We live in a world where, for the first time in history, much of what we see and use on a daily basis are objects that have been designed, sometimes by whole departments of people highly trained in the relevant skills. Apple and Nike come to mind.
Object design is obvious to us — we use these objects daily and they are advertised. In contrast, life design is not as obvious. Given the problems with our current lifestyle, designing a better way of life is important. This especially true when you consider that our places of work and living shape human nature (see this post). What is the goal of life design? Designing a life of thriving, using only one planet’s worth of resources, a life that is not only sustainable but restorative, beautiful, vibrant, healthy, and happy. Through life design, we need to influence and evolve our culture into one that nourishes sustainable well-being, or, put more simply, a life that works.
Lucky for us, there are some people, who are focused on life design — Life Designers. There are life designers who specialize in specific areas: individual wellbeing, relationships, and the cultural or planetary. Below are some experiments and experimenters who can help model what we must do: assemble and integrate disparate sources of knowledge and ways of being into a culture that weave together a life that works.
Life Design as a Priority
Have we made “progress” for so long through specialization that we imagine integrating across different fields to create sustainable well-being will happen as a matter or course?
Or, could our fragility in confronting anxiety-provoking information provide part of the reason? Simply put, given a choice between changing our world view to accommodate uncomfortable facts and distorting those facts to preserve our world view (and the sense of control and security that go with it), many of us choose the latter. There is some neuroscience evidence for this (Westin et al., 2006, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience). Theoretically, one of the promises of training in mindfulness meditation is being aware of what is happening rather than distorting things to see what we wish were happening (more here).
Many people who have populated the field of life design, at least recently, have done so through heroic means and radical lifestyle change. This is unfortunate because few people are willing to engage in that much lifestyle change unless powerful and immediate incentives exist. If we want to encourage the evolution of lives that work, we need to incentivize good life design.
Meanwhile, it is exciting to learn from models where they exist.
Misfits: We are Life Designers
You misfits. You lonely and isolated and alienated people. You are life designers. You know the suffering that comes from the violence of criticism, whether directed towards yourself, from others, or towards others. Because you know suffering, you have the in-your-bones motivation to change things, to use your experience and knowledge to improve your life, your relationships, and our planet.
We are here to design a life that works for ourselves, our community, and our planet. We talk about these three areas (and others) as if they’re separate, but they are all intertwined. We are not going to have individual wellbeing without connected and meaningful relationships with other people. We are not going to have individual wellbeing if we live on a planet incapable of sustaining the vast and interconnected web of life required to support us.
What prevents us from becoming life designers once we know about the idea? The primary obstacle? Not dealing with reality early, often, and skillfully with kindness, especially when we life triggers unpleasant emotion. When we develop the foundation for skillfully dealing with reality, we will be able to cooperate more skillfully with others. There is perhaps no better teacher than interacting with others to increase our own emotion regulation and engage in good life design.
Life Designers: Models for Us
These are all people or projects (organized alphabetically) who have been living experiments in life design and chose to share their knowledge with us.
There are others who have focused on more specialized components of life design like those investigating group facilitation processes, forms of spirituality that incorporate planet-wide interdependence while also providing rituals and ceremony through which people can connect with each other, and the hundreds of experiments being conducted world-wide in community and sustainable living (e.g., homesteading/back-to-the-land, co-housing, ecovillages). These are some inspiring examples. Some are very different than the way we live. They are not necessarily meant as solutions for us, but certainly can inspire us to think outside the box about our own lives and what we can do to design our own lives in ways that are consistent with our own values.
- Auroville. Ecovillage in India.
- Bill Coperthwaite lived on his homestead in Maine, brought yurts to America, and left the gift of his book, A Handmade Life. Another excellent book about Bill, A Man Apart, is written by his friends, Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow
- Bullock’s Brothers (permaculture on Orcas Island, WA)
- Crystal Waters (Australia, founded in part by David Holmgren, co-founder of Permaculture)
- Ecovillage Findhorn (Scotland)
- Ben Falk (The Resilient Farm and Homestead; video overview of this approach; TEDx video)
- Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (MO)
- Earthaven Ecovillage (NC)
- Masanobu Fukuoka. One Straw Revolution. Developed his own form of non-tilling permaculture, “do nothing farming”, before the term was coined
- Sepp Holzer. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture. Using “permaculture” principles before permaculture became a term.
- Hummingbird Ecovillage (NM)
- Marcin Jakubowski works on Open Source Ecology (OSE) to prototype, build, and document for replication the fifty industrial machines needed to create a closed-loop economy, of virtually any scale, with modern comforts.
- Geoff Lawton on Greening the Desert (Jordan)
- Kakwa Ecovillage (Canada)
- Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. The creators of permaculture. David Holmgren at Melliodora (Australia) (1, 2). Blog of Gabriel Engle, an apprentice at Melliodora in 2012.
- Helen & Scott Nearing. The Good Life. Homesteading.
- Peter Sellers, a woodworker in England, who talks here about life design.
- PermaEthos: Hire these folks to get your farm permaculturized to profitability and market your products under their brand (video; Wheaton podcasts with them: #1 and #2)
- Dick Proenneke: 30 years in Alaska, highlighted by Alone in the Wilderness (DVD) and One Man’s Wilderness (book)
- Allan Savory (NM): Holistic Management
- Mark Shepard (Restoration Agriculture; 18 years of broad-scale, commercial permaculture in Viola, WI)
- John Seymour (The Self-sufficient Life and How to Live It; homesteading & “High Farming” techniques predating permaculture)
- Willie Smits. Working in Indonesia using social and physical permaculture to create economical and environmentally sustainable villages
- Tamera Peace Village in Portugal. Combining social and physical technologies to model a new culture of one planet thriving.
- Wangari Maathai: Nobel prize for planting trees and community in Africa (10-min video)
- Paul Wheaton (MT; emphasis on community & ongoing, systematic experimentation)