Monthly Archives: July 2011

To be the change…

If I want change in this world I need to change my way of thinking: stop putting emphasis on failures and constraints, as I m just making them stronger; I ll fill my thoughts with positivity and optimism, trust and reciprocity. I ll embody these values and they ll enter the conscious of people.

I ll build communities where there is reclusion, i ll build bridges where there is walls, i ll show hope where there is despair, bring love where there is hatred, silence where there is anger and laughter where there is mourning…

Will you join me!? We ll stop accusing people and places, stop calling it fate and acting helpless and recognise that it s our own attitude that stands in the way of a fundamental change.

Bound to Rhythms

I wasn t made for religions, rituals and other traditional customs. Some of them seem useful – some of them seem to be made for me. I like to have a rhythm in life, a routine, and i know it keeps me healthy and going as all natural things are bound to rhythms: the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening; some animals go along while others roam the nights; the moon keeps coming and fading in cycles; and the earth is turning around the sun; the tree produces leaves, flowers and fruits, drops them all and starts the cycle again; some birds fly all the way to Europe for the summers and make their way back to Africa when the winter s coming over here; …

There is a reason for all of this just like there is a season for everything. Our body reacts to the moon cycles as well as weather changes and our mind and organs react in subtle ways to minor changes that most of us are not aware of.

If i m intelligent i ll find the right rituals and make them instruments to help me along – and cast away what has become dogmas, burdens and boundaries. The right rituals will be like the banks of the river that lead her towards her destination, the sea.

From Decentralised to Polycentralised Systems

The theory of decentralisation has recently, especially in developing countries, been considered as THE solution to all problems. The question however is, what is actually real decentralisation? Is it a mere shifting of central power to smaller, still central authorities?

This is how it is mostly practised and that is why it was not able to deliver the expected results. We are still moving in the same lines of top-down governance; we are shifting the power vertically, instead of horizontally.

The actual process of decentralisation was not able to devolve the power of decision, the planning and implementation into the hands of the people. The community who owns the resources is not empowered to manage them. As long as outsiders tell me what they think is best for me, what crop I should grow and what food I should eat, you will not be happy with it and will probably not do it in the proper way.

The question that remains is: How do people manage to organise themselves in such a way that they can create systems and institutions that enable them to manage their resources and concern sustainably? How can they move from their individual interests and their limited individual knowledge to community interests and enhanced group knowledge?

If somebody has been preparing your food for many years, you may not be able to get it done yourself when this person is gone. That is why a lot of villages and a lot of individuals are in desperate situations. They are not able to rely on themselves when it comes to the most substantial things. Proper communication and cooperation within the communities has been interrupted – while everybody is complaining about why the government is not getting anything done.

Two years back, Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics, gave a speech on her theory of governing the commons at the University of Technology in Berlin: “Why are we waiting for governments to come up with solutions. We, the people, know what to do, let s get together and change the situations we re in.” Elinor Ostrom has a clear idea of what the organisation of communities will look like. There is not one solution for a hundred situations, there is a complex combination of a variety of solutions to every situation; which in larger systems will be called polycentric systems.

Following is a part of my diploma thesis, which you can fully download here, explaining the idea of polycentric systems.

Central to Elinor Ostrom’s understanding of organising larger groups of individuals using the same resource is the concept of polycentric systems. It is based on the idea of a downward directed accountability, shifting administrative as well as production power from a small number of individuals over to the communities. These communities will have to be organised, or find means to organise themselves in order to build and strengthen institutions and organisations on differing scales, boosting the flow of information and creating a high number of units with a considerable amount of authority. The organisations shall be able to make and enforce rules in their particular domain of activity. While the highly acclaimed decentralisation mostly remains characterised by a hierarchical organisation of decision-making, with national governments remaining the centre of authority, polycentric systems promote an allocation of responsibilities and as a result enhance mutual monitoring within a community. (Ostrom 1993) This in turn, properly performed, will strengthen confidence, self-determination and trust within a mobilised group of individuals who take on their own matters of concern.

Ostrom (2005) notes that community-based or participatory development, increasingly practised by NGOs in developing countries and promoted by governments, is mostly aiming at the organisation of a great number of groups at the same level. If, after implementation is completed, the NGO that provided staff assistance and external resources is about to leave, these organisations are in many cases not able to cope with major comprehensive conflicts. Complex polycentric systems organised on differing levels of governance can more easily adapt to external changes while the risk of total failure for an entire region is drastically reduced. Failing small systems can call upon larger systems and vice versa. The organisations operating in these systems are a mixture of voluntary agencies, NGOs, private associations, governmental departments and cooperatives, compromising overlapping units, so that information about local conditions, policy experiments and activities can easily be exchanged. In such a situation, major conflicts between the multiple interdependent units may arise. These conflicts may, on the one hand, lead to coordination problems and negative processes, on the other hand, however, generate more information enabling participants to solve challenging problems and further the community’s development. (Ostrom 2005)

Autonomous communities organising themselves in order to sustainably manage their natural resources have the advantage that they can more effectively learn from experimentation than a central authority. They have the local knowledge about the biophysical system that they are living in and know the culture and norms of behaviour common to their region. Creating their own rules, they can build up trustworthy relationships based on reciprocity and notably decrease the monitoring costs through mutual understanding and monitoring. The users of the common resource themselves know best what changes occur in their environment and when they have to adopt their rules. (Ostrom 2005)

Empowered education

Empowerment of the people will happen through education. However, this education can not happen through the absobtion of information alone but has to take place on different levels:

1 It is important that the instruments of learning, the instruments we use to take in and absorbe, process and memorize information, the mind and the senses, are trained and strengthened to enable and facilitate our learning process. We can train the mind by practicing concentration. As long as our mind cannot stay focused we ll have a hard time making a noteworthy progress. This might seem normal to all of us but it s mostly not something we re thought to do. Our senses are closely connected to the mind, as they pass on information. We can develop our 5 known senses in training them and we should be aware that there are many more senses than the 5 we learn about: our sense of balance, our sense of temperature, pain and inner senses.

2 An emotional balance, which is connected to a healthy physical body and a flowing vital energy are all crucial assets. A human being shall learn to deal with his/her emotions. For this purpose he/she has to understand their essence and dynamics. He/She has to know how to keep his/her body fit, clean and healthy and be aware of the vital energy flow in his/her body to be able to perform effective actions. Some meditation techniques are powerful tools to learn to observe your own mind and your emotions. A regular practice will enable you to make similar observations in real life situations. Yoga asana as well as the practice of pranayama are one way, but surely not the only one, to keep your body healthy and your vital energy flowing. They will help you increase you concentration as well as staying balanced in different situation.

3 Another important point for empowerment is our social capacity. A person can learn and understand how characters are formed and how we can change our way of thinking and acting. As members of a society, we are dependent and interrelated to others and their actions. Social values – that exceed human relations – are of importance. We live in an eco-system and are through our actions and needs substancially connected to this system. It is our duty to gather the needed resources to survive but also to make sure they are available for coming generations.

Proper education shall enable human beings to keep a balanced mind, know themselves and create a culture based on life, living relationships with the environment and the earth.

Community Peace Garden in Ilford, London

Community gardening – a concept that connects people of every age and walk of life, to work and learn together, getting their hands muddy, producieng healthy organic food and creating sites of life and blossom in the middle of cities.

Yes, a community garden is a single piece of land gardened collectively. There may be different arrangements for different community gardens, as some have parts of the garden being rented out as allotments. In such a case, a community garden has the advantage that the allotment holders can use the community material to work on their own plot of land and can benefit from the fact that the community is able to share cost in cases they want to get a gardener or a permacultur designer to give them some tips or workshops. The plots are not devided by fences or hedges which enables people to meet more frequently to share ideas and knowledge. And believe is or not, having a group of ten people thinking they don t know anything about gardening, you re sure to find at least ten valuable ideas. Its astonishing, the collective knowledge we possess.

I made use of my time in London in visiting the Forest Farm Peace Garden in London, Ilford. They have Wednesdays and Fridays open for volunteers. On the three days that I spend there I prepared new beds with compost and green manure, did a lot of weeding, some digging, turned the two pit compost, repotted lots of basil, collected a lot of ready vegetables and berries, learned a lot about plants  and met wonderful people. On Wednesday  mornings there is a group of five people with special needs coming to the gardens to do some work while having a chance to socialize, have fun and leaving everyday with a sense of accomplishment. That is what hands-on working in the garden does, it leaves you with a sense of happiness and accomplishment – you know you have worked and when you walk home in the evening with a smile on your face and a bag full of organically grown vegetables, you know what you have worked for.

The ethics of permaculture – Earthcare, Peoplecare and Fairshare – are an integral part of community gardening. These are places of education and nature awareness, places to connect ourselves with the people, the community and with the earth, the source of life.

Living tree

When a tree grows, taking all its strength out of a tiny seed – a mystery in itself -, then the essence of this seed spreads into every part of the tree; in every branch and every leaf, in every flower and every fruit it is present. They are not separated from the seed that once was.

When we water a tree, we only water its roots, its foundation, the place where the seed is staying. From there the water will find its way into every branch and every leaf, every flower and fruit. We will not go and water every leaf seperatly. If we do so, the tree will lose its strength and rot.

If we see life as a tree, bringing forth branches, leaves, flowers and fruit, we will not restrict our love to a small, chosen number of these creatures. The simple act of giving water to the seed will make our love spread to all of its parts. In disconnecting ourselves from the seed, the primal source of life, we fail love.

A prayer to start with…

It took me a while to get into social networking and I m not really sure whether I ll manage well to keep an updated blog, but I thought it s worth a try.

After finishing my studies in environmental planning in Berlin I have now started a Permaculture Diploma in the UK. This blog shall give me the opportunity to share experiences, ideas and visions that I encounter on my journey through the jungles of life and serve as an online documentation tool for the designs I ll be working on and the travels that I m gonna undertake with my beloved partner Sweetcorn, who is studying Permaculture as well.

Following are a few ideas or core values that are dear to me. Knowing that I am an integral part of this cosmic dance of creation and destruction that materialises itself around us in every moment, I will contribute to

  • a world that makes past experiences a valuable asset in the realisation of a  more complete existence in the future;
  • a civilisation that values the earth as a living being and cares for the people and all other creatures;
  • a way of life and a consciousness that works in harmony with nature rather than against it;
  • a positive vision of healthy communities built on local resilience, reciprocity and diversity.

I believe in the inner goodness of human beings and in the idea that the work we do does not have to be or to become a burden on our shoulders – that every human has the right to live up to his/her full potential and walk this earth in love. Following is a prayer from the book Sadhana – The Classic of Indian Spirituality written by Rabindranath Tagore:

“O giver of thyself! at the vision of thee as joy, let our souls flame up to thee as the fire, flow on to thee as the river, permeate thy being as the fragrance of the flower. Give us strength to love, to love fully, our life in its joys and sorrows, in its gains and losses, in its rise and fall. Let us have strength enough fully to see and hear thy universe, and to work with full vigor therein. Let us fully live the life thou hast given us, let us bravely take and bravely give. This is our prayer to thee. Let us once for all dislodge from our minds the feeble fancy that would make out thy joy to be a thing apart from action, thin, formless, and unsustained. Wherever the peasant tills the hard earth, there does thy joy gush out in the green of the corn, wherever man displaces the entangled forest, smooths the stony ground, and clears for himself a homestead, there does thy joy enfold it in orderliness and peace.

O worker of the universe! We would pray to thee to let the irresistible current of thy universal energy come like the impetuous south wind of spring, let it come rushing over the vast field of the life of man, let it bring the scent of many flowers, the murmurings of many woodlands, let it make sweet and vocal the lifelessness of our dried-up soul-life. Let our newly awakened powers cry out for unlimited fulfillment in leaf and flower and fruit.”