Pattern Understanding

Understanding Patterns – Part 3

How to Encourage Patterns of Abundance

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I gave a basic introduction to ‘pattern understanding’ as it is taught as part of the Permaculture Design Certificate curriculum. We explored how the conscious designer can learn to recognise and work with patterns which are both physical and immediately visible. Plus those more subtle patterns of behaviour, relationships and mental structures which are not so simple to sense, yet nevertheless affect us in just as real a way. In this part we will look in more depth at these invisible patterns and at some practical techniques for using patterns in your life to encourage holistic and regenerative behaviour, both personally and as part of a wider community ecosystem.


Seeing patterns inside our heads – mental patterns

One place to be aware of patterns is in our thoughts and mental structures. In much of my work, I speak of the potential with social permaculture to use the symbol of a ‘mental landscape’ (see for example 1, 2, 3). That is, to visualise our thought-structures as somewhat analogous to an inner garden, which we can create designs for just as easily as for our outer landscapes. In this way we can use the perspective of permaculture to recognise where mental structures are enabling a flourishing ecosystem or where we could change them to encourage healthier ways of thinking. One of the most basic ways to begin this process, perhaps, could be to consider your habits of thought right now. Are you allowing the energies of those things you wish to encourage more of to flow freely into your mental garden?


The shapes which words make

For those finding it difficult to visualise what I mean by ‘energies in the mental landscape’, I will give some more practical examples in the next section. It seems that language is one key to understanding the patterns in our minds, and particularly, the way we talk and the stories we tell to ourselves about our experiences. Mental patterns can become unhealthy when those stories are attached to emotions which we hold onto. Or when we feel that we need to close off parts of our experience (4, 5). So becoming more conscious of our language and how we use it could be an effective way to begin changing the patterns in our mental landscapes.

Looby Mcnamara, author of ‘People and Permaculture’ (6), recognises the importance of language use. In her book as well as offering some of her own practical techniques she also specifically mentions those of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) (7), and Non-Violent Communication (NVC) (8).

As Mcnamara says, “The mutual belief between NLP and permaculture is that we can change patterns of thinking to change outcomes” (6). Concepts of NLP can help us to recognise when our language is not helpful for achieving our goals and then create new ways of speaking. Macnamara’s description of NLP is ‘New Language Patterns creating Novel Life Possibilities’. For example, one of the ‘presuppositions’ of NLP is ‘a person is not his or her behaviour’ (9); that is, if you equate people with the behaviour they exhibit, you may not be willing to engage in relationships with them if they behave in a way you do not like. But if you accept them as a person then you can communicate more easily about the behaviour. This goes for accepting yourself as well. This aspect of NLP is very much related to NVC which, as I have explored in previous articles (see for example 10), is about finding ways of communicating emotions and shared needs and then requesting action, rather than getting stuck on particular behaviours.

All three of these techniques can be very helpful in allowing us to begin to get a handle on how we are using language to create mental patterns. However, it is important to remember that they are tools and as such can be used in more or less effective ways depending on how appropriate they are for any particular context or situation. You may well find that NLP, NVC or The Work can sometimes help you and sometimes it is better to use your own techniques.


Mental landscape features

Whichever particular technique we use, whether it is one which someone else has already publicised, or your own unique strategy; once we have observed what is actually going on with our internal language patterns, we can then, if we want to, begin designing to change them.

An example I have already given in other works (1) is that of the ‘mental swale’. A physical swale is a ditch dug on-contour with a raised mound on the downhill side. The function of a physical swale is to allow for the water which flows across the landscape, instead of flowing out of the system, to infiltrate into the soil and thus provide more nourishment to the immediate surroundings. A mental swale can be a habit or discipline which is introduced in order to encourage the flow of a particular kind of energy which you wish to store to infiltrate further into your consciousness. This could be through the introduction of a particular practice in your daily life, for example, daily yoga or meditation.

Mental Landscape Features
Mike Enerio


Mental Spirals

One common pattern which Macnamara mentions is the spiral.

As Bill Mollison says, “spirals are found where harmonic flow, compact form, efficient array, increased exchange, transport or anchoring is needed (11)”.

A mental spiral can be very powerful, as the flow of energy around the spiral increases in strength every time it goes around. We can utilise the spiral pattern, therefore, to increase the power of any positive thought or habit, and thus create what Macnamara has termed “spirals of abundance” (6).


Creating spirals of abundance

The goal of increasing abundance can be seen to apply to permaculture, or all holistic design, in general. In order to achieve this goal, as Mcnamara points out, we need to also recognise when abundance is not being encouraged, i.e. the presence of erosion, or the “gradual destruction, reduction or weakening of anything” (6). We may be experiencing “spirals of erosion” in many aspects of our lives; some common examples which Macnamara gives are:

  1. Spiral of apathy (personal): thinking about jobs that need doing → not sleeping well at night → lack of energy → not achieving much in the day → thinking about jobs that need doing…etc
  2. Spiral of lack of communication (interpersonal): arguments → bad feelings → arguments…etc
  3. Spiral of dependency (global): aid → dependency → aid…etc (6)

If amplified by stress or other factors, or allowed to persist for a long period, these spirals can also become ‘thought loops’ (12), where the mind can focus on nothing but the spiral of erosion.

If we can observe such spirals in our lives, the key is not to try to get rid of them, but rather to use this accumulative energy but change the focus and thus create spirals of abundance. Such a change could look like, on the personal and interpersonal levels:

  1. Spiral of achievement: feeling good about ourselves → restful sleep → lots of energy for the next day → achieving in the day → feeling good about ourselves …etc
  2. Spiral of communication: Clear communication → nurturing relationship → feeling supported and able to give support → clear communication …etc (6)

Mcnamara does not go into much detail about changing global spirals of erosion onto ones of abundance, but it seems clear that if we can create such patterns in our personal and interpersonal lives then the global patterns will reflect this.


Making new patterns

One of the joys of permaculture design is that we can use this perspective to take what already exists and use it to create something totally new. We as permaculture practitioners are weavers of the new pattern. The new paradigm which it is so clear is necessary to create as part of a wider connection to the global ecosystem and an encouragement of our respectful participation within it.



  1. Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Mental Permaculture, Part 3: Energy Flows’. Permaculture News, 15/1/17. – retrieved 24/9/19
  2. Ashwanden, C, 2019. ‘Permaculture and Healing, part 3: What is community healing?’Permaculture News, 29/6/19. – retrieved 24/9/19
  3. Ashwanden, C, 2019. ‘Permaculture and Ecopsychology’. Permaculture News, 9/8/19. – retrieved 24/9/19
  4. Jung, C. G., & Franz, M.-L. V, 1964. Man and His Symbols. Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y, USA.
  5. Firman, J; Gila, A, 2002. Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. SUNY Press: New York City, USA.
  6. Macnamara, L, 2013. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, Each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK.
  7. Changing States, 2019. ‘An Introduction to NLP.’ – retrieved 24/9/19
  8. Rosenburg, R, 2003. Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press: Encitas, United States
  9. Boey, SM, 2019. ‘NLP PRESUPPOSITIONS: TOP 15 UNIVERSAL TRUTH TO MAKE SENSE’. Available as a PDF here: – retrieved 24/9/19
  10. Ashwanden, C, 2018. ‘Human Permaculture part 3: Practical Communication Techniques’. Permaculture News, 13/11/18. – retrieved 24/9/19
  11. Mollison, B, 1979. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tagari: Tyalgum, Australia.
  12. PsyCare UK, 2019. ‘Introduction to Psychedelic Support: Helping Others’. – retrieved 24/9/19

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button