“Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning.”Miller, R. (2000). ‘A brief introduction to holistic education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. http://infed.org/mobi/a-brief-introduction-to-holistic-education
Three years ago we made the decision to follow a dream that led us from one coast of Canada to the other, landing on 74 acres of forest in Cape Breton. We didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing. It sounded like a simple life, simple, however, apparently doesn’t mean easy and we soon found ourselves clearing land, hauling water, using a composting toilet, building a cabin, plotting, scheming, dreaming and embracing the forest around us.
It soon became clear to us that we could not, and did not want to do all this on our own. We had romantic notions of homesteading and self reliance, however there was something missing. We had community around us, however we didn’t have a community of people working directly with us on the land, learning, problem solving and participating in the day to day that was now our lives. We both had prior careers working with people, and so we decided to see if people would come and volunteer, to help, and to learn about how we were trying to live an off grid life in the forest. We had no idea if anyone would come, and to our surprise and relief, young ambitious folks started arriving. It changed everything.
At first, all we did with these young souls was work, and work, and then a little more work thrown in for a little fun. We were in such a panic at times to get things done that we felt it might be an unfair exchange. Yes we were feeding people, but they were working hard, sleeping in tents, and embracing all the humidity, bugs and cooling temperatures as time progressed into the fall season. It was a disorganized mess, but within the chaos something was happening.
Talking circles (council) was how I had interacted with many people in a variety of programs, something I first experienced working with CanAdventure Education, a wilderness program for youth developed by Corinna (Dragonfly Healing) and Greg Stevenson. It worked miracles with the young people we were working with who came from a variety of troubling backgrounds. This combined with significant time in nature created a way to connect with youth on an entirely different level, breaking through barriers and getting at the heart of the matter in their lives. These were transformative times for all us guides and youth engaged in this wilderness project.
Council is a talking circle format. The basic premise is using a talking piece and only the one holding the piece speaks in the circle. The four agreements of council are: speaking from the heart, listening with the heart, being lean of expression (getting to the heart of the matter), and spontaneity, to practice what comes through you as you hold the piece. The book,The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman and Virgina Coyle is a valuable resource for this process, and the Oja Foundation offers many programs centered around council based practices.
When we held our first council here on the farm, it was late into the season with a group of young people, some who had been with us for weeks. What we heard hit us hard, and we realized that something was happening to them other than all the back breaking work we threw at them. Their time in the forest, sleeping in a tent, and day to day conversations, set the stage for an opening, a reflection of the inner workings of self. The work challenged them, pushed limits and built confidence. The learning was hands on, and every action felt and seen was experienced in a visceral way.
We heard stories of depression, anxiety and body pain from the state of the world. For some, it was the first time in their lives that they had slept in a forest, and the impact was one that was deeply moving. The shared experience being witnessed in this way gave voice to the feelings in an environment that was removed from their day to day lives. We were moved beyond words to be holding such a container.
We now hold council as a core part of what we do here to share these experiences. Spending time in a way that removes us from the everyday and ordinary offers opportunities to gain new perspectives, especially when the majority of us live in a world that is driven by technology. The economy that we are building here is one built on indebtedness, we need human help and ingenuity to move such a human scale farm project forward. We also realize that we need a community of people here to continue this project beyond our time.
Our response to all this is about creating a space that invites others to be here to learn, to learn in a holistic way. The Apprenticeship program is how we would like to bring people here in a meaningful way, a way that fits into the concept of holistic education. The farm acts as the foundation, it supports us through a process of dieting the land, we become the land that sustains us, and we see, feel and experience the direct relationship with our food. The forest provides the reflection, the time to be with the other- than-human world, to establish our relationship with the wild community. The community provides the container to be witnessed and to explore the depths of meaning of ourselves on how we fit into the larger sense of self as it relates to the intricate dance of human interaction. This is holistic education.
Our calling is about weaving this container of holistic education together on this land, in a world that is often going in another direction. We are no experts, and we are part of this process of learning as much as the people who choose to work with us. What others bring to us is beyond what we ever imagined, and the stories shared and witnessed in council offer us the great gift of listening and speaking from the heart.
Written by William Kosloski of Twisted Roots Farm