Chapter 1: In search of meaning: The Origins of Permaculture – Titles

Chapter 1 Our Friends are Lost in Time
20 January, 2021
Chapter 1 Our Friends are Lost in Time
20 January, 2021

Chapter 1

In search of meaning

The origins of



Why ‘Travels in Dreams’? Why not ‘Episodes from a Degenerate Life’? Because, before starting to write, nobody knows how anything will shape itself.

Even when I was very young, life seemed to me to be a dream. A dream in which I moved more as an insubstantial spectator, than as an actor; and a dream that I could not clearly recall even in near retrospect; what did you do last Thursday week? A dream that I no doubt shared with other actors, who saw the same dream from a very different perspective, so that if we both reported the same episode, it would seem like two different events, or a hundred events.

This impression of the differences in our perception, hence our reports, was only well substantiated by work we later did at university when staging an event that a whole class could see, and then calling for their individual reports as though we were judges at a trial. And, believe me, all judges should do this; some people have no possibility of constructing a report that even faintly resembles actors dressed as scheduled, and working from a script. They all live in a different world. Yet, every day, judges and witnesses solemnly agree (as though in a nightmare) to reach conclusions such as ‘guilty’, or ‘not guilty’. Kafkaesque indeed.

And if any of us wrote down episodes of their life then, from the perspective of their life now, the old life is a dream. We cannot imagine that we lived that way. Yet, curiously, as a sometime historian and even a current manuscript creator, much of my own life from age 20 or so, and before, can be recovered from old photographs, blurred or silverfish-laced papers, field notebooks, unfinished diaries, even notes made on the back of maps. Coupled with photographs, these notes help persuade me that I did live those lives; or somebody did who also kept records and wrote poems.

And as much as we travel in dreams, some of these are nightmares, and many are farces written by a cosmic joker. It is indeed difficult to believe in the rationality of mankind. I seem to have watched astounded from behind glass as people made suicidal decisions.

Imagine that, knowing that deforestation causes salting, an insurance company or pension funds clear lands to ground level, or a government lets a wood-chip licence in the headwaters of a stream that supplies agriculture, or allows – even subsidises – farmers to clear land. You see what I mean. Nightmares.

In any case, however I have shaped a life, this is about the shape it is; blurred, but essentially experienced by somebody. Perhaps it was me, but it doesn’t always seem like it.

I have always been fascinated with biographies; some (Candide; Jurgen) perhaps fictional, but charting our journey from innocence, via betrayal, to rueful optimism. We can all identify with such journeys. Others are amazing biographies of improbable people, who lead a series of parallel lives (The Quest for Corvo). And yet others are painfully simple and honest stories from men who have lived hard lives (Don Segundo D’Ombre; Tough Trip Through Paradise). Our real lives are far more improbable than any fiction, so that even to ourselves they have an air of unreality.

The point of describing the division of a person – into an observer, even a disinterested observer, and the poor wretch that acts out our life for us – is that both are in a dream; or rather, that each is a dream of the other. Consciousness, or rather concentration, always involves the actor; he borrows the persona for short periods. But we usually travel in dream worlds; and the surreal qualities of many of the experiences in this account are drawn from the contrasts between poverty, hardship, and hard work; and luxury, easy lives, and no meaningful work at all.

We can move in time, or place, and walk from dire need to obscene excess, as easily in India as the USA, Russia as Australia. That most people do not do so means that they are self-limited, like the jam in a sandwich, to a two-dimensional world, and meet only people like themselves.

In this book however, we take on a three and four dimensional look at life (allowing duration as a dimension), and we see the contrasts. They are indeed surreal. So not only do we move in dreams; we inhabit surreal dreams. No wonder that we are said to be absent-minded.

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