Pattern Understanding

Understanding Patterns – Part 5

How Can We Direct the Patterns in our Lives?

Through the previous parts of this article series (1, 2, 3 & 4), we have explored the definition of pattern understanding as it is taught in the Permaculture Design curriculum and looked at some ways we can recognise patterns in our lives, with a view to designing changes in them if we feel they are not useful or helpful. In Part 4, these practical steps are aimed at recognising patterns in your own mental landscape, in particular those created by that most compelling of pattern-making, the technology of language. This fifth and final part of the series zooms outwards to look at ideas for practical ways to change and redirect the patterns which connect us to the other beings in our ecosystems. These include the flows of energy represented by exchange of money with our incomes, and also those ‘invisible structures’ of community connections which can be looked at holistically in order to achieve balance and harmony between ourselves and others.


Begin at the beginning…

As I have explored in other articles (4), if we wish to change things around us, then this change needs to begin within ourselves. Mohandas Gandhi said

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” (5)

So if you want to try any practical techniques aimed at changing or redirecting patterns in your social life, it seems important to remember that outward change is probably only possible if you also change your original personal patterns. When applied to permaculture design, this means that the change you wish to encourage in the ecosystem can only happen as fast as the change within the client or designer. For example, you may make a design for yourself in which you find that you can efficiently use your physical surroundings to encourage a flourishing ecosystem in your garden and grow around 25% of your own food. But if you are not ready to commit to sowing, landscaping, watering and gardening, then this design is actually inefficient in the sense of time and the designer’s priorities, so it would be more effective to direct energies in other areas.


Zone 00

This concept of self-care and beginning with your own personal needs is sometimes defined as “Zone double zero” (see for example 6). In permaculture design, ‘zoning’ refers to the practice of placing different elements of your design according to how frequently they are used by the designer (see for example 7). Zone 0 is usually the main dwelling place or centre of human activity within the design, so Zone 00 zooms in one step further to be the designer themselves (6).

As Looby Macnamara, author of ‘People and Permaculture’, puts it, “Self-care leads to caring for others, planetary care and care for other beings” (6).

If we do not care for ourselves then we cannot sustainably give anything to others, so it is actually the most beneficial for the entire ecosystem if we ensure self-care as our own personal priority. The first thing to recognise when putting this into practice is probably finding out what you actually need. Mass media may encourage us to think that we need a new pair of shoes; if we buy shoes produced in a sweatshop using industrially-farmed leather then this is probably not an example of self-care projecting outwards to Earth Care. But if we look a little deeper perhaps we can discover that our real need was a sense of self-love, best achieved through personal practice or interpersonal connection.

As Macnamara puts it,

“We need two wings to fly – our own inner sustenance and outer work in the world. Our inner work is for the collective as well; what we do for ourselves we do for the greater good.” (6)


Directing your money-rivers

One way we can use pattern understanding to incorporate self-care into design is by organisation of finances. Visualising one’s income as composed of different ‘streams’ can help with this. We can direct the energy of these streams into patterns which seem useful to us. Many permaculture practitioners, for example, recommend cultivating multiple streams of income (6, 8, 9); for much the same reason that multiple species are encouraged in a garden. Diversity of income sources can mean more resilience for you – if one stream falters there are plenty more to choose from – as well as providing a variety of opportunities for you to be financially appreciated for your skills, meaning that you can develop in multiple ways without compromising your own basic needs.

One way Macmamara applies pattern understanding to finances is with the concept of ‘desire lines’. In a physical permaculture design, these are the pathways that people or other inhabitants create to link different places they wish to be. In our work, desire lines can show us what we enjoy spending time doing, where, and who with; and if we pay attention to these then we are better equipped to cultivate a means of making money which is, so to speak, in line with our desires. Desire lines may not be easy to spot at first; as Macnamara says, they “often occur subconsciously, but paying attention to them can inform us of our true wishes and longings and lead us to our right livelihoods.” (6)

One example that I find very helpful of putting permaculture design into practice to increase your income in coming from what you want to do comes from Hedvig Murray, whose whole Finance and Economics permaculture design is available on her blog (9).


Patterns in community organisation

As well as helping us to develop on a personal level, pattern understanding can help on a community level as well. There are many methods you can use with pattern understanding to help with your community relationships. Two examples which I know of that do this in a very visual way are the intentional communities of Valle de Sensaciones (10) in the mountains of Granada in Spain; and Roberts Creek (11), British Columbia, Canada.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to visit Valle de Sensaciones, a small community consisting of self-built tree houses and domes. There I got to witness first-hand their Community Mandala (12), which is a beautiful piece of art, as well as a visual representation of the community’s organisation. It seems to function somewhat between a chores rota and a game; community members participate in the mandala as different ‘elements’, which ensures that all the different tasks are distributed evenly.

Roberts Creek also has a Community Mandala (13). Theirs is repainted every year in a gathering of the whole community; who then dance a unique Mandala Dance together on the art they have just created (see for example 13). This kind of pattern-making seems a very powerful tool for encouraging strengthening of relationships, validating expression, and clarifying shared visions and goals.


Understanding your own patterns

Now we come to the end of this article series. You may not be in a position right now to change your income streams, or live in an intentional community, but the techniques and concepts explored in pattern understanding can still be useful to you.

Bill Mollison saw pattern understanding as an essential requisite of human knowledge, passed down from generation to generation among tribal societies but all too often forgotten in modern contexts. As permaculture practitioners able to observe and read the various patterns of life, we can choose to accept Mollison’s “challenge” to

“study and portray knowledge in a compact, memorable and transmissible form, to research and recreate for common use those surviving art forms which still retain their meaning, and to re-integrate such art with science and with society and its functions and needs.” (14)



  1. Ashwanden, C, 2019. ‘Understanding Patterns part 1: Exploring the skill of pattern understanding in permaculture’. Permaculture News, 25/9/19. – retrieved 21/1019
  2. Ashwanden, C, 2019. ‘Understanding Patterns part 2: Patterns in Social Permaculture’. Permaculture News, 2/10/19. – retrieved 21/1019
  3. Ashwanden, C, 2019. ‘Understanding Patterns part 3: Encouraging Patterns of Abundance’. Permaculture News, 16/10/19. – retrieved 21/1019
  4. Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Permaculture and Community part 2: Using the Moral Imagination in Permaculture’. Permacuture News, 14/12/17. – retrieved 21/1019
  5. Gandhi, M, 1964. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume XII, April 1913 to December 1914, Chapter: General Knowledge About Health XXXII: Accidents Snake-Bite, (From Gujarati, Indian Opinion, 9-8-1913) The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi at
  6. Macnamara, L, 2013. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, Each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK
  7. Deep Green Permaculture, 2019. ‘Zones and Sectors – Energy Efficient Planning’. – retrieved 21/1019
  8. Joe Atkinson Permaculture, 2019. ‘Backyard Organics’. – retrieved 21/1019
  9. Hedvig’s Permaculture Adventures, 2019. ‘02: Economics – Designing More Sustainable Personal Finances’. – retrieved 21/1019
  10. Valle de Sensaciones, 2019. ‘Info’. – retrieved 21/1019
  11. Facebook, 2019. ‘Roberts Creek Community Association’. – retrieved 21/1019
  12. Valle de Sensaciones, 2019. ‘Community Mandala’. – retrieved 21/1019
  13. Ross, J, 2008. ‘Day Out of Time’. Get the Whole Picture, 28/7/08. – retrieved 21/1019

Mollison, B, 1979. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tagari: Tyalgum, Australia.

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

  1. I found this article on patterns in Permaculture very useful. Please share more and more.
    Secondly, I’m looking for a chance to be attached to a Permaculture institute to learn real-life application of Permaculture for tropical regions since I live in such a region here in Kenya and wish to be a Permaculture ambassador.
    I’m already a graduate of PDC from Barefoot Soulutions (Kilifi, Kenya).
    Thanks for spreading the Permaculture gospel

Leave a Reply

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

Back to top button