Building Your Permaculture Property: Part One – On Worldviews and Metaphors

Making Permaculture Stronger’s core focus is regenerating permaculture design process together.

By this, I mean the deep and hard work of a) honing in on permaculture’s essential core, and b) sourcing and developing design process understandings from, and in alignment with, that place.

A necessary aspect of this work is developing new material (ideas, metaphors, diagrams, examples, practices etc). An equally necessary aspect is making space for this new material by finding and letting go of material that does not align or belong.

I believe this work is like an acupuncture point essential to the development of permaculture’s radical, needed and enormous potential. I also believe that this work, which is ours, as permaculturalists, to do, has barely begun.

This series of three blog posts and corresponding podcast episodes is a heart-felt invitation into this kind of work. Where I want to be clear for you, and in within myself, that I am not writing this stuff as any kind of expert or person-with-the-answers.

While I have a couple of tentative conclusions and perspectives, I mainly have a wealth of questions and a passionate commitment to create and hold spaces inside of which this kind of work can happen.

So, let the experiment begin.

This series was prompted by the appearance of an exciting new book into the literature of permaculture design. Its title is Building your Permaculture Property, its authors permaculture teachers and designers Rob Avis, Michelle Avis, and Takota Coen (who is also a commercial farmer).

The book lays out a clear and comprehensive approach to permaculture design process. A process the authors have developed over decades of combined practical experience, both personal and professional. I celebrate the existence of this book and all the hard-won learning that has gone into it.

Furthermore, I believe this book is a profound contribution to exactly the kind of work I have just been describing.1

It is also true that when I initially flipped through it, I felt some big feelings. Feelings that are informing and energising my effort to write these posts. Feelings that part of my current experiment involves me sharing openly here.

  • I felt JOY in the sheer existence of this heart-felt, earnest attempt to advance the clarity and rigour of permaculture design. This work is so needed and such a gaping hole in permaculture that these three wonderful humans have done their very best to help fill. I am still feeling really happy about this as I am at the obvious extent of collaboration between the authors whose different strengths flow into and make the book so much better than any one of them could have made it.
  • I felt ANGER to note a disconnect between the presentation of design process in the book and the design process developments and dialogues I have been involved in though Making Permaculture Stronger. From my perspective seemingly fertile opportunities for cross-pollination have not happened, where, to come to the point, the book includes much material that I have poured a lot of my life-force into arguing does not belong in, or do justice to, permaculture’s design process potential.2 While this anger has since mostly receded, it is still there also.
  • I felt SAD to reflect on the resulting prognosis for permaculture’s evolution, if there are not established systems for pooling and collaboratively crash-testing and co-developing our mutual advances. If every design process book lays out its own take largely in isolation from a larger field of collaborative development.
  • I felt AFRAID, considering my impression of the disconnect, how I might channel these feelings toward engaging with the authors about their work in a positive, constructive way. Afraid of how gaps I perceive between our perspectives might be bridged without bridges being burned! I feel this fear still.
  • Finally, I felt a different kind of ANGER in seeing what seemed to me to be a profusion of superficial endorsements of the book (including my own!) that did not show any depth of engagement with its ideas. This sort of superficial blanket praise appears to be the norm in permaculture and I’m concerned what that means for permaculture’s capacity to be in the game of evolution. If it is all “your ideas are great and my ideas are great and we’re all on the same page, hoorah for permaculture” when, let’s face it, at least some of our ideas aren’t that great and, if you actually open the book, we are not all on the exact same page!!

Well this is a first for Making Permaculture Stronger, publicly sharing my feelings ahead of my thoughts.

Indeed, in the last few months I have had to do a lot of work on myself to get to the point where I am capable of bringing the energy I want to bring to this whole engagement. I feel like I am there, and I can now do this, so long as I keep a close eye on myself as I go along. Let us see how we go. Maybe you can keep a close eye on me also and enlighten me when I get off track.

To recap something I said above but now in relation to this specific book, I want to stress that:

  • This is nothing to do with who is wrong and who is right
  • This is everything to do with inviting the authors and anyone in the entire permaculture community into a different kind of dialogue where the aim is that all parties grow and develop
  • This dialogue requires that we find civil and constructive ways of not brushing over but diving directly into our differences in design process understandings, in a way that lets us come through these into the realm of fresh insights and discoveries

Okay, enough pretext, feelings included. Let us dive into the first of three talking points arising for me as I engage with this wonderful contribution to permaculture’s evolution.

Talking Point One – Worldviews and Metaphors

While I am no expert in either worldviews or metaphors, together I find them such an interesting and important topic.

In particular, I am fascinated by the metaphors3 we use when trying to make permaculture design accessible. Initially to ourselves. Then to others.

Aside from the specific idea or process we use a particular metaphor to convey, we can zoom out and pay attention to the kinds or categories of metaphor we use.

These kinds or categories I find powerful windows into the worldview we literally view the world from and through. We can then ask whether the worldview we are working from is the best suited to the context of its application. Where, as soon as the worldview changes, the (downstream)4 metaphors all change too.

Before coming back to Building your Permaculture Property, I want to share a distinction between two of the various worldviews available to us.5 I will call these a mechanical or mechanistic worldview and a living worldview. Again, I am sharing my limited current understanding here, where I invite crash testing and clarification of everything I say.

Mechanistic Worldview

In this worldview we view things as if they were mechanisms or machines. As makes sense when working with a clock, computer, or billiard table, this worldview has us break things down into their component parts, examine these parts in isolation, then reassemble them to build up an understanding of the whole.6

Our modern lives are throughly infused with machines that were built by assembling mass produced near-identical components. Most of us interface directly with hundreds (and indirectly with hundreds of thousands) of machines every day. As I understand it, the mechanistic worldview appropriate to understanding and working with these machines has become our default way of seeing almost everything.7

It is fascinating to me how a certain subset of objects (machines) have emerged from within the living processes of Earth (including those subprocesses we call human) and we have then separated out the machines to hold them up as an interpretive lens to understand the life forces that birthed them! Even though I’ve been aware of the mechanistic world view for a while, it is still deeply embedded within me, where I have observed a strong bias toward identifying the relevant parts within any situation and then assembling or reassembling them into more functional configurations.

Living Worldview

In a living worldview, things are seen as alive and as ebbing and flowing organisms (rather than dead machines). Rather than treating wholes as if they were entities assembled from pre-existing parts, a living worldview sees such ‘parts’ as organs which have unfolded or emerged from pre-existing wholes, as the feet and lungs of a frog have emerged from the growth of the frog as a whole.

Here we cannot separate out the different parts, or organs, without killing the frog (or whatever it is).

Instead, the approach to understanding is immersing in the living complexity of the whole and gradually developing an affinity or kinship with it.

As I see it, such a living worldview has more affinity with any indigenous worldview or way of life than does the mechanistic worldview.

Which One is Right?

While I’m sure we can agree they are different, neither a mechanistic or living worldview is inherently right or wrong. They both have their place and their value.

If we are designing or building or operating or fixing a machine, a mechanistic worldview makes more sense than a living worldview.

If, by contrast, we are engaging with a plant, child, or ecology, a living worldview will likely serve us better than a mechanistic one.

It is a matter of evolving our capacity to pay attention to and then engage with the worldview most appropriate to the context in which we are working.8

By its nature, permaculture must engage with both worldviews. It deals with both living beings (such as trees) and with machines (such as bulldozers). The question is at what levels and in what situations is each worldview most appropriate?


I now want to suggest a hypothesis: The worldview we are operating from will unconsciously dictate the metaphors we choose to communicate our ideas.

If we are operating from a mechanistic worldview, our metaphors will be sourced from the world of machines.

If we are operating from a living worldview, our metaphors will be sourced from the world of life.

Again, I welcome any and all perspectives on this hypothesis.

The Metaphors in Building your Permaculture Property

Let us now consider the choice of metaphors in Building Your Permaculture Property, asking:

  1. Are they sourced from the world of machines (and hence, if the hypothesis holds, from a mechanistic worldview) or from the world of life (and hence a living worldview)?
  2. To what extent is that worldview the best suited to the context of its application?

I’ll mention first that in the book’s treatment of design process, I found a clear example of a metaphor sourced from the living world being used to shed light on the dynamics of healthy design process. In the author’s words:

Figure 2.3 shows how a watershed gathers individual drops of water into larger and larger channels starting with raindrops, then sheet flow, before going to rills, runnels, creeks, streams, and then the river, until eventually ending in a delta at the edge of a lake or ocean. The diagnosis and design steps function in the same way. In Step 2: Diagnose, our goal is to create a filestream (pun intended), with the function of converting the torrential downpour of information into appropriately compartmentalized physical or digital file folders. These file folders serve the same function as dams, swales, subsoiling, and gabions to channel and store information into appropriate steam tributaries that correspond to the eleven property resources.

Once these eleven tributaries begin filling with information, they will inevitably flow downstream and deposit themselves as design ideas that start with broad brushstrokes down to minute details, or what David Holmgren refers to as “design from patterns to details.” The way that I like to think about this analogy is that the river is diagnosis and the delta is design (more on design in the next chapter).

As soon as I started to mimic the dendritic branching pattern of a watershed to gather and distribute information, my obsession about learning everything there was to know about permaculture vanished. I stopped bingeing on information memorization. This was because I started to notice that the amount of information falling into the catchment of my mind, just like the amount of precipitation falling in a watershed, can exceed the capacity of the filestream or water channels. And when this happened, it was inevitable that the flow of data or rain would burst its banks and flood onto my physical or digital desktop as unfiled resources. In other words, information, no matter how good the quality, is only as good as your ability to put it to productive use.

That being said, you don’t want a drought of information either, because the speed and quality of your design insights are directly proportional to the quantity and quality of your data; poor information yields poor design. You don’t want torrential downpours of data; you want a slow and steady drizzle that keeps pace with the evolution of your filestream. You will also find that just as an older watershed that contains high-carbon soils and deep-rooted vegetation can handle more rain and even the occasional flash flood, a more established filestream can better slow, spread, and sink the occasional higher flows of information.

Building Your Permaculture Property, pages 83-84

This is a great example. The authors are using something from the living world (a watershed) to ‘shed’ light on an aspect of permaculture design process. Without getting into any further details,9 according to my earlier logic, this suggests that the authors are, at least in part, oriented toward, and operating from a living world view.

I say “at least in part,” given that the majority of additional metaphors illustrated in the book are mechanical in nature.

Whether one domino hitting another (p. 3), navigating through a field of landmines (p. 61), disarming bombs (p. 63), directing a small ball through a maze using pullies and dials (p. 88), operating a pinball machine (p. 132), or shooting birdshot, buckshot, or a slug through a shotgun or using a bazooka (p. 142), mechanical/machine metaphors are used repeatedly to explain core ideas and aspects of permaculture design process. The two most central metaphors used to illustrate the dynamics of permaculture design process as understood by the authors are a ball-in-the-maze machine and a pinball machine:

I want to note here that this tendency to pull in machine metaphors when sharing about permaculture design is in no way unique in the permaculture literature.10 I also want to emphasise that in my opinion, all these mechanical metaphors are used brilliantly to make their target points with clarity. Yet, if what I shared above is valid, the predominance of mechanical metaphors indicates that, despite clear indications of a living world view in the living metaphor I shared, the centre of gravity of the book is a mechanistic worldview and its associated mechanical metaphors.

As I emphasised earlier, there is nothing wrong with this worldview when used in its relevant context of application – namely the world of machines. However, it is my sense that the relevant context for permaculture design process as a whole is not the world of machines, but is the world of life. Or, at the very least, I feel it would be a worthwhile experiment to try and articulate permaculture design process from within a living worldview, using mostly if not entirely living metaphors.

Which brings me to a set of questions around my first talking point:

  • I find it interesting that in permaculture we surprisingly often use machine examples to understand non-machine processes, don’t you?
  • As permaculture designers, teachers and authors, how much attention are we paying to the metaphors (and similes, analogies etc) we use?
  • How much attention ought we be paying to the metaphors we use?
  • Do the metaphors we choose flow from and hence reveal the worldview we default to?
  • What do you think about this?
  • What do you feel about this?
  • Does this stuff even matter?
  • Is it possible to make the points we want to make in a permaculture design context using living metaphors?
  • Is our audience so deeply steeped in the mechanistic worldview (and the techno-sphere it has enabled) that we must prioritise machine metaphors in order to stay accessible?

I’d be curious to hear how these questions land for you, and I am grateful to Rob, Takota and Michelle for inadvertently prompting me to ask them. Please talk to me in the comments below or by sending me a message.

We’ll look at another core pattern in the book, and raise an associated talking point, in Part Two.


Thanks to Takota Coen for reviewing a draft and making suggestions that helped me more accurately represent the book (which is not to say I’ve succeeded!), Jon Buttery and Beck Rafferty from the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community for their suggestions and James Andrews for helping me clean up the overall energy of this piece.


  1. As I emailed in my endorsement to the authors: “Exuding a clarity, depth, and usability that can only come from hard-won experience, this book makes a powerful and timely contribution to the literature of permaculture design. It lifts the bar a good many notches, and will unquestionably bring great value to many thousands of folk developing their own places in permaculture-inspired directions, to existing permaculture teachers and designers, and indeed to permaculture’s very evolution as a design system.”
  2. I acknowledge that part of this was about my own ego and the wish that the discoveries of MPS had been more widely engaged with.
  3. I want to acknowledge that I will be using the word “metaphor” in a general way, to include what on closer consideration might be better described as similes or analogies
  4. To use a metaphor :-)
  5. For instance Carol Sanford has a framework comprising five levels of worldview (aristocratic, mechanistic, behavioural, humanistic and regenerative or living) some of which we touched on in this chat
  6. As Christopher Alexander has put it in his The Nature of Order series, “Present-day conventional wisdom (perhaps Cartesian and mechanistic in origin) tells us that everything is made of parts. In particular, people believe today that every whole is made of parts. The key aspect of this belief is the idea that the parts come ‘before’ the whole, in short, the parts exist as elements of some kind, which are then brought into relationship with one another, or combined, and a center is ‘created’ out of these parts and their combinations as a result.”
  7. To quote Jeremy Lent from here, “This mechanistic worldview has deep roots in Western thought. The great pioneers of the Scientific Revolution, such as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, believed they were decoding “God’s book,” which was written in the language of mathematics. God was conceived as a great clockmaker, the “artificer” who constructed the intricate machine of nature so flawlessly that, once it was set in motion, there was nothing more to do (bar the occasional miracle) than let it run its course. “What is the heart, but a spring,” wrote Thomas Hobbes, “and the nerves but so many strings?” Descartes flatly declared: “I do not recognize any difference between the machines made by craftsmen and the various bodies that nature alone composes.”
  8. Yes I get it – this is a LOT easier to say than to do!
  9. what I mean here is that there is a whole other conversation about no matter where we source our metaphors, it is possible to use them in more or less helpful ways. On that front I will drop in this line from Carol Sanford just as a note to myself about a possible part four in this series: “But the process of accretion of information and action, no matter how comprehensive, will never on its own generate the shift in perspective that allows us to engage with a living whole. If anything, the tendency to aggregate and integrate only serves to reinforce the problems associated with fragmentation. This is because it derives its raw materials from the underlying practice of breaking things down into parts in order to understand them before attempting to reassemble them into something that makes sense.” Carol Sanford – preprint of Indirect Work, p. 64
  10. In episode 64 of the MPS podcast, for instance, I noted such a pattern in other books about permaculture design – for instance see page 20 of Hemenway’s The Permaculture City here or page 18 of Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom & Dave Boehnlein here


  1. Hi Dan,

    Thank you for what you are doing to challenge us to evolve our thinking. I wanted to offer just a quick comment related to the comments and replies so far. I agree that Permaculture is not a thing that you do, rather it is a way of doing what you already do and it is a lens through which we can shift our understanding of the world. If what you do is related to a particular physical piece of land (farming, market garden business, etc.), or if you live on a piece of land and wish to steward it in a regenerative way, then I think this book provides a context for helping you do that. My understanding is that the information flow that is discussed in the book is related to a dendritic pattern – the diagnosis informs the design and vice versa. It is iterative. I think it is also key to understand that the authors emphasize that the ultimate goal of any design (land-based, community-based, etc.) is well-being, related directly back to the 3 permaculture ethics – this requires a person to understand fundamental things about living systems that are not meant to be taught in this book. I believe it is meant to be supplemental to a broader/deeper permaculture learning.

    I look forward to your future episodes on this and other topics!

    ~ Leigh Anne

  2. Thanks Dan,

    I really enjoyed this podcast/article and think that a change in view point is what we need. I also think the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” holds true. An interesting exercise and maybe future article would be rather than just pointing out the mechanical references is to create a Living alternative (although in saying this my mind is bursting with contradiction). Maybe an exercise for the MPS community and the Permaculture community in general is to start to build a library of alternative Metaphors that describe design in a Living way.

  3. Hi Dan,

    I think I was, like you, trained in seeing the importance of criticality but I’ve also come to realize that criticality only tends to define the problem. Somewhere in the back and forth of sensing and experience we start to feel where there is a misfit or tension. In traditional criticism just identifying the tension is sufficient. What’s interesting though in design is that identifying a tension or pain point or misfit is only the most preliminary step. In design we have to create something that is better fit to the context. Contradiction and negation do not produce form. And if they do produce form it is the form that exists is the remainder that the process of negation eroded. I often think about how Deleuze approached critique and how he considered all contradiction as a waste of time. Like permaculture his method of critique was creating something that completely replaces the concept that he found lacking. Difference and repetition is critique of Hegel that barely mentions Hegel but completely replaces any need for his worldview. I think this is the challenge. We don’t get anywhere reacting to the dominant Cartesian mechanistic worldview. We get somewhere by replacing it with a living world view. Like design this requires the work of creation and action not reaction and contradiction. For me whenever I feel myself reacting to some difference i think of Deleuze listening patiently and then simply saying what he wanted the other person to say instead. Letting their difference not be something that needed to be contradicted but rather something that provokes a better thought, a better concept and better form. Not needing to battle for the One right idea but seeing difference as a productive force. That the desire that difference provokes doesn’t need another’s voice to speak it but that it is our call to create.

    I hear a lot of myself in how you are fighting through these ideas but I also see in myself how much wasted energy can go into critique and reactivity. When I do have the bandwidth to come back to philosophy that helps I find it immensely useful. Of course sometimes I’m just a little shit and need to dig in for a fight. When I’m better it’s more about seeing where difference takes us.

    1. Aaron given how closely your comments resemble some of my own inner dialogue I wondered for a moment if I had actually written this comment myself in my sleep or something!

      Having reigned in and redirected the little shit inside of me that wants to fight and contradict and critique (while achieving nothing but hard feelings and closed doors), one question I have been sitting with is the relative merits of:

      a) Fuller’s line “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete,” which I am pouring a lot of life-force into, such as the upcoming books laying out the theory and practice of more living processes, and

      b) the idea of immersing in the difference or tension between two (or more) views to both see what new form might want to be born directly of the difference (activating force, restraining force, reconciling force style) and to experiment with seeding this difficult yet desperately needed form of dialogue like yogurt starter inside the broader permaculture milk jar. The place this would happen is not here but in my upcoming dialogue with one of the authors.

      Right now I’m making an evolutionary gamble and playing it both ways, where part of my story is that this book landed right in front of me on the path MPS is walking, where me walking around it as if it didn’t exist, or superficially acknowledging it without sharing some of my deeper impressions of how it is relevant or otherwise to MPS’s intent, didn’t seem like authentic options.

      MPS also experienced a mini existential crisis, where I sat with the possibility that permaculture is so deeply and unconsciously bedded down in a mechanical rut that I’d best pack up my things and go play some place else. What is more, a colleague familiar with my work and who has attended courses with me had told me about the book suggesting that its ideas were very similar to those I am developing. Once I got a look at the book and reached a different conclusion, I wondered to what extent a) folk in permaculture were able to appreciate the difference and b) I was nuts to passionately believe there is one and that it really, really matters. Where I am happy to report that the comments and private messages coming in so far have affirmed there is comprehension and resonance out there and hence have supported my decision to stick around, for now :-).

      Anyway thanks Aaron, even if I do get this weird sense that in talking to you I am talking to myself. Like when you say “Somewhere in the back and forth of sensing and experience we start to feel where there is a misfit or tension” gosh this is exactly where all my projects have started, where as you say this is only the very first step toward the creation of new form better fitting with the context. Anyone out there wanting more on this go read Alexander’s “Notes on the Synthesis of Form” (1964).

      Also, by the way, coming back to your last line, where is the difference taking you?

      1. I think for me it’s that in understanding my difference, my singularity, my unique place in a vast network that I have some purpose to nurture. I was chatting with a friend recently about Darwin and how Darwin wrote these books on what we’d call niche construction; about how earthworms create the conditions and context for earthworms to thrive. We were talking about queerness and how the queer community created the conditions for queerness to thrive very quickly in very much the same way that earthworms rapidly transform the soil ecology. ‘Everything gardens’ is an underappreciated permaculture principal especially now that niche construction is having a scientific renaissance. I think of what you’re doing here as tending a garden. Which isn’t about a passive love of every bit of life that wanders in and grows into thriving weeds or a mechanistic conventional farm that destroys all life but GMO corn. There’s weeding to do along with the planting. There are cycles of disturbance and cycles of planting. What’s important to hold onto is the uniqueness of the garden as its own singular community. Not unlike what you’ve built here. You’re creating a community where these ideas about permaculture can thrive.

        Something I was listening to just now talked about inviting doubt in for tea, thanking it for drawing your attention to something and then saying “it’s ok. I appreciate you’re concern but I think we’re ok”. Thank doubt for drawing your attention but don’t let doubt become the focus of your attention. Let your focus come back to the work and where you have some power change some small part of the world.

  4. Dan, your honesty here is refreshing and courageous. Honest critiques are essential for the evolution of permaculture design. I have a few thoughts:

    I agree that the metaphors one uses very often indicates one’s world view, and would add that we should not need to water these down to mechanistic metaphors simply in order to communicate a concept. I think that underestimates our listeners capacity for understanding.

    Permaculture’s first ethic is “Earth Care”, based on the fact that Earth is Living, Dynamic, Complex, and beyond anything we can fully understand, a Living world view is the appropriate approach to aspire to. A mechanistic worldview (view of the world- assumably Earth and Universe) lacks the capacity to embrace the Living World with which we are aspiring to collaborate, cooperate and harmonize through permaculture design. We have to remember that tools (which led to machines (which are still tools)) are not possible without the Living Earth. A mechanistic view is great for designing machines, aspects of buildings, and other built structures (irrigation etc). However it is subordinate to the Living Worldview which should inform our design decisions. I think we can all see where mechanistic thinking applied inappropriately to a worldview has led us.

    The metaphor you shared from the book which you said was a Living metaphor (the watershed) was used to explain a way to categorized and take in information “data” and “file” it in order to inform one’s design ideas. While the watershed is a living metaphor, I found the comparison of our minds to a filing system to be totally mechanistic. Yes the watershed is a living metaphor, but it is being used in conjunction with reducing our minds to having a limited capacity, like a computer, and being unable to absorb information beyond it’s saturation level. The physical brian is not a machine, and the mind is absolutely not mechanistic. A machine is built by humans who understand all its parts. It is dangerous and foolish to apply this arrogant assumption to our beautiful Living Earth, and it is not my understanding that permaculture is about approaching the Living world from a mechanistic viewpoint at all.

    Understanding that we have been “educated” into a mechanistic view of many aspects of our lives, it is not surprising that we fall into using these metaphors, but I feel it essential continue to shine the light on these blind spots, and encourage each other to a greater awareness of our thought processes with regard to permaculture design. If we allow mechanistic views to dominate permaculture, it will stagnate, no doubt.

    1. Thanks Laura and yes I agree with your assessment and I shout an emphatic YES to your final sentence! To me this is already becoming a tragedy I can’t help but try and bring into the light of day.

      Also I set the bar low to focus on where the metaphors were sourced, but did notice how quickly that watershed example segued into comparing the human mind with a computer, which of course is another example of projecting a mechanical metaphor onto something alive.

  5. hello Dan,
    I have been a listener for a long time (like episode 10 or so?) and just listened to your latest podcast about your feelings about the DYPP book. I agree with your assessment that they are approaching it from a mechanistic framework. I got a copy of the book as soon as it was released. As I read it, I found it a very good step by step way to explain the things you DO to create a design but mostly lacking in the things you must UNDERSTAND to create a living system. I am also an engineer by education and it was something I would have written when I first started doing permaculture design and was still very immersed in the engineer’s world view. After some years of living a permaculture life and teaching PDC’s, my thinking (like yours) has evolved past this point and I now see it as very limiting and really only half the story.

    I guess I am writing to validate how you feel and to let you know that while I don’t comment or write, I am walking this same journey with you. How do we convey a connection with a living system to a person who has not yet learned to even see that there is one there? How to translate this deeper appreciation and understanding for a mind that hasn’t used that language before? I don’t have the answers, but I’m trying things and learning from everything you put out. Thank you for your work and please keep it up!

    1. Amber I’m so happy to make your acquaintance and yes these questions you ask are so alive for me right now. Good thing I like leaning into a challenge :-), and I look forward to benefitting from your explorations and discoveries too now we’re in touch. One thing I will share is I have found it quite doable to a) bring folk into an experience of living process dancing with living systems by actually experiencing being inside one together, and b) to have folk resonate with my best attempts to talk or write about it when they have themselves already tasted it (you being a case in point), but that it is very hard and maybe even impossible to get it across to someone who is not yet familiar with the experience of what I’m talking about. Which is not going to stop me from trying :-). And which is also not to say I’m particularly well-experienced in this realms. I have had a taste though, and there is no turning back from that!

      It is like as a culture we got caught inside a mechanistic cage or shell that nonetheless floats in an ocean of life. Where the thing to do is to find the cracks and keep pecking, pecking, pecking :-).

  6. Hello Dan,

    It’s great to read this from you.

    I’m listening along regularly and was interested to see you were offering a different format this time – the ‘audiobook version’ of your written essay.

    I really appreciate being along for the ride on your mission to expand the permaculture design process. I’ve studied both design and permaculture, but I’m only now developing my own practice.

    I got the impression that you were interested in feedback, so I thought I’d write in.

    I was intrigued by the examination of metaphors, as they don’t tend to be something I use very much. But they can be a powerful tool by way of explanation. I wonder if land based culture use metaphors to share knowledge? I suppose a parable is a kind of extended metaphor. The example you gave from the book seemed to complicate the principle of patterns to details.

    When it come to dualities and the way they influence our experience – living/mechanistic could equally be replaced with romantic/classical, relationist/survivalist or indigenous/colonial.

    As supremely adaptable beings, the way we view the world is influenced by the relationships that sustain us – traditionally that has been with family and community, and with land and plants. But these days can be dominated by phones and computers and cars (among many other machines).

    I hope as permaculture designers we can bring a stronger understanding of living and holistic worldviews, for ourselves as well as others. That comes from how we design spaces, how we communicate ideas, and even how we relate to people. It even comes from how we see ourselves.

    It’s a really powerful idea, and thanks for getting into it.

    Looking forward to Part Two.


    1. Thanks for chiming in Ben and I loved your observation that “As supremely adaptable beings, the way we view the world is influenced by the relationships that sustain us – traditionally that has been with family and community, and with land and plants. But these days can be dominated by phones and computers and cars (among many other machines).”

      It is becoming more and more clear to me that the machines that make up the foreground of modern life, and that many of us spend most of our time looking at, kind of restructure the eyes through which we then view the living ecologies out there in the background. I sure hope there are folk looking into this phenomenon, which happens so insidiously we barely notice it.

  7. Wow, Dan! You’re going in! I love this post because you reveal further questions. Your energy is vibrant with inquiry.

    I watch new permaculture titles carefully, and I confess to seeing this book title some months ago and dismissing it immediately (no diss to the authors, who I know do positive work for our wondrous life community). I’ve never looked at this book beyond the cover. This requires a full stop.

    What I saw in the title however, if you’re still willing to entertain that this thought has value knowing I’m making a snap judgement by only looking at the cover, was a fundamental misunderstanding of permaculture itself. I don’t believe there are such things as “permaculture properties” so my interest in the book was never lit up.

    What I mean by that is I see a fundamental error in the use of the term permaculture to refer to a thing as permaculture instead of a process (I promise not to go down the rabbit hole of nouns and verbs and adjectives as that’s not my intention here). What I mean is materialistic worldview. With a deep immersion in living processes one can’t hold on too long to material. I don’t think there is a thing called permaculture or property. And combining the two together doesn’t help either.

    So if we can’t ‘grasp’ permaculture, what is it? I think I’ll just leave it at that for right now (I have a lot more work ahead to articulate what I think here).

    1. Thanks Jason and yes, I am going in! This stuff matters to me too much not to :-). I am happy to hear that you are in the process of working out your thoughts (and, no doubt, your feelings) about what permaculture is if not a graspable thing we can point to out there on the ground. When you’re ready let’s record a chat about this and it would be great to be able to repost any writing you do about it.

      In my case, the first thing about the title of Building Your Permaculture Property: A Five Step Process to Design and Develop Land that stood out as odd was the narrow focus of the leading verb – building. I have discussed this a little with Takota and Rob, and will go into it more the third instalment in this series. Questions about the phrase “permaculture property” aside, is building the main thing we do when in engaging in permaculture processes? Any and all thoughts welcome and we’ll pick this thread up in a few posts time.

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