The Natural Living School’s 2015 Programs

We are so excited to announce this years project:  The construction of a 1400 sq. ft. natural home for a local family here in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains.  This structure will be built using round wood timber framing, milled lumber from the land, straw bales and cob (bale-cob), and light clay.  The goal for this year is to build the foundation, get the straw bale walls up, timber frame the main structure, roof the home with the milled lumber, install all the windows and doors, and plaster the outside of the structure.  We will also be creating a permaculture garden and orchard for the homeowners.

2015 Natural Building Floor Plan

2015 Natural Building Floor Plan

Having one large project for the next two building season will allow the school to offer very unique programs based on the construction of a natural building.  This structure will be built following California’s building codes, which will give all aspiring builders a chance to learn how to build to code, using a majority of natural materials.  In our design, in collaboration  with the home owners, we will use; round wood timbers from the land, milled lumber from the land,  clay from the land, sand and stone from the local quarry, and rice straw from the valley. We will also use as much reclaimed building materials as possible.

2015 Natural Building Project

2015 Natural Building Project

We are honored to have this opportunity and equally as excited to share this project with all who wish to learn how to build a natural structure to code as well as deepening our practices of yoga, meditation, and self discovery.  We are looking to share this project with individuals whom have high energy, looking to work and learn in a spiritual environment.  Participants can join us for all aspects of the construction, or specific stages of the building process depending on when and how long they join us in the 2015 building season.

Framing for 2015 Natural Building Project

Framing for 2015 Natural Building Project

If you are interested in finding out more about our programs please visit our apprentice page, karma yoga program, or workshop page.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at info@naturalivingschool.com or call 530-268-5255.

We look forward to hearing from you…..

 

Healing From The Inside Out

 

By Penelope Sullivan

I still smile when I recall how my quest to uncover the secrets of longevity led me to discover the presence of God and that true health and vitality begin within.

Seventeen years ago I was in my mid-twenties and working at an area health food store. This was a period when I had deeply begun questioning existence, purpose and what creates a truly peaceful and happy life. I also was considering becoming a naturopath and had been delving into the study of physical health.

To this end, I would question my long time regular customers on what they would attribute their longevity to. I always picked those that were in their eighties or nineties and were still smiling and had a bounce in their step, for I knew on some level they had something to share! Well, the answers were surprisingly the same and went something like this,”…Family, apple cider vinegar, and God………Family, black strap molasses, and God…..Family, peppermint tea for my heart….and God…”

I thought, “…Wow I know about family….I know about molasses…maybe I should find out about God….” And so, a two weeks’ notice and a bus ticket later, I found myself in northern California, at Ananda Village, a yoga community based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.

To be clear I don’t even know if I had heard the word Guru before, probably not. I had fairly regularly practiced hatha yoga postures at home, but that was the extent of my direct experience of the yogic philosophy. So, needless to say, I did not know much. What I did know is that when I stepped foot on the land at Ananda, I was literally struck by the all-pervading stillness and quietness. It filled me and I experienced a deep sense of rightness.

I dove right into the activities. Besides regular meditations and yoga postures, karma yoga or selfless service, composed the biggest part of my day. So unlike the pervading theme of working at all cost for personal gain, karma yoga speaks of seeing Spirit as the doer behind all activity and the idea of being unattached to any end results. At first glance, this may sound dis-empowering yet I have found this practice very freeing and quite powerful. I began to imagine myself as a vessel through which this Grace or power can flow through. With this type of thinking, tiredness seemed to melt away as did the resistance that can so easily come up as we focus on our likes and dislikes and our own abilities.

I also learned that the word Guru translated to mean dispeller of darkness, and that yoga loosely translated to mean union with God. Most importantly, I was not only intellectually memorizing these ideas, I was actually feeling a “lightness” come into my life and an ever increasing sense of connection and depth within my being and with the world around me.

Because these concepts and experiences resonated on such a deep level, I was surprised when I saw how nervous and questioning my relatives and old friends became when I mentioned staying on at yoga community.

Unfortunately, God has gotten a bad rap. Perhaps it is from the organizations that emphasize that we are naturally sinners and separate from God…or perhaps it is from the organizations that ask for complete adherence to outward rules without offering much in the way of inner experience….perhaps it is the injustices that the civil and women’s rights movements have brought to attention in the not so distance past. Whatever the reasons, I have seen that many people are very afraid to give up their sense of personal power.

In addition, to many people, God is a very ambiguous term. The question then becomes what is God and what does he/she/it have to do with daily life?

I love the idea that each us on some deep level wants to be happy…wants to be at peace….and has felt an expansion within our being at some point in time. Personally, I tune into the aspects of Divine love, of peace, of bliss…of power…and feel these underlying currents rippling through my life and awareness. I feel this force that beckons me to go within and from this point of knowing to act in this world. I feel when my actions are in harmony with this inner knowing and when they are not, more and more. This to me and so much more is a beginning description of God….the tip of the iceberg…not even mentioning the vast and miraculous intelligence that surrounds us on the Earth and expanding outward to all creation. I love the idea that we each have our own, very intimate relationship and understanding, of the Divine. So for me, in beginning to think in this way, and open to this type of God, and then perform “mundane” activities such as cleaning or gardening, each activity became a liberating and sacred event…and in doing so began to transform my life.

Some friends and relatives who resonated with all of this, I found, still questioned why meditate so often? Why be so disciplined?

I began to see that few of us really know what freedom is. Our culture raises us to seek outside thrills and enjoyments. We have things to bring us up. We have things to bring us down. We are taught to strive for the biggest and the largest….and this is termed freedom and success.

The truth is as one of my favorite teachers HariDas said, “…we are all half-baked saints…” or as Yogananda said, “…we are all a little bit crazy…” In a nutshell, most of us are a mixed bag of contradictions and varying desires that are counterproductive and are largely driven by whims, passing fancies, more surface emotion.

I wanted discipline because through it, I felt free. I felt clearer within my own being. I still remember one of my deepest most profound mediations….While sitting in the quietness, I had this deep sense of sweetness….and it seemed to be saying…remember this…remember this quality…..It’s so easy to get caught up in everything going on, in the outside world…It can be so easy to get swept away by the pervading current….but remember that this sensation and feeling is always within you. Remember this….”

So what became of becoming a naturopath? Over time I did go on to get a degree in both nutrition and herbal medicine. Yet now the cornerstone of my practice is supporting and offering to others the gift in nurturing inner growth. I see that without that vital component, there is an integral piece of the puzzle missing. Then I bring in the physical elements. They too are important and have their own place. I love the story of Yogananda achieving a high state of awareness and then his teacher handing him a broom. His teacher told him that until we were beyond this world we could not neglect it. Likewise Yogananda said that almost all disease stemmed from poor nutrition. He emphasized the importance of whole foods, the healing power of greens, juicing, proper exercise and sunlight. He was and is the most holistic healer that I have ever read. …and yet he said take this all in and then forget about…..and not be fanatical. I see a lesson in this for most of us. I have seen people that only focus on the physical and are still full of discontent…and I also see very serviceful, beautiful people eat all kinds of things and really neglect their physical bodies…because they do not want to focus too much on the outward. I feel that if we can find a way to balance these different sides…we will flourish and see that they are but two sides of the same coin…and that in being physically healthy, the Spirit within us can shine and that if we deepen our Spirit and connection a vitality and Grace can flood our cells and our Presence. Blessings to you all!

Cover Phonto

 

 

An Apprentice’s Perspective

My name is Wesley Jobe, and I spent the summer of 2012 at Ananda Village to learn about natural building, and much more. This is a summary of my experience.

Wesley mixing some plaster for the cob classroom

Wesley mixing some plaster for the cob classroom

When I applied for the Natural Living School apprenticeship I knew very little of Ananda. Only the sheer drive to get some hands on experience with natural building fueled my decision. Before arriving in California, I had already been practicing yoga and meditation, and was keen to find out more, so this was a perfect fit for me. Turns out it was more than I imagined.

Never before had I been away from home that long, or alone, yet I did not feel nervous or uncomfortable. Since my pickup at the Sacremento airport I had begun an adventure I will never forget. Everyone I met at The Expanding Light where I camped was so welcoming and helpful, some even interested in what I was to be doing there. The following morning I met with Pablo and Miguel (the other apprentice) to go over some design plans for the project. We met like that for the first week or so, and I even got to help finalize the plan by making some architectural drawings and elevations. This was a perfect initiation time for me to get comfortable with the new surroundings, establish a solid yoga and meditation practice (daily classes made that easy), and settle into the peaceful feeling all around. Observing how the people there live, work, and interact with eachother was a heartwarming inspiration alone. Like one big family, not just selfish individuals. I felt for the first time in a while that there was hope for this world, and that I had found a place that is a shining example of how we can all work together to improve current issues in society.

community Blessing the site.

Community blessing the site.

Turned out the original plan we were discussing and fine tuning had more time consuming restraints due to obtaining the counties approval for building permits. Though the set back did not hinder our spirits and was a good learning experience. Because first of all, modern building codes are one of the major blocks holding back natural builders from full creative freedom, and thus, influence on a larger scale. Secondly, it was a good reminder that no matter how much planning has been done, sometimes things just don’t work the way you’d hoped, and that is where the creative changes are made. So it turned out to be a blessing for us. We scaled down the size of the building just enough to not require a permit. This was more appropriate for the time we had, then we were able to learn and practice all the techniques and problem solving from foundation to roof. Problem solving and being open to change are two of the most important skills I developed for natural building, coupled with the confidence to take ideas and turn them into reality.

Wesley working out the joinery for top plates

Wesley working out the joinery for top plates

After those kinks with design were massaged out, we got right to work. Starting with sustainably harvesting trees for the round-pole timber frame. As we went through each phase of the building, I see now that an analogy was taking place within me. I learned more about myself than I did about building, and I learned a lot about building! We searched the forest for just the right trees to fell, with the right size, shape, and location, so as not to harm the forest ecosystem but enhance the old growth already there. Simultaneously I was searching within myself to find strengths and positive qualities I had almost forgotten. 

Then we went on to begin the foundation. This begins with a whole lot of digging, but lucky for us, and with the magic of community, a wonderfully helpful man dug the hard part for us with a tractor. Stacking rocks for the stem-wall proved to be quite labor intensive as well, and very fun, like three-dimensional tetris. So I was learning the importance of making a solid foundation by taking the time to do it presicely and accurately, which was very gratifying later on, and at the same time looking inward once more. I wanted to change myself and the way I was living, so it was good to relate my physical task with a mental one. Looking for the right rock to fit with the others made me ask myself, “what is my foundation?”  I needed to find what made me strong, and who I was at the core, which all of my identifications were built off of. I must give thanks here also to Pablo, for inviting me there and encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do. Positive reinforcement is the basis of his teaching style, and it is completely sincere, and extremely effective.

Conner posts going up at the same time as the balecob walls go up.

Conner posts going up at the same time as the balecob walls go up.

Next we started the walls and the frame, at the same time, because with natural building you are free to do such things. Around this time a large group of campers came to experience Ananda for a three week program called, “Living With Spirit,” and stay up at the building site where some of the villagers set up an awesome outdoor kitchen and living space. Miguel and I got our first chance to teach a little, I prefer the term guide, because natural building techniques are very simple, and achievable by anyone. There help made a great impact on the progress of the structure, and it became very clear that working together is really what makes natural building practical and successful, and far more fun, too. If playing with mud and experimenting with friends can eventually turn into a beautiful home for perhaps some of those friends to live in, then modern construction has it all wrong. I have worked in construction in the city where I live, so I have seen both sides, and of this I am convinced.

We also spent some time each week helping out at the Ananda Permaculture Gardens. This is a whole other part of the apprenticeship that focuses on growing food, flowers, and herbs, where we learned a lot just by being there, and asking questions. It gave us a bit of a break from building, no break from the sun though, haha, and really piqued my growing interest for sustainable living.

The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat

The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat

Staying at the Expanding Light was a phenomenal contrast to the daily work. The food there was amazing, it was very nice to get well balanced, healthy meals whilst doing so much physical labor. Another of my favourite points of my stay there was the amount of wildlife I saw everyday. The gardens around The Expanding Light are very well kept, with many bright flowers surrounding the main temple and dining hall. Gorgeous mountain scenery with a symphony of birds to wake me each morning (far more peaceful than an alarm), and crickets and frogs to sing me to sleep at night. That really made me feel more connected to earth, and everything I was doing made perfect sense.

While the work was physically challenging, occasionaly puzzling mentally, we never pushed too hard. Pablo definitely helped us make the most of our downtime also with stops to the market for ice-cream after a hot days work. One day that was especially hot we stopped work early to go for a swim in a nearby pond. It was more like being at summer camp, where you can just be yourself, and better yourself if you so desire. The lasting relationships I made there, with people from all over the world, was a remarkable enough experience to make it worth more than just money. Added on to that the massive amounts of knowledge I have gained and the confidence to make my dreams a reality have made that summer more than I could have hoped for. As my memory allows, it was the best summer of my life.

This is not a natural building apprenticeship, it’s a natural living school, true to every word, complete with laboratory and playground combined, and I hope that one day I too will inspire people to live in such a way.

“Live Simply So Others May Simply Live,” Gandhi

I have been meditating on this quote for a while, to really understand the meaning behind Gandhi’s words.

Gandhi lived in a day and age were the simple truths that we take for granted, like justice, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not self-evident.  Though some may argue that these truths are still not evident, I would think most of us feel that these rights are more or less present in our day-to-day activities.

The pursuit of happiness is the one truth I wish to focus on, because I feel this is the one right we have the most control over.  The laws and liberties have mostly been prescribed to us.  But the pursuit of happiness is within our reach.

Gandhi and Yogananda Aug. 1935. It was during this visit that Gandhi received Kriya Yoga initiation from Yogananda

Why live simply?… So others may simply live! If we use up our natural resources, trash the earth with our waste, and end up destroying ecosystems around the world, what kind of life are our grand kids going to inherit?  Gandhi also said, “we must be the change we wish to see.”  Paramahansa Yogananda said, “Be as simple as you can be; you will be astonished to see how uncomplicated and happy your life can become.”

If we don’t take responsibility for our actions, it will come back one way or another.  We believe it’s best to teach our kids from a young age how to take care of our mother earth, so she can take care of us.  It’s important for them to see that living simply can be fulfilling and joyful.  Without the added desires of consumerism, one can learn to enjoy the simple things in life.  Happiness is found within, as all the great masters have said through the ages, not somewhere outside of ourselves.  Swami Kriyananda says, “The secret of happiness is the determination to be happy always, rather than wait for outer circumstances to make one happy.”

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda Village, direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda

At the Natural Living School, the wish is to help the participants understand that the pursuit of happiness is attainable by simplifying ones life, connecting to nature, and going deep within to unlock the inner joy that lights our flame of passion through meditation, yoga, and self-realization.  So try it, live simply, so others can simply live.

Living with Nature

Last week I had a great conversation with one of the most amazing men I have ever met.  His name is Joseph Cornell, founder of the Sharing Nature Foundation and author of several renowned books on Sharing Nature®.  I wanted to talk with him about using some of the Sharing Nature activities to help our students understand what it means to live with nature.

One of the first things he talked to me about was Flow Learning

Flow Learning™, “gives the teachers a simple, structured way to guide students into their own, direct experiences of nature. Through playful games that awaken the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm, learning becomes fun, immediate, and dynamic, instead of static and secondhand. The students emerge with a living, fresh understanding and reverence for the natural world.”

There are four basic stages of Flow Learning™ ; Awaken Enthusiasm, Focus Attention, Direct Experience, and Share Inspiration.  “Flow Learning™ is based on universal principles of how people learn. It provides a simple, natural framework that sequence nature activities for maximum effect.”

Joseph Cornell’s  Nature Activities™ are great for teaching kids, teens, and adults how they can perceive nature in a new and exciting way. These activities lift the spirit within us to new heights, in a way that isn’t possible to explain in words.  It’s best to try them yourself, and feel the difference.

At the Natural Living School, we will be using some of these Nature Activities™ to help participants understand the process of finding and sourcing materials for their buildings.  These activities can also be used to help participants locate a building site, and to stay connected to nature during all phases of the construction.  Many times we disconnect ourselves from nature, to focus on the building process, and end up removing trees, damaging natural landscape, and clearing animal habitat unconsciously.

Living with nature means understanding your surroundings.  Using all your senses to feel what is happening, and what needs to happen.  Believe it or not, nature spirits can talk to you, if you are willing to listen, and respect them.  Nature talks to us through our heart feeling, which is like a radio station, that needs a little help tuning in.   These Nature Activities™, that Joseph Cornell created can help us fine tune our radio station, so we can live with nature, build with nature, and live a more natural life.

the view from this year's building site

Thank you Joseph Cornell, for your inspiration and support:  the text in quotations above is from his website

What is Natural Living?

In a way, one of the most basic understandings in eastern philosophies has been lost in the “Age of Energy.”  As a result of all our technology, we spend more time on cell phones, the internet, watching TV, and in cars running around like high tech chickens with our heads cut off.  The art of slowing down, taking time to enjoy the moment, and being present is pushed aside in the name of efficiency.  Why?  One answer is; because we think this will lead to our happiness.

Sunset in Los Padres National Forest

Some of us think that if we are more efficient with our time, then we will have more time to do the things we enjoy.  But at the end of the day, with all the time that was saved, how many of us actually did something joyful, or self-fulfilling?  Yes, there are some exceptions, but over all many of us think that our joy will come from outside ourselves.  I used to think that I would find joy once I had a little more money, which would give me a little more time.  Not so.

The Cob Cottage where we stayed while we worked on natural building projects at Spirit Pine Sanctuary

Our experiences these past couple years have truly shown us what it means to have quality time.  For months at a time we were without cell phone, internet, television, or any basic communication with the outside world.  Our time was spent in nature, sourcing natural materials from the land, the forest, and neighbors in order to build natural buildings that would be enjoyed by all.

At community meals we all took turns cooking for each other, Thanksgiving 2010

When we were not building, or sourcing materials, we spent our time in community taking turns cooking for each other, having great conversations, and playing with our children.  It wasn’t that we weren’t busy, or that we had surplus time.  In fact we were easily as busy as when we lived in the city, working all the time, driving the kids around, and doing endless errands.  The difference was that we were busy doing something that was fulfilling to our spirits.

Community Cob Building at Spirit Pine where we shared meals, cleaned together, and hung out playing music

The idea of simple living doesn’t mean to give up all your possessions and move to the country, or to the wilderness, it simply means to evaluate your time and expenses so that you’re doing something that feeds your soul.   It helps to lower your expenses,  to grow some of your own food, and to have a low housing cost, but it’s not a requirement to be poor.  Some of the happiest people I know in South America are looked upon as poor, but in my eyes, they are rich in spirit, love, and joy.  They were always willing to share what little they had, with joyful abundance.

Thank you Betty, Tatacho, Levi and all the friends we made at Spirit Pine Sanctuary.  It was wonderful working, living, and playing with you all.

The Natural Living School

In this day and age, where the answer to many questions are just a click away, people are still having a hard time answering the age old question, “why do I feel so unhappy?”  Most of us, who have tried to answer this question, have come up with several logical answers.

“More money,” if I had more money than I would be happy. 

“Better job,” if I had a job I liked, or if I had a job that paid more, then I would be happy. 

“More time,” if I had more time to do what I wanted, then I would be happy. 

The list can go on, and on, but these are some of the most common answers.  At the Cob Cottage Company, as you walk up the trail to the main building, there is a sign that says, “There are two ways to get rich, you can make more money or you can require less.”  The truth to us is in the second statement, “to require less.” 

Oliver and Esme's Hands Making Natural Plasters

The Natural Living School is a place where people can come to explore how to live simply and require less, to gain experience so they can construct natural buildings that are affordable for themselves and their families, to learn how to grow their own food so they can lower their food costs, and to gain the confidence to change their lives forever.

"Joy is within" sign at Ananda Village entrance. Hansa Temple in the background

The Natural Living School is an organization, focused on examining and co-creating new and old methods of sustainable living and natural building. Come and study with us, the art of natural living and higher thinking.

The View from Sunset Ridge. I like to think of these trees as old friends holding hands