Growing Trees to Grow People

In a world becoming increasingly engrossed in technology and consumption, it is essential to bring people out of isolation and instead back to community. The living Earth sustains its inhabitants, including humans, who can still become grounded in place and regain inherent, vital connections despite certain obstacles of the modern age.

Situated among the bush growth of the Koreelah Forest, the community at Peace Valley center their work around such goals. They envision their site as an opportunity for place-making and regenerative, healing work between people, other beings of nature, and the land.IMG_1756Peace Valley was established to address a growing need for natural spaces of solace and reflection for urban dwellers. Joy Foley, the founder, began the Australian bush retreat at Bindarrabi Community, a developing ecovillage on a piece of their common land. After several phases of building, expanding, and fortifying their structures, Peace Valley now functions as a camp and event center. It continues to host volunteers and guests who engage in practices of simple living and shared activities such as meditation, gardening, walks, and swimming.

By putting the idea of “gift economy” into practice, no one is excluded on a financial basis from enjoying the Peace Valley bush retreat area. Among the restorative permaculture onsite, Peace Valley is also working to set up an edible grove of native Australian trees, as they believe in “growing trees to grow people.” The indigenous tree and plant propagation of flora such as hoop pine, silky oak, and acacia seed is one of several efforts to maintain indigenous biodiversity in the region, in addition to removing invasive plant species.IMG_1700Foley recalls the “deep calling to reforest, revegetate, reconnect, and simply be in love with nature, with life, and with the earth” that “strengthened in me.”

It is vital to promote access to the natural world, especially for those who are the furthest removed from it. In particular, as young people grow up more and more enclosed in artificial and technological surroundings, we must find ways to overcome the distance from our shared home and its abundance of gifts and wonder. The ability to receive the gifts that nature, as well as others, in our innermost selves, all have to offer, is what sustains life and gives so much purpose.australiapeace valley logo

Emma Szymanski

A Return Home: Exile, Friendship and Peace in Kashmir

By Shahnawaz Shah

 

The ambiance of the room grew cozier —  harmonious as we listened to the soft vocals and compositions of Rasa Javedani who had written the fitting words to the melodies that were then sung by Shakeel Shaan and myself.  The audience of old friends grew emotional in the atmosphere and we found it hard to hold back tears.  The song we chose to sing that night was one to express our love for the friends gathered that day, the friends who had left the Kashmir valley three decades back. Today I welcomed them for the first time on their return to their home of Kashmir.

It took twenty-eight years for such an historic reunion to happen. We had spent our teens together, enjoying school and college life and now we had the chance to recollect a time that we remembered as being full of joy, unaware of the divisive atmosphere that was brewing and which we in our innocence could not foresee.

The turmoil that erupted in Kashmir was sudden and spontaneous and with fewer  communication vehicles in those days our group couldn’t contact each other. Unfavorable conditions of the time forced many Kashmiri families (Pundit, Muslim and Sikh) to migrate far from their homes.  It was ten years before we were able to trace one another after this abrupt departure, all that while yearning to reconnect, especially to be together again in the homeland.   The idea to come together was sparked by a phone call and Rajesh Raina and I were determined to make it happen.

shahnawaz & rajesh raina
Enter L to R: Childhood friends, Shahnawaz and Rajesh Raina initiated the reunion. Shahnawaz works in the tourism sector in Kashmir and continues his work in supporting young people in reconciliation and social and environmental work. Rajesh Raina (on right) heads up an important news network of India. a caption

Even now as the situation in Kashmir is still ripe with violence and strife, such simple happenings as the reunion of a group of friends raises hope for others, hope of peace in the valley.  We must be able to imagine peace, to remember what it feels like.

We were inspired by a youth initiative in Kashmir called Ripples. It was an idea that came from the wish to see peace in my valley once again.  We believe that by bringing together those who longed for peace it will awaken the memories of a time when this vast area was the meeting ground of different spiritual traditions and people lived together harmoniously.  We want this feeling to spread.  Along this journey we met with the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a network of peacemakers led by women working for harmony and reconciliation. These women had been organizing and facilitating similar interactions and meetings between divided communities for many years and they took a deep interest in Kashmir after their first visit. It reignited some hope in me and we began to work together, mostly with young people, helping them create spaces of expression for their development. They had grown up amidst tension and conflict and had to know there was another way. We organized programs together with GPIW and invited some of these aspiring youth to come and dialogue with us and ask them what it takes to become true community leaders.

Although there had been many peace efforts by various organizations over the years, we felt our reunion was unique —  at the very least it was an emotional one. Some of those who had migrated were scared to return, imagining their old homeland will feel unfamiliar and the people harsh with them. To their surprise they experienced the same love and affection from their friends in the valley as in the past.  During our days together we visited old favorite places, ate our traditional Kashmiri foods, danced and sang. We sailed on Dal Lake for which Srinagar is famous. When it was time to take leave it was with tearful and moist eyes, visibly expressing the admission of their wrong perception about the reality. The truth is that the majority of the people of Kashmir still keep alive the real Kashmiriyat pluralistic values of simple and harmonious living.

In the Sufi spirit of friendship, the lyrics to the songs were intended to evoke the love and affection in our hearts… “oh friends your place and your glimpses are in our eyes always and your space is always here,  which you have to fill by coming back to your homeland!

These feelings lingered as everyone left. They left knowing that the Kashmir of their youth had not died and there was hope for a future without violence and fear.

group of friends

 

Wisdom from the Wild Nations

by Elizabeth Austin Asch

A Elizabeth Austin Ashe and friends

“It is only for the purity of the animals themselves that we [humans] are allowed to still live.” ~ Salvatore Gencarelle

Popular media like the New York Times contains an ever greater number of articles about animal sentience. Most recently, on January 29, 2016 Sally McGrane wrote “German Forest Ranger Finds That Trees Have Social Networks, Too.”   The evidence is everywhere: much more goes on in the minds of living things in the natural world than we have been educated to believe.

A dozen years ago I wasn’t looking for a psychic way to communicate; I was just trying to manage my daughter’s Thoroughbred mare, Ginger. I wanted to speak ‘horse’, which seemed to be a matter of learning the right body language, plus some horse psychology.  However much I learned from books and from human instructors — I realized that I was learning even more from Ginger.  Her intelligence, although different from mine, was extraordinary.  I eventually found that I didn’t need to use body language, Ginger read my mind.  Could it be that my 8 year-old daughter had picked out a very special horse?

Then my son wanted a parrot, so I started reading about this species. Combining what I had learned from Ginger with what I learned from Irene Pepperberg, author of “Alex and Me”  I found that rather than training our infant parrot, I was once again a student of the being that I set out to train.  At a very young age Ttac would learn the name of a visitor with no prompting, in a couple of days.  He is always the first to get a joke (watch out, his “heh-heh-heh” will give you away!), and he even knew when a family member passed away across the ocean, whistling the way that Grandpa had taught him, which we had not heard since the last time they saw each other two years earlier.

My husband wanted chickens, who are supposedly on the opposite end of the avian intelligence spectrum from parrots — and then our six hens taught me about their rich lives. The crows who would sometimes get stuck in the hen enclosure taught me how wild birds think and repaid my assistance to them with extraordinary favors.

Willing wild crows and pigeons have stepped into my bare hands. Feral mallards have shown me their hatchlings. Dogs, fish, cats, dolphins, trees, sharks and elephants have been among my teachers.  When you show others your willingness to listen they seek to befriend you, and to cause you to hear.

Each time I read books from top researchers of a particular species, I notice one common feature: They all believe that the species that they are studying is the species closest to humans in terms of intelligence, empathy, loyalty and other measures of what we tend to call ‘human’ traits.  I noticed something else: No matter the species, when I get to know an animal well I find individual character and reasoning intelligence, free will, morality — attributes my schooling taught me to believe were limited to human beings.

In 2014 I began studying Interspecies Communication with Anna Breytenbach, Jon Young and Wynter Worsthorne. None of us really considers that we are “learning” to communicate this way, rather we are simply remembering how to do so.  Every human, every being that exists, is equipped to communicate with or without the use of verbal, written language and sound.  Our educational system teaches us humans that we can’t do it, but we can.  And we must now re-member how, for listening to our brothers and sisters is crucial to the survival of all.

This past summer, a friend Ann-Sofi Carlborn wrote me an email telling me of the Global Peace Initiative of Women [from which the Contemplative Alliance emerged] and their intention to attend the climate conference in Paris. At the time I was visiting with two elephant friends in Tanzania, so I spent part of my evening reading about GPIW’s mission of peace and learning about their members.  The following morning and continuing for the next ten days, various species of wild animals told me some of their own notions of peace and harmony, in order that I share them with GPIW.  As they ‘spoke’ to me, I wrote in my journal; this understanding is what I shared with the faith leaders that joined GPIW during COP21.

Elephant: Notice the hierarchy. It serves a purpose in peacekeeping.  Notice how accepting everyone is.  How respectful.

Baboon: Notice how calmly we all accept our place. You [humans] have forgotten how to position yourselves and what your status means. No one owns the waterhole.

A Baboon track
Baboon track

January 29th, 2015

Zebra: Learn about herd unity. Learn about the power and value of Approach and Retreat.  Let time be timeless.  The urgency is in the transformation, not in your sense of time.  If the birds and insects and frogs are singing, that is the time to accomplish what is needed.  Push gently into your comfort until you are reaching outside of it to others.

A Zebra

Wildebeest: Why are our energies separated? It is right and good this way.  For balance.  Look at the shape of our energies now.  Always ask for permission when your energies are different/varied.  To blend must be consensual.  The more singular dominant energy must declare loudly his intention, as a way of asking.  He shall then accept if the answer is no, even if he intends to return and ask again.  Withdraw.  Approach and ask.  Withdraw.  Approach.  Thus, through the blending of energies does creation occur.  It has been so for ages.  Now is the time for returning closer to Oneness.  Your kind is ready.  Now is the time to approach.  And blend.  Be not afraid.

A Wildebeest

July 31, Day of Thanks

 Elizabeth:  Do you have advice for us?

Eland, Zebra and Wildebeest:  (Wildebeest singing) Listen.  Listen all you can and trust.  Then and only then will you find the way home for us all.  Fear not.  You will be surprised by the ease with which change comes, and the simplicity with which it may be implemented.  Listen and heed.

 Voice of the Waterhole:  You!  You are welcome.  You people cannot spoil my calm, my depth.

Warthog: With regard to the question of private property and ownership. It is not so much a question of never owning or making claim of territory.  It is more a question of understanding that that claim is temporary.  That eventually you must, you will, give it back. The humility in this equation is what you often lack.  Search for it and keep searching, for it is there in you.

Vervets: Hear this. Because you are not usually present/consistent, there is great power of intention when you DO focus your love and thanksgiving.  And when many more of you do, the results will be astounding to you.  We, your brethren in the other nations, have been waiting for you.

August 1, 2015

Eland, Zebra and Wildebeest: See how we all come together. (Wildebeest singing)  We welcome your desire to rekindle the peace between our nations.  Know that there are those of your kind here (in Africa and elsewhere on Earth) who never lost it.

Elizabeth Austin Asch

e.austin.asch@gmail.com

 

A Elephants