My personal experience with Inner Landscape Design

Necessity is a good motivator.

by Aline Van Moerbeke

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Me in the Spring of 2017 at the Permaculture Circles project, where I coordinate the volunteers for this Permacultura Mediterránea Forest Garden demo site. I had to concentrate on me and take a break of this during a big chunk of 2017.

As a little case study, I share with you here my personal story of how Permaculture Design has helped me get through my 40th year of life and the emotional breakdown I experienced during this last year. This article was written in the context of the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course by 40 women in 13 countries on which you will find further info down below.

I never crashed this hard before in my life, but now I sure do feel it can easily come back if I slip up on the next steps in the design for my Inner Landscape. My body will tell me it is time to adjust the course again. That gut feeling, your intuition… I have now learned to not silence it again, it just “wastes” valuable time of your life. It has to be a case of continuously applying the first Permaculture principle: Observe and Interact.

Looby McNamara, a great Permaculture Designer from the UK, has written a book called “People and Permaculture” and this book has helped me loads in crawling back out of the little black hole I was in in the summer of 2017. I say little because I don’t want to dramatize my emotional hiccup, I “just” broke up, after a 7.5 year relationship with a man, his kids and his dog(s).


Any radical change throws us out of our comfort zone though… and although my crisis came to nothing really drastic, It could have easily spiraled out of control as at one stage I was not eating anymore and was crying for most of the day, even though it was me myself that had made the decision to step out of the for me toxic relationship, after several “attempts” previously.

If it wasn’t for the help of my many, often forgotten (Sorry! Life with kids!) friends, a couple of “coincidental” things coming on my path and Permaculture… I could really see how very wrong it could have gone and how scarily fast one can slide down this slippery path of mental chaos, once you start messing with the biochemical reactions in your body.

My question still is though: did I start messing with those reactions, or are the Invisible Structures at play and were my bodily reactions messed with from the outside? How much of what I am experiencing is due to my own doing? How much of it is actually none of my doing at all, but rather caused by the system we live in and the trajectory we are on to a possibly not so nice future?

Our food, our self image as women, the competition values we learn in our capitalist society and the “time-less” agenda we “live” week after week, the stress and search for filling the void this all creates, the easy medication such as antibiotics for any simple cold, extreme sports and drugs all around us (even in the air they say),… they all influence how we behave, think, feel… In which order though? What comes first?

Maybe I should have carried on a little more along this line of questioning, but at the time of collapse, a couple of months after separating, I was convinced I had been wrong and my mind was in overdrive saying it was all my fault and that I should have been a better partner, have applied the Permaculture Principles better at home, not have been so radical etc. I was seriously considering going back, especially when physically we still connected when we met up again for the first time after splitting.

Nonetheless, I still had that little voice of intuition whispering at me to be strong, to stick with it, and I felt that going on a guilt-trip was not doing me any good then (underfed, not sleeping because of anxiety symptoms, exhausted because of it and because of my job as a hiking guide and crying non-stop). Therefore I thought I might as well try to work on my circle of influence as Stephen Covey indicates in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, meaning apply the Permaculture Principles to myself, and see what the results are.

Back to basics for starters it was: Observe and Interact. I had to see how bad I was doing physically, and then realize how that affected me mentally. My diet (of hotel food with lots of fast carbs, low quality proteins and fats etc, and then later of not eating!) was driving me deeper down the spiraled vicious circle that my thoughts and mindset had gotten me into. All of it is bio-chemistry!

How to get out of this loop? Go back to our basic needs: Eat — Sleep — Good Air & Water — Feel safe. Maslow again…

It was now 3 months since my separation. I forced myself to eat. I went swimming every day, both laps in a pool and therapeutic bathing in the sea at sunset. I tried tapping and breathing exercises for sleeping, which helped, and my housing situation somewhat stabilized. At last I was able to retire to a little private cave I felt safe in (a van) and cry some more on my own.

From a tent to a van in the summer of 2017, to be able to stay connected to my beloved Bay of Pollensa, where long term lets in summer are near impossible to find/afford due to the “AirBnB-Phenomena”.

When one day in July the crying lessened a little, I grabbed Looby’s book that I mentioned earlier out of one of my packing boxes where I had stored my stuff, took it to the beach with me and just starting reading Chapter 4 which is called: Our Internal Landscape. The rest of the book is fantastic too, but this is where I started…

I started focusing on my Zone 0.0 or Inner Landscape, my centre, and reflected on my needs, the patterns in my past relationships, and why I had come to collapse. Something that always stuck with me from the different Permaculture Design Courses I have taken or co-organized is that Permaculture Design is much about stopping energy leaks.

I always remind students of our own Permaculture Design Courses about this when they ask me where to go with their new conscious life after the course is finished. Now I had to remind myself; Where do I start? Where there is an energy leak!

Here I realized that I was losing too much energy in doing for others, not so much for me… I went to see a psychologist, because I wanted to have some guidance on my question if it really had been me failing in my communication and my side of the relationship, or if I had tried all I could have tried.

Among other things important to me, she confirmed that I had the typical co-dependent profile!

One book I read since on Co-dependency states: “Being average is difficult for the co-dependent, because we get our worth out of being perfect and we exhaust ourselves trying!!”

I sure was exhausted with trying. I totally saw the pattern now, me wanting to “save” my ex-es had for the third time in my life led me to a disrespectful relationship with myself, not listening to my own needs at all…

Looking back now, I realize that I had for the third time gotten stuck in a place where I no longer had the role to play that I had chosen for myself at the start of the relationship, the saviour, and that the new, “saved” person was perhaps not the right partner for me.

I also saw that when it came to my last ex having been “saved”, I needed a new victim. At this point I became very inflexible and rigid about saving the planet! And I also wanted to be heard on this topic in our home. I didn’t even like myself anymore for being so controlling and for just grasping at straws to find reasons to just stay in this relationship and try again and again, find some sort of a connection now I wasn’t “needed” anymore.

I was constantly searching for the feeling of being important. I had lots of spare time outside of my hiking season, which I had designed this way to be available for my partner’s children in the summer holidays and to be able to travel to his home country in winter. Yet I filled this time with more and more side projects as the children grew older, specifically getting rigid on organic food and the low footprint lifestyle for all surrounding me.

I had work at PermaMed, I studied to be a naturopath, took courses in Californian Massage, enrolled in a state led and recognized hiking guide course, My Diploma in Permaculture was on the list, as was looking after the house move/new home/girls when with us/dog. And of course I was not the one to blame for me not having any spare time for the family or for my partner because I couldn’t drop all my work with PermaMed and my Right Livelihood Design for my Diploma because hey… the planet really NEEDS ME!


Of course that didn’t improve the co-living, and of course I could have saved myself the last house move had I listened to my gut feeling far earlier… but my feelings of hope for change and fear for the unknown were stronger… Until one day I felt it was thé day, the 24th of March 2017… enough is enough. One can only deny one’s inner voice for so long. I managed to get the courage together to pack up all my things and move out over the course of 2–3 days after telling my partner, only 3 months after having moved in to a new home with him, in an area that I adore and had hoped to live in for several years.

At first it was a relief. I felt I was in control again. But then I started doubting my decision… and went back to mulling things over again and again. I started to have problems sleeping, had anxiety symptoms, was doubting everything. Whether it was the physical exhaustion of my job (hiking) or the mental exhaustion of my non-stop pondering… I went down.

It was painful. It was fear controlling me. Fear for the unknown. Fear of having made the wrong decision. I can’t even come to understand now how I let it come that far, although at the same time, it still feels frighteningly close by. It surely was a turning point for me. I had always said that the year of my 40th was going to be memorable… I didn’t exactly have something like this in mind though…

40 on the 4th of October 2017, up high with a hiking group. Personally getting “on top” again too, slowly…

Right, let’s start designing this plan for my personal recovery I said that day on the beach in July with Looby’s book in hand. This activist burnout thing is becoming too much of a cliché I thought. At first I had turned somewhat away from Permaculture, as I thought it had put me on a path to extremism. Seeing that it was the one thing now missing in my life a couple of months into single-dom, and seeing it now wasn’t all honkey dorey, I thought I wouldn’t lose anything by just having a look again at applying Permaculture to my life. So I took out a notepad and flipped through to Chapter 4…

Where do I want to go? What is my Vision? Having that sorted out, how do I get there? What are my resources for taking those steps, and what is limiting me? I just went through the classic design process, and started with my personal analysis, pretty much followed Looby’s book to the letter on the next steps, added in some recommendations we have received over the years from re-visiting Permaculture facilitators such as Rosemary Morrow (NVC and really get in touch with your basic emotions as well as needs) and Robin Clayfield (add rituals to your daily practice and definitely make time for celebration).

Then sometime in September I came across a very busy bee on Facebook called Heather Jo Flores.

Getting going with designing my daily practice as recommended by Heather in her free online Emotional Permaculture Course, which includes spending more time with people that make me feel good, including me, I have come ever closer to feeling stronger, more empowered, more confident in the future, less needy for other people’s approval and content with what I have. I can now see the toxic patterns I kept falling back into, and I have learned to recognize them much faster when they knock on my door (which they still do!).

For me the bottom line comes to this: that the balance between body, mind and spirit is to be respected. If you are not sure where the problem originated, just start working in one or the other area, as everything is connected and will every little action has its effect.

Body, Mind & Spirit in Balance: a marker on my body for this year’s learning

Food I think is once again a great connector for these three levels of us as a human being. I am often wondering who next will fall ill in my circle of close friends and family with one of the current diseases that are linked to diet, such as diabetes, gout, cardiovascular problems, cancer and maybe even including anxiety and depression. It’s all around me. And wow the cultivation and production of our food is so connected to the state of our planet, so of course also to the state of our own mini-planet, our body.

Permaculture has definitely opened my eyes to how out of whack things are since all the way back when Agriculture took hold, and of course spiraling out of control since the Industrial Revolution over the aprox last 150 years.

Therefore I am now happily studying nutrition (huuuuge topic!), always paraphrasing Vandana Shiva stating “it is in our plate that we reconnect with nature”.

Apart from true nutritious food, honouring the healing force of water has helped me regain balance: drink, swim, hydroptherapy. Include seawater in all three and you are resetting your system.

On top of that, I am working with a nutritionist and nurse of Integral Medicine with a master in PNEI (work exchange for our current PDC locally). She has taught me to observe my own addictions to food and its effect on my body’s chemical reactions and she has made me able to read more clearly my body’s signs as coming from emotions and mental states, or how my mind reacts to certain foods I eat. Chicken or the Egg question…

Exercise always made me feel better, especially the swimming, as it was summer. Even the Romans already said “Mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body) Even though it might be that this was taken out of context, the idea could well have been that this lies at the base of our well being.

Mindfulness, yoga, the Wim Hof breathing Method and cold therapy, the swimming because of its breathing, dancing, making an effort to connect with friends and family and having some guilt free plain fun (the hardest of them all), chanting harmonics, meditating at sunrise or sunset, finally diving with my dad (more breathing!), hiking, gardening and actually daring to ask for help (from friends or a professional therapist)… they have all helped to quieten my mind and drop down into the body dimension, grounding myself. Especially paying attention to my root chakra, which is the first to play up when I am “lost” and off track.

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Luke Wills taught me to breathe through any crisis (such as sitting in a tub filled with ice cubes!). Accept and Confide. Luke is a personal trainer on Mallorca where he teaches the Optimal Health Method which includes Wim Hof’s breathwork and nutrition.

Understanding the physical effects of too much worry and brain activity (in my case right inner knee and right armpit aches, kidney infections, systemic candidiasis, sacral bone pains/a blocked root chakra, right side of head migraines…) makes me more observative and faster to respond to these indicators of the mind having taken over again.

I must say though that the interconnection of the body and the mind has me thinking, was it the mind controlling the body (causing aches) or is it the body (candida overgrowth) controlling the mind (candida use up enormous amounts of nutrients that we need to stay on top of things mentally)? It’s a chicken or egg kind of question once again. All is connected, Permaculture ís connections!

One way to come to a quieter mind, is to actually build some sacred space into your agenda. Organize for the important rather than only the urgent, and this I also have from Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I am such a sucker for wanting to do it all and believe I can do it. I try to tell myself it is because I am such a lover of life and I want to learn lots and experience more, but basically I just can not say no. Co-Dependency at work, seeing the pattern now…

So, building in that time for nothingness… must learn to stick to it. It’s the Permaculture Design process: think ahead, live within the limits of your resource base. What you sow, you must be able to maintain and be around to harvest!

Therefore, I am also seeing the value of the very important nutrition of our brain cells happening during sleep. One of my hiking clients, a holistic therapist, recommended I use the body scan YouTube videos to get to sleep. I also used EFT tapping. Just getting up for a couple of minutes and doing any of the activities mentioned before to quieten my mind and stop anxiety bodily symptoms sometimes worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Now that I have (somewhat) found my peace again, I feel it’s down to giving myself enough time to get the hours in that I need, honouring the patterns of our biorhythms, so I go to bed early enough or I make sure I can sleep in longer (although my internal clock is very much set to early bird rising time!).

Taking these practical activities to be incorporated in my daily routine, made for my three phased personal ecosystem or Inner Landscape to operate as a whole again. I felt balanced once more, maybe shaky yes, but definitely saw the impact of these actions. That, and time. Time is a healer for sure, but as in the Permaculture Principles, it doesn’t hurt to Accelerate Succession and get designing your next steps.

My Spirit has now become much more at peace with me finally full-heartedly being able to follow my Vision of at least trying to “save the planet” and live a coherent life according to what has meaning to me, to my values, designing for this with lists of little next steps. I feel centered and confident. I have a right to be loved, first and foremost by myself.

There is no guarantee that any of these techniques will work for you. Again, it is as with Permaculture in general, there is no “copy-paste”. The Ethics and Principles are universal, the strategies and the techniques to use to go about turning your problem into your solution are very much influenced by your sectors and your zones, both visible and invisible.

The Design Process works though and is a great structure to hang on to when the winds pick up and the tide is high: Set a Goal, know what you are dealing with: Observe — know your Boundaries/Energy Leaks — map your Resources, then Evaluate what you have and where you have gone over the top to start Designing to a more balanced system, Evaluate again (Feedback Loop) and Tweak if necessary. Keep going back around the cycle as often as you need.

I can only recommend that you stick with Permaculture, also in your day to day activities, as the understanding of it will only become richer and more multi-layered as you go on, and I am confident that it will give you many yields in many areas of your life!

Also, don’t worry about setbacks. Give yourself lots of time and love. It’s not going to be roses and sunshine for the rest of the path anyway but you’ll become much more resilient in the face of personal crisis.

Today, you and I rise above our struggles.

Today I Rise (subtítulos en español)

With all my respect for my ex-partners and their families. I love them all, still. The teachings have been invaluable. I thank you.

(Do note that I also went and got help from a professional. I saw a psychologist on several occasions and am seeing a PNEI nutrition therapist now who looked at my bloodwork and other analysis to make a personalized diet and treatment to suit me (systemic Candidiasis, liver struggling with homocisteine due to overproduction of histamine by the Candida overgrowth, therefore high homocisteine in my blood as well as rather high “bad” cholesterol, low amino-acid levels etc). Don’t hesitate to ask for help and don’t take a dose of Permaculture as a substitute for any treatment and/or diet that you might need in crisis situations, to help you get through the worst patch.)

Extra reading:

Looby McNamara — People and Permacultureis the first book to directly explore the ways in which we can use permaculture principles and design to enhance our well-being, relationships and society.

Melody Beattie — “Co-Dependent no more: How to stop controlling others and start Caring for Yourself”

Stephen Covey — “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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