Permaculture and Peace – Part 5

How can Telling Stories Help us to Lead Peaceful Lives?

In part 1 of this article series, we explored how peace (as a practical and teachable tool) and permaculture practices are similar, in that they both offer a holistic lens through which to view the world and find practical ways to engage with it.  In part 2  and part 3, we looked at the idea of violence as a cycle which can be transcended, primarily on an individual level which can ripple outwards to the whole society; while in part 4 we saw the contradictions inherent in attempting to create peace based on identity politics, or to impose it from the outside.  Weaving through all of these is the recognition of imagination and story-telling as key tools to achieve effective holistic aims, whether this be as part of peace or permaculture practices. In this final part we will look more closely at some personal peace practices that anyone can engage in.


Bringing Peace To Permaculture

As I have explored in previous parts of this series and in previous articles (5,6), designing peaceful societies is very similar to designing abundant permaculture systems. Permaculture design can help us to create truly permanent culture, which is holistic and resilient, and whose members can communicate clearly and honestly with themselves, each other and the Earth. In this way we can see that practices of peace are an essential part of practicing permaculture effectively. But how exactly can we engage in such practices? Creating a peaceful society is not as straightforward as, say, digging a swale, and will be different in every individual case.

Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

You could say that digging swales is useless unless the humans with whom you are interacting have taken some steps towards engaging in peaceful practices within their own lives. In the holistic psychological practice of Psychosynthesis, it is recognised that all humans have so-called ‘wounds’ in our psyches, which, if we do not work to heal them, reflect in our actions and ultimately end up wounding the whole planet (7). As Psychosynthesis practitioners John Firman and Ann Gila put it, “opening up to authentic personality moves naturally from healing the individual and family to healing the wider society and the planet as a whole…If, however, we refuse to recognise our wounds and our path of healing, we will find it difficult to render true service to a wounded world.” (7)



Sharing Stories

To me, one of the keys to engaging in this so-called ‘human permaculture’ and find our own paths of healing is mythology. It seems that in order to find trust between ourselves and our fellow humans, and alignment with our environment, we need shared stories which help us to make sense of our lives. The telling and re-telling of such stories then leads to the formation of collective values, which all people within a group agree are important.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

In modern society many of us grow up without a defining mythology(8) but where we are surrounded by stories on a daily basis, particularly from media and social media. Therefore it can be confusing trying to find ways to relate to the world which are in accord with the ways of other humans with whom we share this planet. We recall, perhaps, tales of the little girl who got lost in the woods, but do we understand the symbolism of the wolf? Fairytales and dreams are some of the last remnants of shared mythology which remain too much of modern society(8), and learning what symbols are alive in our own minds can be very helpful in understanding our own impulses and psychological issues. As Ursula K LeGuin put it;

People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within. (9)

Arguably, finding ways to agree with each others’ stories is one of the most important things we can do to encourage peace not only between people but in terms of how we treat the Earth (7, 8, 10).



Values and Discrimination

As Looby Macnaamara puts in, “When there is a sharing of beliefs, there is a sharing of culture.”(11)
If a couple, family, community or nation share values they can grow together and so are probably likely to be peaceful, i.e. they may disagree or encounter conflict, but can achieve open communication through the shared values and so evolve through such difficulties.

Discrimination’ is often seen as a negative word and indeed, it is usually unhelpful to discriminate against a person or group based on superficial factors such as skin colour or nationality. This can be the case even if those doing the discriminating believe they are doing right. For example, many projects in the UK recently started offering free places on courses to “BAME [black, Asian and ethnic minority]” people (see for example 12). This is discrimination based on skin colour as the only criteria necessary is to be BAME, not any other factors. In this way the action is disempowering as it is assuming that such people are automatically disadvantaged simply because of their skin colour, and dehumanising in judging people not on ability, skills, experience or anything else, but simply what they look like. Such actions can be seen as engaging in identity politics which, as we looked at in part 4, can be detrimental to peace.

Photo by Karson on Unsplash

However, when it comes to values, discrimination can be very helpful in encouraging peaceful work. For example, a community group who are working together to create an artistic event can interact successfully if everyone in the group places a similar level of importance on the value of creativity. However, if some people value profit more highly than creativity, and some value creativity more highly than profit, there will probably be tension and the event is less likely to be successful. If you are working together with others on a project, you may find it helpful to sit down together and share what you value the most, in order to clarify communication and harmonious work.



Shared Humanity, Different Values

If your values are totally incompatible with those of another, discrimination can help to realise that working together is probably not possible. An important factor here is to recognise that whoever the person who holds the opposing value is, they are still a human. For example, in 1930s India, MK Gandhi met with many representatives of groups who wanted to use physical force and violence to achieve independence. One of these groups was the All-India Muslim League, which supported the segregation of Hindus and Muslims into separate countries (13) (which did end up happening) that Gandhi was opposed to,(14) as he was calling for unity.  In the lead-up to the official declaration of independence, massacres of Hindus and Muslims were happening all over the country. Gandhi visited one town where the “the local officials, afraid that the violence would get even worse, begged him to stay until Independence Day. He agreed, on the condition that he and the Muslim League’s chief minister, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, sleep under the same roof.” (15)

We can see in this action that Gandhi was reaching out to Suhrawardy as a human, though at the same time, recognising that their values were different. Arguably, by agreeing to see each other as human, the two leaders prevented more fighting as “instead of more horrific killing in Calcutta, people marched through the streets chanting Hindus and Muslims are brothers!



Sharing Peaceful Stories

If the stories shared in a particular culture are ones which encourage disconnection or enmity then the values which take root in and grow from such stories will probably not be very peaceful. This is why it is important to be aware of the stories being told by your community and family. Mainstream media tends to follow a worldview focussed on scarcity mindset and violence. (16, 17)  To transcend such negative values it is necessary for us to tell our own stories of abundance and peace.

This does not mean that we all suddenly have to become journalists (though with modern social media it is increasingly easy to do this); the most important thing is to be aware of the stories we are telling in our own minds. To do this, we can explore techniques such as those offered by Firman and Gila as part of Psychosynthesis.(7)  Another very effective tool that I have found for self-reflection on whether or not your personal inner stories are helping you to live a joyous life is that of The Work, by Byron Katie (18) This is a very simple self-inquiry technique, with detailed instructions and worksheets available for free on Katie’s website. (19)

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay


Creating Our Own Stories

Permaculture is about looking at what already exists in a system and encouraging those living within it to interact together in a harmonious way. I believe that creating shared stories and understanding shared values are key ways in which to do this. This does not mean we have to start from scratch and make up a new mythology now. As CG Jung(20) and Joseph Campbell(8) have pointed out, we share many symbols and values as an entire human race through our ‘collective unconscious’, and one way to become conscious creators of the stories of our own lives is to recognise which symbols and myths we are already living by, and if they can help us in our harmonious work. Perhaps one of the most fundamental realisations to aid with this is that the stories which are already alive within our souls are shared with all our fellow humans, and that what is needed is to simply recognise that each different inflection is part of a greater whole. As Campbell put it,
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” (8)




Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Peace part 1: A Holistic Look at Crisis’.  Permaculture News 31/8/20 – retrieved 20/4/21

Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Peace part 2: Moral Psychology and the Art of Getting Along’. Permaculture News 21/9/20 – retrieved 20/4/21

Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Peace part 3: Transcending Violence Through Unity’. Permaculture News 19/11/20 – retrieved 20/4/21

Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Peace part 4: Imagination as a Key to Understanding’. Permaculture News 03/12/20 – retrieved 20/4/21

Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Permaculture and Community part 1: Permaculture as a Tool for Peace’. Permaculture News 2/11/17- retrieved 20/4/21

Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Permaculture and Community part 2: Using the Moral Imagination in Permaculture’. Permaculture News, 14/12/17 – retrieved 20/4/21

Firman, J; Gila, A, 2002. Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. SUNY Press: New York City, USA.

Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City, USA.

LeGuin, UK, 2004. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and Imagination. Shambhala: Boulder, USA

Abram, D, 1997. The Spell of the Sensuous: Language and Perception in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City, USA

Macnamara, L, 2013.People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, Each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK

Permaculture Association UK, 2021. ‘Limited funded places on our upcoming Design for Resilience courses’.
retrieved 20/4/21

Partition Museum Amritsar, 2021. ‘The Partition’. – retrieved 20/4/21

Majmudar, U, 2012. Gandhi’s Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light. New York City, USA.

Gandhi, A, 2017. The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from my Grandfather. Gallery Books/Jeter Publishing: New York City, USA.

Positive News, 2021. ‘About’.  retrieved 20/4/21

Kumar, S, 2019. >Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well. New Society Publishers: Gabriolas Island, Canada.

The Work of Byron Katie, 2021. ‘The Work’.  – retrieved 20/4/21

The Work of Byron Katie, 2021. ‘How to Do The Work’.

Jung, CG (ed), 1964. Man and His Symbols. Dell Publishing: New York City, USA.

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.

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