Growing a Wellness Paradigm from the Ground Up

Healing and Homesteading — Growing a Wellness Paradigm from the Ground Up

Boulder, CO, September 17, 2012

The Secret Garden

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”  Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution

Is there such a thing as land-based healing? How do we cultivate change? How has the garden healed me? How does it matter that people learn to grow their own food, or create a bond with the plants and soil where they live? How does that confer health? Are gardening and homesteading part of a larger healing paradigm? How do we express our fidelity to the life force? What’s the connection between healing in the body and healing of the land? I probably won’t fully answer all of these questions, but I mean to gesture towards them, and open the dialogue.

I offer my remarks not as a scientist, or a psychological researcher, but as a largely intuitive cultural creative who has logged a lot of hours in the garden and the counseling room. In my day job, I’m an eco-somatic therapist working with individuals, couples and groups to help create strategies for balanced awareness and action. Somatics is a way of approaching healing that gives the body a central position – we understand our negative or difficult or disabling experiences by how they have landed on our bodies and how they arise automatically in our nerves and the tissues and fibers. We change by creating new, embodied habits and behaviors—by doing something different.

The “eco” part of the healing paradigm understands our relationship to the earth and our environment both as part of our dis-ease, as well as our capacity for wellness and resilience. In this context, we learn to recover from what ails us by interacting with the systems and patterns of the earth in their endless work of repair. Put together, eco-somatics utilizes the wisdom of the body and the earth to help people heal their relationships to themselves and the world around them. I have seen that by occupying our bodies and our home places, we create the conditions for health.

I also live the life of an urban homesteader, and am the author of Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living, with my long-time friend and collaborator, K. Ruby Blume. Our book is a beautiful how-to and why-to for the growing homesteading movement and the life of the new family farm in our country. It is rooted in the practice of permaculture, a human settlement design system based in a series of life-giving ethics and principles.

I have done a great deal of urban and suburban gardening, chicken whispering, beekeeping, food harvesting and preserving, medicine growing and making, natural building, water saving, energy conserving, zero wasting, and community building. The homesteading way, like the eco-somatic way, is one aspect of the transition toward a restored, regenerative culture we are currently experiencing. It is a practical connective way to live in our bodies, at home.

So my remarks on gardening and healing are in this larger context of homesteading and sustainability that gives shape to the path I am on. A standard definition of sustainability is: our ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, taking what we need and leaving the rest for others. Sustainability creates balance between input and output—we stop taking more than we give back—and thus, also creates continuity, something which exists through time. As we all know, there is something healing about creating and participating in sustainable systems like a garden.

But I think sustainability is somehow uninspiring, a low bar kind of goal. It’s mostly about maintaining without destroying. In our urgent and profoundly dis-eased era, sometimes we settle for the old adage: Do No Harm, and call it healing. I think we can do better. I want health and wellness for all. I want a resplendent restorative culture that provides enough for everyone. I want a renewed ecosystem, for all the plants and the animals and the humans. I want equity and justice. How are we going to get from here to there? I think understanding the connection between the health and flowering of a person and the health and flowering of the earth is part of the path.

Wellness is a state of balance—our inner and outer worlds in harmony with one another, our walk aligned with our talk. Healing is the process of coming to wellness. It’s not a steady state; we can’t really ever arrive there, but we can be in the process throughout our lives. More and more, I see healing and wellness only within the context of a renewed earth, and our dis-ease coming from the unbalanced ways we live in relationship to our home places. By home places I am talking about your body as much as I am talking about your kitchen and backyard garden. As Wendell Berry, a grand voice for the agrarian way, said, “The task of healing is to respect oneself as a creature, no more and no less.”

The garden is a healing place because, as creatures with this giant pre-frontal cortex, we need to know we live in a world of continuity. We need to be connected to our place over time. We need to be in the human dialogue between domesticity and wildness that is one of the central struggles of the home gardener. We need to listen to and feel our bodies moving and growing and changing and dying. We need to know there is a world for our children, and their children. In my experience, the garden reflects the ongoing-ness of life in a reassuring way, heals our anxiety and fear, and gives us a wonderful example of how we can live well in the world, even or especially in this time when there are some very real threats to our continuity.

As a mental health practitioner, I most often see people with anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Addictions are common and pernicious. The economic downturn has created feelings of anxiety and insecurity that make decision-making and forward thinking difficult. I am not alone in fielding these kinds of struggles; my colleagues report clientele with similar issues.

Countless studies have been done about the benefits of horticultural therapy for people in distress. Gardens are planted and cultivated in prisons and mental hospitals to great and lasting effect. People who put their hands in the dirt on a daily basis are shown to have lower incidence of depression and anxiety. There’s something in the chemical make-up of dirt, with all its diverse microorganisms and primary decomposers that helps people literally feel better. People who are aware of the potentially suicidal trajectory of the human animal in industrial culture are served by their connection to the steady process of life unfolding in a garden.

I think each one of us, as a creature, knows that our ecosystem—our Home Place—is being destroyed and worse, that we are complicit every day in the destruction, no matter how wrong we think it is or how much we wish it were different. The excess of anxiety and depression and dissociation and trauma we see at this time is a reflection of our deep distress and grief. There is a terrible sense of despair and cognitive dissonance which many people paper over with denial or alcohol or drugs or cynicism. Some people become the receivers for the grief and trauma that’s living in the collective body and suffer from an excess of feeling and experience a cataclysmic sense of despair. Some people take the hit somatically and become physically ill—chemical sensitivity, auto-immune illness, asthma, allergies, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue are all reflections of the larger ecological breakdown. Our bodies are attacking themselves; we cannot breathe; we are allergic to the world. It is in the nature of every living creature to want to live. And seeing how much work there is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it? Most of us need a forum where we can deal in small, measurable daily way with the overwhelming circumstances of our time. The garden can be this kind of a place.

I work with people who have what I call eco-anxiety – sensitive, caring people who are overwhelmed by the enormity of the mistakes human beings are making with our environment, and who feel powerless to make a difference. Almost always, I direct them first to the garden or the natural world. I encourage them to grow something they love—whether it’s food, or seeds or plants for the threatened honeybee or just for beauty—because being part of the growing process is an antidote to eco-anxiety. It helps us embody the reality that our actions make a difference, and can be directed towards a life-giving goal. When we take actions within a deep ecological framework, we know we are part of a healing path that begins—but cannot end—with Do No Harm.

As gardeners, we can feel how the inner tasks of healing and the outer tasks of gardening are connected—how tending the soil can soothe stress and anxiety, or help us work out a problem that’s been nagging at the back of our minds, or how just being among beautiful, living beings with their own nature connects us with ourselves on a different level. When we recognize that the tending we do for our gardens and the tending we do for our souls is the same daily practice of love, it’s easy to see that the distance between healing and gardening really isn’t very big.

Urban homesteading is a graceful, gritty DIY bow to the reality of natural limits, the fact that we cannot take more out of our environmental bank account than we put in it. It is a way to put our literal and metaphoric houses in order, and get back in balance in our daily lives and home places. Homesteading, with the garden at the center of our practice, is one clear way to express our fidelity with the life force. This fidelity, no matter what is happening all around us—the level of dissolution or decay—is, in itself, a healing path.

Let me tell you my story of coming to live so profoundly in the dirt, and feeling so much better for it. For many years I did a lot of healing through therapy and art-making and dance. I was an urban street artist, a seeker. I sought home, place and belonging. I traveled the world, made extreme art pieces in an effort to be seen by other people, and turned in multiple gyrations to escape the heaviness of sorrow and trauma I felt in my body. I launched some highly articulate shrieks about the desecration of the natural world. I was identified with the archetype of Cassandra, that daughter of the Trojan War who sees the truth and tries to warn the people she loves, but who is never believed. I was angry, and frightened and depressed.

Over time, of course I grew up a bit; I shed some of the grief. I bought a house, and lived there for a while. I met my life partner and became a mother. Our daughter was born 11 years ago, around the time of 9/11. In my experience, this consequential event reinforced a general level of fear and reactivity, and deepened the sense of trauma in the collective American body. It was an interesting time to become a parent, which as you may know, projects your life deeply into a future you will never inhabit but which belongs to your beloved children.

With that fierce mama bear energy activated in me, I sat and watched those towers fall, and I knew that things were going to go from bad to worse. How to create a hopeful world for my tiny, precious daughter? I started thinking about things like land use, and food and energy and what it might mean to live a better way. I had always been a gardener, but around this time, and almost spontaneously, I started growing more food and re-skilling in the kitchen, canning the plums that were falling from the trees, learning to eat the weeds that grew on the side of the road. And then I studied permaculture, and the problem-saturated story I’d been living for so long started composting under the weight of all its solutions. I felt so much better.

Permaculture shifted my gardening practice to a full-on sustainability practice, and has given me a larger view of the power of the earth as a healer. The permaculture values are largely relational and help me live in better harmony with my environment and all the creatures and energies in it. Know your watershed; know your blood flow. We breathe in, we breathe out. The lungs of the world breathe with us. Learning to live in companionship with ecological limits and opportunities has been part of my healing path—it placed me in a more honest relationship to the world and offered me a series of daily actions which make a huge difference in how we live at home, how we source our food, how we think about water, how we understand our neighborhood as a living organism, how we relate to our work, and our leisure time, and our local community.

Permaculture ethics and principles are not purely material design ideas—you don’t think so much about whether your apple tree is planted near your borage plant. Rather you inquire into how you make choices in your life that reflect a commitment to the ethics of earth care, people care, and fair share, or an equitable distribution of natural and human resources. Those are the three ethics.

Organic food is a simple example of how the ethics play out. If we grow our own food organically, or buy organic food, we are practicing earth care because we are supporting an agricultural practice that doesn’t add fossil fuel to the ground in the form of fertilizers or inputs; hopefully it exploits labor less than the industrial food system does; probably travels a shorter distance from farm to table, thus lowering the carbon footprint of the food. When we eat it, we are practicing people care, because we are nourishing our bodies with good healthy food. When we grow more than we need, which is so often the case, and share what we have, we are practicing fair share. Many of us may already be practicing in this way around our food.

The ethics can be applied to every aspect of our lives—where we work, how we travel, how we seek pleasure and entertainment and community, how we manage our water and our waste, how we generate our personal economy—and abiding by the ethics will lead most of us to make different decisions than we probably make right now. I know that has been the case for my family. My partner jokes that he didn’t sign on to live with someone who flushed the toilet with bath water, but I’ve noticed in recent months he’s taken it on whole-heartedly, no more grumbling.

The permaculture principles model themselves on the intelligence and patterns of nature. These patterns are all around us, but we have mostly been educated out of witnessing or connecting with them. There are patterns of water flow; human energy flow; food flow; material flows; consciousness flow. The principles can be applied to how we think about our food or energy production or general consumption; how we organize our home and work lives. They can also be applied to how we tend to our inner lives, our emotional bodies, and our spiritual expression.

Following the principles in our daily living helps us transform the notion that we are separate from, or in control of, nature—two bad ideas which make it quite simple for us to participate in the destruction of the world. Learning to “think like a forest”—which means we are more truly part of a multi-species cooperative that relies on collaboration, planned redundancy, diversity and resilience to thrive—helps heal this troubling perceptual mistake. We are not in charge. We are part of, not apart from, the world. Permaculture recognizes that we are nature in human form and that living this way is a forgotten path we can remember.

The principles are simply stated but actually quite profound. Observe and interact. Create a yield. Catch and store energy. Produce no waste. Design from patterns to details. Integrate rather than segregate. Use and value renewable resources and services. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback. Use small and slow solutions. Value the edges and the marginal. Use and value diversity. Creatively use and respond to change.

If we take the first principle Observe and Interact, as an example, we learn that taking time to observe nature creates an opportunity to understand the limitations and possibilities of our environment, which makes it possible to design appropriate made-to-fit solutions. Our actions are taken from a place filled with important, place-based information. While our timing is urgent, it is better to make our choices within the limits of the systems that sustain life rather than coming up with a “good idea” only to find later that it wasn’t really grounded in what’s going on around us. This is so common for people and a way we make some really huge mistakes. Observing and interacting slows down the action enough to allow us to meet a problem on its own terms, and gives rise to out-of-the-box thinking.

On an inner level, this principle is expressed through the practice of mindfulness meditation, where we have the same opportunity to observe and interact. When we observe our breath and our mind over time, we learn about the terrain of our awareness. Observing without taking action, we notice how our thinking is constantly changing, passing by like the clouds. If we resist the urge to DO something, we have the chance to learn from our observations of what is.

Every other principle has a physical application, and a more internal application. Permaculture talks about the difference between the visible and the invisible parts of our lives. The visible is just what it sounds like: the things we can see and feel and impact—the soil, the water, the plants, the house, the neighbors, the wind, the sun. The invisible structures include our personal economy, our self-care practices, education, entertainment, culture, and community. Together, the visible and invisible structures can be aligned toward balance and healing.

Here’s another: Obtain a yield is simply the idea that we want purposeful, productive work. A garden yields good food, beauty and a sense of knowledge and relaxation in the environment. Children gain skillful means in the garden for later production of their own food. There can also be practical yield in our relationships, which is usually more intangible than garden produce, but just as important. When we build communities where we rely upon one another to help raise our children, our food, and manage our resources, the yield is in dynamic, interdependent relationships that can sustain us throughout life and up to our deaths.

Integrate rather than segregate is a principle that has obvious applications in the garden and the greater culture. Don’t leave anything behind in your design. Put the elements of your garden in the right place and relationships of support will arise between them. In human communities, we know how segregation hurts everyone but often places the burden on the least powerful member of the relationship. Co-housing communities, by design, show how much can be accomplished when more people participate, and how much richer our human gardens are when populated by different kinds of people. The segregation of cities, on the other hand, reflects a poverty of design and the waste of human resources and potential.

I love permaculture so much because it’s a template for eco-somatic living—a practical, balanced, restorative, embodied, hands-on practice that brings our bodies into a deeper conversation with the world. The sun, the wind, the water, the plants and animals, the food and the nourishment all of it provides are part of a daily life practice that restores a sense of purpose and meaning. It’s political, and it’s personal. It points us where I want to go—somewhere beyond sustainability, and toward abundant and generative living for all.

After being exposed to permaculture my life was certainly never the same again. While I continued my studies into human nature and deepened my work as a healer, my life as a homesteader just grew and grew. Now, I plant food in three gardens in our neighborhood. I take care of chickens and built a chicken coop with a friend. My partner is a beekeeper. I grow herbs for food and medicine, one of my favorite homesteading tasks. I’ve mastered many of the heirloom kitchen skills – canning, fermenting, drying and freezing the harvest—and you can too. I’ve made cob buildings and structures out of recycled and repurposed materials. I installed a simple greywater system for the laundry, a more complex one for the bath, and a rainwater catchment system that stores hundreds of gallons of water each year. We conserve energy, edge towards zero waste, and make compost out of our own poop. Simply. Safely. No problem.

These purposeful tasks give shape to what I think of as the Art of Living, practices that root me in place, connect me with the essentials of life, soothe my fearful heart, and compost my negative thoughts of powerlessness and apocalypse. You would not think you could learn all this by growing carrots, but you can!

The practices of self-care and community building are part of the bigger picture for me—I see each of us as a precious non-renewable resource and counsel everyone to make sure you are conserving, not just solar energy, but human energy in the systems you create. I always advocate that people maintain a body-centered practice to help create a healthy balance. I prefer yoga and walking. Other people like racquet ball and running. Whatever works for you, works.

One of the most amazing yields of our life has been the kind of community it has created – relationships with our neighbors and with people in our extended person-shed. One of the garden designs in permaculture is called a plant guild. It’s a placement of plants that have different functions clustered together in one space. The idea is that the plants potentiate one another, and work better together than alone. You choose a dynamic accumulator, a plant with a deep tap root that brings nutrients from below the soil to the top; a mulch producer, a plant whose bio-mass creates an excellent mulch, and an insectary, a plant that draws and feed the pollinators. In the center of the guild is usually a fruit tree. A classic guild is an apple tree guild, with the tree surrounded by Echinacea (dynamic accumulator), comfrey (mulch-producer) and an insectary like lavender or any other pollination plant with fairly shallow roots you love. The classic plant guild on this continent, which has been planted for millennium is the Three Sisters planting – squash, corn and beans – which, as you probably know, grows an enormous amount of food without an excessive amount of water in a fairly reasonable size space.

Where I live, we convened a gathering of like-minded backyard gardeners and farmers and named it the Homegrown Guild. Using a simple on-line listserv, we share questions, resources, extra materials, tools, information, free cycled goods, labor, and bounty. We have a yearly cider pressing party, we help one another install greywater systems, we share a meal or two a year, and we ask and answer questions about the garden, the gophers, the aphids.. We raise the bar for our own sustainability work at home. We work better together than alone.

My family lives on a small, rented 6,500 square foot lot which my daughter named Tiny Town Farm. All the good things that have come to us in recent years—our chickens our rabbits our bees our gardens and our posse of earth loving friends—comes from our commitment to live simply, and to work with the materials in the moment. That means we live a seasonal and local life, we eat from the garden whenever we can, we share the extras we have, we recycle and repurpose and reuse and thrift. We buy less and make more. We do it ourselves. We live in our creaturely bodies. We walk barefooted in the summer. We tend the fires in the winter. We teach our daughter wholesome values, and live them simply with her.

At the risk of sounding like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I want to tell you a story from when my daughter was about eight. She was reading Little House in the Big Woods or On the Banks of Plum Creek, one of those, and we were talking about the time when Pa got stuck in a snow bank in the middle of a blizzard and survived there for three or four days, eating up all the Christmas candy, but eventually getting home, which was the whole point of the terrible story. And I said, “They sure don’t make men like that anymore.” And my daughter said, “They don’t need to!” and she was right. All of this reskilling and homesteading happens in a thoroughly modern and technologically savvy time, where there is always food in the grocery store. I’m not talking about a Depression mentality, or that first round of relentlessly independent homesteaders who spent Christmas in snow banks. There is nothing new about this way of living at all, except for where it’s happening: in cities and suburbs, and among people who may or may not have had any recent connection with the land. The reasons why it’s happening are different as well. Not to conquer any land frontiers, which have all been pretty much liquidated already, but to repair and rebuild our places and our hearts from the devastation of industrial culture. People are finding that reclaiming these skills has everything to do with the health of their bodies, their household economies and their local communities. That’s the healing story of homesteading.

In my family, we discovered there was no sense waiting for the perfect place or the perfect house or the perfect income stream or the perfect state of mind. For us, it was better to just get to work trying to bring the new world into being. Rooting in place this way has been so healing for our family—we know our watershed, the soil in our yard, our neighbors, the places where the chickens run and hide their clutch of eggs, the first flowering calendula of the spring. We belong here, and that sense of belonging confers wellness for our whole family. Our life is satisfying, and delicious and abundant.

Every fall, I harvest the champagne grapes that grow on the arbor in our backyard. These plants have lived in this place far longer than I have—probably about 25 years—and without a lot of water or care, pretty much every year they give us an abundant harvest of beautiful purple grapes. The harvest comes right around this time of year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the highest holy days in the Jewish calendar. I harvested them last week. And every year I pick the grapes, and every year I turn them into juice, which I then can up and we drink it in ceremonial sips all year long as we celebrate Shabbat, the end of the workweek and a day of rest. I love this harvest in particular because it links me in a chain to my mostly fractured and unknowable ancestry and makes me feel part of a people who run in my blood, wherever I live. This is what I mean by continuity.

For someone with a long history of the search for home and place and belonging, the simple task of harvesting the grapes and transforming them into wine gives me a sense of wellness. Every sip is an embodied experience of family, nature and culture. That the grapes were planted by an unknown stranger and left here for our family to savor is only part of the mystery and the joy. The rest is in tending to the vines and the grapes and the drinking of the wine. The sacred mystery we enter into in the garden, the connection through time with the past and the present and the future, is in our Shabbat cup.

I think our inner practices and our outer practices are ultimately the same thing. The way we tend the garden and our families and our work and our bodies exist on the same continuum of care. Healing happens in a lot of different places for people—in a counseling room, on a walk in the park, on the meditation cushion, at a potluck with friends, in a sweat lodge, in the garden. The range of practices in the permaculture-based homesteading way—from food growing to friend growing—cultivates health. Quite simply, living in a generative way generates well being. All of these strategies of domestic and communal self-reliance are practical, hands-on, DIY approaches to life which get things done, save money, create abundance, and produce the unexpected yield of a life-giving consciousness. I love living this homegrown, earth connected life.

Some straight up healing lessons I have learned on my homestead:

Respect for other creatures at every level of creation. Finding ourselves within the order of things, in relationship to earthworms, and mycelium, and gophers and aphids and cats and dogs and snakes, helps restore our understanding of ourselves as creatures. When we connect with our creaturely selves, we come in contact with our instinct, our intuition, and the innate ability of our bodies to self-regulate and heal. These largely non-verbal states are the beginning, middle and end of healing—when we are in contact with this inner wisdom, we know ourselves better and can take action from a more organized and authentic place.

Resilience. Resilience is our ability to “bounce back” after difficult things happen—shock or trauma or change. We can witness this profoundly transformative motion in the garden at all times. Deer come and eat your raspberries to the ground – in weeks, they are sprouting back up. A fire takes out a forest. Fungi and mycelium begin the repair work that brings in the microorganisms that are the beginning of a new, healthy forest. When we witness nature’s resilience, it reminds us of our own. Studies on trauma recovery show that, in fact, people with a relationship to nature have a deeper contact with their own resilience.

Trauma is a fixed or frozen state that arises in response to an encounter with violence, aggression, or extreme powerlessness. This happens in large and small ways to many people every day. The net result of trauma is that it places people and systems in a contracted, fearful, non-responsive state. It forbids creative, out-of-the-box thinking, and locks people in a fight, flight or freeze reaction that pre-supposes that the present is always the same as the past, even when it isn’t. It doesn’t let us bounce back. I believe this is fundamentally where we are at culturally and globally and part of why we are amazingly slow at responding to the threats we face.

We find relief from trauma by practicing self-care and earth-care. By reconnecting with that sense of ourselves as creatures. By re-inhabiting our bodies. Resilience is what we need – as people, as communities, in our ecosystems, in our brittle economic structures. Without it, a system fails. In the garden we witness resilience in action, as life recapitulates itself over and over again. With our resilience restored, creativity, improvisation and responsiveness to the moment tap into our capacity for innovation, making it possible for us to generate new responses to old problems.

Everything in its season. We are not meant to have everything we want whenever we want it. We are not meant to have so much choice. It makes us kind of crazy. In the garden, we see that there is a time and a place for everything. Tomatoes don’t grow in January. They are fantastic in August! There is something soothing about living within the embrace of these limitations—it creates a freedom from wanting, and an appreciation of what is.

Waste = Food. A balanced ecosystem wastes nothing. One creature’s waste is another creature’s food. This kind of closed system is what enables the natural world to continue moving forward. Our wasteful out of balance culture, and our part in it, make us unhappy. Using less feels good. Participating in the cycle of birth life death and decay puts us back into right relationship with the world. Bury me in the garden when I’m done.

Compost is the Dirt Form of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more amazing than the garden alchemy of turning waste into fertility, or shit into gold. Being part of nature’s capacity for transformation is impactful. For a practice with metaphoric leanings, try asking yourself the following questions as you turn your compost bin: what beliefs or feelings do I need to compost and transform? What part of me is dying back to be reborn in a new form?

Self-Sufficiency is a Myth. Nothing exists in a vacuum or survives long without dependence on something or someone else. Everything in a healthy garden relates to everything else. The cooperation of all the elements in the environment – soil, water, seeds, sun, human input, bugs, earthworms, pollinators—increases our yield. Self-sufficiency is part of the American zeitgeist that says we have to be independent and go it alone. But really, we suffer when we live out of relationship with people and place. Composting this belief and learning to work with and rely on other people is part of the healing path.

Follow your senses/Listen to your body. (OK, I already knew this one, but still…) One of the things we love about the garden is how it makes us feel. It satisfies our hunger for good food, for beauty, for delicious smells. When we experience our senses, we know more about who we are and what we need. We live in an assaultive culture that doesn’t privilege the body or its senses. When we are cut off from ourselves in this way, it is easier to take inauthentic and destructive actions. Listening to the body is the beginning of health. Our bodies house information about our past, our present, our desires, and our moods. When we listen, we hear the true calling of life and we can answer to it.

Get real. One could argue that much of our dis-ease at this time in our culture comes from our disconnection from nature, or more specifically, our disconnection from the reality of limits and boundaries which nature so obviously creates all around us. It is depressing to have an idea about our power or our impotence that is disproved all the time by the world. And our anxiety is raised when we allow ourselves to imagine that we can control our lives or the lives of other beings around us in ways that are fundamentally impossible. Contacting a more realistic and purposeful view of our energy helps us feel less depressed and less anxious. The garden does this.

Experiment. Improvise. Make mistakes. Try again. As we get older, we are often shamed into being “experts” rather than “explorers”. We are told we need to get it right, and the fear of failure and ridicule often keep us from experimenting and trying something new. This constricted closed perspective is a gateway to dis-ease. When we work in a garden, we must remain in an open Yes, And… mindset, an improvisational frame, because nothing ever comes out the same twice. We must be willing to try, and make mistakes and start again. This is related to resilience—our ability to bounce back and begin again—as well as our capacity to innovate.

Share. Gardens teach us to share. Whether or not we curse or welcome the deer or the snail, they are here to stay and some of our bounty is theirs. It’s good to be one with the creatures. When we grow more than we need, which we so often do, it’s important to share with people who have less. This creates relationships and the possibility of reciprocity. As in nature, this principle creates health for people and our communities.

Life is Precious. I am part of life. I am precious. The actions I take towards a renewed world are important. Every action matters.

Gratitude. Abundance creates gratitude. The garden creates abundance. I am part of the cycle of abundance. I give thanks for this food and this day and this life and for all that comes my way.

Everything Needs Tending, Usually Every Day. Rather than experiencing the daily tasks of life as onerous, the garden can teach us that there is joy in caring and tending for the piece of earth we are given. The work of daily living when infused with spirit and meaning becomes sacred.

Listen. We are in constant conversation with life. We can make the choice to listen and learn from the world around us.

As above, so below. Our healing lies in our embodied understanding that what we do to our bodies is reflected in what we do to the earth, and visa versa. Healing in one place heals the other. When we put our hands in the dirt, or build something ourselves, or collect the eggs in the morning, or the lettuce and spinach and tomatoes to feed our family, we are not living in a world of abstraction. We are living in a world of care, of tangible, beautiful outcomes that nourish our bodies, our minds and our spirits while healing the world we love.

These lessons from the garden point me toward the world I want to live in, restored and regenerative. Working in a garden creates sacred time and space for our creaturely-ness, our contact with the mystery of life unfolding. We need this kind of practice, now more than ever. Our world culture is calling out for our creativity and for renewal. We can be part of the restoration of the world. As gardeners, we are blessed to live a life of care. We cultivate abundance from scarce resource. We nurture, encourage, fertilize, prune, while being respectful of the true and wild nature of all things. Deepening our gardening practice into an embodied sustainability practice deepens this already profound healing path.

Bring your senses to the growing edge. Find your own way to participate. You can start wherever you are. Find something you love. Maybe it’s water, or herbs, or your neighbors across the way. Get involved in repairing what’s broken, and restoring to the whole. Maybe, keeping fidelity with the life force is the essence of healing. If so, a garden is a good place to begin, and continue, and begin again.

September, 2012


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