Zone Zero and Emotional Permaculture

Design your inner landscape using the same principles you use to design your permaculture garden!

Sustainability starts with yourself.

this section written by Aline van Moerbeke​​

In this course we talk about “the inner landscape” and “emotional permaculture.” Some permaculturists call this “zone 0” or “zone 00” because it can be helpful to imagine yourself as the nucleus of your design.​

We use the term “inner landscape” to describe you, the designer, in the middle of it all. And indeed, the zone analysis that comes in so handy when designing your outer landscape can be used to design the emotional spaces as well.

Whatever you want to call it, this personal ecosystem of ours, this element that is very important in the bigger designs and which resides within the biochemical limits of our body, needs its own layer in our whole system design, if we are to be healthy, sustainable, and capable of building and maintaining a functional permaculture site for the long term.

image of personal zones by Jane Grey

Permaculture Women's Guild PDC: Inner Landscape

Using zones and sectors for self-care: emotional sectors.

This section by Aline Van Moerbeke

So, if sectors on landscapes are uncontrollable energies like wind and sun, what energies affect us on an inner landscape level and how can we design our lives to mitigate or maximize those energies?

How does somebody’s inner landscape become unhealthy in the first place? What happens when you reach the end of your energy reserves, where you think there is no way out, where you have no more petrol in your engine, and you break-down in the middle of the desert with no water or food in sight?

The answer is complex, but looking at invisible structures can offer us many clues. What are we dealing with here? What are the sectors we have to contend with?

In this article, I present myself as a case study on using permaculture to design my way out of that desert, averting catastrophe and moving, gently, into a new phase of abundance.

transformation art Dido Dunlop

The above image, created by ecofeminist author Dido Dunlop, is connected to her book, Storm Weathering: a Workbook for our Inner and Outer Climate.  Also check out this wonderful article, about how to compost painful emotions.

​Permaculture principles, revisited

How can permaculture principles help us to care for and nurture our inner landscape?

  • Start small. Give yourself a break. Take a bath, spend time alone. You can’t save the world all by yourself, so don’t beat yourself up if all you can do is a little bit each day. Self-care is important, and you matter.​
  • Find a niche. If everything feels like an uphill struggle, you might be on the wrong hill. The key to turning competition into cooperation is to find and fill the niche that is right for you.
  • Prohibit waste. Be diligent about what you bring into both inner and outer landscapes. Remember that unused surplus is waste, so don’t hoard emotions or opportunities any more than you would hoard food you can’t possibly consume. Keep things moving and the abundance will flow.​​
  • Slow and steady wins. Permaculture, on every scale, is a daily practice. Take your time, stay the path, and obtain a yield when you can.
  • Catch and store energy. Make sure you eat a healthy and balanced diet and get adequate shuteye, so that your inner landscape stays replenished and balanced, and you are strong enough and healthy enough to carry on implementing your design.​​
  • Seek and value feedback. Overwhelmed? Confused? Frustrated? Seek help! Solicit the opinions and advice of others impacted by your design. And listen.
  • The problem is the solution. Usually. Sometimes a problem is just a problem, and you have to be careful not to bypass the real struggles of others with this principle. But often, if you peel back a few layers of the problem at hand, the solution will be revealed. It’s worth a try!
  • ​​The designer limits the yield. Your attitude, your choices, your body, your boundaries and more will limit your yield. By the same token, limiting your own growth and consumption is an important responsibility, so take a careful account of your boundaries and make informed choices accordingly.​
  • Mistakes are tools for learning. Fall down, get back up. Keep trying and you’ll learn way more than if you give up.
  • Meet needs with multiple resources. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! If your whole inner landscape depends on the approval of your parents, your partner or your boss, you’re not going to be very resilient. It’s normal and healthy to care what others think. But spread your dependencies around and build a core of self-worth to fall back on and nobody will ever be able to pull the rug out from under you.​​
  • Focus on relationships, not components. Permaculture is all about relationships. Boundaries and relationships. So whenever you have an issue, remember this. Permaculture IS relationships. Fix the relationships and you fix the system.
hand full of organic compost

Can playing in the dirt cure depression?

Over the past decade or so, dozens of studies have come out about how dirt contains microbes that actually heal your mind. This article and this one are both very interesting. Check out this video intro to this revolutionary concept:

Dirt has a microbiome, and it may double as an antidepressant

Avoiding and Overcoming Burnout

No matter how well you inner landscape design starts out, it can be all too easy to slip into a rut.

Everybody needs support.

​This article is about releasing old pain by dealing with grief, caring for your body, making art, and getting dirty. 

Sometimes, just talking it out with a loving, neutral party can make a huge difference in how effectively we manage our emotional landscape. But not everybody can afford a therapist!

Here’s a silly yet surprisingly powerful option:

Need love? Talk to a tree!


Design your inner landscape! Use the tools discussed in this class and/or in the Emotional Permaculture workshop, and create maps and strategies that clearly describe your intimate, personal relationships within your design project.

Relevant Links and Resources​

Elizabeth Rowland is another long-time permaculture practitioner who has developed a fascinating body of work about emotional permaculture. 

Check out her new book, here.

Good boundaries free you | Sarri Gilman | TEDxSnoIsleLibraries
Boundaries and Your Self Care Routine!
Gardening as physical & emotional therapy
Emotion design to create value in your life with Cecilia Macaulay at Mind & Its Potential 2014

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