James McCullum '15

James McCullum is a Geology major from Hallowell, Me. He used his Johnson Opportunity Grant to study yoga, meditation and permaculture in Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States.


Thanks to the Johnson Opportunity Grant, I spent this summer studying yoga, meditation and permaculture in Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States. It was an opportunity to explore my self, my environment and the world. I discovered yoga and meditation are indispensable tools for me. Permaculture proves that it is possible, through appropriate design, to live both as an individual and as a society in a way that provides for everyone's needs while sustaining the resources of our planet.

I started my journey in Malaysia, where I lived with a yogic monk for ten days. He taught me how to clear my mind of distractions and how to concentrate faster during meditation. The monk, Dada Manevendranandaji, spent years studying meditation in India because he wanted to understand how meditation actually works to expand consciousness. Dada made sure I understood exactly how the mind works, how meditation works, and how to use meditation to bring the mind to an elevated experience. Though we can understand meditation intellectually, it takes continual practice and dedication to experience the subtleties of transformation.

After Malaysia I went to Taiwan, where I lived in an ecological village that implemented permaculture principles in its design. I stayed busy by maintaining the community center, planting young fruit trees and exploring the region.

I spent the remainder of my summer back in the United States--first in Urbana, Ill., and then in Moretown, Vt. In Illinois, I spent six weeks training with a different yogic monk, Dada Vedaprajinanandaji, and another student. Dada taught me how to live a complete yogic lifestyle, fully immersing me in the experience of monastic life. The daily schedule was fixed; Dada would wake me up at 4:45am for the first meditation of the day, and we would finish our last meditation around 10pm. I had classes in the morning and afternoon, though I often spent one of those sessions working outside in the garden or around the house. He taught yogic philosophy and practices, progressive utilization theory, yogic psychology and history. Every weekend I went to the Urbana Farmers' Market to play music for a few hours. I was able to venture deep within my mind because the training was so structured, yet flowed easily.

I finished the summer in Vermont, where I took a permaculture design certificate course. I relearned about the endless possibilities for changing the dominant paradigm of depletion and scarcity into one of regeneration and abundance. The first day I was there, world-renowned permaculturist Geoff Lawton gave a general overview of permaculture and what it has to offer. It was a special surprise to meet the man who has dedicated his life to spreading permaculture across the globe to improve the lives of people everywhere. Each morning the group started with small skill shares that ranged from acorn processing to design ideas to livestock care. Then we moved into the "classroom," which was one of the instructors' five-acre homestead, abundant with examples of design successes and struggles, and ideas as to what could have worked better. There we started learning the basics of observing nature, reading the landscape and understanding some of the interconnected relationships among the various necessities of life. For example, at the homestead they had a pond just outside their front door which reflected the low winter sun right into the house for heat and light, and it also provided lots of fresh, easy access to water for the gardens around the house.

Towards the middle of the week, we began to learn how to put the pieces together on a variety of different environments and landscapes. As our final project, I was put into a small group with five other students to create a functional permaculture design for a 150-acre piece of land in central Vermont. It was a wonderful opportunity to put all that I learned into a real design plan. I also learned a lot by listening to my group members and their ideas, visions and observations of the land.