I created the Integral Sustainability School with other partners, in 2015, in Salvador, Northeast of Brazil. In 2018, an inspiration that came during a long stay in India allowed me to write a short story called “Auroville, 2046. After the end of one world”, which talks about the reconstruction of the way of life on planet Earth after the collapse of civilization started in 2020. These two events became important in my life when the pandemic COVID19 promoted a great rupture in the world and everyone’s life went through upheavals. With my husband, we chose to live in our small farm, “Sítio do Futuro”, the rural headquarters of the School, where part of the training took place at least four weeks a year.
Thus, we left a city of three million inhabitants to live on a farm with few families around and this allowed us to experience a new world every day, with its challenges and promises. I would like to tell this story for a few months to show how this post-COVID world, which many hope to be more ecological, egalitarian and full of meaning, is being built by thousands of community and personal initiatives, like ours right now.
I could see, moreover, that people who, like us, were already aware of the imperative need to build other forms of life suffered less from the confinement. These people, through very different paths, managed to realize their ideals of life during the social isolation imposed on everybody in the world.
In 2020, millions of people started to wonder why all this was happening and how to get out of this painful moment. That is how the methodology of Integrative Ecology and the slogan of our School “transforming yourself to transform the world” became more understandable. Perhaps that is why my story about the story of Indra, the main character of “Auroville, 2046”, was quickly translated into several languages (Spanish, English, French, Italian and Catalan). In the story, Indra was one of the founders of Auroville, one of the first and largest ecovillages on the planet, and, in 2046, shows us how this community was resilient to the collapse of capitalist society. In his imaginary retrospective of what would have happened between 2020 and 2046, Indra explains in all simplicity how we got there and, therefore, can be an inspiration to get out of the current great crisis.
This story illustrated how the personal and collective learning of a horizontal, cooperative and spiritual community life that celebrates diversity is the source of a more resilient and happy life for everyone. Thus, it becomes a hope for its readers during the pandemic and confinement and becomes one of the fundamental messages of the School. Thus, since its publication in 2018, it has become a source of learning for our students. In recounting Indra’s trajectory, which shows how people of goodwill have reconstructed the world differently, the tale teaches us how to go through this moment of collapse. We are living, on a small scale and in the short term, Indra’s journey. Our students often tell us how this visionary tale inspired and helped them to live this moment, and I can say that the same goes for our neighbors and those who work with us.
The School’s slogan takes up the meaning of Gandhi’s phrase “Be the world you want to see”. To understand why it was chosen, we have to go back a little bit in the past and look at the changes we made in our lives during this pandemic. The idea came from a failure: a long history of a teacher and activist committed to environmental protection and social justice. After decades of work in politics and academia, I realized, like many others, the relative ineffectiveness of our work. The structural blocks were insurmountable because the everyday life of ordinary people supported this unsustainable world.
The climate emergency and unworthy social inequalities continued to overwhelm us, and we understood that we had to start acting on the ground. Another saying: “If you’re in a hurry, take it easy”. We were able to observe how the political and institutional means failed to change things and gradually unlocked the capitalist culture so that each person became the bearer of change. The solutions would exist if they were deeply rooted in human culture by changing large numbers of people. So, like other people, I decided to do my part as a hummingbird and invited some activist and creative friends to join me in founding this School of Transformations.
The experience of our School, which since 2015 has been known to the Brazilian, French and Indian audiences, was based on theoretical and practical training. Both were very useful in this confinement, as well as the methodological basis of the School, which is the concern to bring coherence to feelings, aspirations, words and actions. Based on a deep understanding of what Ecology means, the School’s training encouraged students to start a more coherent and meaningful way of life.
The School documents say that in Integrative Ecology the intelligence of the mind, the heart and also the body must be mobilized to remain in coherence with those of Nature and the Cosmos. Thus, when Nature is seen as sacred, a secular spirituality takes on meaning and becomes part of everyone’s life, pushing for changes. And now our arrival at “Sítio do Futuro” has put all this to the test. During confinement, the School’s innovative proposals for the transition to a more equitable, more ecological, more supportive and democratic society show all their relevance. The search for a happy sobriety, a more united and serene life, and closer to Nature has been the experience of many of our students and of ourselves in this year of 2020.
The first major change in our lives was Nature itself that surrounded us everywhere. We, residents of the big city for a long time, were amazed by its solid, beautiful and changeable presence, from morning to night. The pace of days changed naturally: we woke up earlier, we slept earlier too. Daily tasks, very physical, make us sleep much more, to reenergize ourselves. My husband and I live a life very different from the one we had in the city as professors at the university, with much more mental activities, despite all the changes we had made in the last decade. And with all this, we feel much better.
During the School’s training, reflections on the meaning of existence and conversation circles stimulated new daily practices. If the transformation of oneself in the name of the coherence between saying, feeling, thinking and doing was the main basis of our integrative methodology, the difficulties due to the confinement confirmed that this coherence was indeed a source of joy and not just a moral duty. All of this helped our resilience in staying on the farm, and it will continue for a long time.
The “Sítio do Futuro” is a largely reforested area of 30 ha in the magnificent Chapada Diamantina region, in Bahia, at the foot of an imposing mountain that forms a Natural Park, the “Parque das Sete Passagens”. There is a small production of organic food on the farm, agroforestry experiments, mainly in a coffee plantation. As for animals, we have a small herd of dairy cows, some chickens and two horses. They are respected, have a name and are esteemed accomplices. The main building, with rooms, classrooms and all the supporting equipment of a school, is completely bio-constructed. When we became “neo-rural”, avoiding going to the city, food production became a priority activity and our source of daily learning.
To support all the work at the farm we are fortunate to count on the help of two lovely young people, a young lady and a boy, who work with us part-time and who are both our students and teachers. They are the ones who guide us on the practical issues of rural life. They are also the two most frequent students at the School. In their own words, they never stop learning about a new world that delights them due to its simplicity and consistency. They also help us to understand that the lessons we forge throughout life come from contact with ecovillages in various countries around the world, from our theoretical reflection, from our attempts, mistakes and achievements.
The theoretical training organized by the School of Integral Sustainability, which nourishes the mind, has been shared with students through lectures, texts and films, and has proved to be very important for us in these difficult times. Armed with our rational belief in the need to change the way of production, consumption and disposal in today’s society, our creativity has been fuelled daily. The search for basic food self-sufficiency, the manufacture of preserves (dried fruits, aged cheeses, sauerkraut, molasses, kefir, kombucha etc.), the refusal of packaging, the use of dry toilets, the recycling of all kinds of materials (paper, glass, plastic, metal, biomass), manual restoration of work instruments, clothing, degraded agricultural structures … all of this has become our daily work. Our access to mountain and rainwater, solar energy, fireplaces and many other green facilities have been improved in recent months.
Our strength in defending our “ecological neo-rural” way of life in an environment of mistrust and misunderstandings we encounter came from clear rational arguments that we have developed over more than two decades. In the formation of the School, it was demonstrated that a patriarchal, capitalist and rationalist world view defines people’s daily lives and that, in order to avoid the socio-environmental disaster – or to overcome it because it happens at a gallop – it is necessary to practice other visions and adopt other behaviors. We had to persevere in explaining our choices, and also accept, if any, being misunderstood and even ridiculed as stingy, backward, sect members, etc.
If the training of the mind has been important, the practical keys of everyday life on the “Sítio” were the themes addressed in the formation of the School: conscious consumption, composting and recycling, vegetarianism, ecological cuisine that refuses waste and integrates PANCs (unconventional food plants), agroecology, bioconstruction, family manufacture of cleaning and beauty products, various forms of natural body care, solidary economy and self-management, among others. Both this and the difficulties related to social isolation were tackled with clarity and a spirit of innovation. It was during our continuous stay of several months that we saw the advantages of our choices in a world in danger, that we saw that all our vital energy was invested in things that work, have meaning and make us happy. This whole set of practices is understood at the Integral Sustainability School as our second intelligence, that of the body, of a healthy body, which works for a more general health, which respects the surrounding community and Mother Nature.
Perhaps the most significant challenge in confinement, for those who have not been affected by illness and a serious lack of money, is to live together, almost without interruption, or loneliness. This challenge calls for the intelligence of the heart, the third aspect of our methodology that opens up to various approaches to self-knowledge and creative conflict management. If our emotional intelligence was largely challenged by confinement, these tools were important to face the uncertainty that the pandemic created regarding our life plans, the fear of social contact, the lack created by the loss of our social and cultural habits, among other difficulties.
This intelligence of the heart is impossible without an empathetic attitude towards ourselves and others. The school’s training courses used devices that facilitate the sharing of interiorities to face difficulties. Everyone needs to know simple tools, such as silence as a way to heal wounds, illuminating ideas and inspiring solutions, as well as more complex tools of self-knowledge such as dream interpretation, the Enneagram, among others. This did not transform us into great men or great women, but into more resilient people in the face of everyday problems, people who persevere in their human relationships despite all the difficulties, who refuse to live badly and courageously seek other ways.
This intelligence of the heart is also that which promotes creative mutual help. Collective self-management practices have been developed with our neighbors, such as the creation of a commercial market, since the beginning of the pandemic. The difficulty in accessing fresh and varied food led us to meet some families who lived around the farm, and every Saturday afternoon we exchange our surpluses directly, amicably, without the presence of money. This was initially possible because we were a very isolated community, 400km from the main sources of contagion. The closer the virus got to us, the more we avoided crowding, still changing. In the same generous spirit of win-win exchange, product packaging is then left in a specific location in personalized baskets, then exchanged by volunteers and later returned by participants, without the need for direct contact.
Training in the School’s four intelligences is accompanied by dynamic questionnaires that invite self-observation and self-assessment. The main two are: to start the journey, (1) “Are you in an ecological transition?” which invites us to analyze the gaps between our ideas and our practices. To deepen the path, we have (2) “Health and Happiness” with questions that serve to support the compass of our life, coming from the heart and mind. It is no accident that in our case, with a frugal and natural diet, full physical activities and a life full of meaning and coherence, our health is very good, even if our happiness is not complete because of the situation in our country and the world and the risks of everyday life.
For us, the fourth intelligence taught at the School of Integral Sustainability summarizes the other three: intelligence of the mind is important to better understand what is happening in society and to give clarity and meaning to our action. The body’s intelligence makes us attentive to everyday actions, brings consistency between what we think and what we do, and forms the basis of a full life. Emotional intelligence allows for friendship and compassion with ourselves and others, especially in difficult times. Spiritual intelligence, the least known of all, is what makes everything easier, because it allows us to understand that everything is interconnected and that each individual change promotes collective change and vice versa.
For example, with each negative emotion, we try not to spread this excess of misfortunes in the world, especially in this time of the COVID pandemic19: we accept the pain, but we try to alleviate it by not giving it much importance. If we can at the moment, we will do something else, we will take care of an animal, we will harvest fruits, we will plant seeds, we will meditate in the forest … Nature gives us this simple joy of being a hummingbird.
Managing isolation was another example of the need to see difficulties as opportunities for us and the world. On a farm with almost no internet, it is difficult to search for information and talk to relatives. In the midst of a pandemic and in a country ruled by an extreme genocidal right, this was a source of distress, of course, but it also became a source of relief. Unlike friends who stayed in the city, we could not follow the catastrophic news and feed our minds and spirits with destructive things. This has done us good, and a broader understanding of the quantum world subtle field of which we are a part has also enabled us to help the planet overcome its evils.
The spiritual intelligence of the Integral Sustainability School is also studied from a scientific point of view by the quantum approach. It is the physics of possibilities, or physics of the soul, as physicist Amit Goswami calls it, or the physics of the great matrix for the scientist Gregg Braden. It helps us to see in reality uncertainty, inclusion, interconnection, as we learn from the wisdom traditions of all peoples and outside the mechanistic and Cartesian categories of certainties, hierarchies and separability. The COVID19 pandemic was very useful to better understand the basis of quantum physics: everything that happens here impacts the whole, and it can also happen elsewhere; everything is uncertain and our approaches to reality are only possibilities; and all living and inanimate beings are important in the constantly evolving cosmic process.
The quantum and interconnected dimension of the world is also clear in the material aspect, in the interdependent way in which Nature is organized. An anecdote: the biodiversity on our farm has developed a lot during the thirteen years in which we became its guardians, mainly because of reforestation. This positive dimension has consequences: to the hard work of a farmer, we add the presence of foxes, deer, armadillos, among others, who eat our production, which did not happen 50 years ago. This forces us to deepen our coherence: we celebrate life, accept interdependence and share with them what we produce!
The spiritual dimension is also manifested in our relationship with art and beauty, a source of admiration and gratitude. Making the farm more beautiful is an everyday act whether by clay paintings of various colors, mosaics using broken ceramic on the walls, mandalas of flowers on the doorstep (as they do in India so artistically), through the salads that have become very colorful works of art in the shape of flowers … With simple materials, accessible to the people of the surroundings, we offer a more beautiful life, attentive to the joy of receiving the abundance of Nature and transforming it in harmony through simple gestures of people who have time for what really matters …
The spiritual dimension is also reinforced by the yogic practice of meditation, asanas and pranayama, by the contemplation of birds, the sky, butterflies … and especially the ritual experiences of homage to the elements, such as songs for Nature. To calm down, to get inspired, to hear the sounds of the elements that speak to our hearts, we have the “temple” of Mother Earth – a simple clearing in the middle of the forest. This brings us closer to the mystery, to the sacred, therefore, to a spiritual … secular life. Quantum uncertainty – of which death is the greatest symbol – is integrated by the opening of the mind, by meditations guided around the theme of finitude … At “Sítio do Futuro” we have simple daily rituals that punctuate the days, celebrating Life and showing that a healthy and sustainable life is made up of acts of reverence and gratitude to nourish Mother Earth.
We wake up in the morning grateful to be alive and being part of the new world; we drink green juice or warm lemonade to clean and honor our bodies; we work during the day for the reconstruction of the world in this piece of land of which we are guardians, attentive to the smallest detail to the needs of the humans, animals and plants that live and surround us here; we are grateful for the food and all the hard work and human energy that brought it to our table in abundance; we ritualize the end of the day by singing, at 6 pm, for the sacred feminine. And finally, before sleeping, we give thanks again, whatever our state of mind, knowing that gratitude is the door to good living and that the hard things we are experiencing at this very moment may be the ones that will allow us to grow in humanity; we say thank you for all these things that bother us and remain confident in the wisdom of life. In these profound spiritual experiences, one can perceive the unity of everything and the sacredness of life.
I hope I have shown you, through this testimony, that working for a better world can be a pleasant and enriching experience, not just a burden. “Fighting” against something is always more difficult. To go beyond the old world, it is certainly necessary to denounce its wickedness, but above all, it is necessary to act for justice, ecology, democracy and the sacredness of life. What I have learned here from this experience is that the daily construction of an alternative way of life, where the joy of coherence is present and where seeds of hope are sown every day, is a much richer and more rewarding way of life than what I experienced before as an academic and urbanite. I invite you to try it too!