Class 1: Imagination and Hope

Class 1 notes by Katherine N.

The first class was devoted to social permaculture, which is the aspect of permaculture that I believed was of least interest to me but that I now realize is integral to rebuilding our communities.  I really didn’t know what to expect this first day, and for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.  Before I go into the highlights of the day for me, I do want to say that I believe the exercises in the afternoon went on for too long.  We were asked to reflect and share on very similar topics repeatedly and since the class lasted until 9 p.m., I was definitely left thinking that we could have accomplished just as much by shortening the afternoon and covering the evening’s materials in the late afternoon.   However, it is a true testament to the instructor’s skill and knowledge that the afternoon was educational and enjoyable, and that despite its length, it actually flew by.  I would also have assigned some exercises to do at home during the week.   I assume we are going to have “homework” throughout the course, and I definitely feel that sharing what we learned with our families and friends, and getting their feedback and response to our growing awareness of the process of social permaculture, would be helpful to the learning experience.

The absolute highlight for me on Saturday – and this was close to a life-changing experience – was one of the exercises we did during the symposium, which in itself was amazing.  We were asked to close our eyes and imagine ourselves in the future, sitting outside in nature with our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who were thanking us for what we had done all those years ago (present day) to get society back on course and save us from the brink of extinction.  We were to imagine ourselves receiving thanks and then explaining to our descendants what it had been like for us to live then, and how we had responded to the planetary crisis.  We were asked to reflect on our struggles, periods of frustration and hopelessness, as well as how we were able to cultivate hope and participate in and lead the change.  It was amazing.  I, like probably everyone in the class, am motivated to work toward sustainability not only to live a richer more joyful life today, but to do all that I can to ensure that future generations have the same opportunity.  That is, in essence, the definition of sustainability.  I have never before, in the thousands of hours I have devoted to thinking and acting on sustainability, ever felt a true emotional connection to the people who will inhabit this future, and especially, to the ones who will call me grandma.  It was absolutely overwhelming.  It was a beautiful feeling to imagine this future, and it surprises me that it all took place in my imagination.  It actually seemed real, and I still feel it now as I am writing.  I think that speaks to the power of the symposium and to the setting and facilitation provided by Common Circle.

The class overall left me feeling both hopeful and sad.   I am hopeful that it is possible for individual human beings to reconnect with themselves and with each other, and I am sad that very few of us are moving in that direction.  I am looking forward to learning more practical tools that I can use to make my own life more sustainable, and to work toward creating more sustainable communities. Overall, the course so far has helped me to focus my professional goals on change at the local level – which is a good thing, because if our only hope is action at the federal level, then it is unlikely that the beautiful conversation I had with my descendants will ever happen.

Class 2: We are Nature Working

Class 2 notes by Trisha C.

“We are nature working,” spoke Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer. So began a discussion and exploration into the nature of permaculture – essentially a way of reestablishing and strengthening relationships between people and the world around us. Some would say it is having a sense of community ecology, or a way of applying living systems design in the least input-intensive way possible. Whatever one’s preferred definition, there is no arguing that it a lens through which to view lifestyles and choices.

Permaculture is based on three primary ethical concerns – care of the earth, care of people and care of the returns or surplus or losses of each action. Each decision should be evaluated accordingly, and each choice made with full knowledge of its effects in each of the three realms. Furthermore, permaculture incorporates eight overarching themes:

  • Land and nature stewardship
  • Built environments
  • Tools and technology
  • Culture and education
  • Health and spiritual well-being
  • Ethics and principles
  • Finance and economics
  • Land tenure and community governance

These themes help ground the lens of permaculture in a more accessible way, to really help one focus their understanding – and their dedication – to living a life that is harmonious and real.

When taking the principles of permaculture to practice, there is none more active than Bill Mollison. The founder and propagator of modern-day permaculture gardening techniques, he has been responsible for the spread of natural gardening that uses what inputs are already present to build upon and improve the natural environment in a way that is beneficial to all creatures that come in contact with this habitat. Traveling around the world and spreading the word of beneficial relationships, both large and small, Mollison has helped thousands of farmers and gardeners realize the latent potential of the land around them. Permaculture gardening is a way of utilizing symbiotic biological relationships to harness the full potential of plants. For example, rotating food crops and spacing them appropriately to take full advantage of natural cycles and to also train plants to grow with minimal inputs and human intervention.

In India, Mollison and his students set up a land tract dedicated to permaculture farming, and helped destitute farmers regain their livelihoods by teaching them how to go back to low-input, organic farming that utilizes traditional knowledge bases to support a thriving food system that valued food for its nourishing properties. While other systems place a monetary value on food, thereby making it a dehumanized and tradable commodity, permaculture refocuses attention on creating fair and just systems that allow everyone the opportunity to empower themselves and take charge of the health of their own communities as a whole. Using principles of nonviolence and basic respect for the contribution each living thing can make to society, permaculture seeks to reinforce the notion that we are all in it together.

Class 2: There is no apart.

Class 2 notes by Ron S.

I had a horrible cold and I wasn’t quite sure that I was going to make it to the second class of our permaculture design course.  I really am glad that that is not how my day  ended up.  Having been exposed to the first week’s transformative vibe, I think that a lot of people in this course (myself included) were really eager to see where this idea of (Social) Permaculture can take us.

We started in with the ethics of Permaculture.  I didn’t have time to take notes on them but was assured that all of this information was going to be made available to us.  My first sense of these ethics was that it is a pretty basic compassionate view of our relationship to the world.  As we discussed it I could see in my own experience how we don’t really live in that space for mainly a lot of selfish and silly reasons.  We don’t take the time to understand the impacts made by our decisions.  Our frustrations keep us from acting with compassion in all of our interactions and relationships.  The goofy thing is that all of this should be pretty easy to do and benefits both ends of the relationships.  You simply have to be present with that information/experience/belief.  Sure is a good thing that being present was one of the ‘ethics’ .  It’s something that I think our broader culture sure needs a lot of work on.  I really enjoy a lot of the ‘active listening’ exercises that we have been doing and I think it helps re-enforce the idea of coming from a place of compassion.

In trying to come up with our own principles of permaculture and then the best case scenarios of what could come of this, I kept trying to seperate the idea of ‘Social Permaculture’ from ‘Permaculture’ .   We were introduced to the Principles and we started in on some exercises and the Permaculture charades game and right before the dinner break it kind of dawned on me that one isn’t apart from the other.  Kind of like we aren’t apart from nature, or that community, over there….There is no apart!  Thanks!!

Class 2: Adding to Tradition

Class 2 notes by Carmen L.

We began our second PDC class with the Elm Dance, expressions of gratitude, re-introductions and then exercises focused on our learning intentions and setting forth community agreements in response to “How do we as a group begin to behave as a learning community to support our best possible outcomes?”

Our homework was to create a learning affirmation so here’s mine:  I effortlessly grow organic produce to feed myself and community!

My experience with organic gardening has been based on the biointensive method, a 4,000-year-old Chinese tradition practiced by my grandfather and which involves lots of muscle power to dig 2 feet deep into the ground.  In deeply prepared garden beds, water enters soil more easily and plant roots can penetrate further down into compost-enriched soil (instead of needing to spread out in search of water and nutrients) so plants can be spaced more closely.  According to John Jeavons, we can produce up to 4 times more food by using this method than an equivalent shallow bed planted in rows.

Growing up Chinese meant that I followed my grandfather’s tradition of gardening in our backyard in Hawaii, where we raised most of the food that we ate.  In Chinese culture, food is so important that we greet one another by asking, “Have you eaten yet?”  In fact, my happiest childhood memories are coming home from school to snack on plants picked from our garden—sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, papayas, tangerines, etc.  Growing up Chinese also meant that we ate lots of fresh vegetables and nothing was wasted so food scraps went to the compost pile.

Because eating fresh produce has been so nourishing to my well-being, I wanted to get involved in food security issues.  One way was to go to developing countries to promote small-scale, biointensive gardening.  In Tanzania, we worked primarily with women who lost their husbands from AIDS/HIV, malaria or other infectious diseases; it was a real challenge for the women to do digging work because this reminded them of burying their deceased loved ones or sometimes illness would compromise their strength to do so.  While biointensive gardening has a proven track record, I wanted to explore alternatives so I searched “no dig gardening” on the internet.

I was fascinated to learn about Sydney gardener Esther Dean’s No-Dig Garden, which eliminates the need for backbreaking work by building a garden above ground with layers of organic matter.  This led me to the permaculture work of her fellow Australian Bill Mollison.  I want to learn all I can to apply permaculture design principles to let nature do its work J!

While Sage and Jay asked us to tap into our “inner wisdom” during discussions about what is permaculture (designing systems to mimic relationships found in natural ecologies) and its ecological ethics (Care for Earth, Care for People, Return of Fair Share), I often felt like tabula rasa (blank slate) as I have spent much of my working adult life in an unnatural environment that I need to re-learn our natural environment.  For 15 years, I have worked with U.S.-based employers to establish and maintain employee benefit plans based on governing labor and tax laws, collectively known as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  As these man-made laws reflect compromises made by politicians, they are subject to many exceptions (or “loopholes”) and frequent revisions.  Even practitioners can get frustrated with the intricacies of ERISA, which is also known as Every Ridiculous Idea Since Adam.

I was relieved when Sage and Jay handed out the list of 28 permaculture design principles as I would not have guessed them all.  But as usual, they weren’t going to make it so easy as they asked us to partner with a classmate to act out the principles in charade!

We viewed Global Gardener, a film showing Permaculture founder Bill Mollison creating gardens in the tropics, dry lands and urban areas.  It was inspiring to see how permaculture principles are applied in places as diverse as Australia, India, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Germany and U.S.A. (including Village Homes in Davis, CA)—to great success when we follow the universal laws of nature.

Class 1: The peaceful

The peaceful and welcoming environment at Common Circle made me feel right at home.
My loudest thanks go to the introductory classes and the instructors, Vladislav and Johnathan, for clarifying the objectives of the course, and for the emphasis on Social Permaculture.
Last year,I attended permaculture classes that got me excited about gardening for the environment. These classes were taught by Starhawk and Kevin Bayuk, who covered a great deal of permaculture design,urban gardening,with an ongoing grounding in social permaculture.
This first day of social permaculture at Common Circle has opened a clear path to us city and town dwellers.The audio-visual information given to us was clear and concise.The interactive activties brought awareness of each other and our surroundings,and the open discussions that took place,were facilitated by instructors who were knowledgable and skillful, non dominant guides.
We were gently led in navigating Living Systems Theories throughout applications involving moving our bodies in ways that mimicked living organisms, animals,and ecosystems.
Going through the process of honoring mother nature and life itself,was facilitated by a ritualistic Elm Dance and the reading of poems authored by Joanna Macy.
As the day came to an end,it became clear to me that there is a solution to the environmental global threat we’re all facing.It is us, only us who must face the reality of being part of the solution or face doom.
Social permaculture has the potential of teaching us how to reach for our own capability
in unlearning bad habits and following a new path to restoring the environment. This will take time,
and people willing to be the advocates for the environment and social justice.

– Charles D.

Class 1: The day started

The day started off with a meditation.  That was great for me.  Slav lead it in a way that made it very accessible to all.  I don’t think he called it a meditation.  He just got us in our bodies, and feeling present.  After some introductions, we started the awakening the dreamer symposium.  Slav acknowledged a few times that this information may not be new for some of us.  This really helped me stay connected to the information and the whole process.  I felt like my intelligence was being respected.  The folks in the video from Pachamama seemed very wise and responsible.  The lesson from the video was something like “we think we’re separate, and that is the illusion plaguing us all.”  I am not sure they presented a solution to that problem.  My solution is to meditate on the Dharma.

We did some follow-up exercises around imagining what it’s like to talk to our great-grandchildren about what we did and how we struggled to save the planet during its time of need. It felt very useful to think about our victory as if it had already happened.  It’s a perspective that will help us make the dream become a reality.  Without that imagined future perspective, our hope lies in a world of doubt and possibility. This way it is a vision, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

Jonathon came in and led the group in some living systems exercises.  Everyone was engaged and excited to see systems theory laid out in front of them.  We all made observations about the way systems play out.  With the help of Jonathon, we thought about the world of gardening, interpersonal relations, and the universe with the new goggles of living systems theory.  This juicy material could be referred back to for the rest of the PDC course.  I hope we visit those activities again.

The holonic description of systems had me intrigued.  No system is closed.  Even when it seems closed, you can see that it is dependent on or at least influenced by systems outside.  There are systems inside of systems inside of systems.

We, as living systems, are dependent on self-correcting feedback loops.  As humans, we can choose to say no to feelings.  We can turn away.  This is the root of our problem with the planet.  If we allowed ourselves to feel, then we’d take actions toward healing ourselves.  This is the way our feedback loop is meant to work.  Compassion is unavoidable when we don’t turn away.  But since we have many ways to shut down around feeling, we are beating ourselves nearly unto death.  We don’t want to experience “negative” emotions, but those are the very evidence that we care, and the pathway toward healing.  We can invite those feelings of grief about the destruction of the planet.  We are lucky to have this feedback loop between us and the living system we live in.  Just as we are lucky to have the feedback loop with the cells that live within us.  When the cells stop communicating with us, like with cancer, the systems within systems die.

Jonathon raised many questions for us to ponder.  How much do you focus on fighting against and fighting within the beaurocratic system, and how much do you create a new system?

We got to do yoga twice a day! Amazing.  The teacher really knew her stuff.  That’s the kind of physiological knowledge I’m looking for in a yoga teacher.

The bowl of tears exercise was pretty powerful for me.  People ritualistically thinking about others, and being vulnerable in front of the group is a requisite for sustainable community.

I love the emphasis on applying permaculture and systems theory to every aspect of life, from running a business, to solving a problem, to community building.  I am hopeful and excited about the diversity of tactics we can use to infiltrate the world with permaculture.

– Anthony M.

Class 1: Wow!

Wow!  What a powerful experience right out of the gate.  What a great way to start learning about sustainability but to focus on the why of it instead of the how.

I had been looking for a permaculture experience since I got laid off in November.  I applied, unsuccessfully, to an internship at one Permacultre Homestead in Washington.  I figured I would jump off the limb instead of merely putting myself out there.  Well, as they say, these things happen for a reason.  I started looking closer to home in the SF bay area where I live.  Common Circle was about the third course that I had looked at.  All of these courses offer what I had assumed that I wanted out of a permaculture design course; hands-on learning of  skillsets to help me create a sustainable lifestyle for myself and my community.  The line that stuck out for me on the detail regarding the Sub/Urban Permaculture Design Course was ‘Creating Sustainable Economies and Sustainable Communities’.   What a novel idea, hell radical idea…creating a local economy that sustains itself and it’s community.  This is a personal goal for myself as I had spent over twenty years in sales and distribution putting primarily crap into the  world.  So I signed up!

The “Awakening the Dreamer/Changing the Dream Symposium” is something that I am going to try and get everyone I know to experience.  Two of the most powerful and poignant messages that resonate inside me from that experience are, “There is no away”, and “What did you do, once you knew?” .  It sure seems hard to do nothing once you know.

I can honestly say that I had no idea that I was going to get what I did out of that first day with Common Circle.  A gentle, supportive, shaking and waking of my own subdued consciousness. Without knowing it I found the place that I needed to be.  I’m not just here to learn how to create a sustainable life anymore.  I’m learning to understand why this is what we need to do.  I’m ready!  Let’s go!  Thank you!

– Ron S.