Whenever I had occasion to meet Brigunath, he appeared to be adrift without a clear purpose, unable to find a meaningful channel for his intelligence and energy. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to meet a reborn Brigunath in Mountshannon, Ireland, bubbling with enthusiasm for his new life. Finally, he is implementing his dream: creating a viable life off the grid, setting an example of how a human being can live in a sustainable fashion without leaving polluted footprints across the face of the earth.
On a ten acre plot of land purchased a few years ago, Brigunath generates energy from the wind. He relieves himself in a composting toilet using the manure to fertilize blueberry bushes. He harvests an abundant supply of rain water from the roof of his modest house. He heats his home with wood and peat bricks from his land. And he bathes in a pond; although he is constructing a bathroom that will put more of the rainwater to good use. Brigunath’s pride and joy is a greenhouse he built a year ago using discarded windows framed with teak and oak. This huge structure has come to life with pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, broccoli and even an almond tree.
The previous owner of the property told Brigunath an interesting story. One day he noticed his 5-year old son having a conversation with an invisible presence in the back garden. When the youngster returned to the house the father asked, “Who were you talking to just now?” The young boy calmly replied, “Gollum.” The father married a second time after a number of years and took his new step son, also 5-years old at the time, to the same house. He was also seen having a conversation with the air one day, and also informed the surprised adults that he was conversing with Gollum. What makes the story even more interesting is that those two children never met!
Brigunath interprets this story as meaning that every expression of nature has an innate intelligence. Trees are sensitive to the presence of other trees; birds can predict an oncoming storm; deer can sense the earth’s magnetic field. In animistic cultures this innate intelligence is described as a “spirit,” and, in the case of a forest, one may have to seek permission from the presiding spirit before entering. Although we may not describe the world in the same way as a Ghanaian villager who protects a tree because of its “spirit,” we should be equally sensitive to the innate intelligence within the natural world and treat it with compassion and respect. To impose our will aggressively on the world would not only be cruel, but also ungrateful: nature is our biggest benefactor.
Brigunath has treated his land with care, only altering it for his own survival. Hence, he cleared the weeds and unwanted grasses growing on a south facing slope as it was the ideal location for a fruit tree orchard. I certainly enjoyed picking blueberries off the bush and relishing the explosion of a chemical-free taste in my mouth. When one nourishes oneself directly from nature one feels so much more connected to life.
A sense of mystery pervades western Ireland. People are aware of an invisible presence that lingers on the periphery of the human senses; a sense that overly urbanized societies are losing. The Irish author John O’Donohue expresses this in his book The Invisible Embrace of Beauty: “Our world becomes reduced to intense but transient foreground. We have unlearned the patience and attention of living at the thresholds where the unknown awaits us.”
This was one of many topics I discussed with Sam O’Neil, a local artist, as we ascended Cappaghabaun Mountain. We had passed a mysterious circle of trees where, according to local legend, fairies gather periodically. Hence, people come to this place to make wishes, tying a piece of red thread to one of the trees to indicate their plea for assistance. Sam described how a friend visited the place last winter when a thick blanket of snow had covered the world. Everywhere was whitened except the lush green grass protected by the “fairy” trees, a reminder that we humans are living in the midst of mystery.
O, What Beauty
During my week-end visit I was captivated by the beauty of the western Irish world. One afternoon I gazed at Lough Derg for an entire hour, held effortlessly by the rhythms of its waves, the meticulous grooming of two swans, the playful dance of light on its surface. Then, the next day, during a long morning walk, I left the firmness and predictability of the metaled road and stepped cautiously through a wet bog (wishing I had worn boots!) to a high point that commanded a spellbinding panoramic view of the lake. God seemed pleased with the result of the craft of creation, enriching it with a sky of clouds whipped up by the wind like cream, making the world dynamic, yet sweet.
An invigorating wind, cleansed by its passage across the Atlantic, inspired me to do a deep pranayama (yogic breath control) practice to harness the potent force of the wind (and, in part, to cure a deep chest infection that was stubbornly refusing to succumb to antibiotics). As I visualized the vital force of the wind swirling within my lungs I felt the innate joy of being alive.
Didi Ananda Prama, a renunciate colleague of mine on the path of Ananda Marga, looked settled in her role as director of Sunrise Farm. She loves her garden, her animals, her organic farming students and her community. In fact, she is setting a good example by integrating herself fully into the community, being a board member of the local food coop, an active participant in the local blueberry growers’ association, and a good neighbor.
I was touched by the strong sense of community in the area, with people willingly helping each other. Didi allows her neighbor Pat, to graze his horses on her land. In return, Pat is using his horses to help Didi drag logs from her forest to her house for a new barn construction. Didi told me of a group of gardeners who go to each other’s houses and farms by rotation to help in whatever way required. I felt a sense of envy as in my urban environment people barely feel the need to greet each other in the street.