An Integral Permaculture

Note to the reader: I originally wrote this in 2009 at the request of the editors of a proposed book called Permaculture Pioneers. It was slated for inclusion, but I withdrew it after the publishing process dragged on. The book was eventually published without this chapter. You can find the book here.

Tim Winton

An Integral Permaculture

I’ve practiced and taught permaculture, at times intensively, for most of the last fifteen years. In that time my perspective on permaculture has changed and evolved, as has permaculture itself. If at times in this article I am critical of elements of permaculture, it is not to be negative or to lessen the importance of the discipline, but to examine the points of pain and disappointment that that have lead me to new understandings and new directions. The same should be true for the movement itself, and I’m writing here with this in mind.

Permaculture was my portal into the world of sustainability and environmentalism. Before I encountered permaculture and the realization that the planet (and humanity with it) was heading for trouble, I lived with a kind of optimism, a sense of acceptance and a general, if ignorant, ease about the world. Permaculture changed all that. I can remember the first time I heard the word, oblivious to the fact that this one little utterance would radically change my view of the world and define my existence for at least the next twenty years. I was tree planting with a crew of mostly fringe dwellers, alternative folks and other students in remote, mountain wilderness in Western Canada. Simon, a soft spoken fellow with long hair and an eagle feather held in place with a thin leather headband, introduced me to the fateful word. We sat on a log eating lunch out of dusty rucksacks. I told him about my impending trip to see my father in Australia. He told me I should look into a Tasmanian called Bill Mollison who taught a way of sustainable living called ‘permaculture’.  He explained the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) network- living by volunteering on other people’s organic farms for food and board, and his encounters with permaculture in the Pacific North-West. At that point I don’t think I really understood what permaculture was, but it settled in the back of my mind as an environmental curiosity, a talisman as exotic as the fellow who introduced me to it.

I realize now with reflection, that the story of my experience in permaculture is essentially my journey through that environmental portal to a world of somewhat painful awakening and increasing sensitivity to the environmental and social disaster humanity was perpetrating. After that, I undertook a long, determined and often difficult attempt to make permaculture work as a method of sustainable living. Finally, there was a gradual spiralling back around to a renewed acceptance and appreciation for the society I was born to, our time in history and the wide world with all its foibles and wonders, ugliness and beauty, sustainability and unsustainability.

From Sensitivity to Integration

I’m telling the story here, because I think this renewed acceptance of the world has led to a much more effective approach to sustainability and a renewed appreciation and passion for permaculture. I think of it as the shift from sensitivity to integration: from the heartfelt despair, anxiety and sometimes anger inherent in environmental awareness to a more full appreciation and confidence in the holistic intelligence at work in our evolving universe and the ways we can work through this towards real and sustainable futures. The rest of this article is spent on an exploration of this shift and the nature of what I term an Integral approach. This approach is largely based on the work of American philosopher Ken Wilber.

Making the shift allowed me to see that much of my past activity was driven by anxiety and despair, an unrealistic approach to changing the world, and a kind of guilt born of participating in what I thought of as a destructive society. My growing sensitivity generated a lot of turmoil and energy. It was like a rising storm, and I realise now that I was exposed with little shelter and few beacons to safety. Despite the trials and the dangers, it was an essential process. I think it’s a process many others are going through or will go through: an increasingly common cultural pattern as the sustainability challenges mount. It is worth bringing awareness to this process and to making it safer and easier for others to negotiate. From where I stand now, this aspect of people care is every bit as essential as growing food, designing properties and re-localising economies.

Tagari Farm

When I arrived in north Queensland Australia, I found a copy of the Permaculture Designers Manual by this fellow Bill Mollison on my father’s bookshelf. It was fascinating. I was interested in design as I’d studied architecture after my undergraduate degree in literature, but the conventional design disciplines paled in comparison to sustainable design using wind and water, earth, plants and animals. I found a weekend introductory course and shortly after that I drove down the east coast of Australia to Tyalgum in northern New South Wales for my foundation ten-day Permaculture Design Certificate course at the Permaculture Institute with Bill Mollison himself.

At Tagari Farm Bill indoctrinated some 50 of us into permaculture through a ten day process of story, vision, knowledge and ecological understanding, passion, humour and genius that I’ve never encountered since. Not only that, but the amazing people I met on the PDC inspired me and made me feel like I’d found my community and my life’s work. I was hooked. The day on patterns in particular gripped me in a way that I couldn’t quite describe. I was going to be a permaculturist. A few months later I arrived back at the Permaculture Institute determined to take up a licence to do a sustainable forestry project as a participant in what was loosely described as the Tagari share farm.

Tagari Farm was an interesting and exciting place. Bill would draw amazing folks from all over the world. Waves of permaculture design course participants would wash in and out, and over time a small group of people assembled to take up licences on the share farm. I say assembled, because beyond an explanation of the share farm concept in the course or the occasional loose invitation, there was very little supporting structure for actually joining the share farm or getting a licence. One simply had to make one’s way as best one could.  Despite the obstacles and lack of support, the group that was to form our period of experimentation at the Permaculture Institute’s Tagari Farm, took shape.  Up to a dozen of us were developing projects in market gardening, tropical fruits, fowls, rabbits, aquaculture, earth works, permaculture training, design, forestry, tree crops, bamboo, tours, education and publishing.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

In retrospect, this experiment couldn’t have ended in anything but failure. Although most of us lived nearby, off the farm, the social dimension to our lives there was intense and our project coordination dysfunctional. There was an implied understanding that all we needed to make permaculture work was our shared ethics, principles, practices and a rugged commitment to earth care. This belief was held up as an almost magical elixir for organizational development. This strategy proved woefully inadequate and things degenerated badly over time. Attempts by some of us to organize ourselves and to create some structures and processes were not supported. We suffered from the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’: a rejection of all structure in social affairs because the existing structures in our society were seen to be controlling and destructive.

I can remember one quite funny, but at the time quite terrifying, episode where a few of us gathered around Bill’s kitchen table to put forward a proposal from some of the share farm licensees. A dark look crept over his face as he read it, and with the full force of his personality (which for anyone who has felt it, will, I think, be counted as one of their more memorable experiences), proceeded to challenge our initiative as an attempt to take over the functions of the Permaculture Institute. Function, or a lack of it, was exactly why we were there, but there was obviously no arguing the point, so we retracted the submission, opened a bottle of port and listen to Bill tell us stories until late into the night.

I have observed similar struggles with structurelessness in many environmental projects and sustainability experiments over the ensuing years. Inevitably the lack of effective organization leads to breakdown in the group and ends in chronic dysfunction or complete failure. I liken this to trying to operate your body without any bones. The end of our few years at the Permaculture Institute was punctuated by the tragic suicide of one of our number. Almost all of us left shortly after that devastating event. Previous and subsequent groups suffered more of less the same fate. What was Tagari Farm now stands overgrown, empty and abandoned to this day. In my view, all the good effort and resources put into earth care were largely undone by a failure of people care. A project meant to be a leading example of permaculture practice suffered the ignominy and irony of being unsustainable by virtue of not developing its own stated second ethic.



The Burn-Out Mill

Thus began my process of facing up to the unhelpful myths and dogmas of permaculture. Rather than rejecting permaculture outright or, alternatively, hiding these truths, I wanted to explore what it would take to get permaculture theory to translate into effective practice at the community level. Could it be used to demonstrate a sustainable way of living? Was it possible for the theory to translate into reality? Could the claims, especially the more grandiose claims made by some in permaculture, be supported? Could we live up to these expectations? Could it be used to transform our society in practical and enduring ways? Were we fooling ourselves?

I think it is fair to say that our critics have keyed in on this lack of effective practical demonstration: initial enthusiasm and over-exposure all too often giving way to unsustainable outcomes. Despite the large number of permaculture adherents, in the wealthy Western countries at least, where permaculture is the designated sustainability strategy, successful practical demonstrations beyond the level of the family property are relatively rare. The ones that do persist are often short lived, sometimes only cosmetic variations on mainstream living, or obviously unsustainable. Many entering permaculture are underwhelmed when they go looking for the examples to meet their expectations. Then there is the grim battle in chronic dysfunction to make permaculture projects work though unsustainable means. This is another unfortunate pattern in environmental and sustainability work in general and permacultue in particular. I call it the ‘burn out mill’. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are famous for it: individuals burning out to prop up something that just isn’t sustainable in-and-of-itself.  Or, using wave after wave of people recently indoctrinated, motivated more often by despair than by hope, to work in permaculture projects where their energy is consumed and their expectations go unmet. These people then either return to conventional life or, ignoring a dissonance between theory and practice, perpetuate the myths in their own permaculture work.

I’m pointing out these negative aspects of permaculture, not because I think all permaculturists practice them, or that initially they can entirely be avoided, but because they are elements of our discipline that lack integrity. We should acknowledge them and reform them if we are to make a more effective contribution to sustainable transition. The end cannot justify the means. We cannot, on an ongoing basis, demonstrate sustainability in unsustainable ways, interpret this as success and expect to be taken seriously. Here, I do need to pay tribute to those practitioners who do have the enduring functional examples and to acknowledge all their hard work and commitment to getting it right.


In spite of my experiences at Tagari Farm, or perhaps because of them, I embarked on a permaculture project to integrate earth care more fully with people care and to try and resolve some of the other challenges I had encountered in my early attempts at practicing permaculture. In an initial partnership with another Tagari participant, Gary Cowan, we located a suitable property. The sustainable forestry enterprise started at Tagari Farm became a successful little tree planting and reforestation contracting company. In short order I re-formed it into Permaforest Trading Trust which funded its slightly younger twin, a charitable sustainability education organization called Permaforest Trust. This dual trust structure, a trading trust and a charitable trust, is straight out of Chapter 14 of the Designers Manual.  Bill Mollison gave me a copy of the Permaculture Institute’s trust deed to use as the basis for Permaforest Trust’s deed. I am the Trustee of both trusts and manage them by their deeds, which mandate trading and sustainability education respectively. My tree planting contracting business grew and funded the Permaforest Trust. It became the owner of the 170 acres of undeveloped farm land and forest we had located. The land was at Barkers Vale in NSW, half an hour west of Wollumbin (Mt Warning), on the lush and rugged sub tropical volcanic back slopes of the old shield volcano’s caldera.

In 1998 Permaforest Trust began to use the funds gifted to it by Permaforest Trading Trust to establish a permaculture education centre and demonstration farm on the land. This centre was referred to as Permaforest Trust. The idea was to create an educational community- a residential centre where people could live together temporarily and learn permaculture through modelling sustainable rural living. At first the number of participants was quite small but as we built the accommodation and common areas and planted gardens and trees, the numbers grew. Eventually we built up to an average population of about 20 students, managers and visitors living and working at the centre. After much hard work and persistence, based in large part on an Integral perspective, we managed to create a stable and functional centre where we demonstrated a reasonable attempt at permaculture community living. Our resource use was much lower than most Australians, our permaculture practices were moderately productive and were having a beneficial effect on the land. In the end, I think, it was actually much better than that, and we did manage to achieve something quite special and unique in the way we practiced permaculture, particularly with regard to people care and the community dimension.

There were two reasons why we ended the experiment at this point. Firstly, after a period it was very difficult to improve sustainability indicators. We were remaining dependent on the goods and services of a consumptive and energy-rich economy. Secondly, the energy and resources required to facilitate the human dimensions of the project made it unsustainable for those of us managing it. My experience is that this is something of a pattern, and as such I couldn’t see that it was a recommendable strategy to scale up. In its own way it was another unsustainable attempt at modelling sustainability. This is not necessarily a bad thing if recognized, and it may be that this paradox holds an important clue for developing more effective perspectives on sustainability into the future. That is, it may be more effective to look at sustainability as a process rather than a destination: an ever-receding goal at the edge of endeavour.

The period of experimentation with the educational community at Permaforest Farm lasted roughly a decade – from 1997 to 2007. Initially it was my home and that of a few other committed participants, but as the numbers grew and the centre took shape, so did the challenges. Earth care, in all its various manifestations – gardening, other elements of permaculture design, organic agriculture, sustainable forestry and bush regeneration primarily, while not without problems, was not our main challenge.  The recurring limitations to learning and living permaculture were the people. While I tried to put a special emphasis on people care strategies based on my experience at Tagari farm, I still managed to seriously underestimate the magnitude of this challenge. It wasn’t until I developed a more Integral approach using strategies for the ‘inner landscapes’ of self and culture to the same degree that my permaculture training had taught me to focus on strategies and techniques for the ‘outer landscape’ of nature, that we really started to make progress.

An Integral Approach

If I had not come across the Integral framework created by Ken Wilber, it is unlikely that the Permaforest project would have reached such a satisfying conclusion. Wilber’s work helped me understand a whole range of challenges in my permaculture work from a new perspective and to solve them in novel and effective ways. Before we can move on to the practical examples of how an Integral orientation helped us meet the challenges at Permaforest Trust, we’ll have to spend some time on a thumbnail sketch of some relevant aspects of Integral Theory. I realize that a brief treatment of some seemingly academic aspects of integral theory may initially seem overly technical and unnecessarily abstract, but I would ask the reader to persevere. Alternatively, you may skip to the summary at the end of this section, or read it knowing that initially a comprehensive understanding is not necessary. I’m including it here because I think some readers will want a basic understanding in assessing its usefulness. While the theory may appear quite abstract initially, it becomes much more concrete as it is unpacked and related to practical situations. I’m outlining the framework here as a very effective practical tool. The interested reader may wish to consult some of Wilber’s works cited in the reference section.

David Holmgren, co-founder of the permaculture concept, mentions in his writings that permaculture is part of the postmodern cultural emergence. With its foundation in the new, more holistic systems sciences, including ecology and systems ecology, its counter culture adherents, radical self-reliance, questioning of industrial institutions and processes – especially green revolution agriculture- as well as its sensitive ethics, permaculture can be counted as one of the most influential grass roots initiatives of this period. The modern industrial era started to emerge some 400 years before the postmodern, the traditional agricultural period had its beginnings up to 10 000 years before that, while the original period of human history had its beginnings some hundreds of thousands of years before that, indicating that the pace of cultural development is speeding up over time.

Only 40 years into the postmodern period, it is thought by some that the post-postmodern, or ‘integral’ era is now emerging. Among many other things, postmodern culture can be credited with sensitising us to the diversity of natural elements, their interconnectedness and our own dependence on these life systems, but like the material gains of the economic industrialism of the modern period before it, this ecological and social sensitivity is limited in its capacity for sustaining the human project. At this time in history, personal, cultural, ecological and social dynamics are accelerating and new challenges requiring new ways of looking at the world are already upon us.

The Pattern That Connects

Integral Theory, because it is a philosophy that can include a place for everything, and because it is comprehensive enough to entirely reject nothing,  is often referred to as ‘the pattern that connects’, giving it a strong association to permaculture through its own relationship with pattern understanding.  A postmodern view sensitises us to the interconnected diversity of elements in the natural world, but it is an integral orientation that is critical for identifying the patterns that shape these parts into coherent designs, again demonstrating a resonance with permaculture as a design discipline. Permaculture aspires to a more Integral approach through the recognition that sustainability practice must contain ethics as well as design techniques. That is, it must work with values which reside in the inner landscapes of human experience as well as the material outer landscapes of natural ecologies and human economies. Despite these similarities, permaculture has not yet emerged as a fully Integral discipline. I think the aspects of Integral Theory outlined below can contribute to a more fully integral permaculture and that this is an interesting, and in my case, very helpful direction to head with the practice of sustainability.


One important aspect of Integral Theory is the widely held systemic or ‘design thinking’ understanding that everything is both a part and a whole at the same time, or a ‘holon’. Whole atoms are parts of whole molecules, which are parts of whole cells, which are in turn parts of whole organs, which are parts of whole organisms in the ongoing structuring of more complex forms. This view of nature as a kind of nested hierarchy or ‘holarcy’ is now common in the ecological and systems sciences, contributing an essential understanding to general eco-literacy.

Here, Integral Theory adds the view that just as partness and wholeness are limited perspectives on one integrated part/whole, so too is its status as either a material object or an aware subject. In fact, any holon is an integrated occurrence with four main aspects or perspectives: partness (individual), wholeness (collective), objectiveness (exterior) and subjectiveness (interior). (See Figure 1).

Different cultures hold views that reality is either inner experience or outer objects, fundamentally material or ultimately spiritual; basically just matter or essentially mind. The integral view is that it is both, and that combined with the view that things are also parts and wholes these four aspects are just different perspectives on one thing. These four aspects are often referred to as the four quadrants of a holon. Add to the concept of the four-quadrant holon the idea that more complex forms evolve in a dynamic fashion through the integration of less complex forms and we have the bones of an integral view: parts and wholes; insides and outsides; developmental evolution.


If we look at the intersection of the interior perspective (subjective inner aspect) and the individual perspective (part aspect) of a person we could call this the ‘self’- one’s own subjective experience or awareness, and all of the related thoughts, emotions and sensations that manifest there. In permaculture there is a nascent recognition of this perspective as Zone 00.


If we look at the interior perspective (subjective inner aspect) of the collective perspective (whole or community aspect) we get ‘culture’- a group’s shared interiorities like ethics and values. In permaculture this perspective is honoured through the ethics of ‘earth care’, ‘people care’ and ‘fair share’.


Where we look at the exterior perspective (objective outer aspect) of the individual perspective (part aspect) we get a view of the characteristics and behaviours of that individual element of nature; where we look at the exterior perspective (objective outer aspect) of the collective perspective (whole or community aspect) we get a natural systems perspective represented by both ecologies and economies. In permaculture this perspective is honoured through the principles and practices of sustainable design in agriculture and the built environment.

For the purposes of this discussion we can place both quadrants in the right hand half under the name ‘nature’ (see Figure 1). Self, culture and nature are called the ‘Big Three’ in Integral Theory. In my permaculture work I often refer to them as ‘I-space’, ‘we-space’ and ‘eco-space’. These are the three major domains of human experience and therefore it is essential to include each of these perspectives in any initiative. Just this one seemingly simple realization provided essential and powerful strategies for some of the most serious challenges we faced at Permaforest Trust, as we will see.

Figure 1. The four quadrants of a holon. After Wilber

Body, Mind and Spirit

The evolutionary aspect of Integral Theory translates into the view that everything develops in stages, and that each new stage both transcends (goes beyond) and includes (is actually built from) the elements of the level before. Permaculture tells us that careful observation of any natural process will reveal a pulsing dynamic of identifiable stages of development, whether in the growth of a plant, the implementation of a design or the succession of an ecological system. For instance, we can identify the ecological succession of a forest ecology from pioneer stage, to early secondary, late secondary and finally to the mature stage. What is important here is that it is impossible to exclude or reject anything from the previous levels of development without destroying the whole. The whole is made up of all previous stages. Pioneer species are embodied in the soil fertility of the later stages. It would be impossible to skip this stage or to remove it from the process. The trick is to understand how pioneering processes work and when and how to use them. In permaculture for instance, we use the principle of accelerating succession through the pioneer stage or alternatively maintaining a system in its productive pioneering phase. The idea is to work with pioneer dynamics and to make the pioneer stage as functional as possible in service of the whole process. This understanding of stages is a core eco-literacy in permaculture, but in Integral work the principle is used more widely; this evolutionary dynamic is translated from eco-space into we-space and I-space.

If we take the evolutionary unfolding from a big picture perspective, it can look something like this: where conditions in the realm of matter (the physiosphere) are favourable, life can arise; where conditions are favourable in the realm of life (the biosphere) mind can arise; where conditions are favourable in the domain of mind (the noosphere) then spirit can arise (the theosphere). In short, the process of evolution goes from matter to body to mind to spirit. If this is true, then we have a way to integrate the material worldview of the modern west with the more spiritual world views held historically in the east. Mind and matter are not opposites, but two aspects of one evolutionary continuum.

If we step away from the big picture and look at an individual human being, we can look at the evidence that people go through a process of growth and development. Stages of personal development have been identified by a number of researchers including Abraham Maslow, Robert Kegan, Jean Piaget, Susan Cook-Greuter and Jane Loevinger to name just a few. They may be looking at different aspects of development and have different names for their stages, but the one commonality is that they have all identified a process of growth much like the general one outlined above, where each new stage transcends but also includes the previous stages. The simplest set of personal development stages is from body (emotion centred awareness) to mind (mental/rational centred awareness) to spirit (more compassionate transpersonal awareness). Understanding this progress in human development helps us understand the importance of integrating the wisdom of the body with the intellect of the mind in order to gain a wider, transpersonal level of awareness that can support a more integrated, dynamic view of reality.


Similarly, theorists such as Jean Gebser, Clare Graves and Don Beck have identified stages of development in culture. At this point I’m going to simplify and generalize this work for the permaculture context based on my own experience. For practical purposes we will discuss four cultural stages. I’ll name them using the colour scheme from the Integral framework referred to as stages or levels of ‘altitude’. Altitude is a general marker of development that may be used for correlative levels in culture (collective) and the self (individual). See Figure 2 for a diagram of correlates in each quadrant. Each cultural level or altitude is characterized by a core set of values and by an increasing capacity for inclusion. Values are simply what the people at this stage of development collectively hold to be most important; inclusion is the capacity to include others in one’s sphere of care. Each level of altitude also leads to definitive worldviews that shape how its members see the world. Most people can intuitively sense levels of cultural development if they are presented using some commonly recognizable traits, which is how I’ll introduce them here. Altitude, as mentioned above, also functions as short hand for levels of individual development. I will attempt to introduce cultural and personal levels of altitude concurrently below.


Amber cultural groups value belonging through order. They are often absolutist and patriarchal, with strong hierarchical social structures.  Individuals expressing amber altitude will have strong community and family values and mythic religious beliefs. This value set is often expressed politically through groups promoting family values and traditional morals. Older children who have mastered and enforce household or community structures are expressing an amber orientation. Amber cultures transcend earlier cultures and can be seen as an evolutionary step that allowed for their aggregation in the development of complex civilizations in the agricultural period. The sphere of care is wider than anything that came before, but still limited to a nation, club, team or other identifiable group thought of as ‘my people’.  I’ll use the term ‘traditional’ when referring to communities and individuals oriented around this level or stage. The members of this level of altitude amount to about 25 percent of the Western world. Amber worldviews started to emerged as long as 10 000 years ago.


At the Orange level of altitude people value individual rights, achievement and performance. Economic material gain is often identified as the way to generate the greatest good. Rational, scientific understandings of the world are most highly regarded. Orange typically emerges for the individual around late high school or early adulthood. Orange cultures transcend Amber cultures in that their wider ethics of productive economy create a market that can include more people within their system of organization. Orange is seen as the worldview of the enlightenment and the subsequent period of rapid industrialization. I use the term ‘modern’ when referring to this level of altitude. The members of this level of altitude amount to approximately 40 percent of the Western world. Orange perspectives started to emerge en mass about 400 years ago.


Green values sensitivity and diversity. It can include multiple perspectives on reality. People in Green are often sensitive to social injustice, animal rights and ecological destruction. Their sensitivity makes them good communicators and their values are often expressed in postmodern academic concepts such as the deconstruction of power, relativism and contextual approaches to knowledge and understanding. Green’s sphere of care is wider than Orange’s in that it can care for all people regardless of whether they are customers or trading partners. It is fully world-centric in orientation and will manifest as lifestyle choices like vegetarianism as a response to the imperative to care for animals. Green sensitivities inform postmodern perspectives from environmentalism and deep ecology, fair trade and anti-globalization activism, to collaborative online communities and the design of advanced communications architectures like the world wide web. Green altitude fosters the worldview that I refer to as ‘postmodern’. The members of this level of altitude currently represent about 20-25 percent of the population of the Western world. Green, postmodern perspectives emerged as a general world view only some 40 years ago


While all the altitudes so far represent a developmental advance (and of course inclusion) on the level before them, at the Integral level of altitude there is a major change in the nature of development. The altitudes from before traditional to postmodern are all exclusive worldviews. That is, if you ask, say, a modern executive of an export wood chipping company at Orange attitude if they think that a post modern Green initiative to save the forest is responsible, they will say no it is not. Alternatively Green activists will not condone wood chipping as responsible. A traditional farmer or original inhabitant will have their own different interpretation of the common good in this instance. In fact none of the first tier altitudes related here will accept the values of the others as fundamentally legitimate.

At the integralTeal level of altitude the entire holarchy of nested development – from before traditional to traditional (which transcends but includes worldviews before it) to modern (which transcends but includes the previous two) to postmodern (which transcends but includes the previous three) – is seen as an integrated whole. From an integral perspective, you can’t remove modern values of productivity and exchange from society any more than you could remove your lungs or your kidneys from your body. At an integral altitude, all worldviews are accepted as valid. The way forward is not to pick one at the exclusion of the others, but to integrate and balance the different ways of seeing the world for the best overall outcome. The way to work with this practically is to encourage healthy and appropriate expressions of each world view where they are found. Like a Green postmodern approach, a Teal integral perspective accepts diversity, but it goes farther and recognizes patterns and order in diversity necessary for unitive health. By virtue of its pattern oriented, more comprehensive view,  an integral perspective can generate an inclusive, compassionate capacity for all previous altitudes, marking it as a second tier altitude.  Because of their more exclusive nature, the altitudes Amber, Orange and Green are referred to as first tier altitudes. Members of a second tier, integral altitude represent roughly 2-3 percent of the Western world, with some evidence of a more substantial demographic trend in this direction. An integral world view is only now emerging as a widespread set of perspectives in the Western world.

In summary we now have the three domains of Self/I-space, Culture/we-spaceand Nature/eco-space (based on the quadrants) as well as four levels: Amber/traditional, Orange/modern, Green/postmodern and Teal/integral (based on altitudes) to work with as we explore an integral permaculture. Technically the foundation Integral framework developed by Ken Wilber contains five elements: quadrants and levels, which we have covered here, and states, lines and types, which we do not have time for in this short chapter. The interested reader should see A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber for a more comprehensive introduction.

Figure 2, from Wilber  Quadrant diagram showing levels

An Integral Permaculture

Now that we have a background in some of the basic elements of integral theory we can take a brief tour through some of the ways that it assisted our permaculture practice at Permaforest Trust. It is fair to say that as the project grew in scope and in numbers so did the challenges. For a while they seemed insurmountable and there was a great deal of confusion as to why our permaculture ideals and practices were leading to such dysfunctional outcomes. One by one though, we put in place strategies based on a more integral perspective that lead to real results and tangible improvements.

We-Space Strategies

One of our first realizations was that we really only considered it permaculture if it was earth care. Our attention was almost exclusively focused on creating outcomes in eco-space. Care of people, we-space, was almost always seen as something secondary. I don’t think we were unique in this. It is not at all common in my experience to find permaculture projects that explicitly put people first. Although people care is the stated second ethic of permaculture, and even though we were initially conscious of the importance of the community dimension to our project, initially anyway, it always came second. It was only after realizing that it needed to be at least equal to eco-space practices that we started to see improvements. After this realization we developed a detailed community handbook that spelled out our values and expectations. We sent it to people before they came and asked them to voluntarily commit to the system. We put in place management and support team systems to encourage adherence to the community system and we scaled back on eco-space activity to support more we-space activity.

I-Space Strategies

A natural follow on from re-prioritizing we-space, was the realization that individuals needed significant support as well. Initially most of us managing and participating in the project were firmly rooted in a sensitive, post modern/green worldview. This has common challenges like ‘endless meetings’ where consensual decision making included much discussion and dialogue about feelings and interpersonal dynamics.  But it also had more serious dimensions. The realities of restrictions on personal freedom inherent in community living often caused ongoing psychological and emotional trauma, even among the most well-meaning and passionate of participants.

Personal freedom is a hidden form of wealth or resource use in postmodern culture. Only very wealthy industrially based societies like our own can support so many people with so much autonomy.  When it is taken away or, in our case, voluntarily given up, even by people with strong ideals of low resource, community living, it can cause significant resentment, rebellion, anger and depression. Putting in place strategies to support the healthy transition to a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle was the most taxing of all the dynamics we had to deal with. We did manage to develop strategies for managing and supporting these personal transitions, but in the end, given our isolated rural setting and minimal resources, we could not sustain this effort. Management was constantly in danger of burning out through using their own energy and personal resources to support the participants’ I-space challenges.  It is essentially why we ended our experiment of modelling a rural permaculture educational community. To this day, I see I-space challenges as one of the most significant aspect of transitioning to a sustainable future.

At this juncture it may look like an Integral perspective was not enough, but I look at it somewhat differently. Firstly, while an Integral approach has proved very effective, it is not a cure all. And, secondly, if we didn’t develop an awareness of the importance of I-space, we might have burned out before we could successfully conclude that phase of the work of Permaforest Trust and move on to more viable undertakings. An Integral perspective was critical in avoiding collapse by allowing us to see our limits in the I-space dimension.  In a more general sense this may be a very important Integral perspective on the dynamics of global sustainability transition. Trauma and healing modalities as well as personal growth and development practices may become some of our most powerful practical strategies in sustainability.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness- Using Healthy Amber

Another aspect of the project’s participants being generally oriented in a Green/postmodern worldview was an overt regard for non-hierarchical social structures. This extended to a disregard and a general dislike and distrust of structured social arrangements in general. This is an understandable reaction to the oppressive dominator hierarchies at work in modern society. They are rightly seen as unhealthy and unsustainable in their pathological form, but removing all structure as a reaction can lead to equally poor outcomes that become a tyranny in themselves – a ‘tyranny of structurelessness’. I’ve already related the dysfunction caused by a lack of structure at Tagari Farm. Similarly, for us this structurelessness lead to a confusing morass of unfinished tasks, unmet commitments, interpersonal dysfunction and personal dissatisfaction. A postmodern view allowed us to deconstruct unhealthy power structures, which is fine, but it didn’t help us focus on how to put the parts back together in a functional way. At times it felt like we were compulsive deconstructors adrift in a decaying marsh of our own undifferentiated deconstructions. The solution provided by an Integral perspective was to get in touch with healthy Amber values of clear structure and organization in social relationships.

Having a community system and a handbook to support it, mentioned above, was helpful, but what really made it work was explaining it and practicing it in an acceptable way. We carefully and intentionally related that it was essential for the health of the community that people meet their community commitments, and that it was essentially unethical in a fair and equitable community system to let others down. Ultimately, and this was the hardest part, we had to enforce this structure. We had a procedure of positive support and motivation for people who struggled, but there was a limit after which people were asked to leave if they could not meet their commitments. There was no negativity attached to this, only a recognition that the situation need to be resolved for the wider good.  This may have been our most successful integral intervention: things became substantially better after we established and enforced this community structure – it was like night and day. The level of functionality and the general well being it facilitated was, in my view, the reason visitors often commented that they felt there was something special going on at Permaforest Trust.

Poverty Consciousness- Using Healthy Orange

Another important dynamic having a negative effect on the project was a general ‘poverty consciousness’. What I mean by this is that there was a general disdain for anything to do with money and commerce- poverty was seen as a kind of sustainability virtue. Often people wore a kind of faux Western poverty as a badge of honour. This seems to be endemic in the environmental line of development in postmodern circles, which I refer to as ‘Deep Green’. I use this term in much the same way it is used in Deep Ecology: to denote a more meaningful depth of engagement in the topic. Other lines of postmodern development like internet technology, environmental policy making and the emerging green public relations field, seem to have less aversion to money, but it can be seen in others like social activism, fair trade, green politics and aid and development circles. In my view, this is another reaction to over-consumptive industrial economic processes that are seen to be so environmentally destructive. Again, it is understandable, but there is actually nothing healthy about writing off productive economic patterns and commerce. We didn’t focus on the business of environmental education as much as we should have in the beginning and it caused a lot of stress. There was, I have to say, an entitlement mentality when it came to education. This extended to us even though we were an independently funded, self-reliant, pioneering educational facility with few resources relative to government or corporate education programs. We were trying to model self-reliance and did not have any direct government support.

The answer to our economic stress was to get in touch with healthy Orange values of productive exchange and economy. We put together a business plan, budgeted effectively, marketed our product, made our fees clear, collected them and developed good value in our educational offering. We actually had good business skills, but we needed an Integral framework to put us in touch with the importance of integrating them fully into the project. We also extended this ethic of productivity to our permaculture work and it helped us to hit new highs in organic food production and sales. As with introducing Amber inspired social structures, putting in place Orange structures around commercial processes and productivity systems led to some very subtle but definite peer pressure to diminish these activities. They just looked too ‘conventional’ and therefore unsustainable to anyone viewing from a first-tier perspective. Over time we learned to stand firmly in an Integral perspective, and as we did, more and more participants started to see the benefits and to investigate an Integral perspective for themselves.

The Heart Circle – Using Healthy Green

At this stage we were well aware that although we had manifestations of some unhealthy Green patterns, we did not want to give away Green perspectives altogether. After one gains some perspective on Green values and patterns there can be a bit of a tendency to develop an allergy to them and to the Green level of altitude in general. This is typical of first tier development. When one develops to the next perspective it is inhabited exclusively, with little room for previous values or views. It is a bit like the pattern of reformed smokers who becomes extremely critical of their friends who continue to smoke.

We became conscious of nurturing our Green strengths, diminishing the pathologies and integrating with values and practices native to other altitudes. Practicing sustainability became a bit like practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine – we worked to balance and integrate all of the energies and dynamics of our system for enduring health.

One of the most important Green processes we developed was the Heart Circle. This is a process modified from Rainbow Gatherings. All participants sit in a circle and take turns speaking. One person talks at a time only, and everyone listens until they are done. It is a sacred, intentional space where people can speak their truth and speak from the heart. Commentary can be extremely personal and deeply critical. It is a very powerful and intense interpersonal space, full of emotional depth, deep honesty, sensitivity, great joy and equally great sorrow, anger and sometimes immense ecstasy. By developing this space and intentionally containing this energy we could honour the depth and beauty of being Green in a healthy way that allowed us to integrate it into our lives without this powerful energy dominating all of our other process.


I would like to emphasize here that the integral framework is a map only, and a simple one at that. Reality, the territory it tries to describe, is infinitely complex, ultimately mysterious and if we are honest only partially knowable. A good map, though, can be very helpful in navigating a real terrain.

Using even the few insights from a basic Integral perspective related here was enormously helpful in our work during the ten years Permaforest Trust experimented as a rural permaculture educational community. The Integral framework continues to inform my understanding and work within permaculture, Permaforest Trust and sustainability more generally. There was a time when the pathologies, dogmas and difficulties of ‘making permaculture work’ in a Green milieu almost caused me to give it away altogether. Now, I can see the strengths of permaculture more clearly and I am more effective at working through its weaknesses.

An integral perspective allows me to see my world in a similar way. I am comfortable with it again. Not through ignorance, but through understanding. It doesn’t have to be rejected, I don’t have to live outside of it to have an ethical existence, it doesn’t have to fought, it is not going to fall in a screaming heap and I don’t have to fix it. It is beautiful because it is what it is and it cannot be anything other. Its current dynamics are obviously unsustainable, but I now have a faith in the patterns of systemic adaptation, organization and change. There is a Source of order and evolution at work in our world and there is great power in working with this process. This is not a naive or passive faith. It is, indeed, a clear awareness, a critical call to action, but it is not by fighting the various parts of our greater Self that we will persevere. Our greatest hope lies with the compassion to harmonize the great depth and span of reality using the principles and patterns of Natural organization.

An integral permaculture must use its strength for identifying natural patterns and principles in the ‘environment’ and apply them to the ‘environments’ of self and culture as well as nature. We must use our insights more comprehensively by recognizing and integrating the many worldviews held by the planet’s many peoples. And, we must have the compassion to embrace all of our world, while having the wisdom to eliminate pathologies wherever we find them. While an Integral permaculture may not be about Spirit, it does make room for genuine spiritual practice, allowing the integration of this very important and powerful aspect of human and cultural development. Becoming skilful in combining these elements is a great step forward in facilitating the enduring health of our civilization.

Few disciplines have permaculture’s practical foundation in learning and using natural patterns and principles- fewer still have integrated foundations in the ethics of people care and earth care. Also, permaculture has a unique capacity for facilitating local community self reliance in food, energy and other critical commodities during sustained periods of resource decline. If our perspective about approaching bio-physical limits to growth and impending energy descent is correct, then a more fully integral permaculture- one that can combine the strengths of the various sectors of our communities, support individuals in personal transition and offer viable alternatives in agriculture and local economy- will become critically important. In a future of declining outer material growth there is an opportunity and a likelihood of an increasing alternative trend towards inner, personal and spiritual growth. An Integral permaculture can become a vehicle where providing us with what we need becomes a way of realizing the potential for who we can more fully become.


Wilber, K. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston: Integral Books.

Wilber, K. (2001). A theory of everything: An integral vision for business, politics, science and spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.

From Deep Green to Second Tier: Sustainability at the Threshold

Note to the reader: I submitted this case study as part of the proceedings of the first Integral Ecology and Sustainability Seminar hosted by Integral Institute and held near Boulder Colorado in October 2004. I attended the seminar as a participant. This case study gives some of the background for the later development of PatternDynamics™.

From Deep Green to Second-Tier: Sustainability at the Threshold

An Integral Sustainability Case Study of The Permaforest Trust

Tim Winton

September 2004


The Permaforest Trust is an integrally informed sustainability education facility working towards becoming a dedicated Integral Sustainability education and practice centre. This case study tells the story of its inception, growth and ongoing maturity in an integral context, and it outlines the particular challenges faced by the project, and by me, its founder, in the process of introducing integral ideas and practices. We will spend some time learning about the background of the project; about my own growing awareness of integral ideas and their implementation at The Permaforest Trust (The Trust); the often devastating confusion, chaos and resentment this created; and the eventual evolution of effective means for successfully introducing integral practices to our participants, who by and large, come from the green vMeme and often from a subset that is one of the deepest and most sensitive expressions of the green vMeme. Having been through the transition from Green to second tier personally (UL) and organisationally (LL and LR), I am now fascinated with the leap to second-tier consciousness and with developing the skilful means for facilitating this transition. After all, in terms of getting to an integral, second-tier level of consciousness, it is where the action is: no one comes to second-tier but by Green, in all of its manifestations and permutations. I see the same challenges I faced as an individual and that we faced at The Trust as an organization arise again and again where people or organizations try to transcend the green vMeme. This case study aims to illustrate these resistant patterns and to provide some examples of solutions and strategies that work effectively for us. Just as importantly, it helps to demonstrate that the negativity and confusion faced at the threshold of second-tier consciousness is normal, and to encourage people to persevere, because as overwhelming as it seems at the time, the confusion may be transcended and included into a new and vastly more exciting way of being.

 A Little Background

My own entry into the value set of the green vMeme came on a little late. I made it through an undergraduate degree in the humanities, English Literature no less, blissfully unaware of and uninterested in the academic culture around me. When I did notice it, I thought it was largely nonsense and I assumed the whole post modern/relativistic/deconstructed/construction was a peculiar academic fad. I was busy trying to work out how to be successful (at what, I wasn’t quite sure) and these people didn’t look like they were doing anything much at all. It wasn’t until I had completed my degree and went off tree planting to repay my university debt that I was seduced by the sensitivity and sharing of being green vMeme.

Tree Planting

Tree planting entailed going north into the Canadian wilderness with forty or fifty other young people to replant trees in the cut blocks left after logging operations.  It’s a peculiar job which entailed riding around in an old yellow school bus, living in bush camps in remote locations, pushing ourselves to the limits of human endurance, having the time of our lives and plumbing the depths of pain and despair (often in the same day) while forming into a sort of neo-tribal unit that became one big hilarious family. And in these big hilarious families over the next four years I learned the joys of the green vMeme: community and communication, ecological sensitivity, vegetarianism, Birkenstock sandals, quality psychedelics and being a complete outcast in the work-a-day world of the orange vMeme. There can be no starker contrast between the values of the green vMeme and that of Orange than when a group of “university kids” in an old school bus rolls up to a small logging town in northern Canada and tumbles out onto the street to be confronted by the good citizens of Timbertown.  We thought we were the eco-heroes repairing the damage done by the rapacious and immoral loggers, and they thought they were the unappreciated, hard working realists with jobs to protect and resource to supply to the community. There was a lot of mutual hostility, although I’m happy to say it wasn’t universal, but for the most part there was no doubting who belonged in which camp, and there was very little social mixing between the groups.

So there I was travelling deep into the green vMeme, but I had one eye cast behind me yearning for the achievement and productivity of Orange (for that never really left me) and I had one eye cast ahead to a nascent expanded awareness leading to Yellow and beyond. It was tree planting that provided me with my first really powerful transpersonal experiences. Planting is a gruelling, rhythmic, manual labour practiced mostly alone in the vastness of often breath taking natural beauty. There were times when I would ‘Zen out’ on the cut block while planting. I had no other words for it: for hours on end some days my being would step back from the sweating, exhausted planting machine I had become- bobbing relentlessly up and down with my thoughts streaming as I put trees in the ground- and somehow I would just witness all of that.  It was very subtle at first, but over time it became more palpable and I grew to love it- the exhaustion and rhythm and this strange new state of awareness. Nature and particularly the trees became close, like brothers, and there were raw, blissful days when the gap between the natural world and me would fade away entirely.

As strange as it may seem, tree planting was to become my vehicle to integral consciousness, allowing me to integrate Orange with Green and to head on out to second-tier awareness, although it was years before I realized what was going on or had a language to talk about it.


After four years of planting and shifting around the country, and an aborted attempt at another degree (this time in architecture), I headed to Australia to visit my father. He had a copy of a large and very interesting book on his shelf entitle, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, by Bill Mollison, who along with David Holmgren is one of permaculture’s co founders. Permaculture is most simply described as a design discipline for creating sustainable human settlements. It was fascinating to find a design system that used plants and animals instead of bricks and mortar, and that used wind, water and sunshine instead of diesel, concrete and steel. Not only that, but it was based on a set of ethics: care of the earth, care of people and return of surpluses to those ends.  I was hooked- it was design for the green vMeme. Permaculture has as its foundation understanding the idea that sustainability is related to energy use. High-energy use creates too much unused output and this is called pollution. Sustainability could be achieved by using natural elements arranged in ecological patterns to mimic the way nature worked, using less energy and utilising all outputs.

I dove right on in, doing a foundation 10-day permaculture design course and shortly thereafter going to the source by moving to Bill Mollison’s permaculture share farm, a project of the Permaculture Institute, in Northern New South Wales, Australia. Not only was it an exciting new avenue for the exploration of design and sustainability, but as it turned out, permaculture was also my portal into the deep green vMeme.

The Deep Green VMeme

At this point I should explain just what I mean by ‘deep’ green vMeme. I use the term similarly to the way it is used in ‘deep ecology’- as a sort of green vMeme qualifier. It is my own term, and I use it for that particular and often extreme manifestation of the green value set that can be found in sustainability, ecology and conservation circles, especially as it gets further from the academic and institutional levels and closer to the grass roots. It has a distinctly earthy, back-to-the land, retro-Romantic flavour with accents of eco-activism, community living, deep ecology and eco-feminism. Standard issue: way unconventional hair, blockade scars, neo tribal tattoos and body adornment, Volkswagen vans, colourful second hand or exotic Indian and South American clothing, vegetarianism and of course the full set of Green values- along with a fair dose of disdain for anything not green vMeme. I’m describing the extreme here, but it is the ideal most people in the deep green vMeme aspire to, even if they never really get there. This stereotype is accredited with much status and respect within the deep green crowd.  Like any generalisation it has its limits, but it is useful as an orienting concept in developing strategies for the challenges that lie ahead. The healthy aspect of the deep green vMeme is earthy, lush and beautiful often populated by inspiring folks deeply committed to championing environmental and sustainability issues. I treasure my own deep green self and the healthy friends and relationships that go with it- for me there is no place like it for experiencing the depth of feeling and living the beauty of communion. Unfortunately it has its pathologies, and if you happen to be working at making it possible for these folks to enter second-tier, or you are working in green vMeme territory generally, sooner or later you are going to experience these pathologies the hard way, and this can be devastating. I am getting a bit ahead of myself, but this challenge is the central theme of this study and we will return to it shortly.

Permaculture Blow Out

It didn’t take long to work out that permaculture as we were practicing it at the Permaculture Institute was, ironically enough, unsustainable. It was an interesting communal experiment and, like everyone else, I learned an enormous amount about permaculture design and practice in the year or two we were there. It was exciting and inspiring, but as soon as the excitement wore off and we were forced to look at it in the cold light of day, it became all too obvious that it was not working. We were having reasonable success in a subset of the Lower-Right quadrant, modelling ecological sustainability with our various systems, projects and designs, but the Lower Right generally, aside from our work with ‘nature’, was suffering because of a lack of economic sustainability (a chronic and debilitating poverty consciousness which, as it turns out, arises ubiquitously throughout the deep green vMeme) and a consequent lack of infrastructure to support the self (Upper Left) and culture (Lower Left). There was very little recognition that self and culture were important for sustainability to become a reality. In fact, any work in the Upper Left beyond the rational mind was actively discouraged, and we had a very hard time in the Lower Left getting along as a cohesive socio-cultural group at all.  Also, except for eating some organic food and getting lots of fresh air, we didn’t look after ourselves very well physically, so the Upper Right was ordinary at best for most of us. We had a little bit of Truth, but made the mistake of thinking it was “The Truth”, and we had next to nothing in the way of the Good or the Beautiful. We were underpowered and lopsided. The whole experiment, of course, ended in tears- and in the suicide of one of the participants. That tragic event punctuated the end of our era at the Permaculture Institute and nearly everyone left shortly afterwards. I have since learned that there were several groups of enthusiasts before our time that suffered similar fates (what I now call the “burn out cycle”) and I have observed or heard of countless other similar stories.

The Permaforest Trust

Despite all of that, in March of 1998, I created The Permaforest Trust as a sustainability education organization with the intention of getting one of these centres to actually work. I wanted to combine tree planting and sustainable forestry with permaculture (thus the name ‘Permaforest’) to create a functional, working model of a variety of so called sustainability practices which would demonstrate that sustainability theory could be put into practice. From the very beginning the project had an intuitively integral intention. This is a very good thing, because I now know that it could not have succeeded in the way that it has without developing an integral approach. At the very least there was a recognition that the success of these disciplines had to be widened from the Left-Hand domains and demonstrated in the Right-Hand domains: successful theory must be made manifest as successful practice.  And, I had come to a few conclusions about the drawbacks of some of the green vMeme values I myself had taken on, largely with respect to getting things done. I was ready to change my stage of consciousness, but really didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I did know that for the project to succeed it would need to be informed, at least in part, by a different set of values. I was developing dissatisfaction with green vMeme values and behaviours, but there was no one around at second-tier for me to emulate. So for a good while I would express orange aspects of myself when I needed to get things done and green aspects when I wanted to be with my friends. I became a bit of a spiral schizophrenic: I felt split into two distinct selves that I had difficulty integrating. If I started talking about business to my green vMeme friends, they would look at me suspiciously or like I was a bit of an oddity; and when the forestry industry folks got wind of my Green leanings there were muttered references to mung beans and good natured snickers behind my back.

The Big Leap to Second Tier

The rest of this paper is largely about the struggle to integrate Orange within Green and the big leap to second-tier consciousness, both personally and organizationally through the development of the Trust. While the integration of Orange with Green is a simplification of how the leap to second-tier takes place, this is largely how our experience unfolded at the Trust, and recounting it this way serves as a clear illustration of the general pattern of transcend and include that happens at any change in the stages of consciousness.

(To be a little more technical, what I think was actually happening over the period covered by this case study, is that the project itself (LL and LR) had pretty much finished the third phase of the Green fulcrum (where Green values and practices are integrated with all of the previous stages, but most noticeably Orange, the stage immediately before Green) and it was moving through the fulcrum to second-tier consciousness. That is, we were differentiating from Green and latterly identifying with second-tier and integrating all before that. By the end of the case study period we had stabilized or fused with second-tier. I think our problems came about largely because most of the participants in the project (UL and UR) where still in the second phase of the Green fulcrum, where they were still primarily dis-identifying with Orange. So the project itself was dis-identifying with Green and later integrating Orange and Green and our participants were dis-identifying from Orange and fusing with Green. In essence I felt that the project was developmentally out of synch because the UL and UR were heading to Green and LL and LR were heading to second-tier.)

The value in this case study lies in illustrating the experiences we had and the strategies we developed that allowed us to overcome the challenges we faced in creating an integrally informed sustainability project. It is true that the main concern for integral folks is not to get everyone to second-tier, but rather to promote the health and evolution of the whole spiral, however there needs to be a balanced provision for this momentous leap to second-tier consciousness. It is a much larger transition, it is of a different order to the ones before it, and it appears that there is a general dissatisfaction building in the green vMeme that indicates there will be more and more people looking to make this step. Many of these people are going to be coming out of the subset of the green vMeme I call the deep green vMeme. I think the patterns we have discovered and the strategies we have evolved at the Trust will be helpful across the green vMeme where there is a movement to integral stages of consciousness. In particular these strategies will assist anyone working with Integral Sustainability, for sustainability is the province of the green vMeme generally and the deep green vMeme in particular. Even if you are working in Integral Sustainability and you are not working directly with the green or deep green vMeme, at best they will be your critics and at worst they will actively seek to destroy you, so it is best to be prepared.

Getting Started

The Trust purchased 170 acres of uninhabited farmland adjacent to the World Heritage-Listed Border Ranges National park in Northern New South Wales. This is a rugged, lush and beautiful volcanic landscape with rainforest and towering eucalyptus trees fed by the sunshine and rainfall of the humid subtropical climate of the Australian east coast. It is also on the edge of the Byron Bay hinterland, the widely recognised ‘alternative lifestyle’ capital of the country. During my time at the Permaculture Institute, I had started a small tree planting business and when I left I took it with me to the Trust. Business was good and for the next three years I lived in a small trailer next to the only bit of infrastructure on the land, an old steel feed shed. I did contract tree planting and seed collecting, built up my little company, funded the Trust and when I had time off I set up the infrastructure for the sustainability education centre. I had a business, operating largely through Orange values, to get things done and make money and I ran a charitable, educational trust, operating primarily through Green values, to experiment in the realm of sustainability practices. I had a foot in both worlds, but as it turned out, I didn’t have much of an idea of how to integrate the two as other people became involved.

Gradually, a small but steady group of people joined the project, and there followed an exciting, confusing and intense period of infrastructure building, evolving community procedures and values, creating various programs and general project set up. During this time it became evident that doing something a little different was going to be a lot harder than we thought. I had as yet not come across integral ideas, and until I did the whole thing, at times, was mighty confusing and frustrating indeed. There was an underlying resistance to our approach, which was sometimes subtle and sometimes very overt, but constantly with us.  Our green vMeme peers and the general green vMeme cultural milieu we were immersed in found it difficult to understand why we had so many Orange values and structures- many still do. The accompanying resistance was difficult for all involved. We faced a lot of cultural and peer pressure to do things like everyone else in the green vMeme.

It wasn’t that we were just being pedantic about how we wanted things done. We came to realize that the sustainability- the very continued existence of the project- was under threat unless we could deal with the challenges and expectations from members of the green vMeme. If we didn’t, we could see we were in danger of suffering the same descent into a dysfunctional, gooey heap that many of us had been through in other projects with similar green vMeme values and methodologies. We couldn’t just not invite folks oriented in the green vMeme either- we had created a place, for better or for worse, that didn’t appeal to folks oriented in other vMemes. I don’t think we did this consciously, but a combination of the natural setting and initially rustic facilities along with many of our own green vMeme ways did not encourage folks oriented in Orange or Blue.  We were creating an Integral Sustainability education centre where our biggest critics made up most of our clients.

A Little Help From Ken

The main problems arose from our reluctance to comply with green vMeme expectations and our desire to implement some necessary Orange practices. This situation lead us to confusion, disbelief, resentment, misunderstandings, more than a few guilt trips and moments of outright hostility.  What we found was that certain patterns of negative behaviour that threatened the health and continued existence of the project came up again and again. What made it even harder was the fact that early in the project the core participants, including me, were not fully stable beyond Green. Some never went there, and this of course created its own problems, but until a few of us found the confidence to stand comfortably and resolutely with the integration of Orange structure and achievement and Green sensitivity and communication it was very hard to improve the situation.

Looking back now with an integral view it is easy to identify the patterns of behaviour we encountered and the obviousness of some of the solutions and strategies we put in place. At the time however, it was confusing and hard to see a way out. At times it seemed like we were damned if we gave into the green vMeme expectations and damned if we didn’t. We may still have been frustrated to this day if I had not come across the writings of Ken Wilber. Early in the project I bought a copy of Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. I read it like a thirsty man drinks water. All of a sudden the whole thing started to make some sense. That someone had identified what was happening was an enormous relief, and there was a comprehensive map of this confusing territory to boot. Now we were getting somewhere. I continued to read Ken’s works along with other integrally informed authors steadily. From that point on things became clearer. More than that, over time as we started to understand what was happening, some of our strategies began to work!

The rest of the paper tells the story of how the project gradually became integrally informed by listing the major challenges we faced and the solutions we implemented, allowing us to make the leap to a consolidated second-tier organization.  Following this are a few closing observations and a look ahead to the future.

Number 1: Green Pressure

At first our green vMeme behaviours and our orange ones were not well integrated. We appeared deep Green on the surface and we liked it that way, but we realised quickly that we needed rules. People were going to have to pull their weight and they were going to have to pay their way. Everything was ok until the three little items (rules, work and payment) above were mentioned, and to be fair I think some of us, myself included, were reluctant to mention them. These were not popular items, and when they were mentioned all of a sudden the “caring and sharing vibe” was totally ruined. The pressure to offer an open, welcoming, healing space where people could just turn up and hang out was understated but clear. Some people would tell us that they would help in their own way, but imposing rules and expectations on them- and even worse enforcing them- was very uncool. Others would look hurt and fade away never to return. At first this kind of pressure worked to some extent and we would back down, only to realize that once again we were doing most of the dishes and buying most of the food. I found this pressure harder than just about all the other challenges, and it took me a long time to come to terms with alienating much of my peer group. In fact it felt like alienating a bit of my own identity and that made it even harder, especially as I have already mentioned, early in the project I had no real understanding of what was happening. Eventually, with strong leadership from Nicole, my partner, by now a full time resident at the Trust, we began making our expectations very clear up front, and we did not back down.  From then on it was widely known that we were different, and initially it cut down the number of participants considerably, but life was getting easier.

Number 2: The Burn Out Cycle

One thing we did not want, and took steps to stop right from the beginning, was the burn out cycle. The burn out cycle is a little more complex than the situation I mentioned above at the Permaculture Institute. Firstly, there is a pattern of people getting fed up with their rat race, consumerist life in Orange, and finding some portal into Green- permaculture courses are a classic event for this sort of indoctrination. Any change of stage of consciousness is a profound event for most people, and if it is not handled well it can lead to despair. Well, the first thing people find out in a lot of permaculture design courses is how bad things are, then you are told the answers to our environmental woes, then you are spit out the other end with no support- often in total despair at the state of the world. This can have an interesting effect on people. One of these effects is to suspend their better judgement and jump in, boots and all, to the first project that recruits them in their mission to change the world. I have seen people quit their jobs or families or both and dive straight into the most unlikely of projects- unlikely to succeed that is. Here begins the burn out cycle. Motivation by despair is a powerful but short-lived affair, and at some point in most of these projects these individuals start to feel the effects of giving more than they are receiving. That is agency and communion are badly out of balance. Eventually they burn out and leave, often straight back to the orange vMeme where they can at least sustain themselves. Some organizations actually thrive on what I call the burn out mill: finding people motivated by despair, or good will, using them up, spitting them out and finding more of the same over and over again. We did not want to be a burn out mill or worse be accused of being one. This is where the complexity comes in. If you are not very clear about the expectations you have for what people need to give and what they can expect to get- if agency is not carefully balanced with communion and monitored consistently then you are asking for trouble. This trouble may come in the form of burnout martyrdom. Because the burnout cycle is such a widely recognised pattern it is fairly easy for any disaffected person to claim they have done so much for the cause that the cause is to blame for their current unfortunate circumstances. And if you are directing that cause then you are at fault. Oh boy!

At this stage it is probably worth pointing out that, while it may appear that we seem to have had a lot of personal dramas and difficulties, in my experience they are pretty much unavoidable when you are working in or around this part of the green vMeme (unless you have some forewarning and get some structures and strategies in place from the beginning, which is why I’m writing this paper). And honestly, even the worst of our problems, as debilitating as they were, are mild compared to some of the stuff I have witnessed in other less informed projects- which has at times been quite literally stranger than fiction. In my experience, these negative patterns to one degree or another happen in just about every project working in or around the green vMeme, and it gets more extreme as you move closer to the deep green vMeme. And I don’t think our troubles came because we attracted more than our fair share of narcissistic people. Goddess knows the deep green vMeme has its share, but even healthy green vMeme folks were a part of may of these conflicts. All of this negativity is a natural part of Green’s reaction to anything second-tier. As we became clearer about our integral nature and implemented our strategies for resolving these patterns of resistance things improved remarkably, but we have found that letting these strategies drop lead quickly back to the same old problems and challenges. After a while we became quite good at filtering out the most narcissistic and troublesome would-be participants by simply being clear and up front with people before they turned up, which leads into our next topic.

Number 3: Voluntary Commitment, Privileges and Responsibilities

Eventually we codified what it was people were ‘getting’ (supporting agency) as a set of privileges and what people were ‘giving’ (supporting communion) as a set of responsibilities. We did this for each level of participation. These categories of participation are our basic social structure (Lower Right), which we will get to shortly. Asking people up front to make a voluntary commitment to meet their responsibilities and to honour their privileges did more to change our circumstances than anything else we did. In effect we were ensuring a fair and equitable balance between agency and communion in the project. We wrote these down in our Trust Handbook (a key LR document) and came up with a simple way of documenting when people took privileges and how they honoured their responsibilities. Before they came we would ask them to make a commitment to honouring their privileges and responsibilities. If they were a little wide of the mark from time to time, we only needed to remind them that the way things worked was clearly explained to them and that they made an informed choice to make a commitment. We made a genuine attempt to make this a very fair and equitable arrangement. This genuine and heart-felt equity was another critical aspect of our success, which became another key strategy we referred to as “working the moral line”. After that, informed, voluntary commitment to fair and equitable arrangements became a keystone operational strategy. In fact it became the basis for just about everything we did. Everyone is told that the project depends on people honouring their commitments, and if they cannot do this they will be asked to leave- in the most caring and sensitive way.

Number 4: The Tyranny of Structurelessness

By this stage things were moving along slowly but steadily at the Trust. Thanks to the success of the tree planting business (a completely separate entity from the Trust) we had a healthy capital fund, and we never had any real time pressure to become operational. Along with Nicole and myself, there was a small but steady flow of people who joined us as full time residents. During this time we were still largely in the building and set up phase. We wanted to be able to accommodate and feed up to 30 people for courses and workshops, demonstrate organic food gardens, sustainable forestry, alternative building techniques and a whole range of other sustainability strategies and methods. As well as offering a workshop retreat venue, the idea was to create a sort of ‘educational community for sustainability’ where people could come and learn about sustainability by living it on a day-to-day basis, all be it temporarily.  Some came for a short time and some for years on end. It was never a large number, and at times we thought we had been too successful in limiting the kinds of people who turned up to participate, but where we lacked numbers we generally made up for it in quality, especially of the core participants. Generally I think we have had an extraordinarily mature and passionate group of people make substantial commitments to the project. Hundreds of people have participated over the last seven years, and while we have had problems, the really tough ones came from a minority of people and generally early in the project before we learned about the “tyranny of structurelessness.”

We learned the term “the tyranny of structurelessness” from a long time resident of one of the few widely recognised successful intentional communities (out of the hundreds in the area) that had been set up since the early ‘70s. Her position was that the old hippy idea that, “if society’s economic and social structures are bad then all structures are bad,” was itself a bad idea. She had lived through the idealistic early days of her community when all social structures, authority structures, hierarchical structures and economic structures where thrown out the window. They worked out very early that without any structures and authority at all, it was very hard to keep the guns, drugs, criminals, violence and instability from just moving on in.

We didn’t need to be told twice. We evolved a definite operational structure that included a hierarchy of authority. This was the second most troubling and unpopular measure we brought in- the first was paying a daily fee, which we’ll deal with when we discuss the inevitable deep green vMeme poverty consciousness.

Our structure consists of a hierarchy of categories of participation. Each category of participation has a set of privileges and responsibilities that go with it. And, each category requires a different level of commitment- the larger the commitment to the project, the greater are the level of privileges and the greater the responsibilities. Below is a list of our categories and how they work:

Guests-  participants who have few privileges and few responsibilities. The primary privilege is to join us for a few days and experience life at the Trust; the primary responsibility is to pay $12 per day and work four hours, usually in the food gardens.

Supporting Members- folks who join the Trust to support our work. Primary privilege is to receive a copy of our email newsletter. Primary responsibility is to pay $120 per year. Supporting Membership is also the first step to Active Membership.

Active Members- people that make up our core participants. Privileges include participation at Trust meetings, bringing their own Guests to the Trust, engaging in projects and research, formally associating themselves with the work of the Trust, and living at the Trust as residents and students. Responsibilities include knowing and following the contents of the Trust Handbook, following the Trust Community System, helping other participants, and paying $12 and working 2 hours each day they stay or paying their designated student fees.

Management Trainees- people residing and studying at the Trust gaining qualifications in sustainability project management. Privileges are the same as Active Members with the addition of direct tuition from the Manager and the Trustee and reduced fees. Responsibilities are the same as Active Members with the addition of providing support to the Manager and the Trustee in the running of the Trust sustainability education centre and commercial organic food system.

Manager- the person(s) responsible for the operation of the Trust on a day-to-day basis. Privileges include Active Member privileges, a private personal living space, exemption from some aspects of the Community System, and a wage based on a share of income. Responsibilities include operation of the Trust education centre, including food purchases, safety procedures, repairs and maintenance, bookings, logistics, food production, commercial organic growing activity, marketing, people management, financial management and administration for internal matters.

Trustee- the person(s) responsible for the overall direction and success of the Trust and its projects. Privileges include a cabin for the personal use of their family, exemption from parts of the Trust Community System, exemption from fees and where possible a wage. Responsibilities include overall project direction, adherence to the Trust Deed, sustainability and growth of the project, financial budgeting and planning, accounting, taxation, administration for external matters and program development.

Number 5: The Moral Line

It was one thing to develop these structures and quite another to successfully implement them. In our experience, the moral line is consistently highly developed in the green vMeme. We found that the most effective way to introduce Orange ideas, as part of an integral approach, to anyone in the green vMeme is to appeal to their moral line of development.  Normally Orange structure and accompanying authority hierarchy is anathema to Green- it is inherently bad: everyone should be equal, hierarchy of any sort is bad, structure is oppressive, and authority is dominating. Everyone should have equal privileges; everything else is unfair and unjust and just plain wrong.

When I first started learning about the Spiral Dynamics system of vMeme classification, I wasn’t really convinced the distinctions in people’s value systems could be that cut and dried in reality. But, experience has confirmed it by and large. The truth may be that we have travelled through many waves of development and that the potential for all of them lies within us, but it is also equally true that it is very easy to identify just where someone’s centre of gravity lies and the beliefs and behaviours it will propagate. At first it was quite surprising to see just how accurately we could predict people’s responses and behaviours, then after a while it became very natural- and very useful.

The trick to introducing Orange structure and hierarchy to participants generally oriented in Green is to explain the justice and fairness of a system that balances privileges with responsibilities and authority with commitment level. As a starting point we agree that there must always be equity and justice in all relationships. (It is important to use Green language when explaining all this- a minor but effective strategy we call “speaking Green from Yellow.”) From there we point out that it would be unfair if some people did less but received the same privileges as everyone else and unjust if people who had dedicated very little of their life energy to the project had the same amount of influence as people who had not only dedicated a great deal of their life energy, but had made a commitment to doing so. As quite a few commentators have pointed out now, nobody tells the green vMeme what to do; commitment is a sacrifice because it limits your escape from someone telling you what to do; therefore it carries a heavy premium. No one in the green vMeme, if they are forced to contemplate it fully, undervalues making a commitment. If the system of structure and hierarchy is genuinely fair and equitable then there are no comebacks from this presentation- no one in the green vMeme will argue with the morality of a system like that. But, it is critical this fairness bear out in reality. Green is the sensitive vMeme and injustice and inequity to others are palpable and heart felt by people oriented at Green. If there is any legitimate case for pointing out inequity, injustice or the abuse of privilege then it will surely be made and the whole strategy will fail.

We also point out that while we value their critical nature and any feedback they may have for us, and that it is an important faculty to develop, there can be a tendency to apply it indiscriminately. It may be their experience that most other situations warrant exercising this critical faculty to find inequities, but we point out our project is a genuine attempt at fairness and equity, and that perhaps it is unfair in that case to go over it with a fine tooth comb and then go on to split hairs.

Number 6: Poverty Consciousness

As I mentioned earlier, there was only one measure we introduced that was more unpopular than our hierarchical structure and that was the requirement for the payment of a daily fee. For the sum of $12 and four hours of your time, we will feed you, house you and give you the opportunity to experience our lifestyle and learn our skills. While our facilities are not five star, they are clean, structurally sound, hygienic and quite pleasant to live in. The Trust has spent the best part of a million dollars setting them up, and while we stretched those funds as far as we could, we didn’t need to compromise anything that would limit anyone’s ability to be comfortable, well fed, safe and clean. Interestingly, the feedback we get from people firmly rooted in the orange vMeme is that this is ridiculously low. However, the feedback we get from most folks oriented in the deep green vMeme is that it is ridiculously high.

Here lies a strange paradox: the green vMeme is not very productive- sensitive yes, caring yes, effective communicators yes, productive no. This is especially true in the deep green vMeme. Time is needed for process, sharing, communication, counselling, healing and personal space (mostly UL and LL activity) and as a consequence there is not much time left over for getting the job done or making money (LR activity). And because of this deep Green could not exist without the wealth and infrastructure created by Orange. But, far from acknowledging the situation, there is a total rejection of anything to do with wealth and money or Lower-Right activity in general. This poverty consciousness is a badge of honour in the deep green vMeme, but it is often extremely debilitating. Being deliberately poor and unproductive hampers any development in the Lower Right and as a result there is no techno-economic structure to support development in the rest of the quadrants.

As you can imagine, this made life difficult for us. In the beginning we found it very difficult to implement a fee. There was a lot of resistance to this and a real inability to understand why it was necessary. In the end we simply created a business model that kept fees to a minimum, but allowed us to be financially sustainable, worked up the prices and stuck to our guns.

Much of what we did was to identify negative patterns of behaviour and put in place strategies to dissolve them or to restrict the people who created them. This works well enough, but there are some patterns that can be very hard to spot until it’s too late.

Number 7: The Red Masquerade

The Red Masquerade is common enough, but often very hard to spot. It is when someone who is effectively at the Red level in one or more lines of development (usually emotional and moral) manages to hide this while appearing convincingly to live out of the green vMeme. In fact, they may have other lines, such as their cognitive line, well developed at Green, but their essential self system acts from Red. This is only really trouble if: one, you don’t spot it, and two, you are not well and truly stable at second-tier. It can, though, be real trouble.

It seems that it is surprisingly easy for Red to hide out in Green. This is essentially what Ken Wilber describes in Boomeritis. Because Green is open, non-judgemental, egalitarian, pluralistic and anti authoritarian there are no constraints on Red narcissism. Red gravitates here, but usually only where it can hide convincingly, at least for a while.

The problem is that Red is very forceful; and if it has pathological tendencies in the emotional or moral lines or both, it can cause all kinds of havoc trying to get its way. This can be very destructive because by definition they will be interested in their own priorities and not a balanced and integrated approach that ensures the health of the holarchy. They will try to dismantle or subvert integrated systems that oppose their narcissism in any way, often by being deceitful, manipulative and dominating. Where seen: violent radicals at peace rallies and disruptive people at green vMeme meetings.

In a green vMeme environment this can be very destructive. We came across it a few times, and it was very difficult to deal with until we identified it and were able to confidently approach it from a second-tier perspective. When we tried to deal with it from Green it flattened us like a truck, causing all sorts of problems and taking enormous amounts of energy and ‘process’ to keep in line. It was persistent and frustrating.

The answer is to stand at second-tier, activate Blue, and ruthlessly expose the behaviour for what it is. If you are not stable at second-tier, then the fact that the masquerader may expose your Blue behaviour to your Green peers will stop you. When you are firmly at second-tier this is not a problem because Green is no longer your whole life. As soon as the masquerader knows that it can no longer manipulate sensitive Green and it is confronted by effective Blue it will move on.

Number 8: Power

One of the first questions that participants ask is, who owns the Trust? And after that, how are decisions made? The short answers are that no one owns it and everyone makes decisions. It is the long answers that tell the real story of where power lies at the Trust, who has it and how they got it.

I should say at the outset that power, who has it and how to get it have never really been issues at the Trust. I had seen power issues become very destructive in other projects, and from the outset I put in place a strategy to try and eliminate power struggles. I did this deliberately and unabashedly by setting up a legal structure that left me with the ultimate decision making power at all times.  I make this absolutely clear to all participants before they become involved in the project.

This sounds very autocratic, but I think it succeeds and will continue to succeed as a collective organizational strategy for a number of reasons. The first is that I do not own The Permaforest Trust or any of its assets. At law in a trust relationship there is no real ‘owner’ of the assets of a trust. One person controls the assets of the trust (the Trustee) for the benefit of another person or persons (the Beneficiaries). The Trustee is bound by a Trust Deed that states how the assets of the Trust are to be managed and for what ends. In our case the Trust Deed states that our assets must be used for environmental and sustainability education and that the Beneficiaries are to be all Australians. So while I have control over the Trust, I do not own it (nor can I ever own it). I simply manage it for the benefit of others and the environment.

The second factor that helps it succeed is that we have evolved a unique subordinate decision making system that includes all active members. All major decisions to date, including decisions about how we do things, who gets what and who does what, have been made by consensus at members meetings. Should we not be able to reach consensus in a timely way, as Trustee I would make a decision. We have only one other decision making method, and it is simply that all active members are free to make any decision they like and put it into action provided they make a commitment to reversing the action and paying all costs for this reversal if a majority of other members or the Trustee thinks it was a bad decision. Management are more confident in this ability and have the support of the Trustee, so they make more decisions. (In reality people in greater positions of authority will discourage people in lesser positions of authority if they think a certain decision or action is a bad idea- often reminding them of the potential consequences of having to reverse the action based on their decision.)

We have very little beaurocracy or red tape, people are free to use their intelligence and initiative and generally decisions are made without too much fuss. We spend less than two hours a month on operational meetings.

The last reason I think it works is that, as I have mentioned above, we are careful to balance privileges with responsibilities. That is, we try and make sure people have a fair and equitable exchange with the Trust and we do this in a very transparent and up front way. I think a major cause of power struggles is that people often feel they have to struggle to get into positions of power so they can influence the flow of organizational resources in their direction. This is because they perceive that they are putting in more than they are getting back and that obtaining power is the only way to redress the inequity.

On balance I think our system of power and authority works because our hierarchy supports healthy holarchy, helping to structure and order the various parts of the organization into a functional whole.

Number 9: Types of Balance

We have had a few interesting typological observations, not so much as problems, but I will mention them as points of interest. They posed minor challenges at times, but they have never gotten so far out of balance that we had to spend much time dealing with them.

Firstly, there have been two distinct phases in the development of the Trust and they have had distinctive feminine and masculine essences. The first phase was the set up phase when we had a capital fund, few time constraints, simple facilities, little structure and a mostly green vMeme orientation. The numbers were overwhelmingly female at this point. We have kept records of every person who has been there and for how long and they bear this out. The second phase has been in operation only recently, and while it is not overwhelmingly male- the numbers are almost balanced- a few people have commented that it definitely has a more masculine flavour. This is the operational phase where all the building and experimenting done in phase one is actually being put to use in running the centre. We hire out our venue for courses and workshops, run an Accredited Permaculture Training ä internship program, offer weekend getaways for Guests, operate as commercial organic farm, and maintain our Membership program. For the first time it has to bring in as much money as it spends and it operates from a stable second-tier platform.

A few people have commented that we should attempt to bring in more of a feminine energy to balance things out, but my own view is that it may be helpful to have a slightly masculine essence at this active, operational start up period and that the balance of masculine and feminine types will adjust and readjust over time to suit the circumstances.

The other type we seem to get a lot of is the pioneer- that intrepid seeker of new horizons. It can be a bit of a handful in a place full of pioneers as they often tend to be rugged individualists, but I have to say on balance this is a very good type to have: generally good fun, energetic and willing to try just about anything. It is also a good fit for the project as we see ourselves as pioneering a second-tier approach to sustainability.

Number 10: Integral Leadership

Over time as we learned to work from a second-tier perspective most of the problems we had with the green vMeme in general and the deep green vMeme specifically faded away. Identifying negative and resistant patterns and understanding them through an integral framework helped motivate us to implement solutions that inevitably lead us to a stable second-tier approach. We still mostly attract people from the green vMeme, but they are aware of our approach and many of them are ready for a change and are in fact actively seeking a way to second-tier consciousness. And if not, that is fine, as long as they can live with who we are and how we operate, but the problems are largely a thing of the past. There are still challenges, but it is amazing just how smoothly things run at the Trust now that it is informed by a healthy second-tier orientation.

The thing that ties all of the strategies together is integral leadership. Even with all of the above strategies in place, it wasn’t until we could stand confidently at second-tier and provide unwavering leadership to second-tier that we really became firmly grounded as an Integral Sustainability centre. Now we attract people who are interested in our integral approach (weather they understand it initially as that or not) and who come to us for the opportunity to learn to move beyond Green to a second-tier approach to their life and their work. And folks who cannot participate in a healthy way just don’t turn up anymore.

It was Aikido that helped me to learn the importance of integral leadership.

Aikido is a martial art that works to blend with and neutralize violent or negative energy: whether physical, emotional or verbal. In Aikido there is a concept of extending ki- that is, extending one’s universal energy with an unwavering but relaxed directionality. Over the years the project was developing, I had been studying Aikido, an excellent practice grounded in the Upper Right that slowly but surely integrates mind and body through the practice of Aikido techniques. After a while Aikido practice became a bit of a theme at the Trust with some core participants practicing the art and many others taking up the practice as they stayed with us. Aikido became a key component of my own integral practice, and it has now become a regular part of the activities of the Trust. It provided the basis, in many respects, for the development of our integral leadership capacity, that unwavering directionality to second-tier. It also formed the beginnings of an intention to form a comprehensive integral sustainability program at the Trust.


We are only just beginning to explore the possibilities of Integral Sustainability at the Trust. Our work to date focused heavily on the Lower Right: setting up the physical infrastructure, developing community systems, a participation structure, the Trust Handbook, an Operations Manual and financial models as well as our ecological work in organic farming, permaculture, rainforest regeneration and sustainable forestry. Along with that work, our attention and energy went largely to finding a way from the green vMeme level of consciousness to second-tier. Interestingly, now that we have a well developed second-tier Lower Right, especially our physical infrastructure and our Trust Handbook which spells out the rules of how we live and the approach we take, it has tended to strengthen and speed the development of second-tier practices in the other quadrants. Where the Lower Left was stronghold of green vMeme values there is now generally a more integral set of values emerging among the participants: money is no longer taboo, ‘sharing’ as a useful organizational process is definitely out, and our community structure is actively discussed and improved on a regular basis. More surprisingly the upper quadrants are also becoming more highly developed. Early in the morning or in the evening there is invariably some activity or practice fostering individual development, working on the inner self or the outer or both. In the Upper Left it is usually meditation on an informal basis, and in the Upper Right we have regular Aikido classes along with a host of other physical activities and disciplines. If it is true that the LR techno-economic infrastructure is often the most influential quadrant in determining the general level of development, then I think our Lower Right is one of our most valuable integral assets.

And now that our struggle with transcending Green is largely over, we can comfortably explore the other vMemes in an integral context, learning to activate their healthy aspects and developing ways of relating to folks at other waves of development in the context of sustainability education and practice. We are developing strong practices in many different lines; we are comfortable with the types of people we attract; and there is a general feeling that the future offers exciting opportunities at the integral edge.

The Future

Our immediate challenge for the future is to formalize and evolve our integral activity into a comprehensive Integral Sustainability program where people may join us to experience an integral approach on a day-to-day basis while they live and learn at The Permaforest Trust. Our aim is to introduce practices in all of the quadrants and in as many lines as possible that regularly elevate people’s state of consciousness to speed and strengthen health and evolution through all of the stages of consciousness- to second-tier and beyond.

In the end Sustainability as a concept means so many different things to so many different people that it may only be useful as a reminder of what it is to be unsustainable, which is in effect to die. The yearning for sustainability is really a yearning for life, and if that is the case then the best chance we have is an integral approach. From a second-tier perspective, sustainable practice is integral practice.

Appendix A– Quadrant breakdown of some Trust practices

(UL)                                                                                                                        (UR)

meditation                                                                             healthy manual labour

academic study                                                            organic diet

Dzogchen                                                                        aikido (physical and subtle body)

aikido (as causal practice)                                                gardening

commitment  basis to relationship                                    Trust Hand Book

privileges balanced with responsibility                        buildings and infrastructure

planetary values                                                            business plan

intentional community                                                permaculture

(LL)                                                                                                                        (LR)


Beck, D. and C. Cowan. (1996). Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Wilber, Ken (1996). A Brief History of Everything. Boston Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.

Wilber, Ken (2000). A Theory of Everything. Boston Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.

Wilber, Ken (2003). Boomeritis. Boston Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.

Wilber, Ken (1995). Sex, Ecology and Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Boston Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.

Introducing Tim “The Pattern Guy” Winton

In this blog I’ll be analysing news, current events and other cultural phenomenon as they relate to the sustainability and thriving of the human project using PatternDynamics™ ( an Integral Sustainability Pattern Language and elements of Integral Theory.

I’ll also post related material I’ve created previously and links to good resources that look at sustainability and complexity from similar perspectives.