How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story; Permaculture, Business and Mental Health Integrated Process #1

Hello! Let’s introduce some music into this blog -or it will dry up completely! Here is an old gothic song by Type O Negative, paying homage to my origins amongst the wilds of Scotland. I am the perennial Green Man.  Permaculture must always begin with wilderness! The wild non-human society of the whole of Earth is the mother of human society; and that umbilical chord is meant never to be broken.

This is a post all about my lifepath (the short version!) and how this bears on my current perception of myself as a practising ‘activist ecopreneur’ in the realms of mental health, business and Permaculture. I want to INSPIRE other folk who at heart want to try a similar path, folk who have a lot of drive if only they would uncover it and stop listening to the voices in society that would have them follow a conventional career path, to serve conventional masters. That is, those entrenched institutions of corporate capitalism, patriarchy and kyriarchy that would appear to reward coercion and greed. We must rebel against those! Resistance is everything!

This post may seem like a very self-absorbed exercise, but I feel that to properly know oneself, including one’s whole history in its socio-cultural (including political) context, is necessary for the wisdom required by the aspiring positive changemaker (that’s me). Permaculture -at least according to Graham Bell– requires that we individually and collectively track our impact on the Earth’s resources as far as possible. Coming to terms with my history will enable this. I will explore this further in future posts. I also want to build up trust with my readers; I want you to know me pretty well; and if you want, to learn from my victories and ‘mistakes’ i.e. learning experiences.

My first community breakdown, the first of many, (but of course, I am a modern person) happened when I was three years’ old and I was torn away from my early playgroup friends (Craig, Caroline, Kirsten) for the sake of my father’s career. From Scotland to the southwest of England. It was not his fault. Market forces prevailed. It was and still is, a rich man’s world, of course. It’s all about the money.

dark side of moon

My father left the family home when I was six, not to return (although I would see him fairly regularly.) This remains the central wound of my life. However it is a wound that has taught me a great deal about the makeup of society; about gender roles, capitalism and marriage; about patriarchy and class. Moreover, this initial wound has spurred me on to a deep interest in the creation of a sustainable human society. There was a delay of a few decades before the wound was really focused into this positive drive for global harmony. Meanwhile, and not necessarily through any fault of my father’s, I missed out on being fathered. It was perhaps an ideal and elevated version of ‘the father’ when I would think, ‘Wish You Were Here’.

I didn’t know anything about mental health, business or Permaculture for the first 20 years of my life; well, not very consciously or coherently. However, I did learn how to write. Off and on since primary school age I have loved to write. I have also found an affinity with musical expression since aged three, mainly using the family piano.. Add to that an enjoyment of drama from aged 11 onwards; so I’ve always been highly creative and expressive. I’ve only begun to properly focus my creativity and expression recently; now in my late thirties. The Epic Tomorrows blog is partly a manifestation of all those years of creativity, re-focused. I have every faith that this could be a stairway to heaven.

I went to university mainly because everyone said I should. I had a pretty difficult time although I made a good friend, since lost to me. After two years I suffered a ‘mental breakdown’ and left without a degree. For want of more explanatory words, I was ‘anxious’, ‘depressed’ and ‘paranoid’. This was the drug-induced breakdown of my spurious ‘self’. Looking back, it was something that needed to happen. The violence and suddenness of it was unnecessary (blame the criminalised drug trade) but I certainly needed psychic ‘rearrangement’ in order to grow as a human being relative to a complex modern society; relative to the context of my upbringing. The violence and suddenness of a lot of the music I listened to was also unnecessary, but I still hold a place for the energy and righteous anger of heavy metal! It’s in my roots.

roots

After my breakdown I was soon taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotics at the suggestion of the medical establishment. I was on these for a few years. Psychiatric medication is a very subtle issue on which I don’t want to be misunderstood. Let me put it like this: I strongly believe, from the research I have done, that although the medication superficially allowed me to move forward in life, on a deeper level it not only left the causes of my dis-ease unaddressed, but allowed underlying causes to be compounded and worsened by neglect. Nowadays, neuroscientists and psychiatrists at the top of their professions will admit that there is no known neurochemical cause of mental illness. This is despite public belief to the contrary, influenced by years of marketing by pharmaceutical companies. For an excellent and very well-researched expose of all psychiatric medications, please read this book Anatomy of an Epidemic. In short, the drugs don’t work, but I’m still very much alive.

-Which is more than I can say for some of the residents I worked with in a 12-bedded unit for adults living with ‘mental health issues’; knocked out by medication and the negative affirmations of psychiatrists-

-After I returned to Somerset from university, it took me a couple of years to get on my feet again. But something very beautiful happened. My deep suffering led to my feeling great empathy for other human beings for the first time; I wanted to help anyone and everyone who had ever suffered from mental ill-health. My own heart and mind were also helped enormously by taking up meditation in my mid-20’s. This helped me wean myself off psychiatric medication. My heart became a little firework. The problem was, in the mainstream mental health services, I was working in a system that on an institutional level didn’t care enough for the true causes and cures of mental dis-ease. After a few years, I left my mental health work, disillusioned.

To cut a longer story shorter, for the purposes of this post, I then started to volunteer on land-based projects; conservation projects, woodlands and smallholdings; gaining an understanding of land-based living and ecological sustainability issues. My attraction to these projects was partly their beneficial effect on my mental health, and I soon came to see, although I have only been able to fully express this recently, that mental health and the ecological sustainability of human culture as a whole, are fundamentally linked. I started to learn,  mercy, mercy me! about the ethics and principles of Permaculture (permanent culture) and how these could be applied to society in general; not just to sustainable food growing systems, which are the origin and specialisation of Permaculture.

During a few years where I lived on a low impact woodland project, mostly without electricity, in my own very individual way I developed a theoretical framework of ‘Permaculture’ (very loosely formed) with which I found it was useful to address all the ills of the world -including mental ill-health- in a coherent, sustainability-focused way. I developed strong political views during this time also, seeing the ‘neoliberal’ patriarchal corporate capitalist paradigm as the conglomerate evil monster of unsustainability that must be killed at all costs.

monster

 

All you good good people! It is only in the last three years or so that I have realised that capitalism, at least for the few decades to come, can be part of the solution, as well as the problem. In order to redistribute wealth for social and environmental justice (not to mention mental health!), change political and economic systems and weaken the power of the over-powerful institution of the nation state, there is a strong case for the rise of ethical, political, independent entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs whose aim it is with their businesses to re-embed human beings in their landscapes and create a globally sustainable human culture, necessarily involving challenges to those in government, local or central, as well as challenges to large corporations. Who said you can’t be an activist and an entrepreneur at the same time? I have now come to the view that more than ever we need those individuals who are critical of corporate capitalism in theory, to stop their hypocrisy of working for corporate giants and be more creative in how they make a living. This is the path I have chosen to follow, although in my case I was never working for a corporation (except perhaps the NHS).

In my own case, a fair degree of desperation and frustration have gone into my drive and aspiration to be an entrepreneur. I almost don’t know what else to do; but the ethics explained above and the integrity of my lifepath leading naturally into this new direction, still hold true. Nowadays, my mental health is a subtle subject (as any human being’s should be). I still suffer from certain extremes at times, addiction and instability. I still get kind of blue and I still need time out.

In modern times, mental health and well-being can best be expressed in terms of social and environmental sustainability; in other words, we need to ask ourselves, how are our emotional and mind states socially and environmentally defined, and how do they contribute to the larger narratives of our lives in the contexts of sustainable and unsustainable elements of modern global society?

Essentially, I am a writer first and an entrepreneur if I’m lucky. If one doesn’t follow from the other, at least I hope you get something from my writing. As for what’s to come, ah um...just…get ready!

christmas tree

 

Ideas (maximising edge)

Two nights ago, whilst asleep I had a vision. I call it a vision and not a dream because it had no narrative; it was just an image. Soon after I saw the image, I woke up. It was an image of a Permaculture tanker. It was a converted oil tanker, half a mile long, converted into a floating forest garden -based alternative community and human economy, growing its own biodiesel for the engines as well as having wing sails attached for extra propulsion. Who will help me realise this dream? You can buy a second-hand oil tanker for a few million on websites such as this: Tankers

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Two days ago I joined the monthly meeting of the Hatherleigh Edges Permaculture and Community Regeneration Group. This group is not just open to folk from the village of Hatherleigh, but also anyone who can get to the meetings who is interested in sustainable, ecology based community work, starting from Hatherleigh and expanding outwards. After feeling lonely recently, it was great to connect with my neighbours about issues and ideas such as supporting isolated elderly people in our local community and seed swapping.

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Yesterday morning, on my 30 mile cycle to Dartington for continuing counselling foundation skills training with Heartwood, I was simultaneously inspired and disgusted. Inspired by the Devon hedgerows and dry stone walls on the edge of Dartmoor, and disgusted by the fumes from passing vehicles that I could not help but inhale. Where is the network of motor vehicle – free bridleways criss-crossing Dartmoor, allowing cycle and horse travel between towns? Where are the public stables and undercover bike shelters? How’s this for a business idea?: a pub that caters specifically for cyclists and horseriders, with stables (as used to be common) and dormitory accommodation.

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And another thing: Is it Council for the Protection of Rural England or Council for the Protection of Industrial Agriculture?

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Yesterday’s Heartwood training was an introduction to Gestalt theory, in the context of counselling. A gestalt is an organised whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.  Thus, a human being is a gestalt of sorts. Gestalt-based counselling and psychotherapy aims at greater integration of all the parts of a person with each other / the whole, including the physical body and all the various aspects of the mind / personality. There is a focus on the experience of the present moment, and how psychological integration can be achieved in this present moment. How could this approach be used to integrate human society better with itself and Nature? I would love to start a discussion on this theme. Please comment below! Here is some more on Gestalt: Gestalt

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Sometimes, distinct words will pop into my mind as if from nowhere, in the voices of different kinds of people that I have encountered in the past. There is often emotional content to these words, and they often have a double or triple meaning. For instance, yesterday as I was approaching Newton Abbott by bike, the word FTSE / ‘footsie’ appeared in my mind, and I heard it spoken by a woman of my age or perhaps a little younger, with some humour and warmth. It was spoken in a confiding way, as if advising me on the direction I should take (the words often have this feel). The meanings were that first, I could do with paying more attention to the stock market (it could be useful for any entrepreneur) and secondly that it is ok for me to be in a warm, flirty place with women, although I struggle with this. Does this experience sound bizarre? It is just part of my gestalt; it is how my unconscious sometimes alerts my conscious; by using semi-fictional identities of generic characters, based on people I have met in the past or encountered through digital and other media. I think my unconscious has developed this dynamic guiding process in line with my very conscious yearning to ‘learn from everyone in order to help everyone’.

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Positive affirmations: they only work if you imbue them with emotional content, and if you also work to manifest what they relate to. Otherwise they can result in internal conflict and soul-destroying disappointment.

Here are some positive affirmations and wisdom sayings I’ve used, some self-penned, some assimilated from elsewhere: ‘I am enough’ /// ‘I am innocent’ /// ‘I am fearless’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…total observation of Nature’ /// ‘Love is the Law, Love under Will’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…beginning everything with death in mind’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…total freedom from addiction’ /// ‘Character is greater than personality’ /// ‘The best heroes have a combination of vulnerability and strength’ /// ‘Anxiety and stress can often be a sign of doing too much or too little’ /// ‘Private victory before public victory’ /// ‘Victorious warriors win in their hearts before going into battle’ /// ‘Everything is me’ /// ‘The opposite of addiction is connection’ /// ‘Be proactive’ /// ‘Begin with the end in mind’ /// ‘I am not afraid to be a leader. I am not afraid to explore uncharted territories.’

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City-country conduits: Statistics like these show that the world’s population is increasingly urbanised. Articles like these show that humanity could be at risk of a major breakdown of civilisation either this century or the next. Since cities import most of their food, energy and water from outside the city limits, their densely-packed populations are more immediately at risk from a society-wide breakdown in economic and energy infrastructures.  I have long thought that the resilience of civilisation as a whole could be improved by establishing conduits between city and country in a way which increased understanding and communication between rural and urban populations, as well as flows of energy and resources both ways to reduce the impact of infrastructure breakdown on cities, and the potential burden on the country of fleeing urban citizens. This would in essence be a releasing of pressure on cities by ‘merging’ them better with their rural surrounds, but not in an environmentally destructive way. Regional food security is also implied in this vision, so that ideally, polyculture food growing systems would surround the city and provide all of its food needs (not a new idea). Most importantly I would like to see well-planned and sustainable mobility between city and country increased significantly. I smile at the prejudice of ignorance that exists between city and country dwellers. When I am in the city, sometimes even my most intelligent city friends may make ignorant remarks about rural dwellers and rural life, and when I am around my rural home, I will likewise hear fearful and ill-informed remarks about city-dwellers. This isn’t necessary! This kind of two-way prejudice will only make any serious large-scale infrastructure shocks -which as I’ve said are not unlikely this century- be felt worse and dealt with less efficiently.

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Ensuring Earth is fit for the next seven generations: This is the ‘7th generation principle’ of governance and human culture in general, as propounded by various Native American tribes. It is the idea that every human action and every human decision should have a benign or regenerative effect on the next seven generations of humans to live on the planet, by caring for Nature as a whole (that which supports us). By average modern understandings seven generations amounts to 7 x 25 years = 175 years. This benchmark of sustainability is often quoted in modern movements towards ecological living, but we don’t always stop to appreciate that seven generations is 175 years. Perhaps we should. I advocate sitting in meditation, alone or as part of a group, and trying to envision what the Earth might be like in 175 years. It is almost impossible to guess at, which is precisely the point. How often do communities, businesses and governments plan this far ahead? With the the increasing intelligence of our software, one hopes that more of this will be directed towards scenario planning and global strategy with Earth’s overall ecology at its core. If well-directed, and that means by human beings with deep empathy and experience of Nature, AI could be a force for greatness in putting the 7th generation principle into practice. It’s time to bring the wilderness into Silicon Valley!

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DEEPLY SUST: sustainable events management. Don’t you think it’s a good name? Use it if you like and please feel free to credit me. This is just a vague idea I had for a company. Festivals, even the most ecological ones, have dubious sustainability credentials. They involve the transportation of materials and people from miles around, sometimes even from abroad, to all converge on one poor overburdened location before being transported all the way back again. A truly sustainable events management company would look at how different festivals and events could better network with each other and share infrastructures and materials. It would also advise events and festivals within a given region or even nation on how to organise and synchronise calendars for maximum efficiency, skill-share, custom and positive ecological impact between all. Additionally, lasting legacies for all local communities that hosted festivals and events would have to be looked at. How about that for sustainability?

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‘REAL BOYS’, ‘REAL GIRLS’ and ‘TRANSREAL’: Where are the magazines for real girls and real boys, and for that matter, trans kids and the genderwild? When I walk into a big newsagents and look at the magazines sections for children and teenagers, I want to throw up. They are full of damaging stereotypes, plastic toys and the usual bullshit obsession with celebrity. I know that isn’t what every child wants, but somehow, because it’s what most children have been convinced they want, this vacuous culture revolving around Barbie and Action Man -like stereotypes still dominates. Apparently there are no risk-taking entrepreneurs in the children’s magazine industry. Where is ‘Real Girls’ magazine? ‘Real Boys’? ‘Transreal’?

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CO-OPETITION: My idea for a co-opetition is a competition that rewards co-operation over competition at every step of the process. I understand this is a paradox. It would take some clever designing to create motivating and sustainable co-opetitions with prizes. I know there are people doing this already, and maybe I / you can join them. We need innovation to save the world from ourselves, but innovation does not just happen in ruthlessly competitive contexts, as the hyper-capitalists would have us believe. Innovation happens in regenerative community contexts, indeed it must if society is to survive.

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POSITIVE SCENARIO MATHEMATICS: Where are the software designers and mathematicians working together with ecologists, permaculturists, alternative financial analysts, energy experts and complex systems theorists to design scenario planning apps for the lay person, and the activist or business organisation, ensuring the greatest positive ecological impact of all our trajectories, in ways which reflexively weave as many human life-paths as possible into well defined mutually agreeable outcomes? Come on people, get to work!

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ECOMOVES: Where are all the companies that offer to clear houses and bankrupt business premises in the most ecologically sound ways possible? Including the recycling and ‘upcycling’ of objects and materials and selling for profit, using the timing of moving to new homes and premises to introduce more sustainable practices and materials as standard? These companies could build up databases of sustainable clients and businesses with which to woo their customers, providing much more than standard removal and installation services.

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PSYCHEDELIC CARE-HOMES: Where are all the psychedelic carehomes? I mean the ones playing 60’s and 70’s music, the ones with space hoppers, magic mushrooms, meditation, radical politics and all the other signs of the counter-cultural revolution? I haven’t visited any care-homes for the elderly in a while, but the people who turned 18 in 1960 are now aged 76. Are the more alternative and radically left wing elderly types being catered for? Are they being catered for enough?