This is the 7th in a series of commentaries on the possibile crossfertilization between exo points of view with co-founder David Holmgren’s permaculture principles.
“Every spider’s web is unique to its situation, yet the general pattern of radial spokes and spiral rings is universal. The proverb “can’t see the forest for the trees” reminds us that the closer we get to something, the more we are distracted from the big picture.”
As an astrologer, I’ve always told my clients that each person sits in the very center of the universe. That because the universe is infinite, there is no circumference; therefore the center is everywhere. Variations of this understanding have been variously attributed to, among others, Empedocles, Voltaire, Giordano Bruno, and Yogananda, whose version is most succinct, “Center everywhere, Circumference nowhere.” Central to this all-encompassing vision is the mysterious concept of infinity, though not all variants mention the word.
For the past few years, in order to concentrate and focus what would otherwise be my scattered energies and interests, I have consciously adopted the image of myself as a spider sitting in the center of her web, attuned to the whole, awaiting the slightest tug from any of the strands of her web.
As a permaculturist, I view the various strands in terms of “zones,” grouped in order of the amount of attention required, with those nearest needing the most attention. The first strand, zone zero, that encircles me is inside my home. The second strand, zone one, encompasses the community garden/common space next door, which serves to grow food harvest and preserve food, educate others in the principles of permaculture through on-the-ground workshops, carve out a common space for individuals and groups to commune and/or celebrate, inspire other neighborhoods to establish neighborhood gardens and other commons through tours and presentations, partner with university classes in sustainability, and generally serve as one more template for re-localization.
Beyond this immediate situation, in widening spheres or zones, I’m concerned with the Green Acres Neighborhood, with our current effort to re-organize of the citywide counsel of neighborhoods, and with ongoing initiatives of Transition Bloomington (a global movement to help cities and towns become more self-sufficient and resilient in the face of climate change, civilizational de-structuring, and growing scarcity of key resources).
This month, for example, as one of the founding members of Bloomington Community Exchange (a Transition Bloomington initiative), I am helping to organize a community-wide swap meet.
Even a few years ago, I would not have even considered involvement this many ongoing community projects. But, given the “design” that I have consciously adopted, that of the spider’s web, with me in the center, and the “details,”— various projects radiating out in widening spheres from that center — it works!
However, let me make one thing clear. It works, not because my life is organized into a design, but because this particular design places maximum attention on the inviolate center, where the spider sits, attuned to the whole, and responsive to the slightest tug from any of her strands.
This invisible, internal, mysterious center — this still point in the universal void that is both infinitely divisible and infinitely vast, this spacious well out of which all forms emerge and disappear — what I and a few other permaculturists call “zone zero zero” (to distinguish it from “zone zero,” the household itself), is where I spend perhaps 40% of my time!
I concentrate on the center. I spend way more time inside my inviolate core than on any of my visible external projects. And, I find, because I do so, because I am continually nourishing that center, filling myself up with whatever I need to feel whole and balanced and, indeed, centered, as often and as much as necessary; because I spend way more time just “being” than “doing,” I am able to “do” far more than I would otherwise.
This design for life, which places maximum attention on centering, is the key to my increasing aliveness and regenerative capacity. At 68, I have far more usable energy than I did, even back in my 20s. Very little of it gets siphoned off into addicitions, or “wasting time,” or “going crazy,” or feeling scattered or out of sorts. It took me nearly seven decades to get here, to create a design for my life that is regenerative, and thus, permacultural. But believe me, it was worth it!
Currently, this concentration on the center involves, for me, two hours of what I call “physical culture” daily: one hour walking in nature with my dog Emma, and another hour in a combination of yoga, chi kung and tai chi (divided up into three periods of 20 minutes each). To others, this way of prioritizing time may sound either selfish, or stern and exacting, even monkish — in that I do all of these physical practices every single day. But from my point of view, this way of working with my own inner life is internally satisfying and promotes stability — even in the midst, or I should say especially in the midst of — increasingly shocking and destabilizing global developments. My body remains toned, my inner state remains mostly that of equanimity, and I have plenty of energy to give to others.
I am reminded of the Dalai Lama, during one of his visits here (his brother, now passed on, was a professor at Indiana University). He said to the small group that had gathered on the lawn of the Tibetan Cultural Center to listen to him: “People say that the reason I can do what I do for my health is because I have self-discipline. That they can’t, because they are not disciplined, like I am. But to me, what is self-discipline but looking out for one’s own long-term interest?” [my italics] Exactly!
Even more central to zone zero zero, the center of this spider’s web, for me, is the whole panorama of exopermaculture. At last, with this blog and website, I have discovered an outlet for helping me focus and concentrate “the above” with “the below,” multidimensional, extraterrestrial and terrestrial, into oneness. Working on this site gives me energy. In the metaphor of the spider and her web, somehow the power of the universe funnelling through my tiny spider’s body, as long as I stay in the center of both my personal terrestrial web and my cosmic, intergalactic attunement to the infinitely loving awareness in which we are all immersed.
So yes, it helps enormously to design from pattern to details. And, I’d say, whatever the pattern, focus on the center, nourish the center, so that the unceasing energy of the universe may flow through.