Relational Gardeners.

Imagine, if you will, a single mythical seed that contains everything it needs to grow — sunlight, shade, water, nutrients, soil, and pollination. It would be a miraculous, self-contained, self-pruning, self-caring, fruit-bearing wonder to behold.

One of the fallacies that individualism promotes with such great success is, like the mythical seed, the idea that humans are self contained — that everything we need to change is already within us.  The great ruse of the modern time is: if we want to be different, have a different life all we need to do is to assert ourselves; that we can be anything we want. I was told this as young as can remember. We all were.

I am reminded of a gardening. The capacity to grow and become something doesn’t come from within the seeds.  Seeds needs the right conditions. Sunshine, water, shade, nutrients, the right soil type, everything must be right for the seeds to germinate, to put down roots and grow.  

Yet when it comes to humans we strangely believe this growth capacity comes solely from within.

What is lovely about being human — and this may be unique to humans unlike our seedy cousins — we may have some capacity, albeit limited, to change the conditions which nurture us. If we can grasp the relational imperative, we may be able to see that all of the resources we need to be someone different than we are now are not within us, but that we have the ability to change our conditions so that the resources may become available, surround us, and as a result help us to shift gradually.  Our relationships with others, places we visit, what we read, what we ‘scroll’ through, what things we collect or buy, and the activities that we do can become our strengths, our guides, our motivation and inspiration. These relationships are like angels in the wings, standing at the ready to help our every move. We should be cautious because the wrong relationship, even one’s we are currently in, may be exert influence as well and take us in the wrong direction — perhaps the devils in the wings.

We can invite the right growing conditions for ourselves.  

As we think about shifting our identity, we encounter a paradox.  How can we be choose to be different and yet be completely influenced by the relationships in which we live.  If say that our identities are formed by our set of relationships then it may seem logical to conclude that we have no control over who we are and who we become, but this leads to a false assumption. There are places where we can intervene in our own becoming in spite of the influences of the world.

I don’t want to tackle the whole philosophical discussion of free will here, but do want to bridge the gap between the random and constant external influences one us, and their seeming ability to to keep use from change, and our ability to direct our own lives.

We are very much like a seed that by chance lands in a random spot and then struggles its whole short life until it finally succumbs to its growing conditions and withers or immediately finds the conditions perfect and thrives.   

However, the one thing we do have some control is our sets of relationships. We can activate them, weaken them, attach and detach (attaching may be more simple than detaching, which may not completely possible).  Essentially we are the gardeners in our relational garden. With careful choices we can create the conditions for personal growth and the changing of our own identities, those around us, and also our communities.

Seeds can’t choose their conditions but we do have some sovereignty in this area. We can choose to create a life-giving micro-climate which includes not only physically places, but also things, ideas, and of course people.  Our environment is the medium in which we grow and we are never not in relationship with it. When we practice creating the right environment we increase our capacity to change, to learn and to become different. We increase our chances for happiness.  

So this paradox of having no control versus having some control is bridged by our ability to influence and to create a special and unique micro-climate. We can make our environment our environment better for ourselves. If we shift them we shift our ability and capacity to become different.  

So why would we expect something different in human development/ community development/developing our identity.

We may discover that we have much more influence on our environments and our ability to change once we begin to understand that we actually do have influence. As we practice making relational shifts we will become better. We will find small behaviours that can have massive influence and enable outside environment to support us in our goals to become the people we want to become.

It may be easier for some people to practice than others but I believe that all of us have the ability to make shifts in our behaviour that will enable better relationships which in turn can help to influence who we are can help take us in a more positive direction.

It was Lao Tao who said. “To see things in the seed , that is genius.” Seeing what is possible in the seeds of humanity means also what we must become relational gardeners for ourselves and for one another. The randomness of humanity can be nurtured in ways that help our becoming. Individually, we can make small changes for ourselves and others. When we come together as communities our efforts can be multiplied in ways that truly are life-giving.

In upcoming posts, I will talk more about micro-shifting our behaviours in ways that empower our motivations and abilities to move into positive action.

Until next time, I wish you much peace. As always, people, do comment below, share this post or others with anyone who you might think it could be of interest to. 

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Something in seed.

Drops from the sky, these seeds, 
Carried by the beaks of birds.
Sky gardeners.
Random landings,
On rocks, in water, in darkness, in crevices.
Myriad conditions.

Some never spout.
Potential lost.
Some struggle.
Just enough to germinate.
Not enough to become.
Dying before the season of fullness.

A seed lands in just the right place.
Conditions perfect.
Its roots put down.
Water feeds its need.
Its tender leaves unfurl.
The dappled sun just ideal for its nature.

Days, then months, then years.
It becomes.
Bares fruit.
Gives opportunity for new potential.
Away new possibility, seed.
Carried on wings of promise.
Of hope for life,
In the random relationships of existence.

— Paul Harris


When life feels crazy,
And the world spins out of control,
Sweep your floors.
Tidy your closet.
Do your laundry.
Buy a real card, one with dog-eared edges, that many people have touched,
but no one wants anymore.
Send it to a real friend, not a meme or an email.
Write something that you’d be awkward to say face-to-face.
Accidentally put a coffee ring on the envelope.
Press in it a flower from your garden,
or a dandelion from the park, or
Some old rose pedals from those flowers you dried ten or more years ago and which now fill a dusty bowl on your dresser.
Those pale papery reminders of important times.
Of love.
Of laughter.
Of getting older and perhaps wiser.
Post it with a bunch of old one cent stamps.
Shop at the florist on the way back from the postbox.
Pick up a single rose.
For yourself.
Nothing that requires arranging.
Pet your cat for as long as she likes.
Open all the windows as wide as they’ll go.
Line up your shoes.
Throw some out.
Sew on a button.
Flip through some recipe books but in the end put a roast, carrots, onions, potatoes, in a pot.
Splash it with red wine.
Salt and pepper.
Into the oven on 225 for the day.
Walk to the grocers.
Buy chocolate amaretto ice cream which you’ll eat in bed later without guilt.
Put on a favourite album. Ponder what albums are called these days.
CDs? Discs?
When it’s over embrace the silence.
Sit on the front step.
In the sun.
Listen to the sounds of the neighbourhood.
Say hello to the letter carrier.
Keep a pad of paper handy.
Put a row of numbers down the side.
When a task invades your day.
Write it down.
Forget it.
Weed a bit.
Smell the roast cooking.
Plan to be in bed two hours early,
with a book,
that you’ll read until you fall asleep.
Scoop a moderate serving of dinner into your favourite bowl.
Light a candle.
Dine alone.
Use a cloth napkin.
Buy a beautiful bar of soap.
Clean white sheets.
Bath before bed.
Appreciate what is simple,
what stays put after you touch it.
Embrace what is kind,
to a friend,
to a stranger,
to yourself.

(June 27, 2016)