fragment: sowing seeds

From January 2019, in Mexico


they fell from the gaps in my being.

My eyes drawn more to the horizon ahead than the earth underfoot,

I did not realise what I was sowing

right where I stood.

My breath giving air,

my thoughts adding structure to soil,

my words watering small beginnings.

I did not understand how my every movement,

my imperceptible choices,

could nourish

or neglect.

Until one day

a moment arrived

and something I could not have foreseen,

something alive

and full,

u n f u r l e d itself in front of me,

presenting me

with exactly that thing I did not know I was looking for.

Today 23rd November 2020, in the UK

This morning I finished reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. I almost wanted to eat the book I felt so alive and hungry to assimilate the ideas and drive conveyed within it. I was reminded, as I often am when reading, of an Alan Bennett quote:

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’

Sometimes (often) when reading I feel overcome by a surge of chaotic expansive energy as connections form and race through my mind. I feel I have to do something with it, make something of it. I am trying to learn (remember) that I can let it wash through me. Perhaps what I am experiencing is the sensation of new pathways establishing themselves in my brain. I remember once in an art therapy lecture being shown a time-lapse of a series of brain scans where it was possible to see the formation of new neural pathways in response to therapeutic treatment. Tentative new connections. It looked like the time-lapses of forest growth shown on nature documentaries. I try to trust that noticing is enough. That as with the seeds, some will continue to grow and some I can afford to let fall by the way side.

‘A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And others fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bore fruit an hundredfold.’

– The Bible, St Luke 8: 5-8 (as quoted in Octavia J. Butler’s Parable of the Sower)

I pick up Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, which I have been wanting to read for a while now. I had other plans for the morning but something tells me to pick up the book. I read:

‘I came to this edge of Mexico to pull a book together because, a few years ago, it was here, near this tiny portion of the massive ocean, that I began to realize how important emergent strategy, strategy for building complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions, is to me – the potential scale of transformation that could come from movements intentionally practising this adaptive, relational way of being, on our own and with others.

…emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies. Emergence is our inheritance as a part of this universe; it is how we change. Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.’

I am reminded I do not need to wait for a clear form to gather in these fragments. It is enough that my mind is making connections. You do not need to know what the plant will look like to sow the seed.

I am also reminded of the words of Rebecca Solnit, read when I’d just started training in horticulture:

‘Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. Three years ago I was giving a workshop in the Rockies. A student came in bearing a quote from what she said was the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno. It read, ‘How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?’. I copied it down, and it has stayed with me since.

…The question she carried struck me as the basic tactical question in life. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, and becoming someone else?’

– Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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