Permaculture’s Ethic of Self Care as a Spiritual Practice

A key to the grove

I’ve already talked on this blog some time ago about the three permaculture ethical principles–these are simple ethical principles that allow us to live life in a way that is fair, equitable, and sustaining to all life. I use these ethical principles as “mantras” to live by and they are deeply woven into my druid practice.  I have them hanging in my house, as small reminders, each day.  As a review, the principles are people care (caring for others of our own species); earth care (caring or all life) and fair share (ensuring that you only take your fair share and that all life has theirs too). Today, I want to talk about the fourth ethical principle–self care and show how principles from druid practice can help us engage in better self care.  I do so by describing three self-care strategies rooted in druidic practices: the bardic arts, sitting quietly with plants, and celebrating the wheel of the year.

The Challenge and Dominant Narratives of Self Care


We have a really contradictory culture when it comes to self-care–on one hand, we are supposed to “treat” and “indulge” ourselves and take what we need while, on the other hand, we are admonished for being “selfish.” On top of this, there is the glorification of busyness and work that pervades most of our culture: if you are taking regular rest, this is seen as somehow bad. I’ve seen this a lot in my academic career–I’m supposed to be wedded to it, working nights, days, and weekends and not really doing anything else. I manage my time and commitments carefully so that I don’t have to do this–but keep it quiet because others would look down on me and I’d get harassed. Finally, there’s this idea that in order to get rest and relaxation, we must get “away” from our lives and go on vacation.  Why do we need a vacation from our lives? Can we instead work to take better are of ourselves in each moment?

Self care, like many other aspects of our culture, has been co-opted by mass consumption. Now the narratives suggest in order to care for yourself, you must do so by consuming X product or service–bath salts, a day at the spa, drinking a designer tea, buying yourself a nice dress, and other ways you “treat yourself.” After all, a corporation doesn’t’ care one bit about you–only the stream of economic resources from yourself to them. I’d suggest resisting corporate narratives of self-care and instead listen inward.  We can have self-care that is nurturing to ourselves and to other life and not consumptive.

Ethical self care, within the context of the permaculture ethics of people care, earth care, and fair share encourages us to think about how our actions care for the earth and not take too much. Ethical self care realizes that we can’t engage in any other kind of care if we, ourselves, are not taken care of first. Nature spirituality and druidry is a path that allows us much in the way of self-care, if only we don’t get in our own way.

Create and engage in the bardic arts

The Telluric Current (Painting from the Fall Equinox, 2015)
The Telluric Current (Painting from the Fall Equinox, 2015).  This is about my 3000th tree–they didn’t start by looking this good!  This is also my “new” card in the upcoming re-release of the 3rd edition of the Tarot of Trees!

The more that you identify as a consumer and fill your life with goods, TV, and the like, the less time you have to express your own creative gifts.  And for many people, finding an outlet for their own gifts, can cultivating them, is one of the greatest ways of feeling fulfilled and happy.  In fact, one of the great gifts of the druid path, I believe, is the emphasis on the bardic arts, the creation of bardic circles that encourage people’s creative gifts and in entertaining ourselves, and the encouragement of individual bardic study in the various arts.

So one key way of caring for yourself is by making space, time, and allowing yourself a creative outlet: music, poetry, painting, novel writing, sculpture, singing, storytelling, woodcarving, basket weaving, printmaking, book binding, whatever it is–any of these arts and crafts of any sort are things you do for yourself, often with yourself. It might be that the only person who reads what you write, or hears what you sing, is yourself–and that’s ok. You don’t have to produce masterpieces–if it relaxes you, it doesn’t’ matter what it looks or sounds like.

I’ve met a lot of people who want to be creative, but they have imposed their own rigid blocks. We disallow ourselves, disempower ourselves, and talk ourselves into believing that that’s ok not to create. But look at small children–every one of them has a drive to create–and we were once those children. For own long-term self care, it really isn’t healthy to keep blocked up and stagnant. I’ve met poets who haven’t composed poetry in years for fear nothing will be good enough; singers who no longer sing; writers who talk about their books they have planned but never write a word. I was like this too, once, before I had a radical shift in my life and became a druid. For me, the issue was the connection I had between my artwork and poverty. My family didn’t have much money growing up, and my parents were both graphic designers and artists–I was afraid that if I got too deeply into my own art (especially when I was an undergrad in college) I would want to do it all the time and somehow fail at life.  I semi-consciously associated art with poverty and blocked myself from doing it.  When I finally allowed myself to do it, and use it as a healing process, the artwork flowed from me.  After 10 years of art (especially painting trees), I’m pretty good these days.

This leads me to the second thing that often blocks us up creatively: the idea that inborn talent is all that matters.  We have this narrative in our culture that suggests we are “gifted” at things and do them well or we shouldn’t do them–but this can’t be further from the truth. Maybe you don’t have the best voice, or you can’t yet draw anything decently, or have difficulty with simple whittling.  But you know what? All of the bardic arts are about sustained practice and skill–not about innate, raw talent. I speak not only from experience, but expertise on this subject (I’m a learning researcher.) In fact, what makes us really good at something and what allows us develop expertise quickly is by sustained challenges and by pushing our skills into new directions (not doing the same comfortable thing over and over again).  You can’t get better at something if you don’t begin and don’t work at it.  Its the challenge, and the ability to rise to the challenge and push our skills from wherever they may be, that makes us grow creatively.

The third thing that prevents us from our bardic arts is just life getting in the way. This happens to so many of us–we have too much to do, family obligations, work obligations, and things that pile up and up and up.  But again, regardless of the circumstance, we have make the time for the things we love.  I like to schedule it in, just like everything else, that creative time has a place.

Take quiet moments with plants

The Land Loves You (Lughnassadh, 2015)
The Land Loves You (Lughnassadh, 2015)

Another basic self care strategy is simply to find some quiet moments–even for 5 minutes–where you sit with plants.  What we have happening now in our culture is that everyone is in a frenzy and in a near-constant sympathetic nervous system state where we are in “fight or flight” mode rather than “rest and digest” mode.  Running from here to there, driving and traffic, horrific world events being broadcast into our homes 24/7, answering emails, disagreements at the office, screaming toddlers, even watching TV requires us to always be “on” and present–our bodies physically can’t take it.

Taking quiet moments, with plants, helps us in two ways–it rebuilds the ancient bonds between humans and nature and it helps us slow down and breathe deeply.

A quiet moment with a plant ally might be a steaming cup of herbal tea on your porch, looking at the sunrise. It might be sitting by a quiet stream, sitting under a tree, even sitting quietly with a houseplant. The specific situation is really not important–the important thing is that you take the time to do it. I like to take my quiet moments with plants in my gardens–sometimes I’ll take a blanket and just lay among my vegetables, or, take a blanket and lay in a park, looking up at the trees.  Take a sleeping bag out on a cool night and lay under the stars.  Sit with the grass that grows up in the crack in the pavement. Whatever it is, its worth doing.

Sacred Days as Days of Rest and Rejuvenation

One of my personal self-care strategies since I became a druid has involved the druid wheel of the year. I arrange to have a day or part of a day, somewhere as close to the holiday as possible, entirely to myself.  It might mean that I go somewhere, or might I stay home, but the important thing is that this is a sacred day. These are the cornerstone of my own long-term self care strategy. Its on these days that I dedicate time to my bardic arts (panflute playing, writing, and various kinds of artwork), I spend time doing ritual and meditation, I spend time in nature, I do all the things that fulfill me and quiet me and make me whole. I turn of electronic devices on these days–they are simply days for me to be with me, not my computer or phone or anything else. Its been very hard over the years to take these days between work obligations, relationships, family issues, school, etc, but its something that I work to do– to ensure that at least 8 days a year, I manage it.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but more often than not, it does.

There are lots of other self-care strategies, but these three, rooted in druidic practice, have gotten me far.  Does anyone have any they’d like to add to the list?  New things to try for self-care?  Please share!

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. This was a wonderful post. I am one of those writers who own piles of notebooks and journals that I never write in – I fear that whatever it is I write in them won’t be “good” enough. Hopefully I’ll just write – after all, that’s what I bought them for!

    1. Transforminglifenow – Thanks for the comment :). I’m a university writing professor and professional editor, so I see this kind of thing all the time! The thing is–its probably not good enough the first time you write it. But that’s also part of the process! We expect everything to come out perfect from us the first time, and that’s not possible. Its no different than dancers practicing before a recital, or practicing your instrument. Writing is like that too. We have to write it, get it out, and then start working on it and getting feedback. Everything on this blog goes through 2-3 revisions before anyone sees it–some posts (like the one I posted last week on “produce no waste”) took 8 months to write, lol! This one was easier. The point is, you won’t get better as a writer till you write–and till you take on the mantle of “writer” :).

  2. Thanks for reminding me that I need to get away from the news from Paris. Your painting “The Land Loves You” is striking–because, given all that we do to it, how can it love us? Yet that’s what I feel when I go out there. I applaud you for making the effort to take a spiritual retreat day for each holiday. That’s been very hit or miss for me (mostly miss). One other practice I do is a physical practice, either qigong or yoga. Once you learn these practices, you can do them at home for free, anytime, anywhere, and they can be very calming.

    1. Karen,
      Yeah, I thought this post (which I actually finished two weeks ago) was really good for today. I’m going into the woods for the rest of the day; I can only listen to so much about Paris and the other bombings/attacks.

      Great point about daily movement practice!

      PS: I’m also working on the chagga tincture today! 🙂

  3. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature

    Lovely post Willowcrow (do you prefer Dana now?) Great reminders. Always helpful. Your self care practices are very similar to mine. I also do tai chi, especially outside.

    1. Yeah, I’ve moved to just my first name, haha! Willowcrow was a very old name I gave myself as a magical name, over 10 years ago. It no longer suits me, so I’m in the process of choosing a new one. Good suggestion about the Tai Chi! 🙂

  4. Your paintings are so lovely!

    1. Thank you :). Its the work of many years of practice, and I still have many years ahead of me to get where I’d like to be as an artist!

  5. Reblogged this on ravenhawks' magazine and commented:
    This is a great post.I do write but not as much as I would like.

    1. Thanks for the reblog 🙂

  6. I love this post! If I commented on all the bits and why I liked them, it’d turn into a post of its own! 🙂 🙂 I really like the idea of bardic circles. I think your paintings are beautiful – lovely colour and light. This is the first time I’ve come across your blog so am going to enjoy exploring further.
    One thing I do, is to play my crystal singing bowls. Even five minutes a day gives me a deep sense of calm and feeling centred and connected to my inner self. And playing them is also a way of expressing myself – no worrying about “doing it right” or hitting a wrong note 🙂 just feeling and sensing the sounds and vibrations and playing from the heart rather than the head. I so agree with you about finding a creative outlet to express ourselves.

    1. Thank you, Jillian! I love the crystal singing bowl suggestion. I was totally remiss in mentioning playing music–I have a panflute and I play it often. I’ll never be THAT good because I spend too much time on my visual arts, but its really just for me or for the land anyways 🙂

  7. Reblogged this on Laura Bruno's Blog and commented:
    I’ve been meaning to repost this one for awhile now. I so agree with all of these observations and suggestions. For me, self-care has also involved building local community and celebrating Wheel of the Year turns with others. Thank you, Dana, for sharing your Wisdom, gentle spirit, and also your beautiful artwork with us, too!

    1. Thank you, Laura! I agree about community–a good community nurtures, heals, and supports us :).

  8. I took off work all 8 Sabbats in 2013… and it was very good for me to do. I have the available time so I need to make sure I do that again this year.

    I also wanted to mention an extra special thanks for your post on Hawthorn. I found it very helpful recently.

    1. Justin, sounds wonderful. I know not everyone has the ability to do so, but if we can, its well worth it. And I’m glad you enjoyed the post on hawthorn! Its one very magical plant!

  9. This post really touched me today. And I adore your Tarot of Trees. You are an inspiration. Thank you.
    In two weeks, I’m going to start teaching at a small Native American Community College. The Tribes have managed to hold on to community, keeping them close. If there’s anything I might do to help, it would be to emphasize what a precious thing this is. I will teach them to use their media arts skills to continue to build community, and to speak their truth.
    For my own growth, I am researching our history and ways oppression has been countered. I hold out hope that when the time is right, we will collectively find a way to deal with it. Behind the scenes, there are many who, like you, are building systems that will see us into the future. You’re right; it doesn’t make the meanstream news, but it nevertheless makes it into many people’s awareness.

    1. Hi Crystal, Thank you so much :). It sounds like you are doing really important work–I hope we stay in touch as you are working to empower your students as well as do your own research. I’m a faculty member at a university myself, and I have experienced firsthand (on both sides) the importance of mentoring our next generation. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

      1. Thank you for your kind words. I haven’t been too active on social media of late, but you may remember I first subscribed to your blog after reading your cattail paper post! I did a series of prints and paintings on some I made, and you can find a few examples here: Yes, please do stay in touch.
        I forgot to post this link earlier, which I thought you may enjoy. Cheers!

        1. Great – thanks for the links! I’ll check them out 🙂

  10. […] This article has been republished from The Druid’s Garden […]

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