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What Permaculture Teaches Us About Psychedelics

What Permaculture Teaches Us About Psychedelics

Permaculture helps us recognize systemic patterns and relationships—here's how that applies to the psychedelic movement.

Leia Friedman // Jan. 20, 2020

An Iroquis philosophy teaches us that, with every decision to make, we must consider the welfare of our kin seven generations into the future. Although the concept is easy to understand, it can be a challenge knowing where to begin. That’s where I see permaculture come to play—to secure our environmental and physiological well-being, for the long haul.

Born from the idea of “permanent agriculture,” permaculture is a creative design process used in farming that helps us to not only recognize the patterns, systems, and relationships found in nature, but also to mimic them as we plot out our farms, homes, and lives. Using whole-systems thinking, permaculture takes into account every aspect of the system in order to thoroughly express how each one symbiotically influences the other.

Permaculture may be applied to green building, off-grid living, urban farming, food and medicine cultivation, waste transformation, and so much more. The ethics and principles of permaculture can even guide us toward better social organizing, activism, economics, and community living. 

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Permaculture can even help us better navigate psychedelics: Just as permaculture takes into account the whole, complex system, the psychedelic experience manifests through multiple, often seemingly unrelated domains. Psychedelics can bring people together or help us recognize our similarities and connectedness; to see ourselves and our surroundings as part of one interrelated system. 

And while permaculture goes beyond environmental sustainability toward actually regenerating the land from destruction caused by human activity, intentional psychedelic work may also be regenerative for the individual and the community.

Learning how to live without causing more harm is groovy; practicing ways of living that regenerate life where there has been trauma and devastation…may be essential for continued human habitation of this planet.

From my personal experiences, psychedelics helped me heal in a way that made me feel rejuvenated, more in touch with my true self, and more functional than I had been prior to the struggles that brought me down. Learning how to live without causing more harm is groovy; practicing ways of living that regenerate life where there has been trauma and devastation, both to the earth and to our fellow human, may be essential for continued human habitation of this planet

There are 12 principles of permaculture recognized as the “basics,” and I’ll explain how each of these principles can be applied to the psychedelic movement. 

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1. Observe and interact

The principle that tells us to get our hands in the dirt, we must know the land and actively engage with it. The first step to benefiting from a psychedelic trip is to be active in the process. Notice the sensations, be present with what’s coming up, and ask yourself what this previously unconscious material has to teach you. In psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, the patient is an active participant in the therapy, working with a therapist and the medicine as tools to go deeper and allow their “inner healer” to direct the process. 

2. Catch and store energy

“Make hay while the sun shines” sums up this principle. When an energy source is abundant, catch and store it for later use. Before, during, and after the psychedelic experience, a lot of material can arise. I suggest taking notes where possible: Bring a journal to write or draw in, or you can have a sitter record what you say. Journal or create art after the journey to further process and remember the experience. According to psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, the end of the psychedelic journey is of critical importance, so remember to stay with your intention even as the experience begins to wear off. 

3. Obtain a yield 

This reminds us that you can’t work on an empty stomach. The effort that’s being applied should yield enough to make it worthwhile. Before a psychedelic experience, consider what brought you to this work. Have an intention, and harness it during and after the experience. Explore further insights, and integrate them so that the psychedelic’s benefit lasts after the trip ends. 

(A cautionary tale about this principle: As a person raised under capitalism, I was conditioned to care a lot about obtaining a yield, so I encourage you to be intentional about what yields you try to obtain and the means to get them—especially in a time of climate and humanitarian crisis.) 

4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

Self-regulation—observing feedback from one’s environment and responding accordingly—is essential for the psychedelic journeyer. The body and mind both give feedback, and so can the various support structures in our lives, such as friends, family, and co-workers. Whether you’re microdosing or taking deep dives into the medicine space, try to listen to feedback and apply it to your life, future psychedelic work (or abstinence), and integration. Also be sure to check in with yourself on why you are journeying or microdosing: Be careful not to mask the root of the problem by treating the symptoms.

5. Use and value renewable resources and services

Heed the proverb “let nature take its course.” Permaculturists don’t try to control nature, but rather look for what’s already naturally occurring and abundant, and utilize it skillfully. 

I suggest creating ceremony with what’s locally available, and avoid using endangered plants. Psychedelic plants can grow in almost every biome, either naturally or by cultivation (which is a great way to build a deeper relationship with the medicine). If you don’t have access to psychedelics, holotropic breathwork and other breathing techniques like Wim Hof’s methods can induce potent altered states.

Another renewable resource for the psychedelic journeyer is to investigate what annoys you. Emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear all present an opportunity to see ourselves, notice what might be coming up from our past, and confront what’s asking to be seen. Even interpersonal conflict presents an opportunity to learn about our values and needs. Look at points of resistance as your greatest teacher. 

Finally, community is an invaluable renewable resource. Join a local integration group or start your own (here’s a guide for that), where you can find support and accountability.

6. Produce no waste

“A stitch in time saves nine.” In a true permaculture design, there is no “waste management” because everything produced feeds another part of the system. Psychedelics may help you see how to live without wasting precious resources. Could you spend your time on social media in a more productive, nourishing way? Can you shift the way you give out your energy, so that you still have enough for your personal work, leisure, pleasure, play, and rest? How can we use what we have to make our communities and ourselves stronger, more compassionate, more resilient?

Another implication of this principle is to push for more sensible drug policy—whether for the sake of religious freedom, cognitive liberty, harm reduction, collective healing, or many other reasons. The greatest waste of all is incarcerating people for drug crimes (for which the racial disparity is staggering).

7. Design from patterns to details

“Can’t see the forest for the trees” reminds us that zooming out to see the whole picture can help us grasp the structure better than focusing on any one part. Once our foundation is sound, then we fill in the details. Identify the patterns and structures that are already in place in your life before trying to change details. Then, consider what patterns you want to design into your life to further your vision and mission.

8. Integrate rather than segregate

There are many ways to incorporate this principle. On a farm, for instance, decision making and planning should include everyone who will be impacted. Rather than various distinct projects, the farm should strive to incorporate all of the activity and production, fostering an interrelated system. 

With psychedelics, it can be daunting to distill messages from one’s journey into regular life—but integration is some of the most critical work, where the biggest changes can happen. Another important facet of this principle pertains to the infamous “bad trip.” If you consider that the “bad” parts are actually challenging experiences, then you may be able to glean positive nuggets from the experience later, as opposed to writing it off completely. What does this difficult thing have to teach me? With the right support, can I grow from this? 

9. Use small and slow solutions

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” While it can be tempting to construct a massive overhaul to solve a problem, the permaculturist favors subtle, extended solutions. After a significant psychedelic journey, you may find yourself wanting to make some big changes. Moving, ending relationships, changing jobs, getting tattoos, having a baby—these can be valid, beautiful expressions of your psychedelic realizations, but I suggest waiting at least two months before making any huge life shifts (except, of course, if you are leaving an abusive situation or stopping a dangerous behavior).

10. Use and value diversity 

The more diverse a system, the more resilient. This is why you’ll never see a monocrop in permaculture. According to permaculturist David Holmgren, “diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.”

As a cisgendered, economically privileged white woman, I acknowledge that my outlook is informed by my lived experience. Learning how to be in solidarity with folks on the margins is an ongoing process and is each of our responsibilities, especially as we work with these medicines to feel “oneness.” What we do outside the journey is critical for changing the world.

11. Use edges and value the marginal

Where the forest meets the meadow is an edge. Edges are some of the most valuable, diverse, and productive parts of a system. Humans have a tendency toward confirmation bias: We search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs—but psychedelics can bring us outside our normal perspectives to see things in a different light. 

The margins and edges of your perspective might be scary or uncomfortable. If you feel yourself being pushed to an edge that you don’t want to visit, try saying “no, I’m not going there right now,” and attempt to navigate your focus elsewhere. If you feel you have the capacity to do some deep work (or if saying “not now” didn’t work), ask that edge what it can teach you. When we run from the dark, it remains scary. If we confront it, we access potential for growth and healing. 

12. Creatively use and respond to change

Change is inevitable on a farm. When something unexpected happens, everyone needs to be prepared to deal with it. With psychedelic work comes the great potential for realizations and change (which might include realizing that psychedelics aren’t the right medicine for you). Be prepared to adapt and find what fits your needs and desires as you craft a life that reflects them. I recommend that anyone who is working with psychedelics seek support for making changes and implementing new habits or perspectives. 

On a broader scale, but equally relevant to the individual, is the urgency of the climate crisis, demanding immediate action. Scientific research into psychedelics’ therapeutic potential confirms what indigenous wisdom has indicated for generations: Culturally appropriate psychedelic use produces a greater reverence and care for nature. The psychedelic community could play an important role in environmental activism, such as through Psychedelic Earth Day—an international initiative to encourage greater awareness around the urgent need for better custodianship of life-supporting natural systems, and a more harmonious relationship with nature. See here for more details.

Leia Friedman, M.S. loves to connect the dots as a teacher, writer, and host of The Psychedologist: consciousness positive radio. Her work focuses on phenomena related to the human experience of consciousness through the lens of social and environmental justice.

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