Abundance and other lessons from nature

Permaculture practitioner and author Stefan Geyer reflects on the principle of abundance as a framework for better relationships with each other and the planet. From designing a garden to shaping our lives – what can we learn from nature?

“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better”, said Einstein. With well over four and a half billion years to work out many effortless solutions to some very tricky problems, nature has much to teach us about how to design with beautiful efficiency and breathtaking elegance. Careful, protracted observation of nature’s manifold variations helps us tap into the huge intelligence out there that is simply waiting for us to pay attention to it.

This is especially true when we remember we are intrinsically part of nature ourselves. A great way to soak up this immeasurable wisdom is to patiently immerse ourselves in the untouched wilderness of virgin forests and jungles, deserts and tundra, or any sea and landscape that has been left to its own devices.

Replacing scarcity with abundance

But it is not always necessary to travel far and wide in search of this elusive other, the wild is also easily accessible to every urban dweller – simply get on your hands and knees and enter the microscopic world beneath your feet where the earth is alive with spongy mosses, surprising fungi and dynamic insects. Or, walk the forgotten, unkempt, unnoticed patches of trees, bushes and weeds along railway lines and at the back of and in between our houses.

Nature has much to teach us about how to design with beautiful efficiency and breathtaking elegance

Permaculture thinking is based on a radical understanding and feeling of abundance, secure in the fact there is enough for everyone’s needs on this bountiful planet. This is in stark contrast to the prevailing, insidious feeling of scarcity in our current ‘destructoculture’. Here, we live in fear that there’ll never be enough, so we end up hoarding, judging and valuing ourselves and others by how much we have or consume.

Being able to witness life as it is, moment by moment, rather than how we’d like it to be, uncovers its present perfection. Living fully right now enables us to appreciate what we already have, and one thing is community or the possibility of community; abundance is trusting in sharing.

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This sharing is how we already connect with those close to us and how we build these connections into community. This is making the most of any situation, rather than constantly striving for an imagined and impossible perfection that always remains just out of reach.

It doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done, that we should not have wants, or that there aren’t people in need that we rightly want to help, people such as the one in nine malnourished people on this planet. Neither is abundance about living in the hope of a free energy future, or continuing to blindly act as if our planet’s resources are inexhaustible.

These potent wild spaces, full of life in every niche and scale, are important for us – the wilderness-starved

But what would it be like to extend our capacity to share with those further and further outside our current sphere? Leaning into our personal edge of caring until the entire world were included in our community. How would our lives be different if we dropped the fear and let abundance seep into our very beings, saturating our thinking until our decisions are borne from this feeling of plenty?

When designing your own garden, let the wild reach in and touch your environment in unexpected ways. Let it into your own life too, allowing it to reveal the surprising untapped richness you hold within. These potent wild spaces, full of life in every niche and scale, are important for us – the wilderness-starved. Without paying attention to them our learning can at best be only a shadow of its vast potential.

This is an edited extract from Stefan Geyer’s book, Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design. Stefan has been practising permaculture for 15 years. He is a former chair of the Permaculture Association UK and a co-founder of the London Permaculture Network.

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Main image: Moyan Brenn