Heart Lessons From an Eco-Village

By Natalia Zanfardino

August 2013: I made the most impulsive decision of my life thus far – to move to The Emerald Village with the intent of gaining practical knowledge of what it takes to build and maintain an eco-village. This move, though feeling premature at the time, was going to be the first step in formulating my long-term goal of developing an urban arts community.

“No big deal. I’ve got this!”, I told myself, being ever so sure of my success.

I had volunteered locally and overseas in many communities. I was adventurous and social. Twelve years of LA life taught me how to put on a golden smile and shake all the right hands for optimal advancement. I built my identity on a fun career and financial stability. Activism and leadership roles gave me a false sense of pride and purpose. Everything I did up until that point was predictable, familiar and, if I were totally honest with myself, lacking in genuine compassion for humanity as whole. The world was something to be conquered, a battle to be fought, a game to be won. Constant distractions made it easy for me to ignore the fact that I was incredibly lonely behind my safe walls of illusion.

The lack of peace I felt internally is what I projected onto the world around me. Nothing was safe. No one could be trusted. The decision to move to an eco-village was just another stride towards further business advancement under the guise of doing something worthwhile for humanity; a calculated chess game that I could win and use as a shiny trophy on my wall of success.  My heart’s deep knowing, however, overruled all practical reasons for wanting to be there. My soul was craving real connection, genuine love, authenticity, a chance to break free from the confines of my own mind, and return to the wild, earthly roots from which I originated. It was a soul-retrieval, a return to Source, to Spirit, to the Divine.

So, upon discovering this magical place, I quickly packed up over a decade of accumulated history and skipped joyfully towards this newfound adventure. Almost immediately upon arrival I sunk into a state of deep despair, fear and anxiety.  I had spent years building a pretty, edible garden atop a pile of neglected wounds that had been left to rust and rot. The lies I had been telling myself were beginning to surface. I’d developed an internal environment that was inhospitable to myself, much less anyone else. A bio-remediation of my soil was sorely needed in order to begin the process of developing a healthy and sustainable internal landscape.

Initially, I had no words to communicate the depth of raw, primal emotion I was feeling; so, I gave the intensity of my sadness and rage to the land. In the depths of despair, the Earth held me without judgment and comforted me through the growing pains of discovering who I was without all the fluff. I did not recognize myself anymore and it was terrifying. Doing, working, putting on a happy face to gain love and approval was no longer the way to play this game. The rules had changed and I was ill-informed.

Questions arose that forced me to look deeply at the reasons I was there: Am I worthy of unconditional love? Am I worthy of receiving when there is nothing left to give? What do I have to offer when all I that’s left is me? Who am I behind these masks I choose to wear?

Slowly, through the Spirit of the land, the overwhelming acceptance of my community members and the unconditional love of the seven children on the property, I regained a sense of dignity and purpose in life. It was no longer about me, but the value of the whole and how we all play an intricate part in each others’  growth and development.

Each person became a vivid reflection, an opportunity to explore what it means to be both human and divine in nature. I recognized the value of the beginners mind and the beauty of remaining both a humble student and a confident teacher. I learned what it means to keep showing up even when I fumbled through the basic steps. I learned the need for true presence in even the most menial tasks.

Through the example set out by the powerful men and women mentors at EVO, I learned to view my passions, my body, my mind, my spirit as gifts that were necessary to the colorful canvas of life. I learned what it means to truly support and celebrate each others growth instead of competing. I Learned to view life from a place of abundance instead of scarcity. I began to really see people as the beautiful beings that they are and understood what genuine compassion felt like. I learned to dive into playfulness and relax into the serenity of the moments. I learned the beauty of vulnerability and how to receive. I learned that my strength came primarily from giving more than I thought possible. I learned that my voice has real power that can either heal or harm. By keen observation, I began to redefine and love the balanced state of masculinity and femininity in all its forms. I began living again.

Slowly but surely I started stepping fully into my rightful place in society, believing I deserved to here because I had much to contribute. I started trusting in the love of others and dropping my judgments because I truly began to love myself. The pursuits and passions of my youth that I had let stagnate returned in full glory; this time with the wisdom and experience to keep me balanced in the direction I was now heading.

The gratitude I have for everyone at The Emerald Village for offering me the opportunity to heal is so immense and beyond what words can define. It is in this community that I finally understood what real family means. It is here that I began to take personal responsibility for my role in the healing of the planet at large. It is here that I reconnected to God, to Goddess, to Spirit, to Source, to the Divine – to Myself. It is here that I discovered the unbreakable, universal love that has always been. For this I am eternally grateful.