The “Muddy Buddy Builders” is a program for children and families, that teaches natural building in a fun and accessible way. Here, children can learn how to build small structures with local earthen material, play nature games, increase their relationship with the natural world, and form connections with each other. Kids love playing in the dirt, creating mud pies, and building forts. Through direct participation kids will develop this natural inclination to build with mud. They will learn to create actual model homes and villages, as well as other small structures; play houses, cob ovens, and whatever else the child can imagine. This knowledge is all applicable to real life, they will discover alternate ways of living, and building without using harmful manufactured materials. They can use this experience and knowledge to one day build their own home!
The activities at the Muddy Buddy Builders will strengthen confidence, leadership skills, encourage outdoor play, learn the importance of working together, and living in community. The days will be spent in construction; designing, learning about materials and techniques, preparing cob, building structures, and learning about natural finishes, as well as playing games of cooperation and nature games based on Joseph Cornell’s “Sharing Nature with Children.” Some basic yoga postures will be incorporated to balance our minds, get centered, and stretch out our cob muscles.
In today’s culture there is a huge emphasis on quick fixes, fast paced lives, and an educational system that has little focus on developing one’s creative problem solving, emotional well being, and critical thinking skills. Our children are taught that success is measured by the size of your house or how much money you make in a year. We gauge intelligence with standardized tests that focus primarily on how well one can memorize facts. In a society where our children are bombarded with various forms of technology, advertisements and media, there is a gross disconnect from nature and our place in it. Our world seems to be dominated by Facebook and other social media, and we have forgotten how to truly connect with one another.
I believe that it is of utmost importance that we foster social interaction by encouraging them to interact in a cooperative and overall positive way. Learning and experiencing sustainable living will do just that. Cooperation and interaction with both each other and our environment are inherent principles to sustainable living. Sustainable living is the attempt to reduce our dependency on Earth’s nonrenewable resources by living in community, using permaculture techniques, building with natural, earthen material and reducing our waste. This often means examining our lives and figuring out how to simplify. Building with our hands and with the resources we have available is a great way to learn how many things and how much space we actually need. Life becomes much more satisfying when we live more in tune with nature and with less focus on the material world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In natural building there are several things to consider when preparing for a new structure. The most important is the location of the building. In an ideal world, you would find a site that is south facing, with an amazing view, close to tall deciduous trees for shade in the summer but allow plenty of light in the winter, when they lose their leaves. The site would have access to water, electricity, and plenty of raw material like clay, rock, trees, and sand if your lucky.
Since we don’t live in an ideal world, its alway good to be willing to compromise. In our case, we were lucky enough to have a south facing site. There are deciduous trees on the site, but none near the actual building site to provide any shade during the hottest times of the day. We were lucky enough, to have water and electrical access, not too far away. The main water line was about 100 yards away, and the electrical was brought in several years ago, when the site hosted a mobile home, a TP, and a trailer. Since then the trailer, TP, and mobile home have been removed.
The land has plenty of raw material, like clay, rocks, and trees. There was also sand left over from another project that we are able to use. The clay actually has a good amount of sand in it, so we don’t have to use very much sand. We did have to purchase straw, since we don’t yet grow it on the land.
The first thing we did, was locate the actual site for the main building that will be constructed in the future. Once we all agreed on that site, we looked for the site for this year’s building project. We were lucky enough to have a relatively flat spot in direct connection to the driveway for next year’s building project. After several meetings, with all the people that would use the structure, we finally decided on a site. Then we got together and blessed it.
Now that the site was located for this year’s project, we needed to prepare the site for building. Stay tuned for this……..
In a way, one of the mostbasic 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.