Daniel Christian Wahl on Aligning with Life’s Regenerative Impulse

It was an honour to connect in this episode with Daniel Christian Wahl to explore what it means to align with life’s regenerative impulse.

Here’s Daniel’s book Designing Regenerative Cultures, his Medium Blog and here’s his wonderful youtube series Voices of the Regeneration.

Early on Daniel mentions Christopher Alexander’s Challenge to Permaculture. A few times he mentions Henri Bortoft’s book The Wholeness of Nature.

Daniel Christian Wahl

Enjoy, thanks to Daniel for visiting Making Permaculture Stronger, and thanks to our mutual friend Clinton Callahan for connecting us.

10 Comments

  1. Jason, I feel so embraced by what you’ve shared here and comforted in how you were able to bring the nuance to and extend upon my previous comment in such a caring way.

    Immediately after posting that I felt that my thoughts were conveyed in a way that came across as too rigid and dismissive and I wanted to edit my post but couldn’t. I really felt sorry as my comments could easily be taken as complete traditional cultural dismissal.

    Despite the many ongoing genocidal forces and the underlying processes that beget this (that are in me too), traditional cultural wisdom and ways are very much alive and evolving and so certainly hurtful when brushed off as a ‘past ideal’.

    Yes, continuous and timeless..
    .. As are they not breathed from Life source.. the very same source as permaculture and the other ‘fingers’ pointing at the moon have been trying to touch.

    I am very fascinated by how we may develop that mind that draws from this same well-source of Life through selves and place. The mind that need not feel it must mimic other fingers pointing at the moon, but really travel the indirect path to the metaphoric moon together, or simply enjoy to gaze and reflect upon it before sleep after a long nights journey.

    Hiding behind clouds
    Gentle moon lights the way home
    Silver starlit road

    ~M. Iwasaki

  2. I absolutely cherished this conversation.

    I’ve been struggling to articulate a thought that has been percolating since some of the excellent comments have been coming in here. In a nutshell, it is something about the relative powerlessness of cutting and pasting so-called indigenous wisdom or any other genericized patterns or principles (whether by blatant appropriation or the most explicit of understanding and permissions).. yes, preeminent Life/wholeness enhancing cultural practices can precipitate and generate to various effect, but ultimately they will inherently fall short because the mind that believes that ‘reconnecting’ with ancient or indigenous wisdom is the key to a better way can never reach this.. and the mind that can see Life from the inside and as a process does need to ‘reconnect’ to such past ideals.

    I mean no affront or offense to anyone with this at all, but I just feel that we need to develop the latter mind.. and that cherry picking and applying patterns from an old catalog (with many pages that are torn and missing) can often just be a random disturbance, confusion or distraction that actually limits potential (yes, I know disturbances are generative too.. but were not talking about being random here, were talking about ‘conscious’ design).

    1. Hey Adrian, what I’m hearing is that reconnecting to ecosystem-based traditions is not the way because if one is using a tradition one would be living in reference to that tradition instead of experiencing life as whole in the moment.

      If I’m hearing correctly in your comment that tradition is something that can be in the way of directly encountering reality, I’d suggest we have traditions because we need practices to help us undo societal conditioning, as well as the shortcomings of our evolving consciousness. The undoing via tradition has to be constant because the conditioning from society is constant (as are the weak points of present consciousness), and the interplay is what keeps the tradition alive, fresh, evolving, and ever present as opposed to a past ideal. It’s also what keeps the conditioning from society alive and evolving, which feeds back into consciousness evolving, and on and on, so long as we have both tradition and societal conditioning to work with.

      We talk about ecosystem-based traditions as ancient, but they are really continuous and therefore timeless. They are indigenous because they are original to our consciousness firstly, and secondarily because they have been held together and continuously developed by ecosystem-based cultures who have kept the light on, i.e. keeping us with a pathway for evolving.

      I definitely hear you on the cherry-picking and catalog shopping approach to transformation. From my observation, eclectic approaches to transforming don’t really work, but I do think deep immersion with a tradition or two that is being kept alive by good stewards and shared by good guides is a very different thing.

      Forgive me if I misunderstood any of your comment, Adrian, and feel free to correct me.

  3. This is a wonderful conversation. It’s echoing my position that we have to BECOME living process, which is really to say that we have to wake up to our truer nature. The key is that there’s no amount of words or articulation of design process that will do that. We need cultural structures, traditions, and practices that guide us waking up. I think indigenous cultures and Buddhism in particular offer thousand year pathways for engaging in waking up to our original nature. There are many other doors too. It can be difficult to gain access to indigenous traditions because the door can be understandably closed due to far too much trauma that has occurred. As Gary Snyder said, he would have loved to go to his indigenous neighbors and learn, but the door wasn’t cracked wide enough for him to enter, so he went down the path of Zen Buddhism and the Mahayana, which is sometimes described as “the open school”. I think permaculture is a gateway into this waking up process. I’ve seen it over and over and over in my colleagues, students, and myself. I do think the permaculture gateway needs to be maintained and we can even chart the path further for permaculture in particular. This conversation gives me energy and motivation for doing just that. Thanks as always, Dan.

    1. Warm greetings Dan, listeners and engagers!

      I enjoyed listening to this episode this morning and found it rich with food for thought and very much a contribution to “putting into words” designing, living, and thinking from a regenerative, holistic root. My experience is in wholehearted agreement with Jason’s thoughts concerning Indigenous cultures (incl. Buddhism) offering thousands of years pathways for re-awakening, returning to and indeed “reclaiming” our true nature/ essence. I also agree that permaculture can indeed be a gateway opening up those transformative pathways within our minds and lives as well as breaking down misconceptions.

      Jason, I appreciate that you understand why the doors to a great deal of indigenous wisdom, especially the incredible pathway of working with an Indigenous elder is often closed due to a history of violence, disrespect and exploitation. Sadly this exploitation has not stayed only in the past, and the bringing of this into the present further damages relationships between peoples at a time when it is vital that we embrace mutual respect and collective thriving as absolutely essential for a healthy world. (Which as an aside, Dan was why I was shocked by Clinton’s “ignorant” remark about Indigenous cultures not being regenerative). Sadly “cultural appropriation” has indeed taken place on so many levels within our world, and sometimes we are not even aware it is happening. Equally so the analysis of “privilege” is also a legitimate undertaking. As difficult as the conversation is (because it does trigger a lot of really deep feelings in everyone), it feels good to finally have it on the larger societal table, and I trust it is leading to more awareness and understanding.

      I don’t really know, but I would imagine that quite a few folks who are deeply absorbed in Indigenous (and I would include here, of course, Buddhism) understandings, may feel “some kind of way” (as the kids say over here) listening to these discussions. It kind of feels like you are trying to reinvent the wheel with the holistic/ regenerative design processes, as these are, in fact, totally natural processes which have already been developed for millennia (as Jason says). Having said that, I totally get that as modern humans with brains raised and educated within industrial (and now cyber) society, we do need to find linguistic and neurological pathways back to our essential mind, and I see that is what you seeking to do here.

      The aspect that I find, ultimately, most inspiring about permaculture, is that Mother Earth, Sun, Winds, Waters, life itself, is the true teacher, and no one disputes that! Even if we disagree on many other things (mostly concerning our own activities, past and present, and semantics), we can all agree that we all stand on an equal foundation of being apprentices to life.

      1. Love your comment, Laura. It is indeed such an awkward motion trying to rediscover our “essential mind”. When I think on what kind of gateway permaculture actually is, you said it, it’s the apprenticing of ourselves to life. The details surely vary, but I do think that is the pattern of what actually happens when one takes up permaculture. To me that’s the most attractive part of it.

      2. Thanks Laura. Here here to that equal foundation and best (if puny and muddled in the scheme of things) attempts to way-find the pathways back into the essential mind of flowing aliveness that we’ve developed a hopefully passing amnesia about. I’m glad to hear you get a flavour of that in what I’m up to here, where it is surely an aspiration. Also yes I totally note the stark contrast between Daniel and Clinton’s perspective on the regenerativeness of indigenous cultures. I am still planning to follow up with Clinton about what definition of regenerative he’s working from, particularly given that I’ve personally found value toward this whole conversation in so much of the rest of his work.

    2. Thanks Jason and it really resonates about no amount of talk (or blog posts, or podcast episodes) about design process cutting it. At best this stuff is fingers pointing at the moon, at worst a distraction. Also something does light up in me to take permaculture as one uniquely flavoured gateway into becoming alive.

      1. Dan, I get so much out of the blog posts and podcasts at the same time. It’s helpful to have many fingers pointing at the same moon. I think if casts and posts can point us in the direction of working on practicing living design process that’s even more useful. An example is I got a ton from the posts about designing on the ground with flags, paint, stakes, and other objects. Since those posts I’ve been using it extensively, sometimes exclusively to be able to move more quickly on a few things.

        1. Duly noted, and as usual with your ability to call in where I’m going next, the next episode will hopefully scratch this itch some more! :-).

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