[A gathering of the Sustainable Food Trust, Llandovery Wales, July 10th and 11th, 2017]
“The goal in life is living in agreement with nature.” Zeno (335 BCE – 264 BCE)
I just returned from a gathering of the Sustainable Food Trust in Llandovery Wales. Great fortune allowed me to join others in exploring the ongoing work of how a set of organizing principles found resplendent in nature can inform a more healthy way of living in harmony with our planet. This is not new work, but it is much forgotten and ignored work. That great forgetting inspired HRH The Prince of Wales to articulate a Harmony philosophy that he brought forward in his book Harmony, A New Way of Looking at Our World. In remarks to those gathered Prince Charles spoke about being compelled to write the book out of deep responsibility to people and place. He “felt a calling”.
[Note: More information about the specific Harmony Principles can be found on this web site at http://harmonyinpractice.com/our-approach ]
The theme of the conference was Harmony in Food and Farming but the larger effort is to consistently seek forward movement in establishing how Harmony thinking might inform all human pursuits toward a more healthy way of living in agreement with nature. In essence the harmony principles form a prism of thought that focuses people on both the complexity and the simplicity of healthy action. This is difficult work made more difficult by the fact that most of the systems that we find ourselves navigating as a course of daily life are systems that have evolved toward dis-harmony leading to dis-ease.
This, of course, is simply language. But it is language that proves helpful in opening a dialogue focused on ways to consider the full course of our actions. Approaching our work, any work, through the lens of Harmony calls upon us to consider a full accounting of our actions. Whole cost accounting is difficult and mostly rare work. For now I offer these two observations from my time at the conference, but I feel confident that a bit more time and reflection will lead to others.
Putting harmony work into practice is the work of revolution. The Latin base revolutio is “to turn around” but entrenched systems don’t typically turn around willingly. They march forward under the weight of habit, inertia and a failure to challenge the assumptions that set the coordinates of the journey. We must stand resolute in front and make unhealthy systems turn towards health.
And yet, we are at this point in the revolution where everything is quite proper and polite. Perhaps that is a way for a revolution to begin but it is probably not a proper way for a revolution to end. We are caught up in the work of changing the system while acquiescing to the existing systems for the measure of how our work is accepted. That is folly. If a system is failing and unhealthy it would be fair to assume that the embedded measures are also failing. Why call for revolution and then ask the old guard how they think things seem to be going? Revolution is simultaneously the work of brushes and hammers. We must agree, or at least acknowledge, that there is diversity in our various approaches and therein lies both wisdom and strength. Forward together in our differences.
Harmony work requires us to be humble and to embrace our ignorance. Perhaps claiming great ignorance is a bit unfair. It may be that we are simply slow learners. Human history is littered with well-intended experimentation. In and of itself that is a healthy part of our humanness. The unhealthy part is when we carry experimentation beyond our knowledge without regular course corrections when we encounter full evidence of disharmony. The saying that comes to mind is “when you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.” Here’s the thing however. To know you are in a hole requires you to look up from your work. If we remain single minded on the output of our shovels without taking the time to look toward the sky we may never realize we are in a deep fix. Focus on the whole reveals the hole.
I am indebted to the many keen minds that gathered at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference in temporary community. Their work is deep and long and healthy. I feel I must single out one person especially. Patrick Holden. His long journey from self-professed “back to the land hippy” to Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust is a bit like the journey we are all on. Incremental, exploratory, passionate and faithful. It’s not like we know exactly where this journey will lead us. But it is always toward health with nature as the measure.
Facilitator of Outreach and Regenerative Design
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest