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#237  Answers to the Questions of life: Biomimicry, Complexity and Peacebuilding with Dr Deborah Benham

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Our guest this week is Dr Deborah Benham, Biomimicry Educator, Transition Town Co-Lead Link and Deep Nature Connection facilitator – which puts her in a place to really unpick what it will take for us to depart the crumbling remains of late-stage capitalism and build a world based on connection, coherence and community.

From her early days as a Marine Biologist, through her PhD on sea otters (I am not remotely envious of someone who gets to study sea otters for 3 years!), to her time in a community near Findhorn and now in a co-housing community in Dorset, Deborah’s life has been oriented towards holding a vision of humanity as a helpful species on this planet.

As you’ll hear, she’s the co-Lead Link for Transition Network, the charity which supports the international Transition towns movement; she’s a trained Biomimicry Educator and with a background in Jon Young’s Deep Nature Connection work, Deborah brings a practical, experiential lived and living toolkit that she shares and teaches – of how we can build thriving human societies, cultures, communities and businesses, designing with and as nature, creating mutual benefit for all life, using tech in life affirming ways, and uplifting justice, kindness and cooperation.

We often reach an impasse where we know roughly what needs to happen, but don’t have the conceptual or practical tools to bring it into being. Deborah has both – she’s fully grounded in the theory of how communities of support, practice and place can come into being and she’s teaching and living the practice. In fact – she’s one of the core team creating the Nature Connection Camp from 4th – 10th August near Bedford in the UK so if you’re around and want to experience the many ways we can weave the four threads she talks about, please hit the link in the show notes.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is still time to lay down the foundations for a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host and fellow traveller, on this journey into possibility. And this is a redo of the introduction to Deborah Benham. We will talk about Deborah in a moment and you will hear a lot more in the conversation that follows, but a number of things have changed since we recorded the conversation and I recorded the introduction. The first of these is that the Nature Culture Network, about which we speak in quite a lot of depth in the conversation you’re about to hear, are holding a Nature Culture Connection camp at the Clock Hill Centre in Bedfordshire in the UK, from August the 4th to the 10th of this year. Partly I know about this because I will be there on the evening of the sixth, talking about things that will probably be quite familiar to you if you listen to a lot of these podcasts, but we will endeavour to talk about new things as well. Deborah will be there for the whole camp because she’s an integral part of the Nature Culture Network, and she is one of the organisers. And we managed not to mention this in the podcast. But what has really changed between when we recorded and when we’re speaking now, is that the organisers have arranged a discount for listeners to this podcast. If you book on the link (that I will put in the show notes) before Friday the 14th of June and use the code mandaconnection. I will put that in the show notes also.

Manda: Then you can have access to the full camp from the fourth to the 10th for the early bird price of £680. If you’re interested at all in the things that we talk about in the conversation you’re about to hear, this would be an amazing place to meet other like minded people, to begin to network, to find your tribe, and to explore what might be yours to do in the world. I would wholeheartedly recommend this even if I were not going to be there. Possibly particularly if I were not going to be there. But either way, if you have spare time, if you want to take your family and immerse in the conversations that can keep us moving forward. This would be a good place to be. So that’s the first thing that I wanted to say in the introduction.

Manda: The second is that assuming you’re not living under a rock or on Mars, you will be aware that there is about to be a general election in the UK. We did not know this when we recorded the conversation, so we’re not ignoring it, it just hadn’t happened yet. But given that it has, and even though at least half of you listening are not in the UK, this is going to be a testing ground for some of the ideas that we have been putting forward in this podcast for the last four and a half years. It’s also going to be a testing ground specifically for some of the ideas that I have woven together in Any Human Power at the time of recording.

Manda: The novel is yet to come out. By the time you hear this, it will have been out for a week. And yes, I will put a link in the show notes for the foreseeable future for anybody who wants to order it, because this is the synthesis of all that we’ve been talking about, wrapped up in a fictional thriller package with a lot of the dreaming behind it. However, if you have read it already, and if you enjoyed it, and if you have time, we would be incredibly grateful if you would head over to Amazon and give us five stars under review. This is a book that transcends all the genres. It’s going to find its way in the world by word of mouth. So please talk about it to anyone you think will listen and reviews on Amazon. Much as we don’t like the giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, nonetheless it makes a huge amount of difference. So thank you. So onto the podcast….

Manda: As you know, we are always seeking out the people who are living at the emergent edge of inter-becoming. And Doctor Deborah Benham is definitely one of these. Her entire life is oriented towards holding a vision of humanity as a helpful species on this planet, what Chris Smaje calls a useful keystone species. And as you will hear, her path has moved from oceans to land, from marine biology to building human communities, from academia to where she is now living in a cohousing community and working in multiple ways to bring us all together.

Manda: She’s the co-lead for The Transition Network, the charity which supports the International Transition Towns movement. She’s a trained biomimicry educator with a background in John Young’s Deep Nature Connection work. As we said, Deborah brings a practical, experiential, lived and living toolkit that she shares and teaches within the Nature Connection network, of how we can build thriving human societies, cultures, communities, businesses, designing with and as nature. Creating mutual benefit for all life, using tech in life affirming ways, and uplifting justice, kindness and cooperation. Actually living and doing all of the things that we talk about in theory, week after week on this podcast. And often, week after week, we reach an impasse where we know roughly what needs to happen, we get our heads around the theory, but we don’t actually have our life’s experience, the toolkit, to bring it into being. Deborah has all of this. She is fully grounded in the theory of how communities of support, practice, and place can come into being and she sent me a whole load of links to papers, academic papers, that I put in the show notes. But she’s also teaching and living the practice, including, as we said, at the Nature Connection camp in the UK in August. So with all that as a possibility, people of the podcast please welcome Deborah Benham exploring biomimicry, nature, connection and the emergent edge of possibility. Thank you.

Manda: Deborah, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. How are you and where are you this lovely sunny morning?

Deborah: Thanks, Manda. It’s so wonderful to be here. I am in Bridport in Dorset on the south coast of England and yeah, I’m excited to be here and I had a wonderful start to my day, sitting out in the meadow behind my house and just watching the birds for half an hour. So I’m feeling quite peaceful and grateful to have had their presence and the sunshine on me first thing.

Manda: Yeah, okay. I have peaceful meadow bird envy, that sounds really nice and a really good way to connect with the web of life, and to remember who we are and where we are. Maybe to push back against all the weird geopolitical stuff that seems to be kicking off and getting more extreme with every day. Faith said last night, it’s almost as if someone is trying to start World War three. Mm hmm. Maybe. I wonder why they might do that? But we have bigger geophysical things, biophysical things to talk about. And you are a trained biomimicry educator, which I love. I didn’t know such a thing existed. If I did, I might well have tried to do it and then the podcast wouldn’t exist. So it’s probably good that I didn’t know it existed. But can you tell us in the end what that is, but before that, give us a sense of how you came to be that.

Deborah: Well, firstly, you still could if you wanted to manda. It’s a wonderful course. Yeah anyone that wants to do it, just look up, learn biomimicry online, they’re a great team. And so how did I get to do that? It been quite a long journey, maybe 20 years or so, maybe even more than that. Really trying to figure out how we can be better citizens on this planet, I guess, as being kind of my core question through life. And I started off as a young person that really loved animals and snorkelling when we went on holiday. Not anywhere glamorous, just around the kind of rocky bits of a beach, looking for the 1 or 2 fish that were hiding there. Cool. So that kind of led me on to wanting to be a marine biologist, and I pursued that dream. Not that I was particularly good at science. So I will say, anyone out there that has a really strong dream and wants to just go for it, do it, because I was much better at other things than biology, but I loved it enough to make a go of it. So I studied zoology and then marine environmental protection at master’s level. And then I was fortunate enough to do a PhD study in sea otters in California. And they are just the most incredible animal and it’s an incredible, beautiful ecosystem out there. So it’s a deep marine canyon.

Manda: Still?

Deborah: This was 2001 to 2004, but I did go out last year and they’re still there and the kelp beds are still there, in that area at least. There have been some declines in kelp beds in other areas. But it is still an amazing ecosystem full of wildlife. So they are a keystone species there, right? And the keystone species are a very interesting and important concept, because they’re kind of a species that holds the ecosystem together. They’re sort of the pivot around which the whole thing operates. And sea otters eat a lot of species like sea urchins, that would otherwise destroy the kelp. And then without the kelp there, which is like an underwater rainforest, you don’t have the nurseries for the fish and then you don’t have the bigger predators. So it’s this whole diverse ecosystem that then supports the whole bay. And one thing I learned many years later, actually, which is so wonderful, and I will get on to how this is relevant to biomimicry in a moment, Is that I learnt just a couple of years ago, maybe five years ago, that redwood forests, the redwoods along the California coastline, they are also in relationship with the kelp beds. So through the nutrients that they accumulate and then leach into the groundwater that then goes down to the sea, the kelp beds also need that to survive. So it just shows us how interconnected these systems are and how interdependent they are.

Manda: Right. Complexity in action. And we didn’t know that however many years ago. And therefore we might have assumed or somebody might have assumed, that you can just clearfell the redwoods and that all you’ve done is destroy one ecosystem. And in fact, you’ve destroyed many.

Deborah: And I’m sure when the hunters took the otters almost to extinction, they didn’t know the effects that would have on the kelp beds

Manda: Or care to be honest. Were they hunting them for their pelts, or were they hunting them because they eat things that we want?

Deborah: Yes, well, maybe they would have cared if they knew what an effect it would have on fisheries, you know. We do these things to ourselves as well, you know, when we take a species out or take a system to a point of collapse. Anyway, so studying sea otters, and really kind of coming to a question about the interface between people and the rest of nature. I say the rest of nature because I don’t like this dichotomy between people and nature. I tend to use the word living systems more often actually, and I may use that more often today. But I really started to have this question of why do people cause harm to living systems? You know, what is it in us or missing from ourselves or from our culture that leads us to cause this harm, whether inadvertently or deliberately? And that led me to a journey, I guess. There’s so much to say, and it’s hard to know what to say.

Deborah: So studying marine mammals took me to a job working with dolphins up in Scotland, and I was close to the Findhorn Ecovillage as well at the same time. It was like having a dream job in a beautiful place, wild beaches and gorgeous rivers and just a lovely, wonderful place to live. But because I was living close to the Findhorn Ecovillage and starting to learn a lot more about sustainability and also about some of the root causes of the systemic issues that we face now, it’s almost like a dissonance arose in me. Of how can I keep working with just one species, or one issue, or one habitat at a time? I need to understand what these root causes are, and I need to understand what some of the pathways to more systemic ways out of this might be. And so I went on a bit of a journey, studying with Gaia Education to become a sustainability trainer. Although these days now we’re moving more to the term regeneration, which I’d love to discuss a bit more the difference between those in a minute.

Manda: Yes let’s.

Deborah: So becoming trained in that and then also encountering for the first time around 2011, deep nature connection practices and community building practices based on Nature Connection, which is the work of John Young. It was a camp called the Art of mentoring, which was this intergenerational camp, babies up to elders doing nature connection practices through a whole week and just getting super blissed out by that. And so all of these threads have continued through my life, right? So I’ve continued to deepen into the nature, connection work and being a practitioner and a trainer in that and working closely with John Young over the years and still today. Being a regenerative design facilitator and trainer and then coming to work for the transition movement, transition towns some people know it as, about five years ago. Obviously the work of Rob Hopkins and the other co-founders, Sophie Banks and so on.

Manda: And this was down south? You’re not still up in Scotland at this point.

Deborah: So I moved down south in 2017, got the job with transition in 2019 and still work for transition now. And I think all these threads have converged basically to help me answer this question of like, how do we become better citizens of the planet? How do we become participants and contributors again? Is it possible for us to once again, and I’ll say why I think it’s once again, but to once again be as positive a contributor to our ecosystems as a keystone species like the otter or the beaver or the wolf. You know, can we be that positive a participant?

Manda: Okay. So before we go on, because this sounds like a particularly amazing and magical life journey. You said at one point let’s unpick the difference between sustainable and regenerative. And then you said, let’s look at why once again. So before we go on into the biomimicry, can we do both of those things? Let’s look at your take on sustainable and regenerative as concepts.

Deborah: Okay, so I think the the most helpful definition or conversation I’ve heard about this recently was actually on… Am I allowed to recommend other podcasts?

Manda: Yes of course, yes please do.

Deborah: There’s a fantastic podcast called The Native Seed Pod, and they have done a collaboration with the Biomimicry Podcast, which I’ll have to get the name for in a minute because it’s gone out of my head. Anyway, they did a collaboration which was a conversation between biomimicry professionals and native people who are also academics, talking about harmonising biomimicry and traditional ecological knowledge. And one of them sort of said about sustainability, why would we want to sustain things that are already damaged and broken and not working? Sustainability is no longer a good enough aim because things are already in a big mess. We don’t want to sustain the current mess.

Manda: Sustainability is essentially how can we keep business as usual ticking over, by doing slightly less harm, I think.

Deborah: And I think people may be used to think it was sustaining things that were functioning relatively well, but now we know things really aren’t functioning well at all. They’re collapsing all over the place and causing great harm.

Manda: And even if they weren’t collapsing, they are causing great harm. I think that’s really important, because there are a lot of people who don’t think they’re collapsing. But I think the message that it’s not just about the carbon, the entire system is destroying the biosphere, the living systems, whatever we want to call it.

Deborah: We know the soil is degrading. We know that the biodiversity biodiversity is collapsing. We know that ecosystems can’t sustain their basic ecosystem functions that we rely on.

Manda: Yeah, and it’s not just a product of carbon and increasing temperatures, although increasing temperatures are not helping. It is a whole bunch of other things that are, you know, PFAS in the rain and microplastics in the clouds and industrial runoff in the oceans. Everything is contributing together. Yes?

Deborah: And extraction of massive amounts of resources from sensitive habitats. So there’s all sorts of different interconnected things contributing to it.

Manda: OK. And then regeneration?

Deborah: So regeneration is designing for the health of the social, ecological and cultural systems. And it’s not a fuzzy term, it is something that can actually be defined. Because if you design for increased health, you can look at a variety of different measures, whether those are ecological or social measures, and then you can actually see: has that health improved? Has the biodiversity gone up? Has waste decreased, has pollution decreased? Have different species, different habitats and people and human communities, has their ability to survive and thrive increased in various ways? And there are plenty of measures for this. So it is something that we can design and measure, for those that feel that that’s important.

Manda: And increasingly is going to be and I rather suspect and don’t wish this to be the case, but at some point someone’s going to put monetary value on these. If you can put a financial envelope around it, then the people with the power take notice. And probably this is a whole other conversation about should we be putting financial envelopes around natural things? I listened on another podcast, on Nate Hagens podcast with Tom Chi, saying that he reckoned there’s a multi-billion dollar carbon capture and storage plant going up in the States, and he reckoned 200 beavers would capture the same amount of carbon.

Deborah: Right.

Manda: But you can’t monetise the beavers, so nobody wants to do it.

Deborah: Although I’m sure at some point… I think the most angry I’ve ever been on was a course that I went on where we had to try and figure out the monetary value of nature connection practices. Like how much money would this save the National Health Service if people had less mental health issues or less physical health issues? And I just felt like the entire course missed the point. I was so angry all the way through.

Manda: I remember when we were at Schumacher, we were taken to Tamar Grow Local, and they produced boxes that went into Plymouth and the doctors could prescribe the box as long as the person who got the box also went for cookery lessons, to learn how to actually make edible food from the root vegetables in the box. And they reckon they were getting a 17 to 1 value for this. For every pound they put into giving someone a free food box, they got £17 worth of value. And this was 2015, so it’s almost a decade ago. So if that is true, then the councils that are currently going bankrupt, our local councils going bankrupt, could see probable value in doing something that actually has regenerative roots. And I can imagine it would make my blood boil and turn into smoke and pour out of my ears, but somehow we have to speak to the people who otherwise basically don’t care.

Deborah: It’s about building bridges, isn’t it? Which is what these tools are for. I think as long as we remember it’s just a tool to build a bridge and to help someone do a job within the current parameters that they have been given by the system. Like they have to prove something’s going to work and be affordable and so on. So yes, so sustainable and regenerative.

Manda: And then why ‘once again’? Why are we once again going to be a good keystone species? Because that I think is critical, the fact that we’ve done it before. Which people argue with. I listened to somebody else on another podcast that I can’t remember, arguing that we never were, that humans have always been working against the natural world. And this does not sit at all with any of my understanding, but a lot of the dominant culture’s narratives about who we were before the agricultural revolution are based on assumptions that, as far as I can see, completely don’t stack up. So let’s hear your take on it.

Deborah: This isn’t my academic background, so I’m not an expert in this, but I’ve done quite a lot of reading, much like you probably. And my understanding is that for hundreds of thousands of years, we were mostly living in relationship with the lands that we were on, because we would have to be, right? Because our entire survival relies on the land, on the ecosystems, on the species. And we have direct short feedback loops, so if we take too much of something or pollute something too much, that ecosystem immediately will start to show us the effects of that, because we’re not outsourcing those effects to other parts of the world like we do with the current system. So although I’m sure there have been examples over the years of humans overhunting or overfishing or destroying an ecosystem, because we have seen from our current culture that that can happen. There’s a part of us that can be expressed that that can lead to that, but it doesn’t have to. So what seems to be the case is that many other cultures and places did manage to sustain a long and thriving relationship with their ecosystems, to the point where they were actually and still do enhance the biodiversity of those areas. And we know this because it’s not like those people are gone. I mean, yes, colonisation has led to the destruction of many, many indigenous and land connected peoples and cultures, but not all. And there are indigenous peoples all over the world still. And I believe the statistic is that 80% of the most biodiverse land in the world is under the care of indigenous people. So when you speak to those people and you read about what they’re doing and how they’re tending the land and being in a relationship, they have practices that lead to increased biodiversity.

Manda: So what I’d like to do with that is take it a little bit deeper, because often the conversations that we hear around this are between people who live in what I would now call the trauma mindset after Francis Weller’s initiation versus trauma. But basically the Western mindset, which assumes that everything is linear, everything is cause and effect and that human behaviour has been our behaviour set forever, that our Palaeolithic emotions are in fact Palaeolithic emotions. And I am not sure that this is the case. The more I explore this personally, you’ve just been setting out on the meadow, presumably not just listening to the birdsong, but working to be fully present, doing what it takes to be fully present. And it seems to me that the key point that people miss is that when one is fully present, when one is connected to whatever you want to call the web of life, there is a conversation that goes on, there’s a reciprocity. And that being a keystone species in the human sense, means being a self-aware keystone species. And I have no doubt that there were extinctions of very large keystone mammals at a point when people turned up. But we also know, for instance, that the first peoples of Australasia were there for at least 100,000 years, tending a very biodiverse landscape. That the Arctic was tended by people who maintained a very diverse landscape and managed social connections that were non-hierarchical. And I think these two go together. And so I’m wondering, with your work with John Young, the really deep nature connection work that you do, does that give you a sense that this is the case? Because I think otherwise, I end up feeling like I’m in some kind of shamanic parallel reality that actually doesn’t really apply. And it may be that people are right, that human beings have always been extractive, and the only reason we stop is because we understand that we’re going to kill off whatever it is that sustains us. But I don’t feel that it is that. And my understanding of indigenous peoples, isn’t that.

Deborah: No. There’s so much I want to say.

Manda: Go for it.

Deborah: Let’s see if I can unpick the various threads. Okay, so firstly you asked about my experience as a nature connection practitioner. So I’ve been practising and leading people in nature connection activities since 2011, so a good while now. And what I experienced for myself and in other people that I’m around that are doing these practices, which are very simple practices, by the way. Like going out and sitting in nature every day in the same spot and getting to know the seasons and the animals, or a variety of other things like that. What I have noticed in myself and others is, first of all, our nervous systems come into regulation very quickly. So the stress leaves the body, you open up your senses and what I’ve noticed for myself and others have reported to me, is that there’s a sense of connection and well-being and empathy that arises for the other beings and the habitats around you. For the plants, the animals, for each other as people. So these attributes of connection start to flourish.

Deborah: And John Young has seen this over 30 years. You know, I might have been practising this for 12 or 13 years; he’s been practising for 30 years with hundreds of people all over the world and working with people from childhood up to mature adulthood. And now they’re leaders in their own right in this work. And he has seen the profound changes this has led to in people’s lives, and how their entire worldview can shift, and their entire way of expressing themselves in the world and their behaviour and their relationships can shift. There is actually quite a lot of evidence for this as well now. I’ve been recently writing a research grant application, and so I wanted to do some more recent literature reviews about nature, connectedness and the positive impacts. And there’s been quite a big upsurge in the last ten years around research into this. So there is now quite a lot of evidence, and I can share some of the literature reviews and meta analyses and all those sorts of things.

Manda: Please do.

Deborah: There’s quite a lot of evidence now from a variety of studies that nature connection definitely leads to increased well-being, for a start, and various different measures of well-being. It increases prosociality and it increases pro-environmental behaviour and care for and action on behalf of living systems, nature, whatever you want to call it. So I do think that when we are nature connected and when we’re also people connected, we’re living in community and in relationship with each other and the Land, that this does lead to more pro-social and more pro-environmental behaviour. And one of the other strands I wanted to say was from Tyson Yunkaporta, from his book Sand Talk. And he talks about how in various different indigenous cultures, but in this example in Australia, there are cultural stories that recognise that people can have a predisposition to be led by ego sometimes, or to start to become dominant over other people or over the land sometimes. But it’s the culture that can help regulate that, and say No, that doesn’t help us survive, that doesn’t help us thrive. We need to minimise those behaviours and maximise our pro-social behaviours. So I think we have both in us and it’s the culture that we design and live by that helps us express them. And culture is something we can choose. Culture is something we make and we’ve made a culture which is very damaging at the moment and harmful to ourselves and each other and the land and all the other beings that we share this amazing planet with. And we can redesign culture, we can remake it. And that’s also part of the work that we’re doing, whether it’s with John and his team or through the biomimicry work and regenerative design.

Manda: Excellent. So let’s move to that, because I really want to know how you redesign culture, partly because I’m writing the next book and I could fold this in. I’m already thinking I may have a character who’s done a training not dissimilar to yours. If you don’t mind me fictionalising this! However, let’s leave that aside because that’s me just rampantly pulling in stuff for a book, not the podcast. Let’s look at redesigning culture, because clearly it’s urgent and clearly I would say we’re in the middle of the biggest election year the planet has ever seen. Something like 49% of people around the planet are voting this year, and there is no question but that the mechanisms of AI are being used without compunction by the right to take the political structure where they want it to be. Steve Bannon said a long time ago, we know where we want we will do what it takes to get there. And the reason we win is we’re going for headshots and you guys are still in a pillow fight. And so we are going to see everybody moving to the right. And yet there is this extraordinary groundswell of people who are outside any kind of political left/right structure, because that’s part of the old paradigm. It’s part of the old culture, and it’s wholly irrelevant to where we need to get to. And I am thinking that up to a point they can do whatever the heck they like with their old structure, and we need to design a different structure based on different rules, predicated on different value systems. And that this is what you are doing with the biomimicry and with the John Young work. So however you want to go into that. I think possibly we need to tell people what biomimicry is and take us to that next bit of the step. And then let’s look at how we can create a new culture and what it would look like.

Deborah: Right. So yes, I gave you some of my backstory earlier. And the way I got into biomimicry was I think at some point during the pandemic, although I was still working, I worked remotely from home so I was able to keep working for the transition movement. I was obviously travelling less and seeing people less, so I had a bit more time on my hands, and I wanted to take a deeper dive into the kind of new ecology and nature based design. So I was looking around online and listening to lots of podcasts and reading lots of reports and things, and encountered biomimicry and the Biomimicry Institute and Biomimicry 3.8 and Janine Benyus, the founder of biomimicry. And biomimicry is a relatively new discipline, it’s been around about 30 years, and it’s sort of bringing together biology and design. It’s first of all, importantly, reconnecting with nature and then observing, learning from and emulating nature in order to create more regenerative human products, processes and systems. And most people who have heard of it are probably familiar with the idea of biomimicry of form for products.

Deborah: So maybe you’ve heard of a train that was designed based on a kingfishers beak that makes it more silent and fast and efficient. Or aeroplane wings that have taken some design elements from a humpback whales fin that helps them be more aerodynamic. And there are some really fun, useful ones. And one of the ones that I like the most is sharkskin. So taking a tiny little piece of sharkskin, I very much hope they don’t hurt any sharks in this process, but I believe it’s just a very small amount, looking at it under extreme microscopy and then understanding that that structure is impossible for bacteria to stick to. And you can then create a similar structure and put it on hospital surfaces, so that bacteria can’t stick to it. So then you don’t have to use antibacterial things. So lots of wonderful applications at that level. And also like anything, it can be co-opted. And people are taking biomimicry of form and creating tiny little robots that can do surveillance that fly around and things like that. Any tool can be abused, any process can be abused.

Manda: This is why we need a different value system.

Deborah: Exactly. That’s what we need to get to. And actually the biomimicry that comes out of the Biomimicry Institute is very much based on these three pillars of reconnection, ethos and emulation. The ethos, the ethics being very, very important. So I think if anyone’s interested in biomimicry, do go to that source. There’s so many wonderful free open source resources on their website.

Manda: I will put a link in the show notes. I’ll also see if I can find the video, that must be quite old, because when I was at Schumacher we had Kate Raworth before she launched the Doughnut Book, and she was a friend of Janine, so she got Janine in on zoom. So we had Kate Raworth interviewing Janine, which was just completely mind sparklingly wonderful. And then they we all sat down and watched her video, which was very much on here’s how spider webs work, it’s the strongest tensile strength of the planet, here’s how we can make more. So I will put links in the show notes, people, to all of these things. And totally, if you haven’t heard of biomimicry before, head off and explore. So the ethos is reconnection, ethos and emulation.

Deborah: And so then it gets very interesting at the process and system levels. Because at the process level, we could be looking at renewables, for example, and think well solar power is great, we’ve got lots of solar panels where I live, which is wonderful. But it still makes a lot of waste, right? All the materials and a lot of energy has to go into creating panels and things. And that’s all changing now. And one of the reasons it’s changing is because biologists have been working with designers to look at, well, how can we learn from green plants, you know?

Manda: Right. They don’t take 2000°C to become able to absorb the sun.

Deborah: Exactly. Right. So there’s a lot we can learn around energy, around waste cycling, around water collection, around carbon storage. You know, there’s all these different things we can learn from nature by looking at nature’s processes and then learning from that, how we would do our own processes of heating or cooling or waste cycling or energy capture or whatever. So that’s very helpful. Examples would be looking at a termite mound and understanding how heating and cooling happens just through the structures in the termite mound, and then introducing those into a building so the building can do those in a sort of passive way.

Manda: Okay. So you don’t need air conditioning.

Deborah: Exactly. So and then the most exciting level, I think personally to me, and sort of a bit of a leading edge at the moment is biomimicry of system. And this is where we look at a whole ecosystem and all the amazing things that ecosystems do, and then we challenge ourselves to design our human settlements, our towns, our cities, our neighbourhoods to have the same level of benefits and provide the same level of ecosystem services as a thriving forest or a thriving wetland or a kelp bed or whatever. And this is now being done. This is not science fiction. It is quite new.

Manda: Where? Who? And can I talk to them?

Deborah: Yes, hopefully that would be wonderful. I would very much like to listen to that podcast. So, yes Biomimicry 3.8, which is Janine Benyus kind of consulting group, they’re working with some of the really big multinationals, actually, to look at how those companies can design data processing centres or manufacturing factories, manufacturing processing plants and so on, to not even try and go to net zero, but to go straight to net positive. They’re calling it project positive, you can look it up on their website and they take a team of biologists, biomimicry practitioners who are also biologists, they go and they actually look at the nearest healthy ecosystem. They measure all the different fantastic things that that ecosystem does to help life to thrive. That’s what ecosystems do, they create the conditions for life to thrive. Ecosystems are still the best example of thriving systems and systems that support life. So why would we not emulate them? So they do that. They get all these measures, and then they challenge the people and work with the people who are designing the new infrastructure, to have the same level of benefit. To capture the same amount of carbon, to create the same amount of soil, to create that level of wildlife habitats, to capture and clean water, to capture and clean air, to create community benefits.

Deborah: So it’s just ignoring let’s reduce and smallerise everything, which our psychology doesn’t work with very well anyway, it all just feels like loss and giving things up. But when you set people targets of let’s be proud of what we’re creating. And there’s this question that you often use and I have stolen remorselessly from you, how can we create a future we’re proud to leave behind? When you challenge people with that question, guess what? People aren’t as bad as you think they are or were. You know, actually, most people want to leave a fantastic future for the young people in their lives. Most people don’t want the planet to fall apart. Most people feel that they’re good people inside and they’re doing their best. And when you give people the opportunity to do that, that is one of the things, I think that helps us transcend the polarisation and all the other things that we’re struggling for, whether that’s despair or apathy or frustration that we can’t do anything. Give people the tools to do it.

Manda: Giving them tools and a vision.

Deborah: And a vision. So this is where you and me got excited last time, because there are all these different pieces you can bring together. So where are we? We’re defining biomimicry, which hopefully we’ve now done. The other person I want to mention, or the other body of work I want to mention, is that you can bring this to, I said, the neighbourhood and the city and the kind of human settlement level, right? And I was researching that recently, trying to find out who had done that, because that seemed like an obvious thing to do to me. And there are some fantastic papers out there from an academic in New Zealand called Maibritt Pedersen Zari, and she’s on that podcast I talked about earlier, and she has taken this into the city level. So how can you actually work at the town and city level to do the same ecosystem services thing, and then to work with urban planners and designers to challenge us all to reimagine and to rebuild and retrofit our communities. To actually create the same level of biodiversity, the same level of wildlife habitat, the same level of food and everything that a healthy, thriving ecosystem next door would.

Manda: And they’re doing this as a retrofit. Because my image had always been, okay, if they’re going to build a new town let’s build it on a good basis. But if we can do it as a retrofit, it can happen anywhere.

Deborah: Exactly. Yes. Because I live in an ecological cohousing, which I just moved to six months ago, which is incredible. And it’s definitely easier to do that kind of thing with a blank slate. Same thing with eco villages. But we can’t rebuild the whole world, we have to retrofit.

Manda: No, we haven’t got the materials.

Deborah: And we certainly don’t want to be doing it on the remaining bits of green space and slightly less disturbed land that we have. So we need to figure out how to do it. And you asked me another question about how do we create the new culture and how do we sort of move forward from here.

Manda: Yes, but hang on, before we go to the culture, I’d be really interested in what you know about the actual practicalities of retrofitting. So let’s take an imaginary city, it doesn’t matter where it is in the world, that’s been built on the old predatory capitalist see-want-take model. Everybody drives everywhere. We’re seeing a lot of pushback to the 15 minute city stuff online at the moment. That’s crazy. What we’re doing is creating functional networks and social interactions and you don’t want to be commuting two hours each way to a job that you hate. Why are you not liking this? I’m assuming that the end result will be a 15 minute kind of a city, but let’s just look at what are the design principles that take biomimicry and in the best way… So I have some questions. First is what do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it? But also how do we do it minimising the requirement of a huge amount of carbon and extra structural stuff, because that isn’t going to be there. What’s the material use?

Deborah: So first of all, you pointed to the pushback that can come to some of these initiatives, and this is common thing that happens when someone that’s not a local community tries to impose a system on a local community. So for a start, I think you have to work from the ground up with people in a place and need to understand the context and the diversity in that place, and what the actual needs are that people are encountering. So a nice example of this is I interviewed Doctor Geza Machowski from the Transition Initiative in Bonn, the city of Bonn in Germany, the other weekend for our transition day of practice. We had this fantastic whole day, lots of wonderful speakers, and I was interviewing her. And they are a very successful transition initiative, which I’m so proud of even though I had nothing to do with it, but I just love them as an example of transition. Because they had already done a couple of projects with their council over the years, kind of low risk projects where they could build trust with the local council.

Deborah: So when the council declared a climate emergency, they had relationships with the council already and weere able to say, do you know what to do next? And the council were like, well, not practically in detail, no. Do you? And they were able to say, well, yes, we’ve got quite a lot of ideas actually, and we could help. So that was already a major win and shows one practical step of building relationships with both the grassroots and the other levels of scale, like local municipalities and so on. First with some low risk projects and get that relationship stuff in place first. So once that was in place, they were then able to do something a bit more ambitious. And what Géza was describing to me, and interestingly she has worked with the John Young Nature and People Connection body of work as well, which I didn’t realise till the end of our conversation. It was fascinating because I was pulling out threads going, hmm, this seems very aligned with how I would go about it.

Manda: Right, familiar language, familiar concepts. Well done John.

Deborah: Where they started was with what we would call, in that body of work, peace building. So they started with relationship. They started with let’s focus on having good relationships and having some shared goals and understanding people’s needs, both with the council members, but also with the citizens and with local businesses. And let’s build relationship. And one of the things they did was they would actually go out on walks around the city and talk about how climate change would be likely to impact people’s daily lives. You know, the place, the actual city, the food they were able to buy, the climate, whether that would mean increased flooding and disrupted food availability and things like that. So they first of all talked to people, grounded the kind of climate impacts in day to day life, and then asked people also what are your lives like now? What are your needs now? How do you feel about those things that are starting to happen more already, that are visible and that are coming down the line further? It’s just such a great example. They did so many wonderful things, but they didn’t start with, do you think we should change things? They just started with, obviously we need to, how are we going to do it? And then they did a whole thing with 300 citizens and 80 groups, and they did this fantastic project over the last three years to design all these climate initiatives. So that’s one example where they used a lot of social infrastructure and community building and relationship building and peace building, as we would call it, to get that in place.

Deborah: And that is just as practical as the other things that I’m going to talk about. So one of the things I’ve noticed, looking at transition groups, because there’s been quite a lot of research into transition towns and when they’re successful and when they’re not. And one of my pieces of work within the transition movement was to do a big piece of evaluation work a couple of years ago. And we had about 400 people fill in a survey and did about 26 interviews and several focus groups. And we collected case studies of transition projects and transition impacts from all around the world, because transition’s in 40 plus countries now. And yeah, and there are some really fantastic success stories. And what I was noticing, because I was learning biomimicry and living systems principles with Capra at the time and reading a lot and so on, was that a lot of the successful case studies were using, either consciously or unconsciously, living systems principles, biomimicry principles, regenerative principles, permaculture principles. These are all the same thing. It’s all learning from living systems and applying that to human systems. And you can apply many of those principles at a social as well as an infrastructural level. So a principle of living systems that has been defined by biologists over the last 30 years is cooperation. And you only just have to look to the work of Lynn Margulis and all her incredible work with cooperative systems and bacteria and symbiosis and all that good stuff. There’s another whole rabbit hole to go down there, if you haven’t.

Manda: Or Rebecca Solnit and a Paradise Made in hell. People are cooperative if you give them a chance.

Deborah: People are cooperative if given just the right opportunity to be so. Or just look at the book Humankind by Bregman, which is also full of fantastic examples of humans being cooperative and and also talking a lot about how it’s the culture that determines whether or not we behave in a cooperative, pro-social way or whether we don’t. A lot of the research shows that young children automatically do that, but once we get inculturated out of that, we stop. Although in many kind of crisis or emergency situations, people will go back to that again, as we see in a lot of situations. Oh, that would take me off on another whole tangent, but there’s also some fantastic research out there. I think the researcher is called Daniel Aldrich, but he has shown how the single most important determining factor in communities recovering from disaster, whether that’s climate disasters or earthquakes or tsunamis or things like that, is the level of social infrastructure and relationships they have beforehand. So it’s not how much aid they get, it’s not whether they’re a rich or a poor neighbourhood or town, it’s not the severity, it’s how much relatedness there is in the community beforehand and how much people come together.

Manda: So given that everything is collapsing, that is the thing that people need to be building.

Deborah: I think we are spiralling towards this framework of transformative practice that I’ve been developing. So you and I have already talked about learning from nature, and we’ve already talked about having a vision of a preferred future that we can move towards. And those are two of the components of this framework that I think are absolutely critical in terms of initiating and sustaining change on behalf of the living world and thriving communities. One of the other pieces I’ve really come to value is, I call it slightly differently than you, I call it communities of support, practice and place. So we need a community of support around us to help us find and express our offerings in the world, and to understand that other people have different offerings and to have a diverse range of skills and abilities and perspectives. Then we need our communities of practice to actually sort of learn and grow with and to have some support for the ideas we have. You know, these can be the global ones, the communities of passion that you were just talking about. But then our communities of place are critical because that’s where when things are getting challenging, we need to be able to rely on our neighbours.

Deborah: We need to know where we can have food coming from and services coming from. And also the community level of scale is really the level of scale that we can have an impact at, most of us. A lot of us aren’t influencers or CEOs or politicians. A lot of us are doing relatively normal lives and normal jobs in our communities. And we already know that the big systems, particularly government and politics systems, are either shifting too slowly or shifting in directions that seem very scary and harmful, as you talked about earlier. And the individual level, just all being told to fly less, eat less meat, you know, do our recycling. That’s all well and good and we need to do that stuff, but that’s not going to create the positive tipping points that we need. What are you left with? You’re left with the community level of scale. When we do things together in communities profound things can happen. The city of Bonn example I gave earlier is a good example of a whole city in many ways, coming together to design climate adaptation and resilience. Another example is Liege, the city in Belgium who since the transition and various other groups came together, probably 12 years ago or something now, they have developed a green food belt of 30 new local food co-ops around the city, so that so much more of the food can be very locally sourced. And they’ve got that into schools and hospitals now and created all these indoor markets around town. There are huge things that can be done. There’s cooperation Humboldt in California that’s working with the indigenous tribes to help them get their land back, and that mounted a huge Covid response because they already were connected with lots of different groups, including groups that are usually marginalised. And were able to activate from their place of privilege, I guess, and from their relationships, to create this big Covid response much quicker than the systems could that were meant to be doing that. So yeah, our communities of place, yes, they’re the hardest place to start and they’re where we can actually have impact, I think, at a level of scale that’s manageable. And often local councils are more willing to do these kind of ambitious and regenerative designs than say going to a higher level of scale than that.

Manda: And I’m noticing you moved to Bridport and you’re in a cohousing development. So in a way, you chose your place based on the community that you perceived would be there. And I wonder, in some cases, we probably have a window when stuff is still movable where we could move house if we wanted. And I wonder, is this the time for people to seriously begin to look for the communities that they could work with and get themselves there?

Deborah: That’s certainly how we felt. And we tried 2 or 3 different experiments before we were lucky enough to find this one. So I know it can bring up a lot of grief. People don’t think it’s possible. How can I change my life? I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got a job or family here, it can be really difficult to make those changes. However, I just want to talk from the other side of having done it over a number of years of exploring, to say how wonderful it is. So when we were living up in Scotland, I lived at a residentially run sustainable living and retreat centre. So that was kind of like a mini experiment in community. There were 15 of us living on site and running the programs, and it was kind of a cauldron of personal development and professional development, because we were living and working together and also trying to live by our values and grow food and do things with the local community and host guests and retreats and educational programs and get along well enough with each other. So we learned lots of skills, you know, non-violent communication and sociocratic consent based decision making and growing food and dealing with our own personal traumas and family baggage that we were bringing with us and projecting onto each other. We had to do all that together, so it was quite an intense learning journey. But it wasn’t a community you could stay in for life because we were running a non-profit at the same time, so when people had babies or got sick or needed time off, it was really hard. Because there was only 12 to 15 of us to run the place. And often people would choose to leave at those difficult points in life. So we couldn’t be a real community for each other; we were too small as well, we weren’t a village.

Manda: Yes. You weren’t close to the Dunbar number. No. Was this an offshoot of Findhorn? You were up near Findhorn originally?

Deborah: Yeah. A lot of the directors and trustees were connected with Findhorn, and it was originally additional accommodation for the Findhorn Foundation and then became its own entity later on.

Manda: Okay.

Deborah: So yes, things like that can be very good within a wider ecosystem, a wider sort of village. And I was always encouraging us and our members to be part of the wider ecosystem and the wider community. So after that we lived in a permaculture smallholding with nine people for a time, and that was wonderful too. But again…

Manda: It’s too small.

Deborah: Too small. And also in that situation, the land was owned by one family and that just creates dynamics with everyone else that’s there. And then when they hit financial difficulties, it wasn’t possible for us to to stay on. So then it’s like looking for what is a sustainable model. And this project is incredible. So I now live at Bridport Cohousing, which is the largest ecological cohousing development in the UK. And it took the people that started it 14, 15 years now to get this going. But that’s because 15 years ago not many people had done something at this scale. And now, of course, we’ve learned so many lessons along the way that I’m sure people could do it faster than that. Also, it’s big. It’s 53 homes and a quarter of it is social housing. And we have a partnership with the local housing association. And it’s all ecologically built and 90% passive house standard. And we have a solar farm on our roofs that sells energy back to the grid so we can get energy from a wind farm in Scotland in the winter. And we grow veg collectively and again, we’re using consent based decision making.

Deborah: And it’s amazing from an infrastructural point of view. But my goodness, the social side is incredible. Because people have been involved from somewhere from sort of 14 to 3 years, we’ve been getting to know each other. We’ve been working in teams together. We’ve been tending the land here, we’ve been planting trees, and now we’ve got this incredible shared group, a WhatsApp group, where it’s like, can I borrow some cheese? Can I get a lift to the station? Or I’ve fallen down while moving house and someone will literally come and unpack your moving van and make your bed and cook you dinner. It’s like that level of social care that’s happening here for each other, and it’s just magical. But it took us a long time to find it, and it took the people that made it a long time to make it. But because there’s these experiments happening everywhere, we can learn from people that have done it, so we can do it more rapidly now. And also Bridport itself is a wonderful town, it’s full of transition initiatives, sustainability initiatives, food initiatives.

Manda: Some very switched on people doing a lot of things.

Deborah: So we’re really starting to operate at a bioregional level now as well and sort of looking at how we can do that. So you asked me a long time ago, several minutes ago, how do we do this? Practically.

Manda: But just before we go there, you said there were four elements to what we do and there’s learning from nature. Visions of the future are the communities of support, practice and place. What’s number four?

Deborah: Nature connection and people connection practices.

Manda: Learning from nature was number one. Is that not?

Deborah: The way I see it is learning from nature is different than reconnecting with nature, because learning happens up in the head. And I think we know now that just telling people do this and change this, and here’s the facts and the figures, it doesn’t work. Our behaviours don’t change from our knowledge. Our behaviours change from our emotions. Our behaviours change from our worldview.

Manda: Our Hearts.

Deborah: Our behaviours change from our hearts and our bodies.Our experiences of things. It’s really our heart, body, experiential side of things that helps us shift to different perspectives and different behaviours. And you can’t force that to happen in someone.

Manda: That was my question.

Deborah: You can only create the conditions for that profound shift inside someone to happen.

Manda: And do you see it happening in people who have gone through the headspace changes? Do you then see the actual connection to the web of life happening?

Deborah: It only goes in through the cognitive route, no. If it goes in through an experiential connection, deep connection route, yes. And that can look two ways. So ideally we would take everyone out on a two week deep nature connection and deep people connection retreat. And we would run all the practices that we know work from the bodies of work that I’ve been involved with for the last 12 years, and John’s been doing for the last 30 years. We know what works. And we would take everyone out on this, he calls it a two week sit spot. And people would have these profound changes. What happens is your empathy gets switched on. Your care for each other and for the rest of the living world gets switched on. You start to have a felt sense of belonging and interconnection and interdependence. And this kind of lights up the motivation to be a contributor, you know, to be part of that living world in a productive and good way.

Manda: And when you come back and shift back into your job, as, I don’t know, CEO of a petrochemical plant, what happens? You leave your job because that is unsustainable? Or you try and change the nature of the petrochemical plant? How does that ground?

Deborah: First of all, for a lot of people, they just hit Monday syndrome and and default back into previous ways. Because you need sustained practice and sustained support in order for it to stay alive in you and kind of expressing in your life. So this is where we need our communities of support and communities of practice, and it’s also where we need ongoing practice. Because we’re retraining our nervous systems to be in connection with the living world and with each other again. So this is why I go out and sit in the meadow for half an hour before doing a big scary podcast like today, you know?

Manda: Yes it’s why I sit out there at dusk every night for an hour, even though the images are quite ferocious at the moment. Because exactly that. You have to do it, not just think about it.

Deborah: You do. So yes, ongoing practice is part of it and ongoing support of people that get it and support you to do that is part of it. So actually having those nature connection practices and the people connection practices that go with it. Because it really helps to have someone catch your story when you come back from a nature connection practice, it really helps to have someone ask you good questions about it. It really helps to have someone to talk excitedly about the birds that you’ve seen in the garden, or to talk excitedly about how something’s come into flower that you were so curious about. Or to look at where you’ve seen little deer paths going through the hedge, or things like that. When you’ve got people to talk to about that, that are excited about it as well, it grows and grows.

Manda: It validates your experience. And then you get the pride. I think we we miss a big trick if we don’t shift ourselves off the dopamine flash that never lasts, into the serotonin mesh. And the serotonin mesh, respect and pride are huge in that. And if I can feel proud of something with people that I respect and respect them for things that they are proud of, that’s what builds the connections, I think. Just at a basic neurological level, it changes the wiring of our brains.

Deborah: That’s why we’ve got these four strands and that comes into all of it.

Manda: Brilliant.

Deborah: Deep nature connection and people connection practices, ongoingly. They’re very simple to learn and to do. There are 13 core routines of nature connection. It’s easy to learn them and to practice them in your life. And the people connection practices are very simple. It’s things like listening to each other, catching each other’s stories, expressing gratitude and thanksgiving in our lives more often. These sorts of things, asking each other good questions, having times for reflection together as a group and also on your own. They’re not rocket science, but they’re just things we can bring back into daily life that build connection. So that’s, I think for me, the first pathway towards sort of ecological citizenship or being a good keystone species. One of the pitfalls of that pathway is it can activate this big wall of grief. When I got super connected, it’s like all my strategies for numbing out and pretending what’s happening in the world isn’t happening, fell away. And I became super sensitive again, like I was when I was a child and couldn’t watch anything scary or sad or see anything being hurt. Those strategies I think we build up because the world is such a scary place and we have so much input now about it, which our nervous systems are not designed for. We’re designed to know about immediate danger and threat, not everything terrible that’s happening in the world, and is coming down the line towards us.

Deborah: So it’s very hard for our nervous systems to deal with, and we should give ourselves a little bit of permission to recognise that, you know, that it’s hard to be alive right now and to know what’s happening in the world. And nature connection and people connection does actually make that a little harder, you know, because our empathy does get switched on. So one of the things that concerns me is if we leave people only with connection practices, is that some people will fall down a hole of despair or numbing out and turning away again. So we need more than that. We need those communities around us for a start, and we need to be able to act. And as you said, to be proud of a contribution that we’re making. And to feel a part of the web of life, because then we know that as long as we’re doing our part and contributing and feeling proud of that, it’s worth it whatever the outcome is. Because it feels so good to be part of it, and the solace and feeling a sense of belonging to the living world. There’s so much beauty still in the world.

Deborah: Part two is learning from that beautiful world that we’re now connected with and learning from amazing people that we’re now connected with, that also have diverse perspectives and all sorts of amazing skills, and have been experimenting all over the world with cool stuff that we can learn from. We figure out part in it, and we figure out we don’t have to do it all on our own, because I’m really sick of this hero journey saviour rescuer thing, which is really not helpful.

Deborah: We figure out our node in the web, our contribution, our participation with the other people that are around us doing their bits. But we’re in relationship with them, not competing with them, not going my things better than yours, I’ve got the answer to everything, buy my thing. It’s like, no, we’re all nodes in the network. We’re collaborating or uplifting each other while doing the thing that lights us up and that sustains us and that contributes. So part two is learning from nature how to do the bit that we feel most passionate about doing. And that gives us design skills. It gives us practical skills. It gives us the hands part. It gives us the ability to act. So whether you call that agency or empowerment or whatever you want to call it, it’s just like okay, now I have the care, my heart is open and switched on and it’s beautiful, but also a bit painful. Now, I’ve learned from living systems, from nature; they are my guide and so I can look to them. Because there’s this quote that goes around a lot, I don’t know the source of it, it might be an Einstein one. ‘We can’t solve the problems with the same thinking that made it’.

Manda: No problem is solved from the mindset that created it. Yes.

Deborah: But it begs that question, well where do we get the mindset and the pathways from? We go to nature. Nature, as we said earlier, ecosystems are still the best example of a system that creates the conditions for life to thrive. So we go there, we learn from nature. That’s strand two. I mean, it’s not linear, it’s not one, two, three, four. It’s like all the paths at the same time, interwoven.

Manda: That’s the nature of complexity.

Deborah: Exactly. So then the third strand, let’s say, is this preferred vision; shared common goals and really looking for the things that we all can agree on, because that’s so much more helpful when you’re trying to do things together in a local community. For example, if you can agree I want good food and clean water and good shelter and a beautiful environment and abundant wildflowers and birds and, you know, affordability and housing. Most people want these things. Basic human needs are pretty similar. So if we can focus on a preferred future that meets our needs, and we all can feel a little bit excited about, that’s going to give us a shared destination and some common goals. And then that third piece is investing in community, investing in your place, investing in your community of practice as well. Building those communities around us. So for me, the fourth strand is everything to do with community. And that also means recognising the power of the community level of scale and looking to build those kinds of diverse stakeholder partnerships of different groups working together. Because we can do a lot more as a community system than, again, if we’re competing in our little different community groups and pulling apart for the same funding or whatever. You know, it’s like we need to find ways to cooperate.

Manda: Yes.

Deborah: So those are my four strands that I’m now trying to work with.

Manda: Right. So this is how the culture evolves. If we if we can weave those four strands in a continuously evolving way, this is leading me towards Indy Johar’s emergent edge of inter-becoming; that we don’t know exactly where it’s going to take us. But what you’re describing is inter-becoming in action. Provided everything that we do is woven into one or more of these strands, then everything evolves and we see where we get to.

Deborah: Yeah. And we learn as we go, that’s what living systems do. So we can also build in natural cycles of rest and then creativity and then expression and then pause and learning and reflection and then the next iteration. You know, we can build these cycles in, these action learning cycles or they’re really natural cycles, it’s what nature does too, right? There’s a seed, it grows rapidly, it bears fruit, it withers.

Manda: And then winter happens and everything rests.

Deborah: And then everything rests. And through that, learning happens through each generation or each iteration, we learn and adapt and evolve. And we can’t see what’s going to happen five, ten years down the line or 50 years down the line, but we can base our practice on the things that we have seen create the conditions for life to thrive, that create the conditions for humans to cooperate and thrive with that vision of a preferred future.

Manda: So shared common goals. Visions of a preferred future. With your experience, either of where you are now or generally around the world, what tend to be the shared common goals? You said already you want somewhere safe to live. You want to be able to eat food that actually isn’t poisoning you. These days, we’d quite like to drink water that isn’t poisoning us too. I’m reading a book at the moment and understanding exactly what the chlorine and the fluoride in the water are doing, and extremely glad that we have access to not tap water. But anyway, you’d like water that’s not poisoning you. You’d like to breathe air that’s not poisoning you. Really fundamental, what I would consider our essential, if we ever get to universal basic services. But there’s a kind of I was going to say meta level, but there’s a cognitive level that isn’t just these are the logistics that I need, but these are the life that I would like to live. And I think I know mine. What are yours or what are the ones that you work with?

Deborah: I mean I want to feel connected to other people. So I want to have supportive people around me and people that I can do fun stuff with and people that I can do projects with. So that’s good. And I also want time on my own for my own creative endeavours or my own quiet time.

Manda: Just to have solitude at times. Yeah.

Deborah: I want to be able to contribute. I want to have a sense of meaning and purpose. I want to be doing things that feel interesting and enlivening, that are a good match for my skills, interests, passions. And I think most people do. And so many of us are stuck in jobs that are unfulfilling and spend so much time just waiting for the weekend or the two week holiday each year. I don’t think that’s how life is supposed to be.

Manda: It’s not how we evolved for sure.

Deborah: I mean, I really could have spent a lot longer sitting under the tree in the meadow earlier on, just being. And then maybe get a pad out and sketch a few ideas and then have a cup of tea with someone. I mean, it would be lovely, wouldn’t it? And then eventually I’d probably want to get up and do something creative and useful and help make something with someone that would be useful for the wider community, you know? I think, yes, obviously we need the basic human needs. I think we also, it’s Maslow hierarchy stuff again, isn’t it? There’s the basic human physiological stuff, safety and security and food and shelter. There’s the social level. And then there’s the kind of expression and creativity and self-actualisation level of of… Yeah.

Manda: Although apparently I heard and I have yet to track it down, that at the end of his life, he deleted that top one of personal self-actualisation and made it Community Connection.

Deborah: Oh, that’s wonderful news.

Manda: If it’s true, an amazing thing. And actually that should be spread around the world because there’s so many people who still have a pyramid. And it wasn’t. It was much more of an hourglass sense or a tree.

Deborah: Yeah, I think it feels so wonderful to co-design and co-produce with our collective intelligence and our collective passion. You know, something together. Because whatever my ideas are, I’m always going to have my blind spots and the bits that I’m missing and missing skills and all sorts of things. It’s so lovely to do it with other people, but to have your piece within it that you can bring to it as well.

Manda: Exactly and that’s how you get your serotonin mesh.

Deborah: Yes.

Manda: Beautiful. Okay. We’re probably running towards the end. There’s definitely going to be another podcast to be done because we’ve only just touched the surfaces of these things. But as we’re heading towards the end, if people listening wanted to take some agency, wanted to head down these paths, we will put links to biomimicry, we’ll put links to the deep nature connection. We’ll put links to your local co-housing. Have you got anywhere else that they could and should explore, or any advice that you would give to people for whom this is still something they think about but haven’t actually begun to do?

Deborah: Definitely follow those threads. My husbands and I are soon going to be offering a nature based village building kind of experience pathway, something, with John Young and his team, which will be an online thing.

Manda: I definitely want to do that.

Deborah: So come and check that out. I think we’ll be launching that in the next few weeks. And there’s a lot of great offerings on the Living Connection First website. I’m also really happy to come and talk to people in their groups, their organisations, their communities about these four strands and how we can bring them alive in our places. Either whether it’s just learning nature connection practices and how to bring those to your groups. Or whether it’s learning the basics of biomimicry, there’s a fantastic one day workshop on introducing biomimicry to your community, which is a lovely place to start. Very happy to come and run that with people or share resources with you if you want to try. Or you might need to do the course first before you run it. But anyway, it’s not rocket science. And I would just to love to support more people to do this. And there are lots of different strands, as we’ve talked about. And you can kind of start with the strand that interests you most and then start bringing the others in, if you know what I mean. We’ve been working with Forest School practitioners recently and talking to them about bringing in the deeper nature connection practices. And also how do you take children out to do really simple biomimicry stuff. And young people, I think 16 year olds and up at the moment must be facing such a difficult set of circumstances, and I feel like that’s the audience, the age group that my heart goes out to most. Because we’re handing them this big old mess.

Deborah: And maybe I’ll finish with this story. Just before the pandemic, I think it was 2019, some of the leaders of the Extinction Rebellion, youth part of the movement, reached out to myself. Because I knew 1 or 2 of them from the Nature Connection camps, and they were involved in both. And they had heard that John was coming to the UK and I was teaching with him at Schumacher, and they asked if we would come and speak to them. Because what they said is that they were really feeling a lack of support in their activism, and they felt that the adults in their life were either telling them what to do and not letting them have any of their own creativity or expression, or just abandoning them and saying well, you get on with it. It’s your future. You’re probably going to have to fix it anyway. And both of those things were devastating to them. And because a couple of them had been to these nature connection week long camp outs and things, they knew that there could be a different way of being supported by community and by the older people in their lives and so on, and being mentored and and being invited to express their creativity and to grow into their own gifts and their own expressions.

Deborah: So they said, how do we bring that into Extinction Rebellion? And we spoke to them for a long time. And what they actually ended up saying that they wanted from adults is almost that we could lay out a blanket between us, of all the things that we’ve learned along the way, including our successes, but also our mistakes, our failures, our lessons. And the tools and the practices and the things that have worked. And that they could then play with those and put them into new formations and be creative with it and have our support and encouragement to do that. And I think that’s what I would most love to do now, is to be able to bring this bundle of transformative practice and experience as a practitioner, and from the communities I’m part of, and offer that to young people. And so we’re just starting to make some very small kind of steps with some other educators around the southwest and meeting up, actually in Bristol at the end of May, to talk about what we might do with that. But I really hope that can grow into something. So if other people are interested in that, please reach out, because I really feel we need to support our young people at the moment.

Manda: Fantastic. Yeah, that sounds extremely exciting. And as and when that’s up and running, please come back and tell us about it.

Deborah: Okay, great.

Manda: Because spreading the word of that and drawing in other people who might be able to support it. Because the older generations got the mortgage, have the house, have the land, but don’t have the energy or the vision I think, to do to create the new and different communities that could arise if the young people were not hampered by having nowhere to live.

Deborah: Exactly. And one of the things that the young people said to us that day was they are not as enculturated into the old systems as we are. So they can really see they were born into the brokenness and could see it right away. This particular group anyway, and many young people, I think. And so they’re more bold, they’re more creative, they’re more courageous because they have to be. But they’re also young, and they haven’t had a chance to make all the mistakes and learn all the things we have along the way. So they need that too. And then they need to use that almost as their building blocks to experiment with.

Manda: Yeah. And they need proper elderhood I would suggest. Of people holding a frame that says, yes, go and explore and we will endeavour to keep you as safe as we can. Not necessarily in the old system, but to give you an energetic, emotional, psychological, heart based framework to do what you need to.

Deborah: Yeah, to ask good questions and provide some practices that they can try out and yeah, a bit of facilitation and support. Exactly. So I think we need to find that in order to get this going, we need some people who are a bit older and have the resources that are willing to offer any of those sorts of resources, whether it’s knowledge or a place or financial resource. But there are ways that we all need to step up to make these things happen, so that we can leave this future that we’re proud to leave behind.

Manda: Yes. And that the generation that’s coming through has some land to stand on, some conceptual space and actual space, so that they can grow into the grandmothers and grandfathers of the future. Gosh, Deborah, there’s so much to talk about and it’s so inspiring. So please send me all the links, all the stuff and we’ll put it into the show notes. And I so look forward to talking again when some of this has moved on a couple more paces, because it just feels like this is the leading edge of the inter-becoming emergent space that we need to create. So thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. This has been a delight.

Deborah: It’s been a real pleasure and an honour. And thank you so much for all the work you’re doing to continue to inspire me as well.

Manda: Thank you.

Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Deborah for the depth and the breadth and the practical application of all that she’s doing. There is so much in here: the deep nature connection work alone is worth a lifetime’s exploring the capacity, actually, to connect with the web of life, to bring in that teaching, to implement it in every part of our lives. To know that other people are doing this, that we can have support, that we can connect, that we can share the stories of connection, and in that way find validation and grounding and a sense of co-regulation that allows this to become a reality. Because it’s different from the consensus reality that we’ve been brought up in. And what we find in the shamanic work is that building communities of support is absolutely essential to people being able to have a sense of the new reality being firm. Of it being a safe place to stay. Of it being something that we can build our lives around, so that we don’t hit what Deborah called the Monday morning syndrome of going back to work, and consensus reality washes over and pushes in, and whatever we experience in our time away becomes somebody else’s dream, or a book we once read, or a movie we once saw, and not the reality of our lives. We need to anchor this. It needs to become real. It needs to become the way that we live.

Manda: And then the biomimicry. Moving with that, of how we can look at the natural world and use it as a living template. It works. Everything around us has grown up over the last 64 million years since the last mass extinction, and some of it far, far longer. And everything that is here has arisen from the things that survived that mass extinction and the four prior to it. There’s extraordinary depth and breadth and complexity of possibility here. And if we can unhinge our head minds from the idea that we have all the answers, come down into what I would call our heart minds and connect from there, to the web of life, asking the questions what do we need to know? What do we need to do? How can we connect more deeply? This is the way forward.

Manda: So please do go and follow up all of the links. There are many, many links in the show notes for this week and all of them are worthwhile. And if you’re looking for what to do, building community has to be the way forward. And I know we say this week after week after week. Because it’s true. But what Deborah is offering is practical agency of how we can do this. So head off, have a look, find out what’s yours to do, and let’s start doing it. Because time is kind of running out. Okay, that’s it for now. We’ll be back next week with another conversation.

Manda: And in the meantime, thank you to Caro C for the music at the Head and Foot. To Alan Lowells of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcript. To Faith Tilleray for all of the work that keeps us moving forwards. And as ever, an enormous thanks to you for listening. And if you know of anybody else who wants to be inspired in ways that we can begin to shift towards that emergent edge of inter-becoming, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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