Monday, 30 November 2015

Permaculture Politics: From Competition to Co-Operation

When I discovered Permaculture, I found more than knowledge and skill, I met my community. Over the years, as I have tried to make a living doing the only thing that makes sense to me, I have found currents of self-righteousness and competition in what is now considered an industry. The ethics and principles that had drawn me to make Permaculture my purpose, were not always being practiced.
To have an impact environmentally, we must look at our social patterns and conditioning. As the movement grows, I am relieved to witness a generation of people willing to discuss, share, and admit they don’t in fact, know everything.
There is a symbiosis of nutrient exchange and co-operation exercised in these systems that enables the forest to continue cycling in a self-fulfilling and efficient manner, with no waste.
If permaculture aims to mimic nature effectively, we must change our individualised compete and segregate mind-sets to that of co-operation and integration. The politics of permaculture have had the ability to veer far from its very own principles and practices, causing rifts within an industry based on culture and community.
I thought this analogy quite lovely, and very fitting in my experience.
So I thank those pioneers for the rich soil they have created, and the hard work done photosynthesizing in a harsh environment.
The next succession species is a little more fleshy, diverse and palatable, nursing the surrounding conditions for saplings to take hold and grow tall into the canopy.

If progress is to be achieved in the movement of permaculture, regenerative living, and earth renewal, then we must begin to act like a forest system – constantly exchanging, sharing, and cooperating to achieve a state of symbiosis.

During the first Permaculture Design Course (PDC) I participated in, I was met with much more than just practical knowledge, design skill, environmental inspiration and strategies for action - I met my community. 
The beauty of a two week permaculture immersion is the sense of close family that develops over such a short period of time. 

Each time I have taken a PDC or Diploma, Advanced Course etc., I have been blown away by the sheer diversity of people that come together for one thing: love of the environment and its inhabitants. I have witnessed men that work in the corporate sector work alongside vegan gutter-punks to create compost. I have seen people of all races, sexualities, religions, beliefs and lifestyles work together to follow the same set of ethics and values. 

This is one of the things that inspired me to follow and practice permaculture. 

Permaculture is based on systems thinking  using ecosystems to gain insight into the workings of the natural world, so we may then apply these strategies to our own systems - whether they be landscape, social, economical, or otherwise.

My Permaculture journey has not always been met with such free-flowing acceptance, love and understanding. Upon my introduction to permaculture I was made painfully aware that the two co-founders of the concept, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, do not get along. This struck me as odd, as one of the main messages I receive from permaculture is the need for community. Over time, this need has become ever more prominent in my mind, as I see that to truly become regenerative as a species, we cannot carry our individualised Western mindsets into the future if we are to be self-sufficient - it is in fact, unsustainable. 

I thought it ironic that the people that worked on a methodology based on systems thinking, with a firm understanding of the balance between interspecies communities, could not themselves work towards a future of communication. 

This is not a criticism of those as individuals; it is more an observation that this has been the foundation of permaculture, and I have often wondered what that has meant for its evolution. 
I have witnessed people within - what is now called ‘a movement’ - gossip in regards to the reasoning behind the founder’s disengagement, and I have even been asked (multiple times) whether I am in the 'Bill or David Camp'. If I am to be completely honest with my readers, this question utterly disgusts me. To ask this is to go against all I believe permaculture stands for, and I feel if we carry these ways of thinking, this idea of segregation, into the future, we really have no hope of environmental repair. Because we are part of ecology, and if we cannot repair our social structures, and the individual mindsets that create them, we will see no true progress. 

Miles Olson, author of 'Unlearn, Rewild' states in a podcast hosted by Ayana Young: "Imagine that suddenly the wheels of the system grind to a halt, completely stopped. Well, there was a time that I thought 'Yes, thats exactly what we need, thats the answer!’ I’m quite convinced, and I don't know if anyone could convince me otherwise, that I think a truer analysis of what would happen in such a case of collapse or a revolution, is that by noon of the day after the revolution, everyone would be all back at work, in the same repressive patterns building the same structures unconsciously. Because what really builds the oppressive structures that we are surrounded by, is a programming that is internalized, its all stuff we carry with us internally." 

As such we must move away from certain modalities of thought in order to progress with this movement of permaculture, regenerative living, environmental justice and Earth renewal. 
I am in neither camp and I never will be. There are people’s work which greatly inspire and influence me, but I do not compare the apple tree to the raspberry cane in a food forest. Comparison will be the downfall of this species Which brings me to my next point: Ego must be redefined in Permaculture if we are going to progress with the ideas and ethics it presents.

As I delved deeper into this movement, and it became my scene, my home, my family, friends, colleagues and peers, I was exposed to an astounding amount of comparison, criticism and righteousness. In some cases I saw a competition mentality, people not exchanging knowledge and ideas like a forest does nutrients, but arguing and debating points. Ironically most of this knowledge was not battled from personal experience, but from books written by other pioneers, and then used as ammunition. 
I would see the subtle scoffs and scowls as some younger generation earth stewards would state opinions, ask questions, or try and create a business within the industry. Some pioneers puffed up like pigeons, others guarded their turf with the fierceness of a flock of magpies. Gossip of who was doing what slicked the rippling movement like an oil spill, disabling the next generations from even taking a breath. 
The permaculture principle of 'co-operation not competition' was not being embodied. 
I felt the social conditioning of our culture was ever prevalent, and we must remind ourselves that culture is what has enabled the indigenous peoples - whom permaculture has developed its principles from - to live in such a balance with the natural world around them.  To practice PermaCulture, we must create stable, resilient social systems and structures, and embody a culture of change. 

I must say that I have not only encountered the rigid mentalities discussed. I have also experienced great warmth, support and empowerment. 
Now, I am being exposed to a new generation of Permaculturists, and the more farms, courses, talks and events I attend with a density of younger enthusiasts, the more hope I have for changing the trajectory of the industry. 

People sit with their cups of nettle tea discussing different ideologies, scientific views and theories, techniques and belief systems, keen and interested in communication with their fellow Naturalists. 
These people have witnessed the common burn-out that permaculture pioneers have experienced, and instead wish to find a niche, and let others fill the gaps of succession around them, in a mutual exchange which benefits the whole. 
Like a mycelial network, I see practitioners inviting people on board to projects, have less reliance and focus on intellectual and financial capital, and more on social, experiential and cultural capital. 

When I co-facilitate our PDCs, I run an exercise on the ‘8 Forms of Capital’, and as it turns out, cultural capital is what people in our society are lacking.  Considering our racial diversity and history of attempted indigenous genocide, this makes sense. If we are to reformat our society into an interconnected fabric of resilience within community, our self-righteousness, ego and pride will need to be fuelled with awareness and regulation. 
We need to create a welcoming, understanding and inclusive atmosphere to involve and empower people of all creeds, beliefs and scenes. If this movement is to move beyond a niche, if we are to finally move beyond "is that like horticulture?", we will need to include people of all streams to formulate the river of potential possibilities. 
A senior Permaculturist explained it beautifully when asked about the politics and attitudes expressed within the movement. He stated that the pioneer species within permaculture were just the same as those of a land-based system - they were prickly, harsh, and grew in a disturbed environment ready to create more optimal conditions for the next generation. Although they were protecting and nurturing the soil for the next generation to grow in, the very thing that made them pioneers was the very same reason they had trouble getting along with others - they were thorny, spikey, rough and tough!
Hopefully, with the right mindset, and the application of permaculture’s principles in all facets, those late succession species will shade out and make obsolete the current system, fostering both ecological and economic growth, providing enough fruit for generations to come. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

Sacred Ecology - AIR Weekend

The weekend of the Spring Equinox in September of 2015 was dedicated to the exploration of the element Air, and was the second of the Sacred Ecology workshop weekends.
Although, the course was never intended to solely be about skills and workshops, but to give people a chance to delve deeper into an awareness of natural systems, and an awareness of the self.

I arrived feeling a little apprehensive as course co-ordinator and co-facilitator, wondering if I had forgotten anything, going over lists in my head.... I left feeling recharged, replenished and serene. This gave me a sense of how powerfully nourishing these weekends are; if they can effect even the person co-ordinating in such a significant way, they must be having a consequential impact on the other participants as well.

The first night brought us to circle in the beautiful little cottage-style house of the Natural Healing Space- the fire was on, the tea was boiling, and after a nutrient dense meal we all sat down and took a moment to reconnect. There were quite a few who knew each other from the first beautiful winter gathering at Hollyburton Farm, and their were some who had decided to join the course in Spring, so we each took a moment to introduce ourselves and express lyrically the trajectory the winds of our lives were taking. Some were tremulous, others breezy, with as many directions and fluctuations as the wind itself.

Bathed in candlelight, Claire Dunn (co-facilitator and author of 'My Year Without Matches') weaved us through basketry, and we sat and stitched the night away.

The next morning dawned bright, the sun spilled onto the Earth's skin, cracking the winter with its warmth. We gathered for a morning of Nature awareness exercises, and each found a sit spot where we would observe the natural world at different intervals through the weekend.

In the Spirit of Air, I ran a class on fermentation; as the presence or lack of oxygen is key to this process, as well as factors such as time and temperature. During the session we had a look (and taste) of creamy milk kefir, sparkling lemon water kefir, kombucha, Saurkraut and home-made tempeh (which is a recent exploration that I am hoping to perfect this summer).
Our incredible nutrient dense food cook, Mel, also brought a few of her delicious fermented goods to share, including pickled choko!

One beautiful lesson I myself learned that day, was the art of feeling into group energy. There were certain activities which had been planned, but with the emergence of the sun, we decided to give the afternoon to the breeze and let it cradle each individual in its arms, allowing participants to explore their own direction. It was luscious. We all were lying around, some talking, some enveloped in the embrace of hammocks, others lazing on the grass watching the clouds pass and a few with methodic hands continuing the weaving of baskets.
It is one thing to be a facilitator of knowledge, but it is another to allow peoples facilitation of their own wisdom, through nature, themselves and each other.

The Spring ritual differed greatly from that of our Winter gathering, as the depths of Winter often bring our shadows to the surface, and we look more closely at deeper issues that effect us. Our Winter ritual symbolised the return of the sun, focusing on what it was we were wishing to let go of, so we would be ready to step into the light after shaking the shadows.
The shadows shaken, Spring symbolises the seed that is sprouting, and we each planted a metaphoric seed that we are hoping to nourish to fruition.
Snaking our way up the hill, wreathed in jasmine and with drums beating we focused on the air in our lungs and the sun on our backs.
In groups, we carried on from the Winter weekend as Claire guided us in making primitive fire. We created the fire for our ritual circle with our own hands, an incredible skill and a beautiful offering.

During the ritual, one of the participants honoured and invoked the element of Air with one of the most incredible songs I have ever heard. When we were all lazing in the sun, she was meditating on the question of how to bring Air into our circle, and was gifted with that song. It sent such sweet shivers up my spine, and tears came to my eyes as I was experiencing true magick. The magick that is within each one of us, if we choose to listen.

I watched as the last of the circle made their way down the hill, skipping in their spring garlands as the sun set. I then sat with Claire as she held the fire board, assisting me as I attempted to make primitive fire on my own. I settled myself, took a breath, and placed my hands on the phallic Xantharia stalk. Claire took the fire stalk once and 'floated' it for me, keeping it warm so it didn't loose friction and heat. I then grasped it between my plams once again, and was so focused on my technique, on my breathing, on my core.... that I was shocked when I heard her say "You've got a coal!". A fire inside me burst as I looked down at the smouldering coal and tears sprang to my eyes. This was a milestone for me. Fire to me was a responsibility, a true ability to respond to any situation. It was a birthright. It was the way of the ultimate provider. I felt, for some reason, if I could make fire with my hands, I would always be ok.
It symbolised a big step, as during the Winter weekend I practiced, but could not get a coal on my own. And as I sat in my cold little room in the hills, lighting a fire with matches and newspaper, I was reminded each time how much I relied on this combustion, and how disconnected I felt when creating it.

That night the course combined with the Spring Sauna Celebration at the Natural Healing Space- an incredible and rejuvenating night enjoying a hand built sauna, cold plunge and hot tub, accompanied by a home cooked meal and replenishing coconut water. As the night drew to a close I had my second cup of chai and raw chocolate treat, smiling to myself as I floated to bed under the starts.

Yoga was offered each morning, and after breakfast we reconvened to learn about the world of bird language, and how to connect deeper with nature through awareness of sound and song.
More time was given for people to enjoy their sit spot with their newly acquired knowledge.

The afternoon found us in the garden, as I took a class on planting seedlings, microclimates and some basic Permaculture design principles. I watched, hands covered in soil from planting tomatoes in the greenhouse, and observed everyone pottering around in the garden, covered in hay and wearing sun hats. It was a wonderful collective activity, celebrating the new growth of Spring.
I guided those who were unsure of where to plant things, but tried not to give too much away, as I feel that some of the joy of planting comes through your own connection to the land, and I believe people won't develop their own intuition with nature if they are told what to do all the time.

After sharing our last nutrient dense meal of the weekend, we gathered in a circle and spoke of what we would take away with us from the weekend, and I ended with a paragraph from Stawhawks 'The Earth Path', the book in which the course is based on;

"Praise and gratitude to the air, the breath of the living earth. We give thanks to you for our lives, for our breath, for the literal inspiration that keeps us alive. praise and gratitude for those ancient ancestors, the first magicians, that lean red to use sunlight to make food, and so gave us the gift of oxygen. Praise and gratitude to those who learned to burn food for energy, and to the great exchange, he world breath that passes from green lung to the red and back again. Praise for the sun that sets the cauldron of the winds in motion, and to the great winds that soar over the face of the earth. Praise to the storm that brings the rains, the water of life to the land. Gratitude to the creatired of the air, the birds that lift up our hearts with their songs, the insects in their erotic caress of the flowers - a caress that brings the fruit of the seed.
May our minds be as clear and open as the air; may we learn from the wind winds how to soar across barriers and sweep away obstacles. May the air and the winds of the world be cleansed. May we learn to be good guardians and friends and allies of the air that is our life; may we make the right decisions that can restore the balance.
Blessed be the air."

We are now taking bookings for our Summer Sacred Ecology Weekend. For more information and bookings please click here.