Back to listen

Satish Kumar:
nature is my teacher, nature is my love

Peace-pilgrim and former monk, Satish Kumar has been inspiring global change for over 50 years as an activist, author, editor and speaker, seeking to inform and inspire a just future for all. In this encounter he reflects on how his spiritual relationship with nature can teach us to be compassionate, how to be kind, how to be generous, how to be non-discriminating. From developing meditation practices to growing our own food, Satish inspires us to nurture a relationship with the natural world, wherever we are living.

Made by Jo Barratt with Gemma Mortensen, Iris Andrews and Lily Piachaud.

This Encounter was made from an interview with Satish by Katie Revell for Farmerama.


My name is Satish Kumar. I’m founder of Schumacher College, and Editor Emeritus of Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine.

Our world is very much ego centred – personal ego, social ego, national ego, human ego. And so this ego separates us. Nature is our spiritual guide. So we can learn from nature: how to be compassionate, how to be kind, how to be generous, how to be non-discriminating. So I meditate and I lead meditation on earth, air, fire, water, and unity of all elements and unity of life.

Meditation is medicine for the soul, and spirit. So when you do farming, gardening, growing food, harvesting food with mindfulness, heartfulness, with love as a source of joy and a source of service – if you bring that kind of spiritual feeling, then your work becomes meditation.

So meditation is not just something that you close your eyes and sit in a quiet room – that is good meditation – but everything doing mindfully and heartfully and joyfully, and as a sense of the sacred, then every activity is transformed into meditation. So I always encourage farmers, growers, gardeners to see their work not as a chore, not as a burden, not something they don’t want to do, but they have to do it, not as, as kind of just a earn income or earn some money or a source of economic growth, but do it as something spiritual activity. And so growing food – food is sacred and, and food nourishes our soul, spirit mind, as well as our body. Because if we do not eat food, not only our bodies will die, but our minds will die, our spirit will die, our soul will die. So food is a nourishment for our whole life. And therefore, treating soil, treating land, treating plants, treating trees, treating seeds, treating that time of gardening and farming as a sacred activity – that kind of consciousness is what I’m trying to develop.

If you are stressed, you are feeling kind of burdened, feeling stuck, and if you say at that time that I don’t have time to relax and meditate, then you are saying that when you are hungry, you don’t have time to eat. Worries will come and go. They will pass. Nothing will stay stuck forever. And so, when you are stressed, when you are feeling unhappy, when you are feeling burdened, when you are feeling kind of lack of joy, that is the time – most important time. It’s like when you get a headache – that’s the time to relax, and maybe take some medicine. If you get some illness, that is the time to see a doctor. You don’t say that I’m ill, but I don’t have time to see a doctor. Meditation master is a doctor, a healer of your soul or your spirit.

Hope can be passive. You hope that something will work out. Something will turn up. Something will change. That is not enough. You have to make that hope be realised. In order to realise your hope, you have to do something about it. So I always say hope is not enough. You have to have hope. You have to be an optimist – cause if you are a pessimist, then you will not act. You will say, why bother? Nothing is going to change. Nothing going to happen, so there’s no point in doing anything. So pessimism does not lead to activism. In order to be an activist, you have to be an optimist, but optimism should lead to activism – not pessimism.

So I always say that active hope means that if you want to see that there should be peace in the world, you should act for it. If you want to see ecology and sustainability and regenerative farming coming as a mainstream movement, then you have to do something about it. Speak about it, write about it, farm on the land. Do something. Without action, hope is hopeless. Hope is only good when it is followed by action. So active hope is an essential combination of the two words.

Majority of people in the world nowadays, particularly in Europe, are living in big cities. Every kitchen has food waste. That food waste can be transformed into soil. And even on the roof of your house you can put that soil and make a garden. Even pots you can have on your windowsill and you can grow some tomatoes or some basil or some mint or something. Touching the soil is therapeutic. If you don’t touch the soil, if you don’t see the greenery, if you don’t see a seed becoming a plant and plant becoming flowers and flowers becoming fruit, and vegetables, and herbs, all that – seeing the transformation gives you a kind of sense of transformative living. And therefore, wherever you are, find no excuse – where there’s a will there’s a way. If you want to touch the soil, make the soil, bring the plants in your life, you can do it, even in the cities.

I was in London. I was visiting a friend and he said after a cup of tea – cause we had very fresh mint tea – so I said, it’s a lovely fresh mint tea, normally you get a tea bag of mint, so “how do you get your fresh mint?” I asked. He said, do you wanna see my garden? The centre of London – where is your garden? He said, come with me. We went upstairs. On the roof he had mint growing, he had basil growing, he had thyme growing, lots of herbs! And he had flowers, he had bees, he had a beehive. And he had a cupboard of honey pots, jars. And he gave me one jar of honey and said, “I made this honey in the centre of London, please take it”. If you can do it in the centre of London, you can do it anywhere. You can grow something on your walls. Roof, walls, window sills – and you might be lucky if you have a little patch of garden – also, we need to redesign our cities. We need to bring more gardens in the city and every house should have a little garden. Living without a garden, living without a tree, living without plants, living without nature. It’s not a proper life. I mean, computers and cars and cameras and all the gadgets we have are fine, but they are icing on the cake. The real cake is nature. If you are not in touch with nature, you will feel depressed. If you are not in touch with nature, you will feel frustrated. If you want to be happy, be in touch with nature.

I stay motivated because nature is my teacher, and also nature is my love. And I feel that nature has given me so much. Nature has sustained me. Food, clothes, house, air, water. I cannot survive without nature, so it is important for me to give something back. Say, nature is a gift, but I also have to give something back. Reciprocity, mutuality. So, I feel motivated to do something for nature by saying, don’t pollute air, I’m doing something for nature. By saying don’t put plastic in the oceans, I’m doing something for nature. When I say don’t put sewage in the rivers, I’m doing something for nature. I’m motivated because I’m grateful to nature. That sense of gratitude motivates me, inspires me, and, and encourages me to be an activist in the defence of and in the service of our precious planet Earth. If we don’t look after our nature, if we don’t look after our air and water and rivers and oceans and forests, we will have no life. So nature is giving us so much.

I have two acres of garden, and I have a beautiful stream going through my garden, and that’s my love. I have been living in this place in a small village in North Devon called Heartland, and I’ve been living there for more than 40 years. And I never want to move. I’ve been building this soil in this garden for the past 40 years, and when I am in the garden, I am very happy.

So source of happiness is your garden for me. If I feel depressed, as you ask the question, if I feel upset, if I feel even angry, if I feel depressed or any problem I have, I go in the garden. The moment I start to touch the soil, I want to water the plants, I want to do something with the garden. Suddenly my anger disappears and my frustration disappears, my loneliness disappears. So my garden is my home. My garden is my community. The plants which I have – sweetcorn, potatoes, carrots, edamame beans, spinach, cucumber, tomatoes, asparagus – they’re all members of my family, my community. Land is my community, land is my home. My garden is my home. And when I’m in the garden, I’m in the Garden of Eden. I’m in heaven. I love my garden. I have a home, but I can move from that home easily. But very difficult for me to move from my garden. This is why I’m staying there for the last 40 years, and more.

We all eat, and we need to be connected with our food. Without food, we cannot survive. We can have all the gadgets, all the jobs, all the name, fame, prestige, power, position… everything we can have. But if we have no food, we cannot survive. So food is the real basic of life. And so I want everybody, whether you are a Prime Minister, or a President, or a king, or a beggar, or a priest, or a poet, or a writer, whoever you are – be involved in growing food. Even part-time, even few hours. Having a garden is a great gift. Do not allow yourself to be without that gift. Make a small garden, even in the cities. So I would like to see everybody being involved with growing food. And cooking is also very much my love, I love cooking. I’ve written books, I’ve edited magazines, I’ve done lecturing and speaking, all day is fine. But growing food and cooking food and eating food and celebrating food, with the family, with the friends and that joy, that basics of life. And that’s the sort of – all the other things are icing on the cake. But the cake is food and celebration and family and friends and that. Find a way of getting back to nature, getting back to soil. And if we don’t have your own garden, find a friend who has a garden, find some older people who cannot do gardening anymore, go and help them. But be in touch with the soil. Soil is the source of life.