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Esalen Institute Integral Ecological Leadership 
Workshop Descriptions

Facilitators: Anna Combi (Anahata) and Robin Liepman (Bloom)

Co-Founders of Blooming Biodiversity Permaculture Tour


Ecological Awareness Workshop Activities, Group Projects and Discussion Topics


  1. Exploration of the 5 senses through guided  blindfolded garden experience. In pairs students observe the Esalen garden, tasting, touching, smelling and feeling plants. Then students visually draw out their experience and write a journal entry. Students then go back into the garden with eyes open, reconnecting to the area, and write another journal entry on what they noticed visually. The prompts are: “What did you notice and perceive?” “How did you feel?” “What was surprising?” “What was familiar?” “Why do you think the garden is designed in the way that it is? What are some of the important features you found interesting?”

  2. Mindful Eating Meditation, Guided Visualization and Discussion of Food Sovereignty, Organic Non-GMO Food, Farms, Gardens, Food Movements

  3.  Tree of Life: Roots and Branches of Ecological Problems and Solutions, brainstorm with visual map

  4. Theater of the Elements: Students get into four groups representing each element Fire, Water, Earth, Air and discuss an environmental problem and solution related to this element and create a theater piece they share with the group.

  5. Environmental Issues and Changemakers Forum: Students rotate through two rounds of focus groups on Sustainable Agriculture, Wilderness Habitat Restoration, Renewable Energy and Water/Oceans/Rivers/Lakes. Students then circle in five Changemaker groups: Government/Policy Reform, Community Development, Education, Scientific Research, Activism/Media. Students discuss the following questions as a group: “What is the importance of this group, and how can this group make transform environmental issues?” “How can all of these groups work together?” And “What is your group’s direct action plan for creating positive environmental transformation in the world?” Finally, everyone comes back together as a large group to share what was discussed.

  6. Designing your own sustainable home, community and school through the Permaculture Design Principles.  Students learn and discuss the principles and ethics through visual graphics, maps, videos and games. All principles are practical ways to develop ecological skill sets in relationship to the environment. Students act out ways that each principle can be used in their life and draw a visual design map.

  7. Village Building City Repair Project: Students in groups using construction paper, and art materials, collaboratively design ecological city/village dioramas addressing environmental solutions in the areas of renewable energy, agriculture, wilderness preservation, public parks, waste management and water supply.

  8. Public Lands Management, Open Space, National Parks and Enviro NGO and NonProfits. Students choose from a variety of organizations, learn through videos, pictures and powerpoints about their projects. Students design their own project based on one of these organizations. Students created an Environmental Impact Assessment and Plan of Development. Students are giving environmental issues, and needs of each organization.

  9. Ecocentric Developmental Model: Students learn about this model from Bill Plotkin’s book, “Nature and the Human Soul,” and participate in activities to understand their current stage, gift, and the rites of passage that will guide them into their next stage of life.

  10. Environmental Issues: Climate Change, Pollution: Air, Water, Trash, Fracking, Environmental Policy and Service Project Development. Students develop solutions to these issues in groups 3 and come up with an action plan.

  11. Permaculture Zones, Farms, Gardens and Ecosystem Habitat. Students create their own permaculture landscape using all of these components. Students are educated on these areas through an interactive powerpoint and videos describing each environment and its relationship to the whole.


Ecological Awareness Syllabus & Reader

Esalen Integral Youth Leadership Summer 2016


3 Workshop Sessions on April 14th 2016

  • 1-2pm. (#2) mindful eating offering/conversation over lunch, on the lawn

    Introduction to mindfulness practice

    John Kabbit Zinn: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

    Thich Nhat Hahn: Ecological Buddhism: A Buddhist response to global warming

    Jack Kornfield: Mindful eating awareness practices

    Joanna Macy : The Work that Reconnects

    Guided Eating Meditation

    5 senses relationship to vegetables/fruit from Esalen garden and Organic imported vegetables/fruits (traditionally a raisin is used)

    Feeling with fingers

    Sound in your hand, rubbing & moving vegetable/fruit in hand  


    Seeing textures, colors, shapes

    Taste and texture: sweet, salty, sour

    Food Cycle and Personal Relationship
    From Seed-Sprout-Plant-Seasons-Farmers-Harvest-Production-Transport-Energy of all People involved-access. We will go through this meditation twice. Once for the Esalen grown vegetable and one for the Organic Imported vegetable, and later discuss the differences in the participant’s relationships to each vegetable.

    Food Sovereignty Solutionary Discussion

    Blooming Biodiversity West Coast Permaculture Tour

We co-founded and co-organized this tour so we could learn about sustainable living, earth activism, and practical applications of regenerative design. We traveled to over 60 organic farms, gardens, community centers and spiritual centers, both urban and rural, dedicated caring for people and community, their surrounding natural environment, and fair share of natural resources. These centers share the common vision of supporting empowered community members to live symbiotically with the land through growing their own food, renewable energy, positive impact, low waste and creative expression.

  • Earth Democracy

“Globalized industrialized food is not cheap: it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient.”

― Vandana Shiva
“Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence.”

― Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace

  • Seed Savers

The Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library is open to everyone and provides, in addition to seeds, education about growing and saving seeds and organic gardening.

“Siskiyou Seeds operates at our family farm, Seven Seeds Farm. We have been growing certified organic seed for many national scale mail order seed companies for the past 19 years. We are fairly unique within the world of seed companies in that we actually produce much of the seed ourselves, as opposed to most companies that buy most (or all) of their seed from multinational corporate seed houses, many of whom also produce genetically engineered vegetable seeds.”

“Seed is the biggest issue of democracy in food. Seed is a common resource, and we have to protect it for future generations. I would call GM [Genetic Modification] a cruelty to seeds. I will live to see the end of Monsanto.”



  • Organic Non-Gmo local farming

What is Permaculture?:

Permaculture is a set of values and principles conducive to the harmonious integration of people, plants and animals within an ecosystem. "Permaculture is a design discipline based on the foundational ecological principles of nature." It's a process of taking one's observations of natural systems and applying the lessons learned to the human based environment. Permaculture is something we "use" to discover what to "do". It is a road map to finding our small place in the world as an integral part of the whole planetary system. Care For Earth. Care For People. Return The Surplus.” Permaculture is a harmonious integration of thenatural landscape design with human culture, providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable, resilient, diverse and stable way.  Permaculture is the conscious design of cultivated ecosystems that have thediversity, stability, and resilience of natural systems. Permaculture  is a harmonious integration of people into the landscape in such a way that it grows richness, productiveness and aesthetic beauty.  Permaculture is a diverse complex ecosystem where the elements interact in mutually beneficial ways to produce a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Permaculture generates a harmonious balance among all forms of life in an ecosystem. Permaculture works with, rather than against nature. Permaculture is the design and creation of self-sustaining productive systems.

1. Observe and Interact
By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

2. Catch and Store Energy
By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.

3. Obtain a yield

Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.

4.  Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback

We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.

6. Produce No Waste

By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

7. Design From Patterns to Details

By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate

By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.

10. Use and Value Diversity

Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity “is the term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and microorganisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.” “It also refers to the multitude of different ecosystems in which species form unique communities, interacting with one another and the air, water and soil.” “All species depend on other species for survival. Ecosystems vary in size. A large stand of forest or a small pond can each be described as an ecosystem.  Ecosystem diversity refers to the variety of ecosystems in a given place. Within any broader landscape there is a mosaic of interconnected ecosystems. To conserve biodiversity, conservation at the landscape level is critical. This enables the protection of a representative array of interacting ecosystems and their associated species and genetic diversity.”


What is Sustainability?  

Sustainability has made a prominent place in public discourse as a complex synergy of social justice, ecological integrity, and economic vitality, applied across present and future generations.


What is Organic?
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.


What is GMO & Non-GMO?

GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
The Non-GMO label guarantees that the food is not genetically modified.

More discussion topics about GMO & Non-GMO:

What is Biodynamics?
Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food and nutrition.Biodynamics was first developed in the early 1920s based on the spiritual insights and practical suggestions of the Austrian writer, educator and social activist Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), whose philosophy is called “anthroposophy(link is external).” Today, the biodynamic movement encompasses thousands of successful gardens, farms, vineyards and agricultural operations of all kinds and sizes on all continents, in a wide variety of ecological and economic settings.

Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself. Preparations made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm and to enhance the nutrition, quality and flavor of the food being raised. Biodynamic practitioners also recognize and strive to work in cooperation with the subtle influences of the wider cosmos on soil, plant and animal health.

Most biodynamic initiatives seek to embody triple bottom line approaches (ecological, social and economic sustainability), taking inspiration from Steiner’s insights into social and economic life as well as agriculture. Community supported agriculture (CSA), for example, was pioneered by biodynamic farmers, and many biodynamic practitioners work in creative partnerships with other farms and with schools, medical and wellness facilities, restaurants, hotels, homes for social therapy and other organizations. Biodynamics is thus not just a holistic agricultural system but also a potent movement for new thinking and practices in all aspects of life connected to food and agriculture.

What is No-Till?
No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till is an agricultural technique which increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil and increases organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil. In many agricultural regions it can reduce or eliminate soil erosion. It increases the amount and variety of life in and on the soil, including disease-causing organisms and disease suppression organisms. The most powerful benefit of no-tillage is improvement in soil biological fertility, making soils more resilient. Farm operations are made much more efficient, particularly improved time of sowing and better trafficability of farm operations.
Masanobu Fukuoka was one of the pioneers of no-till grain cultivation whose work brought this method, commonly referred to as "Natural Farming" or "Do-nothing Farming" to the West from Japan. His influences went beyond farming to inspire individuals within the natural food and lifestyle movements. He was an outspoken advocate of the value of observing nature's principles.

What is a Shift to An Ecological, Regenerative New Paradigm?

Environmental Sociology advocates for a shift to an ecological paradigm that recognizes human-ecosystem interdependence and biological limits to the societal phenomena. Many people around the world see great danger in our current social paradigm’s desire for constant unconstrained growth. It is clear there is not endless bounty of resources and that growth should not be the driving force. Through the development and globalization, people around the world are using more resources than the earth can renew and therefore it is becoming clear that if we continue at current rates we will expend all our natural resources in trying to sustain our overpopulated world. Many Environmentalists and activists see the current crisis we face in overpopulation and environmental destruction of land and want large-scale changes in countries policies and institutions. Consumers are identifying that they must take responsibility for their consumer choices and buy only what they truly need, recognizing that the process of manufacturing, products brought into the store and then quickly thrown away must change. A real world solution to shift the dominant social paradigm is living in Ecovillages

5. Soil Systems for Growing Healthy Food
Organic gardeners understand that soil is more than dirt: It is an intricate and highly sophisticated ecosystem. The most important elements of healthy soil are mulch, microbes, and moisture. When we feed the microbes with organic matter and provide them with water, they will create great fertile soil and take care of our plants. This is true for ornamental beds, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and lawns alike. Rather than feeding the plants and protecting them against pests and diseases, organic gardeners strive for maximum biodiversity both above ground and below. The result is a beautiful, dynamic balance in which plants thrive.  
- Practical Tips for Organic Gardeners by Christina Nikolic



  • 4:30-6pm Blindfolded Garden Walk (#1)

    Exploration of the 5 senses through guided  blindfolded garden experience. In pairs students observe the Esalen garden, tasting, touching, smelling and feeling plants.





    Emotional relationship to garden & full trust from the guidance of a partner

  • Then students visually draw out their experience and write a journal entry. Students then go back into the garden with eyes open, reconnecting to the area, and write another journal entry on what they noticed visually.

    The prompts are:
    1. “What did you notice and perceive? How did you feel? What was surprising? What was familiar?”
    2. “Why do you think the garden is designed in the way that it is? What are some of the important features you found interesting?”
    3. “What was it like being guided by your partner?”
    4. “How is it different experiencing the garden through these four senses without sight?”
    5. “Now that you have your eyes open, what does it feel like to see the garden visually after experiencing it through your other four senses?”
    6. “What is your relationship to each of your senses?”

  • 7:30-9:30pm Eco-Centric Model (#9) evening offering:

This Ecocentric Model of Human Development will be explained through a 15 minute powerpoint presentation, followed by activities based on ecocentric ideas. This model shows the eight stages we can go through on our journey from childhood to elderhood, including the task, gift and center of gravity of each stage, and the rites of passages between each stage. Each stage has a name that combines an environmental and a cultural/societal word. By discussing this model, we will identify where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going within this model, and the differences between the egocentric and the Ecocentric aspects of each stage. We will discuss the rites of passages we have been through, how they were or could have been holistic and healthy, and what rites of passage is awaiting us in our transition to the next phase of our life. We will look at the model of the heroes journey and learn how we can rewrite our life’s story in a positive way. We will define the concepts of “Ecocentric,” “Soulcraft,” “Stages,” and “Rites of Passage.”


Ecocentric Activities
1. Group Discussion: What is your relationship to the natural environment?

2. Brainstorm: Define your Generation’s relationship to the natural environment.

3. Problem and Solution Tree: As a group, we draw two trees, our Problem and our Solution to our collective and individual development in relationship to the environment. We discuss and draw the words that make up the roots, the branches and the core of each tree.

4. Draw your ecocentric life journey from birth to young adult. In bullet point form, for each stage, express life experiences and insights to your relationship with each stage. Begin by
Questions to ask yourself: “Can you think of a memory in which you exemplified these qualities? What happened, where were you, who were you with? Looking back now, how did these experiences influence your current phase of life?” “Where do you think you are in this model, and what do you visualize your next stage of life to look like? What kind of rites of passage do you foresee going through to get there?”

5. Eco-Centric Poetry: Next, participants will write a stream-of-consciousness free-flow poem depicting their stages of development in the Eco-Centric model.

6. Sharing in Groups: In groups of 2 or 3, share your personal ecocentric journey. Review the questions you’ve answered as a group, sharing your perspectives.

7. Rites of Passage Group Ritual: All participants stand in a circle at the area representing the current stage of the ecocentric model they feel they are currently in. In the center of the circle, there are three bowls. One bowl is filled with weeds, one is filled with seeds, and one bowl is filled with fruits. One by one, each participant will go into the center of the circle, selecting a weed, and stating in one sentence to the group what their weed is and why they are weeding it out, then moving to the seed and stating what they are intending to grow, and then to the fruit, stating what they are harvesting. After every statement a participant makes, the group collectively responds by saying “we know this to be true.”  

8. Write a letter to yourself about what you know now, what your relationship is to the natural world, overgrown plants you’d like to weed out of your current life experience, new seeds you’d like to plant for your future, and yields you’d like to harvest now. These are letters that can be taken home sealed, for participants to store and wait between 1-5 years before opening, or can be mailed to participants in a year.


9. Performance: Students chose to speak, sing, drum, dance, or theatrically perform their eco-centric poem to the whole group.

Workshop Learning Goals


  • Develop awareness of personal ecological impact to the environment

  • Develop a personal holistic and integrated relationship to the environment

  • Develop permaculture principles and skill sets Students can apply in their school, community, home and daily life.

  • Develop knowledge on current environmental issues and solutions

  • Develop critical thinking skills

  • Develop environmental design skills

  • Develop group collaboration abilities

  • Creative envisioning of sustainable future for current and future generations


Recommended Reading List

  • Earth Democracy by Vandana Shiva

  • Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin

  • Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemmingway

  • Permaculture Design Manual by Bill Mollison

  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

  • The Sustainable World Handbook

  • Worldchanging: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century by Alex Steffen

  • Eaarth by Bill McKibben

  • The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken

  • Replenishing the Earth by Wangari Maathai

Organization’s We’ve Participated In With Ecological Awareness Trainings, College Courses & Environmental Non-Profits

  • Blooming Biodiversity Permaculture Tour
    Co-founded, Co-created and Co-lead by Bloom and Anahata

  • Living Routes: Integral Sustainability Study of EcoVillages

Anna participated in a college semester in Auroville Ecovillage in  India with CIIS Phd   

           graduate Professors. She created a educational interactive native medicinal plant

           garden, facilitated NVC and art therapy at women’s empowerment center called life

          education center.

  • City Kids Goes Outdoors:

Anna was a senior steward environmental science teacher with this program.

  • Earth Activist Training with Starhawk and Charles Williams

Anna and Bloom both are certified and did this training at O.U.R Ecovillage in Canada

  • Generation Waking Up:

Bloom is certified as a Generation Waking Up facilitator

  • La’Akea Permaculture Intentional Community
    Anna completed this internship program with college credit

  • 350 Divestment Campaign for College Students
    Anna was a student delegate at University of Redlands

  • California Students for Sustainability Coalition (CSSC)
    Anna was a student delegate and participated in conferences

  • Bioneers

Anna and Bloom presented their Blooming Biodiversity Permaculture Tour

  • Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) at UCSC
    Bloom created and facilitated a course through this program called “A Sustainable World: Where We Are, What’s Being Done, and What We Can Do.” He also created a TED talk inspired symposium called “Sonic Bloom: Metamorphosis into a Thriving Future”

  • Common Ground Foundation at UCSC

  • Roots and Shoots

Anna was an Environmental Science teacher through this program.

  • Numundo
    Bloom and Anna are ambassadors for Numundo


Resources for further Ecological Awareness activities:

  • Environmental Awareness for a Teachers/Trainers Training:



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