“So God Made a Farmer…”

This almost feels like the distant past now, but in the late winter this ad ran as a super bowl commercial. I didn’t actually see it on tv, but when I came upon the commercial on a timemagazine.com web page recapping the best and worst super bowl commercials I watched it, and couldn’t help making a comment on the web page below the video. I knew my comment would most likely stir an adverse reactionary comment, and I was right. Below are a series of comments between myself and an anonymous person, who provided me the opportunity to seek out some valid citations for my point of view. The thread didn’t attract any other commentators, and after my last reply (shown below) there were no further comments by anyone. I decided to put it up on my blog for future reference and to document the conversation. Here is the commercial that started the comments:

JamesSchleppenbach Feb 4, 2013

I live in Rural Iowa. The people in these commercials are my neighbors. They love their families, they work hard, their jobs are thankless. Meanwhile, multinational corporations feed them seeds that are poisoning animals and people, chemicals that poison the water, and plows that send the fertile topsoils into the rivers that end up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing and disrupting ecosystems of the Delta. I love this country. And I am a revolutionary. My revolution is for regenerative agriculture practices that support the growth of soil fertility rather than chemical companies, and the ability to save seed rather than risk patent infringement from the company that owns my seeds. Thank you Dodge for this beautiful ad, which highlights and celebrates real people doing work that has built one of the greatest countries of all time. Yet the ad is sadly ironic because it highlights how ignorant we are of the full-range impact our modern industrial systems have on the health of individuals, families, communities, ecosystems, etc. etc. etc. I understand this conversation is complex, and there are many truths on both sides. So here I make the first comment. This is me: https://jaschlepp.wordpress.com/  This is where I go to school: http://sustainableliving.mum.edu/

jrobs585 Feb 5, 2013

@JamesSchleppenbach: Who here is ignorant?  Because science says its you.
When you have any actual proof or scientific finding to back your claims, maybe I (and other farmers) will listen to you.  Until then, I’ll stick with real science.

JamesSchleppenbach Feb 5, 2013

@jrobs585@JamesSchleppenbach: Woah, well I’m not gonna take your condescension personally. And you clearly have not done thorough research on this subject. It took me less than 10 minutes to find these:
This article describes a United Nations report based on studies in East Africa that conclude Organic Farming is the recommended way for long-term food security and environmental sustainability:


“The evidence presented in this study supports the argument that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term,” write Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of UNCTAD, and Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. “The great technological progress in the past half century has not led to major reductions in hunger and poverty in developing countries.”

Study: Long-term effects of organic and conventional farming on soil erosion
http: //www.nature.com/nature/journal/v330/n6146/abs/330370a0.html
JamesSchleppenbach Feb 5, 2013

@jrobs585@JamesSchleppenbachAnd have you not taken the time to watch “Food, Inc.”? Because regardless of the scientific debate, do you really think our current dominant food system is good for people and the planet?

jrobs585 Feb 6, 2013

@JamesSchleppenbach@jrobs585: Forgive me for not trusting something from rodale.com as truly scientific.  Can you find me the actual peer-reviewed study, rather than a pro-organic site’s interpretation of the study?  I’d honestly like to read it. If organic farming can bring higher yields, why do they consistently bring in such lower yields in developed countries?  You’d think it’d be easier in a developed country.  Could it be that they’re comparing the ‘higher organic yield’ to the undeveloped country’s original poorly-managed low-yield techniques?

I do appreciate the nature article (though i could only read the abstract), you now have me thinking that soil erosion may be a problem we ought to look into.  But by ‘look into’ I mean do more peer-reviewed studies… Plows have been used for thousands and thousands of years, so I kind of doubt the urgency.  Why haven’t older countries plowed their way down to the bedrock yet?

And no thank you, on Food Inc… I don’t need Hollywood’s “informed” opinion on anything, really.  Give me more peer-reviewed journals, can’t get enough of those.

I get the feeling that you didn’t read my link (or chose not to address any of it) so I doubt you’ll actually look into any of these.  But they are there, peer-reviewed arguments against the claimed benefits of organic food and organic agriculture, for anyone to read.
Avery, Alex. The Truth About Organic Foods. St. Louis: Henderson Communications, L.L.C.; 1ST edition (2006), 2006.
Dangour, A., Aikenhead, A., Hayter, A., Allen, E., Lock, K., Uauy, R. “Comparison of Putative Health Effects of Oragnically and Conventionally Produced Foodstuffs: A Systematic Review.” Food Standards Agency. Food Standards Agency, 29 Jul. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. <http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/organicreviewreport.pdf>
Hughner, R.S., McDonagh, P., Prothero, A., Schultz II, C.J., Stanton, J. “Who are organic food consumers? A compilation and review of why people purchase organic food.” Journal of Consumer Behavior. 21 May 2007, Volume 6 Issue 2-3: 94-110.
Kristensen, M., Østergaard, L.F., Halekoh, U., Jørgensen, H., Lauridsen, C., Brandt, K., Bu¨gel, S. “Effect of plant cultivation methods on content of major and trace elements in foodstuffs and retention in rats.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 1 Sep. 2008, volume 88, Number 12: 2161-2172.
MacKerron D.K.L. et al. “Organic farming: science and belief.” Individual articles from the 1998/99 Report. Scottish Crop Research Institute, 1 Dec. 1999. Web. 22 Jan. 2010. <http://www.scri.ac.uk/scri/file/individualreports/1999/06ORGFAR.PDF>
Mondelaers K., Aertsens J., Van Huylenbroeck G. “A meta-analysis of the differences in environmental impacts between organic and conventional farming.” British Food Journal. 1 Nov. 2009, 111, 10: 1098-1119.

jrobs585 Feb 6, 2013

@JamesSchleppenbach: We (American farmers) are just sick of being chastised by organiacs like yourself that think that Food Inc is a form of scientific evidence, yet have no real scientific backing for most of your claims, yet you pretend to have our interests at heart.

Don’t think for a minute that any well-managed food company has not already been on the organic bandwagon since it started rolling.  Nearly 100% of organic food in supermarkets comes from a producer owned by one of the major food companies that also sells regular food.   It’s an ironic little secret that the very same corporate food producers taking our money to sell us organic foods are the same ones spending it on the ad agencies to stoke the anticorporate message that drives them.
If you prefer organic foods, that’s fine.  Nobody is campaigning to eliminate organic food, because it doesn’t hurt anybody.  But your money (and more of it) is going to the same companies, regardless of whether you buy organic or not.

If you believe in science, there are no health benefits to eating organic.
You don’t need to believe in science to see that organic agriculture is way less cost-efficient than traditional agriculture.

And if you believe in science, the environmental impact of organic ag is unproven and likely negligible.
If you don’t believe in science, but some transcendental earth life-force stuff, that’s fine too.  But when you’re making extraordinary claims about how society needs to make sweeping changes, you need some very serious backing from the scientific community.  You guys simply don’t have that.
JamesSchleppenbach Feb 12, 2013

: I’m currently enrolled full time in school and have a job so its taken me a little time to get through the links you posted. I agree about “big organic” industry being essentially just another arm of the big ag industry. Thats why I’d rather buy a vegetable grown locally and sold at the farmers market than by an organic veggie grown in California and trucked to Iowa.
I also agree that its not a good feeling being chastised. Chastising is hardly a productive form of communication, and I’d rather be friends with my neighbors, even if they’re living a lifestyle that I don’t choose. I see the links to the studies and I know the hundreds of millions in scientific research over the years has produced lots of sound science. I also think the smaller pool of available research regarding organic and regenerative (beyond “organic”) practices are reflective of the need for more research funding. I also see in the first link you posted, the author says about the organic industry: “The people promoting it generally have questionable scientific credentials, and they support their claim primarily by pointing out flaws in the norm. These are all characteristic of pseudoscience.” I agree that most people don’t distinguish between science and pseudo science. I agree that marketing in the organic industry plays on people’s fears as much as the news media does about politics and world events.
Also, from the article you posted: “We should choose farming methods that truly address our real concerns — safety and sustainability — not simply methods that satisfy an arbitrary marketing label.” I’m all about it. And I understand that where we go from here is dependent on our different paradigms.You think 1000acre corn and soybean fields, tilled and plowed every year, genetically modified, sprayed with chemicals is just fine, and is good for you and the earth. I don’t. I don’t think we need sweeping changes, I think we need responsible ones. Sweeping changes create instability. This is my last comment on this thread just because I have too much homework to give this the attention it deserves. 

Finally, for you to keep insisting that the science is so one-sided shows me your focus on “organic vs conventional” has given you paradigm blindness. My point has more to do with rethinking and reconsidering the entire notion of annual agriculture. I’m saying we need to consider mimicking forest ecology to create polyculture systems based on perennial plants. This would be a long-term, gradual shift. See Mark Shepard’s work. This is one of the main reasons:

Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University Dr. Rattan Lal has calculated that 476 Gigatons (Gt) of carbon have been emitted from farmland soils due to inappropriate farming and grazing practices (Christine Jones, PhD, http://www.amazingcarbon.com). In contrast, 270 Gt have been emitted over the past 150 years of fossil fuel burning (Jones, http://www.amazingcarbon.com).

In their study, “Carbon Sequestration Potential Estimates with Changes in Land Use and Tillage Practices in Ohio, USA,” Zhengxi Tan and Rattan Lal explain that the conversion of natural ecosystems to those managed agriculturally can reduce the soil organic carbon pool by up to 50% in the top 20 cm of the soil and 25-30% in the top 100 cm depth after 30-50 years of cultivation (Tan, Lal, 2005).

It makes sense that more carbon comes out of the soil being tilled than the carbon released making and running the engine tilling it. For, fossil fuels are mostly buried and compressed landscapes of once living organisms. These fossil organisms are no different from the organisms in our soil still. Destroyed, they release the same kind of carbon that was put there by the same photosynthesis.

All exposed soil will lose this soil-organic-carbon. Inappropriate tillage expands the process exponentially. Today we have realized that inappropriate agriculture has successfully released the carbon of a 30 foot thick organism that once covered the entire Midwest, the topsoil and root system of the tall-grass prairies. Bare soil is potentially a more feasible culprit for global warming than even electricity.

JamesSchleppenbach Feb 12, 2013

@jrobs585@JamesSchleppenbach: Published in “Science” Journal – published by American Association for the Advancement of Science, full pdf on Google Scholar: “David Pimentel”, et al “Environmental and economic costs of soil erosion and conservation benefits”

Soil erosion is a major environmental threat to the sustainability and productive capacity of agriculture. During the last 40 yeras, nearly one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost by erosion and continues to be lost at a rate of more than 10million hectares per year.
From the body: About 80% of the world’s agricultural land suffers moderate to severe erosion. Croplands are the most susceptible to erosion because their soil is repeatedly tilled and left without a protective cover of vegetation.

The U.N. Environmental Programs first “Global Environment Outlook Year Book” was released in 2003. The program executive director, Klaus Toepfer, noted that the dead zone problem was likely to rapidly escalate. He stated that there are 146 dead zones, most of which are in Europe and the east coast of the U.S. The most infamous is at the end of the Mississippi River, due to fertilizer from farm fields of the Midwest.

From the published paper “Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems” 

Dead zones in the coastal oceans have spread exponentially since the 1960s and have serious consequences for ecosystem functioning. The formation of dead zones has been exacerbated by the increase in primary production and consequent worldwide coastal eutrophication fueled by riverine runoff of fertilizers and the burning of fossil fuels. Enhanced primary production results in an accumulation of particulate organic matter, which encourages microbial activity and the consumption of dissolved oxygen in bottom waters. Dead zones have now been reported from more than 400 systems, affecting a total area of more than 245,000 square kilometers, and are probably a key stressor on marine ecosystems.
So the conclusion is that my viewpoint has to do with “real science” as well. Please take me out of the “organiac” box. Though I do enjoy hugging trees…

Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/02/04/the-best-and-worst-super-bowl-commercials-of-2013/slide/ram-trucks/#ixzz2KfZF7AYy


Oh Freedom! ~Three Lessons from the Iowa Freedom Choir Experience

As the 4th of July draws near I figured the time is ripe to reflect on the civil rights history trip I took 4 months ago thanks to Patti Miller’s Keeping History Alive Foundation! Now that I’ve graduated from college I’m gaining more appreciation for the privileges that I’ve enjoyed as a handsome intelligent athletic 6ft. upper-middle class white male. I’m just beginning to recognize and appreciate the access granted to me my whole life and how easy its come. I’ve faced virtually no cultural or institutional barriers during my life. And as I think about my job options (fresh out of college) I realize that I am connected to so many opportunities I don’t know what to do with myself. Growing up in a multicultural neighborhood, with rich friends and poor friends, I know mine wasn’t a universal experience. Now that I’m in the comfort of my childhood home with the luxury of a few weeks off I can afford to take some time to draw out lessons from the set of experiences with the Iowa Freedom Choir that culminated in a 7-day journey through the deep south March 21-28, 2013. All the information about the trip is linked above, including our trip blog so I’m gonna just get straight into personal stuff.

Patti Miller and Marvin Gatch (a Drake graduate) reading to the children in the Community Center in Meridian, Ms. - Freedom Summer '64

Patti Miller and Marvin Gatch (a Drake graduate) reading to the children in the Community Center in Meridian, Ms. – Freedom Summer ’64

First of all, my hat, pants, and shirt all go off to Patti Miller and everyone else who made this trip possible – it couldn’t be anything but pure love that would compel someone like Patti Miller to organize a trip like this to pass the torch and keep this profound history alive. My hat also goes off to all those dead and alive who stood up and risked their lives to make history before I was born, not to mention countless others still standing up together and speaking out in America and around the world.

This leads me to Lesson #1 from the trip: Civil rights is an ONGOING struggle, as is the state of the republic in the U.S. With the current influence of corporate “people” today, we have essentially lost the republic. And in many ways, our civil rights and voting rights are under attack. And I won’t even begin to get into the injustices against Native Americans that have yet to be resolved.

Before getting involved with this project I was mostly naive to the fact that the institutional freedoms and civil liberties granted to me by my forefathers (of civil rights legislation) are subject to reform, removal, and revision. Only after meeting people in the flesh during this trip, who stood on the front lines for civil rights and voting rights in our lifetime, do I really understand what it means to participate in self-government. I am part of a generation grossly disenchanted with the political landscape in this country. Yet how many of my generation accept the responsibility of participating? Not all are called to run for office or lead a rally, but this trip opened my eyes to the power of participation and the power of community organization.

Lesson #2: Participation takes many forms. As our group met people in Alabama and Mississippi who had lived through that historic period, we learned that their struggle for civil rights was a struggle for the right to participate in self-governance. I learned about how communities of people worked together to support each other during that time. Some cooked, others led rallies, some attended meetings, others looked after the children. Applying the lessons from that time to present day, everyone has an important role to play. The roles are as diverse as the given community. How does democracy work? Start by being involved in the community. Could you imagine a state filled with vibrant communities? A nation filled with states like that? During that time, the black community was like a big family. They were stronger and safer together. People were informed by the nature of being so connected. And since they cared so much about their communities they accepted the responsibility to participate in whatever way they could to support the whole.

Iowa Freedom Choir in concert at the Stephen Sondheim Performing Arts Center, Fairfield Iowa

Iowa Freedom Choir in concert at the Stephen Sondheim Performing Arts Center, Fairfield Iowa to raise funds for the trip.

Throughout the time spent with the choir in Fairfield and on the road trip, I was moved to tears more than once by a feeling of deep solidarity and community that extended waaayyyyy beyond our little project. The small community we created by forming the choir and rallying around the documentary project/trip was a small representation of how people moved together in the fight for freedom, equality and justice. Those of us who joined the choir and went on the trip were inspired by a deep love of humanity and hunger for equality and social justice; singing together strengthened our bonds and the words in the songs taught us stories of our ancestors (as one human race). Diving into the history as we did revealed that it was the spirit of the music that gave people the strength and courage to face brutality and hatred. And you know when you hear a good song you just have to sing along! People could march on because they were singing songs together, which transcended the fear of the violence that they knew they would receive.

Thus, Lesson #3: Preach to the choir and sing songs of freedom and love! Some say that in order to make a change you can’t just be preachin’ to the choir all the time. Well, others say that preachin’ to the choir is the best way to make a change. After a good sermon comes a good song, and when the choir is loud enough it reaches new ears who can’t help but love the harmony and join in the song! And so a movement grows.

So what songs are you singing? How often do you sing together in harmony with others? This experience has shown me the power of song and story in shaping culture and community. Songs and stories take many forms. It seems as if people often overlook the way they are shaped by the songs they sing and the stories they tell and hear. Not all songs open the heart to love and compassion; and some stories divide people and spread fear. All I can say is that I am forever grateful for the songs of freedom and love that we sang on the road to Mississippi. And my life is forever change by the stories of justice and compassion that I learned along the way!

The Journey to Meridian, Mississippi

Since leaving Memphis, we’ve traveled through Alabama, visiting Birmingham and Selma before driving into Meridian Sunday night. We’ll be in Meridian now until we leave at the end of the week. Yesterday we took a day trip up to Jackson, MS to visit two civil rights veterans at Tougaloo College.

Today is Tuesday, but it feels like its been more than 4 days since we left Fairfield. Each day has been full and we’ve been covering a lot of ground (literal&metaphor). Being in the deep south is surreal at times, like attending church service at the 16th street baptist church in Birmingham where 4 little girls were killed by bombs that were set off by the Klan in 1963. Being at palm Sunday service there 50 years later was special, especially being my first time at a black baptist church. The service had mixed races, and many visitors Sunday when we were there. The church was right across the street from the park where thousands of children were jailed and fire hosed for marching together in defiance of segregation laws. Walking the park and attending church brought me in touch with the spirituality of the people there and how it gave them faith and strength to rise up again and again.

After church service that day we went down to Selma and met some more civil rights vets and got a tour of the city. Once thriving and bustling, Selma felt like a ghost town, with empty store fronts down town and on side streets. We’ve heard so many stories and traced steps where history was made. We marched across the Edmond-Pettits bridge, tracing the footsteps where people once set out to march from Selma to Montgomery to challenge voting rights laws. We were led by a man who was just a teenager at the time when he participated in that march, and he explained his vantage point watching the front line of the marchers get attacked and beaten by the police. In what is now infamously known as “Bloody Sunday” the people were met on the other side of the bridge by state troopers and local police, who incited a police riot by throwing tear gas and beating the non-violent marchers. That was a turning point in the movement, and served as a testament to how brutally unjust the south was at that time.

It feels good to be in Meridian now, where we’ll meet more local folks who Patti Miller met when she came here as a student, to register voters in the early ’60’s during that time of struggle. This is clearly more than a spring break trip. Visiting these places and talking to people who were there during those times is really bringing the history alive. This transmission is important. The torch is being passed. But what is really being passed on to us?

More on that later…

Day 1 – Memphis

Leave Fairfield, IA 5am… Arrive in Memphis 1pm

Man… I’m a bit overwhelmed by the hours of reflection that took place in the car ride alone, to say nothing of the visit to the historic Lorraine Motel. If I wasn’t so tired I’d write out more of the things Antwan, Jerel and I talked about in the car. I’m full of gratitude for the people I’m traveling with (myself included), who have so much passion and care for humanity and the planet.

Our destination in Memphis was the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assassinated. We had a tour of the museum, which chronicled the history of slavery and the civil right’s movement in a wall-sized nutshell. We saw an exhibit about some profound black women and their impact in history. The biggest exhibit chronicled the history of the assassination including the man who fired the gun. We got to stand in the room where the shooter allegedly fired the gun, and it was surreal to see the balcony across the street from the window where the shooter stood.

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The most powerful moment was walking on the balcony itself and tracing steps over the concrete ledge where MLK’s body once laid dead and bloody. The ledge was a continuous outdoor balcony wrapping around the side of the building, so people were walking in a line and having pictures taken from below. It felt a bit touristy and profane, which contrasted with the sacredness that I felt being up there. We had been told that up until recently nobody had been allowed to be up there (besides Oprah and a couple presidents), and once the remodel of the museum was finished the balcony would be sealed off again. I felt privileged to be able to stand up there – once in a lifetime.

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As I approached the spot where MLK once laid dead the crowd of people in front of me dissipated and I felt a peacefulness with space to myself up there. The song “Precious Lord” was playing on the speakers and I felt a wave of emotion flow out from my heart. As I stood there slowly tracing the steps of history my eyes welled up with tears. It was an especially rare but familiar feeling. I didn’t feel sad he had died, nor upset by the painful history of oppressed people. I felt love for the Earth and humanity. I felt solidarity with the peaceful-fierce-passionate-warrior heart that exists in Dr King and many beacons of light standing up for truth throughout the world and throughout time; people who refuse to allow the people of Earth be taken advantage of and enslaved.

I was moved, as I have been before in the presence of “Precious Lord,” by this Almighty force holding me in its reassuring arms of love. It inflamed a passion and light in my heart and a sense of purpose to live a liberated life, free of fear and resentment, and to be a beacon of truth for generations of children – children of God – children of the Earth – who deserve to live a life of abundance, creativity, wisdom, and joy.

1000 Words on Purpose

I moved to MUM with an understanding that “purification leads to progress.” Yoga philosophy instructed yogis to give up all impurities, intoxicants, unhealthy food, and other bad lifestyle habits. When my experience in meditation improved after eliminating toxic substances I realized that we really are what we eat! Thus, I became much more interested in good food and learned about all the damaging byproducts of our modern industrial food system. Through food, I found a direct connection between spiritual growth and physical life on earth. I figured if I could learn how to grow the purest food and live a natural lifestyle, then I would be doing something really good! After all, it seemed obvious that humans would never find peace on earth if they were poisoning the earth through their agriculture.

My Sustainable Living degree program has been dynamic and inspiring. Key classes like permaculture design, systems thinking, applied soil ecology and deep ecology have taught me to see patterns in nature. I’ve learned about the strength of collaboration between organisms, which supports diversity and abundance. I’ve learned that we can fulfill our human needs by collaborating with nature and connecting with nature on a direct personal level. Going forward, I intend to participate in the sustainability revolution by working with people directly who want to strengthen their own personal connection with nature and realign their communities to collaborate with nature. This is applied permaculture design, with a heavy dose of forest fairy magic.

During my summer apprenticeship in New Mexico my life was forever changed. I learned first hand how to use the “heart-field” as an organ of perception and communicate directly with plants and learn about their medicine. We did exercises to practice using our intuition to read the character of people, places, and anything else under the sun. We did deep psycho-emotional shadow work during our course, revealing layers of subconscious programs, memories, and beliefs that suppress our uninhbited expression. I learned that we all need to heal by reconnecting with our inner child – this unlocks our extrasensory potential, as does opening the emotional heart and healing insecurities. Speaking of insecurities…I learned that sexual energy is life-giving energy and is as useful for spiritual evolution as its is for procreation.

I feel as good as this woman looks when I'm meditating...

I feel as good as this woman looks when I’m meditating…

The daily practice of transcendental meditation has been one of the most transformative influences of my MUM career. I had experimented with other meditation techniques and had good experiences, but this technique has been the most reliable one for getting a daily dose of inner peace. Closing the eyes each day and transcending connects me with the mysterious inner reality and satguru that guides my life. Doing meditation in the framework of the ideal daily routine at MUM has helped me learn that rest and activity are equally important steps of progress.

Cultivating relationships with people at MUM continues to be the most rewarding ongoing experience next to meditation. From day one at MUM I’ve grown in love and openness with people through deep connection and intimacy. I learned the value of honesty, openness and transparency; self-knowledge can be gained through interaction with others, especially when people are aware of the power of their interaction. At MUM, more people are aware of that power than anywhere else I’ve ever been. This shared intention to grow and support each other in becoming whole has made me realize “Vasudhaiva Katumbakum” – “The World is My Family.” I’ve been able to live in co-housing with other people studying sustainable living, and this has emphasized the importance of community. Living a collaborative lifestyle with other people has given me the opportunity to actually learn how to live together in harmony, which is priceless


Friends from all over the country here together in Union Square NYC. Bonds at MUM strong enough to bring us together wherever we are on the map!

So Who am I NOW? How have my experiences at MUM changed me? And What do I want to do next?

I’m much more balanced now. Rest and meditation are the foundation for my activities. I’m more sensitive and in-tune with my body and emotions. I’m much more responsive to my digestion day to day and have good control over what I eat. I’m less afraid than I used to be, and more willing to be my honest, open and unguarded self. Thus, I’m more compassionate and loving than I used to be. I’m a more sexual person now….Or should I say…I’m more comfortable expressing my innate sexuality, and I don’t feel as much pressure to be anyone other that who I am in the present moment. When I came to MUM I was inspired, and am still inspired, but now I’ve got a clear direction for the future, getting clearer everyday…except for the days when I haven’t had enough rest. I’m beginning to understand what it really means to be autonomous; I’m taking full responsibility for my life – an empowered, self-referral life. I rarely run away from intimacy because I’m not ashamed to be seen. Naked. I feel prepared to go off into society and offer my gifts to the world!

Its clear to me that my writing skills, public speaking skills, organizational and administrative capacity, and critical thinking ability are all valuable and marketable assets wherever I go. What I really want to do in the immediate future is play a major role in creating a small-scale example of sustainable community living here in Fairfield. The nature of the work I’m getting into is intensely entrepreneurial, and I may need to acquire some good business skills. However, the field of permaculture and sustainable community design is highly interdisciplinary, so I’ll rest on my tested ability to learn on the job and adapt as I go. I know that I don’t know everything, which is important. But I know enough to undertake the project at Prairie Song Farm, which will require computer and media skills, advanced plant and ecological knowledge, practical gardening and soil fertility knowledge, advanced social skills and emotional intelligence, tractor mechanics and machine work, basic and advanced carpentry, electrical engineering, etc.

Wow, clearly I need more than just me to accomplish my goals. I should’ve studied cloning. This illustrates a simple yet profound point: Community is formed by a group of people working together – it can’t be top-down. I see my role as a leader (initiator) who is also a catalyst and connecting agent. My gift is the ability to gather and articulate a shared vision. From that point, a design can be made, and it takes a community of people to bring the design to life. One thing is for sure: If a deeply spiritual, environmentally regenerative and economically thriving culture were to emerge anywhere in North America, it would be Fairfield, Iowa.

Senior Capstone Reflections

Create a list of three broad principles or themes from your field of study and three broad interdisciplinary principles or themes from Maharishi’s Science of Consciousness that help to inform your field and its connection to the whole of knowledge.

1&2) Sustainable Living Principle – Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste. This entails designing systems from the ground up and/or retrofitting old wasteful systems so that energy and resource outputs from one process feed into and support another process or function. This is a thoroughly intentional way of designing, so the consciousness of the designer is paramount.

Thus, we see a connection with Maharishi’s Science of Creative Intelligence in the principle: “Outer depends on inner.” This principle applies to the individual life by the way in which our interpretation of the reality that we experience moment to moment is largely contingent upon the state of one’s “inner” condition – the way the brain has been structured up to that point, and the paradigms from which each person’s worldview is constructed. On the collective level we see that the structure of society stems from the consciousness of the architects of that society. We now see the obvious shortcomings of current systems built out of ignorance of the need to conserve resources, recycle everything, and produce no waste.
3&4) Sustainable Living Principle – Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. In the field of Sustainable Living, diversity – whether referring to the variety of plants in a garden or field, sources of energy production in the region, or our social atmosphere and culture – are seen as assets that make a system more resilient. For example, an uncontrollable variation in a weather pattern like drought will not be as devastating to the farmer if he has a variety of crops with different levels of tolerance to drought.

Likewise, the SCI principle: ​”Harmony exists in diversity” supports this understanding in my field because it recognizes the underlying strength in diversity. Harmony is complementary, collaborative, and improves a given situation. The presence of harmony is a sign that things are working well, and in Sustainable Living we seek to design systems that harness the power of diversity to optimize function.

5&6) Sustainable Living Principle – Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. This is related to the principle of diversity, but it also points to a reality that all things are connected, and when we try to segregate and treat things as independent of each other our results inevitably fail and produce undesirable effects. When things are integrated we see that the relationships between them produce emergent properties and gain a greater status as something more highly developed than the parts themselves. Additionally by seeking integration in all areas of life we become more focused on the underlying unity of all things.

​”The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” ​ is an obvious principle connected to this idea. The reality of wholeness is different than the conglomeration of individuals. This can be seen in medicine, where the special healing properties of a medicinal plant are not fully present in the isolated chemical or chemical compound that is synthesized in the lab. The interaction of energy that happens when things are in relationship creates a special “extra” something that does not exist without the interaction or relationship.

“The Brain is a River, Not a Rock” (Last) Part III

Experience changes the brain – that’s the only way I can understand how my lifestyle has changed so drastically during the 4 years in college. The motivation for change first started after an experience in the car with my mother in 2008. We were 4 hours into a long ride down to southeast Virginia to visit Christopher Newport University, which I hoped to attend after graduating that year. I was behind the wheel, and once again my mother’s wisdom had a CD playing a man named Eckhart Tolle, who was speaking to a group at a spiritual retreat center. His calm, intelligent voice took my unsuspecting attention to a place I never expected: the present moment. As he spoke, he guided my attention not just to the words but also to the silent space between the words, and to my great surprise I found something there. As I listened and drove my mind became still, his teaching became clear, and the reality of “me” expanded way beyond the ego-personality that is confined to a human body. The awareness in me noticed itself and the infinite nature of its presence. I felt peace and freedom like I had never known before.

This experience propelled me into a new world, one that was enlivened by inner-silence, mystical experience, and meditation. To my surprise, the pleasure of this sense of inner awareness and freedom was more expansive and interesting than any altered state I could conjure up with drugs. As weird as I seemed to others who had no reference for this strange behavior, my interest in the Eastern traditions of Vedic, Taoist, and Buddhist meditation was justified by the peace, freedom, and clarity I felt during and after meditation. Today at age 23 I sit down to meditate as part of my daily routine. The simple and natural process of transcendental meditation brings me to a stress-free place where there is nothing but pure subjectivity – I am a witness – and infinite silent space pervades. After twenty effortless minutes I emerge as the exceptional thinking-feeling individual who I knew myself as before, but something is different: My brain. Even though the content of my waking experience had disappeared, my brainwaves revealed that something significant was occurring during the process of transcending.

As a student at Maharishi University of Management I’ve been literally required to learn all that brain scientists have discovered about the positive correlation between Alpha 1 coherence in the brain and transcendental consciousness (meditative state). These well-established findings include other unique physiological markers, which establish the transcendental state of consciousness as distinct from simply sitting with eyes closed or contemplative practices. Alpha brain waves are a sign of relaxed activity in the brain, and are defined as waves that cycle between the frequencies of 8-12 hertz. Alpha 1 brainwaves are active during “peak experience,” and are associated with the feeling of “being in the flow” and operating at a highly creative level. This provides neuroscientific understanding as to why daily meditation is such a good thing to be doing. The repeated experience of Alpha 1 coherence throughout the cortex during consistent meditation practice changes brain circuitry to support optimal brain function. Each new experience in meditation strengthens and reinforces the Alpha 1 coherence, just as the effects of any other behavioral pattern or habit is encoded in the brain. So the science is out – The experience of transcendental consciousness changes the brain in a special way, yet the mystery and intrigue of this deep state remains.

The ancient Vedic knowledge of Indian yogis explains that the state called “Cosmic Consciousness” (CC for short) is the inevitable progression of a person experiencing transcendental consciousness over time. This state of consciousness is what others refer to as “Enlightenment.” Aspects of this state of consciousness include total brain integration with alpha coherence as described above, as well as some subjective markers like experiencing the unbounded, stress-free awareness of meditation simultaneously while functioning as an awake individual in the world – being “in the world, but not of the world,” as the Indian mystics say. One additional prediction was made about life in CC that can actually be studied scientifically: witnessing sleep. Strange as it may seem, neurophysiological markers of alpha and beta brainwaves are found in coexistence with delta patterns during deep sleep in long-term practitioners of transcendental meditation reporting subjective experiences of being consciously aware that the brain and body are asleep. The coexistence of alpha-beta-delta deep sleep patterns are currently beyond the acceptable scientific paradigm; the studies done on “witnessing sleep” are immature and thus considered protoscience, which calls for replication and further analysis of new findings. Nonetheless, so-called “higher states” of consciousness do appear to be a real and inevitable development of human potential.

Before coming to MUM I only read about “higher states” of consciousness in terms of philosophical or psycho-spiritual theory, and individual anecdotes seemed to point to glimpses of potential for experiencing an unexplainable reality. The framework of brain research used to support the understanding of transcendental consciousness and “higher states” of consciousness as distinct from waking, dreaming, or deep sleep states is very informative. At first I could only relate to my meditation and other spiritual practices in terms of philosophy and the great wisdom traditions that teach about them. Coupling experience of transcendental consciousness with knowledge of brain development has influenced me to refine my paradigm once again. I am beginning to realize just how powerfully our minds limit and constrain the range of experience that is available to each of us.

Given what is known about paradigm blindness I must make it a practice to seek novelty on a daily basis, which can be as simple as opening my mind wider to what is possible and present in this moment right now. What if I really can consciously communicate with others without word or sign? What if illness and disease in the body can be prevented and reversed by believing I am healthy and immune to disease? Based on the nature of the brain I have realized that an emotionally-supportive and loving environment infused with wisdom, honesty and openness is conducive to the type of growth I am seeking. I can intentionally create a lifestyle overflowing with beautiful and pure food for all the senses, as well as challenging activities that draw out my higher capacities and talents for Self-mastery. As self-organizing systems (humans) our unique physiologies determine which stimuli in the environment disturb us and warrant response; the influx of new information from this course has created a disturbance that I have chosen to respond to. As I continue to digest and assimilate new ideas and information I realize that my brain is changing accordingly. The more open I am the more flexible and resilient I will become. If I refine the filters of my reality to accept the whole range of experience as growth promoting and evolutionary, the way I interpret and perceive my reality will change; this inevitably shapes the flavor and nature of my experience. How far can we go as human beings? How much are we capable of? What limitations do you hold yourself to? What will it take for you to thrive?