The Art of Listening: The First Step to Building Naturally

Things happen incrementally, bit by bit we create, we build brick by brick and stone by stone. In the beginning there is just listening and watching, waiting and dreaming. We cannot rush this stage, for great visions come to us little by little. We rarely know it all at once, dreams don’t reveal themselves in a hurry they come to be known slowly over time. There is a place to start though, a first brick to lay as builders, one that is not so tangible. It is a choice to pause and witness, to stop and listen.
The creation of a home is a nuanced process that for me begins with listening. This important art is often bypassed by the conventional construction community, in that paradigm human desires are considered paramount to the needs of other beings we cohabitate with. But in order to create respectfully and in balance we must spend some time listening before acting. We must resurrect our capacity to hear those beings whose voice differs from ours but is there nonetheless.

When we wish to design structures upon a landscape we begin by listening to the land itself, the voice of the earth. We let go of our plans and ideas, just to be there for a while to begin forming a relationship to place based on attentive observation. To create in a place we must know that place, intimately.  Then we turn to those who came before us, giving thanks to the beings who have lived and loved here, to the ancestors of a land, to ask their permission and wait to hear the answer. Then there are those who are here now; the plants, the animals and the people. What are their needs and dreams? How can we find a balance that supports all who occupy a space?
When we have listened and watched, witnessing what is present, honoring the words of the earth, ancestors, animals, plants, people ect- we will know what is offered to us and what is not. From this type of deep inquiry a vision begins to come forth, not all at once but little by little. A vision informed by the understandings gathered in our experiences with the land. This type of process may not appear efficient from the outside, it takes time, sometimes a lot of it when we are unpracticed. However, what it offers us is a more consensual relationship with the earth we wish to create upon and more information on how to design a structure in accordance with the energies present in the space.  Not only does this allow us to act in right relationship it also supports us by showing us potential issues with the building site before we begin working. Listening is a critical part of the process of moving from an anthropocentric way of building into a way that considers the complex systems we are each a part of. By doing this type of deep work we practice not taking center stage, not valuing human life over other forms of life. We begin to see ourselves as just one piece of the larger ecosystem we are a part of and design around that truth.

The permaculture principle of observation and interaction constantly reminds us that taking time to witness and engage with any environment allows us to design systems that are sustainable and consider the immediate and long term effects of our choices on the ecosystem. How could this be accomplished without listening? By reconnecting this art we are able to move away from the damaging practices of the construction industry and adopt a new way to create that values all life. Even as natural builders we often miss this critical step. We come with our good intentions armed with natural materials but still impose anthropocentric designs on the land by not taking the time necessary to create the relationships that would inform our design choices in powerful ways.

So let us practice listening again to the earth, to the ones who are here now and the ones who have come before us considering the next generations as we build. May we each take the time needed to listen to the land and make informed choices in how, what and where we build. May we start with the first brick, the one of listening before we act and may it be the strong foundation upon which we create.

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