Lessons from Permaculture and Herbalism in Guatemala

Permaculture is arising for me like a flower through the cracks in a sidewalk. the concrete is my conditioned beliefs about right/wrong, good/bad; it’s my stigmas and prejudices about myself, my peers and my planet; it’s my life-long indoctrination as a member of a colonized-capitalistic- patriarchal culture. The flower is my rewilding; my stubborn, persistent, natural desire to reach, to grow, to grasp for air, water and light. the flower is my color, my scent, my organic, evolving nature. She is my essence and my reflection of everything in the natural world.

Deeper than the prescription of herbs and nature walks, is the necessity of an adaptation of ecological thinking. WWND. What would nature do? If we could suspend our identification with our calcified beliefs; if we could hear the consciousness of the flower, what would she say? If we acted less like conditioned humans and more like nature, how would we live differently?

Permaculture is not about gardening. It’s an orientation and a path of unfolding; it’s a methodology of how we observe, imagine and execute future that is sustainable for all beings. It’s a strategy for creating enough “enoughness” for everyone- physically, mentally, spiritually, financially- so that we can reduce scarcity, exploitation, violence and destruction.

What i’m realizing is that i’ve always been a permaculturist, I’ve just never had a name for it. I am holistic. I am regenerative. I believe in multi-dimensional wellbeing. I recognize that personal, collective and planetary wellbeing are undeniably intertwined. i value integration and diversity. I value intergenerational wisdom and Gaia intelligence.

I learn just as much from my teachers as I do from children, and elders and the ocean and the mountains. I am committed to wholeness, resilience and empowerment. I seek continual growth and development. I feel deeply connected to our global community and deeply concerned about our future.

Does this paradigm resonate with you? Can you feel the cracks in your old ideas and sensibilities? Are you feeling some connection or communication with your inner-wild? What would it be like if you surrendered to this? How would you change? Who would you become?

Lake Atitlan

I’m surrounded by breathtaking beauty — misty volcanic mountains, glassy blue water, fragrant flowers, cobblestone roads, countless colorful textiles. The native women balance baskets of fruit on their heads. The indigenous men carry stones and lumber on their backs. There are skinny stray dogs and cats catching mice. There are butterflies attached at the hip and surround-sound fireworks for no reason at all. It rains a lot, drumming on the tin roof and tumbling down the river where the young girls wash the family laundry.

There is a preciousness of impermanence that makes me weepy when I look around. If I were a dozen years younger, like most of my cohort in this permaculture-herbalism course, I would be mesmerized by the novelty of Guatemala. I would be giddy with gossip about the cute boys on the dance floor and the beaded bracelets that I bought in the market. I used to be that girl. I used to be so distracted by the awe of a foreign place, that I didn’t hear the deeper voice of the land, I wasn’t aware of how quickly things could change, of how fast my life and the lives of everyone around me were evaporating.

I’m obsessed with the equanimity of the natural world, of her indifference to craters becoming lakes, lava becoming land, everything moving, consuming, and transforming into something else. I’m humbled by her history — 4 billion years older than me — of all that she has been through; of her indifference about moving towards a future that is guaranteed to return her to the dust from which she came. I ache to know that she is in her middle-age, just like me, and in another 4 billion years, her light will go out and she will be alchemized into some celestial energy like the rest of us.

And in the short time that I get to spend with her, in this blip on the cosmic timeline, what can I possibly do to carry forward the lessons of the past into the promise of the future? How can I prepare to be a worthy ancestor to the ones who come after me? How can I take her whispers and her wisdom and make something new in the world that changes hearts and minds? How can the expression of my love for her ever hold a candle to her misty volcanic mountains, her glassy blue water, her fragrant flowers, her fluttering butterflies and tumbling rivers?

I feel something rising up from my belly into my heart. I hear a voice in my head: “I want to make her proud.” Ah, there it is. I think she believes in me. I think she speaks to me. I think she is sending me plants and people and provocation to reach beyond everything that has been familiar and comfortable and become something new. This re-wilding. This unwinding. This unlearning, relearning, and regeneration. I want to reorient myself to live in attunement with her and to create from a place of alignment with her. No longer separate. But one unbroken feeling of connectedness and resonating response.

One drop of water returning, merging into her great Lake Atitlan.

Plants are People Too

  1. Both human cells and plant cells contain six identical organelles including cell membranes, mitochondria and the nucleus

2. Both plants and humans have cellular respiration

3. Both humans and plants have highly developed immune systems. plants have a similar response to bacterial infections as humans

4. The way humans and plants absorb food is similar — the human intestine and fertile soil both contain bacteria and fungi which help them to be healthy by killing harmful bacteria and breaking down substances to provide food

5. Plants can detect and respond to human actions and thoughts

6. More than 40% of all pharmaceuticals in use in the USA today are derived from plants

7. The earth has more than 80,000 species of edible plants

8. 70,000 plant species are utilized for medicine

9. The written study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years

10. Herbs are mentioned in Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible

11. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, elimination of toxins, prevention of disease, and are rich in nutrients that fight illness and disease

12. Gardening reduces stress, improves mood, and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety

13. Only 1% of rainforest plants have been studied for medicinal potential

14. 80 percent of the Earth’s original forests have been cleared or destroyed

15. Just 10 percent of the world’s plant-rich areas are protected

16. 68% of plants are in danger of going extinct


1. Mushrooms have the same respiration as humans — inhaling oxygen, exhaling carbon dioxide

2. It was illegal to eat Reishi because it was the emperor’s privilege to eat them for “eternal life”

3. When you pick a mushroom and carry it thru the forest, it spreads spoors like fairy dust and you are the mushroom fairy

4. Mushrooms are non-binary and have 100s of genders

5. There are 300 medicinal properties in a single Reishi mushroom

6. “Magic Mushrooms” (psilocybin) are effective for treating trauma and mental illness

7. Some mushrooms are bioluminescent

8. Some mushroom fanatics think that mushrooms are domesticating us not the other way around- we are the ones living in the house and they have all of nature to themselves

9. More than 80% of the earth under your feet is mycelium

10. Mushrooms spores can survive the vacuum and radiation of space

Fire Ceremony

Fire is a living, breathing organism that is essential in the web of life. The Mayan fire ceremony enlivens one’s sense of Mayan cosmology, the Mayan Cross and enables the embodiment of all 260 nawales. The intentions and prayers that are infused into the candles, copal and other offerings seep into the souls of all who participate. All of this unlocks the cosmic code and the divine messages found within.

i spoke to the fire today

or maybe i should say that she spoke to me

i attended a sacred ceremony

fire burning bright

in the center of the circle

opening prayers

opening a portal

the medicine man gave us candles

the medicine woman made the call

dear fire spirits, we are gathered here today to ask you for your blessing. dear fire spirits, we are gathered here today to give you our gratitude.

dear fire spirits, we are gathered here today to ask you to show us the way

tears falling from my face

my face falling in my lap

the portal expanded

the medicine man poured potions around the fire

i felt the fluid flow into my crown and down my spine

the medicine man blew smoke into our foreheads

i felt fireworks in my gut, in my nerves, in my soul

the woman conversed with the fire

the fire approves of you, she said, the fire knows that you are here to do good things, the fire says you have gifts to share

i want to hear you, i said to the fire, speak to me, i said to the fire

let it go

let it go

let it go

she said

forgive yourself

practice forgiveness

keep listening

keep speaking to me

melting energizing crying merging burning weeping falling receiving

you have to receive

i wanted run out of the room

i wanted to stop hearing the things i wanted to hear

i wanted to stay

i wanted to burn through to the bliss

a single beam of light through a crack in the temple

such aliveness

such loudness of light




this is the way to go, she said, just follow the light, she said

you are loved

heart opening, shedding condemnation

worthiness flooding my chest

i am worthy

i am guided

i am loved

i hear you

i spoke to the fire today

or maybe i should say that she spoke to me

Giving Back

Did you know….

Half the population of Guatemala lives below the poverty line

Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world

Guatemala is one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be a woman — at least 160 women have been killed in the first four months of 2021 — more than one per day

I’ve been buried in research for the past 2 weeks about the culture of Guatemala, the social justice permaculture principles, the fair trade industry, and the development of a local non-profit organization called Wellkind

Today we presented an extensive plan about how to develop a DREAM: a safe, beautiful and regenerative space for women, where they can learn, work, and increase their safety and sovereignty in Tzununa, Lake Atitlan.

I shed a lot of tears during this project. i felt rage, despair, frustration and finally fulfillment. when i presented this morning, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

More than ever, I am aware that:

No one is coming to save us

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for

We need to create the change we wish to see

If you feel me, consider making a donation to https://www.wellkind.org




Designing a future where all beings can be healthy and happy. Gabriellepelicci.com

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GabriellePelicci PhD

GabriellePelicci PhD

Designing a future where all beings can be healthy and happy. Gabriellepelicci.com

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