Meet Plant. My beautiful friend Yesim gave me Plant for my birthday at the end of March. Or rather she gave me a lovely pot, covered in moss, and told me that she had planted a bulb. She spoke of Plant’s potential but was hesitant to show me a picture of what plant should look like, in case it spoiled the experience for me. But I really wanted to see the packaging so I could have an image of what it is I have been ask to steward into care. Yesim obliged and showed me the picture of a full blooming Ismene Hymenocallis (Festalis). I was so excited about what was to come even though I had never even seen one of these before. The gift was intriguing.
I was in between homes for a little while, so for a few weeks Plant lived in my car as I moved from place to place. I was nervous I would damage Plant, but Plant had not sprouted yet and so seemed OK with all the transition. When I moved into my new home one of the first things I did was find a place for Plant, right by the back door, in shelter and in light, as per instructions.
Then nothing. Then nothing. Then nothing. I visited Plant regularly, checking to see any signs of life. Still nothing. I wondered if something was wrong. Had I killed Plant? Had I thwarted things by moving around so much? I kept waiting and wondering. A few weeks in, I went away for a weekend, and then boom, when I returned Plant had sprouted. Not only that but was now about 1cm above the soil level. Plant was growing!! Since then I have been watching and checking on Plant, making sure it has the right conditions for growth. I don’t have to do much. Just keep checking the conditions.
One morning this week, after visiting Plant, I also had an aha moment- Plant is offering a metaphor for the work it takes to create the right conditions for growth, and also giving me a new way into understanding the work I do in the world. My whole body came alive with this realisation- which always tells me I am onto something.
‘Create the conditions for growth’. This is what I was learning.
I was in the shower at the time of the aha (often when the best ideas come!), so I hopped out, grabbed a towel, and raced to my journal to capture the ideas and insights. I find if I don’t do it immediately, the ideas move on and are harder to find again. I scribbled down a list of the conditions for growth which Plant was helping me to see and how it relates to leadership, creativity and wayfinding in our lives. These conditions are generative, in that they are life-giving and life affirming, and they can apply at an individual, organisational or systemic level. The conditions are foundational, working below the surface (inner life and values), and also with the invisible elements which are is not seen (field intelligence and spirit), but are also very practical and grounded.
More and more I am appreciating the time it takes to grow things. What we seed now may take a long time to come to the surface, but keeping open to the conditions of growth is the key. One, two, three years on, I get emails from clients saying change they made back then is reaping the rewards now- financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. I see this in my own life too. Seeds which I planted years ago are starting to come to life now. Others, it may take a while yet. The thing is- to keep planting. Not everything will flourish, but some things will. This insight and feedback in turns gives me a greater appreciation of the role of time and tending to the unseen, and helps me to actively nurture my own growth cycles.
This work of change and learning is not about quick fixes or easy answers. It’s not about growth hacking, or unnatural (and unsustainable) scaling. It is not about diets or denial. Instead it is about creating the ground from which we can evolve the eco-system into which our lives (as individuals, organisations and collectives) can thrive.
So, here goes: On creating the conditions of growth- a creative practice for you.
Think about what it takes to steward into life what it is that is seeking to grow. You can choose something from your personal or professional life.
Draw a picture of a plant, including a pot. Beside each element of the plant, take some time to journal responses to the questions.
The pot is essential. The pot is boundary or landscape or structure into which we plant our seeds- our ideas, our visions- the thing we want to grow. A beautiful pot helps, but is not essential- it is the boundary which is important. In our lives or projects a boundary can be agreements around what is involved in the project and what is not, who is involved at the current stage, and who is not. It can be a set of collaboration agreements between people involved, or a series of commitments to the project which will help protect and nurture it at the early stage of growth. By creating a container, or parameters, we get to set the stage for the growth.
What is the form of the container for your own ideas? What does the boundary look like? And how can that boundary be protected?
The Image= The Vision
That picture of Plant- or a similar Plant- was so important to the stewarding. Let’s equate this it the vision for the project, or our lives. Without out a picture of what it is we are seeking to create we have less investment with a pot which we have been told has life in it. Our vision helps to carry us through the dormant times, the rest time, the time where all this new life is germinating but we can not see it yet. The vision is our orientation to the future full potential. When Yesim offered me the image of the Plant, I was activated and excited. I gained an understanding of what it is I am stewarding and am appreciation of the time it will take for Plant to grow. The vision is the vehicle through which commitment and energy can flow.
How can you cultivate your own vision? How can you paint a picture of what it is you want to create? How can you share this vision with others who you want to engage in the stewarding process?
Growth takes time, and not all time is equal. There is a long period of time in the dark when can doubt if things are actually moving. Then there are growth spurts. Then there are plateaus. We can accelerate growth by providing the right conditions and feeding what it is we want to bring to life, but deep change takes time, and patience, and often a lot of fumbling around in the dark.
How can you honour this cyclical and wave like nature of time? Are you giving yourself enough time? Or too much time? What still needs time under the surface? What is ready to bloom?
I am so excited about watching Plant grow. Each day more and more so. I realise that it is not just about the end product that I am excited about, but seeing each stage of the growth cycle. The process is the joy. So often we get fixated about the end result, but in fact joy is available all through the process. If there is no joy in what it is you want to create, if it does not bring you alive, then something it off and it is time to change track. Joy is a signpost to your way.
How does your body respond when you speak about the thing it is you are doing. Does your body feel contracted, tight or constrained? Or does your body open up, feel lighter, and more energised? Your body will help to tell you if you are on the right path. Listen for the openings.
The soil is the nourishment. It is separate to what is seeding it, but it is offering substrate into which Plant’s roots can grow and through these roots that it is drawing in life force. Maybe the nourishment is poetry, or deep enriching conversations, or actively seeking inspiration from others. Maybe it is taking time out, or reflection, or having a party.
What is the soil of our lives, or projects, our organisations? What is it that nourishes them, inspires their growth and feeds them?
Below the surface, the roots of the plant are making their way deeper into the substrate, for stability and growth. These are like our value system. We don’t see them, but our values are like channels through which the life force can flow. When we are clear on our values we are clearer about the types of things we want to say ‘yes’ to , and the type of things we need to say ‘no’ to. (I have previously written a lot about values, and have developed another exercise to help you identify yours. You can view that here.
What are your core values? How do you think they shape how you show up in the world? How can you created a sense of shared values is your team, organisation or family?
The Space/ Place
Place is a powerful factor in supporting growth- what we surround ourselves with and who we surround ourselves with. The right physical space inspire us to take action. Think of the difference in a light filled- airy office, and a dark room with stale air. Space in nature, or co-working space, or a large blank page all have a role in play. Change the space and we can change our thinking. Orientate ourselves to the light and we change the way we grow. Light and space are the unseen factors which are often so overlooked.
Do we have enough physical space to grow? How is the place you are in informing what you are creating? Are you surrounding yourself with inspiration and beauty? How can you be oriented to the light? What does the ‘light’ represent to you’?
Field Intelligence/ Life intelligence
There is an intelligence to life which demands our trust. That life seeks life. That change is constant. That there is an animating life force which is universal. You can take both a scientific approach or a spiritual one, or both. Life, and growth, has an intelligence beyond our control. When we trust, and let go of some of our control, we can align with this larger field of intelligence. Then you start to notice: synchronicities, being in the right place at the right time, the right conversations happening naturally or that very thing you were searching for being under your nose all along- you just had not noticed before.
How can you honour this wider field of intelligence?
Not all seeds will make it.
This too is life. Sometimes there is no real explanation about why one grows and one does not. I was lucky with Plant- it grew, but there was no guarantee. If I wanted to increase my chances, I would have needed to plant more bulbs. When it comes to thinking about our personal and professional life, this is where prototypes and experiments come into it. We try things out in different ways, we realise that not all ideas are ready to grow, we understand that some need to stay in the dark for longer, we realise that failure is just an intrinsic part of systemic growth dynamics. We take a risk, and when the thing blooms, we enjoy it all the more.
Are you experimenting enough to grow?
No doubt my thinking on this will change over time. Right now I hope it will also give you food for thought and you can think about how Plant may inform and inspire your own life.
Thank you Plant.
(Plant takes a bow. Applause from the rest of the garden. Curtains close)
TBC later in the summer, when, all going well, we’ll have a bloom. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure I enjoy each stage of growth!
Want some one to one support to help you steward your ideas and creations to life?
Find out more about my creative mentoring options.
Want to come to West Cork for a deep dive? Wild Edge retreats are open (and the weather is amazing down here at the moment. A good time to book and soak in the place and space this has to offer).
”Clare’s care for details, deep listening and ability to pull the right question created a safe space for me to meet and connect to myself. Not only mentally but emotionally, spiritually and physically. She helped me navigate strong emotions and confusion and come out clearer the other side. She’s a lighthouse for when we need to go on the brave journey to our deeper selves, a journey which lead to truly fulfilled life’ – Naomi Fein, Think Visual CEO, May 2018.