Day 282: The Biggest Experiment of All, Panya Project
Made of stardust
we ride waves of manifestation
down to the cool depths of Earth,
shimmering pieces of our shining bodies
strewn across the universe
of our miraculous being.
- Stardust in da Root Chakra
July has been the month of manifestation, hands down. Manifestation in the most effortless and unexpected sense, yet grounded in a deep knowing and trust in something more firmly rooted in Earth in all the realms physically, emotionally, spiritually. The story of manifestation begins long ago, but has surely picked up tangible momentum in weeks past.
It seems like ages ago (ages = three weeks) when I first made the journey north to Chiang Mai from home away from home, Koh Phangan. Upon unpacking, I immediately came to the sad and quite angry realization that my glasses were stolen by Bangkok Airway, a sharp pang of violation robbing me of my ability to see. After much emotional wrestling, I realized I was not simply reacting to the loss of trendy plastic replaceable eye wear (read: Warby Parker), but rather something more subtly powerful – the loss of a community and home in Koh Phangan, a trip cut shorter than I would have liked. Cut, as we were heading north to eventually land in the permaculture learning center by name of Panya Project, a commitment we made moons before Koh Phangan. Ahhh, letting go! That all too familiar lesson I’ve had the great JOY of practicing, as hard and foreign as it feels each time. The awareness of feeling into the highs and lows of transition gave me comfort as I made the conscious decision to seek out the community I knew I needed most: women’s circle.
Turns out, the moment I put out my women’s circle feelers on Chiang Mai’s Conscious Community FB page, BOOM. A response came back almost immediately about circle happening the following night. Of course it did.
And what to say about women’s circle? None other than deep soulful connection with women of the world, on the topic of “motivation.” Total strangers that within hours became parts of me, mirroring back all the light and dark that bonds us in shared vulnerability and experience. I won’t delve too much more into detail here, but a few things became clear to me, two of which are relevant here: “start women’s circle back at home” and “djembe.” No verb or action attached, just simply “djembe.” Also, without being too casual about it, I’ll also say for the record – this moment of transition also brought new clarity about returning to New York in the fall to pursue continuing education classes. The when, what, where’s will come, but I’ll save that cliffhanger for another time and post :)
So yes, where were we? Djembe. The following night, Wylie and I made our way over to a kirtan at Wild Rose Yoga to meet up with some newly made Chiang Mai friends. And within minutes of arriving, one of the kirtan organizers asked if there were any drummers in the house, to fill in for the drummer who had called in sick. Without my usual hesitation, I offered myself up under the one condition I sit in the back away from the two main lady musicians (harmonium player and guitarist) to avoid being seen and alleviate the all too real fear of not-enough-ness and worst of all, messing up :O My women’s circle friend, Dina brought her little egg shakers and said she’d bust out the beats for moral support. The entire shala was filled with the most glowing radiant faces and variety of percussion instruments: tambourines, maracas, and other inviting surfaces. The nerves and sweaty palm feelings faded with each song, as I fell into a deeper trance of connected rhythmic flow and lyrical medicine music. The manifestation was HAPPENING and I was fully embodied in the high. I couldn’t even believe that after it all, the lead vocalist/harmonium player invited me to come play at the following week’s kirtan! This was my final night in Chiang Mai, and the bursts of attachment were kicking in once again -- finding that groove of belonging and community, only to accept the inevitable change of moving on. Trusting in the deeper expansion and growth underlying the practice of letting go.
That Chiang Mai high hit me just as fast as it went. That next day, we were on a veggie truck (aka a delivery truck) headed north to Panya Project. After a few bumpy and crowded hours packed into a small truck with mostly older and super chatty local Thai women, we came upon a fork of three dirt paths. Being the final stop, the truck dropped us off in the middle of absolutely nowhere -- Panya was nowhere to be seen. Seven hundred meters of trudging and escalating back pains later, we finally arrived.
Meet Panya Project
This was Panya Project – a former mango farm of 10 acres that twelve-ish years ago, was turned into the permaculture learning center that it is today. The original founders, we soon learned, were known as the ‘elders’ that no longer lived on the property. Instead, they provided leadership and elderly guidance from afar, occasionally coming by to teach permaculture design courses and handling other such elderly affairs (can you tell I like this word, elderly?). The current face of Panya was instead in the hands of the amazing humans that I’ve come to call my family for the last ten days – aka long term volunteers from all corners of the world that made the conscious decision to commit 6 months to a year co-creating a living community together while growing the beautiful land around them. They all arrived in the months of March and April with high hopes to learn and apply the principles of permaculture, many of whom had never even gardened a day in their life. Armed with just two weeks of the PDC (permaculture design course), they embarked on this grand experiment together, each taking up residence in one of the many adobe clay, mostly open air, homes on the property. While growing their own little experiment of a living community, they also open their doors to a constantly evolving cast of short term volunteers (aka Wylie and I) who wish to experience this world for a little while, though the encouraged amount of time is a minimum of ten days to fully immerse. As imagined, it can take a bit of time for city folk to adjust to this kind of experimental living.
Panya = Wisdom
Panya Project =
First impressions are always fun to jog – when I think back to those first few moments of Panya, my brain fires out a few distinct memories. Walking into the common area barefooted, I remember a super smiley lady about my height and age who has an all too familiar face. Meet Brooke. She leads us into the dining area where a bowl of freshly harvested pineapples sits on top of a long wooden communal table. While simultaneously sinking my teeth into the juiciest pineapple I could have asked for in that moment, we walk into the open-air kitchen and I am arrested by the sheer scale of this kitchen. A HUGE island counter, array of pots, pans, steamers and woks, every cooking utensil imaginable, baskets of freshly harvested okra, eggplant and other fresh greens stacked on racks, a whole fridge full of mangos, and of course, the intensely abundant garden right outside the kitchen.
“Help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen, as long as there isn’t a name on it. Also, you can harvest anything you see on the land and eat it!”
You mean, I can eat what I want, when I want, on or off the land….always?
Absolutely mind blowing, all of it -- to see something and harvest something.
The kitchen tour was only the very beginning. Brooke led us out of the kitchen-dining room-common area space (called Zone Zero in permaculture lingo, otherwise known as the gathering space for community) and up a grassy path leading to a nearby adobe building. Meet the Poo Palace, where you guessed it…the community poops. Mind you, we were still walking barefoot through all of this, which I was borderline obsessively aware of. Wylie did not seem to mind at all, in fact, he looked very relaxed in his barefooted earthing element. Brooke gave us the Poo Palace 101 – two poop toilets for everyone to use while the other two were full and decomposing with the help of rice husk. After a year of sitting and decomposing, the community manure is then used as composting material, which in just 18 days, becomes nutrient dense soil for all of Panya’s gardening and farming needs. Circle of life, just like that.
You would think all your bathroom needs would be fulfilled in the glorious Poo Palace, but that was not quite the case. We were encouraged to separate our bathroom needs, and to reserve all peeing for nature herself (since urine and poop would not make for an ideal smell). In short, we could pee anywhere BUT the Poo Palace, and preferably on plants as they can and want to take in all the nitrogen they can get. Luckily, I’d meet Martha, another short-term volunteer who would show me her favorite pee spots and squats for daytime and nighttime – one of them being a special squat off the second-floor dorm balcony. Nature and I were getting intimate very quickly, and I could feel some serious walls building up.
I’m here to connect with Nature. Embrace all that is present. Accept.
Curious about the whole “walking barefoot” thing, I naturally asked Brooke what kinds of creatures frolicked around Panya. Quite casually yet thoughtfully, as she was as nurturing as Mother Nature herself, she responded with “scorpions, snakes and fuzzy caterpillars that itch like crazy if you even brush against them.” I remember laughing out loud the most nervous laugh…scorpions??? My second thought was to google “scorpion” in the hopes of finding a hack to avoid them, only to learn about the other doom and gloom: NO WIFI. Oh and also, the mosquitos were next level at Panya, and I soon learned that deet, the chemical agent that actually keeps mosquitos away, was not allowed on the farm. All grey water collected from showering would be recycled back onto the land, and chemicals took no part in that equation.
No wifi, casual scorpion attacks, and blood donations all day, all night for up to TEN days.
I’m here to connect with Nature. Embrace all that is present. Accept.
There was much more to Panya, but we’d get the full tour in a few days when weekly tours take place. For now, Brooke wished to show us to our dorm where we could finally collapse – physically and emotionally -- and take much needed rest. As I walked over to grab my big backpack, I noticed a giant colony of tiny ants swarming underneath and my heart began to palpitate. Nooooooo! The coconut oil that had spilled ages ago onto my bag was still apparently a very attractive smell, and we were now in the jungle where anything and everything came into being. In that moment, I’ll never forget Brooke’s warm wisdom and encouragement:
“The ants are just harvesting what they need and they’ll soon take their superhighway somewhere else. Want me to help you carry your bag?”
The Panya way <3
When I signed up for Panya, I was very much enchanted with the idea of “permaculture” and all the other ideals that come with it: design principles that mirror nature, integration, self-sufficiency, sustainability. Who wouldn’t be? I couldn’t really tell you what permaculture was, but after watching two very satisfying documentaries (Inhabit & Seeds of Permaculture), I was sold on getting my hands dirty to immerse myself and learn. I wasn’t quite sure what the days would look like, but knew there was an early morning meeting and some volunteer work involved in exchange for living and learning for very little money (300 baht a day). I had read something about composting, and that was pretty much the extent of my expectations. I also had some very real fears to conquer around connecting to Nature, which naturally gave me that extra push I needed to step into the Panya/wisdom.
You are so alive
I hope you know I love you
With all your pretty vibes
- Lyrics by Mari, Wylie and me (after breakfast Saturday morning)
Morning medicine jam session unwinds
Morning bowls, jugs and sticks
Nearby objects found
One small clack, rhythmically
Spirals into cacophonic order of
Melodious beats and rhythmic order
Of human song
Strings pluck and sound new --
Pause and stop,
A new line emerges of unknown
Vocal loving lines in Spanish,
We pause and observe the multidimensionality
Evolving collage of ever-expanding
- Poem by yours truly, following Saturday morning jam session
Full Moon tonight
Today brings a new canvas of possibility
Returning always to the core of,
How do I nourish my soul?
- Scribbles on the Full Moon
Connect to the essence of transition – whose heart and soul lies in constant shifting and evolution. A metamorphosis of known and unknown variables. A test of true strength, an opportunity to learn about self more deeply. The moments of doubt, fear, insecurity and confusion may come. If they do, know yourself – know the deep truth that THIS is precisely what change feels like. The spectrum of feeling and thought comes with it all. The growing pains of change are necessary as raw material in constant flux of being shaped and shifted. Constant. Without the pains, there will be no – gain. But when does gain show itself, herself, himself? Will it ever come in those trying moments of doubt? Is the path linear, or nonlinear? Will I find the clarity soon? The questions are the answers themselves. Ask and accept the unknown right now. Allow them to unfold in time. Just as flowers bloom with the elements, so too does the seed of daily love bloom into flowers of manifestation, and that which will become something soon.
- Musings after Women’s Circle
In just ten days of living and breathing Panya, all I can wonder is: what experiment with living is more important than growing a community off the land using permaculture principles of integration, versus segregation, and giving those who are curious a chance to experience this? Is Panya possibly a place where all your DIY dreams come true? If I (an overly anxious New Yorker) can do this, can’t we all?
Day in the Life of Panya
Let’s do some Panya math here – when you gather some of the most curious and experimental minds together under one roof and many adobe homes across ten acres of land, with no structure except for the one they create together – you give rise to a daily routine that looks a little something like this:
5:00am – Rooster crows…can’t stop, wont’ stop
6:30-7:30am – Self-practice of yoga and meditation in the upstairs sala space
7:30-8:00am – Noble silence and make your own breakfast (the usual: mangos and oats steeped in coconut milk and honey with a cup of locally harvested/roasted coffee from Pun Pun, the nearby farm)
8:00-8:30am – Morning meeting with the Panya family to run through daily announcements and schedule. Chore wheel is designated every Monday and rotated daily so chores are shared amongst the community
8:30-8:45am – Break for personal hygiene and occasional trips to the Poo Palace
8:45am-12:00pm – Morning permaculture workshop or project facilitated by one of the long term volunteers (harvesting fruit, composting, community gardening, pruning, cleaning the communal space, and much MUCH more)
11am – Kitchen crew breaks from the workshop early to prepare lunch for the family (sometimes you have to factor in time to harvest fruits and veggies from the garden, or the occasional trip up a tree to harvest green papaya – ask Wylie about this, he’s the green papaya MASTER)
12:30-1:30pm – LUNCH!
1:30pm - onward – Free time with the option to jump onto projects spearheaded by the long term volunteers and/or make your own projects and/or nature explorations around and beyond the farm
5:00pm – Kitchen crew gathers in the kitchen to prepare dinner for the family
6:30-7:30pm – DINNER!
7:30-9:00pm – Wind down, play some guitar and djembe, maybe even a round of Rummy
9:00pm – Get horizontal, Netflix and chill…you’ve worked long and hard J
And despite my initial fear of the jungle, Her endless supply of creepy crawly itchy critters, and the very real and radical nature of living with Her fully, I surrendered to what was present on the other side of fear -- the medicine of my environment, deep generosity of my community, endless flow of creativity and unconditional support, always. In turn, I found myself planting those very same seeds of intent within, manifesting just about everything that I could have wished for. I’m digging a good list, so here it is:
...Learned how to cut pineapple properly (should seriously be my new side hustle)
...Collaborated on a hoogleculture bed for taro leaves
...Executed an EPIC Vegan lasagna (played sous chef to the amazing and talented head chef, Wylie)
...Made my first ever mango sticky rice with my partner in crime in the kitchen
...Concocted Butterfly Pea Lemonade, courtesy of Earth Café’s recipe
...Led and co-created my FIRST EVER women’s circle of 8 amazing Panya women (topic: transition and transformation)
...Whipped up a dream catcher made completely out of raw materials from the Earth, including iridescent beetle wings
...Interviewed Karoline for ‘Experiments with Living’
...Hand painted tiles to label the fruits and veggies in the Shower Garden
...ALL the djembe drumming
...Harvested and replanted pineapples
...Pruned basil and wild eggplant tree (super thorny, so watch out)
....Weeded and redesigned a dorm garden filled with cacti, chili trees, Birds of Paradise, taro and other pretty things
...Practiced permaculture design principle number one = “Observe and interact” with nature first always = PRESENCE
...Planted mung beans in the Shower Garden
...Created my very own compost pile fresh with cow dung (and aptly titled: Artisanal Fudge Brownie)
...Embraced the nature of interconnectedness -- that nothing goes to waste and everything can be integrated = poo palace waste + rain + sunlight = FOOD + LIFE
...Sometimes you can break your vegan ways to bite into fresh oven baked cheese pizza (especially when the dairy of the cheese came from the neighbor’s cow)
...Blossomed beyond beautiful friendships and bonds with animals, including my spirit cat Ling Ling (Ling = Monkey in Thai)
...Invented 4 types of delicious kombucha with equally delicious names
...A community blackboard gathering all the Pun-yas and musings #socialpermaculture
...Discovery of mystic connections involving Martha (who sat right behind me during International Yoga Day) and Brooke (who is sisters with Jess Saba from New York, whaaaaaaat?!)
...Deeply understanding that “the solution is always the problem” a la Brooke’s wisdom
...Taking only what I need as we can all live happily with more simplicity
...Discovering that growing our own food IS reclaiming the power to live radically, independently and sustainably!
Thank you Panya
The Panya-isms of wisdom go on and on, and I will forever carry this experience with me.
So much gratitude for my Panya class of July 2017.
Eternal love for living community and all that we can manifest together.