Helena Marie, Carol Bernice, Catherine Grace, and Emmanuel, of the order of the Community of the Holy Spirit, are the wonderful and wise souls who have devoted their lives to this project. They are joined by Resident Companions Rev. Matthew Wright and Jody Ballew, and for the past few weeks and months interns Katie Ferrari, Yanick Savain, Sarah Lucas, and myself. We are a small but determined group, happily set to explore a way of life which carries deep meaning, potential, and soul.
The voices of the Sisters and Companions explain the heart of their intentions and work:
"Melrose is a biodynamic farm community...practicing the principles of permaculture and the religious life, we foster a mutually enhancing Earth-human relationship through prayer, ongoing reflection, manual labor, celebration and the arts. We hold a deep respect for creation as a primary revelation of God, and by sharing our work, worship, harvest and all we learn we model sustainable living, social justice and spiritual fulfillment in the context of local community and resilience.
We stand at the turning point. We are a small group of people who have transformed a yard into a farm to help save Earth. We do not mean to startle or preach; we mean to declare that with intention and the labor of love we will ease the damage done to our Mother Earth by civilization gone awry. We mean peacefully to weave our own strand into the web of life as it exists here and now in our neck of the woods.
We eschew any form of agricultural practice that shocks, destroys, or otherwise inhibits participation of all the species in the life of our farm. We recognize the rights of beings to their habitat. Thus we enjoin upon ourselves the patience, tolerance, and care needed to proceed mindfully through our days.
Working together, we will learn from one another how to care for our Mother Earth. Working together, we will walk naturally into the great creative rhythm of the universe. We mean our lives together to be our act of love for one another, and in love we are confident of redemption."
Here is a photo essay of some of my experiences of life at Bluestone Farm:
Our backyard, the Bluestone Farm
St. Cuthbert's House and the Farm
Jiffy, her daughter Mercy, and the milking shed where our beloved cow-friends give us gallons of fresh raw milk daily, which we drink and also use to make homemade butter and cheese
Resident Companion Jody Ballew hand-milks Jiffy. With the guidance of Jody and our "sacred cow-woman" Sr. Carol Bernice, I have already accomplished one of my main goals for the summer: learning how to milk a cow!
Sunset over the Farm
Freshly harvested strawberries and peas
Katie and a ginormous kale harvest
The first gaillardia bloom
The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly
Sr. Helena Marie amongst the Margarittes
Matthew, Katie and myself displaying the spaceship kohlrabi
Matthew and our harvest of kohlrabi, collard greens, and snap peas
The three sisters (corn, beans, squash) come to life
The omnipresent height of evolution: the weed. Farming is eternal. Weeding is eternal. If you don't like weeding you are in the wrong business
More to come in the days ahead, including the unique ways we incorporate our harvest into our worship and celebration life, and the magic of biodynamic techniques and cow manure.
For more, check out Bluestone Farm Fans on Facebook.
Follow Chris Fici on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisFici