Learn, Re-learn, Unlearn

Creating the person you want to be requires a set of skills or learning, relearning and unlearning. Nobody has all of the answers so we seek out ways to find solutions to the problems we face, learning what the world has to offer. As time progresses, we find that we can improve on the model through mindful observation and relearning the finer details of what we’re pursuing. Inevitably, a new model finds its way into the mix and requires a new way of seeing the world and unlearning it all to learn and relearn everything all over again.

The scribe is the perfect example. Knowledge and information was isolated to a singular group of people who could afford books and have the luxury to learn how to read and or write. In time, the Gutenberg press changed that paradigm, then the telephone, and the telegraph, radio, television, and today the world wide web. Scribes are everyone on facebook, their blog, tweeting, and participating in this grand sharing of information that was once a selective luxury.

The choice now is whether you put what you’re learning to good use, relearning it all to make it better, and unlearning antiquated ideas and methods to create new paradigms.

End Planning First


or begin in the middle (en media res). It really depends on the story you’re creating for yourself, but they both work well to get you to your desired destination. Here’s a few reasons and steps to plan your life starting at the end.

The Unknown Conclusion of Beginnings
Starting from the beginning in any endeavor is a difficult task. There is no sense of direction taking your journey anywhere. This could be a desired to discover a new potential, find another path, or to recognize new tools. However, without a clear idea in mind getting to a desired state is often lost looking at your next step instead of seeing the paths in front of you. Rather than start without a destination in mind, figure out where you want to go. Then take a step.

imagesStarting at the End
Planning a food forest, a garden, or a meal starts with the end product in mind. We create the image of the ideal before we begin to create. For processes we are familiar with, we go through the motions without much conscious thought. To achieve great feats, such as terraforming a landscape, a logical plan helps to outline goals before the desired outcome. A thoughtful way to approach the task of planning is to go through the processes of dissection, selection, sequencing, and stakes once the end goal is in sight.

Use the acronym to help you acquire those four steps, Dissection, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes. I learned it reading The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferris. I highly recommend it. His life is surrounded in meta-learning, creating conscious methods to put information into action while becoming the best at it (top 5% in any discipline, cooking, running, etc). Onward!

Dissection is taking apart the product you wish to create. It’s finding out what are the lego pieces to the puzzle you are about to build. To build a garden, the main components can be taken apart into Time, Soil and Plants.

Selection is picking the pieces that are the most important. Most of the time, we focus on detailed information that doesn’t bring us to any outcome. It starts with discussion and ends with murmurs of words once spoken instead of actions gaining momentum. In the art of gardening, Timing is crucial to determine what process you should be working on first as well as when and what plants to be planting during that time of year. Planting watermelons in Winter got Farmer Chow bad results while learning an important lesson of the seasons. Soil is the shelter and home of plants. It provides everything the plant needs to survive and thrive. Finally, the plants are a product of good timing and great living soil.

From here, we can Sequence our timing to build soil during off seasons and plant appropriately during the growing seasons. Setting up this path will ensure decent results and as long as we continue on the journey of learning and gardening, we can expect better production and quality as the soil continues to be built and our timing is synched with nature.

Stakes. This is the kicker. It gets you to get started whether you succeed, fail, or go nowhere. Placing a bet with a family member, getting feedback from friends, donating to a charity you hate or dislike, it needs to get you motivated to try. When something is at stake, it motivates us to work and succeed at keeping it.

From here, the journey is yours to create. Get lost while you’re at it and find your way back to the legacy you want to leave behind.

“ Would you tell me please which way I go from here?”
“ That depends on where you want to get to”, said the Cat.
“ I don’t much care where…”, said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”, said the Cat.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Slow and Small Solutions in a Fast Paced World

One Week in Chow’s Life

It’s Monday morning, and there are plenty of things to accomplish during the week at work. Mulch needs to be spread, lessons need to be prepared, materials arranged for the lessons, plants watered, meetings to attend, and everything else that pops up in life. It’s becomes easy to get stressed and overwhelmed just thinking of the daunting tasks in one single day.

On the other side of the coin, big dreams and ambitions are lofty and somehow seem more attainable than all the small things that occur in the daily and weekly commotion. Leaving a suburban area to live on a farm out in the middle of no where, building community living centers, creating large aquaponics systems, and growing a food forest overnight.

The problem for me arises when the big dream is automatically pursued without conscientiously thinking about the tasks and steps to reach it. It’s the drive for the instant gratification of reaching the goal and the ignorance that makes it attractive. In a short amount of time, all of the small tasks begin to accumulate and overwhelm me and burn out my passion, energy, and time.

The issue percolates to other realms in society and not just in my own life. The pattern is emergent within teaching, parenting, and in all people who desire to live a better life and in a better world. The truth then lies in the details that connect these disciplines together.

Non-Cognitive Skills
It was about a month ago that I heard the episode of This American Life on Back to School. The episode focused on the concepts and ideas that should be taught in school and at home to ensure future success. The show begins with an economist, James Heckman, who took the task of looking at GED and high school graduates. The initial drive was from the idea that people who obtained a GED saved enormous amounts of time, energy and money.

Heckman began to question though whether the GED graduates were as successful in life as the high school graduates. In a long term study across the board, high school graduates had better paying jobs, were married for longer periods of time, had less divorces, were better in the military, and the GEDs virtually dropped out of everything they started.

This raises the next question, what is it that divides GED students from high school graduates. The test the GED graduates take is supposed to challenge people on the same level as people in high school. The answer is a very elusive one, non-cognitive skills. Heckman defines it as character, social skills, conduct, and skills that are empiracly difficult to measure.

The study continues for another 10 years, and the economist begin to isolate the non-cognitive skills that are the most significant. One that was found to be highly significant is self-control. In the late 1960s, a group of scientist observed children resisting the urge to eat a sweet treat in the present moment, enter the marshmallow test. The child would be sitting down and offered a cookie if they ringed a small bell on a table; however, if they waited 10 minutes to ring the bell, they would receive two cookies. It was literal torture for these children to wait, to delay satisfaction. In the long term though, the scientists tracked these peoples’ lives and continued to study how they would respond to temptations and life, and discovered more than what they intended. The children who were able to resist eating the sweet treat for longer periods of time succeeded far beyond others in stressful situations, maintaining friendships, and simply paying attention.

As an adult now, the significance of learning this one tool is astronomical. As the years go on, the responsibility becomes larger. We are responsible for children learning self-control, are dealt a bigger role in society with access to tools, knowledge, and the future of this planet, and yet many of us have not mastered or even thought about the idea of mastering ourselves.

The trick is to make self-control a habit.

“Keep Your Goals to Yourself”
We’ll move away from self-control for a moment and move our attention to goals in general. Every new year, people create new years resolutions and strive to accomplish that task. The problem arises when people taut about their resolutions and share it with everyone that they talk to. In the end, they feel great from sharing and letting people know while getting positive feedback from their peers.

The issue arises in the mind. Derek Sivers delivers a great TED talk on the issue of keeping your goals to yourself. By saying and sharing, we trick the mind into thinking the task has been accomplished by substituting the real genuine gratification of doing with one that is replaced by talking. Sivers concludes that we should keep those goals to ourselves or if we are tempted to say it we beat ourselves up with the harsh reality of what it’s going to take to complete it so we get no satisfaction from it.

A Few Tools
Overall, there is a reoccurring pattern in the realm of success and conquering dreams, delaying immediate results through self-regulation and control.

Changing behaviors though can require extra work, energy, and time to create a dedicated effort in manifesting a healthy feedback loop of successful results. There is no one singular method in creating new habits. However, the ones that have stayed with me the longest are slowing down, observing, meditating, and writing.

Slowing down is essential to realize of how much time is available to create our dreams. Rushing to solutions or conclusions often results in more work later on. It’s best to give things some thought beforehand. This vital step is crucial for those that follow.

Observations clue us into whether we are headed in the correct direction on the right assumptions. In a fast paced world, this process is easily blurred from an incorrect realization. For example, those who switch from conventional farming to organic may see horrendous results in the first year and come to a conclusion that organic is worse than using chemical pesticides. Coupled with slowing down, the observation may be deduced to a depletion of soil fertility and erosion.

Meditation for me is a method to clear the mind of the ambient noise and clutter from the day. It’s a moment that allows the mind to guide your thoughts, actions, and words.

Finally, writing, drawing, or blogging catalogs your new habits and ideas into a new reality. It tracks the slow progress and shows the mountain that is about to be conquered with hard work and dedication. One my favorite sermons was at Creation Flame, the Church of Awesome which was based on the epic journey. It’s not meant to be easy. Every huge feat that was accomplished was done with strife, hardships, and in the end a sense of accomplishment.

In fewer words, without the journey the end is meaningless.
Live with passion.

Life Rubric: Determining Success from a Simple Feedback Loop

I used to often find myself believing that everything I do is for the greatest good. In high school, that train of thought was most likely exemplified to its maximum with the simple idea of, “I know Everything.” There were no feedback loops. It was the greatest point I could be at, no need for correction or reflection.

Unfortunately, a lot of that pompous ideology lingers in the mind and finds itself repeating itself. In gardening, this idea can percolate to the supreme of all garden methods, sustainability. Yet again, the self-affirmation of success persists  instead of a true confirmation from nature.

The question then expands to how do we confirm that the garden is successful in nature’s eyes?

At the Montessori Academy, we’ve been utilizing rubrics to determine and communicate success to our students. This way, the students are aware of what an A+ requires, witness a fair grading system, and is reciprocated for parents and teachers. It also creates a feedback loop where the student can continually monitor their own progress. An example would be a shift from a C to a B with a clear explanation to the delineation of grades.

For myself, a basic rubric can help to determine the success of a garden and in a broader scale my life. It creates a self-check to ensure that I’m accomplishing basic tasks to move onto more creative ones. To sum it up I’ve outlined a few categories that are relevant to a regenerative garden and life: the amount of labor over time, the type of labor, time spent working, time spent relaxing, the taste of the garden and life, and succession.

Chow’s Life Rubric
To create a clear picture of how the rubric works imagine the ideal circumstance for the topics listed. The less ideal can be created as well; I don’t find it necessary though when your aim is to accomplish your goals and desires.

The amount of labor in time should be decreasing. The types of labor should be (more) creative, fun, and less monotonous. The time spent working should be decreasing and time spent relaxing and observing should be increasing. The taste and yield of the garden should be getting better every single year. Finally, the succession of the garden should move to a greater steady state than what it was before, which will be explained in more detail below.

Using the Rubric
I’m sure more categories can be added or even some may be removed. In many ways, the rubric easily permeates to other fields and establishes a better word for the type of work I’m creating for myself. The feedback loop is not just a confirmation from nature with less work, good food, and fun. It’s a confirmation to myself that I’m creating a regenerative holistic lifestyle and not just a life of sustenance or maintenance.

The Reality
The Amount of Work Over Time
In gardening, the amount of labor is first dedicated to building the soil. Although it is a continuous task, once the soil is established the amount of labor for watering, weeding, and pest management is eliminated. Is that possible? No watering, weeding, or pest control in nature? Absolutely, the landscapes that were here before only required nature’s sprinkler system, the rain. At the moment, I only water twice a week or whenever I transplant something. I see it becoming zero irrigation soon. 

Creative and Fun Work
I find myself dedicating more time to propagation, expansion, and research on other topics. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Brassica trees, growing various types of chicken and rabbit fodder, reading about biodynamic farming, and creating videos for e-learning. Life is good.

Relaxing Time
In the downtime, I’ve taught myself to master new ukulele skills, juggle clubs, play with an isolation wand (flow wand) and take a programming course online. I get plenty of vacation time and could go wherever I want to when I want. I need to do travel more often.

The Taste
The tea gardens are producing nicely and expanding. I’m drinking mint-tea everyday, and it’s slowly expanding into lavender, rosemary, lemongrass, and lemonbalm, to name a few. My cooking skills require a bit of improvement. Regardless, everything tastes amazing; lots of watermelons, cantaloupes, and okra. The kale and collards are producing nicely, and everything else is coming soon.

I’ll soon have galanghal to make root beer; it’s in the ginger family.
I’m still foraging like a squirrel. Pecans are in season, and they’re delicious.

All in all, life is good and getting better everyday.
The last category is succession, giving away everything in a better steady state than what it was previously at. In fewer words, succession is the act of passing the baton. I added the other words to ensure that it would be in a better condition than what it was before. To paint a better picture, a steady state can be used to describe the various states of water; solid, liquid, and gas. With the addition or removal of energy, water can shift to a different steady state.

The affirmation of succession is when the current steady state of any substance is changed to another steady state. For example, we turn liquid water into ice and maintain its new steady state as ice. A failure for the same example would be turning water into ice and it reverts back to water.

The same principle can be applied to ecosystems, economics, and on a much broader scale, life. The succession of my life work (at this moment) and passion is to continually share and build it with others.

To reflect on succession, it’s been amazing how much has progressed in the past few years. Life has manifested my dreams into reality with many affirmations of succession, seen and unforeseen.

I can now happily say, “I know nothing.”

The Wood Carver by Chuang Tzu

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
and begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”

– Chuang Tzu
from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton


I just recently had a staff development at East Fort Worth Montessori, and it was interesting to see our administration focus on our personal aspirations and visions in relation to the universal goal of the school.The Wood Carver was one of the poems we read to reflect how we taught in the classroom or lived our lives. It was an enlightening moment that has been reoccurring lately in my life and I felt the need to share.

Before the carver set on his quest to create the bell stand, he first prepared his mind. He ‘guarded his spirit, did not expend it on trifles that were not to the point.’ Further on, he even states he forget about the prince and the court. It reminds me of how I often get caught in the trap of all the demands of the world, my administration, and my peers. Instead, I need to prepare myself for the work I do and remind myself of the single idea of gardening.

Preparing the space for Group Stretching, Meditation, and Community Cultivation

Planting Stuff at Home

With a sense of purpose instilled in his mind, the wood carver looked for a tree and saw the bell stand within it. Those stanzas leaped out at me. When I first arrived at the school, my tasks were many, they were cluttered, and unclear. By taking the time to analyze and observe the landscape, it became clear what had to be done. I could see the garden take its form, and it’s slowly becoming the reality out of the vision.

It’s hard to realize the process at times when we rush ourselves into the action of living life. Having the space for creative development is necessary to see the ‘hidden potential’ in everyday things. Slowing down, being still, and cultivating ourselves creates the living experience which inspires and instills a sense of awe in others and ourselves.

Poi: Playing with Fire

Triquetra                    Photo taken by               Isiac Ramirez

It began in the drug filled years of my teens. A few friends introduced glow sticks and ever since then I became fascinated with dancing with the luminescent objects. Evolution took its tole and eventually we attached ropes to them. At that moment, the beautiful lights became dangerous.

With vague memories of the previous night, I would wake up with bruises all over my body. Apparently, the beautiful display of lights results into self-mutilation the following day and rants from my friends who would tell me I would hit everything around me with spiraling glow sticks. It took me years to learn my lesson.

In 2010, I attended a camping trip with some friends at an event called Art Outside. The idea of dancing with fire was a familiar thing, but I never realized it was the exact same display of art. The major difference was that the artisan in between the flames or glow sticks was calm and collected. They knew exactly where the fire is and how to direct it. If it was me, I would’ve been on fire.

My fascination immediately ignited into a new passion; I had to spin fire.

The light show bonanza is called poi. It originated in New Zealand from the indigenous tribe, the Maori, and that’s as far as I know about the history. Modern poi has taken their traditions and has been used with just about anything. You can use two socks with rice inside, tennis balls on strings, a rock, or whatever your imagination can combine with two ropes and two objects to spin around your body.

After Art Outside, I would spend time everyday with two tube socks and a bag of rice in each of them. The self-mutilation continued for a while and has slowly become a memory of the past. With each day, I would learn new tricks and techniques until I refined my own style. My progress in displaying poi also shifted the mental state of my initial fascination.

The want to spin fire changed into the desire to tame myself. Although the display for the public are spiraling meteors that twirl around your body, the dancer themselves don’t see the same display. The heat is more present to us than the show. To tame the element of fire required that a person first becomes conscious and aware of themselves and their surroundings. The last thing any fire dancer wants is to hit anybody or to change a tame fire into an uncontrollable flame.

The progression of the fire arts continued to transition who I am. Controlling my mind allowed me to think through my actions more thoroughly and realize how the poi was flowing from internal ideas into the reality of spinning flames. From that idea, poi translated into the co-creation of moving abstract thoughts into a particular direction in the material world; synonymous to moving my arms to direct the fire around my body.

And so, I realized it is the same with many if not all of the arts.
Tame the mind to co-create your ideas with the elements of the universe, otherwise, you may be playing with fire.

Life Design: Slow Learning and the Beauty of Hobbies

Half Dome

Every hobby is a journey with lots to learn along the way. Reading a book to accrue knowledge or creativity, gardening outside to grow beautiful flowers, cooking delicious herbs or scrumptious veggies, or just hiking up a hill to see the surrounding area around you. It’s all a pathway to finding new things about the world around, within, or somewhere near us.

At times, it’s hard to realize the steps required to reach the destination. It gets so easy to fixate on that pinnacle point of your potential. In this way, the journey becomes less meaningful and more destination oriented. It’s good to have goals, but creating the pathways to them are equally as important.

Half Dome
After finishing high school, my twin brother and I hiked up Half Dome in Yosemite Park. We were at the fresh age of 18. A few years beforehand, we visited the national park and saw that huge granite piece of rock. We both looked at each other and knew immediately we had to climb it. Somehow my parents remembered that key aspect of the trip and took us back.

It was a grueling 6 hour hike up and another quarter of a day back down. To me, we spent so much time walking and running up the mountain that at times we didn’t soak in the scenery around us. However, we knew we had a time constraint. We and my parents didn’t realize that we barely prepared to make the hike. We wore comfy tennis shoes, brought 3 bottles of water, and a few snacks. The only thing we made sure to do was wake up really early to get our day started. Our physical shape was over estimated as well. Even in our teenage years, we weren’t as fit as we thought.

With each way point along the trail, we thought we were almost there getting closer and closer. My focus was too intent on getting there. We finally reached the base of the dome and didn’t realize it was still another hour or two up.

Getting to the top turned out to be easier than I thought and not as satisfying. Although looking down into the valley was pretty cool. Getting down was another story. The physical force of gravity working with your legs and muscles created a harder impact. Our little teenage bodies had to absorb more force and continue that for another 8 miles down.

At the end of the hike, we made it. The 12 hour hike got the best of us though. My brother and I were debilitated for a few days and couldn’t enjoy the rest of the trip. We were burnt out and beaten down by ourselves.

Lessons Learned
Being over prepared at times can be a good thing but don’t get too fixated on all the details. Focus on the crucial and limiting factors. Take time to enjoy the experience. As you can pick up the pace do it at a rate that doesn’t destroy your mind, body of soul.

And Enjoy the Journey.