I’m Mitch, the new apprentice here at Melliodora.
Although I began my apprenticeship back in September, I am just starting to feel I’m getting into the swing of things.
This first post, my self introduction has been a tricky one to write! Previous attempts at writing thus far have been scrunched and tossed into the virtual bin. Presenting one’s self is tricky in a time of transition. By way of a solution to this, I am going to do something unorthodox and tell you a slightly modified version of the first entry of my diary this year. It was the beginning of a new five year diary, and so it is an orientation to a new beginning, a reflection on a transitional period of my life; from being a freelance designer living in the city of Sydney, to free range human, connecting with nature and deeply immersing myself in learning the foundations of permaculture design.
I was recently asked to speak to a small Permaculture Design Course group about some of this story and it seemed to have resonated with people, so I hope you can find something in it too.
After a trip to New Zealand and 3 weeks in the forest in early 2014, something happened by way of a major paradigm shift in thinking about how I wanted to live. The seeds of this change were already there, but I reflect on this time as the time of germination.
3 weeks with no devices tethering me to the “giant brain” kind of awoke my consciousness and roused me from some kind of techno-slumber. I think it was the stark contrast that did the trick!
Prior to my time in the NZ, I had started up my own freelance user experience and service design consultancy business. This kind of design is used to create seamless and pleasurable experiences for users of technologies and services, ideally empowering them in the process. I had initially found this work thoroughly stimulating, but I began to become aware of the fact that I was spending a ridiculous amount of time attached to far too many screens. Digital technology had become a bit overwhelming. There were too many tabs open on my web browser, too many attention demanding notifications on my phone, and too many ever accumulating emails. From the moment I woke up in the morning to the time I went to sleep, and sometimes even interrupting my sleep during the night, I was glued to screens of various shapes and sizes.
I can recall one pattern of behaviour that was particularly beginning to indicate that things were out of hand. Sometimes I would compulsively pull out my phone for no reason at all… and sometimes I would pull it out with a reason, then forget what I was doing and get distracted by another task on my phone only to remember the initial reason when I had put the device back in my pocket… then i’d be back to the screen again. A competitive market place had created a very addictive technology, all vying for my brain space. I began to notice I had developed a damaging addiction and decided to call timeout. And somehow I knew instinctively that nature would provide just what I needed in order to heal.
Without the constant web connection and habitual techno-interaction, I really started to unwind, enabling space for me to think. The cogs began to move again.
I was made ill by the exact technology I was designing for other people. And with my design hat still firmly on (I’m not certain you can ever un-become a designer), I started to become acutely conscious of the super advanced nature of nature’s design. No man-made system or it’s counterparts have ever received so many iterations as nature. It is super advanced technology; truly design nirvana.
I loved and still do love design, but at the time I began to reflect at a fundamental level on my contribution to life…rather than using my energy to advance the connection between human and machine, I began to develop a strong feeling that I would prefer to use my energy toward helping humanity somehow rekindle it’s connection with nature. I didn’t exactly know how at the time, but this is the germ of an idea that has only grown stronger since then.
The day I arrived back in Sydney my dad kindly came to pick me up from the airport. It was morning, and it was peak hour. We got stuck in dense traffic. This was all too much to bear after my time away in paradise… I distinctly remember thinking, ‘why do people do this, this is absurd, wake up everybody, wake up!!!?’. The cogs continued moving and I started entertaining the idea that rather than returning to my work that I would instead break loose and continue the journey, make that more natural reality my life somehow.
A few days after my return I met an old friend who had taken up a new hobby of weaving on a loom using hand-spun fibres. We walked out into his inner city suburban backyard where he showed me a cotton shrub he was growing. It struck me that this was the very first time for me to see the actual source of the fabric that I made up most of my clothing. It made me feel a bit angry and slightly ashamed. This was but one of a growing pool of experiences whereby I discovered a critical source of my livelihood at far too old an age. I was angry at myself for my lack of earlier inquisitiveness, and at the culture I had been born into that did not value this kind of knowledge enough.
Already primed for change, I confirmed then and there that I would continue my journey into nature, making it an urgent priority. I had wasted far too much precious time not knowing about the living world that existed between the cracks of the city and suburban worlds I had inhabited.
Two weeks later, I was off into the countryside, beginning the journey I am still on to this day.
It is now close to two years since that pivotal time in my life. Since then, I have visited and WWOOFed (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) at a number of properties and communities looking for alternative ways of living with the aim to get wide angle view of options before getting settled anywhere. After New Zealand, I travelled through countryside NSW, Victoria, and then Japan and Korea. Ironically it was close to the beginning of these travels that I discovered permaculture and found it ticked so many of the right boxes for me.
Whilst travelling through Victoria, I came to WWOOF at Melliodora which had been quite a mind-blowing experience. It had significantly helped me in re-framing, and progressing some thoughts I had long been stuck on, including the concept of ‘appropriate technology’ which has helped me find balance with technology after pendulum swinging from radical adoption to radical rejection. It has also inspired me to get back to basics on a lot of important topics and school myself on many apparent knowledge gaps.
Most significantly however, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief in knowing that I had finally found an excellent approach to that thorny old question, “how can I live in this world in a way that provides for my livelihood without doing so at the expense of other’s livelihoods and that of the environment?”. Here at Melliodora I found one viable answer to this question, a functioning model of a lifestyle that i could see myself very happily living.
I knew then that if I could ever find the opportunity to return and spend some time to absorb more, I would. Thankfully that opportunity came, and now here I am. Sometimes the universe can be really obliging! Thanks universe!
Nowadays while I feel an acute awareness of the magnitude of learning journey I am embarking on, I also feel assured in the knowledge that what I am learning about is real. The real real, not abstracted fossil fuelled techno gadgetry that will be obsolete next year.
Every day I am learning so much, and through this blog I am hoping to share some of my sense of wonder in the things I am learning while I am here. Sometimes I’m sure some of you might roll your eyes and say, “wow, he didn’t even know that!!?” but I hope also that sometimes you might be as surprised as me and learn something new too!
I’d really love to hear from you as well, so please say hi, wish me luck, share ideas, suggestions, stories, tell us of your journey, or tell us a joke…whatever you feel like! It would be great just to know there’s someone out there reading along.
Very much looking forward to sharing my journey with you in the year ahead!