Last autumn I spent a few months in Peru working with indigenous people, plant medicines, and permaculture. When I returned from the jungle I started to think of myself in a different way and notice a different set of patterns around me.
I started studying ecopsychology, ecology, and earth-based spiritual traditions like Taoism, South American shamanism, and Native American traditions.
To my surprise, I found that the values, which are essentially the design principles of a culture, were basically the same across the board. This really isn’t all that surprising, because in fact, each of these traditions learned from how nature organizes her complex systems, from the Amazonian jungle to the jungle of the mind.
The Ecological Self
The crucial underpinning to these design principles is an identification with the ecological self.
In contrast to the western idea of a solid, stable, independent self, the ecological self is a sense of self that identifies with the social, ecological, and spiritual and reacts to the interests of other as if they were his own.
For indigenous people this self-concept seemed to be a given.
- the mind is dependently coarising with other minds and the environment
- the self is a self-organizing system nested within larger social and ecological systems
I could see that from a psychological perspective and physical perspective we are intricately interwoven into the web of life. Based off of the patterns of nature, we can design our own lifestyles, organizations, and products to work in harmony with nature and achieve our goals using the wisdom of nature’s patterns.
Design Principles for the Ecological Self
Systems Awareness – Life is an integrated process of nested living systems. Make design decisions grounded in seeing these systems and their different layers of abstraction.
Dynamic Balance – Physicist Fritjof Capra describes matter as in “a continuous dancing and vibrating motion whose rhythmic patterns are determined by the molecular, atomic and nuclear structures.” Likewise, Earth-based spiritual traditions all emphasize that nature is not a static but dynamic equilibrium. This dance between opposites, like the yin and yang, is the creative potential of all life.
Emergence – Complex systems have an innate drive to maximize complexity and to integrate towards harmony. What emerges can be much greater than we can imagine alone, and also can bring uncontrollable and unpredictable outcomes.
Networks – To promote systemic change, we must foster networks. Life did not take over this planet by combat, but by networking.
Reciprocity (Ayni) – Reciprocity, or exchange of energy – be it human energy or simply feedback- governs the universal circulation of vitality. Stay open and responsive.
Cycles – In contrast to our current industrial culture where 99% of materials are waste, nature moves in cycles. We must learn to design for regenerative economies. When we design our lifestyles to align with the larger cycles we intersect with, we’ll also find we waste a lot less personal energy.
Flow – All organisms need a continual flow of energy to stay alive. Consider how energy flows in your organization and products, where energy is lost, and how it can be more efficient.
Beauty – Affection alters behavior, sparks love, and connects us to all of life. Cultivate affection through beauty whenever possible. Discover beauty everywhere.
Deep Time – We cannot forget the power and responsibility that comes with acting our age. The Universe is estimated to be 14.5 billion years old, and the planet 4.4 billion years old. Many indigenous tribes make decisions based on the 7th generation out, that’s 200 years out. How can we use the 14 billion years of wisdom we hold to design a more sustainable society for our descendants?
“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health.”
– Wendell Berry
Our Earth is in trouble. We’ve designed a culture and economy that is separated from the soil we evolved from. The Earth is speaking to us and through us always. What can we learn from observing and listening to nature’s patterns?
1. Cultivate ecological perception – See your ecological self, the systems you are a part of
2. Learn the design principles of nature and design your own world according to them
3. Observe nature and create your own set of principles by listening to your body and Earth
I invite you to open your senses to what the Earth has to say to you:
through your gut feeling telling you which direction to go,
through the wind on your face carrying messages from the other side of the Pacific,
through the ebbs and flows of the ocean waves,
through the blossoming of flowers in springtime,
through knowing glances from each other.
You already know how to hear the voice of the Earth, it’s just a matter of remembering