In this episode, Becca reads a letter she wrote and read that encapsulated what it felt like to be on the oppressed side of a class division within the microcosm of a volunteer farm in southern Chile.
Sometimes reality is fucking crazy and surreal.
Late into my time volunteering at a farm in Southern Chile, following a blissful 6 weeks of slinging a shovel on the construction team, there was a microcosmic revolution that I took some part in.
On the grand scale of revolutions, the timeline for this was incredibly swift.
Although the conflict had been slowly building for weeks, the catalyst for the explosion of emotion began on March 5th. The letter you're about to hear was written on March 8th, read to the people on March 9th, read to the founder of the farm on March 10th, and read to the volunteer leaders on March 12th.
I'm sharing this because I believe the approach is one example of how the beginning of conflict resolution can occur in way that puts love at the forefront.
The image for today's post was taken moments before the third reading of this letter.
As always, enjoy!
My name is Becca, and this is From the Ashes, Episode 4: Revolution in the Microcosm
Before I get into the meat of today’s episode, I feel like you guys need some context.
When I left the US, I was leaving behind an entire lifetime of teaching. I’d been teaching for about 12 years, and I realized I was done. In trying to figure out what to do next, I was dead set on environmental sustainability. It was really heavy in my thoughts.
Now. Here’s the thing. I had been in the US education system … my entire life basically … in various forms. Both as a student and as a teacher. I had taught at community college, at high school levels, basically all over the education system.
And I fundamentally feel that the US education system is fucking broken beyond repair. So, I knew that this chapter wasn’t going to start by opting back into a system that I thought was fucking broken.
Which basically means that I wasn’t going to do this through grad school.
I had done grad school once, I wasn’t going to do it again.
So, I got a little creative and I was like, “Without grad school, how am I going to start this new life?”
I was like, “I’m going to volunteer somewhere. I’m going to get practical experience. I’m gonna give away my time. I’m gonna start there, and I’m gonna figure out where to go from volunteering.”
So, over the course of my research, I found a farm that had an ideology that really spoke to me.
It was about Human Reintegration with nature.
The idea was that you find healing, you find human thriving and wellness by returning to some of the conditions under which humans evolved. Things like: Living in nature. Eating from the land. Working in communities based on egalatarianism, stuff like that.
Now of course, there’s always the marketing, and then there’s the reality.
When I arrived, some of what was promised was totally, totally there … but eating off the land wasn’t quite ready to go yet. The gardens weren’t up and running, and we definitely were not eating off the land.
And practically, what that meant for us was that the founder of the farm actually had to drive into town 2 – 3 times per week to actually buy food to keep the 40 – 60 volunteers that were there … eating.
Now of course … in order to buy food, you need money. So, two long term volunteers actually created a center dedicated to inner healing that people paid for. Their was a capitalist element to this farm.
While I will say that I totally understand the intention of why this was introduced and why these volunteers created this center, the capitalist element at this farm created class division on a microcosmic level.
Over the course of my time at this farm, it became more and more apparent that those of us who were not directly involved with this healing center, were on the oppressed side of this class division.
Tensions just mounted and mounted and got worse and worse and worse. And the founder of the farm recognized this and opened up the space and asked us to talk about how we were feeling and what was going on for us.
After to listening to how we were feeling and what was going on, he asked us to come up with solutions.
It had already come up that I have years of facilitation experience, so I stepped up to the plate to be like, “Okay, I will facilitate the process that helps us to come up with these solutions.”
Over the course of this process, it became really apparent that the first thing we needed to do was really just address the emotions, address what was going wrong, address how we were feeling.
And do it in a way that was honest. And raw.
Through facilitation, I basically helped the community to voice the collective emotion ... the collective experience of what it felt like to be on the oppressed side of this class division.
So I’m going to go ahead and read you this letter.
And after reading the letter, I’ll talk a little bit more about what the reaction was after the readings.
Without further ado, here we go.
This is a letter I entitled, “A letter of reconciliation.”
We want to begin this letter by thanking you for the work you put into the retreat center, and the intention behind the retreat center’s creation. Healing is one of the many great powers of this farm, and we respect your desires to put energy and passion behind spreading this healing.
We recognize the immense weight that is on your shoulders, and the frustration you must experience when it appears that volunteers either do not understand – or do not care – about what you’re trying to accomplish.
The purpose of our writing to you is healing this community, and the following is how we arrived at this moment:
After a conversation where we tried to come up with concrete, practical solutions to improve our community, it became clear that we cannot yet move into a state of constructive creation. There is a deep hurt that needs to be healed that is directly related to your leadership of the retreat center. There is an emotional and philosophical roadblock that we cannot move past. Our community is injured, and we need to intentionally heal our wounds.
As one of our community member’s knee can tell you, moving forward and continuing to work without healing simply prolongs the pain of injury indefinitely. As a community, we’d like to learn from this knee pain, take the time to stop, and work on what we can do to rest, recover, and recuperate. To only move forward when we are well and truly ready to do so.
We believe the best place to begin this healing is to share with you our our collective vision for the vast potential this farm has to be a harmonious, productive, and an example of what the world could be.
Based on what we know of you, we think that in this vision, you will find much crossover and commonality with the vision you have for the retreat center. We know that our vision may not exactly mirror yours, but we truly feel that our missions are linked – that what we want and that what you want are not so different.
We discussed, as a group, what the farm would look like if, 5 years from now, the current divide was overcome, and the farm began to thrive beyond all imagination. If it was the the farm we all wished it were right now.
Here is our collective vision:
The farm has become the envisioned Utopia.
The farm has become a worldwide example of an integrated, mutually supportive environment where people of all backgrounds can come and share their experience with others without being judged by others. Guests, administrators, the founders, and volunteers work, live, learn, and play side-by-side on the property. People from all walks of life create the kind of unifying connections that can only be cultivated with time, interest, and close contact. Regardless of the “why” for someone’s stay or the amount of money in their pocket, The farm is a place where anyone can come to feel a sense of personal value because they learn the value of giving and taking in equal measure.
Because of a large push to use our volunteer resources to plant gardens, create the necessary infrastructure for productive livestock, and organizing year-long systems for harvesting, we are eating fully from the land. Permaculture has moved to the center of our priorities. As a result each day, every person on the farm wakes with joy and purpose because there is a collective goal that everyone understands their part in. We are dedicated to working constructively in the local community, learning as much from them as they learn from us.
The basic human needs of the volunteers is something that we no longer have to talk about because there is now an ideal living situation (like working plumbing, electricity, enough beds and blankets for all, and adequate nutrition to sustain all forms of work). When it comes to all the necessary tasks that comprise our days, there is a set of priorities and key people in the community that ensure everything flows smoothly, operates seamlessly, and is communicated transparently. When there is conflict, it is resolved in a way that is mature, rational, and without reactive punitivity.
Through these means, volunteers, guests, and long-term community members find healing – sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. By working collaboratively with others, by spending time in nature, by cooperating with local communities, by attending workshops and by finding that unique inner light – the inner healing that is the goal of the retreat center becomes accessible to everyone. Through this inner healing, we create the circumstances that enable us to heal the outer world in which we all live.
There is incredible alignment amongst the volunteers on this vision, and yet we feel that with the structures in place as they are, this beautiful future is not possible. And so we are writing this letter to express how we’ve been feeling. Without this transparent expression, no healing can occur and neither your vision, nor ours, will ever come to fruition.
There is anger, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment in this section of our letter. We own that these emotions are ours, and in this ownership are sharing them so that something can be done. We no longer wish to hold them. We recognize that holding them has been destructive for our community. We apologize that we did not have the courage to express our collective emotions much, much earlier.
Although we understand is not your intention, the impact of the actions and sentiments of the past several weeks has made it so that in our hearts and minds, the retreat center has become the farm’s metaphor for the elitism, separatism, and economic segregation that has created the conditions for today’s crumbling earth and increasing human division. The retreat center has become the ironic antithesis of permaculture – and permaculture is the system we believe will heal the world. And the retreat center is an expensive antithesis that now requires more than 500 human hours per week to cultivate and maintain. While we understand that retreat center is here to feed us, we can’t help but wonder how much food we could grow if 500 hours per week were spent planting, harvesting, and maintaining gardens and livestock.
We also feel that if we do not fit into the narrow ideal that you have created for the proper ‘energy’ at retreat center, then we are not wanted nor welcome. Although you may be disconnected from it, there is a great deal of healing that happens quite naturally at the farm. And the healing that happens at the barn is the capacity to live one’s true self, vibrantly, and out loud for all to see – some of us for the first time in our lives. Once found, we find it disheartening to be told to hold it back because there is someone with a dollar bill in their pocket who finds it distasteful, or a volunteer who sees enlightened self-discovery as only a silent, serious process. We find ourselves feeling alienated and awkward and uncomfortable when we are told this self-discovery does not fit and is not welcome.
We also see that we are expected to cook and clean for the volunteers who live at the retreat center, when many of those people do not engage in these activities themselves. If we are truly a community of equals, then all of us, regardless of volunteer status should contribute to cooking and cleaning the spaces in which we live. This exemption from contribution from the community and the division it creates, in conjunction with the aforestated sentiment that we should not be our true selves when at retreat center makes us feel like chattle. It is not empowering for us, and it is why so few of us look forward to taking on work at the retreat center.
In addition, we feel that there is a great deal of assumption of ‘how farm people are’ without actual knowledge. The few in the community who take advantage of this place and take more then they give are not representative of the majority of us – many of us work far more than the 5 hours expected of us. Most of us help others even when it isn’t required of us. So many of us do projects in our free time that contribute to keeping this community going. It is unfair to judge all of us based on the irresponsible actions of the few, but we do feel that we are judged this way.
As mentioned, we are angry. We are sad. We are disappointed. Disillusioned. Feeling misunderstood, misrepresented. Scared. Jaded. And we are writing to you directly because some of this comes directly from our interactions with you, or the interactions that happen within the culture you are creating at the retreat center. This is the barest, most transparent truth we can offer, and we know that it won’t feel good. We need you to hear us anyway.
We are unsure where to go from here other than to hope you will take our words seriously. That you will hear us, and that you will consider the chasm between your intentions and your impact.
We also believe that you want a great deal of we want, and so we don’t want this to be the end of the conversation. We need to hear you understand us, and then we need to hear how you’re feeling. We need to hear what you think of our dreams and our pain. We have a need for you to work together with us to heal this, because we want the farm to become the Utopia we all imagine, not just the Utopia imagined by a few.
We are sorry we let this build to the point of breaking. We are sorry that we didn’t express this before the community broke. We are sorry that we allowed anger and fear to get red and swollen and debilitating, instead of treating it right when the wound started to open.
Thank you for listening with an open heart. Thank you for hearing us.
We look forward to healing this, with you, together.
I read this letter three times. Once to the people, once to the founder of the farm, and once to the volunteers who were the main engine behind the retreat center.
It was amazing to watch how this letter moved through our community.
It wasn’t necessarily easy for the people to hear this, but the reaction was with openness and love.
It was extraordinary.
I mean … the people … it was easy. Because this was their words and they agreed.
The founder was really touched. It was really difficult for him, but you could tell that he was really impacted, and that it really meant something to him.
And the volunteer leaders, when they heard it, they took the message with an extraordinarily unexpected grace. I was blown away by them and how they were able to really hear this with an immense amount of love.
At the third reading, those addressed were given a chance to speak, and overarchingly they did what leaders were supposed to do.
There were no promises to fix it, and there was no pandering, but at the same time, I did feel that the letter had been heard. That the impact we needed to have by writing this was made.
The air was cleared. Everything ended with a group hug. It was beautiful!
There were also may individual hugs after this and something that is really personal to me is that the founder of the farm called me a panther. And he made sure that I knew that the healing wouldn’t have been possible without me. And I’m not sure how to take this, I’m not sure why I’m sharing it, but I just feel it’s really important and I want him to know – if he ends up ever listening to this – that I’m grateful for his words. And maybe someday, the full impact of those words will make sense to me.
As is the case with the community built I was volunteering with … there is no end to this story.
I left the farm 1 week following the reading of this letter. At the time of this recording have no idea what has transpired at the farm since I read it.
That being said, the experience of being a part of this gives me a deep sense of hope. A very deep sense of hope.
I just feel like through mutual respect, a drive to understand one another, and with commitment to working together, and working towards unity ... we can heal some of the real life chasms that are out there.
I just feel like if we put love at the forefront; maybe, just maybe, we will heal this fucking earth.
And you made it! Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end of Episode 4 of From the Ashes.
As always, I’d fucking love it if you could subscribe to this podcast or send this podcast to a friend you think would fucking love it!
I also want to let you know that at the time of this recording, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, and there will be stories from outside the farm coming at you at some unpredictable time in the future.
With that being said, wifi is not always easy to come by on the road. So! I promise I will NEVER have a regular update schedule. You’ll just have to subscribe to the rss feed so that you get updates when they come about.
Thanks again for listening! I fucking love all of you!