Hello friends of Mount of Oaks and White Stone Associates,
I hope this post finds you well,and I hope you don´t mind my english mistakes 🙂 … This is my yearly update and it might take some time to read (15-20 minutes), so if you are interested in what has been going on this last year at Mount of Oaks and what are our rough plans ahead , grab a cup of a nice drink, seat comfortably and relax 🙂
I’m sitting at the window of our lovely guest room that some of you have been staying in… I rarely use this space and it just invited me to some peace and quiet to write this letter 🙂 Just for fun I will post here some “befre/after” pictures from Mount of Oaks , like our kitchen here 🙂
I’m very aware my communication has not been so consistent for many years, and I don´t think I will get any better… I haven’t been on social media very often either, especially these last 3 years when I stopped organising events that required more constant use of those means. It became overwhelming for me, and in many cases, a waste of my time, as it is so easy to get “lost” with so much information about so many people and so many things. I just realised I don’t have the capacity for it, emotionally, mentally and even physically as my eyes’ sight gets worse when I spend time on a screen.
(our Guest room… early days and today)
Life with land has been changing my habits over the years, and I have observed that I mainly write during Autumn and Winter, when days are shorter, and there are more rainy days to stay cosy around a fire stove, in a much more quiet and relaxed space.
Our own solar powered energy is also more efficient these days as we have invested in a better system. It is probably the first winter here where we don’t need to keep worrying about our energy use. We even have a small fridge now, and we will be able to run a washing machine once I have the time to research and install an efficient one 🙂
Once preparation for Spring starts, around February, that’s it, we are open for guests, apprentices, events, etc…which means more people are around and require more attention… and I require more time to rest and receive the energy I need to give to those who are present.
This is something that I have observed in myself the last years, how much of an introvert I am or have become. It seems that I need more and more time alone, in prayer, silence and solitude in order to be able to give my time and energy to other people. Therefore I love Autumn and Winter to rest, evaluate and prepare myself for next season. 🙂
There are often exceptions and last year as we had a local friend and brother, Ricardo and his 2 kids, Eva,10, and Amadeu, 4, who were in need of a place to settle and process a painful divorce from their mother. They delighted us with their presence for almost a year, and this Spring time we all felt it was time for them to move on to another chapter, especially for the kids, who need more stability at this time in their lives.
They are still nearby, at Ricardo’s grandma, Teresa, who is 91 years old, and Eva loves to have her own room now 🙂. Teresa spends the days at the village care house, so it is not too much extra care for Ricardo at the moment. This was a concern when he chose to come here instead, because there was already a lot to adapt in his life with a divorce and two children to look after.
It is nice, I have to recognise, when we have this season with the land and all common spaces for ourselves.
We are still living in the big bus Willi has brought back in 2008 😂, which is still pretty much the same 😕, as we never made time within our priorities to upgrade it … But 🙂… we are (slowly) building a house for ourselves, as I find some time between all the other things I do to maintain MoO running 🙂 and as we get some income to invest in materials.
I’m not rushing either (and neither is Emma at this stage) as I want to enjoy the process and take as much time and attention to detail as possible 🙂. It’s going to be quite a life change once we move in, and it will be easier to welcome others to spend the winter here with more comfort.
The idea is that we can have more privacy to work and rest and our common spaces can be more available for other Associates to use for events, retreats, guests, etc, including over Autumn and Winter 🙂
After 16 years, Mount of Oaks has offered an off-grid setting for many different itinerant groups to experience community life… for a few months to a year, and some for several years. Not all experiences were “good”(whatever that means)… they were what they were, learning experiences that made us all grow ( so I hope).
Throughout the years I have changed my ideal of “intentional community”, and some of the “not so good experiences” made me more protective of my heart and also my marriage with Emma which suffered along the way with the many tensions that community life brings.
Despite all the challenges, MoO is still welcoming communities… itinerant ones, during our 8 month open season, with volunteers/apprentices who have their lives changed, and with passing-by guests, who have a little taste of it and leave inspired and hopeful…
Locally, in this bio region around the Gardunha Mountains, our community is getting stronger and more resilient every year…
Many new people have been moving to the area the last years from all over the world… the local town of Fundão has been investing a lot on welcoming many “new locals”, which include not only “alternative” young people wanting to live off-grid and more sustainably, but also new migrant workers coming from Brazil, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, and recently many refugees from the Ukrainian war, offering housing, school for children and jobs to start a new life in central Portugal.
MoO is only a piece of a huge colourful mosaic that has been built by many of those who are moving to the area with a desire to BE a different and resilient community… it is happening 🙂
Soon in Fundão (18-20 November) a convergence of many people in many different areas will gather to share and dream about a sustainable future for this bio region of “Cova da Beira”. Our friends and partners from the “Ananda Marga community” are organizing it and our brother Ricardo and others like Njiza, are involved in this kind of proactive actions for the sustainable development of these lands.
So, yes, my concept of “community” went way beyond the land of Mount of Oaks, and it is a delight to witness 🙂.
There are many other community projects, family projects, educational projects, permaculture projects, organic markets with local producers every weekend, and the list can go on.
I have to say that it’s even too overwhelming for me, and most of the time I avoid going to many of the social events that happen in the area. I’m delighted it is happening, and I don’t even have to be involved 🤣
Emma on the other hand, has actually been the instigator of a lot of what is happening. (no surprise for those who know her already )
Last year she was offered a job by the city hall of Fundão, as a mediator between the city hall and the “new locals”, as we are called. This has been quite a change for us here at MoO, as I found myself holding the space alone again.
We are still evaluating this experience, and it has been really hard for us to discern what is best because, on one hand, we can see how much life she gives and receives from it, but on the other hand we see how overstretching it is for us and the land.
The plan now is for her to stay until the end of her contract, which is April next year, and then take less hours work and focus more on the things she really wants to get involved in the city with “new locals”… She has been doing way beyond what was expected of her, and even though she has been starting amazing things, we know this is not sustainable in the long run. She misses working in and from the land… And I miss her too 🙂
I hope you are still there… I just wanted now to share some ideas that are crossing my mind at the moment concerning future steps…
When we knew Emma was not going to be available in the land this year, we accepted a long term volunteer, Emi, to be in charge of the garden. (in the picture, happy with the results of her earthbag steps 🙂
We are not accepting short term volunteers anymore because the time we were spending “managing people” and the time we were spending “managing land” was very unbalanced… people had a great time and learned a lot 🙂 and that was ok for many years, but now we are longing for more balancing exchanges 🙂 .
It worked really well this year with our lovely volunteer Emi, a 24 year old German girl who had the best time of her life. She was looking for a place to put in practice some of the things she learned on her Permaculture Design Course (PDC) with our friend Silvia Floresta.
I asked her to write us a review of her time with us, and here is what she shared :
” My journey at Mount of Oaks started in April 2022 and it was truly a life changing experience for me. I was welcomed so warmly and with so much love, not only by the residents of Mount of Oaks, but by the entire community in the area. I had an instant feeling of belonging.
I came with the intention to be in charge of the garden. But it was so much more than just volunteering as a gardener.
It was the life in a community, the consciousness of sustainability and the treatment of nature, animals and human beings that profoundly shaped my time at MoO.
As a landscape gardener I was familiar with most of the work and after my PDC (Permaculture Design Course) I knew about the Permaculture Principles. But at Mount of Oaks I have seen these principles put into practice and I saw my work and duty as a gardener in a different way.
At the beginning it was a challenge for me to work mostly on my own, but with time I knew the garden, I knew the land and gained more trust in me and my work.
In a community it is very important to see the work yourself and come up with solutions and ideas which then can be shared with the others. This has contributed a lot to me becoming more independent and also more creative. Besides that, I had the space to make mistakes, which really helped me to learn even more.
The everyday Life changed with the seasons. We would often welcome the day with a prayer and then everyone went on with the work for the day.
We tried to have dinner together once a week to spend time with each other and share thoughts, ideas and achievements. So there is a balance between spending time with the community and having enough time for yourself and doing things you love.
I could really write a book about the things I experienced and learned in these six months. After a while I started to make a list of all the things I did there for the first time. And this list kept getting longer and longer. So it is not easy to summarize my time at MoO here.
It’s an absolutely magical place and the nature and this land kept me so grounded and alive and I have really found a family in these amazing people.
And I know I always have a place to come back to. “
It is worth all the years and all the work to get feed backs like this 🙂 . Thank you Emi for all you have given to this place, and we will look forward to having you with us again when you want.
She would like to come back next year, let´s see where Life takes her on her journey. It was a very good experience for both parts, and all it took was very clear communication and very clear expectations. This experience has shaped the new way we want to approach these experiences, and my next post will be about this.
I´m sure it will evolve with time, but for now we are thinking to develop a sort of an “Off-grid Permaculture apprenticeship – with a monastic rhythm“.
These are 3 concepts that have been part of the shapping of Mount of Oaks.
The word “Monastic”, reminds me of spiritual communities that spread all over Europe in times when connection with God was too Institutionalised and became irrelevant to some monks and nuns who wanted to go deeper in their relationship with Spirit , and be more relevant in the societies they lived in, more independent from “Rome” and the institutionalised society. “Monasteries” were houses of Light and Hope for the communities around them, and had a big emphasis on prayer, education, compassion for the poor, healing with natural medicines, and self-sustainable farming .
The word “Off-grid” means we are not dependent from public utilities (provided by a System we no longer trust), like water, electricity, sewage systems, etc. After all the lock-downs people experienced in cities these last years, this is becoming quite crucial for those who don’t want to live “domesticated” lives where you get all the basic needs and other “comforts” from a system that is not personal and in reality doesn’t really seem to care much for the individual.
There are more and more people wanting to learn how to live more independent from a system that is not inspiring much trust, and here is where the word “Apprenticeship” comes along. We already offer many skills that we ourselves aquired over the years, as you can read from Emi´s words, and that is what we would like to shape in the next seasons.
More than just having helping hands, I feel this place is ideal to train people on many off-grid living skills, and also spiritual “skills” to find their way to relate to themselves, to Nature, to God, The Great Spirit, as well as empowering them to be leaders and producers, and not only followers or consumers.
With this in mind, I would like next year to call in specific “apprentices” who would like to come for 3 to 6 months and be immersed in our monastic life at Mount of Oaks, with its different rhythms of prayer and singing, working, resting, creating, hosting and growing together in many different ways.
There are 2 or 3 main areas that are a priority and I would like others to be responsible for next season : the Anual veggie Garden and different sustainable food production designs; General Maintenance and Natural Building; and Kitchen and processing food . Im working on a call for my next post. Keep an eye on it if you are interested or share if you know someone who might.
I would like to finish this already long letter sharing about our weekly “singing circle” that we started to host about 2 years ago.
I still feel the need to gather with others to pray and seek Great Spirit for guidance. It has not been easy for me to not have a spiritual community for so long. We live in such a priviledge time when we have been exposed to so many different ways to relate to this Divine Mystery with so many names, faces, narratives… but I don´t feel we gather enough as communities to seek this guidance and healing we so need along our lives…
today´s western societies are also so disconnected from it, or so afraid to get “trapped” into some religious fanatism based on our past experiences of institutionalised religions… when we look closely, each religion or path tells us the same stories, the same messages… like this to a community who resisted the 1st century Roman Empire : “Do not conform to the pattern of this society, but transform yourselves by the renewing of your consciousness. Then you will be able to experience what God’s will is—the good, pleasing and perfect will.”
It is about renewing our consciousness… entering the spirit world… thankfully we are seeing more and more these ancient wisdoms reaching us in many different ways…
In our weekly circles we use songs inspired by north and south american indigenous songs, songs with christian cosmology, african cosmologies, hindu mantras, rainbow songs and simple spirit lifting and healing songs each person is welcome to bring. Every tradition, belief system or cosmology is welcomed…
It is the simple lighting of candles with simple prayers and intentions, the heart opening with songs that speak and touch our hearts, and The Spirit gives to each one what we need each time we gather.
It has been a gentle and quiet journey we have been very grateful for. We give thanks to all those who make these gatherings so powerful. We come as we are. We give what we have. We receive what we need. And there is so much more we are not aware of I believe.
We have experienced and we know where The Spirit can lead us, and how powerful and strong The presence of Spirit can be… this is my prayer and hope every time we gather…
We live in a very broken and sick world here in these northern western societies… Many people feel lost and disconnected, many people want a family to belong to, many people live in fear and things don’t look like they are getting any better since the global panic in 2020.
The reality of most of our relationships and most of Europe’s lives (as I perceive it without watching news) is that spiritual communities became too institutionalised and irrelevant to even be an option in people’s minds, and there is little trust everywhere… in governments, in schools, in hospitals, in religions and even within families…
I’m not one to blame anyone… But I do want to live differently…we still live among people who are desperately looking for answers, for healing, for guidance, for leadership, for depth, for powerful encounters with this Unknown Divine … and I include myself among those people… Maybe is naive or childish, or utopia, but I believe in a better life for everyone, than that which has been presented to us by this society for centuries.
It is time to pray, surely, and also to model different ways to live in harmony with each other and our lovely planet Earth… Because ultimately it is this Earth that provides all our basic needs…
As long as we keep choosing greed over love, we will keep seeing injustice where some have too much and a lot don’t have enough… I still cannot accept that this is still a reality today… corruption, lies, lack of honesty and transparency… I feel helpless a lot of times, when I happen to pass by a place with a Tv and watch the terrible news all over the world or the weird shows of people who don´t seem real… it makes me sad to see where we‘ve come to… and where so many people spend their precious time of their very short lives.
What world are we living in? What world are we creating? I feel so alienated a lot of times, and this gap seems bigger and bigger as years go by… Sometimes I get concerned that I am becoming too out of touch with the “normal” reality most people are living in today… but when I hear about it, or see it, I’m so thankful I live where I live and the way I live… choices I have made following this voice and guidance I call God, companion and friend… for me, this is the “normal”…
Most people, especially in cities, are more and more dependent on a system that cannot promise them anything… dependent for their basic needs to be met… water, food, shelter, clothing, energy… totally domesticated and at the mercies of Governments and Corporations who don’t even know their names, who don’t even care, as long as they pay their tax and their debts… we’ve been there before, in other shapes and forms… and we can also seek wisdom and guidance from all those witnesses and ancestors… We are evolving I want to believe… And we are trying our best to play our little part in the much bigger picture we call life on earth.
That´s all for now… Thanks for staying with me until the end 🙂
Many blessings your way
Much Love, Peace and Hope.