The philosophy that guides Abrazo House, as a community and an educational project
A Zen master once told his student, "I am pointing at the moon, but you are looking at my finger."
We live in a world of immeasurable richness, complexity and wonder. It’s way too much for us to comprehend, so our minds tend to latch onto the things we can measure and control, or think we can.
We mistake indicators (the finger) for the thing they indicate (the moon): longevity for health; qualifications for learning; money for success; information for wisdom; status for happiness; economic growth for ecological maturation.
And in chasing after the indicator, we are prone to lose the real thing. Ship-builders say, “Partial strength produces general weakness.” When you make one part of a vessel stronger, you actually make the whole thing weaker in proportion.
See the moon, not the finger. Don’t strengthen one part of your life at the expense of the whole.
At Abrazo House, we’re not out to look good, win awards, get rich, or become famous; we’re just trying to make a good life for ourselves and others, while contributing (in our small way) to a saner world.
As another popular saying has it: “It’s simple to be happy: what’s difficult is to be simple.”
A culture that values holistic thinking would be one that restores the Earth in all its wonder and beauty, instead of degrading and violating it for short-term profit.
That culture is a long way off. We’ve got a lot to learn (and to un-learn) on the way there. That’s why Abrazo House is principally defined as an educational project.
Our educational programme of Learning for Earth Restoration is loosely organised into four principal thematic areas: practical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional, though any given activity doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into a single area. Balancing these four different types of learning helps us to keep our bearings and navigate the twisting path to a restorative culture.
"The healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit is the same process."—Masanobu Fukuoka
Learning for Earth Restoration
No mud, no lotus.—Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s all very well to dream and theorise about creating a better world; but unless your theory is grounded in a specific place and time, it won’t amount to much.
Getting our hands dirty with some direct, practical action on our own patch is essential not only for the world, but for our mental and physical health, too. And it’s fun.
At Abrazo House our practical action starts from the place we stand on—two acres of land in the green mountains of northern Spain—with the aim of meeting our own basic needs, such as shelter, food, and fuel, from our own local resources. Read more about our practical work in building and gardening in our timeline.
Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.—Gary Snyder
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.—Muriel Rukeyser
No doubt, most people know Abrazo House through our practical work in eco-building and permaculture. But to define ourselves in terms of these visible, external products—the houses we’ve built, for instance—and the process of creating them, would be to fall into the same trap that has led the wider culture to confuse economic growth with social wellbeing.
What can’t be measured, pinned down, or put into words—what can loosely be termed spirituality—is essential to everything we do at Abrazo House (and everywhere else, too.) It’s also, we believe, fundamental to creating a culture that can regenerate the earth.
By practicing mindfulness and other strands of earth-based spirituality, through workshops, retreats and everyday meditation, we try to stay open to the wonder of life around and within us.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
and Earth-Based Spirituality
"Most of the wonderful places in the world were not made by architects but by the people."—Christopher Alexander
Another element of our philosophy is what we call ecological design, which would define as the art and science of working with nature. Ecological design includes a number of schools of thought, of which permaculture is one of the most widely known today. The ancient Chinese knew it as feng shui, but it has had many other names and been practiced by many other people (famous or anonymous) since time immemorial.
Some of its main elements could be summarised as follows:
- Keep it simple. The simplest solution is usually the best; don’t rely on complex designs and machinery.
- Work with nature. Nature is more powerful and wiser than we are; we need to work out how to be on her side.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look to traditional practices and materials first and foremost.
- Context is all. Every design needs to respond to the local ecology and culture; there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
- Slow and steady. It’s better to go slowly in the right direction than quickly in the wrong direction.
- Do what you can with what you’ve got. There’s no point in trying to be a purist in an impure world.
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.—Aldo Leopold
We started Abrazo House back in 2005 with a vision of a small community living in harmony with nature; or, to put it another way, a community in which human beings live side-by-side with other species in mutually beneficial relationships.
For most people, an ideal life is one in which good relationships with family, friends, and neighbours play a large part; and for most of human (pre-)history, such communities were simply taken for granted. But unfortunately, our culture’s individualist values mean that modern humans are not well suited to living in community. The vast majority of intentional communities fail, because of internal conflict, not for any other reason; and even those that succeed have invariably gone through major episodes of conflict.
One of the hardest things about living in community is that you’re constantly forced to face up to the real impact of your actions on others. That also happens to be one of the best things about it.