Ikigai and the Adobe Tiny House

I have come to a place of peace about the illness that collapsed my life. I learned so much about being alive. I have a capacity for joy and deep knowing now that I am not what happens to me; I am life itself. I can see now that I was operating on misunderstandings before. The lessons were excruciating. But now there is peace.

I have come to relish the moment that “the mind boggles.” This is the moment when you are trying so hard to figure something out and see all the connections that exist in order to predict or cultivate an outcome and then…. poof. Silence. Mind is boggled. There’s a recognition that: 1) Everything is connected already in an impossibly complex, constantly moving play of light, and 2) the mind is trying to understand and control it, but it is futile and unnecessary. Life itself is happening quite nicely on its own. There is deep wisdom. You can trust it. I trust it now

My son just turned 18. The last birthday I was with him, he was just 11. The grief of losing so much time with him is an ambient wound in my mammal mother body. I don’t expect that to heal and go away. It sneaks up on me.

Last week I saw a road-killed squirrel in the road ahead of me and then, at the very last second, I realized it was two squirrels. The baby squirrel was sitting with its squished mother, wondering what to do now, til it bolted at the last second. I burst into tears that wouldn’t stop for ten minutes.

My son is alive and I am still alive and we get to love each other for the rest of our lives now. He comes to see me in the desert once a year. I will brace myself and return to moldy Maine for his high school graduation.

The biggest lesson I have learned is to not resist what is happening in life. Assume there is a purpose that is not obvious to you yet. Resistance is the core of suffering– and it is optional. So if my mind is trying to solve what it sees as a problem– and then it boggles and stops– it is yielding to a greater intelligence of life itself. It knows now that it is a servant to that intelligence.

When the mind boggles and stops, life doesn’t stop. That was a revelation. Problems arise and resolve. The mind thinks it’s making things happen, but when it is quiet, things still happen– but they happen better. So I don’t try to constrain and control life anymore. Solutions arise on their own and then my mind kicks into service. That’s what is happening now.

In the spring, my work as a Bredesen Protocol health coach was a struggle. The network felt stuck, the results stalled, client appointments felt forced. I could feel the impending shift coming. Working as a health coach with complex, chronic illness (lyme and co-infections, mold illness, type 3 toxic Alzheimer’s) is especially frustrating because the advice always starts with “Find clean housing.” Good luck. Finding housing at all in a housing crisis is a challenge. But for someone with an immune activation to find housing that does not amplify the activation is next to impossible.

I had to create my own masonry house. There’s almost no wood in the living space. The ceiling is metal, the walls are made of either brick or steel studs and concrete board covered with lime plaster. In 2019, I found this weird property that was an abandoned project. It was a brick garage next to the concrete foundation for a 2000 square foot house in a marginal neighborhood. The owner’s realized that their $400K house idea was in the wrong neighborhood, so they changed direction and sold it to me for $90K. I made the garage into a house. It took 2 and a half years and eight of my friends to help me get it done, but we finished in March 2022. It was my lockdown project.

It took that long because I would get sick every week working on it and have to retreat to the mountains to detox. Once I felt good again, I would come back into town and work on it again. I plastered every wall myself. This dear man came back to New Mexico again and did about $20K of work for free in two months to help me get the walls, windows, plumbing and electrical established. It was so. much. work.

But by April 2022, I realized that it was finally clean enough for me to live in it. My health stabilized. My life stabilized. All because I finally had safe housing. Aha.

During the time I was working on my own house, two environmentally-ill friends died from their illness. Both were found in their vehicles. Candace Covington and “Go-Getter” Stroupe.

Safe housing is indeed a matter of life and death for tens of thousands of people in this country.

By June I went into a frenzy of research and study in what I now understand was a “post-traumatic growth” spurt. I became captivated by learning about affordable, clean housing. I learned about Nader Khalili, an Iranian-American architect who perfected dome structures with a catenary arch until his earthbag structures passed international building code.

New Gourna-- a whole village built with woodless architecture by Hassan Fathy
New Gourna– a whole village built with woodless architecture by Hassan Fathy

I learned about the vernacular woodless architecture used by Hassan Fathy, a genius Egyptian architect who created “Architecture for the Poor.” I also learned that one of Fathy’s students is continuing his legacy right next door in Texas! Simone Swan created the Adobe Alliance to train poor people on both sides of the US-Mexico border on how to create gorgeous, elegant and affordable woodless structures using only earth bricks. And Development Workshop Foundation, that teaches builders how to build the domes and vaults out of adobe bricks, so that the skills of woodless construction don’t die out.

I was also surprised to learn about how OLD the alliance is between the natural building world and the chemically sensitive population. How is this not common knowledge? I began to meet the natural builders in my town and found an extraordinary richness of experience in Kelly Hart and Joseph Kennedy.

Kelly Hart curates a network of natural builders all around the world and publishes the decades of questions posed by builders and the answers to those questions by natural building experts. It amounts to an open source database of natural building solutions that is available to anyone who wants to learn.

My new buddy, Joe Kennedy, an architect and visionary who has written and co-edited two books; The Art of Natural Building and Building without Borders, helped Nader Khalili establish Cal-Earth back in the day. He has already thought through all of the details of creating small, earthen buildings in community. His knowledge base is astounding.

This research and learning trajectory has been absolutely fascinating and fun. It culminated in me writing a whole new website and starting a non-profit to create affordable housing for sensitive people.

It’s called Crooked Forest Institute.

Is there anything more valuable than the stability that is offered by a safe, clean home? It offers a place to live and thrive. The most basic dignity, safety and silence. Raise you hand if you want that.

There is an overwhelming need for earthen housing. Let me tell you why. Apart from the typical American affordable housing being toxic and inappropriate for anyone with a chronic illness (which is now most of us,) it is designed for obsolescence. That means it is designed to wear out and be replaced in about 30 years. Unfortunately, it is not usually replaced. It fails and then people still have to live in it and they get sick.

In contrast, Adobe construction lasts for hundreds of years. The Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years.

Let’s talk about the microbiome of the environment for a moment. Every surface in your house and on your body is covered with microbes. In a toxic trailer, the microbes are contending with the chemicals, like formaldehyde. Roughly speaking, they are metabolizing these materials, as they do, and essentially trying to clean them up. The microbes then create metabolites that are chemicals themselves, like mycotoxins, which you are inhaling.

By contrast, an adobe structure isn’t neutral, it isn’t sterile, it is a beneficial biome. If it is made from clean soil, it contains an old, intact microbial ecosystem that collaborates to clean up contaminations. It is a biologically active environment that benefits the microbiome inside your body. For many of us contending with complex, chronic illnesses, one causative factor is often a lack of diversity in our gut microbiome. (You also have a microbiome in your lungs and in your sinuses and on your skin.) Has your doctor suggested that you choose soil-based probiotics?

Living in an adobe structure is living inside a probiotic.

People with complex, chronic illnesses can sometimes heal in Adobe houses, as long as the wooden roof structures haven’t rotted. They first might need to do the hard detox in the wilderness somewhere, but once the motherlode of toxins is out, an adobe tiny house in a clean location can offer stability.

We decided to try building a prototype adobe tiny house for a sensitive person. We designed it to have no wood, a metal roof structure, metal lintels and slaked-lime earth plaster. It took two months to build it. It has 240 square foot interior and features a 500 square foot roof to cover an outdoor kitchen and storage area. It has an ingenious, custom wood stove that loads from the outside but heats the inside. It’s gorgeous. It came in at less than $60K, not counting the price of land. And we hope to streamline that process and price.

We want to built a lot of these. My research focus began to include learning about the financial and legal structures of Community Land Trusts. CLTs are land trusts that protect the land in perpetuity from market rate development and create a shared-equity model of home ownership. Essentially, you can build your house on a CLT. You own your house, you can sell it, add a room, plant trees and a garden and own all the improvements on the land, but you don’t own the land by yourself. You pay a land-use fee to the CLT that is your contribution to the improvements (like buildings, gardens) on the shared-equity land. It’s like a neighborhood that surrounds a park and all the neighbors chip in to buy the park and collaborate to keep it nice. Check out this amazing organization that is leading the way in Moab, Utah. They are building natural buildings (mostly strawbales, which would not work for our population, but some adobes!) on Community Land Trusts. Read what their happy residents have to say. The owners help to build.

Sketch by Joseph Kennedy

For now, we can keep doing them one by one, but the vision is to build a school to train more builders. The houses that are created as a by-product of the training modules could be purchased and lived in by the students, and then later, these graduates could be hired over and over to build the complete design of a microvillage, which includes ten adobe tiny homes and 3 communal infrastructure buildings, with water catchment and a garden.

New Mexico actually has its own Earthen Building Code as of 2015. In addition, there is already a community college adobe construction program up north in Sante Fe and a support program for owner-builders that hosts a biennial international conference on earthen architecture.

It turns out that a third of the world’s humans actually live in houses made out of earth! There are organizations all over the world that share technology transfer on this topic. Here’s one in France. Here’s one in Germany. The UNESCO World Heritage Earthen Architecture Programme (WHEAP) has organized twelve events since 1972. What I find fascinating about this is the focus on local sustainable development and crisis intervention. There are NGOs doing important work creating emergency shelter for environmental refugees in Iraq, Haiti, Pakistan, Djibouti and Nepal.

My friends who died in their cars were also environmental refugees.

Why are we providing toxic FEMA trailers to hurricane victims in the United States instead of building cheaper, safer earthen homes like we do in other countries? Money. What if building an earthen home is cheaper than a trailer? This is where it becomes incredibly obvious that our toxic modern building materials are the norm because they are profitable, and at the expense of peoples’ health. The paradigm is making people sick. Capitalism has ripened to the point where it is predatory.

Perhaps we, the sensitive people, can feel what is affecting others invisibly. Perhaps all sorts of people (besides those who are sensitive or healing from dementia) might benefit from an affordable, adobe home in an entire neighborhood that is designed for its microbiome.

It’s time to think differently. This current paradigm is an extractive economy that is only taking. It’s taking life force away, it’s taking families apart, it’s taking stability and health and the natural connectivity that is the essence of who we really are. It is a giant Ponzi scheme that is starting to cannibalize its own foundation, creating waves of mental, physical, environmental and social dis-integration.

One of the greatest gifts of getting sick was that it demolished all the ideas that I thought were true and led to a radically open mind. I’m not forcing anything, I’m not resisting anything, I’m surrendered most of the time. This is what is coming through that spaciousness. I’m not attached to the outcome. I’m not trying to wrestle something into place. I wake up everyday full of joy and excitement for what might come next. Connection and creation is coming through that joy. Life is using me as an instrument for its own healing.

I listened to the Regenerative Real Estate podcast the other day and the guest reminded me of the Japanese concept of Ikigai. I lived in Japan for two years and remembered learning about Ikigai and wondering what that would be for me.

I realized that that’s what this project is for me. Creating affordable housing for sensitive people in a way that brings us back to the knowing of wholeness– That’s my Ikigai.

This planet is all one single organism. The repercussions of living like you know that are enormous. It changes your relationships, your food choices, it requires your healing, it is a regenerative way of living. It is the antidote to the paradigm that created the illusion of separation and the causes of these debilitating environmental illnesses.

“One example for a powerful Metadesign shift is the change from the arrogance of claiming dominion over nature (while understanding nature as divorced from culture and only of instrumental value to human beings,) to understanding nature and life as a planetary process of which we are emergent properties and in which we are co-creative agents, dependent on the health of the whole.”

Daniel Christian WahlSalutogenic Design helps us move beyond sustainability to regeneration

Boggle. Stop.

7 Comments on “Ikigai and the Adobe Tiny House

  1. Holly I love this post and the earth homes you talk about. Jackie and I visited Taos earth ships years ago and while that is very different from what you describe, the general idea is similar. And I realize earth ship housing will not work for the population you describe. And I fully support what you’re doing and look forward to more information. And would you use a darker font next time? This font was difficult to read. Thanks and I look forward to reading more about your plan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dennis! I will keep you posted! And thanks for that feedback about the font. That’s the first time I’ve heard that I’ll see what I can do. 💜🙏


  2. I just found this beautiful blog today. I also suffer from mold illness / CIRS. Thank you for your writing! This is very helpful. God bless you and good struggles!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, this is wonderful! We are planning on building an adobe house in Tucson. My husband has built adobe homes in Sonora, Mexico but building codes are more strict here. We would like to find someone who might be able to help us with this. I have CIRS.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Blessed Holly, This is beyond beautiful, dear friend. I am really moved and excited for you and by you! This makes me really happy. Susan H


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