I sit quietly; the noises of the jungle are constant in the background. The hum of cicadas reaches its crescendo at dusk, it’s almost deafening. The tropical birds sing their songs, there’s the tranquil sound of the creek I’m camping next to washing over the rocks, passing by me. I’m drawing to the end of our three week permaculture course at VerdEnergia Pacifica, nestled in the hills of the Costa Rican jungle. Not even a quarter way through the course, I started to notice the mental cogs in my mind turning, a mindset shift taking place.
When the pioneers of Verde arrived here, the entire property was grassland. No trees, no jungle, no wildlife, just cows, eroded from decades of overgrazing, a prominent industry in Costa Rica. Not speaking a word of Spanish, no farming experience and minimal building knowledge, these pioneers had a mighty challenge ahead of them.
Determination mixed with a fierce passion to show the world there’s a different way to live, they began the transformation. Now, only 10 years later, I’m immersed in a jungle landscape, the 20 hectares of Verde is a vast canopy. The one dirt road in and out creates a sense of peaceful isolation. By removing cattle from the land, implementing soil regeneration techniques, agroforestry, adding nitrogen fixing plants, designing water catchment systems and a little patience, not only has the land and soil been regenerated, the farm is profiting and bringing economic prosperity to the local community. Two more large sectors of land have been acquired that are also being restored connecting to the national parks, bringing native wildlife back into the area.
To bear witness to this transformation, to hear the stories of feats overcome, for me, was truly inspiring. There was no doubt in my mind that the principles of permaculture are working. The land is flourishing, the food is amazing, the people and vibe of the community are peaceful and loving. There’s still and always will be work to be done, but there’s a pleasant ease to it, no stress, just the flow of the next right thing.
A course run in this setting, taught by two highly experienced practitioners of permaculture, one could say I ‘got the download’. Following this was the NuSeed Gathering, a 5-day transformational workshop to foster entrepreneurial stewardship with our earth. Most of the people at the event had never met, yet there was an immediate sense of family present. Young, inspired minds set with the intent to create businesses and communities that honor and enhance our inherent interconnectedness with each other and our surroundings. There were workshops on inner self-development, life design, business and marketing, natural building and permaculture. Every evening was celebrated with music and dancing and to conclude and ceremony, to integrate and connect the entire experience.
From this, I realised how vast the topic of permaculture is, how it’s actually a way of thinking greatly needed in the world today. This template, once understood, can be overlaid onto any aspect of your life. You too can start to practice permaculture, right now, in any environment and it will make a difference.
And so, I wish to share the ideas that stood out for me I believe anyone can adopt to help bring more awareness and balance into their daily lives, their environment and the planet.
Produce No Waste
A challenging one to start with perhaps, you may even wonder (as I did) how that is even possible, especially in a city urban environment. It can simply start with a question; how can this resource be reused? Perhaps you can apply more commitment to the separation of recyclable materials within your home or community and find uses for them. Start a compost scrap bin for your garden or your neighbor’s garden. Maybe that pair of jeans still looks good, they just need a quick stitch or alteration. Or they could be turned into laundry rags or taken to a thrift store instead of just thrown out. It’s simply breaking the habitual notion that we can continue to discard and just ‘buy a new one’, consume endlessly with no consequences. These examples link to the concept of upcycling and the permaculture principle; a yield is theoretically unlimited, the only limit to the number of uses of a resource within a system is limited to the information and imagination of the designer. When we upcycle we are catching the energy still present within that resource and either storing it or reusing it. From this mindset many more ‘things’ in our environment become ‘renewable resources’. These small practices done by more and more people globally, especially in the West, can produce an exponential ripple effect that takes the pressure of the backlog of waste that is currently overflowing into our natural habitats. It starts with awareness and creativity. Next time you go to throw something out, pause, see if there’s a creative way you can reuse it.
Work With Nature, Not Against It
When I slowed down to observe nature, I saw the underlying intelligence within it. There’s a saying in permaculture that everything gardens; every creature sets up conditions so that it can thrive. They create and interweave their existence into an interconnected web of life. Humanity, up to this point, has seen itself as separate from nature and thus, we impose our will on it, we extract from it, fight it, rather than create ways to harmoniously integrate our communities with our landscapes. We see this in traditional monoculture farming techniques, uprooting acres of natural habitat for a single crop to ship thousands of miles away, reworking the soil over and over until there’s no nutrients left. Even in our gardens, we create neat rows of flowers, with neat lawns, we spray chemicals to rid our surroundings of insects, lay traps to remove vermin and animals…control and separate. This is reflected to us in our global economy too, disconnected from the actual assets and resources that fuel it, we continue to siphon with no section on the balance sheet that shows the profit and loss of the effects on our environment.
There is an alternative called whole systems design thinking. It begins with evolving our thought patterns to know we are intimately interconnected to our surroundings. The plants, the animals, the weather, we are one species within a very large, living, breathing ecosystem. This is not just a nice thing to say, it is a deep shift in our beliefs, in how we view our reality. Every action has a counter-action. This realisation is becoming increasingly louder for anyone observing the warning signs reaching a crescendo across our world.
The First Four Principles of Permaculture
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self regulation and accept feedback
Numbers 1 and 4 stood out for me. When we truly observe, it is humbling to see that nature really does have it figured out, we just need to listen and learn.
Why and how is that process happening? Where does that water run off go and how could I use it? What will happen to the surroundings if I cut this tree down? Is there a better use for this area than a nice tidy lawn? How could I catch energy here and obtain a yield? For me, this type of inquisitive questions were the start. As I witnessed in Costa Rica, when we assist rather than impede natural processes around us, when we get in flow with it, we thrive.
Plan for Sustainability
Once observation and assessment with our surroundings is done we can start a design plan. As a former life coach, I immediately saw the correlation between these principles and application to life design. The name of the game in permaculture is regeneration, efficiency and sustainability. In life it could be something slightly different, though in general, we want to create the life we desire, efficiently and sustain it over time.
The concept is to start with the patterns found in the natural world (on your property) as the inspiration for your design before getting carried away with the details. An example of this is sector analysis, observing how energy (sun, water, wind, wildlife) flows through the site and then applying what’s called zoning, that is, generating a design for the site to ensure it is energy efficient. For instance, placing the house somewhere it can best benefit from these energies and having crops and animals you need to attend to regularly closer to it.
In life this could be translated to designing your vision. What is the big picture vision you have for your life? Where are you now? Is there a gap? How are you using your energy and does it assist or impede your vision? What patterns do you observe within yourself that are assisting you or impeding you on this path?
It’s important to highlight we are also discussing intent. Permaculture’s overarching intent is three ethics;
- Care of the Earth
- Care of the People
- Contribute our surplus to Earth and People (Fair Share)
The same can be asked of ourselves. What is our intent in our daily lives? Is it self-seeking or is our greater drive to be of service to others? Of course it begins with ourselves, though the challenge is to grow through and into self-reliance and personal responsibility to include family, neighbours and community. By accepting personal responsibility for our reality we empower ourselves to change it. Self-reliance becomes more feasible when we focus on non-material well-being and taking care of ourselves and others without producing or consuming unnecessary resources. If we can recognise that a greater wisdom lies within a group of people, we can work with others to bring about the best outcomes for all involved.
Once design and intent is established we can move onto implementation, applying self-regulation, accepting feedback and adjusting course along the way. This too is true in life. Our vision and plans may not turn out as we expected, new understandings may be revealed to us on our path that have created a slightly varied outcome. This is our opportunity to assess, integrate our lessons and come back to the start; observe and assess, rework our vision, plan with intent, implement. Perseverance with this simple flow and with a sustainable intent in mind, in time, will harvest results.
Whenever I feel dismay, I remember, the problem is the solution.
As I re-enter the world after my experience I view myself as a better man. The whole systems design thinking has been infused into my consciousness. Whenever I feel dismay, I remember, the problem is the solution. The permaculture approach is to focus on the positives, the opportunities that exist rather that the obstacles, even in the most desperate situations. Every resource we have is either an advantage or disadvantage depending on the use made of it and how we perceive it. When we integrate rather than segregate, pull our attention away from things and toward the relationships we can value the diversity and creatively use it.
It’s challenging, during such immense upheaval and suffering, to stay open, to believe we can make a difference, but we can. When we love from our hearts, honor one another and our earth and feel a deep sense of gratitude to be here during such evolutionary times, together, step by step, we can change our world.
For an experience like NuSeed or a Permaculture Design Course, check out NuMundo.
Some upcoming opportunities:
- ECHO at Puerta a la Vida, Costa Rica, June 22-25
- Medicines From the Edge at Punta Mona, Costa Rica, October 19-22
- Shamanic Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Paititi in Peru, October 11 – November 12