As permaculture practitioners our greatest challenge may well be overcoming self doubt.
This sentiment was shared by more than one of our leading permaculture practitioners and elders earlier this month at the 13th Australasian Permaculture Convergence in Perth Western Australia. A panel of some of our finest educators was assembled with the expressed intent of answering any and all questions anyone in attendance may have, and as expected an eager group of young and old permies assembled ready to fire questions.
The first question off the bat went along the lines of “What do you find is your greatest hindrance to continued beneficial work practice?” This question was addressed to the whole panel, some answered mainstream acceptance or permeation (permi-ation), others told of difficulties in the application of designs with ‘troublesome’ clients, while there was a pervading theme that it was in-fact ourselves that were the greatest barrier to continued and prolonged success.
Both the co-founder of the permaculture concept, David Holmgren, and Terra Perma Design’s Charles Otway stated quite specifically that often their own, as well as others, greatest challenge lay in accepting what they didn’t know, and having the courage to act with confidence on what they did. (This is of course a paraphrasing of what was actually said by both men.) Charles, being a younger practitioner and educator, said he often found it was pure self-doubt, or the psychological battle which eroded confidence that stopped new facilitators from entering the field of permaculture education.
As a relatively new practitioner and soon to be ‘official’ permaculture educator (the second we pertain to be practicing permaculture, are we not then immediately educators of any and all unsuspecting bystanders?), I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this sentiment. Though having over a decade of experience as an educator in many fields, and having rarely felt erred when trying to convey complex ideas and concepts in an educational context, I’ve had trouble taking the leap into permaculture teaching. I’d like to offer my own thoughts on the reasons why and potentially offer some solutions.
1. Find yourself a mentor
To begin with I think there’s a great deal to be said about our amazing elders – The pioneering species of our movement, the xerophytic, “hardy” beings that lay foundations in seemingly barren landscapes – Having set such an incredible standard, it has, on more than one occasion, seemed a terribly daunting task to even attempt to be on par with this magnitude of experience. This of course is what occurred to me initially, and still does at regular intervals, though one of the best things about permaculture is that there’s no hierarchy, it’s all horizontal representation, and the only thing that sets us apart is indeed experience (and quite possibly any attempt to be ‘on par’, but we’ll get onto that in a minute). I’m yet to find a single elder as unapproachable, all I’ve been able to come into contact with have all been ready and willing to answer any and all questions and qualms I’ve had about my practice and learning. So if you’re finding yourself a little daunted, go find yourself that elder, that experienced practitioner and work alongside them if you’re able, as more often than not they’ll be willing to lend a hand, and you’ll learn more than you thought possible, often within a time frame you didn’t think possible either.
2. Stop attempting to be ‘on par’
Being ‘on par’, or making the mistake of comparing yourself with others is a great, and all-too-common mistake. I’ve often reminded myself of a line from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann when faced with this numbing thought process
“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.”
There’s simply no point. So don’t do it!
3. Apply permaculture thinking
‘The field lies open to the intellect’ reads the quote on my PDC certificate, as I’m sure it does many others, and indeed, the field certainly does lie open, way open. The field of permaculture itself isn’t really a field but a vast network of jungles, steppes, swamps, mountains and any and all combinations of every biome you can find on the planet! (and possibly universe) And not just physical but behavioural and situational applications are seemingly endless! Particularly if you haven’t lived under a rock and comprehend to even the smallest extent the myriad crises’ facing us today.
So where to start? Well, to use a Mollisonism, “If you want to change the world, start at your back doorstep!” Take what you know, what you do and apply permaculture thinking to it. It really is that easy. Once you’ve got that under control then you start acting on the larger issues.
4. Confide in a companion
All this is well and good, though if you’re unable to put faith in yourself in the short term try running your ideas by a friend (preferably one with common sense in tact).
Perhaps you want to apply permaculture thinking to your business or household? First take the time to run through ways in which it can be directly, or even indirectly, applied – write notes, make mind-maps, take pictures – do whatever you need to do to convey these ideas clearly or otherwise. Then, with any luck, and enough courage to at least show one of your closest potential accomplices, you’ll be on your way to building the confidence needed to get the ball rolling.
5. “Your anger is a gift”
These words have been muttered by Rage Against the Machine’s lead singer Zac Dela Rocha for at least two decades, and it’s likeness noted within any cultural movement attempting to reapportion justice for centuries prior, members of permaculture being no exception.
We need to learn to harness, or ‘catch and store’ our energy in whatever form it takes. And all too often when faced with our contemporary scenario we are struck by an overwhelming anger. I’m saying we need to use it.
On a final note I’d like to use some words taken from Geoff Lawton’s chapter, Thinking Big in Permaculture Pioneers: Stories From The New Frontier:
“We [the modern ‘consumer’] accept the pollution in our environment, the extreme poverty around the world and the poverty of spirit, the sadness and the destitution in our own communities, the alienation. We accept these things, we’re not outraged by them. I think there’s room for some righteous indignation and outrage… But as practicing permaculturalists we don’t accept these things. We have the solution. It’s time to step up to the plate and put on the badge of honour and take a position where you could end up being an honourable warrior who can mentor other people into that position. It’s time to stop being afraid. Let’s get on with it[!]”
Feature Image Lineup: The line up: (L to R) Ross Mars, Charles Otway, David Holmgren, Cecilia Macaulay, Robina McCurdy, Robin Clayfield, Graham Bell & Analeise Hordorn