In these times of disruption, change and transition, all of us can be excused for sometimes feeling perplexed, challenged, even a little lost. We are watching the old world slowly disintegrate. Our financial and political systems in the West are under the greatest of duress. Our natural global resources are seriously diminished as we face not only peak oil but also peak water. Whilst the work of earth restoration has never been more important, it is still largely ignored, subsumed by the broader fears surrounding economic chaos. It is understandable that any one of us can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scale of what is wrong.
When those dark times envelop me what do I do? I go home and walk in the woodlands or go up on to the Downs and look out over 360 degrees of countryside. I savour the light dancing on the Solent and the silvery glints from the high rises of the City of Portsmouth. I look out over my bioregion and feel gratitude that I live in such a beautiful place. I am glad it is designated as a National Park, open to anyone, celebrated and preserved for future generations.
Having got my dose of landscape expansion, I go home to my garden and enter into a connection with the natural world there too. As Emma Cooper, friend and author of The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A-Z, said to me recently, “Just putting my hands in the soil makes me feel better.” She has certainly entertatined me with some of her wonderful experiments!
I know every tree and shrub in my garden, its habit and blossom, its coming fruits. I know where the wrens nest and where the robins stake their territories in my hedgerow, and all the species of wildflower that bloom from early January right through the year. I love to listen to the drone of insects and happen upon shy common lizards that hunt in the long meadow grasses.
You may imagine that I have a smallholding, but it is a garden (admittedly a good size), full of as many habitats and species as we can invite in. It is near the greater habitat of the wild South Downs, full of deer, foxes, badgers, owls and birds of prey. I feel a part of this land. It nurtures and feeds me and places in perspective my small concerns within the largeness of Life and its mystery.
You may also imagine that permaculture gardening is a rather functional affair, where the focus is on yields of food, fuel and medicinal plants. This is a part of it, but gardening is also my art. This last year, with climate change pressing painfully into my consciousness and with fellow businesses struggling and failing, I took sanctuary in growing and planting. Tim and I have planted many hundreds of bulbs so that next Spring they will provide the plummeting bee populations with early nectar and ourselves with balm for the soul.
For me flowers are the equivalent to happiness in nature – as well as a practical key to planting robust diverse ecologies. I grow many types of fruit and none of my trees require sprays or codling moth traps because the pests are in balance with the beneficial insects and birds.
This passion for nature and celebration of biodiversity is not just an organic technique. It is both a meditation and a way of connecting with the powerful forces of nature. It makes me feel aligned to the other kingdoms, a co-creator of a beautiful place. Most of all it makes me happy.
Happiness is one of the most powerful forces in a human life. It opens us up and encourages us to love. It brings energy and appreciation, gratitude, reverence, and the capacity to invite adventure into our lives. It is incredibly important that we nurture it – for our health, wellbeing – and also to help make us more effective and loving human beings. Above all, happiness is a skill that can be learnt.
My friend, Chris Johnstone, has taught me much about the value of happiness and the importance of nurturing it. Dr Chris is an addictions specialist who has helped thousands of people overcome their problems, and he is a happiness ‘expert’. He works with Rob Hopkins, co-founder of The Transition Movement, and Joanna Macy, the inspirational teacher and activist who developed The Work That Reconnects.
His book, Find Your Power, is not just another boring pop psychology book. It is the distillation of his rich approach, helping people to become more effective and live the life they dream of. The book is also a call to adventure at this time of deep and challenging transition. In the latest Permaculture mag – out on Wednesday 21st July – Chris shares tried and tested strategies for growing happiness.
I like the way he ends his article, "Mood isn’t just something that happens to us, it is also influenced by choices we make and strategies we can learn. By recasting happiness as something linked to skills we develop, challenges we face and relationships we value, we contribute to a cultural recovery from over-consumption and help grow instead a model of sustainability that is attractive and deeply satisfying."
Because ultimately we have to change the way we live and move beyond our dependence on relentless economic growth to fuel our economies. What and how we consume will be the most vital and empowering factor in that process of change. It really is in our hands.