The Sensitive Permaculturist

Alanna Moore has been a long time advocate of tuning into the subtle energies found in nature to enhance her practical permaculture design. She applies her learning from ancient and traditional cultures, with their grounding in caring for the earth and connection to spirit, in ways that challenge the way we see the physical world. Can these observations be applied in modern permaculture design? Alanna shares some of her journey into esoteric world of sensitive permaculture.

Cultures, the world over, have made offerings to the spirit world for protection and to give thanks
Cultures, the world over, have made offerings to the spirit world for protection and to give thanks.

Thirty years ago I did a ‘quickie’ course in acupuncture in Sri Lanka. With such a brief introduction to the subject, we generally used a popular locally produced text book to determine where to needle people. It was known as the ‘cook book’ approach and it helped a great many patients get well. But if you really wanted to know what was going on with an individual, you needed to manually feel their pulses – a slow and sensitive procedure that took much patience and practice to master.

And so it may go with permaculture. You might start to think there’s something wrong when the ‘designer’ suggests that everyone around the planet plant eucalyptus trees (or Olive trees in Ireland, etc). There’s a strong public perception that permaculturists are people who want to introduce potential weeds, just because these grow well where they come from.

A 'power tower' blessing ceremony
A ‘power tower’ blessing ceremony

Feel the pulses

But, on the other hand, we can take our permaculture design process slowly and really ‘take the pulses’ of a site during a full year of thoughtful observation, as in the ‘classical’ approach. Watch what works on a local level and do it even better.

However, to truly do justice to a piece of land, one’s investigations can go much deeper than physical attributes plus the usual energies of sun and wind and water. We can also feel the pulses of the ‘feng shui’ of a place, in all its subtleties. We don’t need to know exactly what the ancient Chinese approach might have been. We can just use all of our many senses directly at a site to determine if it might be a happy, sad or troubled location; and then avoid the non-beneficial zones, or work on improving them.

The practice of pendulum dowsing is an amplification of these normal sensory inputs. Because – yes, we all pick up feelings about places. The pendulum can help to pinpoint or confirm vague sensations, such as discomfort in the belly, that are pointers to site energies. So dowsing can help us to avoid living or gardening at places where harmony is not possible.

Permie Police

I note that Bill Mollison was also interested in the art of dowsing, enough to include a piece on the subject in his Designers Manual. So it is odd when other permies question whether this subject is better made taboo in permaculture. I’ve copped a bit of flack over the years, and have been shut out/ignored, but I’ve stuck with promoting my esoteric approach, for those who want it!

Having introduced many spiritually minded people to permaculture ethics and design over the years, it was strange to find in 2009 that there were still ‘knockers’ out there ready to publicly decry my sensitive approach to permaculture, as if I was committing a heresy.

But I can only thank the high profile permie teacher in Ireland who chose to attack me on his blogs and to students etc. He made me pretty angry. I tried to counteract his words by responding with more words. But that only made it worse.

Sensitive Permaculture by Alanna MooreEventually I stopped reading what he had written. Then I found I was able to channel the energy of my anger to write a book to explain my approach. I was on quite a roll, writing 1000 words each day. Before long I’d ceased to care what he felt or said and I had produced the book Sensitive Permaculture. Which is all very permacultural, to utilise existing energies of time and space. Even anger is an energy that can be fruitfully harnessed, it turned out. If I hadn’t been wound up, I may not have written the book at all!

Besides, I’ve more often than not had wonderful feedback of a positive kind, from people all over the world who have felt inspiration or gained a new understanding from my books and teaching. The sensitive approach, or call it spiritual or whatever you like, is all part of the rich tapestry of life after all. Not for everyone, but sometimes everything for some!

Towards an Earthy spirituality

Spirit house in Dunolly2
A spirit house in an ancient eucalyptus in Donolly, Australia

Most new age or modern takes on spirituality have been lacking in groundedness. But gradually, over the last few years, the seeds of a new form of spirituality have been taking root, where people derive soul sustenance from their own backyards, where they garden with joy and reverence for nature. Their heads, hearts and hands are all involved.

Like the ‘Anastasia’ movement in Russia, people are gathering together to celebrate life and nature in their eco-homes, gardens and ‘kin domains’. They relish the sound framework of permaculture design to create their own productive heaven on Earth.

Meanwhile, mainstream society, so lemming-like poised on the brink of disaster, needs a new heart, one that is lovingly Earth centred and rejecting of consumerism. For permaculture to succeed requires a revolution in consciousness. In counteracting the evils of capitalism we need to return to our self-sufficient roots, growing and sharing food and seeds together as much as we can.

In the permaculture ethic of ‘Caring for Spirit’* we can address this need at it’s deeper levels and help to forge a way that is fresh and new, while drawing upon the strengths of the old ways. It’s all very exciting! And there can be no ‘cookbook’ for that, because everywhere will be different and things are changing from moment to moment. We need not just our wits to guide us, but our deep intuitions too.

*The concept of a 4th ethic of “Spirit Care” was proposed and workshopped with Robin Clayfield at APC8 in Sydney 2005.

Alanna Moore

Alanna Moore with her giant cabbagePermaculture Pioneers: Stories from the new frontierAlanna Moore is a master dowser with over 30 years experience. She helped to found the New South Wales Dowsing Society in 1984 and is now a patron of the Australian Dowsers Society. She is the author of seven books, including the popular and practical Backyard Poultry – Naturally, has made 21 films and has produced several magazines about dowsing in Australia since 1982.

Alanna has extensively travelled around Australia teaching dowsing and geomancy, and building Power Towers to enhance plant growth. Since 2000 she has been an international speaker and teacher, presenting in New Zealand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Holland, Poland, Sweden, UK and Ireland. Alanna is also a permaculture farmer and teacher specialising in ‘sensitive permaculture’ design and features in the book Permaculture Pioneers.

You can visit her website at

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