Replenishing the Soil, Replenishing the Soul

Replenishing the Soil, Replenishing the Soul

My friend Mark, a high school biology teacher, is fond of the adage, “Bad farmers grow weeds; good farmers grow crops; excellent farmers grow soil.” 

I’ve certainly experienced the wisdom of replenishing the soil from 20+years of composting and mulching in my backyard. 

And I’ve come to see these Resources for Recovering Resilience as practices for growing good soil, cultivating a good foundation of resilience within ourselves for working with whatever noxious weeds or beautiful flowers crop up in our lives.

And as I near the official retirement date of July 1 (from clinical practice and teachings workshops; I will continue to post these Resources), I realize how much I look forward to the coming season (coinciding with Summer Solstice) of fallow time, a season of dormancy and rest, quietly replenishing the soil, restoring and renewing my soul for whatever might come to fruition in the future. 

And I’ll be doing this exercise of Belly Botany from my book Resilience as part of that renewal and replenishing…

Belly Botany

Years ago I was hiking in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park when I came upon a park ranger with a small group of hikers sprawled on the ground, face down, each of them completely absorbed in observing one square foot of ground from a height of six inches. The ranger called this a five-minute exercise in “belly botany.” You can practice belly botany almost anywhere to create a shift in perspective between the small and the vast, and to sense your place in the overall scheme of things.

1. Find a one-foot-square patch on a favorite beach, in a meadow, in a forest, in your own backyard, or in a city park (just be very careful where you decide to lie down). Lie comfortably on your stomach so that your eyes can focus on your patch from a height of six inches.

2. Come into a sense of presence. Defocus your attention from any concerns for self; concentrate on what’s happening in your patch. Notice the dirt or sand, the plants and bugs. Notice any activity, any stillness, any change of the light and shadows. Notice the relationship of things one to another; notice harmonies of colors and shapes; notice any oddities. Notice signs of life and death, aggression and beauty, all on a tiny scale. Observe your patch for two minutes or more.

3. After two minutes, stand up and refocus your attention on the horizon of the larger landscape all around you. Trace the shapes of the trees, hills, and buildings that you see. Observe this larger horizon for two minutes or more. Notice activity and stillness, changes in light and shadow. Notice the relationships of things one to another. Notice the harmonies of colors and shapes; notice any oddities. Notice signs of life and death, aggression and beauty, all on a vast scale.

4. You can toggle back and forth between these micro and macro landscapes as much as you wish. Let your mind play on its own for two minutes or more with the contrast of the small and the vast scale.

5. Return your awareness to the state of your own nervous system, noticing any felt sense of awe, any shifts in your perspective of your place in the world, and any changes in your sense of well-being.