Application and Philosophy

The attitudinal principles that Mollison proposes show his understanding of the

Abundanceswitch from the scarcity mindset to one of abundance.  It also shows more of an Eastern or Zen philosophy as he even uses an analogy of Martial Arts in his books to convey the concept of Permaculture (akido vs karate).  Once when I was explaining to a University Professor of Theology at Xavier University my take on invasive plants before leading some sessions in a summer course of hers, she said “Wow, that is so Zen Buddhist of you”.  Of course this stems from my developing interaction with permaculture and altering attitudes towards positivity.

This subject of invasive species highlights immediately “Working with Nature rather than Against”.  I see invasive plants as healers and thank those plants for their growth after the mismanagement of land that has persisted for far too long. They bring resilience back to ecosystems and am thankful that anything grows after what we have done and if it requires hard working immigrants, let it be. Then I look at how to work with them to reduce native species deprivation and fire risk all the while contributing to biodiversity.  I see them as carbon pathways to restoration and try to utilize their multifunctional beings and accelerate succession and evolution with them.  Working against nature is to spray them with toxins or use huge amounts of fossil fuels for their removal.  Rather, like my use of bush honeysuckle in contour brush piles, I prefer to slow water and build soil at the same time through creative human interaction with nature.

contour brushpile

This aligns also with the philosophy of “The Problem is the Solution”. Bill in this attitudinal principle states that everything works both ways and is a reflection of the duality of this universe.  However there is always a triad to balance this duality and this leverage point is turning problems into solutions through identification of 306532_3659234402651_1328370132_33455947_457855427_ncreative opportunities.  As a species we are adept to this and our ingenuity allows us to reframe our thinking on situations presented.  For example, wet spots on farms are often problematic for farmers but could grow alternative crops such as blueberry or elderberry or could indicate where a pond could be built.  Alternatively to that, leaving a strip of unimpeded vegetation can help to bring diversity and habitat that aids integrated pest management and soil stabilization.  Creativity is unlocked by a openess to seeing everything both ways just like the invasive species talk above.

This leads to the next attitudinal principle of “the yield is theoretically unlimited, it is only our information and imagination that are our limits”.  When we can tap into these fields, material information-based, and patterns and creativity, this union is forged.  The accrual of information around Slide020environmental literacy is a huge journey that was robbed from most of us in our upbringings and state sponsored schooling.  Concurrently, we were taught how to learn under this rational information driven model so it is easy to begin a cataloguing process, so again everything works both ways.  However, our creativity and holistic, forward thinking was not necessarily spurred and it is on us to re-tap the childlike awe of the natural world and let go of hardened opinions and egoic reflections.  We must embrace this task to move our society through the destructive forces that plague our development, physically and spiritually.  So study hard and play fairly.

From there, the mantra of least change for greatest effect easily resonates.  It is our normal tendency to use huge amounts of energy to create change and bend nature to our liking and disposal. However through pattern recognition and this accrual of information and renewed imagination, it is much easier to meet our needs holistically. Keyline Design and its use of keypoint understanding,



where the hillside moves from convex to concave or erosion to deposition, is a great representation of this principle.  It uses the elegant curves of nature to create the highest spot of water catchment combined with the least amount of earth moved and the largest volume of water retention.  This trinity unlocks a planning process and soil building technique through soil rehydration and compaction busting that is amazingly powerful and unfathomable as a soil builder and profit enhancer.  It truly is an embodiment of this attitudinal principle and this technology will be a powerful fulcrum for regeneration just as Yeomans speculated many years ago.

This understanding of Keyline is a traditional knowledge displayed in ancient African damn building but was brought to the forefront of Western thinking by Australian P.A. Yeomans after many years of observation.  It shows that permaculture observationthrough “protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor” all the above principles can be unlocked.  Our beings should be rooted in observation over long periods of time using the pattern eye to reveal these pathways of abundance.  Immersion in nature and simple being and feeling rather than just doing, thinking and knowing will increase environmental literacy on the conscious and subconscious levels.

What maybe one of the hardest principles to get our heads around in this modern day of capitalism and individuality is “Cooperation not Competition”. This bold statement reinforces our need to check our ego and embrace openness. Its about going on with your separation of life tasks and also contributing to others. This can be examined in the circle of permaculture and economic systems. It is paramount that we form connections and collaborations rather than see each other as competitors.  Analogously, there is disturbance in ecosystems which bring about pioneer species and then subsequent phases of succession.  We need to understand a role within a greater system and that our thriving is dependent on a whole system of Permaculturists thriving.  Plants themselves don’t compete but rather they are a living manifestation of the great will of the 483858_507879005925359_699066325_n530677_3572249904457_1219312107_3476766_1071190024_nuniverse for the creative spark of energy, levity, to persist.  They have formed interconnections with microorganisms for their growth and use vectors of the air elements, be it birds or wind, for seed dispersal.  We too have our systems of dispersal, the internet, books, and our local and global networks.  Our work as Permaculturists should be aimed at collaboration and the subsequent empowerment through relinquishing control, fear, and competition.

Attitudinal Principle: Everything Gardens

All creatures, and obvious to most of all in our reflection of our own species, set up conditions for the proliferation of their species.  However nothing is static in this universe so everything eventually changes.  Nonetheless, by setting up conditions of proliferation, species are able to adapt to changing conditions and leaps of evolution are able to take place.  Check out the slideshow below that highlights this resonance of functionality from a Mulberry Tree (art by Maya Mor)

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This sequence highlights the cyclical nature of ecosystems and this principle highlights our needs as land stewards to further set up conditions for proliferation to occur.  This again is where good design comes in but this philosophical principle also allows us to see the interconnectedness of the planet526079_420902204587536_100000032793885_1609575_898329103_n which evokes reverence. I grew up with a massive Mulberry tree in my backyard as a kid and was fortunate to have had protracted observation and witnessed the magnetizing energy of this falling fruit when ripe.  Creatures of all sorts came to this very old tree whether to feed directly on the Mulberries themselves or for predation.  I never knew to think of what was happening under the soil until I learned more information about soil food webs but can now envision it so easily.  Over time my attitude has changed and if I need a place of solace to encounter the abundance mindset instead of scarcity, I can look no farther than the ever growing, ever producing Mulberry tree of my youth.

Quick Summary

11. Attitudinal Principles:

  •     Problem is the Solution: every resource is either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the use made of it.
  •     The Yield is Theoretically Unlimited: the only limit to the number of uses of a resource within a system is only limited to the information and imagination of the designer.
  •     Work with Nature, Not Against: We need to assist rather than impede natural processes, essential to comprehend and copy.
  •     Everything Gardens: every creature sets up conditions so that it can thrive. They create and carve their niche in an interconnected web of life.
  •     Least Change for the Greatest Effect: When designing, use our intuition to guide the inherent regenerative qualities so that energy is not squandered.

Written by Doug Crouch

Header art by Sien Verpoest


Mollison, B. & Slay, R.M. (1991) Introdcution to permaculture. 2nd Edition. Sisters Creek, Tasmania, Australia. Tagari.


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