Possibility Management and Permaculture with Brianne Vaillancourt

In this episode Brianne Vaillancourt and I explore the the edge between Possibility Management and Permaculture. In particular we explore the potential to harness conscious feelings in our design work. Having started this conversation back in episode fifteen with Clinton Callahan, I feel joy to be going there again. Joy because the clarity of the distinctions I have learned in Possibility Management contexts are contributing so much to my work in design, holding space, and my life generally.

Brianne Vaillancourt & Dan Palmer

Learn more about Brianne (and sign up to her newsletter!) through her personal website.

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Learn more about Clinton at his personal website.

Learn more about Anne-Chloé Destremau, who Brianne mentions, here.

Learn more about Possibility Management, Rage Club, Fear Club and Mage Training which are all mentioned. Something that wasn’t mentioned, but I was thinking of during the episode, is this site using the term Whole Permaculture to explore the Permaculture-Possibility Management bridge.

If you are interested in learning more about Possibility Management in an actual training experience, I recommend this online Expand the Box training run by my friend, colleague and guide Vera Franco.

Huge thanks to Ellen’ Schwindt for the musical intermission – below is a video of the larger composition I sample. Let me know if these things work for you and I’ll get them in more often!

11 Comments

  1. Hi Dan,
    I am going to be the unpopular voice.
    A snowy day allowed me to delve far deeper into this podcast than I usually would be able to. I listened to a pleasant interaction between you and Brianne, but remained quite unclear on “possibility management” as I had never previously encountered this term. Diving into the maze of Clinton’s websites was like (I imagine) video gaming (something I never have personally engaged). In spite of its maze like quality, I recognized it as promoting the sale of trainings and associated books for “possibility management”. The techniques and objectives appeared similar to other psychological techniques that have arisen here over the same time frame of 40 or so years.

    Wanting to keep the focus on permaculture, and overlooking obnoxious mechanistic metaphors and sci-fi creatures. I ventured onto the “whole permaculture” page at your suggestion. There was a lot there to explore, but the opening sentence was a good place to start:

    “Either permaculture ‘pheonixes’ itself and starts over with personal transformation at its core, or the evolutionary needs of people will drive them elsewhere and the Permaculture gameworld will collapse like a chocolate Easter bunny, sweet on the outside and hollow on the inside.”

    Several things jumped right out at me: (1) an assumption, (2) a veiled threat and (3) a solution.

    Let’s start with the assumption: a “Permaculture gameworld”.
    There could be an issue with semantics with the word “gameworld”, but I will do my best here. Gameworld indicates to me a programmed world (much like a video game, and the burgeoning tech world), everything is algorithms, code and so on. Permaculture has to do with life itself, which is not programmed. So these things would seem to be in total opposition. Perhaps gameworld refers to a shared set of beliefs and habits concerning “what is permaculture” that is limited in nature (limited or still in a simplistic form). This has got to be an erroneous assumption, as I am sure if you dive deeply into the consciousness of an experienced permaculture practitioner what you will find is not limited nor simplistic. A case in point would be the glimpse the “Reading Landscape” project with David Holmgren is giving us into David’s complex and evolved understanding of the landscapes he encounters.

    Continuing to the veiled threat: if permaculture does not start over with personal transformation at its core, it will collapse.
    So, if permaculture doesn’t become first and foremost about personal transformation (the self help guru’s gold mine, which also exploded in the 70s), it is empty? Never mind that its concepts have ecological grounding in reality, never mind it provides for clean water, healthy soil, healing damaged landscapes, reversing desertification, providing nutrient dense food, giving domesticated animals healthy lives, regenerating depleted pastures, practicing appropriate agricultural techniques in various climates and so much more. This in and of itself is healing for our various psychological traumas and habitual patterns formed in childhood. If we need more healing than permaculture can provide, I suggest we seek out that healing in other ways. Permaculture never claimed to be able to heal deeply held psychological, emotional, physical or spiritual dis-ease. It can certainly help but may not be sufficient for major issues or for all people. It is good to remember that threats (veiled or not) are usually designed to manipulate our thinking and associated behavior.

    The solution is Clinton’s “possibility management” a series of workshops, exercises and literature which appears to me to be largely tapping into psychological ills of modern, first world, society with the typical promise of a new society rising from the old. If you take his trainings you can become leaders within this new utopian society and live your best life, spontaneously etc etc.

    Can someone show the sleazy salesman the door? At what point do we draw the line in terms of disrespect of permaculture’s originating principles and ignorant misunderstanding of those principles? The point that many of permaculture’s practitioners are falling short in terms of manifesting its potential does not in any way delegitimize its foundation. There is a saying we have “quitate tu pa ponerme yo” which basically means “move out of the way so I can come in”. That is what I see when I see (1) a false assumption, (2) a threat, and (3) a convenient new remedy.

    I could go further into the analysis, but the comment will be too long.

    1. Dear Laura – thanks so much for sharing – your perspectives and analyses are always welcome here, as is the creative tension different perspectives create. While, after several years of thorough, critical investigation, I personally have reached different conclusions regarding the integrity, relevance, and value of Possibility Management generally, and Clinton’s work specifically (where I consider Clinton a friend and senior colleague), I accept that different folk will reach different conclusions. I am happy to be more publicly acknowledging the value I have gained from this body of work (just like from permaculture, Christoper Alexander, and Carol Sanford’s work) and to be bringing some more voices exploring the edges between Possibility Management, Permaculture, and Living Systems Thinking into the mix as part of my wider quest moving forward. Let’s all bring our critical questioning whole-body intelligence to the table and let the chips fall where they may! All best, Dan.

      1. Hey Dan, I appreciate your willingness to engage this tension. I greatly admire the range of podcast episodes you have here, containing deep insight and stories from diverse and profound minds. In my estimation, Permaculture can greatly benefit from these types of contributions, analysis, and variety of perspectives.

        While I continue to struggle with the PM concepts of “gameworlds”, “gremlins”, “brain zippers”, “clickers”, “grounding cords” and so on, it is important not to allow language to block understanding. So I dove deeper into the PM world to try to understand it better, and try to grasp how this could benefit strengthening permaculture.

        I found a possibility management youtube channel that had extensive videos, showing everything from one on one coaching sessions to the larger ‘possibility lab groups’ including the season 2 mage training and gameworld incubator labs in which you, Dan, were involved.

        The gist of it, that I was able to understand, is that everyone is involved in gameworlds, mostly unconsciously, and mostly are involved other people’s gameworlds in which they are pawns. PM allows you to gain clarity to create your own gameworld which you are ultimately in control of and which reflects your values. PM does this through “Emotional Healing Processes” and other initiatory experiences that are lacking in modern society.

        While I agree that emotional healing is beneficial and genuine initiatory experiences can be very important points in our lives, I would not trust PM personally (just to be honest here). That’s ok, we all trust who we trust with our emotional, mental and spiritual needs. We will gravitate towards a language that resonates with us on a deep level.

        However, there were several moments in the videos where Clinton is denigrating Indigenous Cultures, such as this one in Gameworld Incubator Week #2/12

        https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIJgwtZHt9hktvUF5w2WDI0sPf3jJ67y6

        At 18:32 Clinton says:

        “You have to remember that Indigenous Cultures were not regenerative. In addition Indigenous Cultures were also not aware of themselves as a culture in general. They do not understand the idea of cultural relativity which says that every culture on this planet is bullshit including mine. This is not taught in Indigenous Cultures. In Indigenous Cultures the name for foreigners is the same thing as the name for the edible ones, the ones you can eat. Anyone who is not in your tribe you can invite them to lunch as your main course, you can just eat them because they are not human because they don’t wear the same beads or speak the same language, or have the same clothes or worldview, you can just eat them, they are not even human. So this is Indigenous Cultures around the world.”

        This statement is so odious on so many levels, that are so obvious. I can’t even seriously ask “where is he getting his evidence from”? Is Clinton seriously saying Indigenous Cultures are cannibalistic and unconscious of themselves as a culture? It sounds like a statement straight out of a playbook on justifying colonialism. How could anyone say Indigenous Cultures are not regenerative? Yet the whole virtual roomful of people said nothing. This saddens me deeply that these types of (white/ western/ modern?) supremacist statements continue to go unchallenged.

        Later in the video, you are speaking, Dan, at 1:33:30 about your gameworlds, of which this permaculture podcast is one of them. I found this informative, and a window into where you are going with all this. I appreciate you wanting to help people bring forth more alive creations and processes through your various endeavors. I do have a question about this whole thing: Is your whole construct (gameworld) going to be played within or under the umbrella of PM? It feels a little like you have been trying to pull us into PM without us being aware of it, so I am really relieved that you have made this public. I think it is important to make people aware of what is behind the various interfaces you have created. Your honesty in bringing this forward will, I think, bring a lot more clarity for both you as the “spaceholder” and us as “players” in your gameworld. I would however ask you just to clarify if this is played under or within PM.
        Thank you!

        1. Hi Laura,

          MPS exists to open and hold space for collaborative inquiry and dialogue into permaculture design processes, in a way that supports these processes to become more conscious and alive, so that permaculture is supported toward more fully accessing and expressing its potential.

          I would additionally say that MPS is currently:

          • sourced in Christopher Alexander’s sense that processes can be more alive or less alive
          • being carried out through the medium of permaculture
          • infused with helpful gems (distinctions, frameworks, practices, processes) from many places, including The Field Process Model (Jascha Rohr), Living Systems Thinking (Carol Sanford and colleagues) and Possibility Management (Clinton Callahan and colleagues).

          Where I aspire for MPS to be an ongoing invitation and beyond that a challenge to myself and fellow permaculture designers to ask their own difficult questions, make their own inquiries, and to contribute to the above purpose in whatever way resonates and works for them. If anyone out there is in touch with anything that rigorously, reliably and repeatedly helps enhance the life of design processes and their outcomes, then I want to know about it!

          Possibility Management has for me been like one of multiple treasure chests conveniently materialising beside the path from which valuable goodies are feeding in. For instance, I personally would not have been aware of, or had access to, clear, intensely practical methods for:

          • Harnessing the power of feelings arising freshly inside a process in the moment (and distinguishing these from previously unprocessed feelings simply being reactivated by current circumstances).
          • More generally engaging with creation processes not only mentally but physically, emotionally and energetically.
          • Consciously choosing to take more responsibility in the moment for bringing more life to a process.

          In my experiments, these three things alone demonstrably help enhance the life of design and creation processes for myself and others. Which is not to say that PM is their only source, nor to in any way reduce PM to these three aspects. Which are nestled among countless other valuable goodies sourced from Alexander, Sanford, Rohr, Bortoft, Savory, and many others.

          I also want to share my appreciation for your engagement and your sharing of concerns here. You have inspired me to write some longer articles about the value of various approaches (including PM) to my life and work in permaculture.

          Finally, as for Clinton’s statement about indigenous peoples, which landed/lands for me as absurd and somehow bait-like, I have no idea what was up with that, and will ask him.

          1. Thank you very much Dan for clarifying MPS purpose and sources. While I continue to be highly dubious of Possibility Management and some of the underlying ideology concerning evolution and ‘next culture’, I do find a great deal of value in your other sources. I also subscribe to the wisdom that understanding and wisdom can be gained from many unexpected (even distasteful) sources. Above all, we are all involved in this messy process called ‘life’ and we are born without a map, manual or memory! I respect and appreciate your willingness engage tension and resistance as well as harmony and agreement.

      2. … “There must be some way out of here”
        Said the joker to the thief
        There’s too much confusion
        I can’t get no relief

        … Business men, they drink my wine
        Plowmen dig my earth
        None of them along the line
        Know what any of it is worth

        … “No reason to get excited”
        The thief he kindly spoke
        There are many here among us
        Who feel that life is but a joke

        … But you and I we’ve been through that
        And this is not our fate
        So let us not talk falsely now
        The hour’s getting late

        … All along the watchtower
        Princess kept the view
        While all the women camE and went
        Barefoot servants too

        … Outside in the distance
        A wildcat did growl
        Two riders were approaching
        The wind began to howl”

        Songwriter: Bob Dylan

        Thematic analysis:
        https://www.reasontorock.com/tracks/watchtower.html

        1. Adrian, I’ve always loved Jimi’s rendition of this song, but never seen any analysis of either the song or Jimi’s musical interpretation . Thank you for communicating this.

          The image of the Joker and Thief having this discussion outside castle walls as a wild storm is kicking up is deeply compelling, and although it is not explicitly stated in the song, I envision the scene as night, as indicated by the line “the hour is getting late”. If we follow along the interpretation you shared, the castle is the established order, and the Joker and Thief are outside it, much like permaculture is outside of established order. The Joker and Thief are somewhat different characters, yet share an understanding and agreement that the established order is devoid of value for life. The established order values control over or power over. The Joker is someone who works inside that establishment, yet holds opposing values to it, expressing that resistance through his or her art. The thief works outside of the establishment and has perhaps a much greater clarity than the Joker who may get swayed by his or her involvement with the establishment.

          For me, Permaculture is born from a radical impulse against the established order. However, permaculture has become commodified through its interface with the established order. My observation is this commodification has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. This is not unlike what has happened to a number of Indigenous spiritual traditions over the same time frame and longer (or musical traditions for that matter).

          “Appropriation” is a word, a concern, and an accusation that today is very much under discussion. Dan did a couple interviews last year (E61) and (E62) with Leah Penniman (Soul Fire Farm) and Tyson Yunkaporta which touched on this issue. Leah accused Bill Mollison of appropriating Indigenous Culture to create Permaculture, whereas Tyson astutely observed that as soon as you “name” something, it gets appropriated or distorted (my paraphrase of what I understood he said). While most of us would agree appropriation without credit is wrong (and I do not necessarily agree with Leah’s take on Bill at all), my observation is that appropriation leads to distortion and commodification (along the lines of what Tyson was expressing). The appropriator ends up losing contact with the spirit of what he or she was appropriating in the first place and then ends up with a shell or remnant of that tradition or spirit.

          The Thief steals from the established order but is loyal to the value he or she holds for the wilds (both human wilds the wilds humans are nested within, the “natural” wilds). The thief takes those tools and techniques that will benefit those “wilds”, much as in the way the essence of permaculture will take whatever tool or technique benefits its expression and exploration of living within the wilds as a wild element. The establishment appropriates those elements from the wild that it can commodify as seen over thousands of years:
          – raw materials (wood, stone, metal)
          -the fertility of the soil and its vegetative products
          -the products and fertility of livestock
          – the labor of human beings
          – fossil fuels
          -radioactive elements
          -rare minerals and elements
          -the human psyche

          We are at the point where the human psyche is one of the largest commodities on earth, and the hour is indeed getting late.

          1. Thanks to Adrian for sharing then Laura for exploring this sparse, profound poetry in a permaculture context, glad to have the energy and brilliance of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix in the mix here.

            Laura I wanted to say I resonated with your statement “For me, Permaculture is born from a radical impulse against the established order. However, permaculture has become commodified through its interface with the established order.” My main concern is how the design and creation processes of the established order have (I believe unconsciously) infused and undermined or co-opted permaculture’s radical originating impulse. I am very much looking forward to diving more into the originating impulse question and where it will lead this project in the coming months. Feels it has been a long time coming, but we will get there!

    2. I’m so appreciative of the space that is held here for these kind of conversations to happen. Thanks so much Laura for the heartfelt and passionate comments you shared. I really needed to hear your thoughtful comments there and it really helped me to stay grounded.

      “Use edges and value the marginal”.. yes, edge effects are certainly rich here.

      I spent some time on a walk today and listened to Dan’s interview with Clinton Callahan and I can’t deny how sober and resonant the ideas shared were in that conversation.

      I tried to listen for ‘guru’ complex there and I thought if Callahan is in this to be some sort of cult leader it just doesn’t register with my gut that way..

      .. yes, the recursive knotwork of viral websites and what one can only be left to interpret as “remixed” and appropriated ideas (with very long cultural histories whose respectful acknowledgements are missing or very hard to find); does send big red flags to me too. The topic of “spiritual bypassing” came up in this latest podcast and I think that that subject at the scale of ‘movements’ needs much more exploration.

      The effect of the dizzying Possibility Management web content of is for sure destabilizing.. not entirely the same; nor completely unrelated to how Carol Sanford uses this.. however I would distinguish PM (from my limited experience of it through the internet) as very monopolizing and needy of one’s attention to a (I feel) domineering degree.. Whereas my limited experience in hearing about Carol Sanford’s destabilizing effects are that of explicit, focused and aimed support for one to take the ideas or leave them, but never to trust her alone (thus letting us know she is not interested in being a ‘guru’ or any of the epistemologies of such).

      However, perhaps the web-face of Possibility Management has been an attempt (successful or not) to go to a ‘node’ (as agriculture was for permaculture) and although it doesn’t appeal or work well for me or others perhaps it’s a node for many who could find it useful.. if so what paradigm and ultimate aim is the intent to destabilize* and monopolize our attention operating from?
      (*In the Possibility Management sense.. to liquify our certainty and provide “clear-eyed” seeing as titular viral memes while claiming that they are sourced from “reality”.. as opposed to what we thought we were living before.. gotta say, this does sound fishy when you put it in those terms and reminds me of the polarities created when fascists speak of the media as fake news)

      Or perhaps the PM webwork has gone rogue and is not serving it’s full purpose?

      I’ve often joked that permaculture will know it’s made the mainstream when it gets its own Q-anon conspiracy.. could the liquid state of Possibility Management leave it utterly vulnerable to co-option and evangelism

      Could it be that to want to light a fire of evolution, just for the sake of evolution in and of itself without say a motivation of growing health, vitality and viability (or at least without a careful aim and lots of ‘getting to know you’ first) may have to be motivated from the ‘do good’ paradigm?

      I’m sure I don’t fully know enough to be commenting here about Possibility Management as a whole, and so I frame all of this in the curious sense of just what I’ve seen so far and what’s been shared on this project (Making Permaculture Stronger).

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