This is the fifth in a series of commentaries on exo ramifications of co-founder David Holmgren’s fifteen permaculture principles .
“The horse icon represents both a renewable resource (it can be consumed) and a renewable service – pulling a cart, plough or log (a non consuming use). The proverb “let nature take its course” reminds us that control over nature through excessive resource use and high technology is not only expensive, but can have a negative effect on our environment.”
I was one of those little girls who loved, who identified with, who craved, horses. My ten-year-old granddaughter Kiera shares this passion. I bet 50% of little girls do. What is this fixation on horses? Their wild beauty, their power, their grace — all qualities we would express, were we fully alive.
Unfortunately, like most parents, Kiera’s are not in a position to indulge their daughter’s obsession. Very few parents are. I was one of the fortunate few, though I had to do dishes for our family of ten for a year, without complaining or delay, to get her. “Golden Sunlight” was her name. And I rode her bareback, at dawn, racing across Idaho fields towards the sun.
The faster we ran, the more deeply I connected with her, my young, strong legs precisely balanced on top of 2000 pounds of sheer muscle, barreling along. The wind rushing through my hair, my body at one with her body, we were one being, one sensation, of energy, in motion. Life as ecstasy.
I was “using and valuing this renewable resource and service,” this extraordinary communion with my horse. And what was being renewed, with each golden sunrise hour, was me, myself, my energetic system, my essential nature beneath the conditioning I received as a ’50s kid in a strict German Catholic household.
So when I think about this 5th permaculture principle and its icon, I can’t help but think about riding Goldie bareback at dawn. Our spirit animal nature, flying over the fields, defying gravity and time, towards the brilliant source of life on earth.
As permaculturists, we value renewable resources such as beneficial worms, insects, birds, animals, air, earth, water, and the fire of the life force itself. And it is the life force itself, as it flows through each being, especially thorugh my being, my human being, that I choose to focus on here. The zone zero zero location in permaculture. The invisible, intangible place that usually escapes notice, since permaculture so strongly values hands-on, empirical, pragmatic, get it done, work with dirt, and plants, and animals, and all their relations. Indeed, one of the ways in which permaculture — and organic, and biodynamic — differs from industrial agriculture is the value placed on human creativity and effort to replace non-renewable, polluting fuels and giant, soul-killing, debt-inducing machines.
We place the human directly within the natural environment, notice what’s going on there, the buzzing booming confusion of nature as she effortlessly and complexly goes about doing what we would like to understand, imitate, and amplify, so that we too, may flourish inside her abundance.
Just being in nature’s presence and working inside her realm renews us by itself. Just being outside, feeling the sun on our sweaty back, dirty hands in the soil, bending up and down, carefully placing tiny seedlings with their fraying, trailing, encrusted roots in the prepared, composted ground, does renew us, yes. We feel as nourished by this practice as by food itself. We feel the life force moving up through the soil into our fingers, traveling up the meridians and radiating throughout our entire body being.
We seldom stop to pay attention to this fact, that the life force, that invisible, intangible power that resides in nature, enlivens us, energizes us, calms us, makes us feel at one with all of creation. So much so that, even though we may grow weary with work, though exhaustion may set in, we feel better, more at peace, after we are done than we do going into the day. Some kind of magical force has entered into us, and swirled around, settling down into our cells, our bones. Life at its most elemental, at its finest.
And, if you are like me, you take this kind of understanding and run with it. You amplify it with practices designed to clear your energy meridians from any sticky material that makes you feel heavy, stuck in place, unable to fully receive, absorb, reflect, and amplify nature’s subtle emanations.
More and more you experience your own body/mind/spirit as an energetic system, a field phenomenon continuous with what surrounds you. Inside and outside dissolve into unity, a limitless field of energy that is being constantly renewed.
For me, it’s yoga and especially, tai chi and chi kung. There, we call it the “chi field.” Here’s a quote from a chi kung master that speaks to this specific topic. [This is long, but I couldn’t figure out what to cut. If you can’t get through it all, I summarize it in the final paragraph of this post.]
“Qigong Masters and Masters of other ancient traditions discovered that nature’s laws are based on the realization of the existence of invisible and intangible energy called “chi”. Today, quantum physics rediscovered the same laws and exposed the limitation of conventional science due to its use of indirect observation. It is by way of direct experience, through Qigong, that enables us to perceive the invisible and intangible energy and penetrate the quantum field of nature.
“In addition to the above realization is the realization that internal chi in the body and external chi in the universe are a reflection of each other. The traditional Tao speaks of the body as a microcosmic universe, completely affecting the external universe. This realization is profoundly important in the transformation of life. New science, including quantum physics and the discovery of DNA, has validated the long traditional knowledge that our inner state (mind, emotion and body) has profound consequences on our DNA and the subtle energy field around us. [Italics added. — A.K.]
“This same energy field connects and recreates all existence including human beings thus we can tap into the chi field and experience the laws of nature. The essential universal cosmological system is to validate the earth and heaven as one existence with the human being an embodiment of earth and heaven. [Italics added. — A.K.] So for us to live to our fullest potential physically, emotionally, and mentally, we need to follow the way of nature. So how are we to follow the way of nature? There are many ways and Qigong is one of the most effective. Yoga, meditation and spiritual practices all work with the energy field because they help us recognize that which exists beyond our perceived, limited existence. Also, when we sleep we are working with the chi. The mind and body are in a more relaxed state, so the energy body is not as contracted and the exchange of energy between the body and the rest of the energy field happens more fluently. This relaxed state can promote rest and vitality. However, sleep is more of a habitual process than a practice.
“Practiced in the state of awareness, the Qigong method uses the conscious mind to guide the body to relax while remaining alert. In this awake, yet completely relaxed state, one can amplify the energy that promotes well-balanced functioning of the physical body. As a result, health benefits come naturally. Additionally, when we are consciously practicing Qigong, the most important aspect is activated: the connection of mind and body. As we allow our minds to participate with the process of life within our bodies we start to perceive the energy body.
“What is the benefit of perceiving the human body as an energetic system? Whenever we are encountering physical problems such as illness, disease, low energy, depression and so forth, we can look into the energetic cause. The beauty of working with energy is that we can consciously change our energy patterns. The more subtle layers of energy we work with, the easier we can change the problem. In a deep sense, Qigong is quantum physics technology. On the subtle level it is works with the mind and the energy’s transformation of physical phenomena. [Italics added. — A.K.]
“On the other hand, the more solid we perceive the energy, the more challenging it will be to change the problem. So our perception plays a very important role because the more we perceive the subtle energy the more empowered we become to make positive changes in our health and life. That is why it is very important in our Qigong practice that in the first stage we let go of our old perception of our body as a physically solid, stable condition. Once we start to open to the energy that exists beyond the solid, beyond the tangible, we start to perceive the conditions beyond the physical illness and we find the freedom to transform and change our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies.
“Depending on what approach we take, what gradually happens in our energy practice is that we start to recognize a deeper layer of our body not just the surface of our body, not just the skin. Indeed, many layers of existence within the body become apparent; organs, glands, blood vessels, tissues and cells. Additionally, we become aware of the transparent qualities, holographic qualities and meridian channels. Eventually, we become aware of the energy field and many energy centers in the body and of our energy centers continuously expanding out to the universal energy field.
“Sometimes it is too complex for us to recognize this more subtle body in the beginning stage of practice, but gradually we start to experience ourselves as an energetic body. That same force around our energy body is expanding and contracting while simultaneously lines of energy, vertically and horizontally, inside us, expand and contract. Additionally, each of our chakras has energy extending out from our body that connects all of us more strongly. We can experience our Dantien (main energy center of the holistic energy body) connecting to all Dantiens, our heart chakra connecting to all heart chakras, and our conscious centers connecting to all conscious centers directly. When we recognize our energy centers and gradually start connecting our own energy body with the universal energies, we become a pillar of light between heaven and earth.
“It doesn’t matter if we consciously choose to connect with others or not, we will. That is the nature of energy. That universal coding is built into our energy body, so the more we amplify that connection the more we experience the Oneness. . . If we think of our energy body like a drop of water merging into the ocean, then we can perceive our body as more open and easily visualize our body becoming part of that chi field. . . .”
That these effects manifest in anyone who practices chi kung on a daily basis, is evident. That recognizing the “body” as an energetic system attuned to, and indeed coterminous with the constantly renewing, energetic system of nature, is not so well known or integrated within permaculture practice.