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Since 2015 I have been blessed with the opportunity to create a project in the idyllic setting of a private nature reserve nestled away in the undulating mountains of Mpumalanga, South Africa.
In the beginning, all there was to work with was a few abandoned hiker huts and very little experience with all the required materials, tools, knowledge and community dynamics. Up until 2018, many volunteers passed through the project with a few staying long term becoming integral to the fledgling community.
We prided ourselves the fact that we were 100% off grid and free from the regulation of society. We strived to be completely self sufficient by tapping a spring for water, growing gardens for food, adopting recycling methods for waste management and a solar system for power. This self sustainable dream is the foundation for a way of life out here but, as I found out, it’s not enough to bring people together in community long term.
So since 2018 and all the way through lockdown I have been in a quiet solo meditation in this beautiful place, about the best way to bring a group of people together in the most profound way.
From my quest, I arrived at the realisation that the most profound experience people can share is an 'enduring wish to create spiritual union' amongst themselves. It is said, all physical manifestation originally flows from the spiritual force. Humans may use our mental energy to help shape that force so for a community to create something sustainable together, it follows that there needs to be a harmony of spiritual, mental and physical effort.
So there is a new plan. The project will evolve and take on a new form as the ‘Vegan Mountain Retreat’ community, hosting guests and volunteers from around the world seeking a connection with the divine in this mystical place. To host guests, a group of volunteers need to come together first to help build the required infrastructure and, most importantly, to live the retreat.
We will be the first to test the ‘programme’ that we hope to offer to guests and that will be our daily practice to live by.
So this is a call to all those willing to “become the change they wish to see in the world”. (Ghandi)
Trabajo de caridad
Ayuda en proyectos ecológicos
Proyectos de construcción y bricolaje
Cuidado de animales
Ayuda en una granja
Cocinar para toda la familia
The purpose is to create an intentional spiritual community. For this to happen, all members of the community are invited to explore the different ways of communing via the physical, mental and spiritual.
Our physical communion revolves around our daily work, laid out by the ‘Daily Practice Programme’ . Communal tasks and project work are a basic way for us to get to know each other and enjoy the act of sharing space and time around a common goal.
Our mental communion happens in the mindfulness of every waking moment, through every thought we have of another in the community and in every word uttered to another in the community. These thoughts and words are powerful causes of what unfolds on a daily basis. With this in mind, it’s important that our mental communion takes place around 5 core social values of:
Derived from a book written by Rush Kidder called ‘Moral Courage’. He travelled to every continent in the world, visited over 160 countries, met with many communities from many different faiths looking for the common values that bind communities and make them work. He arrived at this set of universally shared concepts.
Spiritual communion is made possible when the ego (with all its projections and permeations in the identity) is understood. Firstly, as a basic function of our survival as a human being and then, more importantly, as a barrier toward spiritual union.
Without ego, spiritual union is free from the specific beliefs and ideologies of each individual. Not conformed to a particular time of day, or type of practice, done alone or with the whole community. Spiritual union arises and unfolds naturally in every moment of every day, in every feeling, in every emotion, in every thought, in every word, in every act it flows continuously like the water that flows from our spring. The degree of harmony within each person and between each community member will determine how much spiritual force can flow within us and between us all.
So when we come together from all the diverse cultural backgrounds with different sets of experiences, sometimes our cultures and experiences will overlap and there is so much to learn from, and build on, in that.
Sometimes, it may seem like we are in opposition to each other and yet, if we are mindful of the physical, metal and spiritual values mentioned here, we have a far better chance of reaching positive, productive outcomes. These kinds of learning experiences, from perceived conflict, are incredibly powerful and can often be life changing for the people involved.
We are all gathered here in community and there is always, and should always, be work for us to do. It is a blessing to have something to do in this beautiful place. So in reverence of building spiritual community in the wild, some degree of spiritual, mental and physical work should be considered and practiced.
Physical practice hours are a total of 5 daily working hours. We all gather at sunrise (which is actually an hour later than everyone else around here because of the big mountains around us!) to begin each day.
Mental and spiritual practices are up to each individual, either in a group or privately.
1. Physical Practice
The basic set of daily, weekly, monthly tasks include:
• Cooking – preparing vegan meals, shopping, daily menu
• Cleaning - preparing the kitchen, ablutions, cabins for use
• Animal - care and feeding the Suzy the dog & Mojo the cat
• Greenhouse - soil mixing, seasonal planting, transplanting
• Nursery - weeding, seed collecting, planting edibles, harvesting
• Trail Blazing – explore, cut and clear, stones
• Admin - quoting, bookings and general correspondence
• Assistance - with guest on retreats by welcoming, checking in, programme guidance
• Firewood – wheelbarrow, chainsaw, axe
• Maintenance - painting, fences, roads, wood stack, rubbish bins
• Fabrication – beadwork, sewing, knitting, painting murals
• Bamboo Collection– explore, cut and clear, stones
• Wattle Chopping – explore, chop, transport
• Sign Making - map and routes, explore, names, plaques
Once a volunteer has become proficient in carrying out the primary tasks, they may elect to work full time on projects as described in the ‘Project Tree’.
2. Mental Practice (examples)
• Contemplation – sit, breathe, visualize/reflect
• Walk and talk – round up, walk, talk
• Reading – sit, read, learn
• M.A.R.S. Research – question, investigate, build (see more below)
• Mama Africa – plan, connect, act (see more below)
• Stone Circle Exploration – walk, examine, wonder (see more below)
3. Spiritual Practice (examples)
• Yoga – mat, floor, move
• Meditation – sit, breathe, mindful
• Mantra – sit, breathe, sing/chant
Firstly, there are the communal cabins. With a somewhat rustic charm, is offers the basic creature comforts. There are two cabins available, each with space for two volunteers to share.
In addition, from the day a volunteer arrives they have the option to initiate their ‘First Project’. Volunteers are encouraged to build their own private cabin using a unique, patented modular housing system. Designed and developed for easy assembly (like a large tent, 12 hour build time) and yet offer the comfort and luxury of a wooden cabin (see the picture of the wooden cabin in the photo area).
So, keep in mind we are off the grid, every volunteer will have access to:
• Running water: pure mountain spring water
• Hot water: from a gas geyser in bathroom and electric geyser in kitchen
• Ablutions: with toilets, shower and basin
• Shower: gas geyser shower and a back-up ‘Solar Rocket’ shower!
• Cooking facilities: wood fired oven, gas stove, induction stove
• Accommodation: communal cabin, private cabin
• Power: from the solar array for cabin lights and digital devices
• Food: budget available for vegan menu
• Yoga: outdoor Yoga deck
• Internet: a ladder up a tree.. for the best signal in camp
Volunteers are requested to stay initially for a period of one month. Following that, volunteers may request longer stays from the community council. If volunteers are willing to invest in a private cabin they may also want to extend their stay before doing so. International volunteers are allowed to extend their visa by 3 months with the relevant government department.
If a volunteers is willing to make their cabin completely self sustainable by installing the necessary plumbing (grey and black water solutions) and solar power (lights, devices, appliances etc) they may take up residency in a secluded location in the reserve.
In the case of a long term stay, international volunteers may apply for a 3 year volunteer visa via the NPO, after the council has approved them for a longer term with the community.
COOKING, CLEANING, FOOD
The daily task we all come together for, without fail, is cooking and cleaning. This process is described in the ‘Basic Living Guideline’ and is easily understood once you’ve arrive. It good to know in advance that it’s very important for each volunteer to be able to plan and prepare a vegan meal, this ability is not required immediately but it is the crucial ‘first skill’ for all volunteers.
If your not the best at preparing food, then it can be expected that you will focus on the task of cleaning up before and after mealtime. Cooking and cleaning is the first task volunteers will be learning since it’s the cornerstone of community life.
Cooking is the first and last thing volunteers do for each other every day, it’s is the basic building block for all other activities and the foundation of every practice and project. Enthusiastic and regular contribution to these daily routines is vital to building and growing a community.
We will provide a full vegan menu and any other foods that align with the ‘retreat’ ideal. So if we aren’t going to offer to our guests, then it can’t be on the menu for the community either. This is a fundamental part of ‘living the retreat’ and ‘becoming the change we wish to see’.
Once three members of the community are willing to officially gather weekly to decide on the direction of the community, a council may convene to help each member voice their suggestions and concerns for the group. This meeting of the community gives a platform to:
1. Regulate membership of the ‘Rock Drift Retreat’ community.
2. Make decisions regarding amendments to the Constitution, Daily Practice Programme, Living Guides, Project Tree Etc
3. Providing weekly reports on the progress of projects
4. Voting platform for each member to show their approval/disapproval of other community members
Prior to three members of the community agreeing to form a council, a stand-in council will convene made up of existing residents on the property.
THINGS TO PONDER
M.A.R.S. RESEARCH: Tucked away in the middle of the forest, there is a solar array powering two 3D printers and a CNC router. In an effort to design the optimal structural solution for volunteers wanting to build private cabins on-site, a spin off was recognised. If the structural forms we live in is broken down into one panel, then by reducing the scale of that panel several times, it may also be possible to fabricate:
• a piece of furniture
• an item of clothing
• gloves around a hand
• and, if actuated, potentially even a vehicle to ride in.
M.A.R.S. stands for Mobile, Actuated, Reconfigurable and Scalable and the hypothesis is to fuse the different disciplines of architecture, interior design, protective and fashionable garmentry & apparel, glove/footwear/headwear design and automotive design into one interconnected theory of design. For volunteers who have a technical mind for to fabricate just about anything, this project will be nothing short of fascinating.
MAMA AFRICA: There is an amazing outreach initiative underway that needs volunteers. Much effort has already been invested in bringing this project to life shown by the photos. This is the story printed on the label sold with each item:
“Walking through any one of Africa fabric markets, you cant help fall in love with the colourful, vibrant African print fabrics. To help bring these beautiful fabric to the world, we helped each tailor establish their own fashion label. Combined with our patented pop- up store technology we hope to create a one-of-kind international marketplace for African producers. It’s mainly women, who come together in groups, to make this item and they were paid fairly and treated with respect and dignity. Every buyer has direct access to the label who made their item making the whole supply chain completely transparent. This is the new global standard for ethical fashion. By purchasing this item you are supporting ethical trade. This helps the women of central Africa create businesses and bring families and communities together to support themselves in a sustainable, responsible way.”
ANCIENT STONE CIRCLES: We are surrounded by these mysterious stone circles hinting at something truly astonishing about the history of humanity on earth. Scattered all the way to Mozambique and spread over many hundreds of kilometers, they are said to all converge in one main stone circle know as ‘Adams Calendar’ not far way at Kaapsehoop.
Right here on the property, an enormous complex of interconnecting circles spans from the river all the way to the top of the mountain. One of the biggest complexes unveiled to date, it remains completely hidden by the indigenous forest. Spiraling circles combined with huge contoured terraces, the discovery resembles that of an ‘ancient village’ complex within an ‘stone temple’ multiplex, cascading across an entire mountainside.
BUTTERFLIES: Also, there is significant botanical interest in the area because of the natural enclosure of the canyon walls, the forest has been left undisturbed allowing for amazing diversity in flora and fauna. During mid summer, butterflies can be seen in such immense volumes they appear as thick as water streaming from one tree to the next, as the wind gently pushes them along, as far as the eye can see. A truly unforgettable experience.
KRUGER MILLIONS: The valley is steeped in history from the time of the Boer war during the 1900's. The valley once housed President Paul Kruger's Commandos during the period of his escape to exile via Lourenco Marques (Maputo). During his stay he had a massive amount of gold brought in (7 train carriages full) and buried it somewhere in the area. Known as the ‘Kruger Millions’ it has never been found and is another fascinating mystery in the area.
ANIMALS: Nourished by the Joubert Spruit tributary of the Elands River, the natural water supply is fountain fed from the mountain tops and of the highest quality. At no stage during the past 60 years has the stream ever dried up. The Nature Reserve is ecologically contained and home to many species of fauna e.g. Bushbuck, Baboon, Klipspringer, Duiker, Steenbok, Vaal Reedbuck, Vervet Monkeys, Leopard, Genet, Rooikat, Rock Pythons and even a very shy male Hippopotamus. Bird life includes, Black Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Kites, Falcons and some very curious Lapwings.
IN THE AREA: We are situated in a mountain canyon where you will find one of the best rock climbing areas in the country and in the top 10 globally. There is also some great mountain biking, hiking and walking trails. There is also opportunity to travel to see the 'Big Five' in the Kruger Park, God's Window in Blyde River canyon, Swaziland and the Archipelagos of Mozambique.
Situated 290 km from Johannesburg on the N4 (Waterval Boven - Nelspruit road), The Nature Reserve embraces an enclosed valley of approximately 257 hectares of some of the most beautiful mountain country to be found in the Waterval Boven district.
Bus: The main drop off/pick up point however is Milly's N4 Caltex gas station near Machadadorp. Go to Computicket.co.za to book a bus ticket using Machadadorp as your destination point to get here as cheaply as possible.
Shuttle: There are a few options, check out JSL Transport, Limetime.co.za or Citybug.co.za who travel from JHB to Nelspruit daily. Be sure to select Milly's as your destination point and we can pick you up there.
Car: 280 km from Johannesburg (240 Km from Pretoria) on the Nelspruit road (N4) to Waterval Boven. Proceed past Waterval Boven on the N4, through the tunnel and after 3.6km turn right at the Bergwaters Eco Lodge sign. Cross over railway line and follow signs to Bergwaters Eco Lodge (1.4km gravel path). Once the Bergwaters Eco Lodge entrance has been reached proceed past entrance for another 100m and enter the Nature Reserve.
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Maximum 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week