On Not Having a Dream

On the Lúcháir page, there’s a heading Heart Mind and Spirit. In permaculture terms this area is known as Zone 00 (0 is your house, 1 is garden 2 is where you keep animals, 3 is arable crops 4 harvested woodland and 5 conservation open ground) or, sometimes, the ‘controversial Zone 00’. Permaculture is an eminently practical discipline, and some folks just don’t see the heart mind and spirit stuff as practical. I do. I wrote :

The more I go on the more it becomes obvious that redressing the ecological balance of our lives is not only a practical scientific or an economic task, but it is also social, psychological and most importantly, spiritual.

A permaculture design requires vision, and vision comes from the Zone 00 – your core of values, insights, desires and assumptions about life. And whether you articulate your vision through the prism of a faith community or thought system, it’s there, like your own personal centre of gravity, and if you fail to understand it, stray too far from it or let it degrade to the point where it doen’t sustain you, you are in for trouble.

Some times this shows itself in practical ways. If you bought your smallholding but have to pay for it by long office hours or a killer commute, you aren’t going to be happy. If you come up with a brilliant resilience-building community project but have to implement corporate working practices and structures into your management so as to attract funding, people are going to be confused at best, alienated at worst. If you find a campaign you really believe in is being run by a rascist/ sexist/sectarian bigot, you are going to find yourself seriously conflicted about being involved.

Sometimes it results in waste of energy, frustration, anxiety, burnout, over-commitment, failure to reach goals or despair. We had a dream and couldn’t achieve it, or, even worse, we did achieve it and the dream didn’t deliver.

Lately, I had a radical thought. What if I didn’t have a dream? It was aa bit scary. Not only is it disappointing – having a dream generates a lot of dopamine which is a)quite fun and b)what some of us rely on to get out of bed in the morning. How on earth could I structure my life (working from home, children grown up, husband working long hours) without the pull of the dream to give me the plan. (If you only knew how much time I spend on THE PLAN —.)

Then something clicked into place. You don’t always need the pull of the dream. You can work with the push of mindful experience. The first permaculture principle is ‘observe and interact’ and it applies just as much to Zone 00 as to all the rest. Don’t start with what you want. Start with what you’ve got. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Where is the fun? What feels like pushing at an open door? What feels like jumping off a cliff? Most instructive are the things that aren’t working, or are horrendously difficult but you keep doing them anyway.

You notice patterns. In my own life it works like this:
Whatever I aspire to do, I default to writing, gardening, caring for my family, getting involved in social justice issues. Because that’s what I really want to do. I work on a computer because it can adapt to my rapid-moving thought processes, and I use notebooks because they give me permanence and accountability. I don’t drive because the process of learning would be miserable, expensive and unproductive. I write poetry because it works and not novels because they don’t. I work from home although I often feel like a crow in a mist because I’ve developed a random and crazy way of working that won’t happen without quiet.

You might call it ‘reflection’. Our tradition calls it ‘discernment’, and there’s a lot written about it, not all terrifically helpful. But in a world which looks increasingly as if it’s being run by advertising people telling you to ‘live the dream’ so you’ll buy stuff, watch stuff, believe stuff, I think it might be time to question the logic. You don’t need a dream. You need a territory, and an orientation, and a permaculture design for your Zone 00.

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