Ahimsa. Gandhi’s rallying cry: “non-violence,” or “do no harm.”
Typically, people associate ahimsa with how we interact with our fellow man. However, ahimsa goes deeper. Practice ahimsa with oneself, all other living beings, and our environment.
Hence, traditionally, those that honor the yamas and niyamas are vegetarian, with respect for our planet. Two of the other yamas, asteya and aparigraha, affect our environment. Waste Not. Want Not. Nothing more. First, relinquish attachment and materialism. Then, don’t crave what you do not need. If we all honored those rules, overconsumption would be kept in check. The Universe can provide, if we don’t take what we don’t need.
Take a look at any major construction or remodeling site in the States. Contractors over purchase to allow for error. What’s more, they don’t usually recycle excess materials or scrap. We live in a throw-away society. Just as we don’t see a cow being transformed into hamburger meat. Nor, do we see tons of garbage stuffed into landfills. So, most don’t care. They feed the alarming cycle.
“It’s negligence. Irresponsible. Unconscious.” Those are the words of Muffa, as he describes the waste in the United States. “It’s the American Dream. To live beyond your means. In developing countries, everything is used. Dumpster diving is a profession,” Muffa says about the difference between his birth country, the U.S., and Nicaragua, where he now lives.
In Latin America, barefooted young children scour the towering expanses of garbage dumps. It’s a form of recycling, but it’s hazardous to their health.
For the last two months, I’ve been living on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. Population: 16,000. Despite the tendency to “waste not,” there is a sprawling dump on the outskirts of town. Sad marks of our “advancing” society.
Fortunately, there is a movement to make a difference. Costa Rica, long ago, planted its stake in eco-tourism. Almost one-third of the land is protected. There are many sustainable living communities and eco-lodges. Nicaragua is following suit.
This is why I’m here. I’m part of Muffa’s eco-community. Like me, Muffa is from Chicago and studied at the University of Illinois. He had a high-powered corporate gig in the financial industry. His job was “soul-sucking. It felt evil.”
So he chucked it.
“I began as a volunteer on eco-lodges and permaculture farms in Central America, and worked my way around the world helping build sustainable and regenerative projects in Australia, Philippines, Chicago, and Peru,” he says.
Muffa made a leap of faith. The stars aligned, and he found 80 acres of overgrazed cattle field. He converted it Rancho Regeneración to counteract the overflowing landfills. His community is based on the concept that nature knows best. “Having a net-zero impact is not enough to heal all the damage we have caused. We all need to be creating a net positive impact on the environment, the local community, and the economy. Our work is guided by design inspired by nature. Nature has 4.6 trillion years of research and development.”
Shortly after he began working, solo, on Rancho Regeneración, he purchased a hostel, Casa Oro, and guest homes in San Juan del Sur. An ever-growing circle of sustainability. He tries to educate the guests and has taken them to visit or work the ranch. Furthermore, his properties collect organic waste for composting. Plus, left-over building materials head to the ranch. The goal is to convert garbage into treasures. Windows. Flower beds. Mulch. “Eco bricks” made out of plastic soda bottles filled with inorganic waste.
While he left the stress-filled financial industry behind, he has self-induced pressures now. “I feel so much urgency to share this with the world … share beautiful things. I have this tremendous responsibility.”
Now, as an ambassador for sustainability in San Juan del Sur, Muffa has coordinated Sunday community clean-ups with kids and local businesses. “It’s been a constant thing. Wherever it looks dirty, we pick up stuff. Instead of putting it to the basurero, we bring it here. We’ll figure something out (how to use everything.) There’s absolutely no need to put anything in the dump,” emphasizes Muffa.
Rancho Regeneración was a mono-crop, so it needs replenishing.
So, after researching many formulas, Muffa and one of his key “circulo” leaders, Fiorella, chose a hot compost system that takes 18 days to convert carbon to nitrogen. They use no worms or manure.
“It’s like a lasagna,” explains Fiorella who has an advanced degree in natural resources. “It gets up to 150 degrees and we turn it every other day — giving air to light the fire.”
“It was really a great accomplishment,” says Muffa about their first compost system. “I was crying. Compost is the beginning and the end of everything.”
First, the planted tiny aloe shoots. In the future, Muffa wants the ranch to produce food for his hostel.
Casa Oro, he hopes, will be the best hostel in Nicaragua. Maybe the world. It’s a shining example of creative re-use. The lobby has dozens of lights hanging from the ceiling, and a candelabra. Moreover, all the bulbs are strung inside glass bottles of different colors and shapes. Plus, the candelabra base is a piece of precious driftwood they found on the beach.
First of all, when it comes from the ocean, it’s concentrated with salt, Muffa explains. As a result, it’s termite-proof, in a climate in which these buggers thrive. In addition to the up-cycled light fixtures, the hostel’s cafe bar and reception table are created out of old bottles inserted into a concrete form. Additionally, they mastered that technique after creating a window out of empty glass bottles for the ranch’s classroom/storage facility.
Next, smaller branches create 3-D sculptures around concrete posts. Furthermore, adding color are 50 hand-painted pallet-based chairs.
“When we’re traveling, our hearts and minds are more open to foreign experiences than when we are at home. When we learn from experiences, the lessons go deeper and become more ingrained into our personalities. The space acts as a platform to create experiences where people come to better understand regeneration. We must clearly demonstrate and define what we think ‘eco’ means.”
Consequently, Muffa doesn’t even want trash cans on his properties. “If you have no options, what are you going to do?” So, why not fill an eco-brick. Contribute to the compost bin. Most importantly, honor the planet. Thus, Ahimsa.