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I’ve always harbored a romanticized vision of the “other side,” a place with no highways, a slower pace of life, and work rooted in the natural world.
I got a taste of that life through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization, a network that connects volunteers interested in learning and working on organic farms with hosts. I stumbled upon Aiki Farms in Ledyard, looking for an alternative to a culture of success and happiness based on wealth and entertainment.
Through WWOOF, I met Bob Burns, owner, farmer and sensei at Aiki Farms, an organic farm and martial arts dojo.
“A person who comes and stays on my farm has to participate in the entire program: Zazen, Aikido, Iaido and farming,” said Burns.
My room was in the dojo; I slept on a futon cushion on the floor and loved it.
Jason Jorge, a 31-year-old world traveler fresh from hiking in Nepal and India and a bike trip from Miami to Washington, D.C., was my bunkmate. He had been studying Aikido at the farm for four months.
“To be a backpacker, sometimes you need to drop everything in life,” he said.
That was exactly part of why I had come to the farm.
A day at the farm started at 5 a.m. with Zazen mediation and Aikido training. Zazen meditation involves Buddhist philosophies and clearing the mind through silent meditation and focused breathing; this was followed by Aikido and Iaido. Aikido, said Burns, is a martial art that teaches one to “defend with harmony.” Iaido is another Japanese martial art based on sword use. He teaches a number of students, from children to adults, with some becoming resident students.
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