Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening
By Fran Sorin
Observing is very simply the act of consciously attending to or making note of something. In the fast-paced world we inhabit in the twenty-first century, so many of us move through our days as if blindfolded. We race from one item on our to-do list to the next, hurriedly trying to get it all done better and quicker, barely taking notice of that which is around us. It is not our fault, really-it's just the way our world works. But this hectic pace comes at a price. We may be able to do everything, but how much space does this leave to truly and deeply experience anything? Though we may not know it, we are slowly becoming alienated from a primary source of our creativity: our senses.
Observing is the polar opposite of that. It means tapping all our senses to really see, feel, taste, smell, and touch the world around us in such a way that we reconnect with our sensuality. We awaken our aesthetic intelligence, our appreciation for beauty, harmony, melody, aroma, and sensation-all of which illuminate our imaginative energies and serve as the palette from which we can draw. Observing the natural world around us is one of the simplest ways to begin to awaken our senses and stimulate our creative fires.
When we forget to stay alert, we start to take nature for granted, slowly disassociating from it and, ultimately, from ourselves. But when we look around us with keen, clear eyes and wide-open ears, we start noticing people, places, and things in whole new ways. Really, if you think about it, all great poetry is created out of a heightened sense of awareness. Here is how it happens: The poet comes into contact with a source of inspiration, be it a pinecone or the graceful curve of his lover's bare shoulder. He has what psychologist Rollo May calls an "encounter," which is a moment of becoming profoundly inspired and completely absorbed in something. Out of this encounter, he is moved to articulate the very essence of his experience, which comes forth in the form of mellifluous poetry. Yet none of this would have been more than a fleeting moment of lost opportunity had the poet not been so receptive to his senses in the first place.
You may have passed by the same patch of wildflowers day after day on your way to work, but if you consciously pause to take it in, you bring it into sharper focus and may experience it differently. Maybe this time you'll feel the silky petals, soft as cashmere, or you'll see the reds, fiery and vibrant as a late-summer sunset, or the brilliant yellows that remind you of the joyful freedom of picking buttercups as a child. Anything can happen when you wake up your senses. It doesn't have to be poetry that you are seeking to create. My friend Susan is a litigator and is one of the most creative people I know, though she's never written a single sonnet, played a note, or lifted a paintbrush. Susan creates in the courtroom, crafting brilliant positions and solid arguments where before there was only speculation and uncertainty.
I can be just as guilty as the next person of forgetting to stay present and slipping into that semislumber. Like most people, I have a very busy life. There is my garden to tend, clients to consult with, articles to write, deadlines to meet, workshops to organize-and that's just the work part of my life. I love my friends dearly and try to make time to be with them, not to mention my two grown children, to share a cup of tea and our thoughts. All this can add up to the proverbial "no time to smell the roses." Whenever I start to feel totally overwhelmed and exhausted, I know I've lost touch with my senses and with myself. It means nothing if my gardens win all the awards in the world if I'm not really present to the brilliant purple of the clematis, or the wisteria's heavenly scent, or the sweet tinkling of the wind chime in the chilly December wind. At the end of the day, that reminder to stay ever present to nature is the reason I garden.
There is something so very deep-so very primal-about humankind's connection to nature. It is here, in our honest engagement with the natural world, that we connect to our most essential humanness. Nature isn't a hobby. It is part of us and we are part of it. We are an extension of the ecosystem, which is why I find it so interesting when I hear people say they aren't "into nature." We can no more be "into nature" than we can be "into breathing." We exist in tandem with the natural world. Everything we eat originates in nature: vegetables, fruits, plants, animals, herbs. Many of our references-even those we may never think about-come from nature. For instance, names like Lily, Iris, Rose, Holly, Heather; or familiar aphorisms, such as "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," "forget me not," and "shrinking violet." Yet so many of us close ourselves off from nature, not unlike the way we close ourselves off from our authentic roots. The process of unearthing who and what we are begins by embracing our part in the greater force at work all around us.
When you see your favorite frog back in the pond after a long winter, it is a reunion of sorts. One of my workshop students told of a beautiful dogwood tree outside the window of her childhood bedroom. For so many years, she observed that tree through every season, noticing how it shed its leaves every winter only to burst into bloom with creamy pink and white flowers when spring arrived. No matter what was going on in her lite, or what growing pains she might be going through, that tree came to life every April to remind her of new beginnings. She saw how nature is the most consistently reliable companion each of us maintains throughout our life. Come what may, the seasons will change, the birds will migrate, snowflakes will fall, bulbs will bloom from the soil, the sun will rise and set. We can count on all of this, even when everything else around us seems so uncertain.
Being in nature-really being there, not just passing through-can provide us with a profound sense of peace and belonging. Our problems may suddenly seem small and insignificant as we recognize the bigger picture in play all around us. An inflated sense of self-importance starts to seem ridiculous when we realize that our community is not limited to just our family, friends, colleagues ... it is a community of all living things.
I always say that nature is the great equalizer. No part of our ecosystem is ultimately more important or more valuable than another including us. You may struggle with being the master or mistress of your domain, but when you are in the garden, you are no more esteemed than the lady bug! There is an interconnectedness all around us that, if we are willing to tune in to it, can continually remind us to keep things in perspective.
You don't need to travel to the Grand Canyon or to the jungles of Central America to observe astonishing displays of nature. They are accessible to every single one of us, right in our own yard or on our street. It doesn't matter whether you live on twenty acres or in a city apartment; nature is all around you, available for you to take in at any time.
The whole process of creativity is about coming alive and interacting in an inspired way with the world around you, and observation is where it all starts. The very acts of consciously touching, listening, smelling, and sensing open the doors to heightened awareness, out of which you can begin to deeply till the fertile soil of your creative spirit.