maestra olivia by temple

Last autumn I spent a few months in Peru working with indigenous people, plant medicines, and permaculture.  When I returned from the jungle I started to think of myself in a different way and notice a different set of patterns around me.

I started studying ecopsychology, ecology, and earth-based spiritual traditions like Taoism, South American shamanism, and Native American traditions.

To my surprise, I found that the values, which are essentially the design principles of a culture, were basically the same across the board. This really isn’t all that surprising, because in fact, each of these traditions learned from how nature organizes her complex systems, from the Amazonian jungle to the jungle of the mind.

The Ecological Self

The crucial underpinning to these design principles is an identification with the ecological self.

In contrast to the western idea of a solid, stable, independent self, the ecological self is a sense of self that identifies with the social, ecological, and spiritual and reacts to the interests of other as if they were his own.

For indigenous people this self-concept seemed to be a given.

However, I researched further into the self-concept from neuroscientists like Dan Siegel and Rick Hanson, and from a neurological perspective. In summary I found two important points:infinity

  • the mind is dependently coarising with other minds and the environment
  • the self is a self-organizing system nested within larger social and ecological systems

I could see that from a psychological perspective and physical perspective we are intricately interwoven into the web of life.  Based off of the patterns of nature, we can design our own lifestyles, organizations, and products to work in harmony with nature and achieve our goals using the wisdom of nature’s patterns.

Design Principles for the Ecological Self

Systems Awareness – Life is an integrated process of nested living systems. Make design decisions grounded in seeing these systems and their different layers of abstraction. 

Dynamic Balance – Physicist Fritjof Capra describes matter as in “a continuous dancing and vibrating motion whose rhythmic patterns are determined by the molecular, atomic and nuclear structures.” Likewise, Earth-based spiritual traditions all emphasize that nature is not a static but dynamic equilibrium. This dance between opposites, like the yin and yang, is the creative potential of all life.

Emergence – Complex systems have an innate drive to maximize complexity and to integrate towards harmony. What emerges can be much greater than we can imagine alone, and also can bring uncontrollable and unpredictable outcomes.

Networks – To promote systemic change, we must foster networks. Life did not take over this planet by combat, but by networking.

Reciprocity (Ayni) – Reciprocity, or exchange of energy – be it human energy or simply feedback- governs the universal circulation of vitality. Stay open and responsive.

Cycles – In contrast to our current industrial culture where 99% of materials are waste, nature moves in cycles. We must learn to design for regenerative economies. When we design our lifestyles to align with the larger cycles we intersect with, we’ll also find we waste a lot less personal energy.

Flow – All organisms need a continual flow of energy to stay alive. Consider how energy flows in your organization and products, where energy is lost, and how it can be more efficient.

Beauty – Affection alters behavior, sparks love, and connects us to all of life. Cultivate affection through beauty whenever possible. Discover beauty everywhere.

Deep Time – We cannot forget the power and responsibility that comes with acting our age. The Universe is estimated to be 14.5 billion years old, and the planet 4.4 billion years old. Many indigenous tribes make decisions based on the 7th generation out, that’s 200 years out.  How can we use the 14 billion years of wisdom we hold to design a more sustainable society for our descendants?


“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health.”

– Wendell Berry

oceanThis is the most important principle:  We are of this planet, nested systems within the larger ecological systems. We are not separate from her.

Our Earth is in trouble. We’ve designed a culture and economy that is separated from the soil we evolved from. The Earth is speaking to us and through us always.  What can we learn from observing and listening to nature’s patterns?


1. Cultivate ecological perception – See your ecological self, the systems you are a part of

2.  Learn the design principles of nature and design your own world according to them

3. Observe nature and create your own set of principles by listening to your body and Earth

I invite you to open your senses to what the Earth has to say to you:

through your gut feeling telling you which direction to go,

through the wind on your face carrying messages from the other side of the Pacific,

through the ebbs and flows of the ocean waves,

through the blossoming of flowers in springtime,

through knowing glances from each other.

You already know how to hear the voice of the Earth, it’s just a matter of remembering


[this article is curated from the Center for Ecoliteracy]

With a goal of nurturing students to become ecoliterate, the Center for Ecoliteracy has identified five vital practices that integrate emotional, social, and ecological intelligence. They are described at greater length in our book, Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence (Jossey-Bass, 2012), from which the excerpt below is taken.

We work to inspire teachers to use a variety of learning opportunities that help students consider and apply these practices in a diverse range of contexts. These practices allow students to strengthen and extend their capacity to live sustainably.

1. Developing Empathy for All Forms of Life encourages students to expand their sense of compassion to other forms of life. By shifting from our society’s dominant mindset (which considers humans to be separate from and superior to the rest of life on Earth) to a view that recognizes humans as being members of the web of life, students broaden their care and concern to include a more inclusive network of relationships.

2. Embracing Sustainability as a Community Practice emerges from knowing that organisms do not exist in isolation. The quality of the web of relationships within any living community determines its collective ability to survive and thrive. By learning about the wondrous ways that plants, animals, and other living things are interdependent, students are inspired to consider the role of interconnectedness within their communities and see the value in strengthening those relationships by thinking and acting cooperatively.

3. Making the Invisible Visible assists students in recognizing the myriad effects of human behavior on other people and the environment. The impacts of human behavior have expanded exponentially in time, space, and magnitude, making the results difficult if not impossible to understand fully. Using tools to help make the invisible visible reveals the far-reaching implications of human behavior and enables us to act in more life-affirming ways.

4. Anticipating Unintended Consequences is a twofold challenge of predicting the potential implications of our behaviors as best we can, while at the same time accepting that we cannot foresee all possible cause-and-effect associations. Assuming that the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life, students can adopt systems thinking and the “precautionary principle” as guidelines for cultivating a way of living that defends rather than destroys the web of life. Second, we build resiliency by supporting the capacity of natural and social communities to rebound from unintended consequences.

5. Understanding How Nature Sustains Life is imperative for students to cultivate a society that takes into account future generations and other forms of life. Nature has successfully supported life on Earth for billions of years. Therefore, by examining the Earth’s processes, we learn strategies that are applicable to designing human endeavors.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint. From Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social and Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow. Copyright © 2012 by Center for Ecoliteracy.

Bruce Mau points out 1% of the world has a college education, and we’ve created all of the technology and infrastructure and innovation that exists today. What would happen if that was 2%?

“World-leading visionary, innovator, designer, and author, Bruce Mau is committed to creative, healthy, ecological and economic abundance. In his presentation, he discusses the the need to make sustainability a norm and his drive to include “the other 99%” in the process.”

10 Principles of the Massive Change Learning:

1. Purpose Inspires Learning

2. Worst equals Best

3. The Public is Critical

4. Design is Core to our Future

5. Experience Deepens Knowledge

6. Renaissance Teams are Best

7. Real Can’t Be Faked

8. Experience is the Content

9. Design the System, Not the Object

10. The Future Will Be Beautiful (if we have one)

[Content Sourced from CompostModern]

For low-income people in North America, “food justice” is a broad concept which addresses the social, political, economic and ecological barriers to food security. Gaining access to affordable, organic food, achieving local self-sufficiency, and creating economic opportunities are major challenges to lower-income people. The People’s Grocery, with its “mobile market” and community gardens, simultaneously addresses these intimately linked issues, and is part of a growing food justice movement across the country.

Long Term Goals: By 2020, People’s Grocery will have significantly decreased the health disparities between West Oakland and Greater Alameda County, leveraged millions of dollars for the healthy food economy in West Oakland, and networked food justice organizations in the state of California and across the country to do the same.

Our goals derive from the Milken Institute’s approach to comprehensive capital. Increasing Economic Opportunity(Milken’s financial capital) develops innovations and opportunities in the local economy for those who have limited access to it. Building a Healthier Environment (Milken’s healthy human capital), brings together people and their value to organizations, economies and society for a thriving and healthier community. Strengthening Social Capital (Milken’s social capital) encourages collaboration of people and organizations to create an environment conducive to sustainability.

[Content Sourced from People’s Grocery]

About Nouvelle Vie Haiti

IAHV’s Nouvelle Vie Haiti is developing a network of young Haitian leaders who empower Haitian communities towards greater self-reliance.

A new life for Haiti beings with shifting mindsets of and about Haitians – transforming victims into agents of change. The first step is transformed individuals: releasing trauma, restoring hope, and fostering personal responsibility of individuals, opening minds to people’s ability to improve their own lives. We then support this shift in attitude and behaviors through service programs that empower self-reliance including: food security gardens, local waste management, sexuality education workshops, and street child mentorship programs run at minimal cost by community volunteers. From these programs, leaders and entrepreneurs emerge who embody a sense of total responsibility, innovation, and integrity in action. Nouvelle Vie has trained 19 Haitian leaders as empowerment trainers, bringing the program towards total programmatic sustainability.

  • Youth Leadership Training Program

    Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) is a residential leadership “bootcamp” that develops leaders through: yogic practices that foster clarity and dynamism; a philosophical framework built around conscious awareness and responsibility; theory-in-action through the creation and implementation of service projects.

  • Trauma Relief & Community Empowerment

    The Breath Water Sound (3 hours) and Art of Living Course (18 hours) strengthen coping strategies and interpersonal relationships. Participants learn to process emotions and past events, regaining enthusiasm and hope. The program provides a solid foundation for community driven rebuilding efforts, rooted in inner conviction, strength, and resilience.

  • Sexuality Education

    Teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and infidelity are rising at an alarming rate. The peer-led Sexuality Education program explores the beliefs and consequences of sexual choices – physical, emotional, and social. Graduates actively support each other in making healthy sexual choices.

  • Mentoring Program for Vulnerable Children

    The Youth Corps guides graduates of Breath Water Sound and Art of Living to provide an emotionally enriching life skills program for vulnerable children that includes empowerment, basic hygiene and nutrition, and environmental awareness.

  • Sustainable Agriculture: Food Security and Waste Management

    Community members learn how to grow their own food and compost using Permaculture, a design science using principles of natural ecosystems. Gardens are created out of old tires, rice sacks, buckets, and kitchen scraps, reducing dependence on food aid and imported food, improving nutrition, and reducing family food costs.

Learn More at

Content curated from IAHV.

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“We are One Project. The Human Project for Global Thriving, part of the One Team. This is the arc of history, from local tribe to global tribe. The arc toward more collaboration, cooperation, and trust, of which homo sapiens is uniquely capable….Imagine it…”

– Justin Rosenstein

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