Why Permaculture Inspires and Motivates Me

Maddy Harland
Thursday, 7th November 2013

Permaculture editor, Maddy Harland, describes what inspires her and how we can cultivate resilience and balance until the rest of the world wakes up to utter utter urgency of practical Earth restoration.

I want to tell you why permaculture inspires and motivates me and how I apply it in my own life, but before I do that I need to set the scene. Please bear with me.

What do you feel when you read or hear that the Arctic icecap is melting faster than ever before or that clean water, a rapidly dwindling resource, is being globally privatised so that the most vulnerable people will have even less access to it? We are all exposed to these sorts of news reports every day, every time we turn on the TV or radio, or go online. Life is so precious, whether it is animal, human or entire ecosystems, so to see it inexorably damaged (and currently at such an extraordinary rate) makes me feel like a part of me is dying. Our bodies are connected to the great body of the Earth. The destruction of our world is experienced deep in our psyche whether we acknowledge it or not.

Psychological insulation

Do we switch off, tune out, ease ourselves out of focus in a self-constructed mythology? Many people blinker themselves with their ideas, their politics, their possessions, or their addictions in order to stay disengaged and comfortable. They practise psychological insulation, knowingly or not, especially if they believe the cause is hopeless and that we, the people, are not equipped to fix anything. I don't believe this is the answer. We are here to bear witness to these extraordinary times and to maintain our gaze on the atrocities meted out to other human beings, the other species who share this planet with us and even whole bioregions. We are here to take our place in the world and do what we can to work towards a peaceful, equitable, more biodiverse and abundant world. We are also here to discover more intelligent and balanced ways of living, and to quietly test them out ourselves. In other words, we cannot ultimately turn away even though it takes great courage to maintain our gaze. This is a naked and vulnerable place to be.

To deal with this, we need to develop our own sense of resilience and the capacity to find balance. Life is not only precious, it is a profound experiment in learning. People often ask me where I draw inspiration from. How do I keep going? I make it my responsibility to be as well informed as I can about the ills of the world and the systems that exact the damage as I can. Then I make it equally my journey to learn more about the solutions: from the grand, inspiring projects that regenerate whole landscapes to the small techniques we can use in our daily life.

It's been a treat to tell stories at various events this year about the great Earth restoration projects undertaken by permaculture people all over the world. I am inspired by the work of Dr Chris Reij who has helped African people in the Sahel region to reforest more than 55,000 hectares of desert that now produces timber, food, medicines and animal fodder (PM68). I will also never forget standing by a lake in Portugal that Sepp Holzer helped construct and watching the early morning mist settle on the banks watering the community's planted fruit and nut trees, and raised vegetable beds. Nature had brought back eagles, otters, ducks and amphibians in response to the reaquification of the landscape, and the dying cork oaks are now starting to grow again. I know that when human beings apply themselves to Earth restoration, Nature responds by regenerating at an exponential rate. It is frankly humbling.

Big stories are hunting for the right people to tell them

There is an Aboriginal saying, "Big stories are hunting for the right people to tell them." This magazine and its website are a global invitation to you all to share those big stories. We want to express a practical, creative, diverse vision of possibilities for a world which we actively steward rather than destroy. We do not want to forget the little stories, however, so we populate the pages of every issue of this magazine with two types of stories: the great ideas of our time and the small things we can all do. My greenhouse, with its simple irrigation system derived from a 4,000 year old African technology, is an example (see below). When the pain of the world chews at my sanity, I seek balance and equanimity from simple things. I believe we humans need to cultivate humility. It is the pathway to true stewardship, so culturally at odds with most of the developed world's history and worldview.

I believe that most people are innately good. Somehow as a collective upon this planet we have lost our way. We have become enthralled by a destructive worldview prosecuted by the very few at the potential expense of our very existence. What I write about here isn't a purely personal exercise in establishing balance or a way of seeking poise in the face of ecological breakdown. It is vital that we, together, keep working on the resilient, solutions part of the equation in whatever way we can, even if it feels like most of the world isn't listening. Then, when the majority of people finally wake up to the realities of our destructive impact on this planet, we will be able to offer some of the answers.

Further Resources

A Greenhouse That Thinks Its a Mini Forest Garden

Working With Not Against Natuiral Forces - an original permaculture principle

Permaculture Beyond Ecological Design - can it also be used to create more harmonious low carbon societies?

Sepp Holzer's books in English can be found HERE.

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