Getting off the boat at Deep Ecology of Wellness, we were greeted with freshly cut coconuts, a perfect beginning to what would be an immersive, insightful, and inspiring week.
Article Photography by: Ashley Drody
I was one among thirty participants and ten teachers who spent a week living out the Deep Ecology of Wellness retreat organized by Yoga Trade at Punta Mona. The Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design and Botanical Studies is an off-the-grid permaculture farm and educational retreat center on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Launched in 1997, it is considered one of the most established and bio-diverse permaculture farms in Central America, with over 300 varieties of fruit and nut trees, as well as over 150 medicinal plants. Punta Mona’s mission is to practice and teach a simpler, regenerative way of living.
For most of us during this gathering, it was our first immersion into a permaculture-based lifestyle. As we learned during the workshops, permaculture is a holistic design system for creating sustainable human settlement and food production systems. It combines three key aspects:
1. An ethical framework
2. Understandings of how nature works
3. A design approach
Applying the permaculture principles to human relationships, communities, social systems, and networks is known as social permaculture. According to our teachers, social permaculture can be considered “the art of designing beneficial relationships” and includes the interrelationship among humans, plants, animals and the Earth. It thus comes with no surprise that permaculture stems from a strong emphasis on indigenous wisdom regarding how to live lightly on the planet.
At Punta Mona, every day began with yoga. A lovely tree-enclosed yoga shala housed our sessions allowing us to not only connect with our breath and bodies but also the natural environment around us.
In addition to fantastic yoga instructors, we were blessed with an incredible line up of passionate and wise workshop facilitators. I share a few of the highlights below:
– Founder of Punta Mona, Stephen Brooks, shared with us his excitement for fruit trees and knowledge of the jungle during tours around the land.
– Lala Palmieri, herbalist and co-leader of the Village Witches gave us an eye-opening tour of herbs, plants, flowers and their medicinal properties.
– Co-founder of the Permaculture Action Network, Ryan Rising, gave us the 101 on permaculture design, principles, and ethics. He also facilitated an “asset mapping” activity where we quickly realized how many of our needs can easily met by others in our communities and networks.
– Self-proclaimed Mother Nature representative and Village Witch, Sarah Wu, guided us on an insightful shamanic journey exploring deep ecology.
– YogaSlackers power duo Sam and Raquel not only taught us how to do yoga on an inch-wide piece of fabric but also shared their tips on conscious-traveling as modern-day nomads.
– Jess Taing, an experienced Kirtan teacher, facilitated a restorative mantra singing circle.
– Sustainable-surfer, yogini, and writer activist, Tara Ruttenberg, catalyzed us into deep introspection during an open dialogue on the important topic of privilege and responsibility.
– Mary Tilson, an international retreat leader, helped us explore the complex topics of addiction, trauma, and ways to recovery.
– Bodyworker Lynn Alexander led us through a powerful breathwork workshop, in which many of us were able to deeply connect with our energy bodies and release old emotional experiences.
– Yoga Trade co-founder, Erica Hartnick, showered us with her love and visionary ideas, in particular during our opening and closing ceremonies.
Incredibly, the wisdom-sharing did not stop there. Mealtimes turned into fascinating discussions during which many of the participants shared their own expertise and experiences. For instance, I learned more about Ayurveda during one dinner conversation than during my entire lifetime.
In one of our final sessions, a question came up regarding how to take back and implement all that we had learned during this week into our daily lives. I share three main take-aways:
1) Privilege and Responsibility
There is no doubt that those of us lucky enough to travel for pleasure have been granted privileges in life that a majority of the world’s population does not share. The question is how do we respond to that privilege. Shame and guilt, which some privileged people often feel, are closed-hearted emotions that do not help anyone. It is okay to take time to mourn the suffering of others, but then it is critical to move into radical acceptance. It is not our fault that we have privileges, but it is our responsibility to be aware of them and use them for the betterment of the world. As Tara shared in her workshop, one way to do this is through mapping our privileges to better understand them and how they play out in our lives as travelers. You can read more about this in her recent post.
2) Asset Mapping
To improve individual and family well-being requires communities, neighborhoods and their residents to be involved as co-producers of their own well-being. Everyone has something to contribute and we need everyone’s “gifts and assets”. Using the principles of Asset-Based Community Development and asset mapping we can help create powerful community partnerships to build healthier, safer and stronger neighborhoods and communities. At the most basic level, you can carry this out in your community by bringing people together and asking them three questions: What assets do you have? What skills do you have? What do you need? Then have people share and see what needs can be met by the skills or assets of others! You can also follow a more detailed process using this toolkit.
3) Healing Through Herbs
Herbal medicine traces its roots back to earliest civilizations. While conventional medicine often treats symptoms of acute illnesses, herbalism fosters preventative health and addresses the roots of chronic health problems. With little effort, time, or money, you can grow our own herbs, make your own medicines, and care for yourselves and families. Why not start your own herbal garden today?! See a list of medicinal herbs that you can grow here.