I have a garden, a pretty big garden. Though I plant things, lots of things, I think of myself more as an experimenter than an actual gardener. In the garden, I am not afraid to fail. In the garden, I am bold. I know that I cannot wait until the soil is exactly the temperature it is supposed to be for a plant to sprout before I take the risk and plant the seed. I have tried that and if I wait too long I do not get any crop before we lose our season. I also know, as is the case this year, if I plant too early, I will sacrifice some plants when the weather does not cooperate. Yet these unsuccessful attempts do not waiver my desire to move ahead. Yes, I feel sad when a plant dies or if nothing sprouts, but I note the result in my gardening journal and chock it up to experience.
Now that I am 40, I have a broader perspective that before now was not available to me. I can more easily see my strengths and weaknesses as what makes me, pure and simple. Though I continually strive to understand the source of both I am now comfortable actually having weaknesses because I know that in the end they make up ME, and in loving all of me I am stronger. I know that sounds strange but the more we know the places we excel and the places we fail, the more we can play to our strengths and get help through the weak spots.
My love of meditation and the outdoors has afforded me the opportunity to slow down and to notice there is a rhythm in everything: the mood difference of a rainy day vs. sunny day, a flow from season to season, seed to sprout to plant to fruit, birth to death, the cycles of the moon, our monthly cycles, daily biological cycles, etc. In the garden, I can easily see these rhythms.
My teacher, Richard Strozzi-Heckler details the cycles of these shifts in his book The Anatomy of Change. He calls them the rhythm of excitement. We all have this rhythm and getting to know it can help us understand where we naturally thrive and where our energy gets drained. He says the rhythm of excitement has four distinct phases: awakening, increasing, containment and completion. We can all run ourselves through the phases but we are usually really good at a few parts and not as good at others.
Awakening is the idea generating phase. I love this phase. To use the garden metaphor, I thrive on the purchasing of the seeds. I find new varieties of every plant. I make new garden beds to plant more seeds and starts. I start seeds in February and nurture those little seeds. I have lots of ideas of building trellises early in the year and cloches to help my watermelon plants produce fruit. I buy lots of edible flowers with visions of salads piled high with every color of the rainbow!! Then time passes and we enter the next phase.
The second phase in the rhythm of excitement is increasing. I am also pretty good at this phase. I plan my garden, a little haphazardly but there is a general plan. I like to plant the seeds and then watch them sprout. I can eagerly wait for things to ripen, or get big enough to eat. I let my husband know the peas have gone in the ground and ‘we’ need to start thinking about a trellis and that ‘we’ need a cloche to plant the watermelon underneath. And he looks at me with disbelief, “Watermelon, in the northwest?” he asks. I tell him the guy at Swanson’s said he grew a couple one year. I love the idea, the possibility!
Containment is the third phase and one where I often struggle. The seeds have been bought and planted. They have sprouted and are now growing into plants. Now I have to thin the seedlings, build trellises, plant the starts, regularly water, give away or use the extra, etc. This is the maintenance phase. During this phase, I have a hard time finding the energy. For a while, I can sustain the associated tasks but my desire for doing something new takes hold and I am off biking or running or starting some other new project! For example, if I was more masterful at containment I would have held off planting my melons until the weather warmed up and bought some time with the sprouts by repotting them into bigger pots. However, I chose to get them in the ground so I did not have to water them inside anymore. By rushing containment, that very day, my husband had to construct large plastic houses to keep them from totally freezing! Which did not work and I am back to square one with the melons!! If only I had waited a little while to put them outside, but waiting is not my strong suit!! Ready, FIRE, aim!
The last phase is completion. Harvesting what is ripe and ready to be eaten and then preparing the feast that accompanies the bounty of summer. I love the feast; however, I shy away from, lose interest, and struggle to complete this phase. The day after day of picking the corn, peas, beans, lettuce, radishes, zucchini, garlic, cucumbers, beets, kale, raspberries, etc. feels overwhelming. Once I harvest the fruit or vegetable I then have to can, freeze, cook, dry or give away. At this point, summer is over. I did not plan the infrastructure to dry beans, cook the corn chowder and freeze it, freeze the peas, can anything! At the same time, I have to take down the pea trellises, and tomato cages and turn the soil and plant a cover crop (which rarely happens). And that cool garden journal that you all thought would be a good idea, well it has dust on it and my last entry was in July when my winter crops of greens were planted!!
Through a deeper understanding of the rhythm of excitement and my new found appreciation for my weaknesses, I have decided to ask for help during the completion phase. Help is something that is hard for me to ask for because then I do not always get to control the outcome. But with my garden being so big and wanting to complete the phases, I have to ask for help to achieve my goal. As I grow older, I see my parents getting older and needing more help. I see myself not being able to do things at the same velocity and not wanting to. I am changing, like an undulating rhythm, from young to older. If I want to keep learning I have to open, let in, ask for help. Harvest time in the garden, any takers?
Join me in the discovery of your rhythms. Ask for help, invite perspective.