A few months ago as a result of increasing worry about the state of the Earth and the damage caused by human impact and extraction, I sent out a letter via email to see if anyone would be interested in the setting up of a project based on zen and permaculture, to be tentatively named Wildseed Zen. I felt the need to encourage any positive and life affirming actions that would make the world safer and bring about healing and repair.
Why Zen? – For the past few years I have been practicing Zen, initially through the teachings od Thich Nhat Hanh and retreats with Brother Phap Vu at Wiston Lodge. In 2015 I took the Five Mindfulness Trainings and I attended sanghas in Edinburgh (Wild Geese) and Cockburnspath (Bluebell). However the book that first led me into Zen, that had made and continues to make such sense to me was Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Suzuki Roshi’s Dharma talks that were recorded by his followers at San Francisco Zen Centre in the late sixties and seventies. Suzuki, was a teacher/priest in the Soto Zen Tradition. Over the last few years I have explored his writings and the writings of his followers and Dharma heirs, in particular Norman Fischer. I felt a connection to Suzuki Roshi’s teachings, as have millions of others. In October 2015 I made a trip to Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico and attended a retreat there on the Six Paramitas led by Norman and Kathie Fischer. This was a wonderful and inspiring retreat that convinced me all the more that I should continue my training in the Soto Zen Tradition. As a result, once back from the States, I began to attend the Zen Buddhist Priory in Portobello, Edinburgh where Reverend Master Favian Straughan is the resident monk. This Priory is a lay training centre in the Order Of Buddhist Contemplatives in the Soto Zen tradition. I have attended ever since and try to keep that attendance as regular as possible. In 2016 I took Jukai at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, the main Abbey of the Order in the UK. I now have a regular zazen practice. This form of Zen, and in particular zazen meditation,has been a very special discovery for me and ongoing practice is a source of great calm and joy – I feel enlivened, renewed and perhaps more capable in supporting and helping others from a solid seeming ground, than I ever have. Part of the gradual unfolding of practice has been a deeper connection to nature and to the interconnectedness of the universe along with a wish to connect with others and support all beings.
Why Wildseed? I have long been interested in organic growing and sustainability and over the past few years my wife and I have helped a garden come into being where we grow plants, fruits and vegetables but also plant for bees, insects and other wild life. I have developed a growing interest in the random wild spaces that are in and around our town and villages, and in the wilder places in Scotland. I am deeply concerned about species decline and know that there is a very difficult path ahead if we want to stop it or somehow turn the trend around. I feel that allowing ‘the wild’ the space to flourish, recognising the benefits and healing properties of spending time in nature,the necessity of protecting and encouraging diversity through rewilding, letting things be and allowing nature a space to heal is vital for all our survivals.
Back to the email – I received some interest and very positive replies to the letter and as a result of a conversation with Meg Beresford of Wiston Lodge and Border Collie Sangha, an invitation to go down and visit her for a chat. Meg and I had an interesting walk and a conversation about how we were possibly both barking up the same tree. Last year, shocked at the disappearance of bees from places she was accustomed to see them, she had instigated the Bee Line – a walk from The Edinburgh Botanics to Wiston Lodge with stop offs for meetings and discussion with folk . A blog about the Bee Line is here –
The result of our meeting was an invitation to talk and instigate some discussion about Wildseed Zen at a Mindfulness Day in December.
Our day started with a guided meditation from Meg taken from Thich Nhat Hanh’s A Love Letter to the Earth which set the tone of the day well. Indeed Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter kept us good company all day.
On the day I read out the letter and some passages from The Love letter to the Earth and Stefan Geyer’s Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design –
There is a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside of each one of us. When we change the way we see the world, when we realize that we and the Earth are one and we begin to live with mindfulness, our own suffering will start to cease. When we’re no longer overwhelmed by our own suffering, we will the compassion and understanding to treat the Earth with love and respect. Restoring balance to ourselves, we can begin the work of restoring balance to the Earth. There is no difference between concern for the planet and concern for ourselves and our own well-being. There is no difference between healing the planet and ourselves.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Nature the Great Teacher
With well over four and a half billion years to work out many effortless solutions to some very tricky problems, Nature has much to teach us about how to design with beautiful efficiency and breath-taking elegance. Careful, protracted observation of Nature’s manifold variations helps us tap into the huge intelligence out there simply waiting for us to pay attention to it. This is especially true if we observe from the perspective of being part of Nature ourselves – that is, we are not in any way separate, we are Nature looking back at itself. A great way to soak up this immeasurable wisdom is to patiently immerse ourselves in the untouched wilderness of virgin forests and jungles, deserts and tundra, or any sea and landscape that has been left its own devices. However, it is not necessary to travel far and wide in search of this illusive other, the wild is also paradoxically easily accessible to every urban dweller – simply get on your hands and knees and enter the microscopic world beneath your feet where the earth is alive with spongey mosses, surprising fungi and dynamic insects, or walk the forgotten, unkempt, unnoticed patches of trees bushes and weeds along railway insane at the back of and in-between our houses. When designing let the wild reach in and touch your environment in unexpected ways, and let it into your life too, allowing it to reveal the surprising untapped richness you hold within. These potent wild spaces, full of life in every niche and scale, are so important for us, often wilderness-starved, civilised folk, that without paying attention to them our learning can at best be only a shadow of its vast potential.
and began to outline some thoughts around what Wildseed Zen might be. I tried to roll things back from the full on establishment of a zen/permaculture community and to emphasise that Wildseed Zen could be a simple as exploring wild spaces, propagating and planting seeds both actual and metaphorical, connecting with nature to include and recognise our interconnectedness with all beings and the recognition of the need to recognise and nurture potential. I also sought to get across the central role of Zen practice in all of this. The initial idea of a Zen permaculture project is still strong for me but my question was – does anyone feel they would like to contribute towards making that happen? If so what should be the next steps?
After some meditation and mindful walking in the woods around Wiston we reconvened. Feedback from others was that the establishment of a full on permaculture community was quite an overwhelming task, that it seemed daunting and hard to grasp. What was Wildseed Zen in a nutshell? I began to talk about seed, seeding and potential – of nurturing and rewilding. This discussion then took off – Wildseed Zen could be as simple as collecting and planting some wild seed, it could be doing a bit of guerrilla planting, it could simply be being in nature and recognising our connection to it. It did not have to be working towards an imposed idea of what a Wildseed Zen centre or project might be…it should start from the seed and grow according to conditions, it might be an idea to set up a website and develop a blog and see what connections came out of it. We also thought it would be a good idea to try and link in another Bee Line walk and some possible Wild Seed Zen days as well as meeting again in the New Year to continue thinking things out and move forward.
I have now had some time for quiet reflection and I have been considering how Wildseed Zen is essentially born out of my interests and activities and a desire to link up with others. It comes from my attempts to practice the four great Bodhisattva vows –
Beings are numberless: I vow to awaken them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to transform them.
Dharmas are boundless; I vow to comprehend them.
The awakened way is unsurpassable; I vow to embody it.
( From Zen Chants, Kazuaki Tanahashi)
I realise that my path, since retirement, has led me towards supporting and helping those in need – my past life was involved in teaching and working with children in a child psychiatric hospital, children excluded from school and with a wide variety of difficulties from emotional and physical abuse through to mental health difficulties and ‘disorders’, but also towards being in nature and supporting wild nature. I have volunteered with The Green Team in Edinburgh supporting groups of children to access the outdoors and work on conservation tasks, I have discovered the John Muir Trust’s Glenlude project where sitka spruce plantation is being gradually harvested and replaced by more native species – wild seed is collected locally and nurtured and reforesting is happening. More locally I helped set up a community garden project (the Athelstaneford Glebe Project) in our village – we have a two and a half acre field where we have planted four hundred sapling in the hedgerow, made lazy beds for vegetable growing and planted fruit trees for an orchard, the school and the Ranger have been involved. There is also a large area left uncultivated and where nature is left to do what it does – there is an increasingly more bio-diverse feel to the place and mini beast and bug hunts are planned for the summer. Again more locally is the Gilmerton Walled Garden Project, where a four acre walled garden belonging to the Gilmerton Estate is going to be developed from what was, most recently, simply sheep grazing and fairly derelict land to the setting up of a social enterprise to provide support for veterans and folk with mental health difficulties – a place of growing and healing where vegetable sand cut flowers will be provided for the house and where people can heal and breathe and work alongside each other.
I am now beginning to think along the lines of connecting some of this up. Could Wildssed Zen offer days where we for example arrive and set up camp, sit and practice zazen, have a work period according to what is needed, walk mindfully in nature, cook a meal together, have a dharma talk/discussion, and meditate. I would hope that such days would enable further awakening to nature and our natures and that Wildseed Zen would grow from that.
I shall post blogs from time to time on here and keep folk informed of any events or of any articles, blogs,documentaries I come across. I will also post links to useful sites and resources, Please add comments and get in touch if you have any thought or ideas on how we could develop Wildseed Zen and would like to participate.
Whilst teaching myself some basic WordPress and considering the themes of this post, I came across A Biologists Manifesto for the Earth and a video of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees – both chime well with whatI feel Wildseed Zen is about and the links are below.
Sierra Club – A Biologist’s Manifesto for Preserving Life On Earth
Other links –