Working with Nature: Joyful, Powerful, Regenerative Practice!

Maddy Harland
Monday, 9th November 2015

Maddy explains why working with Nature, a key permaculture principle, is an engaged, joyful, powerful and regenerative practice.

Earlier this year we released a series of films, Living With The Land, about permaculture in the garden, on the farm, on a rural smallholding, in the city, and in community – with film makers, Permaculture People, Phil Moore and Lauren Simpson. We wanted this series to seed permaculture ideas outside our ‘community’, so we asked well-known people like Kevin McCloud, Sir Tim Smit, Bruce Parry and expert Colin Tudge to introduce them. The idea is to engage a wider audience in permaculture and to flag up the International Permaculture Conference and Convergence that was held in September 2015 in the UK. 

With all the bad and sad news in the world, we wanted to get a real buzz going about the many good people and projects that are happening around the world and how low cost, simple practices can transform whole landscapes. It is with some pleasure therefore that I also welcomed John D. Liu as a writer to Permaculture. John has been filming earth restoration projects for years (see ‘The Great Work of Our Time’ on p.4 PM85) and ably articulates the longing in many of us: to place our energies in healing and restoring the earth and to make redundant the ecological, economic and social paradigms that drive poverty, scarcity, inequality, habitat destruction and species collapse. These techniques and technologies are proven. We are just waiting to be heard. 

At the end of our third Living With The Land film about regenerative agriculture, Rebecca Hosking sums up the joy of this approach: “What I love about permaculture, from a wildlife background, is the ecology in it. It is working with ecology – it is not viewing us separate from ecology – we have our place within the web. We are working with the elements ... permaculture makes you study, observe and question, and you are forever learning. We have the most amazing teacher, dear old Mother Nature. If I have five more lifetimes, I am never going to learn all her secrets, but every single day I come away and say, ‘I didn’t know that. That’s fascinating!’ I just want to learn, it keeps me alive and really makes me appreciate the world.”

This engaged, joyful way of working with Nature is a powerful, regenerative praxis. It is all too human to become overwhelmed by the human-induced problems of the world and believe that they are insurmountable. Problems become like edifices that society believes can never crumble. Yet I ask you to think of examples of situations or elements in our collective life that have unexpectedly changed. As a small child, I vividly recall the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Soviet tanks rumbled into the beautiful, medieval capital city, Prague. I can still hear the description on the BBC News.

It seemed impossible then that the Berlin Wall would collapse by 1989, yet it did – because the system was completely dysfunctional. Our current economic system, so addicted to growth for its survival, is heading that way, causing dangerous levels of carbon dioxide levels, widespread habitat collapse and the sixth mass extinction. Many of us who have been predicting this for decades have been received sceptically, often with ridicule. Vested interests create powerful social memes and those who argue this is not happening are as convincing as cigarette manufacturers of the 1950s who claimed smoking does not cause cancer.

Rebecca’s perspective about lifelong learning and happiness touches me. Nature is a force far greater than ourselves and is a willing and powerful teacher. If you have ever been at the epicentre of a storm, as I was recently, you will know that your little life hangs by a thread. All our human endeavours pale into insignificance in the face of Nature’s power. In life, we need to slow down, immerse ourselves deeply in her rhythms, and observe over long periods of time. This process, with research and study, expands our narrow perspective and helps us to develop new muscles, both mental and physical. Nature shows us the scope of our lives, who we really are, and teaches us humility and wisdom.

Useful links

Living with the Land film series


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