Observe and Interact

Children exploring the woods as part of a community workshop in Springwater Park

Last week on an Introduction to Permaculture Course we were talking about Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles, in particular the first principle:

“Observe and interact.”

During this conversation we arrived at a point of interest around the difference between interacting with and interacting within. Both ideas are very similar but the nuance of the interaction that is taking place is significantly different.  Let’s look at it from a practical perspective….

If you interact with something there is a sense of engaging from the outside. A sense of being separate from the thing that you are interacting with, and in that respect of always being at least one step removed.

On the other hand if you interact within something there is a sense of nesting yourself and being immersed. A sense of being within and of seeing and learning as a direct result of that.

For many of us when we design things in life, whether that be a garden, or a community project, or anything else for that matter, we do so from a perspective of interaction with. We are on the outside and we go through a process of observation and interaction in order to gather sufficient information to make decisions, and create a design. But what would be the difference if we were able to interact within? How would our understanding deepen if we could embed ourselves at the heart of the question that we are trying to answer?

Clearly there are many reasons why we often interact with instead of interacting within. To interact within may take more time, it may be more expensive, it may involve more work. But if we are able to make it possible to interact in this deeper way the reward will be a greater clarity and depth of detail in the information, knowledge and experience that we reap. And as a result it should also follow that the design that we create is a much better answer to the question that we have asked or the problem that we are trying to solve.

In a wider sense on a planetary level what difference would it make if our industrialised society moved away from the idea of interacting with the natural world to focus upon interacting within it? The shift in idea feels small, but the changes needed to enact that shift often feel insurmountable. Where would we even start? Well, in many ways that’s where Permaculture Design can help as a toolkit for radical change based on the idea that the answers we need are to be found all around us in nature’s incredible abundance and diversity. And the first step to finding them is to slow down, to get involved and to look closely.

The changes may feel daunting but as we begin to make them, the impact for all of us will be huge, and a door will open allowing us to truly reclaim the sense of ourselves as one species within a multitude of living things that we share this abundant and beautiful planet with. It is the opening of this door that will finally allow us to move away from the exploitative and extractive narrative of the industrialisation, back towards a regenerative way of being as practiced by indigenous peoples all over the world, and to live once more in harmony with Mother Earth.

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