Category Archives: Permaculture Philosophy

Can Permaculture and Spirituality Coexist?

One heart fire, what does it mean and why do I use it to represent my journey with permaculture? Well, there are different answers to those questions depending on your opinion of spirituality. For many practitioners, spirituality is a fundamental element in their understanding and application of permaculture. Some hold a vision of the Earth as a living sentient entity (Mother Earth, Gaia, Pacha Mama) and their care for the land as worship or relationship with the Earth. Others may see their work as service to God, or integrate their perception of permaculture into what ever particular religion they practice. Spirituality seems quite common in the permaculture community, and opinions vary on the positive or negative effect of this.
Regardless of one’s opinion, it is undeniable that permaculture was conceived as a science, it’s methods are based on the observation and application of facts and provable phenomenon, and therefore religion has no place in the design system. Religion and politics, those two inevitably divisive topics, we’re deliberately left out of the permaculture teachings. So how do we explain the pervasiveness of spirituality in the world of permaculture? If I may paraphrase a quote from Geoff Lawton, religion does not fit into permaculture, but permaculture fits quite well into religion. The three ethics of permaculture, care for the Earth, care for the people, and sharing of the surplus are very similar to the fundamental teachings of the world’s major religions. The development of the permaculture system arose partly out of Bill Mollison’ s research into the aboriginal peoples of Australia, a culture who’s interaction with the land is inseparable from their spirituality. For the Australian aborigines and countless other indigenous cultures, it was the guidance of their spirituality which enabled them to live on the land for thousands of years without having an adverse affect on the environment. Isn’t this the real goal of the permaculture system and the movement built up around it? In this light, perhaps it is understandable, even advantageous that so many people find motivation and guidance in their permaculture practice through their personal spiritual beliefs.
The scientific method is an incredibly powerful tool to help us understand the natural world, to uncover the mechanics and processes by which elements operate and interact with each other. We absolutely must create designs that are based on scientific fact, ensuring that they will operate as intended, otherwise we risk doing more harm in the name of creating a better world. However, this fact does not exclude the possibility that we may be guided towards these provable scientifically sound designs by something that is inherently improvable.

This brings me back to the original question. One heart fire is a concept which can be explained in purely scientific terms. Inside the heart of every animal burns the fire of combustion. Oxygen from the atmosphere reacts with carbon from the animal’s food releasing energy. The plants which are food for the animals gain their energy directly from the sun through photosynthesis. At the heart of our solar system burns the fire of the Sun, a limitless source of energy. Without life on Earth, the Sun’s energy would quickly dissipate back out into space and be lost to entropy. The function of an ecosystem, of all life on Earth, is to capture the energy from the Sun and recycle it over and over, passing it from one organism to the next. The more diverse and massive an ecosystem, the longer this energy is recycled and the slower the process of entropy happens. In other words, the healthier an ecosystem, the more energy is available to all life forms within it. All of the processes of the Earth’s environment from the air and sea currents, to the growth of fungi underground are driven by the Sun’s energy. At the heart of all life burns the one fire of solar energy, there is only one heart fire. I believe that most people have a vague understanding of this, or understand it well but don’t really consider it often. I feel that if this fundamental truth of life on Earth was seen as central to human affairs the world would be a much better place. This concept proves the interconnectedness of all life, and demonstrates the truth that harming one aspect of the environment, one creature even, has a negative effect on all life, including humans.
In purely scientific terms, there is incredible incentive for humans to protect and nurture all other life on the Earth. However, for many people, including myself, the reasons go much deeper. They arise, not out of a question of how life functions, but why it exists in the first place. Where did the fire in the heart of the Sun come from? What existed before the big bang? These questions are inherently unanswerable, with no concrete phenomena to observe, and therefore have no place within science. This does not mean that we can’t use our scientific understanding to help guide us towards our own intuitive answers to these spiritual questions. Spirituality has no place within science, but science has its place within spirituality.
For me, my scientific understanding of the one heart fire concept helps me to spiritually understand that the fire of creation exists in the heart of all life, indeed, in the heart of all things. This helps guide me in my interactions with other people and the environment. If what exists in the very core of my being is the same thing that exists at the core of another person, then I have no reason to feel superior or inferior to them, and must treat them accordingly. In recent years I have found much guidance in the spiritual teachings of the indigenous North Americans, particularly the Lakota nation. Their lives are centered around the concept of mitakuye oyasin, which can be translated as “we are all related.” The Lakotas view all life as their relations, but not only things that science might classify as living. They see all things, from the rocks of the earth to the winds of the sky as living beings, infused with the one heart fire of creation. Every single thing within creation is connected and related, and therefore must be treated as one would treat a relative, a brother, a sister, an uncle, or one’s own mother. The teachings of the Lakota are primarily concerned with right relationship, between people and each other, the Earth, and Creation itself. I believe that this concept is at the core of all the world’s religions, and that an intuitive understanding of this relationship, beyond the intellectual understanding of the connectedness of life, is what will truly transform the world.
This concept is the driving force behind my study and practice of permaculture. I have begun to see permaculture as cultivating right relationship between the countless different elements of the environment, including people. I hope to help transform and enrich the natural environment not simply because it will be beneficial for my own life, or even human life, but because it will be beneficial for all life, all creation. To work with Nature to restore an ecosystem is to participate in creation itself, and to help one thing is to help all things. With One Heart Fire Permaculture, it is my hope that by teaching and sharing the intellectual concepts of permaculture, I can help people gain their own intuitive understanding of the connectedness of all things, and the necessity of right relationship.