This episode contains an interview with one of my anarcho-punk brothers from back in the day. We recorded this conversation over 6 years ago yet it remains a compelling primer on the evolution of radical ecological movements and the their dynamics within the punk underground.
TRIGGER WARNING: This episode contains discussion of sexual abuse and healing.
This is a split release with Tom Denney of Esoteric Origins podcast. Tom’s art reflects a clear lens into astral ecology. We discuss how his art is helping to depict the unseen world so we can better understand the mechanics of shamanic healing. We discuss my shamanic initiation, soul retrieval, and practice of psychedelic goddess worship.
Esoteric Origins Podcast
Tom Denney’s Art
In this episode we discuss the punk movement, philosophy, and ethics and their relevance to survivalism. We explore a range of subtopics from rebuilding masculinity, permaculture, homesteading, homelessness, street justice, anarchy and more.
Survival Punk is a blog created by James Burnette. James takes a rational, creative approach to self-reliance, applying a punk DIY ethic to survivalism without any of the fear mongering or “tinfoil hattery” found in some other areas of the survivalist movement.
The Survival Punk blog covers a huge range of his projects, both success and failures along with a healthy bit of myth busting. He also provides a ton of dirt cheap creative solutions to common prepping needs and does a great job of integrating the paleo lifestyle with the prepping lifestyle.
Check out his blog and podcast at:
It’s an open ended questioning of what aspects of these two subcultures would be voluntarily perpetuated into the future once the social, ecological, and sexual liberation we fight for so desperately is finally achieved.
This episode is a conversation with Mark A. Michaels (Swami Umeshanand Saraswati), an old-school east coast punk rocker who’s been initiated into a traditional tantra lineage and has been co-authoring books and teaching tantra with his beloved wife for many years.
We discuss the complementary aspects of the punk rock movement and the tantric path of consciousness expansion and personal, spiritual, and erotic empowerment.
For more information and to connect with Mark please go to:
Read his great essay on tantra and punk here: http://tantrik.blogspot.com/2007_06_01_archive.html
In this episode I read an article I wrote several years ago describing my first tantra workshop in Los Angeles where I experienced the power of divine feminine and masculine energy in a guided group dancing ritual.
I discovered ancient sources of empowerment that energized my revolutionary punk spirit.
Craig Lewis is a Certified Peer Specialist living and working in Massachusetts. He has struggled immensely with mental health issues throughout his life; however he has successfully transformed this into a life of wellness. Craig is successfully working as part of an outreach team in Boston, Massachusetts. He also tours the country, speaking about his lived experience, sharing his struggles and triumphs to help others.
Craig has authored and published the Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook. Craig based the Better Days workbook on his personal life and recovery, and every page has been used successfully in peer group settings. A Better Days support group facilitation guide is currently being developed as are Spanish and French language versions of the Better Days workbook.
Craig also has edited and published You’re Crazy Volume One which compiles first-hand accounts of people from the punk rock scene who live with mental illness, addiction and trauma. A second volume of You’re Crazy is in the works.
Craig can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please take a look at Craig’s websites for more information about his books, projects and events.
This was one of my columns in Profane Existence magazine addressing the need for punks to study and practice permaculture as a revolutionary praxis. You can read the text of the column here:
Tantra as Punk
The universe itself was danced into existence. According to tantric cosmogony, Shiva (masculine energy) and Shakti (feminine energy) combined to create a balance of matter and spirit. We’re the living manifestation of that balance, though in this profaned world age know as the Kali Yuga, the balance has been lost and social and ecological crisis are the result of a rampant dispirited materialism. Tantra, the mother of all Yogas, was developed in ancient India as a revolutionary praxis to restore harmony. It was originally taught by women and was made available as a public resource that transected the caste system.
When I discovered the radical nature of tantric tradition, it resonated with my punk spirit and ethics and made be look at the alchemical caldron of the mosh-pit in a whole new way. Perhaps, punks were unknowingly and without guidance tapping into a deeper pathway to ecstasy, empowerment, and bliss.
In early 2009 I attended my first tantra class. The teacher had the group of about 40 strangers (half women, half men) stand up and do some yogic body movements to get their energy flowing. Then she gave a presentation on the history, origins, concepts, and applications of an array of spiritual tools to reach higher consciousness through self-love and relationships.
She stated that her background was in eco-activism and community organizing. I was stoked because she approached this spiritual work as a warrior goddess and hoped to empower the group to liberate themselves from and resist the negativity and programming of the industrial system. Further, she emphasized the need to clean our bodies and energy fields and to elevate our consciousness.
She then organized us into a dance where all of the women created an outer circle and all of the men created an inner circle facing the women. She instructed the women to evoke their erotic goddess power to love, heal, nurture, seduce, and be wild and primal. The women were to build this energy through their dance and give full presence and attention to the man they were facing. The men were instructed to not engage our genital sexual energy, but rather to take the building heat and energy produced through the transfer of feminine energy, draw it up through our chakra systems, and apply it to visualizations of our highest self-transcending purposes. The exercise was intended to give women a safe space to really cultivate their sensual/sexual energies and apply these energies to heal and empower the men. This helped the men get beyond our base sexual desire and selfish egos and apply divine energy towards positive trans-personal transformation.
At first there was a lot of awkwardness and tension, but the teacher did an amazing job to help people understand this was not about coupling, or even being turned on. The level of presence and energy profoundly moved the men. They all seemed to be entranced and enchanted, not with the individual they were dancing with, but by the channeling of pure inter-dimensional energy by the whole group.
There was no touching, just dancing, deep breathing and eye contact. The key for this to work so well was that every minute or so the teacher clapped loud enough to be heard over the music, and the women rotated to the next man.
There were people of all walks of life and levels of experience with this kind of stuff. At first there was unease but the collectivity of love, trust, and abandonment of ego and self-hood led to a melting away of fear. Eventually we achieved the dissolution of our social masks that we normally hide behind and trap our essence in. A deep sense of unity was established and the level of healing that started to occur brought me to tears. This may sound like just a bunch of hippies dancing at a drum circle, but having experienced both, I can tell you that this was radically advanced.
I was making a sacred connection with each woman. They all opened their hearts and gave of themselves and the universe with such authenticity and purity it felt like making love to the cosmos, experiencing the goddess and being a god. Not just symbolically but experientially. It was a real felt experience: the presence of surging, flowing, electrifying, energy filling my body and giving me a tangible sense of spirit. I was able to work with it and direct it through my body, through my mind, my visions, and my intentions. Everyone was in tune, doing the same thing to create a sacred vortex of divine energy. If you don’t like the word “spirit”, simply “energy” will suffice. What we were being guided to create was a field of energy that was generated and charged by dance and connected with and channeled through the conduits of eye contact and breath.
It was so awesome to see the depth and richness grow and to see the men and women slowly let go of their shyness. It was a multilayer journey that started with a building up of fiery animalistic seductive energy, then moved towards a totally healing nurturing compassionate gentle maternal energy. The teacher kept people engaged, focused, and directed in their dancing and intention. By just saying a word, she was able to change the character of the entire room’s energy; you could almost see the colors change in the auric fields.
At the heights of the dance, each breath I took in, as my eyes were locked with a dancing woman, was like taking a hit of some kind of potent third-eye dilating drug that sent energetic shock waves through my entire being. As I danced, I felt what one woman described as the “sculpting of auras”. She said at first she was just dancing, in her self, dancing with movements she self-consciously created but as the dance evolved, she began to move in currents and patterns that were totally beyond her conscious control. She began to sculpt the male aura in a loving and healing way.
After the female to male exercise, the roles were reversed and the males were put in the outer circle and instructed to attempt to impress the females. This was really comical and challenging for many of us. The dominant culture teaches men that to impress a woman, one must offer a display of alpha male machismo, financial wealth, and/or social status. Without being able to pull up in a fancy car, act tough and intimidating, or appear to be of high rank, for the first time a lot of the guys were left with only their ability to speak through their eyes and dance movements.
We looked like a bunch of fools, but in time, energy from beyond our conscious minds began to animate us into sacred geometric patterns of motion that ended up becoming very much like what the females had been doing. We felt as though we were massaging and sculpting the auras of the females though with a more masculine type of energy. It was an exercise to bring forth the positive, constructive, creative masculine traits and create space to cultivate male strength and power in a nurturing and giving manner, not in the so often culturally conditioned hostile taking manner.
After the dances, the group did a series of chakra clearing exercises based on ancient Egyptian martial arts. It was basically a series of striking movements combined with breath and visualization whereby each strike is designed to break through and throw out blockages in our energy systems. It felt like a sort of DIY self-exorcism.
We closed the evening with a discussion of how we felt, and what we had experienced. After we all expressed how profound and life-changing the dancing was, the conversation moved in the direction of confronting patriarchy by using sacred traditional ways to restore balance. It was clear to all of us that the sacred feminine (which had been honored in prehistory but violently and systematically suppressed world-wide over the last 5,000 years) is never more than a few breaths away from all of us. As an energy it flows through all of us whether male, female, queer, straight, or any combination thereof.
You don’t have to read a book and believe what prophets, saints, priests, and gods tell you to believe and have faith in. You don’t have to imagine divine energy, you see it and feel it under the proper direction. Ancient tantric culture developed the means to actively engage real power and energy that we now suppress and deny.
I think the gateway concept to get people to understand the potential of this kind of healing/therapeutic/empowering energetic work is to ask if they’ve ever felt energetic sensations in their heart area. Everyone has had crushes, and many of us have been heart broken. During those times it’s impossible to deny that there are energy fields and circuits that exist beyond our normal perception of the physical world, and are beyond the current scope of scientific instruments of measurement.
You don’t have to follow a religious doctrine to discover and work with your own energy fields. There are many pathways to direct your attention towards them and to develop and cultivate them as you would your intellect or your muscles. Sacred sexuality, martial arts, singing/chanting, dancing, meditation, and many other means are available. Less ascetic cultures valued and held sacred the ability to transcend the normal waking state and access higher states of mind and body through ritual practice.
You don’t have be a freaky hippie on a commune, a Buddhist monk, or move to India to start to reclaim these skills. You can do it yourself, and it can enhance any lifestyle and social identity you have. Yoga is a ritualized practice that has transcended almost every sector of society. I am now thoroughly convinced that Yoga’s highest potential is realized by its maturation into Red Tantra (sexual yoga). Imagine a sexual health and wellness studio at every strip mall between the karate dojo and the yoga studio.
Blazing a Trail
In my early punk years I had fully rejected all religion and without knowing it, all spirituality. Within the last few years I’ve been able to reclaim experiences of the sacred, without limiting myself to belief in religion. Our profane existence can become sacred on our own terms. I used to chant “No Gods, No Masters” but now I feel more like we are all goddesses and gods, and if we choose a path of self-mastery, we can truly be our own masters. It’s my hope that we’ll evolve new ways to access very old sacred experiences that will help us return to sensually embodied, primal, animistic polytheism.
As I’ve pushed myself to go beyond the mosh pit and learned to dance in other circles, I’ve found that there are many allies for social justice that I once dismissed as hedonistic ineffectual hippies. Now I feel much more whole and balanced and can experience the best of both worlds. Punks can benefit from being more spiritual, and spiritualists can benefit from being more punk.
The new age movement is often blinded by its obsession with the light, and overlooks the pain and power to be transmuted from the shadow. As much as I love the hearts, flowers, rainbows, and unicorns of the more hippie scene, I’ll never be able to forget the powerful rage that comes from confronting the dark imagery of the profane reality that we inhabit.
Conversely, the punk movement is often blinded by its obsession with the shadow. Punks often won’t wear clothes with any color other than black, won’t transcend the lower emotional vibrations and transmute the rage into love. Worst of all, punks are in their own words “born to die in the gutter”; disillusionment leads to disempowerment, nihilism, and self-destruction, alcoholism doesn’t help. I’ve lost two band mates to overdose, and many friends to suicide. If only they’d tasted the elixir of tantric bliss, they’d still be here, healing more than hurting.
Eventually we’ll be able to synthesize the two visionary movements. The artwork of Jeremy Clark does this for me. It depicts both the dark and bright aspects of the post-industrial future. I’ve dedicated myself to building a bridge by creating sacred dance music with punk song structures, lyrics, and intensity.
Another punk aspect of tantra is its inherent radical feminist attitude towards the sexual ethics of consent. Tantra is a powerful tool to empower the masses to end rape and sexual abuse. Tantra demands absolute full presence and consciousness for consent, for how can you worship the divinity in the person you desire to touch if you’re blacked out drunk and/or forcing yourself upon them? What does every male rapist and sexual abuser have in common? The lack of a system of ethics that prevents them from disgracing themselves and others through misuse of their most holy object, their Lingam (Wand of Light). I’ve launched the Tantra Task Force to bring the practical application of Tantra into abuse prevention and sexuality education.
My Initiation as a Healer
Over the last several years I’ve been blessed to study under and train with an array of modern tantra masters. In the process I’ve discovered healing gifts I didn’t know I had and many who I’ve worked with encourage me to become a Daka (sexual shamanic healer). Like most ancient arts be they martial, sexual, medical, etc. modern western commercial society has reduced the richness and complexity of the tantric life path into sessions and weekend retreats. Though well worth the price, my punk ethics drive me to liberate this powerful healing modality and make it more affordably accessible to the low income masses. I feel strongly that I must serve in the spirit of Tantra’s traditional roots and make it a public resource to be experienced at legally sanctioned Goddess Temples. My poem Permaculture Goddess Temples lays out a vision for an edenic neo-tantric future.
Close your Eyes, Breath Deeply and Visualize this:
In a deep meditation the voice of the Goddess whispered to me: “Ben, what’s the fastest way to reforest the planet?” I didn’t know. She gave me this vision: train the rock and movie stars to be tantric sexual healers then put them through a permaculture design course. They’ll get off the hamster wheel of divorce and drug addiction and naturally choose to use their sexual capital to heal the planet. Imagine the tabloid headline: Sexiest Celebrities in the World offer Free Lingam and Yoni Massages for Anyone Who Plants a Fruit Tree.
I live to smash patriarchy from the bedroom to the boardroom by teaching men and women the anthropological history and prehistory of human domination. For 99% of our species’ existence we lived in nomadic egalitarian hunting/gathering bands. Without being settled, controlling territory/property and without producing male controlled productive surplus, we shared power equally. However approximately 10,000 years ago, some human cultures began to form permanent settlements, domesticate plants and animals, and stratify into authoritarian classes. Starting around 5,000 years ago, the first fortified settlements were built, we now call these war based settlements “cities”. Civilization is thus the process by which once relatively peaceful and equal societies have either enslaved themselves, animals, and the earth, or have been conquered and enslaved.
Anthropologically I see the BDSM movement as an attempt to bring the underlying trauma of civilization and industrial slavery into creative, healing, social contexts. We “play” with the gender roles and power dynamics that the dominant culture forces us to “work” within. It’s the only way to gain a sense of self-determination and sovereignty in a world that’s out of control.
The movement also reclaims the primal, ancestral need to achieve group states of ritualized ordeal induced altered ecstatic states.
I believe that most fetishes are a cultural immune responses that are reacting to the pathology of religious/agricultural/industrial/corporate domination and exploitation.
From a radical/eco feminist perspective, I advocate conscious active resistance to the patriarchal paradigm. It is my hope that we’ll reject and redesign war based urban environments and economies so that they nurture the earth and the feminine principle. A great resource on the rise of patriarchal dominance, and the conquest of peaceful goddess worshipping cultures is the documentary “Goddess Remembered” http://www.nfb.ca/film/goddess_remembered/
In my experience, the most powerful weapon in the struggle for liberation of the feminine divine, is the application of Tantra. A Tantric renaissance would provide the sexual/social/psychological technologies needed to break the spell of submission to the masters of patriarchy.
The rebalancing of earthly and divine masculine and feminine energies would ultimately relieve the contorted pressure built up in our individual psyches and most fetishes would fade out of existence. I think it’s worth questioning the voluntary perpetuation of certain forms of kink that in effect reproduce the pathology of the dominator culture.
When we return to natural balance, shed industrial slavery, reforest, rebuild soil, and reclaim our birthright to thrive on a peaceful Edenic garden planet by design, we’ll no longer need to “process” through BDSM. We won’t have as much dammed, frustrated, twisted pain trapped in our nervous systems needing to be constantly exorcised.
We can identify and salvage the transcendent primal aspects of body modification, deprivation, bondage, ordeal, shamanic trance, etc. and bury the medieval torture aesthetic.
I feel the same way about punk rock. A lot of punks had sell out ex-hippie parents (like in the movie Pump Up the Volume). They couldn’t understand why we made loud, aggressive, abrasive sounding music. They wanted to create a groovy world of peace and serenity and made a tie-dyed, bongoed, sandaled subculture to strive for their ideals within during the late 60s.
By the late 70s, the punk rock movement, taking the radical politics to a further extreme, created a dark reactive aesthetic that presented the Jungian “shadow” of the collective unconscious. Punk is a cultural scab on the festering wound of the failure of the 60s. It’s as if to say, okay mom and dad you tried peace and love, got your asses kicked by riot police, lost momentum when your leaders were jailed, and after the war, your movements dissolved and you rejoined the suburban rat race…you sold out…so In this generation, it’s “no more mister nice guy! Punk is going to get raw, in your face, dirty, nasty, angry, vulgar, negative, hostile, critical, uncompromising, threatening, violent, destructive, fatalistic, etc.
In the U.S. the punk movement is perhaps the most privileged and apathetic, however throughout Latin America, Europe, Southeast Asia and beyond, the revolutionary punk movement is a serious political force.
It’s debatable whether punk will bring down the system and deliver total liberation to the masses world-wide. But it’s worth engaging in the thought experiment: what if somehow magically, punk did succeed. What if it did fulfill it’s ultimate mission: to create sustainable autonomous anarchy to be managed by small retribalized self-sufficient collaborative communities?
What if the punks won? For how long after the victory would all of that angst exist, would their be a toxic polluted war-torn world to base the militant/skull/bullet-belt reactive aesthetic on? Or would all of those memes just fade out of cultural memory?
That’s why I say that both BDSM and punk are cultural scabs. They reflect the dominator culture, they are a tactical weapon against the dominator culture, and they help us cope and grapple with the predicament of being trapped within the dominator culture. But when the dominator model is once again restored to a partnership model, the scab will flake off, giving way to a scar; a scar hopefully big enough that we’ll never be able to forget it and forever carry the wisdom not to make the same mistakes.
When the scab flakes off, what will our transcendent group sexual rituals look and feel like? What will our once dark and abrasive music sound like? I don’t think we’ll be singing Kum Ba Yah in bell bottoms and bandanas. But we will be singing and drumming around camp fires.
In the deep primitive future, we’ll once again be the highest expression of the local ecology. We’ll be the “most beneficial element in the natural system”, rather than the most destructive. Our sexual energy will flow freely and will be guided by the wisdom of shamanic elders, not dammed and twisted by scriptures.
I ask the BDSM scene, which revels in the perpetuation of dominator themes and memes: what role shall we play in this epic moment of opportunity to recreate authentic ecological partnerships with the land beneath our feet? Can we not apply our biological exuberance, fiery passion, and long list of technical and craft skills towards building eco-villages? If a percentage of time and energy was applied to growing our own produce, raising our own meat, catching our own rainwater, composting our own waste, managing our own wood lots, building our own earthen shelters, etc. would we not distribute the load of frustrated energy that contorts our psyches to the point of chronic sexual perversion?
I’m not judging anyone’s fetish, I’m just doing as Timothy Leary advised and questioning everything. Every phenomenon, physical or cultural has a historical context. There was a time before “x” came into being, and there will be a time after. What is the historical context of these bizarre fetishes that have seized upon us? Did they have a functional adaptive advantageous evolutionary utility for our ancestors living in the wild? I think when you peel back the current historical layer, the answer is absolutely yes. But again the need to “ex-state”, to access non-ordinary states of conscious was met by transcendent rituals, rites of passage, ceremonies, controlled induction of pain and ordeal.
So called primitive cultures are filled with freakish practices, so I’m not saying stop getting turned on by pretending to be a dog. I’m just asking, how can pretending to be a dog be brought out of the dungeon and become a healthy part of the fabric of a sustainable tribal culture? Might it morph into a more traditional form of masked totemistic story-telling dance? (see The Spirit of the Mask: http://youtu.be/DtT82PAHZr8).
Towards the evolution of deep ecologically correct, kink-friendly, shameless, free, neo-tribal cultures!
I was 18 in 1998 when I went to Sasha Scatter’s permaculture workshop at the Spurkraft diy/punk warehouse in Portland, Oregon. I was deeply moved by his thorough and heart-felt words. I remember he spoke about how the industrial agricultural system grows our food in nutrient depleted soil, how by laying down cardboard, dead leaves, and other organic matter you can mimic the recycling of nutrients on the forest floor and accelerate succession. He also mentioned how they have to spray vitamins onto Cheery-Os because processed food is so devoid of nutritional value. He explained how by working with, rather than against natural systems you could create ever more productive and fertile soil and crops.
That day we started to do some prep work for installing a permaculture garden but for some reason I don’t’ think the project ever came to fruition either due to soil contamination, land lord issues, or typical punk inefficacy. If I had a time machine I would go back to that day and take my guitar away until my teenage self spent as much time learning and mastering permaculture design as I did learning solos.
Over several of the following years I had numerous opportunities to help my more green thumbed friends in their backyard gardens, but I was never that psyched on it. It just seemed to yield so little and take so much time and effort. It wasn’t “my thing” really either. I’d rather be shredding on the guitar or being politically active in what appeared on the surface to be more agitational/confrontational ways.
Later when I was actually in close proximity to a fully functional permaculture project, I was virtually blind to it because the ideological camp I was in was such a manarchist macho insurrectionist-wanna-be revolutionary vanguard it scoffed at permaculture as yet another form of tame, soft, reformist, life-style anarchism. Tragically and foolishly, we sneered and snickered, thinking we knew everything and were better than everyone.
I know now that what the eco-feminists (including my own dear ex-lover) said about us was absolutely right.
I had little if any sacred connection to Mother Earth.
Just as women’s work is devalued in the dominant patriarchal society, feminized work in revolutionary movements is all too often invisible and inglorious. Gardening is for all sexes and genders and all must cultivate creative, nurturing, intuitive feminine energy within to succeed in cultivating the crops needed to feed the revolutionary war effort.
I wanted to play GI-Joe revolutionary and generally lacked the emotional intelligence, sensuousness, and patience to have authentic relationships with plants and animals. I had an inflamed ego and intellect and spent most of my time in hot winded debates in college, collective meetings, at the bar, and in street protests.
There were good and pure hearts involved in that scene, but that heart energy was misdirected and poisoned by corrupt male egos. There were some backyard gardeners among us, but we were all still living mostly off the industrial system’s food supply chain, even if a lot of it was eco-friendly, organic, vegan, and locally produced. We were still paying money for it, and would have starved to death within in a few weeks if the system we so passionately wanted to fall would have even stumbled.
It wasn’t until about 2003, 5 years after my first exposure to permaculture, that I came to a point in my political/ecological thinking that I realized that even if I don’t have a green thumb, and I’d rather be acting out my masculine revolutionary hero fantasy in mythic street battles, there was an inherent paradox. If I’m fighting to bring down the system, yet I’m completely dependent on it and it’s dumpsters for every aspect of my survival, then to bring down the system would inescapably mean bringing myself down as well. This sprouting thought continued to take root in my mind and soon the implications were too powerful to ignore.
I imagined a little comic strip that showed all different types of intellectual ideological windbags who shout out their theses and pound down their fists at the bar or podium, being held accountable to the source of caloric energy that was financing their cause, campaign, or career. What if in order to criticize the system you had to produce the caloric energy used for your rants? What if you could only bash the system with food energy you grew yourself or bartered directly from your local organic farmers? There would be great silence on the left.
On a more serious note, a synchronistic set of events unfolded that forced me to trip out really hard on the future of punk. I was watching a good friend’s diy Mad Max style video production where he and some friends chased each other around in motorized scooters with classic punkified/tribalistic armor and portrayed primal, bestial, feral mortal combat.
Something hit me hard and I realized, wait a minute, the future is real, it does exist wherever it exists and it’s determined completely by our actions now. That seems obvious but that means that we are directly responsible for it. Since most of us are caught up in our own ego-based life-dramas, we rarely pause to apply what I like to call fourth-dimensional psychology and imagine how our actions today will shape the future of our own punk progeny. At some point in the evolution of punk, our descendents will be surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s not just a sci-fi film genre, or a religious cult phenomenon, or just a great theme to write brutal music for. No it’s real and it’s out there, how close we don’t know exactly but by all measures it’s getting closer and closer.
So that begs the question, what will that world look like for punks? My college background in human ecology made me realize that I needed to let go of my anxiousness to be in the revolution, and spend more time seriously thinking about how life would look for the punks that survive catastrophe.
Would there be overflowing dumpsters? Would there be government hand-outs? Would there be people to spange from? Would there be corporate markets to shop-lift from? Would any of the once proud and dignified survival strategies of first-world scavengers hold up post-shift-hit-the-fan, or would we be the first to go? I had to get honest about it and take a long cold hard look at my relationship to food production.
Fast forward to today and I’ve initiated and/or participated in numerous urban garden projects and co-founded a non-profit punk oriented community gardening/eco-arts and education institute. It’s a humble, struggling, microscopic phenomenon, but it’s a big part of my world, and has since 2005 had a meaningful effect on people’s lives and thus the future. In short, I’ve decided to prioritize community self-sufficiency as a matter of political primacy.
Now back to permaculture. Without knowing it, I’d been practicing permaculture by definition because I’d been attempting to design permanent cultural and agricultural systems. But like in so many other areas of my life, I lacked the time and/or funds to pursue formal training.
Thanks to the podcast medium I’ve been able to not skip a beat and multi-task at high speeds while dosing myself with countless hours of free education. Since 2008, thanks to Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast, I finally started to know what I’d been missing. I had the why, but not the how. I knew that we needed to go local, go organic, and do it diy but I just saw it as organic gardening, or organic community gardening. I did not understand permaculture until I heard it passionately ranted about on The Survival Podcast.
The first real Earth-shaking, eye-opening, jaw dropping, ah-ha/duh moment was when I first heard the magical term “FOOD FOREST”. Immediately I envisioned the board game Candyland, and then the Ginger Bread House came to mind. A colorful fairy tale children’s book visual emerged as I began to understand the concept. Agro-forestry, edible forest gardening, food forests, layered gardening, whatever you want to call it. What matters most is establishing the visual in your mind.
Please pause, take a deep breath, and after reading this paragraph close your eyes and visualize the following in your mind’s eye. You’re walking through a meadow and approaching a thick woodland. You start to look for a clear point of entry so you can find your way through the forest but there is not one break in a seemingly endless barricade of weedy plants, vines, and shrubs forming a vertically stepped wall of impenetrable vegetation climbing and stacking all the way up to the lower and upper canopies.
Okay now open your eyes. Take another deep breath, read this paragraph, close your eyes and visualize again. As you get closer to this matted tangled mess of greenery, you begin to notice something odd. There’s a strip of land where all the trees bear edible fruits and nuts, all the vines are covered in pods, the bushes are dotted with colorful berries, what looked like weeds are all herbs and vegetables, the grass has been replaced by creeping edible flowers, and ground is riddled with root crops.
Now open your eyes. You’ve just visualized a seven layer food forest. A human designed landscape that takes one of the most biologically productive natural terrestrial eco-systems, a forest edge, and plugs in variables comprised of edible, medicinal, and otherwise desirable/beneficial crops. The result is a fully self-hydrating, self-fertilizing, self-sustaining, artificially enhanced natural environment that produces a yield density/diversity exponentially greater than any typical backyard garden bed or mass scale industrial agricultural field.
This form of bio-mimicry is just one of many gems the permaculture design movement has been establishing and promoting throughout the world for the last few decades. Of course it’s nothing new really; most subsistence horticultural societies in the world with any intact land rights have been practicing and perfecting these techniques for thousands of years. Permaculture just adds dimensions of western science, engineering, and systems theory. It is a synthesis of the best of both the ancient and modern worlds.
It’s also an open source technology that anyone can use and contribute to under certain minimal ethical and commercial guidelines. I think of it like Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. It’s not a closed, rigid, fixed martial arts system. It’s the opposite; it’s constantly growing, evolving, and integrating the experiences of new practitioners. However, not just anyone should go out claiming they’re a master and start charging people for lessons. There are formally recognized institutions and lineages of Bruce Lee’s students that maintain the integrity of the core concepts, curriculum, etc.
Permaculture is, I believe, the only real bridge the human population has to reintegrate itself sustainably into planetary ecology. The degree to which we establish permaculture designed landscapes now will determine the degree and duration of famine, disease, cannibalism, and mass death to be suffered if/when the global industrial system collapses.
I can’t go really deep into the concepts, mechanics, etc. in this short column, I just want to introduce it to those who haven’t be exposed, or who like me, have had a vague awareness of it but lack a solid understanding of how it’s vastly different then simply gardening. The food forest visual is the most powerful and enlightening promotional tool, but again it’s just one aspect. A core principle that ties all permaculture theory and practice together is the idea of minimizing input and maximizing output or yield.
When designing systems to provide your own abundant and regenerative food, fiber, fuel, potable water, medicine, shelter, heating/cooling, etc. you have to determine the financial, energetic, and material costs of installing and maintaining the system(s) and be sure that your yields provide an exponential return of investment over time.
Now I know why typical organic veggie gardening used to seem like such a chore. It felt almost symbolic to put in so much effort and just have a few crops that only last a couple months, only supplement store-bought meals and only for a few people at most.
But by planting a diverse array of annual and perennial crops, time stacking, using bacteria, fungi, worms, fish, chickens, and more to enhance and accelerate composting and produce protein, catching rainwater, sculpting the landscape to capture and retain moisture, etc. the yields go up over time and the inputs needed go down. In a few years, if done right, permaculture systems (like natural eco-systems) can mature to the point of near-complete self-management and essentially the only work to do is harvest.
One of the most elegant and beautiful aspects is the scalability of permaculture design. Once you grasp the concepts of layers (planting crops to maximize vertical space) and zones (the horizontal distribution of the elements, living and non-living, in your system relative to your dwelling or most trafficked area), you can build systems in window sills, apartment balconies, roof tops, backyards, front yards, vacant lots, fields, farms, mountain tops, deserts, etc.
I hope this gives you a gentle nudge to look further into permaculture. I recommend spending a couple hours watching a few of the videos that come up in a search for permaculture on google video. My favorites are those by either Starhawk, Geoff Lawton, or David Holmgren, but there are thousands to choose from. Also check out www.PermaculturePodcast.org for a punk rooted online radio show where you can learn much more for free. Another cool site is www.PunkRockPermaculture.com.
I know to be punk is to hate work, either for the man or for the land, but that doesn’t mean we have to be lazy and perpetually useless and helpless. Punk and permaculture go hand-in-hand: work less and party more by creating a natural habit to let the tribe increase. And as a result of ever-increasing independence and autonomy be able to, as permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison said, “fight the bastards” with the Earth as our greatest ally.