Blogs >> Learning as living: the first residential of the Certificate in Holistic Science and Economics for Transition in Brazil.

Learning as living: the first residential of the Certificate in Holistic Science and Economics for Transition in Brazil.

By Juliana Schneider
Schumacher Co-ordinator Brazil


The pathology of wrong thinking in which we all live can only in the end be corrected by an enormous discovery of those relationships which make up the beauty of nature.”  Gregory Bateson

It is 1980s and a one-century-old coffee monoculture site in the southern area of Brazil becomes a clay quarry until the land becomes so destroyed that ten years later its owners hear its call for rest and regeneration. Left to recover and later with many conservation efforts, the 113 hectares farm becomes a nature reserve and since then, in 2001, a place where people meet for artistic explorations, without division between art and nature. Now it receives the group of 17 people who have embarked on a learning journey – the Certificate in Holistic Science and Economics for Transition in Brazil.

As the small group of teachers and facilitators begin to prepare for the first residential of the Certificate in May, we ask ourselves what would be a beginning that does justice to all the nuances of our coming together. 17 participants, each with their own stories will meet for a learning journey in this beautiful place, which has its own history. In the background, geographically distant but nevertheless very present, is the story of Schumacher College, Satish Kumar’s journey, and even that of Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, in whose steps we tread as we move onwards to shape Schumacher inspired education in Brazil.

We cannot trace all these threads and the interweaving of many lives – to try would certainly drive us mad. And yet… those of us initiating the Certificate wonder what it would be like to feel these threads?  

As we reflected on this together, a way of starting began to appear. We decided to place extracts from the stories we had read all around the farm in places that appealed to us intuitively. (We drew on books by Satish, Anne Phillips’ account of Schumacher College, pictures and stories of the farm and so on). Pictures of the Farm from its beginning revealed the effects of time and its dynamicity. Ways of thinking in quotes from Goethe, Bateson, Satish and the Brazilian poet Manoel de Barros articulated the obvious (but sometimes invisible) connections and relationships of the grass and the cactuses, the primrose and the orchid, the butterflies and the river.

Small envelopes contained little invitations to the reader to share aspects of their own story. ‘What is my story in the light of these others?’ ‘What speaks in me as I read Satish’s telling of his long miles of walking, and of Dorothy and Leonard first setting up Dartington?’ And so people left trails of themselves along the paths for others who followed on and were touched to write more. In this way the terrain changed as we moved through it.

When our participants arrived for the start of the Certificate, all this richness unfolded from a simple invitation, which was for each of them to walk for three hours through a landscape, with no map except their own attentiveness to what they would catch themselves called to. No watch or phone or camera with them. A few participants said later that the idea of going each on their own, without a defined aim was a huge struggle, until at the end - when the bell signalled the return - they experienced resistance to go back as if their bodies then wanted to stay for longer on that pilgrimage. Surrendering into the spaciousness of encounters takes time but once it happens, then time becomes of a different nature.

Of course as we gathered in the afternoon to weave the stories together, we realise that we’ve all had very different experiences and we didn’t all respond to the same invitations, nor did we read the same texts – poems, stories, quotes, envelopes - available throughout the land. Our terrain was as diverse as the wilderness growing on the land beside us. Thus, as we began this learning journey together we were not starting in any homogeneous way, not pretending that this was even a possibility in the real world of embodied experience.  Instead we began with the uniqueness and mystery that life holds. In doing this we felt that our education programme escaped the boundaries held by ‘the organizers’ and began a life of its own.  

One of the participants, whilst sharing her experience, said she wanted to thank us for the exercise we had so carefully prepared for them. This immediately provoked a smile in each of us who were involved; a mutual recognition of having, very far from created an exercise, truly accepted an invitation just as the participants did as they walked for those three hours responding to the land with no map, step after step, in the midst of ambiguity – so had we! We didn’t create the experience in the sense of a whole that was already complete in itself, but rather as something that was not fully known to us.

On my last visit to Schumacher College, in February this year, I had the chance of reading one of the minutes’ from a 1920 Dartington meeting discussing the vision for the schools, and one sentence stayed with me: “We agree that academia has become separate from life and we believe in an education that does not create such division”. The way of educating at Schumacher has touched many people over the past 25 years and I strongly believe this ‘non-separation’, which I am trying to articulate here, lies at its core. At the end of the day, it is experience that transforms us. It is the ground we walk and its many textures that become part of who we are.

We don’t really know what has happened on this first meeting of the Certificate, only that it felt meaningful. And we’ll go on, into our next residential, with none of us exactly the same and with curiosity to inquire together as life continues to flow.