The Permaculture Person

I’ve been having some challenging times recently, some conflicts that came, as they do, all at once. It’s great that they come all at once. If they came drib by drab I’d assume that other people had big problems. If they come all at once I begin to see myself as the common denominator and, therefore, I become the person to do something about. The good news is that it is entirely in my power (and no one else’s) to do something about myself! Yay! Right?

I experienced some massive social anxiety during a recent camping trip that I could do nothing about so I forced myself during one insomniatic night to breathe through the tension in my body and really feel all of that anxiety building up, seeing where it was placed and allowing it to just be: There, in my body. In a way it was a fun ride to embrace, and breathe, through a terribly uncomfortable feeling that I am usually reflexively resistant to. Because I was less resistant the feeling lost a lot of its discomfort and just became, well, a bit of a ride. I discovered that the feeling was safe – that is, it couldn’t, and didn’t, hurt me.

I’m not sure what effect this dwelling-with-the-feeling had. With the immediate problem there seemed to be little change but with two subsequent, similar-different, social issues I went straight to the physical feeling (of anxiety) faster and then released it more quickly too. There are some things that I am dwelling with a lot better now – but it’s early days, I’ll walk this road step by step.

The other thing that I’ve been dealing with is outright conflict from two major but quite different sources. I’m not so sure how much I am directly contributing to this conflict or how much “other people’s problems” are contributing. All I know is that I have to be responsible for my own part in it while also being gentle with other people. This has been a puzzle to me to work out.

In each case I have responded, trying to be respectful with my words and thoughts, but I realised that I was not truly engaging in listening and hearing the other souls involved. My response was still dictated by trying to get myself understood. There is, I think, a human-anxiety about this.

In another show of beautifully orchestrated timing, as all this has been going on I’ve been involved in active-reflection in producing my final report for my Community Development major. I have been dwelling on the words of my favourite philosopher, Martin Buber, and his dialogical I-Thou approach to human relationships, community relationships and the relationship with the Divine. This is a big one to unpack, so if you’re interested, just go Google it for now!

What a gift to receive these moments of objective-self-reflection! I’ve seen how task oriented I can be, how difficult it is for me to slip into a more relational way of existing and – more importantly – to stop myself from otherising others (a short step away from judging others) and spend time in the space between two souls, fishing for that precious common ground of shared humanity and using that as a platform to produce those things that people really need: being understood, being heard, being believed, being free to be, being free to change, being free to change their mind, being held with an open hand.

I’ve long thought that I want others to let me be free to be me, to be allowed to be a living creature that is able to change, not a static object that is able to be judged. Don’t box me in. Sure I’ve had struggles with almost crippling envy in the past, but I’ve worked through that. If people continue to think: “her, she’s a jealous person” it makes it harder for me to grow my identity past that and worse, it stops the other person from getting to know me as me, who I am now, in this moment.

I have to remember to do this for other people. Thankfully I think I do get better and better at this skill as I go on. Winning.

In the future I may remember that, sure, I used to have inappropriate social-anxiety in the past, but I moved past that. In the future I’d sure like to be that person who never feels socially anxious and who always creates space for other people to feel safe to be themselves. Cheers to that!

Recent conflict has shone a mirror into this area and I’m using my God-given will to choose the path of transformation. If life is in the living then I have to live through those painful emotions as well as the fun ones. I can’t ignore what’s there, if I do that those densely embodied feelings stay with me forever (For more on this I highly recommend the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk). If I face them and accept them, welcoming the memories that they invoke, reliving these, forgiving these and then realising that, even though the memories are vividly embodied within my body, they are in the past and I’m still ok. They can’t hurt me anymore because I’ve shown myself that I’m still ok.

I think this is part of what that word “repentance” is about.

It’s been an interesting internal journey over the last say…fortnight…when all these waves came crashing over me. It probably had to do with being at the beach without phone reception for 12 days and having the space to be confronted with myself. What a gift that is!

Now – why mention this here on a public blog that is, in many ways, an investigation of more external, professional interests? Because I am a part of the system and thinking about myself as part of the system is how a permaculturalist thinks. When it comes to me being effective professionally, or in any capacity, it is those inner anxieties and tensions that affect my practice most of all. The truth is that who I am effects everyone who I come in contact with and also it is the thing in the world that is most in my own power to influence.

I am going to end with something that I am reading right now for my final Community Development major report:

We dream of a community-oriented world, but often we want to withdraw into our private space and avoid the inevitable conflict and pain of difficult relationships. We find ourselves caught up with parts of our complex self that we cannot understand or even relate to. 

Many forms of therapy have assigned themselves the task of unravelling the contradictions of the many parts of our self that make a very complex ‘us’. The therapeutic challenge is to learn to welcome, relate to, even befriend the many parts of the self, and explore a richer texture of self than we may have known existed· before.

When people start in therapy, they often subscribe to a way of viewing themselves, a relatively stuck perception of who they are. This view of self essentially becomes the story (one could imagine it as a fictional story as opposed to fact) of how we imagine ourselves to be and how we describe ourselves to others. We could call it our own mythos. It is not a story or myth based on facts, but only on perception-a memory of our lives, filtered through all sorts of lenses. In response to this the therapeutic task is to ‘broaden’ the myth, “open up the presented story’ (Gibney, 2003, p120), to fill it out, creating what psychologists like Carl Jung and James Hillman (1983) have called a healing fiction.

The therapeutic task is to awaken imagination in such a way that people do not limit self-perception to the realm of old stories, often stories imposed by damaged parts of ourselves or inherited from others; this can lead to tension. However if people can hold an on-going dialogue with the emergent stories-the other parts of self – then a more creative, dynamic and whole person can emerge.

Westoby, Peter. 2009. “Training for Transformation: the Possibilitators”. Dialogical Community Development: with Depth, Hospitality and Solidarity. Ed. by Westoby, P. & Dowling, G. 187-210.