When I encountered the first Permaculture principle ‘observe and interact‘, my impression was that it’s mainly utilitarian. You want to plant a garden, so you take some time to observe where there is light and shadow, what the prevailing wind is, and how you habitually move through the space. Or you are growing cabbages and need to observe them carefully so you can brush away the eggs of the cabbage white butterfly before they become hungry caterpillars.
These things are, of course, important. Much time and energy, not to mention cabbage, is saved by being aware of what is going on around us and responding accordingly. My practice as a Druid adds another dimension to this principle, though.
When I started exploring Pagan and Druid ideas, one of the first things that became a regular practice for me was to look at Nature more closely. I remember sitting in a London park with an autumn leaf. I looked at its colours, varying from green and brown to deep maroon red. I examined the branching pattern of its veins and its five-lobed shape. But most of all I was allowing myself to feel every aspect of that leaf in my body. How the green felt different from the red. And how my body felt as I imagined travelling down each little vein.
As a Druid, I tend to frame that as ‘listening to the spirit of the leaf’. Many Druids are Animists, who believe that everything has a consciousness and is capable of communicating. Humans can also participate in that conversation. All we have to do is become still enough and hear the quiet voices of other-than-human beings.
Finding that stillness and communication is not really any different from what I was doing with that leaf. With a bit of practice, and widening out my senses, I learned how feel the specific character of a place, and intuit how I could interact with it.
What that interaction involves varies with the place and changes over time. It’s about listening to the spirit of the place and responding to what it wants. Sometimes I leave food offerings. Sometimes I give compost to a hungry vegetable patch.
Often, the spirits of the land just want some more attention. They are used to humans rushing past them, busy with their own thoughts and agendas. They love it when we sit and just open our senses to watch and listen.
A few years ago, I created an online course to help people do exactly that. The Magic of Connection comes in nine e-mails, free to your inbox. You may want to give it a go and see what happens.
Closely observing Nature, whether we feel that helps us communicate with Spirit or not, is a spiritually enriching activity. It lets us use our innate senses to their full potential and develops our feelings of belonging to something larger than ourselves.
So go out there and listen to the voice of the wind, dance with the sunlight and smell the roses. You and your garden will feel better for it.