Let’s start today’s post with a short exercise. Take a look at your hand–look at the patterns of veins under the surface. What does that remind you of in nature? Now, look at the creases on your fingers, again, looking at the patterns of nature. Turn your hand around and stretch out your fingers, pointing your hand in front of you. What does that remind you of in nature? Next, make a fist and keep your arm pointed out. What pattern in nature do your knuckles remind you of? Finally, turn your fist to face you. Take a look at the spiral there, in your fingers. What this exercise shows is that the outer patterns of nature, the patterns we work with in permaculture that I described in my last post in this series, are literally embodied within us. I only just shared a few of nature’s patterns you can find on the human hand: the pattern of the river or leaf (veins), the pattern of the waves/clouds/sand (creases in the hand); the pattern of the river delta or branching tree (hand outstretched with fingers apart); the pattern of the mountain range (knuckles); and the sacred Fibonacci spiral (closed fist). Our bodies replicate so many patterns of nature, as we are, after all, part of nature. But we only need to look to our own bodies to remember this important fact.
The landscapes of our inner lives are rich and varied. Moving within, our minds are rich landscapes of thought, experience, wisdom; conscious and unconscious realms; these realms allow us access not only to ourselves in this life, but our higher selves. Some of us don’t like to go within our inner worlds, for the fear of darkness or pain we might find there. As we grow older, time creeps up, and more experiences pile on us–things we don’t want or didn’t ask for entering that can weigh us down. But as the ancients understood, and certainly as many magical traditions today explore, the rich landscape of the inner realms knows no bounds and has no limitations–only those we place upon ourselves. It is another landscape, the landscape of our inner lives, and one that very directly reflects the outer landscape–the inner and outer worlds are reflections of each other, two parts to the whole.
And so, the inner landscape, the landscape of our immediate souls and inner worlds, is well worth considering through the permaculture design principles. Our bodies, and our lives, are a different of landscape from the external one that a permaculture designer would typically explore, but the principles can apply all the same. Today’s post explores some tools for working with our inner landscapes and the possibility of permaculture as a framework for some of the inner work that we can do there. (If you haven’t read my post on design principles, you might want to start there and then return to this one).
Spirit Principles: The Wisdom of the Bee
On the inner landscape, the principle of spirit and the magic of the bee asks us to do the work of transformation. We do not live in perfect bubbles of happiness where everything always goes as planned, and one of the key ways to stay healthy and happy is by learning to transform negative experiences and inner states into growth and healing.
Observe, Interact, and Intuit. On the inner landscape, this first principle is critically important. We don’t spend much, if any time, stepping back to fully observe our own patterns, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings because we are typically up close and living those experiences. Stepping back and simply understanding those patterns is key. I want to clarify here the difference between observation and evaluation (evaluation is covered under “reflect and revise” below). The observation here is simply the act of non-judgmental understanding and acknowledgment. There are many ways to do this, including druid retreat, meditation, deep and open listening of loved ones who know you well, stepping back in an intense moment to re-see a situation, or keeping a journal of our thoughts and feelings (which can help us understand patterns in our lives). Any of these are all observation techniques that can begin to better understand ourselves and our own patterns. Once we have a sense of our own patterns, conscious, subconscious, and unconscious, we are better in a position to do inner landscape work and healing.
Reflect and Revise. Stemming from the first principle, the ability to critically reflect on our experiences and patterns and “revise” is tremendously helpful as it facilitates our own transformation, growth, and healing. This is where evaluation comes into play. It might be that we need to re-see painful or difficult experiences in our past and work to transform them. There are lots of ways of doing this, depending on the nature of a painful experience. For example, I find it helpful is to revisit an old would and explore what good has come of it (for example, I have experienced a number of traumas in my life, and it has really helped me to heal by recognizing the harm/wrong that was done, but also how I was able to transform it and use it to help others in my own life). Reflection and revision also asks us to look at where we, perhaps, wronged others or wronged ourselves and allows us to think about how we can grow to ensure that never happens again. Revision allows us to move forward with the promise of change for the future. Meditation on these issues is one of the primary tools I use for this work, although I also use the visual arts (and art journaling for healing) when I feel led.
Work on Multiple Levels. Inner landscape work, like all work, works on multiple levels within our lives. One such level is the relationship between our inner worlds and outer realities: how we manifest inner hurts or joy as our outer realities; also, how inputs from the outer realms become our inner states (see my discussion on waste for one example of this). A second way to consider this principle from an “inner landscape” perspective is that of the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious (which I consider a connection to the higher self). When we are pained, we are often not only pained consciously, but that pain works deeply within us, causing us to behave in ways that we aren’t always conscious of. Sometimes, we have to work on things consciously for a time, to do some deep inner healing work. And then our subconscious and unconscious take over, facilitating healing at those multiple levels. Yet another way to think about this principle is the connections between the mind, body, heart, and spirit–understanding that all of these levels need our attention. This principle asks us to understand that we are multiple-leveled individuals, with multiple kinds of levels, and these levels always present. We can maximize our own growth by attending to them and working with them through healing, reflection, and ritual work.
Air Principles: The Wisdom of the Hawk
The air principles on the inner landscape ask us to use our knowledge and logic to work through inner problems before us. The hawk flies high, and it allows us to gain a new perspective through the application of wisdom.
The Problem is the Solution. Sometimes, limitations in our thinking prevent us from moving forward. We become stubborn, using words like “can’t” or “impossible.” Some people are defeated before they begin. They go to face a problem believing they will already fail, and they haven’t taken the time to find the solutions through the problems they face. That, in itself, is a magical act that disempowers them! Or people use words like “I can never change” or “these problems are too big” or “this is how I live” accepting the situation and feeling defeated. We don’t just hear these on the outer landscape, but we also apply these ways of thinking to our inner worlds. This is self-defeating talk, and with this talk, the problems really are insurmountable–but they need not be. There is always way forward, and this principle asks us to turn the problem on its head, look for the solution within that problem, and use this as an opportunity rather than a hurdle. I like to use discursive meditation to work through problems of this nature and see the various perspectives.
Mushroom Eyes. One of the unfortunate cultural sicknesses we have at present is what herbalist David Winston calls a “hardening of the mind.” The mind, like the heart, can harden to the point where we become so set in our ways that we can’t see beyond it. We close down, we refuse to see anything other than what we want to see (and for evidence of any of this, I point to the US election at present). Mushroom eyes asks us to get beyond hardening of the mind by applying multiple lenses and many approaches with which to see the world. This can mean working to see something from someone else’s point of view, or someone else’s set of experiences. Or to see something with our own lenses removed. It asks us to cultivate an openness and wisdom to see into the heart of issues within and without. This reseeing, through new perspectives, helps guide our inner growth with wisdom and grace. A second way of considering the principle of mushroom eyes for inner work is through the importance of the ternary and ternary thinking within the druid tradition. Western civilization loves binary thinking and often, issues are framed as having only two “sides” when the reality is that three, four, or even dozens of different perspectives may occur. I try to cultivate this practice in my own life by talking to those of diverse perspectives about their experiences, practicing deep listening, and really trying to put myself in other people’s shoes. Speaking to those of different cultural backgrounds and experiences, and even visiting other cultures and places can really help us develop inner mushroom eyes!
Design from the Patterns to Details. The hawk flying high asks us to consider our overall goals and patterns, and to use those overall goals and patterns to enact change on a daily or even minute-by-minute detail. Its not enough to say “I want to change” but rather, we need to set the broad goals that can help us work down to the specifics. Articulating our overall goals, and time frames for those goals, in big terms; seeing how they can weave into the existing patterns of our lives, and then creating a long-term plan are all simple ways to develop inner landscape designs. There are lots of ways to do this: I like vision boarding, which allows my subconscious and spirit to speak, rather than using my conscious mind. Second, I like setting personal goals for myself–not just what I want to accomplish, but what I want to cultivate (like good listening skills, joy in my life, less tangible things). Setting goals, even for our own inner transformation can help fuel our growth. For example, if I wanted to work on my own sensitivity to others, I might set that as my larger goal and then set weekly goals of self-monitoring when I am easily upset or offended. I check in on the progress of my yearly goals during the eight holidays of the year–and set new “yearly” goals for my own growth and development at each winter solstice.
Fire Principles: The Wisdom of the Great Stag
Fire is the embodiment of energy and change; it is the fuel through which we enact transformations on our inner landscapes. The stag in the heat of the chase facilitates our own healing and growth.
Catch and Store Energy (Holmgren). On the inner landscape, we should pay attention to our own energy flows and find out how to best harness them–for being masters of our own energy is one way to help us grow. Ultimately, how much energy we have on a daily basis determines everything in our lives: if we can pursue and adapt to our creative gifts, if we are able to meet our goals, how we balance our life and work, how we balance other demands–attending to our energy, and harnessing it for the things we really want to manifest, is key. There are many, many, aspects to this, so I’ll share a few here. First, we need to find out when we can best express our creative gifts or have the right energy to accomplish what we set to accomplish (for example, I like to write creatively during sunrise, and I drafted this post as the sun was peeking through the mountains!). Second, we can also explore ways of balancing our own energy and cultivating the positive aspects of energy in our lives (for this I like the daily protective working of AODA’s Sphere of Protection and OBOD’s light body exercise). Third, I’ve talked at points on this blog about the outer practice of using herbs for healing and support; they can be allies in helping us catch, store, and replenish our own energy. Finally, and most importantly, we need to see how our resources–especially our physical energy–is being replenished. If we are constantly drained and overworked, we are not catching and storing energy for our own growth and work that is most important to us. We need to evaluate our personal lives, work lives, and family lives to see how our energy is being used, and make sure it is in line with our goals (see above, “Design from the patterns to the details.”) A really interesting perspective on life energy and work is found in a book called Your Money or Your Life–it will totally change your relationship with your work!
Spiraling Changes (Use small, slow solutions, Holmgren): Spiraling changes also asks us to attend to our energy, but in a different way. This principle suggests that when we make change, we need to make it in a way that is both slow and spiraling; these changes in our inner landscapes are more effective than rash quick ones that can’t be maintained. This principle is about learning to sustain our own energy to in our inner landscapes and our own healing and growth over the long term. Spiritual development and inner work on ourselves is a long-term project; think of it like a snail shell where we are every growing, and yet, coming back around to visit things again and again from a deeper perspective. Keeping momentum going, but momentum you can reasonably sustain, is key here. I’d also mention here the use of small daily reminders and rituals that can keep you on the path of positive change: a five minute daily ritual, even, can offer tremendous growth in your life in the long run.
Creatively use and respond to change (Holmgren). When I was in North Dakota some years ago, I went on a trail ride near the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. The horses had walked this same trail so many times, that at points, the trail was at points 5 or six feet deep and quite dusty–we were literally walking in a deep rut in the desert, made by those horses feet over a period of decades. This, to me, is a physical representation of a deeper truth: how we can get stuck in the neural pathways of our own thoughts the more we engage in those thoughts. Change is a constant reminder that we either have to learn to adapt or be like those horses, only seeing the rut that we have inhabited for so long. That we are going to encounter difficulty and that things are going to change is inevitable–how we approach and use that change in our own lives determines so much of not only the immediate outcome, but the long-term growth we are able to have. A key part of this work recognizing change as an opportunity for growth. A good book on this subject is Carol Dweck’s Mindsets. She describes two mindsets that people can have: growth (where change/challenge is viewed by an individual as an opportunity for growth) and fixed (where change/challenge is viewed by an individual as something to be defensive against). Its more complicated than that, of course, but these two mindsets surrounding change and challenge really do have tremendous long-term implications for our own growth and development. Seeing change in a positive light and looking for the good and opportunities even in challenging situations can seriously facilitate our own growth as human beings long term.
Water Principles: The Wisdom of the Salmon in the Sacred Pool
The Salmon and the element of water focus on interconnections and relationships—this is certainly true of our inner landscapes as much as our outer ones.
Integrate rather than Segregate (Holmgren). There are certainly many ways to take integrate rather than segregate. The one I’ll focus on here, however, is one that plagues so many of those in the druid community: the desire to live a whole, authentic, and unified self. So many of us find ourselves in unsupportive environments where we don’t feel we can be unified, and so, we live fragmented lives. We are “druids” in our houses or forests, and “professionals” in our workplaces and “parents” or “children” in our families…and this fragmentation grates on our souls. It takes facing your fears, cultivating the ground slowly, and really considering all aspects, for us to work to integrate our spiritual lives with our physical reality. Part of this means, of course, is finding ways of being open about who we are that allow us to navigate those tricky boundaries; the second part of this means living our principles and living in honor with the land through regenerative and sustainable living practices. A third part might involve conversations with loved ones about our paths. This work is certainly not easy, but it is worth working towards: the integration and fullness of living who you truly are. I’ll be working on a post just on this topic in the near future!
Layered Purposes (Each element performs many functions, Mollison). Layered purposes suggests, on the inner landscape, that many of the things we do can have more than one purpose. One of the challenges I put before me, for any inner work, is to see if I can find more than one take away or outcome from it: perhaps meditation gives me peace of mind, helps me work through a difficult problem, and reconnects me with nature. Seeing the purpose, and the multiple purposes, of our daily spiritual practices are certainly useful!
Use the Edges and Value the Margins (Holmgren). When I was taking my permaculture teacher training course this past summer, Lisa DiPiano shared the idea of “pushing your edges.” Each of us has an edge space–this is the space where we move from comfort to discomfort, the space where we don’t quite feel as at home, or the space where we are really in new territory. Perhaps for our inner landscapes, these are the edges between two parts of ourselves (the “professional” and the “druid”), or the spaces between the “light” and the “darkness” within us, or the other places where we feel less comfortable. It is important to safely explore those edge spaces, as those are the spaces of the most change and growth. Lisa suggested that we all bush just beyond our comfort zone–not so far as to get overwhelmed, but just far enough to know we are experiencing the discomfort that comes from learning and growing. You might think about the edge space like the rings of a tree: a tree grows each year, its bark expanding and another layer of life being added. Each time we push our edges, we are like the rings of that tree, growing stronger and more steady the more we are able to engage those edges and integrate those experiences.
Earth Principles: Wisdom of the Great Bear of the Starry Heavens
The element of the earth and the great bear focus on the material aspects of our lives; for the inner landscape, we focus on the outcomes and resources that we have.
Obtain a Yield (Holmgren). This might seem on the surface like a principle that wouldn’t fit in inner landscape work, but truly, it is one of the most important. The “fruits” of our efforts–of spiritual practice, of going into nature, of daily meditation, of inner healing work–can be difficult to measure and take stock in because the “yields” are less tangible–but not less real. I think its important to consider our yields in our own lives: what do we cultivate and bring forth? Happiness? Peace? Creative gifts? Nurturing of others? Calmness of spirit and mind? One of the ways I like to recognize the fruits of my efforts is to keep regular spiritual journals (a practice I started over a decade ago in my AODA work). Then, usually at the Spring Equinox, which was the time when I began the druid path, I take time to review one or more of those journals, and to consider my journey ahead. It is a tremendously useful practice which allows me to see just how far I’ve come and recognize the yields that I’ve gained. And, just as I discussed in the outer principle in my previous post, we need to expand our idea of “yield” to think about the many yields we can have: clarity, peace of mind, joy, creative projects, self-expression, depth and understanding, better relationships with loved ones, and more.
Waste is a resource (Mollison): As I’ve written about in past blog posts, we have a lot of waste in our culture, in both our outer lives and in our inner realms. On the inner realms, this often includes the wasting of our own time and energy on things that do not help us grow. I can (and have) written a lot on this subject in the past, so I’ll be brief here. Monitoring our own wasted time (for most, especially with electronic devices) and turning that waste into a resource that we can use is a really important part of our inner landscape work and growth. This is not something you do once but rather is a continual process of self monitoring and adjusting. Limiting time on social media, removing television from our lives, all of these things can help us get back in tune with ourselves and turn waste into a productive resource.
Embrace Renewables (Use and value renewables, Holmgren): On the inner landscape, we might think about those things in our lives that renew and replenish (and that renew and replenish us) vs. those things that drain us (temporarily or permanently) and work to embrace renewing activities. This might mean that we spend time with certain people or we work to bring in certain activities that we enjoy and that bring us energy and peace. We don’t want any “fossil fuels” in our inner landscapes, burning out and polluting the place! I think the practice of self-care fits here; it is critically important in our own inner and outer work. If we are not engaging in renewing activities, we will never be able to have enough energy for the inner transformations and healing that we seek.
Meditation: One Key to Inner Landscape Work
I want to conclude this post by offering a key suggestion for enacting many of the principles above: meditation. Meditation is a practice that can–literally–open up our inner worlds before us. There are many, many, different practices of meditation, many with different goals. Most of the meditation I do on inner landscape work is either discursive in nature (a type of focused thought) or inner journeying work. I find the more culturally dominant “empty mind” meditation or “mindfulness” meditation good for cultivating peace and tranquility, but not good for actually helping me work through various things on the inner landscape. Now, I need peace in my life and I need to learn to quiet my mind–and these empty mind kind of meditations are really good for that. But a lot of the work involved in the principles above are about directing your thinking and feeling in particular ways–and this is where I believe discursive meditation really shines. So if you are going to take up the practice of meditation, understand that there are many different kinds of meditation and that these practices often accomplish very different goals. One meditation style may not yield everything that you need; it is better to have a few different styles available to you for different purposes.
Before you can benefit from any of the deeper aspects of meditation, the first step is establishing a regular baseline practice of breathwork and calming the mind. Some good preliminaries are found here. For those seeking to establish such a daily meditation practice, I would recommend John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook or Druid Magic Handbook for more information. The techniques which JMG teaches, including color breathing and the four-fold breath (breathing in for four breaths, pausing for four breaths, breathing out for four breaths, pausing for four breaths) are great introductory ways to open the door of the mind to deeper transformation. Once you’ve established a good practice, you can do some of the more advanced inner landscape work.
I hope that you enjoyed this post–I would love feedback on the concept. (As those familiar with permaculture would note that I am certainly pushing this series, and this post in particular, well beyond the typical uses of permaculture design principles). Blessings!