Arriving home in the forest

27 April 2013

CanopyFrom the moment I stepped into Belipola I felt I had arrived home. Walking down the stone steps and into the arms of the forest, I knew my life would change and we were about to begin a critical journey. So many signs had led us here, we knew we were getting close but we were getting weary of the unknown.

When I was in India in February, I remember talking to a friend, Helen, about the yearning for a mentor. And before I went to sleep I would always ask the question – who is my mentor? I’m ready and I want to find this person. I had a dream about Amma, the spiritual guide and teacher of Helen and Rocine. I didn’t learn too much from that dream, it seemed unorganized. But I felt the strong sense of Amma and talked to Helen and Roicine about it and I can understand her spirit much more. She is a giver of love, showering peace and harmony on everyone, exuding and toxicating well-being feelings to all around her.

So as we began to walk into this beautiful patch of Earth with Piyal, I had this overwhelming feeling that the forest was my mentor. I could feel the energy of the land, the creatures that were singing and those that were invisible to the eye. I had an unexpressable feeling of love and harmony wash over me, as I began to think about this organism that gives so much to all on this planet. And I began to think also of all the amazing people who have been involved with Belipola and Analog Forestry, who are also my mentors – Ranil, Lorena, Lawrence, Cedric, Piyal. I think I’m on a journey of discovery and unimaginable heights, one that will lead me to answers to the many questions I’ve been asking my whole life.

Staff Training Program (March 24-26)

Comparing Soil Samples_Featured

This week we delivered our first staff training program.  The program covered lots of topics related to sustainability, ecovillage design, analog forestry, and ecology.  We provided a dynamic, interactive and experientially based learning environment.  The feedback from our staff, and reflections from the facilitators made us realize that this kind of program is not only important, but in only three days we were able to activate, inspire and encourage our team towards new learning and new ways of acting.  Several of them expressed gratitude for the learning opportunity, but also a sense of growth and renewed energy for the work that we are doing together at Belipola.

The development of Belipola as a living and learning center for sustainability starts at its core, with our team.  We want to nurture and grow a space that allows all of our staff to grow into role models, teachers, and guides.  We are restoring the planets life support systems, and this includes restoring the human capacity to live within the biosphere without destroying it.

Borrowing from the Ecovillage Design Education curriculum, we started by exploring four dimensions of the living world.  We dove into an exploration of the “worldview” dimension, trying to understand how we see the world and why it looks the way it does through our own unique lenses.  We moved into a discussion on ethics, and borrowing from Permaculture and Sustainability discourse we learned how our unique view of the world could translate into action through the ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

Through experiential activities we explored our senses, built trust and connected as a team.  We expressed our gratitude for our place, ourselves and our work through pictures and then explored our concerns.  We discussed together, and learned from our own knowledge and experience.  We aimed to provide a space to grow.

We toured the land together, learning about the trees and the intention behind this place.  We discussed design techniques and the deliberate action that created this abundance.  Even for the members of our team who were born and grew alongside the trees of this place, they learned for the first time why we do what we do.  In the end there was a feeling of deep and renewed appreciation for what Belipola is and what Belipola represents.

On the third day we moved into the agriculture garden, delving into practical sessions on soil building.  We observed and tested the soil and discussed what soil is and when it is healthy.  We collected materials and built a compost pile.  Then we turned a two week old compost pile and touched the heat of it, smelled its fragrance and observed the needs of the compost.  After lunch we made liquid preparations for pest control and soil fertility – compost tea, leaf preparations and a stinky mix of pounded garlic and onion to keep insects away from our precious vegetables.

This was a trial program and it feels like a positive beginning.  From here we plan to build on the program further and expand it as an offering to the community.  Stay tuned!

To view a gallery of photos go here.

Working on the Nursery

Nursery Shramadhana

Last week the entire team at Belipola participated in a shramadhana to cleanup, inventory and redesign the nursery.  We have been wanting to do this for ages – the nursery is a special place in Belipola and holds a lot of energy there and we’ve been wanting to harness that for a long time.

Shramadhana,which literally means, to offer (dhana) one’s labour (shrama).  Anything can be offered as a dhana, whereas shramadhana is offering help that is unique to you as it cannot be bought or copied or owned by another.  It is often practiced as a community effort to contribute to a single person or to the community in general.

We had 9 people working on the nursery and it was a beautiful sight to see the whole team coming together, working alongside each other and laughing together.  I was so happy to be there and to share in that.  Along the way we cleaned weeds, organized nursery bags, while Piyal took an inventory of everything that we have.  What he found was that we have approximately 9,500 plants from 75 varieties.  However, because the nursery has not been attended to in many many years, a significant amount of these plants have their roots in the ground.  We have developed some preliminary plans to move some of the plants into the arboretum for landscaping and/or cultivation.  We have also identified many plants that can be re-bagged and put up for sale (if you have an interest in buying plants, we will have an inventory available in a few months).

One of the exciting things to come out of the day’s work was the inception of a new design.  We planned out a design that is cosmically alighned, spiritually grounding and pleasing to the eye, mind and taste.  The nursery platform was originally cut from the hill to build a house.  Dr. Ranil said that he chose the location because from that landing, looking down the ravine you can see the stellar constellation that we know as the southern cross.  A house was never built in this location and it became one of several plant nurseries at Belipola (today it is our only nursery).

In the past there were apparently some land disputes and according to some, a curse was placed in this place.

I was speaking with Trudy at the end of the day and we were reflecting on how important it was for our team to come together and work alongside eachother in this way.  Then we got into talking about our roles and what we are doing here at Belipola, but really we were asking, what has Belipola been doing without us? And in our conversing we realized that Belipola has not been neglected, or forgotten, or left to nature’s course, rather, it has been fermenting, sitting, waiting, ageing and purifying.  And we have come here with a new energy and the space is ripe for that, because it is all coming together and positive vibrations are abound in the forest these days!  We are blessed to be here.

So in the spirit of cleansing and realigning what has gone astray, we designed a cosmic alignment in the nursery.  We planted a herb spiral, with a large quartz stone in the center. The spiral is aligned with a circular formation at the entrance of the nursery which we aim to turn into a medicinal circle garden. And we have chosen the site for a third circle which will be small and complete the alignment to the southern cross.

We can believe whatever we experience, whatever we feel, this is the meaning of real.

Photos here.

Global Ecovillage Newsletter

Fire Tree

We are so delighted to see that an article we wrote was published in the Global Ecovillage Network’s (GEN) international newsletter in December. The theme of the newsletter is “Healing Colonialism” and the story of Belipola, Analog Forestry and Sri Lanka’s ever present colonial legacy seemed to fit well. We decided to tell the story of General Brownrigg whose brutal retaliation to Sri Lanka’s struggle for independence left a lasting scar on the hilltops of Uva Province. Belipola is in part a response to a continued legacy of slash and burn agriculture, mono-cropping, and the neo-colonial agenda of agribusiness. As someone close to Belipola once said to me, “Belipola is the balm that soothes the dragon’s fiery breath”.

Read the article here and let us know what you think!