Guest post by Alan Heeks, in which he explores the principles underlying his book, Natural Happiness: The Gardener’s Way. Alan will be running a workshop at the Building Wellbeing Together Weekend in September - get your early bird ticket today!
Many of us draw on nature to nourish our wellbeing. This blog will introduce you to the Gardener’s Way: a set of approaches that show the parallels between cultivating your own wellbeing, and tending an organic garden. I’ve evolved the Gardener’s Way through twenty years of learning from ecosystems about my own wellbeing, and leading workshops: especially at two centres I’ve helped set up, an organic farm in Dorset, and Hazel Hill – a conservation woodland near Salisbury.
It seems that the everyday pressures of life keep growing. Hours spent on smartphones and computers are part of this: the recent book, Your Brain on Nature, shows how this keeps us in a state of high anxiety, but also cites research on how nature is a great antidote. If you believe there’s a gift in most problems, you may ask where’s the upside of the growing pressures most of us feel? I believe the upside is a call to make conscious, repeated choices to focus on natural systems and organic principles as the way to grow your own happiness in a hectic world.
The Seven Seeds of Natural Happiness
My approach has seven principles, which show you how to adapt methods and skills from organic gardening to nourish your resilience and wellbeing. Here’s a summary:
- Nourish your roots: put the priority on nourishing your ground condition and root systems, not on outputs.
- Use natural energy sources: cultivate clean energy sources, like appreciation and inspiration, instead of driving yourself with polluting energy from stress, caffeine, etc.
- Compost the crap: organic growers use waste as a major source of fertility, and you can compost your negative feelings too.
- Dance with problems co-creatively: organic gardeners use listening, observation, ingenuity, to dance with problems, instead of battling them.
- Grow strength through community: ecosystems can teach us a lot about community, for example the value of symbiosis and wild margins.
- Natural inspiration: we can draw deeply on nature as a guide and healer to help us face our global worries and the everyday.
- Treat life as a garden - local, natural, personal: enjoy each moment, use your senses mindfully and smell the flowers!
Growing strength through community
Connecting with others has also been shown to be particularly valuable for happiness, so what we can learn on the important theme of growing community from organic gardening? Here are a few pointers:
- Symbiosis is vital in natural growth: it’s a subtle form of mutual help in which all elements give what they can.
- Wild margins are areas deliberately left uncultivated, which are a haven for wildlife and often a source of antidotes for new pests or diseases. Human communities need to value their oddballs and mavericks for similar reasons.
- A gardener consciously increases diversity of plant types to raise resilience, and communities of people can benefit from embracing diversity as a strength, too.
- It’s clear that you don’t control a garden, you can only steer natural processes, and the same is true for groups of people.
The Network of Wellbeing is a great example of strengthening community too, and you can connect with their network and attend events, such as the Building Wellbeing Together Weekend.
Learning from Nature
Can you guess the best place to learn this approach through direct experience? In a garden! I will be leading a workshop as part of NOW’s Building Wellbeing Together Weekend, using Hawkwood College’s gardens as our live learning model. (I’m also leading a similar session in London on June 2nd at Chelsea Physic Garden, and a weekend at Hazel Hill Wood on October 13th-15th).
Find out more
Huge thanks to Alan Heeks for contributing this post. Alan Heeks is pictured above on the right, recording a Natural Happiness video in his vegetable garden.