Watching the watcher


Nature’s complex interdependence. Devon, England

I went to Ennis, Ireland in 2011 to learn how to meditate. For 10 days, I sat silently on a pillow until my bum and back felt like they were on fire; until I heard S. Goinka’s guttural chant. This chant marked a gleeful end to one more hour-long sitting.

The first few days involved one mental clusterfuck after another, forcing me to tap gallons of patience and stay the course. When I began to observe my mind, it darted around like a panic-stricken lunatic in search of an escape hatch. It’s a slippery little shit who apparently doesn’t like being watched. By the fourth day I managed to wrangle it down to the ground, but then it started hitting me with random associations, like when it convinced me that the volunteers were washing cigarettes in the kitchen sink downstairs. By day 8 I had achieved relative calm, and by day 10 I had discovered how to go deep into my place of no-mind. My body’s cells felt like they were expanding away from me to the corners of existence, like a mass of fish eggs on the bed of a flowing river, attached but on the verge of hatching into thousands of tiny silver fish.

Two years later, I’ve lost some of my determination and resist the pillow more than I’d like to admit. But this morning I dragged myself to my perch for nearly 40 minutes, and it felt good. I just have to get back into the habit of being comfortable with watching my discomfort. As calm as I feel when I’m busy, silence promptly delivers me to my inner anxiousness. Meditation is hard work.

Observation of “zone 00”
In permaculture design, there are four main phases that occur in a circular pattern: observe, design, implement, and modify. Within a given piece of land, for example, it’s recommended that you just observe the area for at least a year. Permaculture asks that you “zone” the parameters of your land, with zone 1 being nearest to your home and zone 5 being the outer edges that should be left to the wild for pure observation of nature’s way. Zone 0, then, is inside your home, and zone 00 is inside yourself.

Zone 00 is the innermost part of the design process; the observation and design of the self within as an interconnected part of the design of the outer. Permaculture sees everything as connected.

As I learn to observe nature, which is totally overwhelming to me in its chaos, I will remember how complex my mind is, and how when I stubbornly sat there, it started to unravel its complexity. Perhaps nature will also offer me some sort of knowing if I give it some quiet patience.


  1. Pingback: Permaculture principle 1: Observe and interact | evolution

  2. Pingback: Permaculture principle 2: catching and storing energy | evolution

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