In issue 26 we wrote an article called Growing with the Flow: the Tao and Permaculture, about our experience of developing our two and a half-acre site. Since then letters have opened up a whole area of discussion around spirituality and permaculture. This area needs attention if we are to really make the changes that are needed to live harmoniously on this Earth.
To bring about much needed change, it is of course essential to look at how we treat and care for the Earth, but what we may overlook is our selves, and how our inner world directly creates what is happening on the Earth.
The self and whole
The self is indivisible from the whole. This is what is essential here - realising we are an essential part of the whole.
As we move forward, trying to do things differently in our lives, work, and on the land, we can so easily take with us non-supportive, old attitudes and patterns. For example, the same issues over control or insecurity come up again and again. Or feelings of being trapped, powerless or fearful in the face of overwhelming forces persist. These patterns often conceal how we are the solution to our own difficulties.
To make real changes in our lives and in the world we each need to look at our selves, to question underlying attitudes and see what really matters. We need to find who and what we really are.
Finding who we really are
We grow when we question ourselves and realise where and how we have taken on attitudes and patterns that have come from distorted ways of thinking and being. Then we can come to a position of choice about what we think and how we act. These conditioned thoughts and imprinted patterns have nothing to do with who we really are, although they will insist they are the truth. Finding who we really are changes everything. Such a spiritual awakening can become a true foundation for radical change.
Try asking yourself: Who am I?
I am teacher, nurse, technician, writer, gardener, mother, father, man, woman. I am me. I am my thoughts, I am my feelings. I am skin, bone, flesh. I am life. I am.
Eventually we come to the mysterious - the spiritual, we start to sense that we are not who we think we are. All the roles and self-images are not the truth of our essential being. This is the spiritual "I," which is quite different to self-image. Spirit is the presence and life force that is in us and in everything. Spirit is the energy that animates matter. Spirit is the power of life as it flows and moves through every living thing in the great inter-related eco system of life.
Permaculture aims to understand the energetic and physical flows within an eco system so we can live and act in harmony with it. Understanding ourselves is a crucial part of learning to live and act in harmony with nature. By identifying ourselves as the presence underlying all our experience we can let go of attachment to old habits and patterns and find the roots of any self-sabotaging behaviour. We can then find the way to harmonising with the flow of life in our ecosystem.
No division between spirit and matter
If we aim to live in harmony with nature then we need to find nature within us. Finding nature within us is to discover our spiritual source. We are not talking about the sort of spirituality that makes out that there is a separation between the spiritual and the material. Both materialists and many religious people maintain that division at the cost of direct experience of life and the joy that can come from it.
In reality there is no division. To live as if spirit and matter, and mind and body are separate results in a broken integrity. Not broken in a moralistic sense, but in that it fragments our minds and stresses the body since the two are really of one source, one presence.
The division can be traced through history. It can be traced back through the dualism of mind and body inherent in the idea of a Creator God separate from the Earth. This led to a judging moralistic attitude to humanity and our 'sinful' bodies.
A state of separation
In the West, most of us grow up with a poor sense of who we really are because of this division. Most of human reality is based upon the illusion that we are separate from each other, from nature, from our bodies and from spiritual reality. In this state of separation the mind sees the world and nature as something to be exploited for personal gain.
In new born babies there is no separation between mind and body, no separation between
sensation, perception, action or reaction. Babies just are, present and open to life. As we grow up, in our culture, the simple sense of presence is not often valued. As a consequence many children start feeling inadequate, alone, unloved, bad, or of no worth. Our early experiences may cause us trauma and will certainly condition us into the thought and belief patterns of the culture we are born into. These patterns are usually based in fear or sense of lack and are often rigid, fixed, defensive or controlling. It is these patterns of thinking that we come to believe are truth, these emotions that we identify as self.
Believing in the fear-based patterns prevents us from entering into the state of consciousness where our deeper underlying presence is felt. We start to believe in our constructed self-image as if it is the real self. In this process we cease to live immersed in the inter-connectedness of life. Living in this way causes consciousness to fragment and such fragmentation goes against the flow of life.
So how come most of us, in our culture, go through this process of separation from the flow of life? What are the roots of our alienating and limiting patterns? How did it happen?
Separation from nature: the onset of agriculture
Early cultures did not appear to have such a sense of separation. In early times trust in the cycles of life, nature and an all pervading sense of presence that we may call the goddess provided a deep sense of security and a trust in life. "The primitive Mother gave comfort and reassurance. Eskimo shamans still call her the soul of the universe, never seen, but her voice can be heard ' a gentle voice, like a woman,' a voice so fine and gentle that even the children cannot become afraid. What it says is 'be not afraid of the universe"
To our ancestors the female was obviously the essential source of the cycles of life. She gave birth and sustained young with her milk. Hunter-gatherers had great trust in life and nature to provide for their sustenance. This can still be seen in the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes that survive today.
This way of being was prevalent for millions of years. Agriculture started to radically change this way of life and the attitudes that went with it. The first agriculturalists may well have been in tune with nature. However as the population grew, competition for land developed and people started to move to less fertile areas and agriculture became more of a struggle with nature.
To the agriculturalist, nature can appear as the enemy. It causes flooding, hail, drought, wind or too much sun that destroy young crops or harvests. Hard work can be seen as the source of bounty rather than nature. With this attitude the land has to be tamed, brought under control, nature battled with. When hierarchical pastoralist societies overran and combined with sedentary agriculturists, the idea of ownership of animals was extended onto the land and women with disastrous results. The concept of ownership completely changed how people related to the land and each other.
The sentiments expressed in the famous letter said to be from Chief Seattle to the President of the US in 1885 gives us an idea of how differently hunter - gatherer cultures felt about the land:
" The great chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land … How can you buy or sell the sky? The warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people… We know the white man does not understand our ways. … The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it he moves on. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only desert. … All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth."
We moved from hunter gatherer's trust in life to agriculturists scrabbling for survival and self-preservation. Over time, the separation from nature became more extreme as trust died, and fear and greed took over. Identity became tied up with fear for
survival, which in turn eclipsed the ability to trust the flow of every day's unfoldment.
The fragmentation of our consciousness created by this separation from nature runs parallel to and is inseparable from the destruction of the earth's eco
systems that have come from agriculture. This is the original Mollison/Holmgren concept that they described in early Permaculture texts. They explained how, with agriculture, we started to diverge from nature and create artificial eco systems- these became more destructive as time went on. The damage was compounded drastically over the last 300 years, with dire consequences over the last fifty. This was the inspiration of permaculture: to return to a oneness with nature.
Ways through: giving time and care to ourselves
We can't go back to being hunter-gatherers now - there are too
many of us, so this is where permaculture comes in- creating natural forage systems.
What is also needed is a return to into inner connectedness: a return to a oneness with life that
reverses the devastating turn humanity made a long time ago. The change begins here, now, in each of our lives, in every moment, in our connection with our selves, each other and with the Earth. It happens when we become fully present in our direct experience of life.
We can put this into practice by developing a direct relationship with the essential beingness within the self, within nature and within the whole of the universe. This is a relationship that is beyond words or concepts, but is about being alive and present with the full depth and breadth of what is in this moment. This is about recognising and being your self, whole, as part of the essence of the universe, and flowing with that essence. In that whole and flowing state you are connected to the totality of the universe through the universal presence that is in all things, which is love.
We often experience moments of full presence at those magic times when we find ourselves moved by a beautiful piece of music a wonderful sunset, or in a loving connection. We open fully to the moment at those times and feel ourselves moved in wonder: our souls are touched, our spirit soars.
Finding our way into a more constant and flowing oneness with life is essentially a simple process but often not an easy one, as the sources of conflict and separation exist deep within us. Finding our way through involves understanding the complexity of our modern mind and the whole jumble of emotions we usually carry.
We can help ourselves by:
- finding who we are through meditation, awareness, inner focus: this creates a solid foundation for our personal growth. See box.
- listening to our bodies, through awareness and attention and becoming fully present in them
- listening to our feelings- allowing ourselves to feel our hurts and fears and learning to release them safely and responsibly. Owning the blame, anger or hatred we feel and not project it out on others.
- getting to know our dominant limiting thought patterns and survival or coping strategies that create self limitation and sabotage and through this realising they are not our true selves and thus stop being run by them
- giving ourselves time to attune to nature, to feel and know who we are within it. Through this we get to know our part in nature directly.
These are acts of self love - it is caring for ourselves enough to set ourselves free from the patterns of the past and to live fully in the present, fully in our bodies, fully alive in them. All these aspects are involved in a holistic self-care that honours body, mind, spirit and emotions in one integral whole. This brings a fully grounded, balanced sense of true self and brings about a whole new relationship with life.
An earth centred spirituality: reconnecting with nature
Taking time with nature we can wake up to the pulse of life as it flows through us. Connecting with nature directly is a beautiful spiritual experience as we find a timeless connection with the Earth, as old as being human. Meditating in nature, sometimes with eyes open sometimes and shut at others, can help you connect with all that is around you. Witnessing ourselves in the moment, being fully present in nature we can more deeply feel our part in the whole. Bill Mollison said that the wild unmanaged zones are so vital: "in Zone V, we observe and learn; it is our essential place for meditation, where we are visitors, not managers." And this is certainly so for in wild nature we deeply connect with our wild essential natures.
Being present in and conscious of what is this moment is a simple but very profound spiritual practice. This can be done in any situation, whatever our circumstances. In the garden there is a special opportunity to do this as we can open up to a greater sense of nature. When we do this the garden becomes a place of spiritual renewal and profound growth. We can bring this awareness, full presence and quiet focus into our gardening, whether this is with some potted plants on a balcony, treasured garden or plot of land. Hearing the wind, seeing the colours, smelling the scents, feeling the air on your skin, tasting the amazing tastes that nature creates, sensing the peace, the aliveness, quiet buzz of plants growing, feeling the earth breathing, life unfolding. When we open up like this in the garden there is a special opportunity to deepen and transform our relationship with the earth
By tuning in, listening to and learning from nature in the garden, we can create little areas of paradise on earth. Learning permaculture principles certainly can help us make them but when it comes to putting them into practice, coming from a deep sense of inner connection can transform hard work into an ongoing flow of ever deepening, truly harmonious connection with nature.
Coming out of fear into trust
Giving time for ourselves in this way can be challenging and confronting. This is because all these practices allow us to become conscious of what separates us from our true selves. We also often feel threatened if our ways of thinking or being are questioned.
It takes a lot of courage to embark on a journey that will free us from age old, inherited patterns passed from one generation to the next. But the rewards are freedom and the power to make a difference. When we become present to ourselves, so much profoundly changes that it results in very different ways of living. Fear of insecurity or concern for self-preservation no longer keeps us stuck, trapped.
As we move into trust we can discover that life provides for our needs. We can let go to life's flow, and be in harmony with our environment rather than exploiting it for our perceived needs. As we connect with our source we find the deepest security. Living in trust transforms every part of our lives ;- relationships, housing, work and money. Life becomes warm and loving, magical and awe inspiring in its connectedness and synchronicity. We find the courage to make changes and start to really engage with life and with each other, living as we truly want to, in ways that fulfil us and serve all of life. We are part of the whole and the whole nurtures us as we nurture it. The Earth nurtures us as we nurture her.
Suggested further reading:
The Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu a text from the 6th century BC.
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
The Endorphin Effect: a breakthrough strategy for holistic health and spiritual well being by William Bloom
Permaculture: A designer's manual by Bill Mollison, especially the introduction to it for spiritual and historical background of permaculture.
Come to our courses to directly experience what thisis all about