The Unlikely Relationship Between Fear, Cheese, and Permaculture

What happened when I stopped letting fear get in the way of me fulfilling my dreams, or my relationship between fear and cheese.

What happened when I stopped letting fear get in the way of me fulfilling my dreams, or my relationship between fear and cheese.

by Heather Seely

I’ve spent all of my adult life studying and working with food. A Bachelor of Nutrition degree transformed my mindless consumption into something that began to include a bit of thought. Work at an organic grocery store converted my thoughts about food into further understanding that what we eat has a far greater impact than just feelings of fullness. Coming to Australia in 2015 introduced me to Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.

Permaculture converted my ideas and thoughts about food and the environment into actionable solutions and ways of living.

You know that feeling when you discover something that’s potentially life-changing? You become totally immersed in learning more about it. Your heart races as you envision your future with this newly uncovered wealth of knowledge.

That was me.

I quickly exhausted a pack of highlighters when reading Permaculture One. I planned my first WWOOFing journey. I followed all the permaculture-related Instagrammers, listened to hours of permie podcasts, and dreamed about my future farm — all the swales, ducks, and zone 1 comforts that would be mine.

But then life (ahem, fear) got in the way.

I postponed my already-booked PDC. I let my WWOOFer membership expire. I traded the design manuals and online forums for peer-reviewed academic journals. I went back to the familiar and comfortable world of traditional academia, trading plans for a permaculture design certificate with a Master’s Degree.

Well, fast-forward four years. After a lot of introspective thinking, meditation, epiphanies, personal development, and an adorable and short international best-seller, I’ve circled back to revisit my hopes and dreams.

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Put aside an hour of your and read this book, I absolutely insist. At the very least, you’ll have a chuckle. But you could also experience a total rebirth or transformation as a result of its easily digestible message.

This book has helped me re-realize my passions. It has also made me acutely aware of that little voice in my head (ahem, fear) that has diverted me from following my dreams.

“You don’t own land yet.” “You won’t be able to make a livelihood.” “You aren’t a farmer.” “A PDC is expensive and worthless.” “Permaculture will require a huge shift in your lifestyle and behaviors.” “You will change.” “You will lose friends and opportunities as a result of this change.”

Cheese and Change

Without summarizing the book too much (seriously, it takes less than an hour; just read it for yourself), let me share what I got out of it:

Our advanced brains don’t always advance us. In the book, the four and only characters are two mice and two ‘Littlepeople.’ Being human, the Littlepeople have arguably superior brains. In their hunt in a maze for cheese, the Littlepeople are able to analyze the situation, project possible scenarios, and weigh the pros and cons of a search.

As a chronic overthinker, these traits sound all too familiar. Brain chatter and a fear of change have for years kept me trapped in my comfort zone. I sometimes wish that I could turn my evolved brain off and just live like the mice in the story, as they’re able to sniff out change and respond to it quickly (without the daydreams, contemplation, and fear of making the wrong decision). And that’s exactly what I’ve done recently. I’ve quieted my monkey mind through yoga and meditation and begun to practice quick decision making (10/10 would recommend).

Feel scared about something? That probably means you should go for it. No, I don’t mean that you should go trap yourself in a room of spiders or jump out of a plane this weekend. (Talk to a therapist before trying that.) I do mean that if something makes you feel simultaneously excited and like you might shit your pants, that’s probably a scary situation that you should dive right into. A safe and known life without cheese is still a life without cheese, after all! And wouldn’t you like to bite into that melty baked brie instead of staying in the familiar cheeseless situation? I’m terrified about embarking on the unknown and unfamiliar world of permaculture. But I suppose that’s what life is all about, jumping off the deep end and becoming familiar with all of the novel and frightening things life has to offer.

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My copy of the book always randomly opens to this page — leaving me feeling inspired (and a little hungry).

Failing is better than flailing. When they run out of cheese, the Littlepeople spend weeks in constant states of hunger and worry. With concerns of both staying and leaving the aptly named Cheese Station C, they’re forced into a corner of indecision. When one of the Littlepeople finally ventures out on a search for new cheese, he discovers what I recently have: I can do it and fail. I can quit my job, do a month-long permaculture course, and fully commit to turning my dreams into a reality. It may not work out, and I may end up right back where I started. But at least I’m learning. And changing. And growing. And it’s better than just staying here and doing the same thing day in and day out.

Discover mold? It’s time to find some fresh cheese. In a world of Instagram stories and reality TV, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to get so caught up in living that we don’t really notice our lives. Tune in from time to time to what’s going on in your world. If something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not. If you have a gut feeling that something needs to change, it probably does. I’ve had this weird feeling in my stomach for months now. The more planning and investing I do in myself and my future, the more that feeling dissipates.

Permaculture and Permachange

I’m a product of the suburbs. I’m all too familiar with Walmart and lawns. I’ve experienced food only after it’s been picked thousands of miles away, stored in a cool room, and displayed with other identical-looking produce in a supermarket.

What I mean to say is this; to become a permaculture practitioner, it’s going to require a huge shift in how I’ve lived the first 30 years of my life.

I would say that I’m in the majority when it comes to viewing food growing as a foreign activity. I’ve never really observed nature and am only just beginning to practice self-awareness. The fact that social systems are a necessary component of sustainable food production is still very new to me.

With all of this in mind, I can kind of understand my fear of change.

In the world we live in, change is key. We’re headed towards peak oil, our resources are dangerously depleted, and the way we grow and consume food is fatally flawed. Change is the only thing that will allow the human species to perpetuate.

Perhaps you’re like me — you’ve been thinking about buying that land, giving up your day job, finally finishing those plans for the Earthship. If the thought of change scares you, I hope that you can overcome that fear. The world needs you to.

While I’m still new to the world of compost tea, companion planting, and humanure (and the thought of at least one of these still scares me a little), I’m no longer living in fear. I’m only just starting out on my permaculture journey (just wrapped up the first day of my PDC!), and I’m sure that little voice in my head will continue telling me to turn back to safety.

When it does, I’ll just remind it that I’m looking for fresh cheese — and, in the process, caring for earth, people, and the future of all species.

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