The Heart of Now, Permaculture and Greening Cincinnati

Log movingI went to Cincinnati this weekend to lead a Heart of Now experience night. The Heart of Now is a workshop that invites people to practice being honest and open with themselves and with each other, through the simple act of being present.

It’s one of those things that is simple but not necessarily easy. How often do we find ourselves lost in thought, worrying about the past or dreaming about the future or simply off on some dreamy tangent? And how often do we choose to ignore where we are right now, willing the time to pass by or stuffing down emotions we don’t want to deal with?

The problem is, when we’re disconnected from ourselves it’s even harder to connect with each other. Well, that’s one of the problems and I believe that’s why the Heart of Now has been successful and why it is often associated with permaculture and with community living. I first found out about it as part of my crash course in hippie west coast alternative living when I moved out to Oregon to take an eight-week course in permaculture and eco-village design.

Permaculture is a design theory that says we can create human settlements that will provide for all our basic needs (food, water, shelter) and also give back to the natural environment if we design them correctly, working with nature rather than against it. Many of the ideas are based on simple common sense that we seem to have forgotten, such as orienting buildings to take advantage of passive solar heating. There are many elements involved, such as sustainable agriculture, natural building practices, ecologically sound water management, and treating “waste” products as resources (e.g. kitchen scraps become chicken feed).

Eco-villages are communities that are designed to implement permaculture practices at the community level and to also support all the community members’ social and spiritual needs. As you might imagine, one of the biggest challenges of living in community is dealing with interpersonal conflict. Our class had sessions on some of the technical aspects of building an eco-village (building houses out of straw bales and cob, designing water management systems, creating forest gardens) but also all of the necessary social skills (non-violent communication, consensus decision-making, creating community policies).

The Heart of Now session I led in Cincinnati was part of a local permaculture course and it was really inspiring to see how it appealed to a group of people who are working to green a very urban landscape. Cincinnati is an old river town with a lot of history and a lot of typical urban blight issues. My host was telling me that there are houses in the poorer neighborhoods that are available for $7,000 and are often historical homes that were constructed in the late 1800’s. He has dreams of revitalizing inner city neighborhoods with gardening projects and radical community involvement.

Mostly, though, the participants were just excited to have a way to strengthen their small community that’s already working to create a small counterculture of green living in an area where the traffic never stops and 90% of the land is pavement. There’s already one eco-village going in Cincinnati and there are dreams of starting others. There are also dreams of starting farms at the fringes of the city and inviting inner city kids to come out to experience growing their own food.

I am excited to be a part of it all. Sometimes I worry that I’m not making a positive impact on the world and I wish I were out doing something radical like gardening in the ghetto or inventing the latest green technology. So I’m happy to play a supporting role in greening the city of Cincinnati as I continue striving to make a difference in my little ol’ hometown of Bloomington.

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