Soil and Community

Living at Conscious Impact camp

Everything is dusty. Always. I sweep, leaves fall, wind blows. More dust. My skin is dry. Waning supply of moisturizer brought from home cannot keep pace with Nepali sun and soil and cob and lime. Desiccating my skin, cutting my feet and fingers.

Photo by Jonathan H. Lee/

This place is beautiful, I think every morning, when my newly-found commitment to morning practice has me walking towards the kitchen at 6:30. Softest early-morning light gently blanketing the hills across and terraces below camp. The birds have been awake since 5 a.m. already. My first alarm. Chiming, peeping, gawking, shrieking chorus, making waking easy. Days begun in nature’s lap feel fresh and right and healthy.

As I practice yoga on our campsite’s furthest terrace, the sun’s first rays touch me. Sweeping views across the valley. (Though this geography never allows my sight to wander very far. It quickly bumps up against hills and more hills beyond.) It’s been a long time since I last felt and heard the dawning of a new day. There are monkeys to be spotted up in trees, and small birds all colors of the rainbow, and larger blue ones with long trailing tails. This morning I even saw a hawk, perched at the top of a bare tree, so close to me that we looked at each other. And then it turned its head 180 degrees to peer at the two audacious little birds that had sat down on the lower branch just centimeters from the hawk’s huge claws. I hear the call to breakfast. First gift of the day.

I am growing tired of white rice, potatoes and peanuts – our staples here -, I think to myself. But the moment they land on my tongue they still taste good. Each breakfast and dinner cooking team bestows upon the group gifts and surprises of creative, heartfelt variations of our limited supplies. Beans turned into dhal, chilli, hummus, sweet beans on toast. Eggs are deviled, scrambled and transformed into spicy Israeli Chachukka. Rice can be cooked, or flat, or dry, or fried, or milky. And then there’s dough. Our two “dough boys’” endless enthusiasm for this medium yields pizza, pita, chapati, roles, doughnuts, cookies, even pasta.

I am grateful for laughter and music. So much laughter here! I can’t recall another time in my life when I have smiled and chuckled so very frequently. Our crazy generous giant camp clown keeps our spirits high all day. I can feel light and joyful, even on the toughest day.

More gifts flow throughout the day. That’s how I see it now. Though we all at times need quiet, privacy, distance from the strongest personalities most different from ourselves, escape to walk and views beyond our big-small camp, and also fret about the future – still, all contribute here and generosity is no exception. Energy flows freely, into organizing games and drumming circles, screening movies, giving massages, leading yoga and meditation, Ayurvedic counseling and writing circles, even digging and levelling our own basketball court! And our daily work consists of teaching and learning the crafts of natural building and gardening. When I watch my cob wall grow with every slab of clay soil; the garden I helped tend produce abundant salads day by day as if its supplies were endless; our grand dome structure become more beautiful with every coat of paint that I apply – I am satisfied. I learn, I work, I play, I connect, I create, I pet the dog and cat. I am not alone.

Our community includes individuals from nine cultures, all gathered by choice, for purpose. Remained here by choice, declining evacuation flights, for the safety and freedom and meaning of our life here. Now stuck here together, in lockdown for five weeks, at least two more to go, possibly many more. We are in this together, unable to go home, but free to hug and play together. The opposite of social distancing. I give thanks every day that I’m protected here from loneliness, the saddest, darkest place of all.

I sleep in a tent without much thought of lack. We call them our “houses” here. In the beginning, the only thing I occasionally missed was more jewellery, just for the joy of beauty and variety.  The clothes in my backpack suffice for now. The other women share lotions and nail polish generously and swap earrings and skirts at trade circle. Lately, the elements have become more challenging. Far ahead of typical monsoon season we have been getting daily lightning storms and rain showers. The deluge usually hits us during dinner and continues all night long. My first tent leaked, laundry must be brought in as soon as the first clouds appear and rumbles roll. I see why humans began building houses and ever more elaborate shelters from the elements. At the same time, the lightning is dramatic, exciting, beautiful, sometimes so bright it illuminates the night time hillsides as if in broad daylight.

When I emerge here and step back into the daunting reality the rest of the world now shares, my body will look more rough and scratched. But I will know a better, truer me, and continue always to seek and create community.


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