People come to permaculture to facilitate positive change in their own lives, their communities and their landscapes, as permaculture offers a systems design methodology based on natural principles and patterns. They are often deeply attracted to the solutions-oriented focus of permaculture and its emphasis on practical action as much as the ethical ecological systems view of the world it offers as a lens.
And yet so many practitioners come to it from a Western industrial-growth upbringing and the deep conditioning of the “story of separation” at the centre of this culture. This conditioning is so pervasive and so ingrained that it can be almost invisible. So even if permaculture espouses the deep interconnection of everything within the web of life, we can often only grasp that on a rational cognitive level. More often than not, our felt sense of being alive may remain one of atomised separation and its accompanying characteristics of fear, control, defence, the constant need to know, hyper-vigilance and othering.
This constricted state of consciousness can and does influence our approach to permaculture either consciously or unconsciously. This can lead to a cognitive-behavioural or “cogni-centric” approach that favours tools, methodologies and concepts while severely undervaluing or ignoring our capacity to rediscover a felt-sense of enlivenment, connection and wholeness. This imbalance can lead to the same overwhelm, burnout, depression, anxiety and conflictual relationships that we see throughout the dominant culture but which seem so at odds with the deeper promise of permaculture.
From this narrow bandwidth we tend to endlessly repeat patterns of rigid thought and behaviour that may have served us well as protective mechanisms for coping in the “story of separation” but which hamper our ability to deepen, open and flourish as ecological designers, leaders and human beings. Having been involved in permaculture for fifteen years, we have experienced both the possibilities and limitations.
The challenges humanity is currently facing are not being solved by our industrial mindset thinking. Our culture and the planet desperately need truly novel emergent ways of being and thinking to arise. For us to support Life, to take part in the healing of our ecosystems, we need not only to work with nature, but as nature. Permaculture understands the pattern language of nature and has translated that to useful tools and techniques. We believe that the outer work of permaculture, combined with deep inner work which allows us to connect back to the source of Life itself, makes for a truly transformational systems design and is possible on a global scale.
Working with the staff of the Permaculture Association, as well as Permaculture Diploma students, this research project aims to explore what happens when we engage in integral transformative inner practices in conjunction with permacultural outer practices that support a shift from cogni-centrism to being-centrism. Starting from the personal experience we will be expanding inner practices to the social working environment to see how the normalising of these practices can affect the culture of the workplace and to begin identifying and mapping where the barriers and doorways to collective transformation lie. We will research if and how that phase shift can radically and positively impact participants’ felt-sense of being alive as a part of all Life, opening doorways to inner knowing and emergent ways of being that can deeply benefit the outer work of permaculture designers and leaders and their impact making change in the world.