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The Relation between Permaculture, Human Health & Holistic Well-being. How Body, Mind and Spirit Can Heal through the Application of Systems Design

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Bill Mollison, the Australian researcher, scientist and “father of Permaculture” stated that Permaculture itself is the positivistic response to our environmental crisis. With this, Mollison means that people must observe their surroundings and formulate their knowledge around what their senses allow them to take in. Based on the interpretation of this sensory experience, humanity can derive information through reason and logic. Instead of simply having a positive outlook on things, positivism implies more; it includes taking charge of situations individuals cause or find themselves in. This country is not only facing an environmental break down; the nation’s citizens also battle a major health epidemic. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014), the top three leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases – all preventable. The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published a collaborative research paper from 2008, which stated that cancer is indeed a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes. It seems that there is a gap between the way Western medicine treats cancer and other diseases and the way Bill Mollison suggested to solve problems, through observance, experience, reason, logic, and a smart systems design approach. The Environment and the people need a major overhaul. Maybe it is time for a new approach to problem solving through the eyes of Permaculture. But would a new design of the obviously diseased system work? Is it even possible to translate Permaculture principles and techniques regarding to human health and well-being?
Systems Design Approach – All is Connected
By definition a system is a) “a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole,” b) “a group of devices or artificial objects or an organization forming a network especially for distributing something or serving a common purpose,” and/or c) “a form of social, economic, or political organization or practice” (Merriam-Webster, 2016). The three definitions from above translate into a) = a society with regularly interacting individuals, e.g. families, friends, communities, jobs, social gatherings, etc., b) = modern technologies, instruments, and medications and the organized network, the health care system, which distributes services, and c) = the pharmaceutical industry and its political lobby.
All of the above mentioned systems intricately interact in a web-like structure. Unfortunately, going into detail about the web’s framework and its patterns is out of scope of this short paper. The point is that our society has many systems in place to provide healthcare, medication, treatment, and wellbeing for people. If these complex structures work stays unanswered for the moment. However, according to the teachings of Permaculture, systems that do not function can be changed to create mutual benefits for everyone involved, making them not only sustainable but instead nourishing for people’s lives. The fact of this possibility creates the foundation to the relation between Permaculture and people’s health and well-being.
Permaculture Relations
Many studies over recent years have revealed that various diseases, including heart disease, gastro-intestinal disorders, mental challenges, etc. are caused by stress. The environment is in distress as well. Humans are subject to the same Universe that governs all other forms of life on Earth. This is one
fundamental assumption that the idea of Permaculture supports, which forms the connection between the natural environment, people, and the struggle that both experience in today’s world. Stressors put systems into overload mode and provoke emergency reactions, which lead to the fight, flight, or freeze response in humans. This contradicts the very first of the Permaculture design principles Observe & Interact. When on the run, ready for battle or stiff out of fear, people are not taking the time for considerate observation, nor are they open to inspiration from the community they interact with. Instead, this state of mind leads to hasty decisions and quick, inconsiderate judgement, which is often followed by an unsustainable, patched together solution. The first Permaculture principles let’s people take a step back, away from today’s rat race, to implement their careful evaluation skills again; wise decisions with a feel-good effect afterwards. This objective view serves as a door-opener for the application of other Permaculture principles in our daily life and for personal well-being.
Design Principles & Ethics
Observe & Interact applies to another connection within human healthcare; the typical amount of time that a doctor spends with a patient. There is not much interaction left. In fact, often the decision for treatment is made from behind a screen, removing the doctor even further from the individual and making the patient merely a number in a system. If the first Permaculture principles was implied, health care would revert back to forming a relationship between doctor and patient. There would be a time investment and therefore, a personal connection would exist, which would lead to a deeper understanding of what may be the actual cause of the health problems instead of only treating the symptoms.
Many nations started implementing these approaches into their health care system. At the forefront are Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden. There, for example, projects like the Healing Garden
in Alnarp, Sweden, or the Danish Healing Forest Garden in Nacadia, gain popularity because of their holistic treatment. “Research supports the fact that just being in an aesthetically pleasing natural environment which provides diverse sensory stimulation produces a stress relieving effect with cognitive restoration. This ‘passive’ engagement with the environment is therefore a fundamental part of the Nacadia therapy. […] Later in the therapeutic process, different gardening activities, based on permaculture, also play an important role to further strengthen the patients’ physical and mental relationship with the environment (Corazon, S. S., Stigsdotter, U. K., Moeller, M. S., & Rasmussen, S. M., 2012). The garden’s layout is important though and should be well thought out. Researchers in Alnarp point out that a healing garden needs to be carefully designed and have specific features in place. It should be “a place that consists mainly of living organic material […]; a garden that offers a variety of experiences and many types of sensual stimulation, a place that can be experienced as one entity” (Lindahl, 2012) – a living and functioning ecosystem built after the ideas of Permaculture.
The implementation of Permaculture’s ethics, (Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share), ensure that designers work with therapists, who work with doctors, who work with patients. All project ventures should meet human and environmental needs while increasing human and ecosystem health, which is the overall goal of Permaculture and should be the utmost vision for all human activity. This translates to patient care, human health and well-being in many ways and forms.
Integrate rather than Segregate, for instance, can be translated into building communities where individuals, regardless of their background, race, or color, grow together. All people have their own special talents and passions. Today’s society often does not value these or underestimates the power of many hands that come together. Yet, this is what the society was built on in first place. A return to cooperative & symbiotic relationships will nurture everyone and everything involved.
Use Small and Slow Solutions is yet another Permaculture principle that would benefit human health and well-being. Instead of striving for instant gratification and/or instant improvement through chemical substances, earlier thoughts of preventative measures through lifestyle changes could decrease the numbers of ill people greatly. A person’s stable overall health and wellbeing acts as a stabilizer for functionality in society. Nobody enjoys being part of a community projects if feeling sick, for example, but with an increase in life force, the person may participate in social events, which in return nurtures his or her mind, soul, and spirit. From there the positive holistic upward spiral can begin.
If individuals were to form their knowledge based on observance and sensory experiences, many would find themselves at a point of despair as they would notice that our nation’s current systems are failing. Luckily, Bill Mollison’s broad, creative, positivistic view, which strives for the betterment of all living beings and the environment, may be the solution to many of these problems. With smart designs of new systems that nourish instead of deplete, give instead of take, and improve over time instead of degrade, we may come out as winners and survivors in this war of survival nevertheless. Imagine, all that because of the implementation of a visionary systems-design approach called

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