Exploring the intersection of yoga + permaculture: Use Edges and Value the Marginal


The edge where woodland meets meadow provides a rich, diverse array of species.Photo by Vadim Karnakhin.

The edge where woodland meets meadow provides a rich, diverse array of species.

Photo by Vadim Karnakhin.

“Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well beaten path”

The eleventh permaculture principle, Use Edges & Value the Marginal speaks to the overlooked, under appreciated underdog, which is often the unlikely disguise of abundant potential of rich bounty, seeds and conditions ready to burst forth with life. 

In permaculture, the edges and pauses between notes and empty spaces, like filling in the coloring book page outside of the lines, with color and design. Or we can think of it as, border of a page of stickers. The otherwise discarded and thrown away in permaculture is considered valuable and important, when used with creative resourcefulness. 

An edge can be thought of as: “The place where two ecosystems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species present than either habitat on its own. In ecology this is called ‘ecotone’. This is central to the idea of using edges as a design method. The logic is simple. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge…Marginal could be ideas, views, unusual plants, wild animals or people at the ‘edge’ of society. Permaculture itself has been seen as marginal for many years” (permaculture.org/uk).

Edges can be used to enhance productivity when considered during the design, and a permaculture garden does just this: “In a permaculture garden, we aim to make use of all possible space. This can mean designing vegetable, herb, and flowerbeds in unusual shapes. For instance, keyhole beds are modeled after an old-fashioned keyhole. Garden mandalas are circular arrangements of multiple keyhole beds. If you have six keyhole beds in a circle, one path will be the entrance and there will be a round area in the middle to give some room to turn around. This increases the number of edges to maximize plantable space and minimizes path space. Marginal spaces that may not be suitable for traditional garden beds can also be turned into productive areas. Try growing heat-loving vines like beans, grapes, kiwis, melons, and squash on the side of a stucco or brick wall to benefit from the stored thermal heat and to soften the edge between the garden and the built environment. The vines also provide shade during the summer and let light in the Winter. Even dark nooks and crannies can be used to cultivate crops. I grow mushrooms under nursery tables, where they get ample water and little sun.”  The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: creating and edible ecosystem, Christopher Shein.

Living overseas in Africa, Asia, South America and the South Pacific Islands caused me to contemplate the true nature of wealth and sustainable resources. Living in slums of Kolkata, I observed families living in cement rooms, with one bed for everyone to share and a hole in the ground to use as a toilet and unclean water available at a shared tap for the neighborhood, only available with running water from 6AM to 8AM. What awakened my wonder was the amount of prana, vitality and love the neighborhood held for one another. I wondered:  Is poverty lacking? Lacking opportunity? And who exactly are the “non-poor”? Those who lack lack? Generalizations marginalize. Margins contain open space, a blank space to create beauty. If the poor will always be with us, why are they without “us”ness?As a Psalm beautifully states: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” It is often where the the overlooked underdog, the under-appreciated apprentices reside, that the treasures are hidden, like jewels, like a diamond in the rough. “The same sun that melts wax hardens clay.” The reality lies in your perspective and edges can be viewed as marginal or valuable or anywhere in between.. 

Certain types of invasive weeds can be medicines, when properly utilized. Invasive weeds are generally non-native and noxious, spreading rapidly, yet mullein and milk thistle create amazing medicines.

In what ways are there edges in your life where you fail to see the beauty within? Where you don’t see the value? This may include rough edges, the jagged edges, the split ends. Consider a garden, whereby the fence is made of juniper trees and climbing peas, vines creating a barrier of beauty. 

In many countries, families cover the tops of their fence with glass bottles, to protect nighttime ninjas from hopping over onto the premises. How can you protect your own boundaries in a  protective, reflective way, that still allows the exploration of your personal edge? In what ways can you create beautiful, strong barriers that protect the garden of your soul from intrusion? 

Contemplate the marginalized, generalized folks around you, that you may pass on the street or see as you journey around your city and world. How can you internally and externally value those overlooked, dismissed neglected and dejected? How can you share beauty and invaluable riches with your fellow human, recognizing the impermanent nature of life, with the premise of living each moment to the fullest, with grace and graciousness. 

What are the edges in your life? How can you walk the full spectrum of your own personal internal territory without cutting corners. How can the fullness of the space between the notes of your heart song add rhythm and melody to your life? How can you use edges and value the marginal in your everyday life?

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