When I set the theme of my Winter into Spring mindful mini retreat I wanted something that captured the seasonal spirit and the anticipatory excitement we can feel about those first Spring buds. Our hibernation, whether physical or emotional, is coming to and end and we can start to think about what the warmer months have in store for us. And so 'Emerge' became my word - and since I chose it I have been seeing it everywhere.
As such it has become more than a theme for an event, it is an ongoing awareness and celebration of works in progress. I suppose it is an effect of my counselling work that I feel quite passionately about highlighting the importance of growth; it is my privilege to witness the messy, painful and astonishing reaching towards the light that I see in my clients every day. It is my purpose to see this even, especially when, they cannot see it for themselves.
The point I'm making is that emerging - whether from a bad relationship, a soul destroying job, a negative environment, a parasitic eating disorder, a cloud of depression or some other difficult experience - is rarely pretty. There is a powerful beauty in it, make no mistake, but not the kind that is easy on the eye or even visible at all to some people. Sometimes it is only appreciated at the end of the story, when everything is OK, when the hard work is done. That's when we get the applause, the appreciation and the pats on the back. But I want to acknowledge and applaud the messy middle bit just as much, if not more so, because it's bloody hard work and requires effort, faith and perseverance. As my hero Brené Brown says (in chapter 2 of 'Rising Strong'): "the middle is messy, but it's also where the magic happens".
A tour of a great work in progress
Yesterday I went on a 'behind the scenes' tour of RHS Bridgewater. For those of you unfamiliar, it's the largest garden project in Europe at present, transforming a local heritage site into a spectacular 154 acre garden that has nature and community at it's heart. As it's about 5 miles from my home this is very exciting for me and I was lucky enough to be able to see it as a work in progress before it opens in the summer. Here are some things that I learnt about the process of emerging from watching this great project unfold in front of me:
1. You will need a vision. The Bridgewater garden has a very detailed plan, as you might expect, but yours needn't be quite so specific. Having a general sense of what you want to move towards - or at the very least away from - is a good start and your plan can evolve along the way. The RHS has a general vision for all it's work: 'Inspire, involve, inform, improve'. This is similar to the intention setting I wrote about at the start of the year; it's purpose is to keep us focused on what we've decided is important.
2. It's going to look like crap at first. This is a photo of what will be a beautiful lake, but
currently looks like a giant muddy puddle. It had to be drained (I was assured all the fish and wildlife have been found new homes) and the silt taken out, then parts of the walls are being repaired before it can be refilled. It all looks pretty tragic right now but it's imagination and effort that will make this a future beauty spot. The lesson is that the messy stage is unavoidable, and in my opinion is something to be respected not begrudged.
3. You will need support. Just like this little fruit tree we can be tender and delicate when we're growing. We will need some guidance and something to lean on or maybe something to show us the way. I think there's a balance to be found between following a path laid out for others who have gone before us and finding our own unique version of that path. Grow your own way, just don't try to do it all alone.
4. It will happen in stages. We don't emerge fully formed. You will need to be patient and accepting (see point no2) of yourself. Learn from mistakes along the way - they are inevitable; try to see them as lessons instead of setbacks. Rest a little in between stages, take a step back to see how far you've grown already and appreciate where you are. I admire the Bridgewater team for being so enthusiastic about showing people their work in progress - what would it be like if we were that open about our own as yet unfinished journeys? What if we were enthusiastic and unapologetic about the fact we are messy, imperfect and growing? Not once did our tour guide at RHS Bridgewater apologise for the incompleteness of the gardens; her stories of the hard work that had already taken place and the excitement about what is yet to come made me see it all in a very positive light.
5. Build on your legacy - the RHS Bridgewater site has a long and noble history, though little of the former glory remains. As the project goes along the team keep it's legacy in mind and remain respectful to that without feeling the need to simply repeat. An example is the old chimney which use to heat the hothouses - the chimney itself is a historic feature and will stay (and is in fact mirrored by other, new structures) but the fuel is replaced with biomass.
The silt from the lake, mentioned above, is being used for the wildflower meadow. In the same way, as we emerge into a new season, we can keep what is still useful, honour our past and replace that which no longer serves.
A big takeaway for me from my experience of the RHS tour was that seeing other works in progress - whether it's garden projects or clients on their journey to health and wellbeing - is deeply inspirational and essential for me to have faith in my own desire to allow the unformed parts of myself to emerge. It also renews my excitement about Spring and all the new growth it can bring; I vow to celebrate it at all it's stages.
If you'd like to celebrate this with me there are early bird tickets available until mid March at the Emerge mindful mini retreat on the afternoon of Sunday 29th at Space at the Mill Castlefield. Full details here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mindful-mini-retreat-emerge-into-spring-tickets-91135112575