Moving from urban Hanoi, Vietnam to Gaia Ashram, “a community of all beings” in rural Isan, Thailand
On the second day of the recently started year 2018, we moved from the urban, densely populated area of Hanoi to Ban That, a small village in rural Isan in northeastern Thailand. With this step we decided to go against the global trend of urbanization.
Author: Lars Blume
According to the World Urbanisation Prospects that is conducted by the UN, 54% of the world’s population was living in urban areas in 2014 and in 2050, already 66% is projected to be in urban surroundings. However, the current city design all over the world is once again questioning if we as humans in an urbanized world can move beyond sustainability. Large amounts of food and resources need to be transported to mega cities and in return the produced waste and pollution has to be taken out. Air pollution is one of my fields of action and something that was affecting our daily life in Hanoi. Hanoi’s air quality was just recently picked up by Reuters. But this is just one issue. Let’s think of water pollution, traffic jams, people rushing from A to B, or just missing trees! With all this in mind, can living in a city be sustainable and, to go one step further, even go beyond sustainability? For me the answer is a hopeful yes! All we need is to rethink cities, commodity flows and to create waste and pollution free production lines and products. But for me, the current structure of a city doesn’t offer the lab framework I need to experience, learn and explore how this future might look like and how this can be brought back to the cities.
Why changing from a life in an urban apartment into a countryside community?
The majority of people chose to live in a city. Some people are choosing it because of its convenience, employment opportunities and entertainment; and some people it is the last chance to survive and earn a living. The reasons are diverse and so are the people. For us, it felt that city life is limiting our availability to connect with nature. It makes us busy without an inner satisfaction. And even more important: it doesn’t provide space and opportunities to increase self-reliance or self-sufficiency. We had the feeling that the city’s convenience comes for a high price of becoming more and more disempowered and at the same time reliant on consuming products and food that is disconnected from the land where it comes from and the people who brought this food to the cities. To shift our future life beyond sustainability, to reconnect with nature and to get empowered while working for the land and the environment around us we decided that the next part of our life needs to take place outside the city.
It is the first time for me living outside the city. I am born as a city guy and worked in offices all my life. Even though I was working on sustainable energy solutions my farming and country life skills are pretty much limited to what my grandparents taught me on their garden plot. However, over the last couple of years I used every opportunity to get deeper into farming and gardening. We also gained some experience in conventional farming to understand where the majority of our food is coming from. Furthermore, we looked into natural farming and permaculture practices to get an idea how we want to produce our food in the future. All this short and medium-term experiences and even more the people we met on this way supported and inspired us within our decision-making processes. We feel now is the time to give it a try; we want to test, to experience how it feels to live in a rural area. How it is to mainly work along with nature, with the land and how it feels to eat what the land is providing us.
How to earn a living outside the city?
Well, I wanna be honest. Our situation really comfortable. Both our profession, our lifestyle and our new home allow us to sort of keep on working like we were living in a city but we’re reducing our cost of living to near zero. This opens a lot of freedom and more time that we can redirect towards our inner connection and service for restoring nature and reconnecting with the land. We do not have to earn a living from the land what increases the freedom but also the motivation, connection and solidarity even more. We have the freedom to full-heartedly and slowly start our transition. Step by step we can work on reducing our expenses and steadily transform and restructure our income sources towards products and services from the land and its environment. Joining an existing community, to not being alone helps a lot. Here at Gaia Ashram we can just be and explore and bring in our expertise while gaining new and needed skills for a future transformation.
Why choosing life in a community setting?
Yes, we are aware of the hardships of working with the land and the limitation of being on our own when living in a community. We experienced that farming in whatever size needs a lot of hands that are working together in order to establish and regenerate nature. We are aware that two people need a lot of time and energy to make a difference. But we experienced that we are not alone and that people already started transitioning. Furthermore, we want to share and learn; we want to experience together with like-minded people that share the same values. We want to live in a place where people inspire and support each other. All this contributes to our decision to become part of an existing community, to share spiritual practices, people care, earth care and knowledge.
What are the values of Gaia Ashram?
Gaia Ashram is an ecovillage that is designed and built using the principles of ecovillage design education, permaculture and deep ecology. Gaia Ashram envisions a future where humans and all beings of the earth live in harmony with each other and with awareness, understanding, love and respect to Mother Nature. The ecovillage is based on the belief that humans, beings and nature are connected and that we all have the same intrinsic values. Gaia Ashram follows a spiritual path and incorporates the spirits of the land into mindful and loving actions to become one with the natural system surrounding us. The people of Gaia Ashram are planting trees and vegetables, make compost, build houses and facilities out of natural materials like mud and straw and do anything they can to restore nature. But Gaia Ashram is also an ashram in that sense that our physical work on the land is nourished by a spiritual aim: to re-discover and deepen our connection with nature, with all living beings and spirits and ourselves. To give space and awareness for that, a morning mediation and yoga practice to welcome the new day as well as a sunset meditation is framing each day at Gaia Ashram.
How is Gaia Ashram contributing to a sustainable future?
The educational part within Gaia Ashram is dedicated to sustainable living and aims to inspire volunteers and visitors along their very own journey towards a sustainable lifestyle. While working on restoring the land, and creating habitat and space for nature and all its beings Gaia Ashram is aware of the process and the changes that are involved in implementing each and every action. Structures are limited to the necessary amount and integrated in the existing environment. Gaia Ashram also aims to grow an abundance of food on the land using natural farming and permaculture techniques. Gaia Ashram follows the aim to grow enough organic food for the people living at Gaia Ashram including volunteers, interns and course participants. This also helps to contain a close circle and keeps the organic matter on the land. We are proud and happy to now be a part of this circle that allows us to grow, to create and to understand the patterns of this way of living that maybe one day can be an inspiration for life in the cities and urban areas.