Just a Thought: Why Permaculture Can Make the Problem the Solution

Maddy Harland
Tuesday, 23rd September 2014

Want to change the world? It starts with your next thought! Maddy Harland explains why how we think can shape not only our personal lives but the world we live in, why learning permaculture was a game changer, and what enables her to stay focused for over two decades.

We recently published Looby Macnamara's second book, 7 Ways to Think Differently. This little book is like good medicine - it is potent - it goes a long way. I couldn't attend the book launch at the UK Permaculture Convergence because my better half, Tim, was recovering from an operation so I wrote a short speech about how thinking shapes our worldview and why it is particularly important at this time in human history. In true multi-functional fashion, I thought I'd share what I said and expand on it here. 

How we think shapes not only our immediate environs but the world we live in as well. As philosophers and yogis have long understood, we create a shared collective reality through our beliefs and thoughts. 

The aspect of permaculture design that I love is the attitudinal principles – 'the problem is the solution', 'harvest only sunshine', 'the designer's imagination and skill limits productivity and diversity more than any physical limit'. Of course, the practical principles about functionality and energy efficient design are equally important but the capacity of permaculture design to reframe how we see the world is what I found completely transformational after completeing my Permaculture Design Course. Suddenly, the landscape was full of unfolding stories, discernible patterns, and resources that I had been blind to became suddenly evident all around me. I felt that I could indeed begin to design my own patch and grow food, even though none of my education up to that point was remotely practical or land based. Halleluja!

Why was it such a buzz? Because I learnt...

1. That the capacity of the human brain is far greater than we currently understand.

2. That Nature has the power of regeneration and growth so vast that our collective human awareness is often surprised by it.

We are living in a world of unprecedented change, a world in which atmospheric CO2 levels are climbing dangerously fast whilst humanity consumes finite resources. It is impossible for us to accurately predict the future but it is inevitable that we are approaching a series of crises, and sooner rather than later. How we respond to them will depend on how we act now, how we understand the problems and how we design the solutions – in other words, our thinking processes will shape our actions and ultimately whether we respond creatively and practically.

We need to learn how to think clearly about what is happening on our planet and not be fooled by vested interests that are dangerously focused on short-term profits at the expense of our ecosystem's health. We urgently need to lock up carbon, repair ecosystems, learn to live together peacefully, and sustain life. Permaculture offers an important, practical framework to help us do so.

We also need to understand that this huge task is not only possible, it is a creative, liberating challenge that will change everything for the better.

This is where Looby comes in – because for her there are no limits. She does not constrain herself by negatives. Her work teaches us that we have the imagination, intelligence, foresight and abundance to solve not only our personal problems but our social and cultural ones as well. She is able to capture actual processes that chart the pathways of these attitudinal principles and show us how to consciously implement them in our own lives. As Chris Johnstone points out in the foreword to 7 Ways to Think Differently, Looby shows us how to have transformational shifts in thinking that will help us navigate the knocks and bumps of life and that crisis can be a turning point.

The seven ways she describes in her book are:

• Abundance thinking

• Solutions thinking

• Systems thinking

• Thinking like nature

• Co-operative thinking

• Thinking for the future

• From thinking to doing

These ways to think differently are influential alternatives to the current mindset and can shift us to a better present, as well as setting us on a trajectory towards a better future.

So next time you hit a brick wall or you meet someone who has given up hope about the state of the world, give him or her this little book. Looby’s aim was to produce a succinct book, smaller than People & Permaculture, to introduce the concepts of permaculture and The Work That Reconnect (WTR), a radical and empowering process originated by Joanna Macy. I have found both permaculture and WTR very useful.

Permaculture has enabled me to get my hands dirty, grow my own food, create habitat in which Nature thrives, make things, play, ground myself, celebrate the seasons... I was born in the city and neither my upbrininging or academic education taught me this.

The WTR has helped shape my response to the crises that are happening in the world; climate change, ecocide, fracking, corruption in politics and the corporate world... all the things that turn our stomachs and make us feel powerless. I can 'sustain the gaze' and continue to act in the most effective and positive way I can in relation to who I am and the resources I have at hand. I want to be part of creating a better world. I will not surrender to negativity and I will not give up whilst there is breath in my body.

So when Looby suggested she write a small book that synthesises permaculture and WTR thinking with her own special recipe for personal change and social and ecological transformation, I wanted to help her birth it into the world. May its transformational, intelligent message travel far.

7 Ways to Think Differently is on special offer from our Green Shopping site for just £4.46

People and Permaculture is also on special offer at £17.95 (also available as an eBook)

Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of Permaculture - practical solutions for self reliance established in 1992. You can read a free copy online by clicking HERE. You can subscribe to our digital issue for just £2.75 ($2.99) a quarter. A digital subscription also enables you to read and search our back issues but if you like the lovely paper edition please see SUBSCRIBE. Paper subscribers get our digital services free of charge!

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