Are we as human beings part of nature? The ‘system’, as it is set up presently, would have us think not so much, but of course that is not the case. We are most certainly part of nature. A very crucial part. Possibly the most crucial element? With our awesome power to affect change on such a massive scale, be it either for the benefit, or destruction of life, I am inclined to say indeed, we are the most crucial part.
I would say, the most fundamental aspect of permaculture, is working with nature to design harmonious systems. As it stands, most people, as individuals, seem to be rather disharmonious living systems of nature. Just look around at all the sicknesses of the body and mind in the culture we live in today.
So, if we are a part of nature, wouldn’t it stand that we could apply permaculture principles to ourselves? I am inclined to think we can. But if we have learned anything from Sepp Holzer and the other greats, we must begin with the observation of nature in our system. In this case, our system is our mind/body and our nature would be our overall habit/behavior patterns we follow as we go through life on a daily basis.
Have you ever observed yourself objectively, as a part of nature? The things you do and think in a day? As it happens, this an incredibly difficult task to undertake for any length of time. You find your attention wanders away after a matter of seconds of observation. If you persist though, you will have moments of insight, throughout the days of trying, into some of the things you think about and do, that you never payed attention to before.
Let’s take nature of the external world as an example. If we never observe nature, it doesn’t make much sense. Things just seem to happen. The sun rises and sets ‘over there somewhere’, the wind blows from random directions, it sucks when it rains, that damn tree sheds it’s leaves all over the yard every year, and bees are scary because they will bite.
As soon as we observe, we begin to see these essential elements of nature in a whole new light. The sun rises in a slightly different place every day and moves in a pattern each year. There are prevailing winds which change with the seasons. Rain becomes the life blood for all the plants to grow, not just an inconvenience. We see those leaves acting as a fertilizer as they decompose back into the earth. And those bees are actually pollinating those fruit trees over there and doing their best to stay out of our way. The closer attention we pay and more time we spend observing, the more we learn about the natural world around us and the connections between the elements.
This also holds true for the natural world that is our mind/body. Without observation it doesn’t make much sense and things just seem to happen to us all the time. We always get that cold going around and can’t shake it. Our back hurts all the time. The same thing happens at work that irritates us every day. Every time something goes wrong, we get super frustrated and stew in that frustration for hours. We constantly identify with, and react to, external stimuli.
As we begin to practice objective observation of the natural system that is our self, things begin to take on a new meaning again. That cold goes away a lot faster when we include nutrient rich foods in our diet. Our back felt way better after going for a nice swim and stretching it out. That irritation at work starts to become much less so as we begin to realize we were making the unconscious choice to become irritated. As the frustration sets in, we can start to identify it as a state we are willing engaging in. Objectively there is no real reason why we should be stewing in frustration. It helps nothing.
With continued practice of self observation, it becomes easier and easier to see external stimuli and the internal reactions that are a result. We also begin to realize that everything changes all the time, be it our current physical condition, state of mind, or the external world. Change begins to take on a new meaning and is no longer something to constantly react negatively to. As our understanding of our habit patterns of reacting increases, we can start to change it for the better.
Through observation we have begun to identify certain negative habit patterns that we constantly engage in. Now it is time to begin making changes to those patterns, so they benefit our mind/body system instead of being detrimental.
If we look back on Sepp Holzer’s approach to permaculture, it goes as follows: Observe, Model, Observe, Expand, Observe, Adapt, Observe, Profit.
By following these principles, we can choose a particular habit pattern, say engaging in frustration, and starting with small frustrations, set up a model of simply observing the feeling as it arises; not identifying with and engaging in it.
As we observe this model of behavior, it should be making life better and less frustrating. We can now slowly expand this model of behavior to encompass more and more frustrating situations.
Through further observation we can adapt any techniques that help with not engaging in the frustration, such as taking a few deep breathes when we sense frustration is mounting.
With continued observation, we begin to profit from our effort, as life begins to feel more pleasant and we spend much less time stewing over trivial external stimuli.
After seeing the benefits of our efforts in changing one habit pattern, we can begin to apply the same principles to other negative patterns of unconscious, reactive behavior. With continued practice and implementation, these new patterns of conscious observation and non reaction begin to take hold in the mind and replace the old negative patterns of unconscious, destructive reaction.
This is analogous to taking a degraded, disharmonious system in the physical world, applying permaculture design principles to the landscape and creating a beautiful, harmonious living system that benefits all life. Only we are taking a destructive, disharmonious system that is our mind/body, applying permaculture principles to it and turning it into a beautiful, harmonious system that benefits all life.
In order to affect real change in the world around us, we must make serious changes to our selves. Change your mind, and you change your world. 🙂