"The problem is the solution..."

Permaculture is full of colorful tropes, but perhaps none so intriguing as the oft repeated paradox, “the problem is the solution.”

Each year at our Introduction to Permaculture course a prodding of this question comes up in earnest; what exactly does that mean, and how do we translate it into action? We reflect on our own experience with this seeming contradiction. Years back when we began the farm, we were confronted with widespread water inundation. The saturated soil so abused and compacted, water would no longer percolate and instead sat in stagnant, anaerobic pools littered across the landscape. The water was a problematic obstacle, until one day, with a shift in perspective, it became a resource. Six years later our farm is home to four ponds that filter and store water while providing specialized habitat to a myriad of beings. Their presence in the landscape has enriched the farm, and we have plans to install three more. What was once an insurmountable obstacle, became a wellspring for inspiration.

“The problem is the solution” is an alchemical invitation to break down the conceptual limitations we have framed a scenario in, let in more light, and illuminate a fuller perspective of the situation. An idealised vision cast in immutable stone can drown the potential of possibility if clung to too tightly. A willingness to cooperate with everything, even the momentous problems we face, transforms confrontation into conversation, and perceived problems into potential collaborators.

Our problems did not begin or end with ponds. They arise and continue to confront us everytime we hold too tightly to a desired outcome, or reality falls short of expectation. But problems now present themselves as clues. Clues that we are in the proximity of solutions, if only we could reorient our perspective, and reframe our assessment. Nature is infinite in its ability to adapt and transform, and so, we are too. It’s a flipping of the script, a reexamination of the vision, a shirking of rigidity, and an embracing of mutability. Kind of like water.