At the beginning of June we started volunteering at the Awakened Life Project in the mountains of central Portugal. An established sustainable spiritual awakening association with an ever expanding local and global community.
The community is set in a beautiful valley in the mountains near Benfeita. They have a few stone houses which have been refurbished, a stream, waterfalls and are surrounded by beautiful forests. Along the steep slopes to the valley are terraces with trees, a variety of berries and wild greens all over the place.
One of the things that we have learnt over our course of volunteering is that the welcoming of new volunteers is so important, as most are coming on their own and don’t know what to expect. Our initial welcome to Quinta de Mizarela was very welcoming with one of the residents giving us a thorough tour and taking us to our accomodation. We chose to stay in a caravan by ourselves higher up in the woodlands rather than down in the valley which was quiet, private, and meant we didn’t need our sleeping bags for once as they provided bedding. At this stage we have been sleeping in our sleeping bags for over a month, which isn’t so bad but having a duvet is luxury!
This project is one of the most organised and clean that we have visited so far in our research this year. Everyone was given morning and afternoon jobs and we were all given specific instructions which was great guidance. The cooking was split between everyone, so everyday there was something interesting to eat due to the group being so diverse in terms of country of origin. The focus here is on the people and helping them on their spiritual path. There are two sessions of meditation a day and lots of group discussion on spirituality and the journey that we are on. Whilst we were volunteering, there was a five week transformation intensive course running with five participants. We meditated and worked with them which showed us how volunteers and clients could integrate and work as a team in a meaningful way.
Every morning we had a one hour meditation before breakfast. We also had one 24 hour silent day each week and sessions to inquire into spirituality and discuss our experiences so far. Some of the guests that come here end up staying more long term as residents and some have even bought adjacent plots of land to be part of a wider community.
Each day we worked in the gardens, in the kitchen or did cleaning. My main job for the fortnight was working with one of the residents to transform a terrace that had a pear tree and huge weed overgrowth into a mini food forest. We cleared the weeds, dug out a path to lay out some stones for access and built up the bed edges. Finally we planted three guilds with a pomegranate tree and wild lavender transported from the woods as well as comfrey, sage, artichoke, rosemary, native lavender, lemon balm and some wild greens.
I also helped to clear up a bed right by the kitchen by clearing the weeds and bringing kitchen herbs up from the valley. This will make cooking far easier in the future as it won’t mean having to walk down so far just to collect wild greens and fresh herbs. We also learned how to pick wild greens from around the land to be served as a fresh salad at meal times. I have a newfound interest for foraging for food and went on a weekend course at the Awakened Forest Project next door to learn just how to do that. It is amazing how we can feed ourselves on what is thought to be weeds. Blog on foraging wild greens to follow. Kimberly helped to prep the garden beds in the valley for the upcoming open day which meant identifying weeds among the raspberry, strawberry and blueberry plants. This is all great training for when we own our own place, because identifying weeds isn’t as easy as it seems. Knowing what to keep so the plants help each other is a skill and we were taught well by the resident gardener, Raquel. She had a vast knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants and herbs, wild greens that can be eaten, and permaculture practices. We really enjoyed working with her and hope to continue working with her in the future.
I also am very impressed at the amount of work that has gone in by these guys and their community on trying to restore the woodland on their land and their neighbour’s land. All around the mountains local farmers have planted cash crops such as Eucalyptus and Pine which are huge fire risks and are not so good for the environment or ecosystem. Awakened Life have been chopping down some baby pine trees to allow space for any native Oaks, Chestnut, Madronia and other native trees. They have even planted many more of these where there isn’t as many growing naturally, so one day this forest will be returned to its former glory. We hope to do something similar at Keela, but turn what was once woodland and is now agriculture land, back into woodlands once again. Everywhere we live was probably beautiful woodland that was flattened for agriculture or housing by Romans, Saxons, Victorians or other civilisations with an increasing population to feed.
On the last day, the Awakened life project had their open day which we helped prepare for. We joined the tour with around 20 guests from around Portugal to learn about some of the systems they have in place. I learnt about their hydroelectric generator and ram pump. The hydroelectric uses the gravity of water to generate electricity. The ram pump uses the gravity of a stream to the force water uphill without the need for electricity to a water tank which is then used for general use int eh house and watering the gardens . Apparently you can even make a hydroelectric generator with an old washing machine engine, so we will have to give that a go if we have a stream on our land.
We were taken to look at land around this area as we fell in love with the surrounding forests. We found that we would get more buildings on the land for the same money as the other areas that we have been looking at, however we think that living on a steep mountain will definitely have its ups and downs. Stairs aren’t Kimberly’s favourite and she mostly prefers flat hills! We plan to design our centre and gardens so that it is accessible by the elderly, disabled and is safe for children so our search for land continues.
Please keep an eye out for my next blog on wild foraging for greens and our next stint of volunteering at Portugal Yurt Retreats.
Awakened Life Project Website: http://awakenedlifeproject.org/