As much as climate change and increasing air pollution is an outer reality, it is also a reflection of our inner realities. Through our work at Youth Alliance, we have come to believe that the outer conditions in the world are because of the inner conditions of each individual.
Earth Shastra is a 9-day immersive journey taking passionate individuals on a journey into their ‘self’ and exploring ways to harmonise ecology, economics, and humanness. In October 2019, 24 individuals from across the country gathered at a beautiful farm in Himachal Pradesh, to explore the inner conditions of the present ecological devastation.
Earth Shastra as an inquiry into the present reality and a hope for a newer reality is a challenging process. We look for young people who are willing to root themselves in self-awareness and empathy and take this awareness to the systems’ inquiry. Navigating through self and system in the most grounded way possible was a great creative challenge. We feel we did really well, as we blended the program with bodywork, farm work, nature connect and building systemic awareness through the deconstruction of material’s economy and development narratives.
Here are seven learnings from the methods and madness of our experience to understand ecology, economics, and the human self.
The rhythm of the program reflected the radical shift in how we look at our lives and what we give importance to. Our days began with morning circles that were reflective and aimed at connecting us with nature. Each day, we spent an hour doing work on the farm. The hands-on work was followed by sessions, that involved our intellect yet awakened our hearts. Some days, we also focussed on bringing awareness to our body through Yoga. The overall structure was rigorous and demanding, and we are yet to arrive at a well-balanced rhythm for each day, but the shift to more hands-on and bodywork, brought a great depth of understanding of our ecology.
As our mentor, Nitin Das beautifully put “even the Eco-Warriors engaged in protecting our mother earth, are often unable to experience the healing, calming ways of nature.” Through Earth Shastra, we focussed on building the lost connection with nature. Nitin led a walk for us involving all our five senses, which opened up people to slow down and meditate in nature, through our sense of sound, touch, vision, smell and just being in the space. Each morning, we spent time in the forest, leading and being led, through different activities, that helped us deepen our connection with nature. By the end of the program, 80% of participants felt more connected to nature and have embodied the connection.
In this edition of Earth Shastra, we integrated working on the farm as an essential part of the program. The rigour of physical work, along with monotony of doing the same work, brought great reflections and a profound shift in perspective, to the food we eat and the hard work that goes into growing food. For most participants, it was the first time working on the farm. It provided a great opportunity to learn the art of growing food, with many seasoned participants and mentors sharing their wisdom ad learnings to grow microgreens at home. A few people even took back seeds, saplings of plants and have started to plant them at their home as a beginning. One of our mentors, Purvi Vyas, a farmer, shared that conscious eating and growing of our food can be a great tool to reclaim our lost connection with the earth, decolonizing ourselves, and having a healthy relationship with food.
At Youth Alliance, we believe that change starts from within. When each of us transforms from within, with our increased consciousness, the systems shift. Ritika, a participant reflected post-program “My takeaways from Earth Shastra are: Being more aware of who I am and how I am impacting other things and people. And also in return how I get impacted. Knowing that I can make a difference. Knowing that money is not the end-all. I will only gain when everyone does. The journey is more inward than outward.”
A lot of larger narratives around climate change bring despair. With everything seeming to be going in the wrong way, life seems un-just. The entire problem of Climate Change gets reduced to high carbon emissions, and technological solutions seem to be the only way out. At Earth Shastra, our constant attempt was to keep the hope alive, holding the discomfort for us, to understand the problem deeper, and look at the interconnections. Beginning from healing ourselves with gratitude, we were able to honour our pain for the world, see a new vision, and go forth with small personal actions, to make the new vision a reality.
Almost all of us who gathered there faced a similar challenge of not being able to have conversations with people in denial of the Ecological crisis. Most often in our own families, we deal with questions and remarks like “What can you do alone to save the planet?”. Through a session with our mentor Ravi Gulati, we learned the importance of effective communication. When we often approach the conversation from a moral high-ground, we lose empathy for the other person and the communication breaks down. Also the shift in the narrative from ‘one wins, one loses’ to ‘win-win’ is an essential shift and transition.
Restoring social connections, and overcoming the individual alienation, is what we believe that the world needs right now. Community is a deep focus for us at Earth Shastra. The intention is for us to connect with each other as humans, and grow with the collective group wisdom. Through the program, different multiple forms of intelligence, and expression came forward at different times. All 24 of us came from diverse backgrounds, representing different fields like Education, Crafts and Livelihood, Design, health, etc. All of us found ways and opportunities to connect with each other on deeper levels and left with life long friends. Ishika a participant remarked “At Earth Shastra, I’ve gotten some wonderful friends. I found myself in others, understood the meaning of a community and an alternative life of collective efforts.”