Reflections on a Permaculture Mind: A Revolution Disguised as Thinking


In a conflict resolution class I learned that there is no such thing as common sense, because a person from one culture may have an understanding that a person from another might not have; but even in our own, there are micro-cultures as the lens zooms in and out and is examined with an eye for scale and other multiple factors. The sensibility that we all share (or should share) a common world is perpetuated by the idea that everything is measurable, but what if it isn’t? Does that mean we throw our hands up in the air, stop examining our world, and leave it all to chance?

The thing I find most revolutionary about permaculture is the idea that we should not only observe and ask questions without judgment, but long before we even consider a response, we need to give any situation the time required for us to determine how to respond appropriately. Hello? How many of us −in our sound-bite, fast-track-trade-deals, it’s- so-five-seconds-ago, act-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace− world give anything the time required to just observe and ask questions before drawing to a conclusion and making a decision?

The desert wind blows from the East. The sun also rises in the East, so where is the best place to plant the garden? Perhaps in the eastern corner of the property… but not so fast! The thing with permaculture is that we give ourselves the time to sit and think. Is this really best? What would provide the most beneficial yield for all concerned on this specific plot of land? What are other factors involved in our decision making process?

The Eastern corner of the property might be best suited for a goat shed because it will create a wind block from that wind that can whip up to fifty miles an hour these days because of climate change. The point is, a permaculture state of mind, is one of slow thinking.

There is a saying that “permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening.” Some attribute this saying to Mike Feingold, a permaculturist at Findhorn (http://www.findhorn.org/); but I say, it is in true permaculture spirit, and completely unnecessary to care where the source or ownership of this truism lies. If the truth is understood, perpetuated and transformed by those who encounter it. If it shifts and adapts for their localized purposes, then it is a living understanding. This flies in the face of copyright laws, academic procedures for giving credit to sources, and probably every concept of current neoliberal economic thinking− so this tidbit of permaculture thinking alone is revolutionary and life changing.

But back to the idea of slow thinking. How would it change your life if you (and those around you) DID NOT jump to conclusions or react (overreact?) to the latest jab on Facebook? How would it change our lives if people slowed down enough to ask questions about the person standing in front of them, rather than jump to conclusions about why it is they are doing whatever it is they are doing? I have a young friend dealing with an intergenerational conflict that would think he landed in a world of familial bliss, if this one aspect of thinking could only be true. How might it change a world of isms and privilege, if we slowed down and asked questions, instead of falling back on the “common sense” of what everybody supposedly knows… this or that about him or her?

In her book, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein examines how shocks (social and otherwise) are being used by financial opportunists to fast track policies and other multiple structural and cultural mechanisms to enable a rising global oligarchy. For me, it was an eye-opening book, one that, a few years back, I recommended to everyone I encountered because its message was powerful. I bring it up here because one intelligent person told me that she wouldn’t read Naomi Klein’s book because Klein’s grandparents were communists.

The obvious pre-judgment of this comment, the willingness to close ones eyes to possible information that Klein could have offered, not only flabbergasted me, but is something that has stuck under my collar like a hidden thorn ever since my friend said it. How can you let what someone’s grandparents did allow you to measure the sole worth of a person’s words without ever reading what she had said and drawing your own conclusions?

In a world of slow thinking one would take into account that the sun rises in the East, but that doesn’t mean you should plant the garden in that corner without observing and taking into consideration all the factors involved.

So what if Naomi Klein’s grandparents embraced communism? Even if one thinks that the cold world concept of communism is the only form of communal thinking, then by all means, read her book understanding there may be biases there. But a slow thinker would also consider that every parent embraces a form of communism when it comes to their families, to do otherwise would mean throwing the babies out to fend for themselves. When examining “communism” from the scope of families with children, anyone who is against communal sharing would be… shall I dare call up the sound bite of “anti-family”? Ah, but I am taking the idea of communism out of context, my friend might complain, which is exactly my point! Nothing is dualistic, not really. There is no “either/or”. There is no “this is bad” and “this is good”. It all depends on context. We need to examine the full ramifications and contexts of the decisions we choose. Slow down people; and think, please.

What conclusions are you making about planting that garden in the east? Are you seeing the big picture in full context of all observable variables? What are you leaving out? Would turning soil over without the protection of a wind block actually foster soil degradation over time? How might you build in a resilient factor of changing your mind, should your conclusions unveil new information?

In every respect I find it disconcerting that I need to think of observation and slow thinking as a revolutionary idea. I was shocked by my friend’s refusal to read a book that I considered highly valuable. But maybe, that’s really what we are up against in a sound-bite world. It doesn’t matter if we can measure where the sun is rising, folks. It’s just one small piece of the puzzle.

Sit with me for a while. Let’s watch how life responds to that corner before we decide. Permaculture is a revolutionary way of thinking, and yet, it has been with us since ancient times. Some call it wisdom. Some call it listening to the elders. Some call it subversive, but this kind of thinking is what is needed now.

We have reached the tipping point of our own destruction and we need to take time out to slow down the world before we push the wrong buttons, draw the wrong conclusions, and allow those who would plant all gardens in the east without thinking to run amok. We need to pull ourselves out of the standardized, prepackaged, prejudged, fast-tracked to nowhere way of thinking, one that leads to a dead world lemming adventure. We need to fast-track nothing.

Permaculture is “revolution disguised as gardening” because without gardens there would be no life. There would be no clean air, no food, no water, no nada. And somehow there’s an overreaching oligarchy in control, that for some reason, doesn’t not seem to think this is important. I think, perhaps, this deserves a bit of thought before jumping into action, eh? Before deciding you won’t read a book because the hearsay of what someone somewhere said their grandparents did.

I have embraced a permaculturist’s state of mind, in this way of thinking, there is no room for presumptions without deep thought. There is no room for singular economic thinking, if there is no clean air to breathe. I only wish this form of thinking weren’t so revolutionary because we need it to become a part of our common culture. We think; therefore, we might exist.

And by the way, I currently am recommending Naomi Klein’s newest book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate, if nothing else, it might get you thinking.

A Radical Mother Breaks the Silence on Financial Violence, Trauma and Being a Rugged Individual

Financially induced trauma has consumed my life. It’s taken me a long time to recognize it, even though I have not been alone in this experience. Since the 2008 economic collapse financially induced trauma has fueled untold personal violence against good people who have lost jobs, investments, security, retirement, homes and lives.

As an artist, a mother, and a grandmother, living both a more risky (and therefore outside of the box life) it is easy for me to point the finger at myself or heartily accept the blame if someone else points it at me. After all, the dominant rhetoric says we are responsible for everything that befalls us. And I’ve heard it all my life: What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you get a real job? Why don’t you put your kids in school? What makes you think you have the right to try and live on a single income? You never had a real job in your life, why should I hire you now? Why didn’t you save for a rainy day? Why do you cut things so close to the edge?

Unlike many of the people who followed all the rules and lost everything anyway, I’ve broken most rules and somehow that means I shouldn’t have the right to complain because it’s my “own damned fault”. Yet because I have lived on the outskirts of a monetized system as a stay-at-home mom, I can be either the perfect scapegoat or the canary that has figured how to fly out of the coal mine. It’s all embedded in what I told my kids as they were growing up:

Be kind and ask for help if you need it.

Being young children, I told it to them as one sentence because the two concepts were inseparable. Kindness has far reaching possibilities— being kind to yourself might mean eating good food, but if you need to create a scaffolding of chairs to reach the cabinet that contains the peanut butter— you better ask for help. If the kids and I could follow these rules, then we were well on our way to holding untold freedom within safe perimeters.

When it comes to the concept of personal responsibility and social connections we all buy into the idea that it is taboo to talk about finances; that is, unless we are bragging about how much we made. Especially in America where young lovers are actually checking the credit scores of their dates, we are expected to keep the trauma of our a financial burdens hidden away, something more dirty than perhaps being raped, because somewhere deep down, it had to have been our own fault. Financial flaws, economic insolvency, and economic illiteracy are paramount immoral sins. They are catchall phrases reserved for deviants because to speak the word forgiveness, or jubilee, or to ask for help is unheard of.

I watched a you tube the other day with a talking head saying one shouldn’t forgive student loan debts because “they knew what they were getting into when they took out those loans.” Really? If a man falls out of a boat and is drowning we shouldn’t throw a life preserver because he knew that water could be dangerous? If an elderly woman who doesn’t walk well asks for help to reach a door, should we tell her she should have known better that she would be old one day? Does it matter if she had a retirement account that just up and disappeared so she can’t afford that wheel chair? Who here has never made a mistake? And who here has NOT been hurt by the economic crash?

Regardless of anything I may have been able to have done differently to create a larger safety net, there is no denying that I would NOT be in this position if it weren’t for forces outside of my control, (and yes we did save for a rainy day and it’s the degraded value of those investments that have kept us afloat this long— that, and a lot of help from my family.)

When Ron lost his job I was filled with fear, anger, and feelings of betrayal. It came unexpectedly. As a rugged individualist, I scrambled for any crack I could find: from taking out-of-state jobs, to getting yet another degree because the financial aid might help pay for the mortgage on the farm, or at least hold us over until something better came along. It never occurred to me that I was traumatized, and like any other kind of trauma, it would’ve helped to talk to a kind listener. It would have helped if that listener didn’t give me a laundry list of things I might have done to avoid the trauma.

Now as I stand here, the kindest thing I can do is to end the silence of financial trauma and to recognize that it is best to ask for help, because I am NOT super woman, and the scaffolding of insane complexity to save my farm will not hold another chair. So, if you can help, please do. But even if you can’t, please share my story, because it might help someone else break the silence of financial trauma. I am not a fool. I know there are others who are hurting more than I am, but I hope my confession of dealing with a mortgage default will get others talking. By sharing this story, I hope you might open a floodgate of countless confessions, one that will bring loving and kind dialogue between family members about their financial dealings, because in spite of what the dominate narrative says, it is not their moral problem.

It is not a sin to need help; nor is it to ask for it. If that were the case, no one would ever be born. Human beings need one another more than any other species. It’s the part of Darwin’s theory that gets little spotlight. The only negative morality belongs with the ones that call Wall Street their financial home, the ones who think they are fittest to survive, and all others be damned. In a family we help one another. We take turns in a partnership for the good of us all, and if one of us falls, we lend a hand.

Wake up, dear friends, we’ve all just had the financial shock of our lives, and we need to stop pointing fingers at ourselves. We’ve all been shocked and traumatized— and if you are looking at the ones who are scrambling to make ends meet as the bad guys, you are looking in the wrong place.

Click Here to visit our Indiegogo page: Help Save HillHouse Writer’s Retreat

On Love-Bonds, Money, & the Post Office

Awake at 4 a.m., listening to the night train cooing across the river and musing over how different it was to be living in the city (like I often do when I ponder my urban sabbatical) something odd surfaced. It filled me with peace. It came in a package of restoration, the kind that comes with deep reconciliation. For all of the conveniences and cultural advantages of being in a city like Portland, to be honest, I had not yet figured out what I was doing so far from my rural home. And it had everything to do with money. Ron came here for a job.

I lay in the dark dreaming in train calls imagining the interconnected railways as arteries, lifelines to the humanity of lives it touches. I pondered tomorrow’s workshop on writing love letters that Ron and I will be facilitating when it hit me; the workshop was less about how to write a love letter and more about restoring lost love. Whether it is a parent, a lover, a brother or a child, every letter that every participant ever shared with me in previous workshops, always had something to do with writing to people of lost connections. A better title might have been: Restoring and Deepening Your Love Bonds through Letter Writing.

But at 4 a.m. in the state between sleep and awakening, magical things can happen as everything gets mixed into the soup—love bonds, the nature of evil, environmental destruction, banking, money, values and the Post Office. The soup simmered throughout the rest of the night, like the old fashioned kind that pulls all of the nourishment from the marrow and becomes a rich nourishing broth.

So what surfaced was this:

Most of us (almost half the US, since the great crash of 2008) are just one small crisis away from personal economic collapse. As we live from pay check to pay check, more often than not, we are also sacrificing our loved ones, forced to choose money over our relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase that money is the root of all evil. To do without; we suffer. To pursue it relentlessly; we suffer. To fear we might lose it; we suffer. Money has been so ingrained in our thinking and our daily lives it has become second nature to speak about everything with economic measures: from bottom lines, cost analysis, even amid friendships we might say, “I owe you one”.

So what has this got to do with love and family? As a stay at home mom, I have been fortunate to live in a non-monetized bubble for most of my life. Everything I have worked for in raising my children, everything I have worked for in my marriage has little to do with the “costs” of love as long as my basic needs were met. Yes, to be sure, I’ve had to pay bills, write checks, purchase groceries, and such; but the core values in my daily tasks had less to do with money and more to do with love and nurturing.

If we are too rethink how money influences our lives as a country or even amid the world economy; we need to rethink how we respond to money. We need to bring into balance the needs of the bottom-line and the needs of our loved ones. There was a wonderful psychologist Abraham Maslow who came up with a hierarchy of needs. In many respects the big difference between the bloody French Revolution and the successful American Revolution comes down to love bonds and basic needs. The French were starving; the Americans were not. But more on that another time.

Try this exercise:

I love; therefore, WE exist.In order to reduce stress, realign your relationship with money and loved ones you will need five single dollar bills, five envelopes and the addresses of five people you care about. Think about it! How will you feel if you get an envelope with a dollar in it? How will you feel about sending it?

First, there is an important part of the exercise. Do you remember Descartes? He was the guy who said, “I think, therefore I am.” But love does not come from our heads any more than it comes from the bottom-line. It comes from our hearts. Consider this. “I love, therefore WE exist.” Without the love that begins in our hearts, there would never be a “we”. So in these times of great financial hardship, send a special monetary Valentine. Take each of those dollar bills, and write on it: I love, therefore WE exist.

And then mail it, because our pony express is hurting, too, in this era of everything counted by the bottom-line and forgetting our common cultural heritage. Buy five stamps, and bring the balance of love back into the money specter. “I love; therefore, We exist.” Pass it on. Maybe it won’t be much. Maybe it won’t restore the economy. Maybe it won’t save the Post Office. Maybe it won’t even help your loved ones stay in their homes, but that dollar will take a step toward restoring a love bond and it’s just money after all, and if money were no object, I suspect we would all find a way to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Love lies at the beginning and end of all things. For in my life, happiness has always been the result of love.

(If you are local and want to attend the Workshop this Saturday find out more here: http://classes.artistsmilepost.net/class/how-to-write-a-love-letter/) It’s going to be a benefit for http://elohigadugi.org/

I promise, we will have a freight train’s worth of exercises to restore your faith in love through letter writing. Hmm, that would have been a good title, too. Perhaps, next time. And if you would like to include me on your list of love bonds (heh-heh) send it to me at the farm: Karen Walasek, 894 Odd Fellows Hall Road, Pulaski TN 38478. Maybe it will be an omen that I’ll get there sooner rather than later, though for now it will get forwarded to me here in Portland. We’re just a block from a rose garden, so it’s not all that bad, even if I do get a little homesick from time to time.

WWMD What Would Mother Do?

For most of my adult life I have been a stay at home feminist mom. Yes, you heard that right— feminist and stay at home— in the same sentence. I call myself a feminist because the most significant relationship in my life has been based on an equal partnership and I call myself a mom because I understand the strength and power that comes from a deep mother love—regardless of who brings in the big bucks. This force of power which comes from a sheltered, stable home is beyond the value of money. It comes from a place that is secure, safe, and sacred.

Like everything else, it has been a struggle to reconcile my walk and my talk. It’s really, really hard to stretch between paying bills and putting food in the mouths of our family. But when all else fails, family trumps bills, as we follow this value system on a roller coaster struggle to support ourselves. From the point of view of mama, if you don’t eat well, it will cost you in the end. If you don’t nurture yourself and your loved ones, what value does your life hold?

Besides, like the ghost of Christmas past it will come back to haunt you. (Thank you, Margaret Atwood, for adding value to this metaphor in Payback.) You just can’t steal the calcium from your bones, or the minerals from the land, and expect to stand tall. You can’t feed a nation empty calories, any more than you can feed it endless fear.

I have been a stay at home feminist radical homemaker who breastfed her children into toddlerhood, and nurtured the individuality of each family member without stomping on them, me included. So it’s this crazy wild haired super mama perfectionist dreamer who has not been afraid of putting her hands in shit that is speaking now. Yes I said the “s” word. My apologies to anyone who is offended, but Mothers are all about getting their hands dirty. We clean up the shit, because we love. Putting roses or fluffy pink sentimental flowers over the word doesn’t make it any less real or any less needing to be cleaned up. And people, it is time to clean up the shit. From the bottom up, and the top down (especially the top down) we need to start asking ourselves, what would a mother do?

And I’m not talking about a strung out stretched-too-thin single mom on food stamps struggling to pay for heat. I’m talking about a healthy supported well-loved mother who has the time to know out how her children are doing and who has the resources to feed her children with all that they really need. She’s a mom who turns off the TV and pulls the plug on the videogames and kicks you outside to get some sunshine. She’s a mom who’s educated enough to know that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are just that NEEDS. (If you don’t know what they are, look it up!)

So at this time of great sorrow, when the house is crazy and there is shit everywhere, we need as a nation to give ourselves a moment to grieve. We all need to laugh, cry, scream, argue with God (or whoever we perceive to be a higher power), and we need to find safety in the arms of loved ones. We see that happening everywhere these past few days, people calling each other to say “I love you.” And once we’ve given ourselves time to breathe, heal, and reconcile with our personal spirituality; we need to clean up the shit. We need to ask ourselves as a nation, What would Mother America do? Mothers need to balance the nature of how this nation is run. We’ve allowed the Father hunters to stay out too long, and we’ve forgotten we have the powerful voice to say, enough is enough.

We need to stop declaring wars if we don’t have the resources to help our returning soldiers to heal, from cradle to cradle because a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder will pass that onto their children as easily as DNA. We need to stop polluting our air and water because every mother knows we are not supposed to shit in our drinking water. We need to become a good steward of the land and stop the devastation of the Amazon because it is literally the lungs of the earth and if we think global warming has caused devastating storms how will it be it we cannot breathe? We need to cherish life itself.

Seriously, I could go on, and on —but you get the point. What would Mother America look like if She has equal power to Father America? Bankers? Seriously what about the families on the street because of your fiascos? Monsanto, you need to sit in the corner and think about your lies. You are so resourceful boys (and girls) maybe you can find something better to do with your talent! Which of course leads me to the whole military industrial complex— what would Mother America do about that? And how will You walk Her talk?

I am a crazy wild haired super grandma perfectionist dreamer. And I’ve lived long enough to know you don’t respect me. And that’s the problem. We’ve lost sight of our nurturing values. Feminists might think motherhood isn’t a true career, while the Christian Right would like me to go back to the hearth and shut up already, because on some level they have both bought into the money is everything game. Congressmen will kiss my granddaughter and patronize me with a smile. We’ve got to stop being a nation of mother patronizers and become a nation run by Mothers in equal partnership, because honestly the old school patriarchy has stepped over the edge and it’s time for mothers to clean up the shit.

Shopping for Piglets

I thought I would feel differently. I thought I would never want another pig. The day before yesterday they took my pig to slaughter. We had a trial run the day before that, with Hen Wen (named after the Lloyd Alexander character) examining the truck, walking down to the ramp munching the lawn and tasty bits until everyone conveniently decided she would not take the leap into the truck and they would return again another day.

It’s been a long road for me reconciling the slaughtering of a beloved barnyard creature. I kept feeling I might keep her, have her bred and therefore; postpone the experience for her piglets. I know my vegetarian friends would argue why did I even have to make the decision, and some health conscious foodies might claim pork is not very healthy for you anyway, but the truth of the matter is she ate well, lived a good life surrounded by love, and we bought her with the intention of developing a food source for us as sustainable farmers. I have type “O” blood. My body does better with a high protein diet. I know that eating meat keeps me healthier. It’s a catch 22. I love my animals, I need to eat them.

I came home late the day they came to load Hen. The farm is now quiet. She does not complain that she needs her scoop of corn first. I miss my friend. After two days I know I want another pig.

I’ve been reading, The Shack for school. It’s a story about a man who needs to find love after the death of his child. He finds God (literally) and has long conversations about love and relationships. It’s a wonderful book, so I won’t say anymore. But it leads me to wonder, would anyone trade the life we live, if we knew it was going to be snatched away from us? And yet, the end is inevitable. We will someday all be gone from this world.

It is a question of faith for me. I believe that we all are SOUL and that the body is NOT US. We exist beyond our death. The last time I saw Hen I whispered to her, “Hurry back.” I couldn’t help myself. It was the only thing I could say that felt right. I said it even though I was thinking I would never buy another pig. I was not really built for this kind of experience. How can I love and kill that which I love?

Today I’ve decided that the joy we will share will be worth the small price at the end of the road. Ultimately, the joy is much stronger than any loss or pain. I say small not because I think the cost of her life was a small thing. It was a great sacrifice. I say it because the love outshines the pain a thousandfold. Today I am calling the pig breeder to see if he has any piglets coming soon. I think I will pick the pinkest pig, but probably more likely I will pick the one who has some strange sense that she knows me.

I can’t say I have truly reconciled the slaughtering of a beloved barnyard creature. But I am coming closer to it. When the pork comes home in freezer packages, I will have to eat it to honor the life we shared. It oddly feels sacrilegious, not to. Perhaps next year, I will be able to perform a sacred slaughter. This time I am glad it’s just the silence I hear. And it makes me want to go shopping for piglets.

If Pigs Could Fly ~ ©k. walasek January 7, 2010

for Cooper


How quickly you left diving

Beyond the quilted grey

I rocked the empty weight

That you once called home

 

I imagine your dreaming

Your third eye sparkles

Explosive rainbow force

That escapes like steam


If pigs could fly they would

Rocketblast fast as Sunlight

Breaking clouds to stars

Mere seconds to be gone

 

Push back purple and green

Fat Pigs RUN like wild horses,

How quickly you FLY! Wait,

Wait… I can’t catch up


 

 

 

 

 

 

If pigs could fly, of course,

They would leave behind all

The extra heaviness, proving

Without a shadow of a doubt

– That animals have a soul.

 

 

Sweet Dreams, Cooper