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Phase One is a time for many things. It is a time for learning how to grow food sustainably using ecologically sound practices. It is a time for becoming aware of the many forces at play in our food system. It is a time for developing the kind of friendships that stay with you for life. It is a time for showing love and appreciation for others through cooking. All of these things have enriched my experience up here in ways that I can’t even begin to describe. For that I am ever grateful. But there is one thing that Phase One provides the time for that, I’ll admit, I hadn’t even thought of prior to coming here. Phase One gives you the time and the space to really get to know yourself.
Now I’m not talking about a kind of surface-level getting to know yourself – what your favorite food is or what you like to do on Saturday nights – although those are wonderful things too. I’m talking about a deeper understanding of what it is that motivates you, what values you carry through life, and who it is that you are striving to become. Those are the sorts of things that remind us why we do the things we do and help us to move through the world in a way that aligns with our core values.
Throughout the last six months, the staff and mentors at AMS have encouraged us to reflect deeply and act intentionally with long-term visions in mind. Within our cohort, we have helped each other to do the same. As part of our season-long permaculture design course with Trevor Piersol, we were asked to spend weeks closely observing and interpreting the site for the food forest that we were tasked with designing. This “observation and interpretation” process is also known as site “assessment and analysis” or, more informally, “oogling and contemplating.” The comprehensive process of really getting to know the site we would be designing allowed us to come up with designs that followed our long-term goals and larger missions. In the same way – whether intentionally or not – Phase One has given us the time to oogle and contemplate the various things going on inside ourselves and act upon what we find.
Just as it is important to understand how the winds coming across a mountain affect the growth and fruitfulness of an orchard tree, it is important to understand how the conflicts and issues arising throughout life affect the self. The winds blow just as fiercely through the chambers of the heart, sometimes stirring up passion for change, sometimes stirring up inner frustrations or insecurities. In this way, just as we have learned to deeply observe and reflect upon the rhythms of a place, so must we know the rhythms of our own hearts.
Once we recognize those rhythms in ourselves, we can figure out what it is about ourselves that we wish to cultivate further and what things about us (habits, insecurities, doubts, etc.) that we wish to work on or change to become more graceful human beings. All it takes to become exactly who it is that you want to become is self-reflection, patience, and an openness to others. Mind you, if you’re doing it right, you will never finish getting to know yourself.
As Kahlil Gibran writes in the section of The Prophet on self-knowledge,
“And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.
And he answered, saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and of the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.
You would know in words that which you would have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.”
Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals. Be open to each of those petals and to each of those truths, both the ones you come to within yourself and the ones you learn from others.
Lastly, change comes from within. As we’ve reflected on here at AMS, the energy and attitude you bring to an interaction or an action often has a ripple effect on everyone around you – whether that’s a nine-person cohort or an entire food movement. Being aware of yourself helps you to recognize what energy you bring and the potential it carries. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That means in both minute and vast ways. If you change your everyday interactions to reflect love and empathy, loving and empathetic people will no doubt surround you. If we all strive to change our farming, purchasing, and eating habits to reflect our core values, we will have a food system that no longer puts profit or corporate agendas above human, animal, or environmental health but rather sustains the health of our communities and our planet. This change comes from awareness. Awareness begins with the self.