Household Conservation Habits as a Spiritual Practice

Personal conservation habits can become a spiritual practice, helping us to increase our kindness, compassion, and tolerance, as well as become more effective activists.

This idea came to my attention while I was writing my book DEEP GREEN. I became aware that the small daily actions I do around the house to conserve resources are not only an eco action. They are also, for me, a spiritual practice.

For me, a spiritual practice has two essential components:

1) Inner: Quiets my mind, keeps me grounded and centered, grateful, reverent.

2) Outer: Keeps me energized and motivated to keep going out into the world and help however I can.

Recently I gave a talk at my church (Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ormond Beach) on this topic of eco actions as a spiritual practice. You can listen to the audio recording here.

Money Talk

This post is more about wealth in general than it is about money per se. Just the same, I’ve used the title “Money Talk” as a sort of reminder to myself that I’ve been meaning to do a series of posts about financial sustainability, which is a key aspect of living lightly on the earth.

Today I have been very busy carting away five very heavy trash-bags full of money that one of my neighbors had left at the curbside as garbage. Thanks to my hand-cart, I was able to carry the bags of money to my house. With great effort and patience, I managed to get the very thick and expensive plastic bags untied (they were knotted very tightly!), and now those dollar bills are sitting in a thick layer in one part of my yard, where they will gain value over time.

Now, dear reader, I’m pretty sure that you (being an enthusiast of green living, or a person who has known me for five minutes or longer, or perhaps even both of the above) can guess what was really inside those yard trash bags. Not actual dollar bills, but something equivalent to money. Maybe even something money can’t buy! Yes, my friends, I’m talking about topsoil and yard “waste”. Piles and piles of native “weeds”, dark rich soil built up over time (by the action of rainfall washing organic matter down a sloped sandy yard), and whatever fungi and bacteria are in there performing the fecund mumbo-jumbo on which our life depends.

I’m not kidding when I say this is something money might not be able to buy. (And even if you are able to buy soil, it is quite expensive, and usually does not include the all-essential microbes.) Soil depletion is real and widespread. Depending on where you live, you may be experiencing the consequences up-close and personal already. One of the best investments you can make to boost the resilience of your household and community is to learn how to conserve healthy soil, and how to build it where you don’t have it.

One thing that has really hit home for me lately is that I can’t skimp on the task of building soil. (This is true in some metaphorical ways also. More about that in a future post.)

For me, the days have been flying by lately, even more than usual. Life is packed, and sometimes I really have to get a bit stern with myself about being sure to make the time and effort to sit down and share with you in writing. If I don’t share publicly, in writing, at least some of what I’m learning and experiencing, I feel that I’m not fully doing my job as an educator.

The Permaculture Revolution online summit, which started this past Monday, has been rich beyond my imaginings. I posted about it the other day, and I hope at least a few of you are availing yourselves of this mind-expanding series of interviews with ecological landscapers, natural builders, seed-savers, community-builders, a beekeeper, teachers, farmers, possibly the USA’s foremost expert on rainwater harvesting, a world-leading soil microbiologist, and others who have built their livelihoods around healing the earth and serving humanity.

Note, you don’t have to listen to the interviews at a certain time! They get posted every morning, and will remain up on the page for at least a short time after the summit ends. So you have plenty of time to watch them. Today is Day 6, and since there are a total of 20 or so interviews, with two interviews posted each day, I think we have four or five days to go at least. And it’s free! So go for it.

And if you do, let me know what you think! On the original subject I brought up in this post — money — I’ll be posting more in the near future. May your day be rich!

Right Livelihood

If you look into permaculture, you will sooner or later encounter the phrase “Right Livelihood.”

Right livelihood is an occupation that fits your skills, and fulfills you, while also helping the planet.

Some Appalachian coal miners who are out of work are getting retrained as beekeepers, reports this article by Sara Burrows on that is getting thousands of Likes on Facebook.

And here is what a friend and permaculture colleague of mine wrote as a Facebook comment in response to the article:

“For the record, people should look into how profitable beekeeping is. I know a number of people making a good living keeping bees in cities, while owning minimal land or none at all (and using other people’s yards, city land, etc). It is one of the most profitable methods of farming – far more profitable than raising chickens for instance, for the work and expense involved in most operations. And you don’t get black lung disease from it either – bonus! (disclosure, my grandpa died of black lung and it is a really horrible way to go). Some say bee stings are therapeutic if you’re not allergic.”

(A promising hint on a right livelihood, from Koreen Brennan of Grow Permaculture. Koreen and her associates teach workshops in permaculture design, gardening, and other topics related to living well and creating a regenerative culture. They also offer permaculture design services. Visit the Grow Permaculture website to read about all the learning opportunities, including internships, that they offer.)

Koreen’s comment inspired me to google “beekeeping profitability” and I found this article on how to make money from beekeeping. It’s from a website called The Balance Careers, which offers career information broken down by category. Beekeeping is in the “Animal Careers” category.

There are so many possible right livelihoods out there for you. Is it time to think about a career change? Have you been assuming you could never earn a living at the work that really calls to you? Low-footprint living, which among other things can drastically reduce your financial footprint, can help with that! Never underestimate the possibilities that become available when you reduce your financial and energy overhead.

Here’s a list I started off the top of my head, of livelihoods which build community while serving nature:

  • composting
  • community toolshed (rental, or membership fee)
  • herb shop (dried herbs, essential oils, etc., from local plants)
  • herbal healer, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner
  • charcoal making
  • basket weaving, thatch making, fence making using local native grasses
  • bicycle-based delivery service, errand service, food delivery
  • producer of cleaning products from local native plants
  • neighborhood seed bank, plant nursery
  • community canning kitchen
  • jelly & candy maker
  • tea maker
  • baker
  • miller
  • brewer, distiller
  • bicycle cargo-trailer maker
  • neighborhood micro dairy (small goats? also doubles as lawn-mowing service; fertilizer source)
  • small welding shop to make and repair durable essential tools
  • weaver, stitcher
  • raising worms & grubs (for bait, chicken feed, etc)
  • native plant landscaping installation & education
  • firewood
  • ink-making from local materials
  • neighborhood-based childcare, eldercare, pet sitting
  • counseling (psychological or spiritual)
  • animal therapy
  • low-tech printing
  • neighborhood solar charger station
  • eco cleaning service
  • laundry/mending service
  • forager (wildcrafting educator)
  • artist
  • musician
  • knife sharpener
  • small machine repair: sewing-machine mechanic, etc.

Many of these essentials are barred from neighborhoods by codes and zoning. That is another frontier of our work: seeing what might need to be tweaked to build resilience back into communities.

What else would you add to this list? What do you love, what does your community need, and how might you turn that into a livelihood?

I once asked a high-powered corporate office manager I know and love, “Where would your dream workplace be?” I expected her to say “CEO of an international company,” or something.

But her answer was, “In a barn!” (With horses. She was a horseback-riding champion as a kid, and she loves horses and all animals.) I hope she goes for it, I really do. She has the heart, the skills, and the inner determination to succeed.

On the subject of right livelihood, “The Permaculture Revolution Interview Series: How To Find Your Purpose and Heal the Earth” (which I introduced in my previous blog post) starts today. I encourage you to sign up for this free online series by David Kincaid, AKA PermaDave. I am one of the 20+ permaculture leaders who were invited to be interviewed for this series. You’ll be able to see my interview some time in the next 20 days.

The first interview you’ll hear is with Elaine Ingham, an internationally recognized expert on the soil-food-web. Others include Brad Lancaster “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands” and Morag Gamble “Our Permaculture Magazine.”

Besides experts sharing a wealth of practical knowledge, I also suspect this series will turn out to be a gallery or menu of potential “right livelihoods” for you to consider.

Register here, and enjoy!

Permaculture Revolution Interview Series: How to Find Your Purpose and Heal the Earth (free online video series)

Dear Friends/Readers! I have some exciting news. Recently I had the great honor of being invited to be part of this interview series, “The Permaculture Revolution Interview Series: How to Find Your Purpose and Heal the Earth!”

The series will be launched this coming Monday July 22. Visit the link below to sign up (it’s free and open to all).

Whether you aspire to live off-grid, transform your urban neighborhood into a resilient eco-oasis, or simply live a life more connected with nature … or just see videos of me and 20 other leaders of the permaculture-design movement offering various ideas on “What is permaculture about, and how can it enrich you and your community?” … I encourage you to sign up for this free online series.

I definitely plan to tune in — can’t wait to watch the interviews of Brad Lancaster (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond), Morag Gamble (Our Permaculture Life), and the other world-class permaculturists in the series. I am humbled to be in such company!

The series is ably and graciously hosted by David “PermaDave” Kincaid, who you can read about on the signup page.

Register here for the free series.

Climate Despair

As a reader of this blog, you may not be at all surprised to hear that climate despair is prompting some people to give up on life. You may even have experienced such despair at times; I know I have. After reading Jem Bendell’s article linked above, I decided to start a new section of my sidebar: Practical Tips and Emotional Support for the Possibility of Societal Collapse. I hope you will find these resources helpful.

In his article, Prof. Bendell quotes George Monbiot (the climate activist and journalist who prompted the emergence of the Riot for Austerity movement, which in turn led me to write my book):

“…British writer and climate activist George Monbiot sees succumbing to despair as a moral failure. ‘By throwing up our hands about the calamities that could one day afflict us, we disguise and distance them, converting concrete choices into indecipherable dread,’ Monbiot wrote in April. ‘We might relieve ourselves of moral agency by claiming that it’s already too late to act, but in doing so we condemn others to destitution or death.'”

The phrase “moral failure” might sound like a harsh condemnation to some. After all, who among us hasn’t felt this kind of despair at one time or another? As I see it, the despair itself is not a moral failure; it is what we do with it. There is an invitation to process our feelings and then reach out and care for others as best we can. Community care is an essential piece which is largely missing from our frayed social fabric. Grassroots movements such as Kristin Schell – The Turquoise Table and home vegetable gardening/food-sharing have a crucial role to play in rebuilding trust and nurturance into our society. Online communities, too (such as Riot for Austerity and Journey to Zero-Waste) are essential in that they provide emotional support to people who have chosen a path of awareness, resource-reverence, and care of the earth. All of us, no matter how shattered and overwhelmed we may feel sometimes, are powerful beings. We can extend person-to-person, everyday compassion. We can look out for our brothers and sisters, comfort them in their despair, acknowledge the validity of their feelings even while we are doing the same for ourselves.

More from Jem Bendell (this is from his Deep Adaptation website, which I have also permalinked in my sidebar): “Everyone engaging with our climate predicament will have their own emotional journey. None will be easy. The question of how to engage people is a huge one for me. It is why I have focused on how people who are awake to our predicament can help each other. My main suggestion is that we engage and talk with others who do not think that we are confused, depressed, or irresponsible to have concluded that climate change now threatens societal collapse. In those connections and conversations, we find solidarity, joy and pathways for how to be and what to do in future. If you do not yet have that in your life, or want more, then I recommend reaching out through one of the networks I list here.”

It’s OK To Be Bad At Stuff

Of course it’s OK to be bad at stuff. Nobody (not even those friends of yours and mine who seem like superheroes) can be great at everything.

What I’m saying, though, is that it’s OK to be bad, really bad, at stuff that you are aiming to become good at. Being bad at something is not necessarily a “sign from the cosmic universe” that you should give up on that thing.

A couple of examples from my own life:

Gardening: I am awful at it! I kill plants! I buy lush, healthy vegetable, herb, and flower plants from green-thumbed people, and they wither under my care. (The plants, not the people. The people are doing fine, because black-thumbed agents of death like me keep lining up to give them money for new plants.)

I am bad at gardening … but I consider gardening absolutely necessary. So, I keep plugging away, and over the years, I have become able to grow some veggies. Also, I have become better at researching the keys to success.

Soil is the biggie! It was only recently that I actually went ahead and got a soil test done. Still waiting on the results, but it is looking like excess calcium, which is common on small urban lots (because of construction), and which is easy to fix.

Another game-changer is containers. Just about every cultivated vegetable I have managed to grow, has been in a pot. (They still look stunted and sad compared with how the veggies of my green-thumbed pals look, but at least they don’t outright die.) Now, I am taking it to the next level: My GardenTower just arrived today. It’s a nifty planter that can grow 50 veggie plants, plus a worm condo, in 4 cubic feet of space! Thus leaving more space for wildlife, and creating a convenient compact micro-farm for humans. I will shamelessly acquire a starter batch of perfectly balanced, store-bought organic soil to up my odds of success.

And regardless, I will never give up on gardening. I consider it essential. (Though I have to say, the edible wild plants grown for free in my yard by the Creator far outnumber the cultivars tended by me! I am just fine at foraging.)

Fire-starting: Who knew that a gal who at one point had a side career as a fire-dancer, would be bad at starting fires! Match after match, down the hatch, and no cooking flame to show for it. And yet — we should all know how to start a fire in case we need to. So, I got some help from my friend CB, who could be a highly successful arsonist if he so desired. (Fortunately he does not so desire.) At my most recent gathering, he fired up the Rocket Stove in short order. He was delighted to be in charge of the fire.

And, he gifted me one of those magnesium fire-starter thingees, which actually proved very easy to use! I made a fire faster than I’ve ever made one in my life. (I had actually received one of those magnesium bars as a gift some years back but it got lost in a move before I worked up the gumption to try it.) This also reminds me I should practice starting fires with my magnifying glass (solar-powered fire-starter).

Don’t let being bad at stuff (even the core skills you need for your life) stop you from practicing and improving. In retrospect, it seems like most of the things I’m bad at that I really want to be good at, were just things I gave up on too soon. Maybe the main things I’m bad at are patience and humility! Two things I will never stop working on. I do see some progress on both of those.

How about you: What are you bad at that you really want to become good or at least passable at? And what are some steps you can take to make that happen?

Rainy-Weather Tips for Clothesline Users

Many people tell me they would love to do without a clothes-dryer, not only to reduce their electricity footprint but also to free up space in their homes and have one less piece of machinery to maintain.

But some people rightfully wonder, “How do I do without a clothes dryer if I live in a place that has a rainy season, or has a lot of cloudy/rainy weather throughout the year?”

As it happens, I’m in just that rainy boat right now! The rain feels delicious — cools down the air; wets the sidewalks and asphalt; nurtures the thirsty plants. But it puts a “damper” on what is usually the ultimate energy-efficient, free clothes-dryer and sheet-freshener, namely the blazing Florida sun plus a piece of slim rope stretched between two or three stationary objects.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years of doing without an electric dryer in rainy times.

  • Wait til the sun comes back out! My favorite tip is the simple, old-fashioned one: Just don’t do laundry on rainy days if you can avoid it! Or only wash small items like underwear. But if the rainy spell drags on and you just can’t avoid washing clothes …
  • Have an indoor drying rack or other indoor alternative. In addition to having one of those old-fashioned wooden racks that fold up neatly when not in use, I also have a couple of makeshift drying rigs* set up, one by my bedroom/office window and another in the corner of my kitchen where I keep the mop and broom. That area gets a lot of air circulation through open doors and windows. A young student from Germany, who stayed at my house for a month last spring, told me his father had engineered elaborate clothes-drying racks for their family’s apartment in central Berlin. The racks are raised and lowered by a pulley system as needed.
  • Choose an easy-dry wardrobe. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid burdening yourself with thick heavy clothes that have to be washed frequently, or clothes made of fabrics that take a long time to dry. This is even more true in humid/rainy times. Choose lightweight items that will dry quickly. (In winter, you can layer these items for warmth. Multiple thin layers keep you warmer than one thick layer anyway.) Long underwear made of silk or breathable artificial fiber dries quickly, while your very thick snow pants and jacket should not need to be washed often. In summer, everything is lightweight, so it’s less of an issue, with the exception of thick towels which many people use year-round.
  • About those thick towels! Lots of people love the sensation of a nice thick fluffy towel, but boy are those things a pain to dry, especially in damp weather. You might consider trying out a thin small towel to dry off with, at least during rainy times. This is a bit of local wisdom I picked up while living in Tokyo. I noticed everyone at the public baths seemed to use these thin little hand towels, which proved to be surprisingly effective. I tried one and never looked back. If you want a big cloth to wrap around your body after showering, consider a sarong. They are made of thin fabric so they dry fast!
  • Love your denim jeans or other thick clothes? No problem! Either avoid wearing them in wet weather, or, if you really want to wear them, go ahead, but just don’t worry about washing them til the sun comes out again. Rather than stuff them in the hamper (where they will get damp and smelly, making them harder to clean), hang them on a drying rack til laundry time. Or stick them on the clothesline and let them get a rainwater rinse! Which brings me to my next tip…
  • Clotheslines aren’t just for drying! I often use my clothesline in the rain, to pre-wash my sheets or clothes. I also use the clothesline in rain to rinse out clothes that I have hand-washed in gentle soapy water. Even if it rains for days, and the stuff ends up sitting out on the line for days on end, no harm done. Once the sun comes out, they will dry, and they come out just as clean and sun-dried fragrant as if they’d been quickly washed and dried.
  • Professional cleaners are your friend. I’ve been self-employed since 1995, and even before that, I never worked in any office that had a strict dress code. But if I did, and had many suits and dress-blouses to deal with, I would most likely take them to a laundering service or eco dry-cleaner, rather than try to keep them looking crisp with a regime of hand-washing and line-drying. But actually, now that I think about it, there are a lot of super-easy-care business clothing options nowadays (even women’s jackets) that will pass muster in a corporate setting, yet are easy to take care of at home, so if I were in that position I would likely look into those wardrobe options first.

This is about all the tips I can think of for now. If I notice more things that I do to keep the laundry simple even in rainy times, I’ll add them later. And please feel free to email me your tried-and-true tips!

*My makeshift drying rigs: 1) In the kitchen, I have a sturdy PVC beach lounge-chair turned on its end. It’s an ideal drying rack for sheets or other large items, and serves fine for small items like dishtowels too. I scrounged it off the beach; some hotel had tossed it, probably because one of the slats had broken, making it unsuitable for use as a lounge chair. It makes a nice clothes-drying rack though! And 2) In my bedroom, I have clothes-hangers hanging on a pole that’s stretched between two high cabinets. The air from the open window will usually get the clothes dry enough even in super rainy weather. (The pole that the hangers are hanging on is actually the underside of an ironing board. I have no need for an iron, so instead I use the iron — which I inherited from my Mom — as a handy shelf for my clothes!)