A Journey into My Life – Emily Ren

When King Lear asks the blind Gloucester how he sees the world, Shakespeare has him say,””I see it feelingly”.

Travelling through all these years, I found myself always attached to the nature deeply somewhere inside of me. It is not only about green mountains and the blue ocean. Even though I took a lot of time and energy carrying my heavy photography equipment, hiking miles after miles, waiting in the freezing night, just to take a picture of starry milky way. Whenever I look up at the countless stars in space, I would be always awed by the magnificence of universe and could not stop crying. The vast ocean of stars can always carry infinite imagination. How beautiful this great nature is, and how small we as individuals are.

It was one Saturday morning two months ago I sat in front of my computer interviewed with Margret about this volunteer opportunity in Jiwa Damai. I was participating in a tough consulting project in Inner Mongolia at that time and already decided to quit that job and stop living such an unhealthy career with crazy working hours and strenuous business trips. I love that job, to be honest, which allowed me to build up a structured and comprehensive thought process. Now and then, I still miss the time when brainstorming with other colleagues about different issues and looking for the best solutions to help the clients. In consulting industry, consultants do exchange their time, energy, and health for fast growth. The high intensity of the work leaves little room for personal grief or anxiety, but indeed leads to larger hidden trouble in heart and physical body. And that is the reason why few consultants choose to stay in the industry forever finally.

For me, this year, it is time to change. Yet changing jobs in mainland China in recent years is not easy due to an economic slowdown and high competitiveness. Luckily I got one offer before exhaustion and hopelessness. And all of a sudden it seemed I was able to have my sabbatical to do something I wished for so long. My friend Lucky recommended WWOOF to me for some interesting programs in Bali. Lucky and I share quite a few interests such as arts, nature, culture, and outdoor activities. She has been to one of the WWOOF host in Japan for two weeks a few years ago. “Emily, You should definitely go. I love it!” I could feel her excitement just even from reading her text message on iPhone. And Jiwa Damai, an idyllic retreat center & organic permaculture garden with meditation atmosphere—“This is my place.” My heart whispered.

“You’re 33. What a wonderful age!” Margret was smiling at me from Skype.

That is how life led me to a dream of entering to a Garden of Eden.

I came to know “Permaculture” since about one year ago, when I was watching a documentary about Dan Barber, a well-known American chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the author of The Third Plate. His opinions on food and agricultural policy have appeared in the New York Times, along with many other publications. Appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Dan continues the work that he began as a member of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture's board of directors: to blur the line between the dining experience and the educational, bringing the principles of good farming directly to the table. Actually Dan looks like a very serious person from his appearance, even a bit hard to work and negotiate with because of his rigorous and hardworking attitude and high expectation towards what he dedicate himself with. But it’s really the existence of being a chef, having an absolutely crazy life. The hours, intensity, pressure, and the brink of failure that is just constant. The most extraordinary chef is not only simply a chef, and the best tasting food is not only about ingredients. “Revolution” is what he outlined for future food from ecological and sustainable farm system, for flavor and for functionality. At the end of his documentary, it shows one of his experimental food—Red Pepper Eggs, which overturned my perception towards delicious food. They feed the chickens with red pepper at a concentrate, which allows the yolk to be truly a red egg yolk. They will have about 10 times the red pigment. And, it is actually the natural system of birds evolve to eat peppers because the birds cannot taste the capsaicin. Breed for flavors. W-O-W. It was Dan’s holistic philosophy about pertaining sustainability in food, farming, environment, humanity really blow my mind.

How many people really care about what they eat? How many people care about what they eat are eating and how they are treated? How many people care about the materials of fabrics we wear? How many people read into the ingredient labels of skincare products? How many people care about whether the materials of our daily necessities are sustainable or not? How many people know we are over fishing, the expense of our next generations? How many people suffer from high stress hormones and a weak immune system? And how many people are living an unhealthy life that they are not aware of it, like keep eating sugar to boost energy? How many people know what they need physically and mentally? And how many people will make efforts to follow their heart continuously? Where is the answer when we are talking about the feelings of true happiness and well-being?

Nature always knows the best.

Days at Jiwa Damai are immersed and timelessly flowing. Every single day is a gift. The moment when Agung drove me into this quiet and peaceful place through a pathway of beautiful banyan trees, all my stress and anxiety was gone right away. It is a place where I see colorful butterflies and dragonflies stopped right in front of my nose, I see a clear sky with twinkle stars above those coconut trees, I see lovely lizards crawling across the stone pathway, I see big Papa fish and Mama fish jumping out of the water a couple of times every single day, I see beautiful water lilies blossom under the moonlight at 10pm every night, I hear frogs sing in the jungle, and the gecko make noise like a baby, I see tears and emotions from Blackie’s eyes and can feel his painful days before dying, I smell the coconut flavor from everyday food I eat, I watch the movie just lying on my yoga mat under the moonlight, I put chili into my month from the garden directly without washing or wiping and feel the my mouth burned with a aromatic fire. It is a place where I don’t want to hurt any lives, including mosquitos that even gave me a lot of bites. I forget everything in my previous outside world, but recognize more truth deeply inside the present me.

As the chief staple crop of the majority of Indonesians, rice and its cultivation have had a long history. It is not simply that these peoples cultivate rice; they all have customs, rituals and myths concerning rice, which serves as threads to bind them together. Indeed some scholars at one time believed that the word “Java” was derived from the older “Djawa” or “Djawa Dipa”, a Sanskrit term meaning “rice island”. Because of its revered place in Javanese life, rice has been regarded by many Indonesians as a miraculous gift of the gods. After a ritual with holy water, a few pieces of rice will be placed on the forehead, which means “Fertilize”.

Laura taught me to prepare and plant the seedlings the first week when I came to the garden. “You have to water it fully, like this”, the soil being watered is loose and porous. This soil is a fertile one and the roots receive enough nutrition and water. Watering should be done early morning and evening when the sun is not too hot yet. I watched her cover the soil with rice straws, to keep moisture in the soil. Nata showed me how to make compost for vegetables. We cut chicken spinach and banana trunks coconut into pieces and mixed them together, and it felt so wonderful as if I were preparing some food for the garden. The scent was natural and fresh. Everything is natural and fresh. We fed the soil with the best food!

Healthy soil brings vigorous plants, stronger and smarter people, cultural empowerment, and the wealth of a nation. Inert dead soil, in short, threatens civilization. We cannot have good food—healthy, sustainable, or delicious—without soil filled with life.

Just after two or three days after I arrived I could feel my body was cleansed and detoxified. The food was simple, not modern, not fancy, but flavorful. The rice was so delicious, and I nearly forgot I just came from a country feeding on rice, too. This piece of land brought back nutrition and flavors back into the food. I ate much less than usual, no meat, no snacks, no coffee, even not much sugar. It seems my body has an awareness of what quantity of nutrition is enough, no less, no more, and no junk food to escape from stress and anxiety. I am eating real food, which is simple but fundamental. It is just bowl of rice. Not a word. And this quiet reflection over a bowl of rice is yet something to behold.

The natural sustainable wisdom Dan concluded in his book is exactly what I can observe on this land. We need to grow nature, to embed the outside nature inward, to fertilize the nature within of ourselves. Because we are part of the nature, too.

To grow nature is to encourage more of it. That is not easy to do. More nature means less control. Less control requires a certain kind of faith, which is where the worldview comes into play. Do you see the natural world as needing modification and improvement, or do you see it as something to be observed and interpreted? Do you view humans as a small part of an unbelievably complicated and fragile system, or do you view us as trying to command nature? Here at Jiwa Damai, they listen, they feel. They don’t exert control. There are innate energies and life in each existence of beings—thriving with the beauty of life.

I look into my own patterns and sub-personalities when I am thinking about my psychodynamic structures. Is it really who I am? Or is it just who I want to be. How many unconscious patterns I haven’t recognized yet in myself. I think I have been always honest to myself and keep observing but suddenly realize that that “Self” is not a true Self, but a Self to-be. Moving out of my comfort zone, are something I have struggled to fight consciously or unconsciously all these years. Why didn’t I accept that part of myself as a part of the whole being, which is indeed a complete Self, the true Self.

“The true nature of the Self is the essential nature of the human being and is its inherent potential to unlimited development. The basis of human existence is viewed as the inherent search of the human being to fulfill itself and to find its purpose and meaning of life.”

Now I am looking at my “Self”, each part of me. And now it is not only about those parts, which empower myself, but also observing my weakness, my fears that I always try my best to overcome all these years. These weakness and fears are as important as my roles I play and express through. Yet, both positive or negative they are parts of myself, components of my personality. Not enough, they are part of whole, interconnected with each other, not only intertwined but interchangeable.

“Your darkest side can be very powerful as well. ”

What I regard as needed to improve just triggers the other parts of my strength to function and thrive. In return, it is the boundary where my “positive” components meet “weak” components before they create collaboratively to allow more possibilities to unfold.

There is a phenomenon in nature called edge. The most productive and diverse habitats for marine life are where the vast sea finally meets the shore. These edge zones are hotbeds of energy and material exchange, thriving with life in a way that makes the deep sea or a large stretch of land seem dull by comparison. They are fragile systems, because they are so full of life.

This open field, which is not beautiful growth; bushes, brambles, and big, rough ferns are fixtures on the perimeters, and they stand in somewhat unflattering contrast to a picturesque field of tall grass. But these corridors, unsightly as they may be, are nonetheless highly diverse and productive.

This is the gift from nature. In nature we see connectedness, functions on the edge. John Muir described how everything in nature was “hitched to everything else in the Universe”. And those connections are always more than sum of their parts. They have the power to transcend and reshape ourselves, and bring out the best of us. It is one much larger, sustainable, infinite space—universe. And this is what I dreamed of one night, of Jiwa Damai’s inherent values. Lessons from nature, values in humanity, and movements in our culture, everything is connected inherently—One whole piece.

The further and deeper I lead myself, the stronger waves are felt deep, deep down into the bottom of my heart. Like something described in the Kundalini yoga. I know Margret may not like referring to this spiritual thing instead of being scientifically, but all my sensations are open to those waves. Heart vibrations. Something transcendental is coming. I could not even hold my tears each time I observe into the Self and learn how to hold each component of me softly and quietly. With love. Compassionate love. Everything comes from compassion. And this love, is not only self-love from my heart, it is love I feel from the great mother nature, from all beautiful souls and lives that are connected within my life. I am not sure if this is what Margret puts all her heart to build up with this peaceful and powerful place for, but I feel a thousand million love and gratitude to her, and to this amazed natural beauty.

It was one day early in the morning at 7 o’clock. I was shooting photos in the garden as usual, when I felt a bit of warmth but moist, from the bottom of my feet. I thought I might have stepped into some water, though I just saw the dark, fertilized soil beneath, with morning dew from plants, as if it were breathing the fresh air like me. I took off my slippers and stepped my feet onto the ground, letting the skin feel that softness, warmth, depth, complexity, richness, resilience…. Flourishing.

In Indonesian, Jiwa Damai means peace of soul. I came into deep sadness each time I realized I had to count down my days here in this land. A strong physical voice keeps saying, I don’t want to go back, the other practical mental thing saying I have to. And yet still another remote but steady voice from my heart saying, I will come back, definitely. Patience. Just take my time. As the first volunteer from mainland China, it is not about something to be proud of or the courage to leave the judgment in our culture behind to be mentioned, it is only about what Self values at present. And it is all these years passion, love, blessings, and faith lead me to my dream field now, devoting my gifts, and learning how to treat myself, others, and the world differently, to feel the inside and outside world in a its inherently natural way, to stay in the very center of the Self, to seek the true essence of life within a peaceful soul. Life is always a process and in progress. It never returns back, and it is the thoughts and emotions in our mind keep us far away from the heart. Life is the same, only better. Never perfect, never settled, never figured out, but even beautifully flowing.


This article was written by our lovely volunteer, Emily. If you would like to join us as a volunteer, send us an email at contact@jiwadamai.net