Brilliant Bulgaria: WOOFF, permaculture and Vipassana

Bulgaria! I never expected to learn so much in this country. I never expected to stay over six weeks. I never expected it would change my view of life this much. I never expected it would bring me the light on my path. I never expected to fall in love so many times. But boy, i did. I’ll tell you what magic happened to me.

I entered the country from the Macedonian mountains and found myself in a lush green forestry area, again tears rolled down my cheeks.
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Mother nature is so incredibly beautiful, it hits me everytime. Every morning is a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and i may say innocence, with nature herself.

I feel more and more sad about the fumes of the boxes (people call them cars) passing by and the immense amount of trash I see on the sides of the roads. Getting closer to industrial areas and cities I feel my energy and good mood reclining and I feel more and more appowled by what I see humankind is doing to our dear beautiful mother nature. Where did we lose the realisation that we are part of the circle, of our duty to protect, regenerate and enrich this planet and every living creature upon it? Creating spirals of abundance in stead of destruction. I see the consumerism for things nobody needs, the advertisement for things very harmful to the world, I see people spending their precious time on things that make nobody happy and certainly dont make the world a better place. I see long faces, stressed body language, agitation, boredom, negativity and straightforward aggressiveness. I see a world constructed of hardcore competition, in stead of co-operation. A world of individualism, egocentrism, jealousy and envy. Wow, this sounds very pessimistic, doenst it? And that’s what you might see with your black glasses on, and I wear them now and then too. But I want a change; I call for a global changing of our dark coloured glasses for pink ones!!

 

Let’s look at this same world again and guess what you see! I see so many incredible wonders of mother nature and I see so many beautiful people doing fantastic things. Beauty is inside us, every one of us. The bodice of the modern societies might make it a bit hard to let this beauty thrive, but there are so many alternative ways. And more and more people seem to be realising this. For sure, my eyes are finally opening up to this. And I keep learning. And I keep falling in love.

On this trip I look for inspiration. And I found a lot of it in Bulgaria. I biked my way up to the first organic farm I would be volunteering on. The first time on my trip I would do some actual work and help people out who i believe are doing a good thing. When I came there, the owners turned out to be away though, and with only the guy’s father in law visiting me in the morning (not able to speak one word of english) I ended up spending a week of me-time on the farm. I worked for 1-2 hours a day when he was there and could show me what to do, while signaling me to relax and sit down all the time. I did what I could but to be honest enjoyed a lot to stay in one place for a couple of days and do the things I so far had not found the time for: watching documentaries, playing my harmonica, reading books. I picked my food directly off the land, delicious! The quiet hours with just me and the sound of the birds and the singing of the plants. I wonder what they talk about. It was heavenly 🙂 health and happiness were never meant to be complicated!

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Even though none of us will make it out this world alive, every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

I read this book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (free to download as e-book or audiobook) which opened my half-shut eyes. In a very entertaining and socratic way it tells the story of the TAKERS (those who believe the world was made for man and we can take from it what we want, without obligation to take care of it) and the LEAVERS (those who only take what they need and leave the rest alone, understanding the world is in perfect balance and we are just one part of it). Our modern society is mostly made of TAKERS since we are consuming finite resources (mainly oil) at great speed without giving back to the earth, they way we live now is not sustainable, let alone enriching and will come to an end. There is much debate about what caused the climate change and when we will feel the biggest impact from it, which is –to me- quite irrelevant. The point is that it is happening, we are depleting the earth and we have to start looking at other ways to live. One source of very valuable information is to be found with the people that lived on this beautiful planet for millions of years before civilisation hit us 10.000 years ago. These people, for example indians and aboriginals, lived in a way they could have kept living in for millions more years. In harmony with mother nature, not fighting her. Much information on how they actually did it, is sadly lost though :/ And certainly not taught in schools, where history seems to have started with the coming of agriculture. Everything before that is labeled pre-history, isn’t that insane? Daniel Quinn calls it ‘the great forgetting’. I remember we spent a whole year of history lessons in high school on the cotton revolution of England, wow. Isn’t that boring and insignificant on the big scale of things? What about the basics? Our basic human needs? Basic questions..

I realize I never really learned where the most basic need in life – food – comes from. Even though I have been a cook for so long and very interested in food always, it was predominantly in preparation and nutrition and less in where it comes from, how it grows etc. I am very happy to spend time at the farm now and see what actually happens, what it takes to grow a tomato for example. I feel like it is a bare necessity I missed in my upbringing, just as many others growing up in cities. I knew nothing about how plants grow, how the environment influences it, what organisms live in the soil and what is needed to grow healthy nutrient-rich crops, I knew nothing about beneficial relationships between different plants and trees, fungi etc. I knew nothing about the crazy stupidity of the current way we are growing and distributing food and the incredible smart way the natural untouched forests function. But all of this is changing now. Many people have heared things about climate change, about peak oil, of Monsanto, and many of us have seen documentaries like ‘an inconvenient truth’ and ‘meat the truth’, but there is so much contradicting voices (even between so called experts and professors) and it is sometimes overwhelming and unclear what it all means and what we need to do now. So we carry on with our lives. The bad news gives us little direction and leaves many confused.

So what can we do? What should we do? For sure we don’t want to be the people generations later will look back at and say: ‘ you all knew but did nothing. Why?’. So let’s look at our options. Some like to be activists, kicking and screaming against SHELL and TOTAL, some retreat to live a quite and simple life in the woods, not being part of society, others try to adjust their lives little by little, by being conscious of their choices and maybe even trying to inspire others. Every step is a good step in my eyes. I am not to judge anybody, I am not an evangelist, I just hope I can inspire one or two people I meet to do the right thing. To love our planet like she loves you, to give as much as you take. This is just how I feel right now in this moment and I find that researching ways how to actively be part of a better future is very meaningful and a wonderful reason to get out of bed every morning. My life has gained a lot of content, it is less empty and insignificant. When I look at all the beautiful plants, listen to the songs of the birds, feel the love of the people I see reason to live, reason to stop my part of destruction and start regenerating. I want to live my life in a way that makes the earth a better, greener, livelier, healthier and happier place. And sustainability is just the first step. Someone explained to me that when you ask someone ‘ how is your marriage?’ and he would respond ‘sustainable’, it is a bit sad, it is like the marriage is just barely surviving, it is not good enough. We want more, we want enrichment! 😀

So, How to do it? Yeah, that’s a search for life probably. I don’t think there is an answer. I think every decision has to be balanced and outweighted. I don’t strive for perfection and I don’t want to be to fanatic, for sure not dictating others how to live their lives. I’m not saying we should go back to prehistoric ways of living, for example we have made it impossible to live like hunter/gatherers now with the immense expansion of living people, together with the immense destruction of wild nature. But we can learn from them and think about how we can apply this to the modern world. In my search for this I found some great documentaries like

-The Green Gold,

– A Farm for the future,

– What a way to go – life at the end of an empire and

– How Cuba survived peak oil.

And there are many more. Check out http://www.filmsforaction.org. They inspired me a lot on what is the right way to live our lives. I feel stupid about my previous selfish ways, spending all my money on a big house, a motorcycle, skydiving etc. I am disappointed I didn’t see the light earlier in my life and realize I could have spent my money on so much nobler things or saved it untill I knew what to spend it on, worthy of spending it on. Anyways, things are what they are and I am happy I find new direction in my life now. I am researching, learning with every step.

Another book that inspired me is Anastacia by Vladimir Megre. It gives dreams and joy, a positive outlook on how to move forward, where to go. What we have today is not romantic and certainly not utopian, the world is in very deep trouble and holds no promise of survival. The crises of the industrial society will become worse and end in disaster, until or unless we develop a new life-style, which is compatible with the real needs of human nature, with the health and help of living nature around us and with the resource endowment of the world. Everything bad that happens to man is brought on by man himself, whenever he disobeys the laws of spiritual being and breaks his connection with nature. And boy, did we break our connection with nature!

All technocratic inventions are but poor ripoffs of what nature has to offer. And it, togehter with money distracts us greatly from our true purpose and the true way to live, be happy and care for the earth and each other. Sins like pride, greed and jealousy keep us from our right path. We have to find the courage to dream and actually many already do. Some countries already provide more homegrown vegetables and fruits than the whole nation’s destroying commercial agriculture taken together. Collectively we understand and know already very well what is wrong with what were doing today and what we should do to change the world for the better, we just dont fully understand how it works. Wouldnt we all want to live in a world without monstrous industries destroying and polluting both nature and us? Who really wants to suffer in boring jobs merely to enrich faceless corporations? What about a society based on mutual help and co-operation, rather than competition, both between men and men but also between men and nature? So many of us are searching for meaningful answers to questions on the purpose of life, on men’s place in nature. The image of way of life founded on the ideals of love, beauty and non-violence, in harmony with mother nature resonates so strongly with our inner self because it gives us the realisable dream of living in a free society of kind and happy people, without wars, crime or oppression, without destroying the earth and with magical things come true. Lets dream about a desirable future and act accordingly to make it happen. It resonates so strongly in tune with peoples hearts that one cannot fail to inwardly recognise the truth eminating from it.

And since I shrank my possessions to almost nothing and am on this bicycle trip with almost no carbon footprint in the world, living from and with mother nature, spreading and receiving so much love, I am so much happier and healthier and feel I am going the right way. I found the light on my path.

And this path is now bringing me closer and closer to this crazy thing called permaculture, which is an elegant way of living sustainably in harmony with mother nature and each other. The three main pillars being: earth care, people care and fair share. And wow, it is so so beautiful! I heared about it before, since my mother is an active permaculturist, but because our previous bad and many years non-existent relationship I had no interest in exploring this further. Now I’m giving it another shot and realize this is going to be a very important part of my future plans in life. Was it hiding in my genes? I am revaluing my mothers upbringing and the crazy things I couldn’t appreciate as a child. Im starting to understand her decisions more and more and this path is physically bringing me further away from her, but mentally and emotionally we are getting closer. We even talk again and now have a passion to share, isn’t that beautiful! Together with all the beautiful people I have met and connected myself too in the past, now also my mother is travelling with me, shining light on my path. I would have never expected this.

This path I’m on brought me to a second farm in the south of Bulgaria where I would be a volunteer as well. The farmers told me I could only stay for two weeks because afterwards there would be a permaculture design course and they would not have time to host me then. The course was pretty expensive and I tried to arrange for some exchanges of work to get a discount on the price, but that did not work out. I accepted the fact that I would not be able to participate. My contact with the family was so warm and positive though that they tried their best to keep me on the farm and they came up with the idea of me helping in the kitchen during the course. At least I would be present and had the possibility to talk to the participants in that way. Little did they know about my experience and passion for cooking! So hell yeah, offer accepted, yihaaa!! The universe played another very nice trick on me, shuffeling the cards perfectly, feels like destiny 🙂

To shorter the story a bit, (I could write a book!), I ended up cooking for the 24 participants breakfast, lunch and dinner, almost all vegan, without electricity and a limited supply of water. What a challenge! Luckily the people appreciated me and my efforts and helped me out. Thanks to this, I –very unexpectedly- was able to attend most of the classes and even more unexpectedly received a ‘Permaculture Design Course’-certificate in the end! Two weeks of insanely hard work have never felt more satisfying. I learned so many fascinating new things and spent time with the most beautiful, warm, loving group of people. I never heared any complaint about the harsh conditions, I saw only smiles, there was a lot of singing and hugging in and outside the kitchen and everybody supported everybody, without leaving anybody behind. I cried. Everybody cried. The positive energy in this group was so strong.

And besides all the love and togetherness I found it so so special to be part of a group of people who think it is very normal to evaluate your life along the scale of ethics: am I doing the right thing, am I supporting nature, am I supporting myself and everybody else on this planet. Here it is even unethical to buy a banana, because it dragged all the way here from Ecuador, and let’s not even talk about chocolate! But in the same time nobody is an extremist or dictating what we should do. We are all experimenting. We all drive a car now and then or get on an airplane, we all indulge in south-american coffee and enjoy it. It is about awareness, consciousness, understanding how the world works, how mother nature works and what are the consequences of our decisions. And at the same time we learn another way of living. We can live our lives without destroying the world, even better, we can regenerate what we have broken. In this part of Bulgaria we see wide fields of agricultural land, which was once a beautiful lush green forest, now completely depleted of any live in it. Let’s turn this back into a thriving, living, buzzing, green area full of life, both people and animals.

Some of the beautiful things mother nature provided us with:
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At the course I learned about building with natural materials, about alternative money systems, about sociocracy, dragon dreaming, non-violent communication, about different kinds of soil and the organisms living in it, about how plants grow, about succession, about nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, phosphor, calcium), about renewable ways of energy from water, sun and wind, about beneficial relationships between all the elements in nature, about micro-organisms and microclimates, about natural beekeeping (happy bees!), about how to regenerate soil and nutrient depleted lands, about how to grow organic food and how to grow supporting communities. We practiced plant identification, we made a comfrey press, a solar still and a biochar burner; we talked about compost, greywater, swales and ditches, chicken tractors, green houses, natural air conditioning, the importance of diversity and resilience (in every aspect of life), about stacking functions, about spirals of destruction and spirals of abundance and we made designs for the farms in this ecovillage. And so many more things, it was very intense and very inspiring… I feel like we just touched the surface of all these fascinating subjects. I found my new university and it is called life! Never have I learned so much valuable information as I did in the past seven months on my bicycle and never did I feel so energized to dive in the subject. I cant believe how ignorant I was about so basic things in life and I am so happy I found my path now. It doesn’t fascinate me just rationally (like almost everything in life does, I could happily be a student for ever), but this time it touches me deep in my soul. I see a reason to live. And a reason to die. As part of this wonderful cycle, as part of nature. Not on the top but just one part of it.

I stayed another week to attend a two day complementary course on forest gardening.
We learned in a more detailed way how to mimic a young natural woodland, utilizing plants of direct and indirect benefit to people. Learning from observing nature around us (a true forest doesn’t need any intervention to thrive and produce!) how to carefully design a largely self-maintaining ecosystem of useful plants, whether edible, medicinal, beautiful, wildlife attracting, beneficial like nitrogen-fixing, or serving any other purpose. So far the smartest thing I have ever heared of, the most intelligent and productive way of growing food and at the same time so logical it should be common sense and it is hard to believe modern agriculture does the complete opposite thing (spending 10x energy for 1x energy production, obviously not sustainable, while killing the land…). I believe forest gardening and permaculture are the future and I want to dedicate my near future to learning more about this, to spreading my knowledge and volunteer with people who are trying to live by these standards and ethics, keep adjusting my views and spending my time and energy doing something very worthwhile.

Ah yeah, I almost forgot, between the two farms I also spend ten days on a Vipassana meditation course, very interesting, I say sarcastically hahaha. Wow I did not have a good experience there. Almost everyone I speak to about Vipassana tells me they had the most wonderful experiences, so don’t just go by my story to form an opinion. For me it was a very bad experience. I entered the centre as a free bird, the most free I have ever been and so so happy and positive and energetic. But from day 1 I felt like in prison, kindergarten prison. I handed in my newly bought guitar, my notebooks, telephone, computer, everything. We would be woken up at 4 am, meditate over 12 hours a day, inside, between four walls with 70 other women and 70 men (separated though) with hardly any explanations, no lessons (well, every night there was a 1 hour video played) and scary ritualistic chanting.
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I understood the goal was to feel pain (which you do sitting in one position, not allowed to move, for so long!) and learn not to respond to it. I got into trouble for going behind the boundaries to watch the sunrise, for smiling (I was told this is not a happy process!) and eventually at day 8 for talking to someone. The first days I was very upset and about to leave, I could write a book about everything I felt was wrong with this course, but I decided to let it go and not spend my energy on that. Maybe this is something I did learn at the course. Let go. I was very happy to find a friend aka partner in crime on the course (Katie) who thought the same way and to whom I could ventilate my frustrations. Thanks to her I managed to stay until the end.
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I know I will never do it again, this is not my kind of mediation. I won’t go into details, but if you want to hear more, you know where to find me!

Katie and me developed a beautiful friendship and she is one interesting soul! I She was like my good friend and big sister for a couple weeks, since she joined me on the next WOOFF-ing farm, stayed for the permaculture and forest gardening course and came to Istanbul. Both on our own paths, but strongly connected emotionally. Thank you Katie for being the rebel with me, for your love and friendship and for opening up my world; what a beautiful balance we have.

After the 10 day Vipassana meditation course I biked my way through the mountains southwards. It was a sunday and I had no food left, I was given some leftovers from the Vipassana and I didnt really worry about what to eat or where to sleep. By now I have learned that if I let every worry go, the Universe will take care of me. I lay in her arms like a little baby and feel cared for and carressed by her soft hands. I surrender to her warmth and it is beautiful. When i was getting a bit hungry there was a car on the side of the otherwise pretty empty road with a hand stretching from the back out to me. The hand was holding a pear and in english the hand asked whether I would like the pear. I stopped and the hand turned out to belong to a man from istanbul who was there with his family. They just returned from their farm in Bulgaria and showed me the trunk filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. 25 pictures later and bags filled with the most delicious food I was on my way again. I kept saying ‘no no its enough’ but they didnt agree. So so nice!! And i found a beautiful camping spot 🙂
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I came to the farm I would be WOOFF-ing and it was magical. We build a tipi, with a fireplace inside, held some nice fireceremony with clay on our faces and jambees, we danced the traditional paneurithmics, we spend a night in the woods in ancient stoneformations ‘dolmans’, meditated, did some yoga, took a bath in the saltlakes and took a mudbath before jumping in the sea full of jellyfish. The water was held on the beehives to be energized, we talked about past lifes and we made agreements with the insects not to sting us. We set our intention to things we wanted to happen. It was beautiful. We were part of the tribe
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And a good part of the tribe travelled to Istanbul, where we reunited..

 

 

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