Healing Nature, Healing Self

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by Catharina Any Sulistyowati

Labyrinth @ Kebun KAIL, Bahasa, Indonesia


For the past ten years, I have been involved in a recovery project of a piece of land which, in the end, became our house and garden: Rumah & Kebun KAIL (KAIL House & KAIL Garden). This place first arose in my imagination in 2008 during the “Visioning” process at the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows Program, a sustainability and systems change project. We started from imagining, searching, and finding resources, to purchasing the land and developing it into the space that we have today. Initially, we intended the process as a healing nature project; however, as the place has healed and recovered, we, too, have also healed and recovered.

Initially, the land was full of grass and a few big trees. Various native plants were planted, such as vegetables and herbs, perennial crops, and fruit trees. The plants were placed according to their needs for intensive care, following the permaculture zoning principles: the more care they need, the closer their location to the house. We used local materials such as animal dungs, grass, and leaves to improve soil fertility. After some years, Kebun KAIL had turned into a little forest. Now, it has a lot of birds, butterflies, fireflies, dragonflies, squirrels, and of course different kinds of plants.

The transformation process occurs differently for each person depending on “who they are,” “with whom,” and “for what purpose” they come.

One of the most used parts of the Kebun KAIL is the labyrinth. This space is located in the backyard of Rumah KAIL, in front of the kitchen. It is a circle, with labyrinthine paths marked with red bricks. It is a multi-purpose space that can be used for various needs, such as individual- or group-study, or just stopping by for a visit. The transformation process occurs differently for each person depending on “who they are,” “with whom,” and “for what purpose” they come.

What I have found is how Active Hope allows us to see “problems” as a part of transformation

We do a lot of activities in this space, such as training and workshops. For example, the systems thinking participants experience their “aha” moments in understanding leverage points in this place. Leverage points are an abstract concept in systems thinking, but our simulation games help participants understand this concept by doing physical activities. The labyrinth is also a space in which we discuss the Active Hope processes. Following the October 2013 Active Hope workshop with Joanna Macy that I attended at the Ralston White Retreat, Mill Valley, California, the process of moving from “gratitude” to “honoring our pain of the world” to “seeing with new eyes” to “going forth” has greatly influenced me – particularly in the way I see and plan my life, and how I do my facilitation work. What I have found is how Active Hope allows us to see “problems” as a part of transformation – something very important for our personal and societal growth – allowing us to change our thinking and feeling about the challenges in our lives.

Another activity carried out in this place is the self-healing workshop. We do a walking meditation following the labyrinthine paths. The participants are invited to reflect on their life history while treading the labyrinthine paths. When they reach the center of the labyrinth, they should be silent for a moment to feel their gratitude for the gift of life. After that, they retrace the path outside the labyrinth by imagining their life plans.

This is also a place where several people can sit quietly to enjoy Kebun KAIL. They can look at the rice fields, read, or meditate privately to seek life inspiration. It is also a place where two people can discuss their personal matters, debate issues, plan activities, or just sit and enjoy their silent moment together with a cup of tea and healthy snacks. 

The Labyrinth faithfully absorbs it and imparts its positive energy to anyone who is there.

I have witnessed changes happening to many people in this labyrinth. I have also seen and heard many stories of personal change taking place in this place. Some people come to Rumah KAIL to calm down, seek inspiration, take a break from problems for a while, explore their life’s wisdom, and return home with renewed energy. Others come to this place to meet friends to share their life stories. The Labyrinth faithfully absorbs it and imparts its positive energy to anyone who is there.

I also see that the labyrinth itself is transformed. The grass grows taller, covering the red bricks that made it. The surrounding trees are also denser. This place remains shady despite the scorching heat of the sun outside. If we lie on the ground with our faces up, we can see the blue sky between the various kinds of leaves up there. Very beautiful. The dividing bricks have changed color from red to green because of the moss growing on them. From the labyrinth, we can also see the transformation of Kebun KAIL. We can observe how the color changes by season, and the different flowers and fruits that emerge throughout the year. In this space of transformation, I feel that by having healed nature at Kebun KAIL, it is healing us in return, just through our experience of being there.

Recorded by Erin Holtz Braeckman

Catharina Any Sulistyowati is a doctorate student at the School of Strategic and Global Studies at the University of Indonesia. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia (1991), and her master’s degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands (2001). She is a LEAD Fellow (1998-2000) and a Donella Meadows Leadership Fellow (2007-2008). She works in KAIL, a not-for-profit organisation in Indonesia, where she facilitates learning and actions for sustainable development for various groups, such as young people, urban poor, village leaders, women, government, and social organisations

2 thoughts on “Healing Nature, Healing Self

  1. wonderful work. your story, sharing your transformation through tending to the earth, is peaceful, inspiring and promising, very close to my own heart ❤️ and assisting peoples and tree species communing together for positive co-healing of self, relationships through Offerings to the earth and her 5 element..Thank you!

    Karuna F-N

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