Perma Observation – Applying the Principles of Permaculture to Awareness Through Movement – A Reinterpretation of Wellness

After my uni degree in biomechanical science and some time spent in professional ‘people-care’ practice  in the 90’s using a merge of human movement science and arts (feldenkrais, yoga, alexander, qi qong, tui na, shiatsu) I found as my life moved along and new activities and realities (running a business, having kids) happened the extent of my direct daily application of movement science and arts gradually took a back seat. That said, I always held the passion deep in my heart and constantly drew from this knowledge in keeping centred while living my life.

Over the last few years as I have become interested and indeed now work in the field of Permaculture I have found an increasingly strong connection between the ethics and principles of this inspiring design science and my interest in people care and movement science and arts.

Now in the 2010’s at the age of 42 and after a decade and a bit of diverse and challenging events I have started to apply the ethics and principles of pemaculture to my movement passion. In reinterpreting my scientific skill and interest in awareness through movement fundamentals along the lines of another albeit ecological design science I have been finding some interesting parallels.

If stress or physical limitation has changed your quality of life, before you decide to go to a ‘specialist’ and expend resources (produce no waste) to get specific advice think about your own power (use and value renewable resources & services) to educate yourself somatically (use small and slow solutions) and take a holistic approach  (integrate rather than segregrate).

By slowing down (creatively use and respond to change) and taking notice (observe and interact) how your body functions, you gain feedback (apply self regulation and accept feedback) upon which your nervous system can build enhanced self-awareness and improved functioning (design from patterns to details).

This approach seems to align well with the sort of cognitive approach that I would argue each of us functioning within community needs to adopt in order to develop richness, responsibility and resilience.

It seems to me that this is good permaculture strategy and one based on science that is worthy of further research and development.

Perhaps this embodies a more concrete perma-inspired sense of wellness. One that connects people, projects and places into a more productive whole?

Perma Observation – The Central Importance of Observation to the Design Process and the Output of Innovative and Effective Designs

I love quotes from Bill Mollison’s book “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual” in particular those to do with Methods of Design (Chapter 3)  in the Permaculture Design Process.

no other analytic method can involve one in the world as much as observation, but observation and its methods need to be practised and developed, whereas analysis needs no prior practice and requires less field-research or first-hand knowledge. As an observer, however, you are very likely to stumble on unique and effective strategies and thus become an innovator“.

This quote raises an interesting insight the relevance of which to my own permaculture learning journey I am only now starting to realise. In my experience often true observation takes a back seat to intellectualised analysis. Intellectualised analysis, lets call it the ‘intel approach’ is perceived as and in effect is easier than observation – it is quicker, it is rationalised, it can be argued, it does not in practice require locality which therefore enables the importation of a standard patchwork of potentially irrelevant ideas, knowledge and techniques (lets say shapes and patterns, square pegs and round holes) to produce design outcomes.

The intel approach suits a modern world dominated by competitive individualism – where an individuals identity is inextricably linked directly to his or her intelligence combined with the competitive tendency to need to out-intellectualise others to remain strong, to ‘win the comp’ as it were. The intel approach also fits the economic and commercial imperative in which ‘time is money’. Game over, intels in charge … observation please jump in the back and be quiet.

But what is the cost of maintaining observation as central to the design process – the failure to truly observe? Clearly intellectualised analysis does provide design outcomes but do these outcomes truly represent the “most beneficial assembly of all components (or elements) in their proper relationships?”

If permaculture design is “a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms” do design outcomes which have been predominantly based on the intel method truly ‘crack open’ the site-specific patterns and enable a truly effective and inovative design outcome to be achieved that benefits life in all its forms? It is easy to argue that potentially they do not as they have failed not only to truly observe and interact but they have failed in essence to design from patterns to details, a powerful principle in the permaculture design system as it were.  A design based on the intel method without the benefit of observation informing and shaping it can and often does become an impost on the site. Such a design it could be said becomes an installation of artifact, perhaps with some attempted balance, but all in all a manufactured and irrelevant one none the less as it has failed to take stock of all components and as a result can only fail to arrange them in their proper relationships.

My experience of watching the design process unfold where poorly developed observation skill takes the back seat to intelligence and analysis is that details (often imported and irrelevant) lead which in turn dominates and confounds the creative process and with the design outcome itself. Nothing unique, nothing innovative. The design solution in effect is rendered ineffectual.

True observation is a skill that takes time as it is itself an art and a science.

“Short practice at refining field observation as a design tool will convince you that no complex map overlays, library, computer data or remote analysis will ever supplant field observation for dependability and relevance.”

I do think that there is the possibility that some designers with a dominance of the ‘intel approach’ ‘believe’ or let themselves ‘think’ that they ‘do observation’. This really talks to the nature of the intel method as a whole where construed by thought one believes one is ‘doing observation”  when really it a subjugated version of analysis dressed up by the intellect to ‘feel’ like ‘observation’. Sort of like a token gesture as it were.

“Observation is not easily directed, and it is therefore regarded as largely unscientific and individualistic. Process and events, as we encounter them on a real site, are never revealed just by maps or other fixed data. Yet is is from observation of processes and events (such as heavy rain and subsequent run-off) that we can devise strategies of “least change”, and so save energy and time. No static method can reveal processes or dynamic interactions.”

The ability to self audit is critical to developing powerful observation skills. Methods of observation need to be practiced and developed and their meaning experienced with all the senses free of judgement. The ‘intel approach’ dominated designer carries the perception that the process of observation takes too much time and that without time true observation can never be achieved. While this is to some extent true it is not reason enough to fail to observe nor to actually refine and develop the skills of observation in the first instance.

If  it is true that “from observation of processes and events that we can devise strategies of “least change”, and so save energy and time” then it is economic, effective, efficient and potentially innovative to ensure observation remains central to the design process. Sure it might take time to firstly observe and to develop the skills of observation but as an “observer, however, you are very likely to stumble on unique and effective strategies and thus become an innovator”

Perma Observation – Knowers, Doers, Learners and the output of Effective Permaculturists

‘Knowers’ think, know but rarely Do,

Knowers learn only based on what they know.

Knowers are non-doing thinkers stuck in their ‘groove’,

‘Doers’ do but rarely think or aim to know. Doers are non-knowing thinkers stuck in their ‘move’

‘Learners’ by contrast learn.

Learners are a holism of the Knower and the Doer.

Learners learn and they do so in a multitude of ways – they feel, they think and they do so as to know and they do to enrich to their learning in order to know more.

Learners understand when to be creative and innovative and within a sense of individual order and structure.

The aim of permaculture and perma teaching should be to increase the output of Learners.

Learners in the above sense are Effective Permaculturists.

Perma Food: Trev’s Blood Dip – Food for the Zone 00 and all the Domains

So Trev’s Blood Dip

…. is a combination of foods groups (root vege, nuts & yoghurt) that when combined not only pack a nutrient dense punch but when prepared slowly and with care for taste and texture are amazing.

slow roasted caramellised beetroot and roasted almond dip.

Nutritionally this mix is good for the production of red blood cells (blood) in the bone marrow. the nutrient and functional food values from the combination of probiotics, trace elements, minerals – especially iron and protein combine to be a very good food for the Blood … hence Trev’s Blood Dip.


  • 2x medium beetroots – slow roasted for 2 hrs until shiny caramellised.
  • 1 cup yr choice of nut (here is almond but could use whatever) – slow toasted until yum smelling, chop into small pieces or grind using mortar pestle if you have time
  • black pepper – 2 tsp whole corns ground in a mortar & pestle – use good fresh, bitey pepper.
  • sea salt – 2-3 tsp flakes or granules (good sea salt has a broad mineral & trace element value) – here i used hawaiian pink salt – alalea sea salt – ‘mineral from the land & sea’ they say
  • fresh yoghurt – 5Tbs – here i made a fresh batch using a pre-set method – the greek yoghurt using this method is super yum.
  • egg mayonnaise  (optional) – 1tsp
put all the ingredients into a blender and mix until pureed
adjust the seasonings if desired.
to serve
bake a fresh bread loaf of bread  (use a wholemeal wheat or spelt flour for a hearty textured loaf).
once baked, let cool then toast the bread until its super crispy. cut into bits
to eat
using a teaspoon serve liberally onto toasty bits.
in between morsels have a teaspoon of fresh yogurt.
drink a cup of piping hot (milky) sweet black tea (or hot bevvy of choice)
Tech Notes for Perma Foods:
  • Foods like my Blood Dip here really do provide such incredible nutrient availability for sustained health & wellness. the nutrient and caloric density of these foods makes good ‘agronomic’ sense. when used amongst a variety of foods, functional food dips like this could easily be used as a low cost big-bang staple to reduce the volume (quantity) of food consumed but also the raise the nutritional value (quality). This could only make sense at the level of the value of soil to the need to feed people.
  • The beauty of living by the People Care principle is that you connect to food and to its value in an holistic manner. Preparing a diversity of nutritious food for ourselves and importantly for others – the people we care about – and importantly with time to enjoy and digest it falls into the Domain of Health & Spiritual Wellbeing in the Permaculture Design System Flower (David Holmgren).
  • By maintaining a balance across the Domains and with a good daily practice of permaculture principles I would argue that the Blood Dip is a food that sits squarely for the Zone 00.