Awakin Calls » James Stark
James Stark: Permaculturist, ecologist, educator
James Stark, M.A., F.E.S., has committed his life to exploring how we – our selves, our communities, and our species -- might move into greater harmony with who we are and reignite a deep connection with the rest of the natural world. Stark is the co-director of the Regenerative Design Institute (RDI) at Commonweal and co-founder and co-director of the Ecology of Leadership and the Ecology of Awakening programs, which prepare community leaders for what some are describing as the “Great Turning” of our era: an invitation to face the destructive nature of our modern way of life and urgent need to transition into living in harmony with and support of our Earth home. The Commonweal Garden is a 17-acre site in Bolinas, California which has been developed into a large-scale See full.
James Stark, M.A., F.E.S., has committed his life to exploring how we – our selves, our communities, and our species -- might move into greater harmony with who we are and reignite a deep connection with the rest of the natural world. Stark is the co-director of the Regenerative Design Institute (RDI) at Commonweal and co-founder and co-director of the Ecology of Leadership and the Ecology of Awakening programs, which prepare community leaders for what some are describing as the “Great Turning” of our era: an invitation to face the destructive nature of our modern way of life and urgent need to transition into living in harmony with and support of our Earth home.
The Commonweal Garden is a 17-acre site in Bolinas, California which has been developed into a large-scale living permaculture classroom and demonstration center for regenerative design. In 2003, James and his partner Penny Livingston Stark became the caretakers of the Commonweal Garden, bringing to bear their combined expertise in landscaping, permaculture design, and nature awareness and permaculture education.
As a nonprofit educational organization, Stark’s RDI embodies the vision that all people can live in a mutually enhancing relationship with the earth. "We envision a world in which people, inspired by nature, create and maintain healthy and abundant livelihoods that enhance fertility and biodiversity on the planet. We envision humans as a positive, healing presence on Earth, creating more abundance on the planet than would be possible without them." RDI’s mission is to revolutionize the way humans relate to the natural world, and through programs and courses, to teach the skills and technology people need to become community leaders and create healthy solutions to the current environmental crisis. James considers the programs and the garden at RDI to be a nursery for growing visions of the new era by providing the skills and tools to bring those visions to life.
As a young boy growing up on a sheep and cattle farm in Canada, James was transformed after reading Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring, and from that moment on, knew that he wanted to devote his life to changing the way we relate to the environment around us. At the start of his educational journey, James was drawn to exploring how to cultivate vitality in all areas of one’s life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. After adopting practices of yoga and meditation in his twenties, he came to understand that creating a loving, peaceful inner ecology provides the soil for the seeds of our visions to grow in the world and leads to a fully expressed life lived from the heart.
Following the completion of his master's degree in Regenerative Development, James spent a number of years working in Southeast Asia, addressing and attempting to alleviate the profound environmental, social, and spiritual challenges arising from tourism being used by countries as a development strategy.
Upon moving to California in 1990, he began to co-found a number of organizations in response to the same challenges that were developing in his new Marin County home, including West Marin Growers Group (WMGG), created to ensure food security in Marin County; Waste Free Now, committed to West Marin becoming waste-free and host of the innovative annual Recycle Circus including a "Stuff Exchange" for people to redistribute community resources; KWMR "Watershed Radio," a licensed not-for-profit community radio station providing a voice for West Marin residents that is heard around the world live through web casting; and CLAM -- Community Land Trust Association of Marin, an affordable ecological housing land charitable trust created to provide affordable housing in the face of increasing gentrification.
It was through the development of these organizations that James was able to help weave together the spirit and resilience of the West Marin Communities, and began to sharpen his interest in learning how to assist community leaders in cultivating a resilient inner space to enhance their work in the world.
As part of that inquiry, he earned a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica to better to support the next generation of change agents in leading from the inside out and sourcing their lives from a deep nature connection. James continues this work through the Ecology of Leadership programs he co-founded and through the Art of Vitality, a program he co-directs with Anna O'Malley, MD, director of Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine, that weaves self-healing concepts and practices with experiential learning about food as medicine, mind-body medicine, and body-ecological permaculture.
Last summer, leaving the Commonweal Garden in the hands of Anna O’Malley, James and Penny moved the Regenerative Design Institute to its new home on Whidbey Island, WA where James continues his local, national, and global work.
Join us in conversation with this deeply nature-aligned and transformational leader and educator!
Five Questions for James
What Makes You Come Alive?
Three things come to mind when I consider this question. Firstly, sitting in the Zendo at the Ithaca Zen Center, where I have gone for two weeks over the last 16 years. Having those moments of pure awareness occasionally pierced by the flute-like song of a thrush coming from the surrounding hardwood forest.I feel my heart most alive while facilitating healing circles of courageous beings coming together to tend their inner gardens, composting old patterns that no longer serve and experiencing the joy of feeling each of their new longings to express their gifts in service in the world and manifesting those dreams.And finally, dipping my paddle into the glassy surface of a still lake and listening to the water lap against the hull of my boat and tuning into the calling of the loons in the mist.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
An ecology in my life that was transformational was growing up on our family sheep and cattle farm in Canada and in a home where my father was in the midst of an addiction to alcohol. The farm opened up a deep lasting connection to being nature and the boyhood challenges of my father's drinking ignited the calling to my spiritual path. At the same time, as a teenager, my reading of Rachel Carson's book, " Silent Spring" launched my life-long commitment to the "Great Turning" towards human beings living in harmony with his beautiful planet of life.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Wayland Drew, my high school english teacher, inviting me numerous times into his home to dine with his family. It was such a gift to have an adult and teacher reach out to me, a farm kid, and introduce me to his personal passion for literature and nature connection.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
A one year meditation retreat.
One-line Message for the World?
As we move into the possibility of civilization collapse, my prayer is that human beings might find paths towards living from our hearts and in harmony with all life. My message and deep felt longing is that we all embrace love, joy and hope and become be
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