Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gardening Relationships: 10 Permaculture tips

I have never thought of myself as a gardener. I’ve taken care of a few houseplants along the way but the idea of working in the garden seems like outdoor housework.  But 2 years ago we bought a house that sits in what was once the orchard to an old Edwardian estate.  The fruit trees were gone, self-seeded ash and sycamore had set up camp amongst the brambles and the ever-thickening hedge of laurel was slowly creeping over the garden like a dark spell.

Fortunately, through a series of wonderful discoveries, including Martin Crawford’s amazing book ‘Creating a Forest Garden’ and the Permaculture Magazines my daughter was bringing home from work, I began to learn there was another way to approach gardening, nature and growth.  I began to see what I could use to bring my garden back to life without killing myself in the process: Permaculture. 

Permaculture offers a model of design that promotes practices and processes for a sustainable lifestyle.  Its one of those things that’s easy to understand but takes ages to explain. The word means 'permanent agriculture' and is a model of design focussed on living and caring for ourselves, others and the earth in a way that is creatively resourceful and keeps the focus on the long term, not just 'what is in it for me?

Most of us don’t ‘design’ our relationships consciously, we’re more likely to stumble and/or bumble along in the hopes that they’ll grow in the right direction.  They usually catch our attention only when things have gone wrong and we scramble around trying to stop things from unraveling.  But imagine if we put the same thought and attention into building a relationship as we do to creating a productive, efficient garden?

I have just completed a Permculture Design Course and in the crossover between my work as a relationship coach and my steep learning curve with my garden, I've found some valuable parallels.

1. Mulching.
A relationship is a growing organism, create the right environment and it will thrive.  Mulching offers several things including nourishment, protection and effective action with least effort.  So how do you mulch a relationship?   By paying attention and being more observant, learning to listen, understand & communicate more openly; simple gestures of care and affection can bring about amazing changes rapidly. 

2. Greater productivity lies at the Edges
Relationships have their growing – and dying – ‘edges’.  Just before a relationship is about to move to the next phase there will be a great deal of productivity.  Sometimes that can be arguments, disagreements, upsets and misunderstandings. It can also be feelings of deeper connection, greater love, more respect and trust. Either way there will be an increase in emotional ‘productivity’. Be curious about the emotions, about what changes are occurring, we can use this productivity wisely to build a strong and more resilient next phase.

3. Design for co-operation rather than competition.
Make sure your companion planting takes everyone’s needs into consideration!  Just like a plant, we communicate our wellbeing by healthy productivity.  It is really important to understand that some people compete to win and some to lose and those who compete to lose will do so in order to win later. Both styles of competition uses up nutrients in the relationship soil. A healthy relationship design is one where everyone thrives and feels valued.

4. Use the least effort to create the biggest effect.
This translates simply as ‘be authentic’.  It is the small, genuine gestures that work the most effectively.  The language of the heart is the communication that resonates most clearly, goes the deepest and lasts the longest. 

5. The yield is only limited by the imagination of the designer.
Every relationship is deserving of a Vision, what Vision do you have for your relationship? What do you believe is possible? What yield are you hoping for (closeness, co-operation, laughter, trust, forgiveness)?  If the yield seems low, it may be time for you to study the relationship from a new perspective, to open up your imagination and get creative!

6. Appropriate technology is that which can be easily applied.
If your relationships are hard work and feel like you’re trying to push the river uphill, its a sign that you are going against the natural flow. Stop. Give yourself some breathing space and think about what is really being called for and what it is you are capable of giving, easily, authentically and wholeheartedly.

7. Start small and work out from well managed areas.
It helps to assess what is working well and build on it. Trying to make big changes or address difficult challenges can seem frightening and overwhelming.  Learning to chunk things down in to manageable pieces helps relieve the stress and creates a better focus. 

8. Turn problems into solutions.
Weeds and pests get into relationships too.  They’re made up of beliefs, thoughts and experiences we bring from the past and can take hold in a relationship, creating feelings of suffocation and heartbreak.  10% of pain in a relationship comes from the present, 90% is old childhood hurt being recycled.  I often see relationships blossom when people discover that hiding beneath the pain is a new level of connection and friendship.

9. Mistakes are opportunities for learning.
To embrace this principle we need to retrain our minds to see mistakes differently; not as a something deserving punishing but as behaviour that simply need correcting. It can be scary at first to open up and talk about mistakes and misunderstandings, it makes us feel vulnerable and defenceless.  The safest and most effective tool in relationship is empathy, it takes the charge out of situations and makes space for forgiveness.  Forgiveness means being willing to ‘yield’ to ‘give way’.  But if we look at the productive concept of ‘yield’ you can see how forgiveness is a way to improve harvest!

10. Everything Gardens
To live a meaningful life it is important to give everything meaning.  Everything that happens in our life, every event, every encounter is helping us to grow and evolve as individuals.  We are all on a journey to fulfilling our potential; the events and lessons we are presented with are there to help us be more productive, if we have the eyes to see it. 

Just like the Earth, relationships are a rich and precious resource.  Once we view them as source of opportunities for growth and development, any emotion or experience becomes the organic matter to be composted and processed in order to promote growth, health and well-being. 

Some of this article was published on the Permaculture Magazine website.

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