There’s a lot we need to accomplish in order to create the sustainable future we’re dreaming of. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming. In order to keep our spirits up, it’s important to have daily reminders of what we aspire to create.
Finding an inspiration that’s meaningful, making a commitment to apply it in a concrete way every day, and then seeking feedback and support in our endeavor, all work together synergistically to change our world from the inside out. This activity can make the seemingly enormous task of shifting our culture towards sustainability manageable, and even fun, as we engage our peers and mentors in the process. By focusing on the area of our lives we have the most control over – ourselves – we also become living examples for others to follow, quite possibly the most valuable resource we can develop for future generations.
The classic Western model of resource allocation has reached its apex, and new ways of thinking and interacting with our environment are necessary to carry humanity forward. The last century saw an unbelievable explosion of commerce and technological innovation. It also brought dramatic increases in the marginalization of individuals and the exploitation of natural resources. Now it’s up to us to find new solutions for the decades to come.
Our generation is called upon to reverse the degradation of wild lands and forests, and to steward our agricultural lands in harmony with the ecological systems which support us. We have the unprecedented opportunity to reshape our culture, and in order to inspire future generations we have to set a good example. It may seem overwhelming to take on such an undertaking, which is why it’s important to embrace a daily practice of keeping our spirits up as we integrate the lessons of permaculture into our lives.
Inspiration comes from passion
Daily practice requires daily inspiration, and the easiest way to find inspiration is to explore our passions. You may already know what your passion is, in which case the only question is how to pursue it effectively, and in a regenerative way. For many, it’s more of a general feeling, a gnawing sense that we need to be doing something different, but not knowing just what will satisfy that inner disquiet. Acknowledging the absence of a fulfilling life path can be difficult, but it is the first step towards creating a life full of passion and the energy necessary to inspire others to action. Once that first step is taken, everything else begins to fall into place.
When searching for passion, we can start by asking ourselves, “What first drew me to permaculture?” Chances are, there’s a neglected passion hidden there, just aching to spread its wings and fly. By feeding this passion in small ways, every day, we can grow in the direction of our dreams, build confidence in our abilities, and recreate our own lives step by step. Before you know it, each of us will be living a life which renews the earth, eager to greet each day with enthusiasm and verve for the tasks at hand!
For many, the search for a new way of doing things began by hearing a message about climate change, peak oil, global deforestation, or the depletion of coastal fisheries. These interests could translate into tracking your carbon footprint, planting trees, or preserving the local watershed. For others, what first led them to be interested in permaculture was the loss of local wild lands for hunting and fishing, the pollution of a local water source, or the plight of people living in poverty in the third world. These might translate into a passion for conservation, watershed preservation, or establishing food security through permaculture-based community development. In each case, there was something which struck a chord and awoke a little voice which said “I can be living a different life – one that’s better for me and the community I live in,” and the passion hidden there can be found by listening to that voice and encouraging it to say more about the way the world could be a better place.
This initial inspiration can subsequently be drowned out when we’re exposed to the vast sea of information and differing opinions on how to create a better world. Some of us, upon first recognizing that inner passion, may clam up and decide it’s too risky to attempt change. Others may start out idealistic and headstrong, and become disillusioned over time if a project fails or a precious natural resource is lost to development. The most energetic and passionate among us also have a tendency to burn out over time. When this happens, according to permaculture it’s time to turn our attention to the innermost aspect of “Zone Zero” — ourselves.
Renewing our inspiration, passions, and energy is just as important as renewing the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus, and organic matter. Exposing ourselves to people who inspire us is just as important as maximizing interactions between companion plants, and learning about new ideas is as vital as planting flowers in your garden to lure pollinating insects. Observing the patterns in our own lives in order to rethink the details, while considerably more personal, is just as important as zooming out to a systems-level view when we’re stumped by an issue while designing a landscape. The principles of permaculture can be just as effectively applied to our inner lives or social landscape as they can to a farm. Making a daily habit of this is an important way of being the change we wish to see in the world, and to do this we need concrete things we can do every day.
Nosce te ipsum et carpe diem — know thyself and seize the day!
Knowing yourself is the biggest help in finding the next step. You probably know enough about yourself to get started, and just need to connect the dots to find a bite-sized chunk you can sink your teeth into. Let’s start by thinking about what it is you enjoy already, and expand on that.
If you are a thinker, you could subscribe to a blog, video channel, e-mail list or forum. Perhaps a trip to the library or local bookstore is in order! Whatever your medium of choice, make it a point to regularly expose yourself to the new ideas in your specific field of interest. If it doesn’t hold your attention, leaving you feeling refreshed and energized when you’re through, it’s not your passion — read or watch something else!
Are you someone who loves getting things done, but never cared much for reading? Perhaps you need to make a commitment to putting your hands in the dirt every day, and then find creative ways to fulfill this commitment all winter long. Making yourself an indoor worm farm to eat your compost and turn it into valuable fertilizer just might fit the bill. What’s one thing you could do today to make that a reality?
Maybe dirt’s not your thing… are you a social butterfly, someone who loves interacting with other people more than anything else in the world? You could find a local permaculture group or CSA and engage with the organizers. Ask them out about local events, volunteer positions, or even a part-time job where you could make new connections. Farmers’ markets, yoga studios, and places of worship are also great places to search for inspiring groups to join. Nothing going on in your area? Start your own group by posting a flyer at the organic supermarket or coffee shop in town. You might be surprised at who turns up!
We start out on familiar territory: ourselves. Delving deeper into what we already like and enjoy puts us on the path to success. We can then translate that self-reflection into an achievable goal, which brings our permaculture dreams into the real world step by step. Making a commitment to accomplish that goal as part of a process of self-cultivation creates huge positive momentum!
Breaking old patterns and making new ones
Our lives are made up of habits. The conventional wisdom says that it takes just 21 days to break an old habit, or to form a new one. This little bit of knowledge can be very empowering when we apply our willpower towards changing our lives for the better. There has been a lot of back and forth recently over the environmental benefits of various “green” technologies and activities, and it can be hard to discern what differentiates positive action from participating in a meaningless greenwashing campaign. For instance, does it make sense to fly to a permaculture workshop when flying creates such a big carbon footprint? The prevalence of negative news and thinking about the environment is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in this process.
To overcome this, we need to seek out positive reinforcement, and monitor our inner dialogue. The important thing to do right now is to create positive momentum at the smallest levels, by telling ourselves it’s possible and within our reach. The secret lies in examining and changing the details of our life, where we can easily create small successes to build on over time.
This can take many forms, and the first step is identifying the issue you are facing. Let’s imagine a permaculture student living in the city, who desires to make a living on the food he grows in a permaculture village. Can you imagine what this person feels like? With such a huge transition, finding the root problem might take some soul-searching.
With the problem clearly stated, it isn’t a big leap to see that the solution lies in breaking this down to bite-sized chunks, and picking one small thing to implement immediately. Our imaginary permaculture design student could start by buying biodegradable soap which is safe to use in a greywater irrigation systems. Even though the water is returned it to the municipal treatment plant, it’s one manageable change which will be necessary to complete the transition. Every time this person washes his hands, he’s reinforcing the idea that he is moving towards his goal, harnessing the power of suggestion at a subconscious level.
Ask yourself where you would like to be, and request inner guidance for how to get there. Most problems can be solved by simply asking the right questions. See what answers pop up – you might be surprised at your own creativity! If this seems difficult, perhaps a good place to start would be taking up a meditation practice, journaling, or seeking out a support group focused on communication in order to explore your emotional landscape.
Once you’ve made your commitment, find a friend looking to shape her life in a positive way, and make an agreement to support one another. Always be positive and encouraging! Forgive yourself if you miss a day, and be understanding with your friend if she misses a day. If you slip up, start the next day with an affirmation of your commitment, and keep track of your progress by writing about it in a journal or marking each day of the calendar.
Can you imagine how different your life could be in a year if you made (and followed through on) one new commitment each month, instead of trying (and inevitably failing) to fulfill a boatload of New Year’s resolutions all at once? By applying a slow and steady approach, each day can feel better than the last as it brings you closer to the world you’ve been dreaming of living in.
Building momentum and pacing yourself
Creating a new culture based on permaculture values requires overcoming the inertia of the culture we were born into, and we each have to start with where we’re at. First of all, where you’re at is OK! Let’s make sure we’re being kind to ourselves often, as this speeds the process of personal evolution incredibly. If you find yourself beating yourself up at any point in this process, please avoid getting into a feedback loop of berating yourself for engaging in negative self-talk! Just notice it, and in that moment, say aloud “I am engaged in a process of personal growth. It’s okay to make mistakes. I still love and accept myself!”
To keep our spirits up, it’s important to be realistic about our short-term goals. An old American riddle asks, “How do you eat a watermelon the size of a house?” and the answer applies here: “One bite at a time!” Shifting our entire culture towards sustainability is at least as daunting, and by starting with small, doable steps, we’re creating a foundation of positive momentum to build a better future on. The recipe for success is to continually expand and hone our skill sets, develop networks of mentors and co-creators, and to cultivate the resources today that we’ll need to accomplish the tasks ahead of us. Let’s all do what we can, each day, with the knowledge that any movement, however small, is a big help if it’s movement in the right direction.
To keep ourselves inspired, it’s also vital to make sure our dreams are big enough to change the world! Having a goal that’s worth overcoming difficulty to create will keep things moving when obstacles present themselves, and this means setting our sights on something so beautiful and precious that we’re prepared to meet the world’s resistance with courage, stretch ourselves, and confront difficulties with a smile. Periodically taking the time to ask “How could this dream get even better?” will develop the capacity for imagination and positive thinking, and keep our long-term goals, the reasons we’re doing what we do on a daily basis, fresh in our minds.
Future generations are counting on us to lead them into a sustainable, lush world full of nutritious food and natural landscapes which fill the heart with joy. The first step is finding inspiration in ourselves, something motivating which leads us towards living our passions in a sustainable way. When we renew this inspiration by following through on commitments to make little changes, we inspire others to join us as well. Engaging our community for support in this process completes the circle, as mentors with passion and well developed skills guide us towards success in our endeavors, and we pass their wisdom on to others to continue the cycle. Starting with one new habit, our courage and passion will transform our inner lives, our communities, and the world!