Yesterday I celebrated finishing a big chapter in my journey of development as a Facilitator of people centred permaculture work. The year long programme involved mentoring creating and undertaking 3 designs for my work, participating in a variety of online and face to face gatherings with others doing the same course, and maintaining a reflective journal of my learning, experience and accountability.
The course has been a really important and motivating factor underpinning my current work as a permaculture practitioner and designer. I'll be spending the next month or so designing the next phase of my work, developing the workshops, mentoring, designing and tutoring work already undertaken as well as exploring some exciting new project ideas. These will be detailed and updated here on my website
Last night, as I spent time on Skype with others from the course, sharing my portfolio of designs and reflections on experiences of the past year, I felt so much gratitude that I have been able to be part of this programme. It felt very fitting to use my own "5 Elements" permaculture tool, inspired by my Earth Based spirituality, to guide my reflections in this presentation. This tool is something I will be writing more about in another post. Doing the Facilitator training has been a fantastic way of taking a lot of the design knowledge and experience gained in my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design to a new level, as well as making and embedding connections with some other wonderful practitioners focusing on people centred permaculture projects.
For more details about participating in future People & Permaculture facilitator training see this link - you can also read more about my experience of the training here
Strands of Infinity is the latest book from Permaculture Designer and teacher Looby Macnamara. Its a beautiful collection of poems written by Looby, (and one poem by her 8 year old daughter Teya), over recent years. Subtitled "Poetry to reconnect", this is exactly what this powerful writing does. Connecting the personal, political and spiritual we are encouraged to explore how these intertwining threads manifest in our own life journeys. The poetry in this book is inspirationally written for both for sharing at events and gatherings, alongside our own personal reflection. With themes such as "Change the story", "Gratitude as Attitude," "This Woman is Rising" and "Will Humankind Survive", Looby's poems are wonderfully accessible on many levels to a diverse audience. I can strongly recommend Strands of Infinity as a tool for our present and our futures.
Artwork by Jaine Rose
Once again day and night, light and dark are equal, reminding us to find the balanced edge of equilibrium between our outer and inner selves.
Autumn equinox marks the final end of the outer growth cycle. It’s a time of change with high tides, wild changeable weather and wild uncertainties as we plan what to do next. The shorter, colder days and colder, longer nights affect these decisions. We recognise this as a transition point, an opportunity for a new set of possibilities and the opportunity to grow in new ways. We take all we have learnt during the spring and summer and transform them by taking them with us.
We walk the outer ways and walk the inner way, and aim to flow in poise and balance in the wild edges in between.
Glennie Kindred – Letting in the Wild Edges
Today is the Autumn Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere and Ive decided to use the energies and characteristics of this Earth Festival to start a design that hopefully others will also be able to take inspiration from focusing on creating and maintaining balance in our lives. I've had a few months away from the focus of my work as a permaculture designer and practitioner, so it feels a great way to get back involved with documenting my reflections again.
Im using OBRADIMET (Observe, Boundaries, Resources, Analyse, Decisions, Implement, Maintain, Evaluate, Tweak), as a Design Process as its one that fits well with some of my initial ideas before I start considering the details.
What areas of my life feel in balance at the moment?
Work, play, Right Livelihood, physical health, emotional health, energy levels, spiritual connections, what I give, what I receive, …..
What don’t feel in balance?
What does balance feel/look like to me?
What does out of balance look/feel like to me?
What actual or potential boundaries are in my life which create unwanted imbalances for me?
What positive boundaries/edges do I have in my life which will help keep the balances I create?
What kind of resources do I have now that help create positive balance in my life?
What resources do I need to seek out?
Are there resources I have identified since the spring equinox, over the summer, that can be useful?
People, knowledge, time, finances, skills, work, experiences, patterns, ideas …..
How does all the information I have gained so far in the design connect and influence each other?
What are the functions of the design?
Which permaculture principles can help with guiding my design ?
I have decided to focus on the Principles created by David Holmgren for this design
How do the permaculture ethics of people care, earth care and fairshares help shape how I will create and improve balance in my life?
From my evaluation what decisions have I come up with my design?
How am I going to implement my decisions?
What realistic timescale will I use?
Maintain, Evaluate and Tweak
How will I maintain the momentum of my decisions?
How will I make sure that any tweaks made to the design, after evaluation, are then included in the implementation plan?
Connections to other designs in my life, aim to mini -evaluate at every full moon and then big evaluation at the Spring Equinox...
Tools and Resources
Initial thoughts about design tools and resources I aim to use in this design
Web of connections
Zoning (life/people focused)
SWOC (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Constraints)
For more detail and ideas about tools used in permaculture design see Aranya's excellent book Permaculture Design - A Step By Step Guide
Gaiacraft Learning and Teaching Tools - to help explore and identify permaculture principles in a creative way
Letting in the Wild Edges by Glennie Kindred
Nicole Vosper's entire series of blog posts on Overcoming Burnout will also be a major resource contribution to this design.
So here we are, a basic framework for a design I am currently working on inspired by the timing of the Autumn Equinox and my return to deeper focus on my permaculture work and development.
Please contact me if you would like support from me either in my role as a Diploma (in Applied Permaculture Design) Tutor, or as a mentor/coach, with a similar design.
- Using Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit to as a tool to design my journey to Andalucía
The meaning of spirituality I connect with is one which is Earth based and includes being guided by, grounding in and celebrating the different moon and sun cycles which of course in turn determine our patterns of days, months, seasons. Central to this form of spiritual experience are the 5 elements - Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit. These aspects are deeply linked to my permaculture life, work and activism.
This year I have undergone a big life change from being a hill farmer and palliative care nurse in a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales, to moving to the hills of Andalucía, Spain with my partner, dogs and cats, to a house with just under 2 acres of land. This post shows how I have used the 5 Elements to explore how my knowledge and practice of permaculture can be transferred and adapted to my next life chapter design.
In the Dales I spent years using permaculture tools to improve the health of the soil on the farm. Carefully designed grazing systems with a wide diversity of agricultural animals made big differences to the biodiversity in the grazing land and the edge with forestry land. I used animal manure combined with structures such as raised beds, hot beds, polytunnels, and then lots of successional planting. This greatly improved the fertility of the soil and also generated extra heat to be able to grow a range of species and variety of both annual and perennial plants I never thought possible.
Here in Andalucía, the soil is dry, rocky, dusty and steep. I wont be farming any agricultural animals so I need to design how I am going to create and maintain the highest level of soil fertility as I can. Many different perennial and annual plants grow here that I have no experience in growing before so there is much learning to be done.
The Earth Element is also about ensuring life force and motivation is given to other aspects of life, and I intend to use the specific qualities from this element to design and carry out some of the ideas and projects on my ‘to do list for my move here. This will include looking at what I will do in terms of my right livelihood, creativity and taking responsibility for my own health. Designing for this diversity should help to ensure that my life here is as resilient as possible.
Winters were long and cold in the Dales. Soon after we arrived there we invested in a heating system that heated the cottage there well, provided hot water and allowed us to be able to cook slow stews and soups through burning local wood. We often needed to keep one stove lit for most of the year, so needed a constant supply of dry wood. So we also designed a storage system for the large amounts of wood needed, to be as effective of human energy and time as possible. Our outdoors fireplace was also a really core part of our lives, providing a focus to cook outdoors and celebrate events.
Sun hours in our remote part of the Dales were very few and we designed food growing, animal care and our own holistic health to maximize the use of the available sunlight.
We need to heat our house for the coldest months of the year here in Spain and are already planning a wood burning system and accessing local wood to burn. Wild fires are also a very real danger in the summer months and how to avoid them and then protect our home and animals if they do occur, is something that is really key to our future life here.
The sun shines for about 340 days of the year at our new home which is a really big change for us Yields we can obtain from that amazing energy include growing a much more diverse and abundant range of food and the potential for heating water and generating electricity for power. The strength of the sun can also be damaging in the hottest part of summer, and creating shade for both our food growing and outdoor living spaces will be part of the design.
Energy and action are also inspired by the element of Fire and I am in the process of using this inspiration to explore how I am going to take my permaculture work (lots of energy and action!) forward from here. I plan to finish my Diploma soon, but then what? And how will it integrate and balance with the other aspects of my life to make sure my energies are used as efficiently as possible?
It rained a lot at our North Yorkshire home, with the yearly average being over 100 inches. Improving the compacted soil, and planting trees, (especially willow). helped to improve the impact of excess water on the grazing land. The raised beds and a human made drainage channel, (which used a wide water pipe, perennial plant growth and a mesh outlet, to avoid soil erosion), had a really positive impact in avoiding plants being damaged by excess water.
Water here in the hills of Andalucía is precious. There is virtually no rain between April and September, and the winter rains are often short and very heavy, with potential for damage to land through flooding and erosion. Systems such as capturing and dispersing rainwater, utilizing grey water, optimizing organic matter in the soil, mulching and growing drought tolerant edible plants are already being considered as part of our design
Water in the non-physical aspect guides our emotional selves. Water flows, as do our emotions. Healthy emotional health can mean working on aspects of our mental heal that we are ‘stuck’ in, so that positive flow can take place. How can I use permaculture principles and tools to promote my emotional well being during this transition time? Starhawk talks a lot about the connections of grief and the water element, (‘the well of grief’). Being mindful of the loss I have experienced over recent months and years will also feature in this part of my people care/self care designing.
The exposed location and height of the farm meant that there could be damaging winds through out the year. Restoring many of the barns and dry stone walls on the farm and planting trees along field edges improved the shelter and then health and welfare of our agricultural animals. Also choosing native hardy breeds of sheep, cows, pigs and poultry ensured they would thrive well despite the weather conditions that the strong gales brought with them. Where we chose to site the various edible gardens, raised beds, polytunnel, planting further windbreaks and then choosing type and variety of edible plants designed for short growing seasons, meant we could protect our growing spaces from winds that contributed towards limits to maximum potential.
The winds at our new home can also be strong, and especially so in the winter Designing our food growing areas to include shelter against strong winds will make a huge difference to the varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs we can grow and the length of the growing season they will have.
Communication and connecting is the inner strength from Element of Air, and here in Andalucía there is an abundance of different factors emerging for this - making beneficial connections with new friends, community and neighbours. Sharing permaculture knowledge and experience with them: Finding systems to have positive communication with friends and family now many miles away: and engaging further with parts of the global permaculture community particularly those who are undertaking permaculture work in the local area or in similar geographic and climatic locations.
Glennie Kindred describes the Fifth Element, Spirit, as ‘the force that unites all the actions of the elements together, so that there is no separation….’ Back in the Yorkshire my spiritual practice mainly focused around celebrating the Wheel of the Year sun festivals, alongside the cycles of the moon, in connection with patterns the farming seasons. My nursing work and interest in using permaculture in designing how we die, also links deeply to spirit and that same cycle flow of life an death. In addition I spent time on a daily basis appreciating my spiritual connectedness with the land I worked on and grounding myself in the present, while honouring the power and energies of the five elements.
It feels reassuring and comforting to know that in Spirit, the patterns and practices that have given me so much meaning and peace in the past will transfer to my future. There will be changes of course, open outdoor fires will be saved for winter months for example, and I can already see that the arrival of rain will be a time for celebration and gratitude…but fundamentally the wheel will keep turning just as it has done, and within it there is much here to connect to.
Using the five Elements has been a really useful tool in my move here to Spain. As well as exploring the differences in using permaculture principles and ethics in our two homes, its also really helped me to identify some really beneficial connects between the knowledge and practice I feel confident about in my life in the Dales and my design for our resilient future here in Spain.
The following resources have helped with this post
The Earth Path – Starhawk
Sacred Earth Celebrations – Glennie Kindred
Earth Pathways Diary 2015
Earth Activist Training PDC, California 2013 - Starhawk and Charles Williams
Growing food In a Hotter, Drier Land – Gary Paul Nabha
The text from this post is published as an article "Permaculture and The Five Elements" in Permaculture Magazine Winter 2015 No 86
“How can we be build a new world when people are so deeply damaged by the old?”
City of Refuge is Starhawk’s long awaited powerful and profound sequel to the Fifth Sacred Thing. It’s actually the 3rd novel of the story that begins in the 1960’s in Walking To Mercury. Although there is been a gap of over 20 years since Fifth Sacred Thing was published It expertly flows to take up the story as if it were written to further the tale of a much more recent novel.
Set in California 2049, the scene is set of a land of great contrasts. Califia in the North, protects the Elements, the four sacred things –air, fire, water, and earth—and values diversity, community, sharing power and responsibility. The Southlands are ruled by a fascist regime in which a small minority hold financial control, children are bred to be soldiers and disposable sex slaves - and rape is a seen as a reward. The lands and communities of the South are toxic and dying, those in the North resilient and abundantly diverse.
It’s a novel for anyone who is passionate about the future of our Earth and her communities. Starhawk tells the story through and in, webs and connections, of love, power and magic. She brings us hope through the many examples of solutions of healing and regeneration described . Although fiction, City of Refuge is so relevant to real life – hauntingly so at times. The challenge of inciting revolution in such a society as the Southlands, by building a city of refuge within it, is an ethically complex task for revolutionaries of the North . It is hugely inspiring to all of us who are working hard to create social and environmental change.
Many of the most horrifying elements of the book (violence and oppression of both land and people), are so, because they are not far in reality to the world we live in today. In comparison, the story also holds many beautiful descriptions of what large scale communities and land use designed with permaculture principles and ethics, can be like. Starhawk’s fiction is a deeply inspiring look at what is actually possible for a solutions focused healthy future.
In the afterword of the book, Starhawk summarises how the changes in our world over the last twenty years have influenced her thinking as an activist, ecofeminist, pagan and teacher and then how she approached writing the book .One major factor is that California Is now year on year living the very real impact of climate change, which was still only a growing concept in the early 90’s when the Fifth Sacred Thing was written. Another challenging subject explored well in the book is Non Violence and its place in a healing world – given the severity of aggression used to control whole communities here in 2016, is it truly possible for the story’s Army of Liberation to use non violent only tactics?
City of Refuge can certainly be enjoyed as a stand alone book and by folk who have never heard of permaculture. There are also many beautiful layers that we as permaculture designers and practitioners will appreciate to a new level as the story weaves through the principles, ethics and many, many design elements and systems as a permaculture designer and activist, I find everything I love in this novel: powerful story-telling toward a different and better future, deep respect for the power of growing and sharing health promoting food, liberated sexual images and identities, genuine love and care for the characters and plenty of plot twists which meant I really didn’t want the story to end .
Starhawks work has been a major influence in my life since my teens and I’ve been looking forward to the City of Refuge ever since I knew of its creation. In all honesty I can say its one of the best novels I’ve ever read. My reactions to the story line: - fear, horror, humour, hope, pride, determination and extreme grief changed from one hour to the next – the 650 page book was hard to put down! I’m now looking forward to re reading both Walking to Mercury and The Fitth Sacred Thing, before taking my time with a more slower, thoughtful read of City of Refuge again. I know those creative layers hold many more pause times for reflection, visioning and designing for healing our broken Earth.
Starhawk talks about writing the City of Refuge in this link
Wild, stormy few days spent back in the Yorkshire Dales ....November weather goddess strength at its best, and a perfect time to re read The Earth Path by Starhawk . One of my favourite books ever, I always close the chapters with a new depth of essential understanding about life
...end of summer, winter commences....thin veil between different worlds..dreaming, recording dreams....remembering those who have died, how they have influenced who we are now...plans for dark winter evenings , reading, writing, crafts, games, music...pause and regeneration time...further work on edible garden ready for early spring planting ....tree planting...fires to cook, keep warm, reflect and celebrate...
Beautuful artwork by Jaine Rose at jainerose.co.uk
This week, 'Permaculture and the Five Elements', an article I wrote based on one of the designs in my Diploma Portfolio, was published in the Winter (No 86) edition of Permaculture Magazine. Along with some beautiful art work (not mine!), it was really good to see some of my design tools inspired by my Earth Based spiritual connections, being shared with the big global permaculture community.
You can read the full design 'Journey To Spain' here
To find out how you can subscribe to the wonderful Permaculture Magazine click here
Today the moon is full, and with its fullness comes change, abundance and completion. I'm spending some time focusing on connecting with its energy to do some visioning and reflecting this afternoon. There's little chance of seeing the moon here, as the cloud is all around us in the hills today, but in any rain breaks i'll be planting some ground cover seeds and seedlings. (salad leaves, nasturtium, calendula) amongst the winter veggies.
Beautiful artwork by Hannah Willow
regular updates and reflections about the permaculture designs in my life