Using permaculture to design fulfilling lives

To date there have been abundant permaculture resources created to help us design gardens and landscapes, but what about designing for ourselves, to improve our own lives?

Permaculture teacher Looby Macnamara has written a book about just that, exploring how permaculture can be applied not to land but to people-based systems, be they families, organisations or wider social groups. ‘People and Permaculture: caring and designing for ourselves, each other and the planet,’ is woven with stories of how permaculture has been subtly changing lives and communities for decades.

“There are a lot of people out there who have changed their whole thinking, lifestyles and outlook through permaculture but there isn’t much written about it,” says Looby. She interviewed more than 50 people who have re-designed their lives and work through permaculture, from creating a more harmonious family home, as Looby, her partner and their two daughters did, to re-designing a women’s health programme in Nepal.

It’s clear that we have all the tools necessary for sustainably managing land and meeting our material needs, but the biggest barrier to implementing permaculture and other methods of working with nature are our social systems or our own personal limiting beliefs about how we can create change.

People and Permaculture explores designing for ourselves, designing with others to make groups and relationships more effective, and designing for larger people systems such as sustainable communities.

There are three core ethics in permaculture: Earth care, people care, and fair shares. I asked Looby how relevant the book is for people new to the concept of ‘people care’ or to permaculture in general.

“We’ve all got experiences of when people care hasn’t been present,” she says. “For example a relationship that has fallen apart because of poor communication or unacknowledged needs, to those of us that are aware of what’s going on in the wider world socially and politically.”

‘Spirals of erosion’ is the term used in permaculture where there is a net loss from the system, such as wasted time or energy. Looby’s book aims to help people identify these spirals so that they can intervene and create lives of abundance rather than erosion.

The whole book is packed with design tools to help us all lead fulfilling lives, from visualisations to personal energy audits. Looby likens using permaculture design to being the vehicle for manifesting our dreams and visions. “You’re more likely to get there if you have a roadmap of how to do it,” she says.

In addition, in applying permaculture to redesigning our own lives, it makes permaculture relevant to every single one of us. To this end, Looby plans to lead a full permaculture design course with a people care focus.

“I want to provide an opening into permaculture for people who don’t have access to land or don’t have a garden,” she says. “Through coming into permaculture this way through thinking about themselves, they will develop a deeper connection to it.”

The People and Permaculture book is brought alive with activities, examples and questions.

“I knew I could not replicate the richness of a permaculture design course in a book,” explains Looby, “but I wanted to give a taster of these creative teaching methods and make it a rich resource that people can go back to at different times in their life.

“Ultimately, I would like readers to be aware of the possibilities we have to change ourselves and our world, and to know that we can actually manifest the changes we want through conscious permaculture design. I want to see how far we can take permaculture if we apply the ethics, principles and design to all of our people based systems as well as our land systems.

“Can we create the world we want?” asks Looby. “I think we can.”

‘People and Permaculture: caring and designing for ourselves, each other and the planet,’ by Looby Macnamara will be published by Permanent Publications in March 2012