Deep Soil for Life

Don’t choose a path—choose travelling companions.

— Uzbek proverb

photo: Annie Spratt

The Solo System has grown from a troublesome experience, a so-called  ‘Kachina’. I chose to accept it, and it took on a life of its own. By now it has turned into an awe inspiring series of books, and it is continuously growing.

Nobody chooses a Kachina  as a travelling companion. They choose us. They challenge us to discover personal resources we never knew we had.

Kachinas are known in Hopi culture as ‘awkward travelling companions’ — they can be an unpleasant person or an uncomfortable experience. They jump into your path and throw you off balance.

If we know how to handle them and use their information in a constructive way, then they become catalysts for inner growth.

Something of that kind happened again more recently.

photo: João Alves

On the 15th of October 2017 a terrible firestorm swept through Portugal. It was around 9 p.m. on Sunday evening when it arrived in our village. We had just finished our dinner, when we saw a wall of flames, about 30 metres high, coming towards us at a fast pace.

When we saw the fire it was already too late to evacuate. Within minutes we were surrounded by flames from all sides. Burning embers were raining from the sky. We were caught in a ring of fire — most definitely, nobody would choose such a terrifying Kachina!

We were very lucky that night. The electricity had gone off and we had no running water, but we had buckets and a plunge pool. So we could scoop water out of the pool and put out small fires all around the house. We managed to save the buildings and most of our garden from the voracious blaze.

Others were less fortunate.

Our neighbour, the shepherd, lost all his animals. Many friends, neighbours and acquaintances lost their home, land, belongings, tools, livelihoods. Everyone was in shock.

The firestorm devastated large areas of woodland and farms all around. Then the autumn rains came. The thin layer of soil, bone-dry after a long summer, got washed down the slopes.

Having started some research into humus and composting a few months earlier — with the intention to improve my gardening skills and grow an edible landscape — it seemed no longer appropriate to limit my new venture to our private vegetable patch. The project was begging to become a ‘mission to save the Portuguese soil’.

HUMUS, the black gold of the Earth was written in response to this calling.

Lives changed through the fire. Many people showed their compassionate and collaborative sides. The inferno had created a common experience and a shared need to support each other through difficult times.

Humus is generated through collaboration of billions of soil creatures. After the firestorm it became clear that the regeneration of our soils is not something we generously do to ‘save the earth from extinction’. Quite the opposite actually.

Maybe the earth can save us from destroying ourselves. Humus can teach us collaboration, mutual respect and support, including respect and support of parts of ourselves which are readily dismissed as inferior.

photo: Marcin Czerwinski

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Humus knows how to regenerate itself. We are only midwives at best. We can speed up the process and adapt it to human time.

The main teaching of humus is about the creation of deep soil for life — in more than one sense. It includes the inner soil.

Anyone who observes the regeneration of humus is invited to become an Earthkeeper. While we think we are the ones regenerating the soil, humus helps us to develop an intimate relationship with the earth. Humus has the power to regenerate us and our communities.

The Inner Soil

Humus is the basis of our earthly life, it is literally its beginning and its end, it comes into being through life, and life comes into being through it.

— Annie Francé-Harrar

photo: Patrick Hendry

What you see in yourself is what you see in the world.

— Afghan proverb

After working with the Solo System for 20 years my attention was unexpectedly drawn towards the soil, fertile soil to be precise, the stuff that nurtures all life and growth.

»What does the soil have to do with the inner world?« you may ask.

I have come to understand the inner world as the inner soil. Everything we experience, do, feel, think and become has its roots in the inner soil and is nurtured by it. There are many parallels between the inner and outer soil. One can reveal secrets of the other.

Prompted by a life-changing event in 2017, I wrote a book about humus, the most vital essence of the living soil.

photo: Daria Nepriakhina

Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.

— Wendell Berry

Humus is currently an endangered species. This is bad news, not only for snails, earthworms and dung beetles but for EVERYONE.

Humus is a vital organ of the living earth. Without it the soil dies, nothing grows, nobody can harvest any food, farmers’ markets have nothing to offer, and supermarket shelves will soon be empty as well.

Humus is not only a living environment for billions of creatures, it can also be regarded as a living organism in its own right. This perspective turns out to be more important than one might think.

Well meaning soil experts have defined humus as »the end product of plant and animal life.« Following this definition, humus has been considered a ‘dead matter’, and ironically, that is now becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy! 

photo: Sushubhan Badhai

The earth and myself are of one mind.

— Chief Seattle

At the same time, this can be taken as good news. It means, if we really understand humus and the soil as living organisms, then this can become a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ as well!

HUMUS, the black gold of the earth is much more than a book about soil. It is about the relationship between humans and humus, between us and the earth. The way we treat the earth must be a reflection of the way we treat ourselves. Nurturing a personal relationship with humus might help to literally grow out of an infertile inner space and become more fully who we can be.

This is for the Precious ones

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

photo: Ian Schneider

Having just finished writing a book, one of the most dreaded questions is already waiting round the next corner: “Who is your audience?”

“My audience?” I ask back, exasperated… I scramble together an answer, which ends up sounding like an excuse.

“My audience are seekers. They are not satisfied with the way things are in their lives, but they don’t blame anyone for it. They take responsibility for their own dissatisfaction. Maybe they are desperate, living lives of quiet desperation… no wait, first and foremost they are seekers for their own truth. This means they don’t yet know who they are. So how am I supposed to know?”

And yet, during my creative process, I know exactly who I am writing for.

This is for the brave ones,

who have the courage to walk their path and meet their inner monsters, who are not afraid to go it alone, who enjoy connecting with others on a similar journey.

It is for the free spirits,

who have not been corrupted by education, religious materialism, or spiritual bypassing, who can think for themselves, who haven’t lost their curiosity and are ready to discover that another life is possible.

It is for the resilient ones,

who have been through the pain and trauma of human experience, who have not been broken; they have come out stronger but not harder.

This is for the precious few,

who believe, despite everything, that humanity has the potential to evolve into a kind, cooperative, loving, peaceful and humane species, and they want to help make this happen.

I am writing for the precious ones,

who know their value — even if they can’t fully live it yet — who learn to trust their own experience, and who recognise their power to make their world a better place.