In one month, we will be welcoming Kenton, a permaculture designer who will be volunteering at Shanti as well as offering a mid-week retreat.
I’d like to tell you a story.
My name is Kenton Zerbin and like you, when I was younger I also was questioning
how I was going to find my lot in life. I questioned the educational systems I was going
through and society itself when all I heard in the world news was how much we have
messed things up. I got deeply depressed, several times. I felt disconnected with my
own potential, confused about what I was to do and how. What I really needed was
a sense of direction, a sense of meaning, of purpose. I needed to feel like I belonged,
with a community of people who belonged HERE on this spot of earth, on this planet
within a larger community of life. I realize now that what I needed was harmony.
I didn’t find it. Everywhere I looked I found the hussle and bussle of everyone trying to
become or be a “productive member of society.” But they were all a farse. They moved
like automatons, for the sake of obtaining more, more, more when they actually had
less, less and less. I felt alienated. And all I got from friends, family and mentors was
this push to get busy; to find a job, get a car, get married, get a house, have kids, raise
them and then die in a retirement home. It was like being told to get on a stationary
bike knowing you will never get off.
I don’t think anyone ever realized how much of a dreamer I was. This was shaped by my parents, a social worker/foster parent and a police officer, who always pushed us kids to “Leave the kitchen cleaner than you found it.” I grew up having five adopted siblings, four biological siblings and over a hundred foster siblings. And I am blessed because of it. I know what makes a home, the power of connection, of community.
I know what unites us, not what divides us. My parents worked with pure intentions and from within the inspiring cause of service, but I saw the reactionary nature of their work. They were always addressing the symptoms of the larger problem, not the cause;
they were trying to catch those who slipped through the cracks, but the cracks are never filled. I dreamed “I’m going to leave this place better then when I found it.” More than anything, I was craving to find ANY answer to do just that.
However, I believed the lie that money and “stuff” would make me happy. I got educated, got a job, got a car, a girlfriend and an apartment. I then proceeded to fill that apartment with stuff. But buying stuff to make me happy was like taping sandwiches to my body because I was hungry. I remember one time when it was really bad – when I hit rock bottom. I was substitute teaching, sitting at home dressed up like
some friendly business man, but I had no business. For two weeks I got up, dressed up and sat waiting for the call to work. I was depressed. I needed money. I wanted to feel productive. I needed purpose. But what I ACTUALLY needed was support, was someone to stop me from spinning my wheels, to stop me from spinning on that stationary bike. I really wish I’d known someone who actually was making the world
better then when they found it.
In going through that time, I got very good at finding the little things in life that made me truly happy. Learning, building community, giving myself to others and providing for those I cared about. Moments in which I tapped into these were like sunshine breaking
through dark clouds. I would bask in that light and then it would pass till the next opportunity to push the clouds aside came again. I also became good at being smart with my money, at asking myself, “Do I need this thing, this stuff?” I thus learned a lot
about the wasteful nature of society, of how much we consume, consume, consume and how very little we as individuals produce. I learned I was ashamed of my lack of ability to produce for my own needs or the needs of others. I was ashamed of my own
consumer lifestyle and it enveloped me completely. But in every dark cloud is a silver lining and behind the depressing truths of this way of life I found I was not alone. Many are inside looking out. People are inherently good, with good intentions, and they want
to live a good life. I found out we are not humanity, we are but one culture, albeit a mono-culture, but this one culture can learn, change, adapt. We have a physical world and world of other cultures to learn from. There is hope.
For years, before I saw that hope, I used my love of learning and being a part of community in a way that was unhelpful to my life. I would read for escapism, a way to get above the dark clouds through a fictitious character’s existence. Escapism came in many forms and when I discovered them I would abuse them. I got into online video games and found there a community, which as fun as it was, was only accessible through a screen. I also tread a dangerous line travelling; between travelling for the love of it and travelling to not go back to where I came from. Because of my escapist behaviour I grew further away from the world I wanted to change, and I went through
cycles of shame and guilt which made me want to enter my escapes all the more.
But, now that I’ve matured and learned, I’m finding that I can use the same desire to learn and be a part of community to build something with others and leave the world better then when I found it. I can share what I’ve learned, share my life experience and relate to others who feel the same or could go down as similar path. I can teach a way of living that fills people with purpose and hope.
In struggling to overcome this all I have learned a lot about the purpose of life, our human nature and world of nature we are nestled in on this beautiful planet of green and blue. We are all connected, every action has a reaction. We produce our thoughts and we are the product of our thoughts. Our environment shapes us and we shape our environment. Everything is connected.
I can also remember the turning point for me when I stopped feeling defeated and started to have hope again that something else was possible. I was in a University course called “The History of Curriculum”. The course challenged us as teachers to think critically about what has been decided that the youths of tomorrow should know. And, almost more importantly, what wasn’t taught. After a
thought provoking lecture I was feeling dejected with my profession as a teacher. I had gone into teaching to make a difference in the world and now I was being told I was perpetuating the very system I wanted to change. The hallway leaving the lecture seemed abnormally long and as I walked without energy I saw a free guest lecture event. It was titled “Permaculture!” and it it was for becoming what I call now, a “life designer.” My interest was piqued so I walked in and took a seat. As the words fell out of the speakers mouth I nearly fell out of my seat. Sitting on the edge, I followed every single word. It resonated with me and that gap, that gap in me which had been
aching to be filled all these years. “Excitement” does not even begin to convey what I felt as the lecture drew to a close. It was like I had chugged an entire pot of coffee. My mind raised, my palms were sweaty, and I wanted to do something! BUT… we were forewarned by the speaker. He warned us that what he had shared with us, what we now wanted to go home and share with our spouses, families and friends, well… it would likely be received like the water shaken off a wet dog. Even if I was in the right mental space for that three hour lecture to shape my life, that doesn’t mean it translates to others for where they are at. But for me, a seed of hope was planted that
I nurtured the seed. I signed up for the 2 week course to become certified in permaculture design. I learned how permaculture isn’t rocket science, in fact, it is best described as “common sense design for person and a place.” It was about having the humility to learn and relearn so much about life. In those two weeks I learned more than I could have possibly absorbed. However, what I did learn was two vital &
humbling lessons: 1) the more you know, the more you know how much you do not know & 2) community is the answer. I walked away from that course feeling like I had been transmuted from lead to gold. I shined and it showed. I started to help others.
I went on to teach permaculture at the High School as a lunch hour club. And yet… I wasn’t quite there yet. I knew that that was not where my future was. To the core of being, I felt I could, and would, inspire others. Many others. Why go small? I wanted to reach a global audience with the positive social change my words could inspire. I wanted to share something more important than any curriculum I had ever seen.
The passion was there, the vision was there, the ability to teach was there. And yet, I did not feel ready. Dressing up for work every day in my shirt and tie, driving to and fro, living in an apartment in the city with little access to land. I felt I would be a but a sham if I did the talk but did not do the walk. Cognizant of the gap in my skill and experience I decided that upon the end of my teaching contract I would go work on permaculture farms across Canada in order to empower myself with skills, knowledge and confidence. But when that teaching contract finished, it was as if the universe had aligned with my intention, for I was granted the opportunity to go to Australia and learn
from the forerunners of permaculture, from my teacher’s teacher, and even his teacher!
From these inspired and inspiring minds I further clarified who I was, my place in the world and my path ahead. My path lay in being a catalyst for positive change in the world and the people of society today had better be ready, because I was coming.
The superpower it’s all given me is I now actively design my own life, help others find purpose and I design abundant systems flourishing with life. I help others to do the same and together, design community. As I look back now, I can see that that my
whole life has been circling around that question of “how do we live?” My whole life I’ve been struggling to weave together the answers for how to transition to some better way of life, of how to reach others and with them, leave the world better then when we
I just wanted to take a moment to write and let you know that you’re not alone. And that things get better. From the top of the mountain I can see the path I took to get here and I want to share it with you. I want to show you the way, and give you a hand up. Even though the path beat me up, I feel grateful for all of it because it made me into the hopeful dreamer and appreciative community man I am today. It brought me to you.
Thank you for listening to my story, let’s build life together.