This is number three in a series of articles. For the first two parts, please click the link below
Part 1: https://www.permaculturenews.org/2016/12/15/language-permaculture-part-1-need-focus-terminology-take-permaculture-next-level/
Part 2: https://www.permaculturenews.org/2016/12/22/language-permaculture-part-2-practical-ideas-use-terminology/
Permaculture: a set of design tools, a way of creating gardens, of perceiving connections, of gaining insights into our environment. But can it also be rebellious? Co-founder of permaculture Bill Mollison once remarked about a book review describing Permaculture Two (1) as “seditious”,
“If you’re a simple person today, and want to live simply, that is awfully seditious. And to advise people to live simply is more seditious still.” (2)
Permaculture design can be seen as being used all over the world not just to create gardens, but also to encourage ways of living which may be considered “different” to the norm. Permaculture practitioners around the world have many different ways of expressing their practices, but most seem to agree that the most effective way of achieving the world we want to see is to create it and live in it, rather than going against things we don’t want to see. One important aspect of how and why this works is how permaculture relates to energy flow, and this article will explore a little what we can do to use energy flow in our lives to the benefit of ourselves and our environment.
Observing and Interacting with Flow
The permaculture techniques to catch and store energy are well documented (see for example 3). Many are based on the idea of observing where the energy is going. Sometimes a natural energy flow may occur in a place which is not prepared for it, or occur too fast at once, which creates erosion. Take for example water on a slope. If the slope is not prepared (if it has a sharp incline, say, or not many plants to hold the soil together) and if the water runs fast down it (say, during a rainstorm) then the side of the slope will soon experience deep ridges and soil erosion as the energy flows away, only a small proportion of it actually going into the soil.
When the energy is something that it would be beneficial to ‘Catch and Store’ (4) there are many ways we can do this. For example, with the water on the slope we can make swales to help the moisture to permeate into the soil and help to nurture it rather than eroding it. We can also apply this ‘Catch and Store Energy’ principle to many other less physical manifestations of energy. A simple example could be that of using inspiration to help us to create our designs. Inspirational energies could flow past us easily – especially with the amount of potential inspiration available to many of us on a daily basis through the internet. By collecting some of the most inspiring things we come across, for example by saving inspirational pictures and regularly looking at them, we could help to use this energy to enhance our own creativity.
What if we don’t want the energy?
Many kinds of energy which permaculture designs take into account, like water, are flows which we want at least a part of to come into our system. But are there any types of flow which we don’t want? What about the very systems which the “seditious” nature of permaculture undermines? There are many questioning evaluations of much of ‘mainstream’ society, for example from Gaia’s Garden (5) author Toby Hemenway, who explores how much of modern ‘civilisation’ is by its monoculture-biased, hierarchical, agriculture-based nature, degenerative to the world around it and is therefore not only detrimental but totally unsustainable (see for example 6).
If we encounter an energy flow which we don’t like it may be a natural-seeming reaction to try to counter it or resist it. If we do this, however, it takes a lot of energy of our own. With the example of water, if you want water to go a different way from the way it’s already flowing you can achieve this but it will take a lot more effort than using the flow which exists and encouraging it to go the way which you do want it to go. I believe the same is true for all energy, the less-visible as well as physical flows like water.
Part of what permaculture design is about is perceiving the patterns of nature around us and working with them to create functioning systems. When we design we look at what’s coming into and out of a system using the ‘Sector Analysis’ (see for example 7). Once we know which energies are flowing through the thing we are designing, we can then do one of three things (as Angelo Eliades puts it),
“Block the incoming energy, Channel the incoming energy for our intended use, [or] Open the area to allow the incoming energy in” (7)
If the energy is really unwanted perhaps it may seem best to go for the first option; however, there is always the subsequent consideration of what happens to the energy after you block it.
If, for example, there is a regular strong wind going in a particular direction towards your food plants you might not want it to continue on its flow-path. By placing a straight wall in front of your plants you may protect them; however, if you do not consider where the energy will flow after you’ve blocked it, there is the potential for it to be detrimental to the surrounding area. Then there is the question of whether or not you really want no wind at all. Do you really wish to stop the energy from entering at all? If so you will need a really big wall, but considering air flow helps plants to be healthy you probably do want some of this energy on your crops.
Sector analysis is important to evaluate what the energies actually are which you are engaging with. Once you know what they are, however, it seems too simple to label them as merely wanted or unwanted. It may be that all of the energies coming in could be utilised in some way, and that allowing them to flow but simply diverting the flow could save a lot of effort on your part and maybe even create more abundance from the incoming energies. For example, instead of a straight wall you could plant a line of trees which curve around to channel the wind flow towards a certain point, and at that point place a wind turbine.
All of this design process can be used in mental permaculture as well. Whatever energies are entering our experience, there are probably more effective ways of dealing with them than simply blocking them or trying to get rid of them; firstly, because on some level or in some way they may well have a use for us, and secondly it would use up a lot of our own energy trying to block or negate the flow, so may not be energy efficient.
Putting it into Action…
It’s all very well to speak of mental energy flows and how we can channel them to help to fulfil our own desires and plans. But can it really work on a practical level? Many permaculture practitioners show us that yes, it can. Toby Hemenway may often speak of the detriment to the ecosystem caused by modern industrial civilisation but his answer is not to try to block the energies associated with it (6). Much more energy efficient is to work on ways to utilise energy flows in more harmonious patterns in your own environment. This could be by changing the way you build, grow food, manage water or any other practical action you take. Perhaps of equal or even greater importance, however, is how you use the energy flows coming into your mind. By diverting the flows of the things we believe are detrimental and catching and storing those we believe are beneficial we can design our own mental landscapes in ways which can create more abundance within ourselves. As Bill Mollison put it,
“You can’t get [anything] right if you haven’t got things right where you are. You’ve got to get things right, working for you.” (2)
Perhaps you are already gardening your mental landscapes in a regenerative way. It could be helpful to consider the energy flows coming into and out of your own experience, and look for effective ways to channel them. Perhaps you will find more of your own energy growing…
1. Mollison, B, 1979. Permaculture Two: Practical Design for Town and Country in Town and Agriculture. Tagari: Tasmania.
2. AtKisson, A, 1991 (1996). ‘Permaculture: Design for Living’. Making it Happen: The Context Institute. https://www.context.org/iclib/ic28/mollison/
3. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Understanding Water, part 2: Working with Flow’. Permaculture News, 26/6/15. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2015/06/26/understanding-water-part-2-working-with-flow/
4. Permaculture Principles, 2017. ‘Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy’. https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_2/
5. Hemenway, T, 2009. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea Green: New York City.
6. Hemenway, T, 2010. ‘How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but not Civilization’. Talk given at Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, North Carolina, USA and uploaded 9/2/13 to Films For Action: https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/how-permaculture-can-save-humanity-and-the-earth-but-not-civilization/
7. Eliades, A, 2009. ‘Permaculture Design Principles 4. Zones and Sectors: Efficient Energy Planning’. Deep Green Permaculture, 2009. https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/permaculture/permaculture-design-principles/4-zones-and-sectors-efficient-energy-planning/