Amanda: Thank you. I love hearing how you introduce me!
Hmm, how I approach this time of year. I totally love the solstice time of year for reflecting on what's been the last year and I have things that I wrote last year at this time and I look over them. I like having a lot of stillness. Actually this year have had less because I’m coming out of a long stage of dormancy and I’m just like - I just want to play and jump around! I don’t want to sit down and read my stuff. So it’s a little different this year. What was coming up for me as you were talking about the idea of purpose is the definition of purpose I really enjoy and have been using for myself. It comes from the book Holacracy, and asks “what does this organization want to be in the world, and what does the world need this organization to be?” And so I just apply it to myself. What do I need to be in the world, and what does the world need me to be?
It's the idea that it's more like detective work than creative work. Finding purpose is more of a discovery process, the sense that there actually is an organism. I use an ecological metaphor. That there's some being that has its own life and I'm trying to learn about it. What is it? Whether I’m talking about my own work, as just one person. Like, what is the life that's trying to come alive through me? Or if it's a group of people working together, what is the thing that wants to come alive through the collaboration?
So I think that set of questions invites a surrendering. Like, if I'm really taking that seriously I have to really honor all of the resources of gifts that I have. Even if it might feel edgy or scary to say, I’m good at “this” or something. I face that feeling while thinking, “what is this in service to?”
Marisa: Yeah, so if you're attuned to this higher goal than you can step out a little bit more in certain areas or not force yourself in other certain areas.
Amanda: Yeah, so actually it was this time last year that I did a half-day purpose setting session with myself, and I found that I have two purposes. One is to be helping people embody their fullest expression in the world and the second is supporting people in groups to energize their shared purpose.
Marisa: Yea, good thing I asked you to talk about purpose!
I haven't read it yet but I saw Sarah Peyton’s newsletter come out, and the title points out that if you're failing at your New Year's resolutions it’s not because you don’t have the willpower. Instead, it's because there are other blocks in your way. That seems really related to what you’re saying right now. That there may not need to be a huge amount of willpower in finding devotion to a purpose.
Amanda: Yeah, I read that piece and she was talking about the idea that our bodies make contracts when we're young that keep us safe. When we try to do something that stretches us into our fullness later on, that survival contract is more primary and will keep us from doing thing. So we have to name what that is, acknowledge what happened that caused us to restrict our life expression to survive. So I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that I see it as a little bit different. Connecting to my purpose, I might need to connect to and dissolve those contracts. I don't want to give people the idea that once you’re clear about your purpose it's just a day at the beach.
Marisa: Yeah, it doesn't come without obstacles or challenges.
Amanda: it's almost like bringing that purpose to life, you encounter an “Oh shit, now I have to really step up. So what are the things I need to do to allow my bigness to really come through in that?” If I’m really like “okay that's my purpose like I signed up for it” I have to...
Marisa: Yeah, to find out where your range of motion is restricted and where you need to develop different muscles to be able to follow your purpose.
Amanda: And so that can bring us into scary new territory, scary places. I think that’s all part of it.
Marisa: I kind of want to bring in some of my gardening work here. One of the things I feel really clear about is that there is a way of gardening in urban areas that is a potent way of connecting people to the landscape and creating a landscape that's woven into itself and has a lot more ecological functions than we currently have.
Amanda: Ecological what?
Marisa: Ecological functions. So, for example, most butterflies are not willing to lay eggs in urban areas or in areas that have been disturbed in the last 30 years, so most of the suburbs of most of urban areas. That doesn’t leave much habitat for butterflies. Adult butterflies can live in these areas, but they’re not willing to lay their eggs because they sense that it’s not okay to lay their eggs there. There are all these ecosystem services and ecosystem functions that are disappearing. Some of them are more obvious, like the absence of insects that prey on common garden pests, and a lot of them are really subtle like the butterfly eggs. They can be hard to notice, especially in the span of a human lifetime.
So I have this vision of some way of gardening that really honors those functions and systems. There are a lot of visionary tools, like permaculture, that can still be implemented in ways that don’t look at the bigger picture. The framework of principles that permaculture orients around is incredibly useful, but we can still operate without noticing our own blind spots. I notice it’s scary for me sometimes to propose the actual design solutions I want to propose, because I’m basing them on observations over time and ecological principles rather than a particular procedure.
One example right now is that I’m working with dense clay soil on one client’s property. I want to amend it so that they can grow a wider diversity of plants, but I also don’t want to disturb it more than necessary, especially since it’s wet this time of year. So I’m trying to figure out what to propose, like not digging in compost but using it only as topdressing, and planning for it to take years to really shift the texture of the soil. I’m nervous the client will perceive it as being a lazy decision rather than a wise one. It feels like it’s going against the current.
Amanda: You want to hear what I’m hearing? That you staying connected to your purpose of this larger systems view, of looking at this whole ecosystem and looking across time, means you stepping out and risking your belonging in some ways. It means speaking powerfully about what you want in a way that feels kind of edgy because people might not understand.
Marisa: Yeah, there’s so much safety in having a defined toolset. It would feel safer to me if I could just point to a book and say “I’m implementing this.” But when I’m really in touch with my purpose I have to sense into each individual situation I come up against and see what matches. What feels right in that situation, backed by a lot of knowledge.
Amanda: Right, you can’t point to an outside authority. You’re evolving something new through your experience.
Marisa: Yeah, I’m really asking my clients to trust me to let me use their property as part of that evolution and exploration. Which I don’t really know how to get full consent for, because I don’t really know what I’m asking them for when we start a project. This feels vulnerable to share!
Amanda: I think it’s really exciting because that’s the paradigm I want to live in. The sense of “We don’t actually know!” We’re standing here, saying “I want to have this vision of wholeness and I want that for your property, your neighborhood.” And asking “Do you want to explore that with me, not knowing what’s going to emerge?” Which is how life actually works - you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Marisa: Yeah, and we do know that some of the systems we’ve designed so far aren’t working, so in some ways that makes it safer to take risks with new systems and new practices. I’ve heard a lot of stories of people coming up against a wall of exhaustion, disease, or disaster when they’re not in alignment of their purpose. I think a lot of people have a really deep, embodied awareness of when something’s not working. There maybe aren’t as many visible solutions to what is working.
Amanda: That’s the whole sense and respond paradigm. There’s not a beaten path. We make the road by walking. We have to stand there, and listen into it.
Marisa: Can you clarify what you mean by “sense and respond” paradigm?
Amanda: Yeah, so it’s coming out of this time where we’ve been in a “predict and control” paradigm. The world we see around us most of the time is shaped by this paradigm. Predict what’s going to happen in the future and then control it. Make the plan of what’s going to happen in the next 5 years, make a plan of what the garden is going to be next fall, and put everything in those places, and then we’re going to predict and control that. That’s how most of our culture works. It comes from a mechanical, industrial, factory model.
So some of these ideas are in the book Reinventing Organizations, among other places, but in the paradigm that I’m excited about is an ecological paradigm rather than a factory paradigm. It’s looking at ourselves as living beings. The way a living organism works is where there are autonomous cells, or autonomous individual trees in a forest. And they’re not planning what’s going to happen in the future - they’re just responding to what’s happening in their environment. Like, the sun is shining right now and I’m going to start photosynthesizing. They don’t decide “tomorrow at this certain time I’m going to start photosynthesizing, regardless of the weather.” Sensing what’s actually happening, asking how do I meet that in a way that’s the most whole or healthy?
I’m guessing that what you’re feeling is that people are habituated to the predict and control paradigm, which is not how you operate. So if you’re seeing the world from predict and control, someone who is sensing and responding might look lazy. But actually it’s a different paradigm, that actually matches how life works better, rather than matches how a factory works.
Marisa: Yeah, and there are sometimes cool things! I’m thinking of one garden in particular and I started digging. There were so many rocks in the soil that I was able to build a lot of features out of the rocks I found there. So sometimes I get “freebees” that I wasn’t anticipating because I didn’t plan the whole project from the inception of it.
Amanda: I’m getting chills in my legs hearing this.
The first thing that’s coming up for me is mourning. Grieving. We have so much grieving to do. Tears are coming up for me. Letting ourselves feel our broken hearts around it.
In the Seattle area there’s a lot of grief work happening in groups. Our bodies aren’t designed to hold that level of trauma alone. I guess in my experience, that’s the only way through. Is to actually feel all of it. And see what happens when I really give myself space to feel this. Really take it in.
Marisa: So I think the question I asked was how do I develop the “response” muscle, but what you’re really saying is we need to develop the “sense” muscle, and if we don’t develop the sense muscle, we’re still not able to truly live in sense and respond.
Amanda: Yeah. What’s coming up for me is the power of sensing - feeling the mourning and the grieving - in community. Being in interdependence. I don’t have the level of connection in my life that I want in order to be able to fully meet the moment, and I have a lot more than most people. There are a lot of people tracking me, and I have a lot of resources to reach out to and I still feel like I need a lot more. Not to overwhelm people, but just to talk about it. Making space to talk about how we’re feeling, and see what emerges.
I don’t want to tell people, especially as white people ourselves, that “all you have to do is feel it.” I want there to be action too. But I just haven’t found any shortcut around just taking the time to feel the heartbreak, and then what comes out of that is “Yes, we’re not going to be able to respond to every single thing here, so what’s the most impactful response?” What’s the one small step we’re going to take from this moment? Then we’ll sense and respond from the next moment.
Marisa: Yeah, sense and respond does really give you the freedom to really stay in touch with what’s working and what isn’t.
Amanda: Yeah, so I want to share the principles of dynamic collaboration, which is what I do in my work. One of them is “use short, incremental cycles” and another one is “experiment and adapt.” So we ask “what does it look like today to respond to the overwhelming feeling of hearing the news?” Maybe today it’s, inviting a bunch of friends over for a potluck and checking in about how everyone is doing. Giving yourselves space to talk about it. And at the end of that, seeing “now what’s next?”
Marisa: Yeah! This is making me think back to where we started, with resolutions. I was just checking in about my resolutions from last year. I had predicted a certain amount of massage that I needed and a certain amount of exercise that I needed in order to care better for my body. I haven’t been getting that much massage or that much exercise, but I’ve been doing yoga and walking, and that’s been meeting all the needs that I had predicted would be met by that particular strategy. So I feel glad I let myself off the hook to do exactly what I had prescribed myself. I don’t feel like I lost touch with what I was wanting.
Amanda: From an NVC (nonviolent communication) lens, I hear that as holding the needs and letting the strategies evolve.
Marisa: Yeah, definitely. People who are reading this might not know what we mean by NVC.
I’ll just throw out a brief description here, in my own words. The essence of it is using our feelings to help us connect with what needs we’re having. Needs being fundamental human longings. And then being able to strategize creatively about how we can get those needs met rather than sticking to a particular strategy. One of the reasons it’s called nonviolent is because often in relationship situations, we have a strategy in mind for how we want to get our need met through another person. It ends up being dehumanizing for the person who is being obligated to do a particular thing in order to help us meet our needs. So using this framework gives us some freedom to explore how we can meet our needs and enjoy interdependence with other people without constricting anyone else’s agency. Anything to add, Amanda?
Amanda: Since we’re just talking about sense and respond, I’ll add that to me NVC is a beautiful practice for how to sense and respond. It’s an embodiment practice. The very first thing I need to be able to do is to sense - that’s the feeling part. That’s how I’m getting information about what life wants. If I can’t feel, there’s no other way as a human being for me to get information from the world. This one body is the only way of interfacing with it. Sensing what’s happening in me and what’s being wanted, and then the responding part is how do I want to use these messages - the information I’m getting - about what the needs are, what’s arising through me.
That’s one of the delights I’m wanting to bring into my gardening practice more and more. Not having a huge expectation about what’s going to happen, and being willing to be surprised by whatever unfolds. In some ways it’s really vulnerable to wait for it to unfold because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m experimenting a lot more in vegetable gardens. I’ve been playing a lot more with letting plants seed themselves, and choose where they want to grow.
I can think of at least one garden right now that has a huge patch of cilantro. I’m really not sure if that person loves cilantro as much as I do. I’ve been leaving the cilantro, which I find totally delightful, and it might not be what she would have planned for how she would allocate her space. I have other gardens where cilantro just isn’t as vigorous. They’re more parsley dominant, or arugula dominant. It’s fun to give plants some choice about how to reproduce - when and where.
Amanda: It’s such a beautiful honoring of life. I think this Nonviolent Communication practice is often framed as very human centric. Like, we’re holding all the needs - everyone matters, but we’re usually talking about humans. What I hear you saying is that everyone matters - the plant people, the human people.
In my own practice, I was just telling someone recently, how the reason I’m caring about this other person isn’t because it’s a moral value I have. Its because if I don’t, I hurt right away. I don’t put my hand on a hot stove because it hurts right away. What I’m hearing you say is it’s the same thing about plants. The reason you want them to have their own choice about where to emerge is because that’s really what’s needed for everyone’s greater health. For these organisms to be able to flourish in the way that they know how - and that you don’t know how.
Marisa: Yeah, that’s a big part of it. I don’t know how to bring all the gifts that cilantro brings to the world. I do have a big internal list of where I know cilantro grows well, and the qualities I associate with those places. But there’s still a big mystery to it.
We’re coming to this concept of reciprocity that I’ve been developing also. There are all these plants that have nourished our species for millennia, and have cooperated with our breeding efforts and lived through these mail order seed packets. Imagine being a seed and coming from North Carolina to here and then popping up! So how do I really honor what we’re putting plants through, and trust that that’s a relationship we’re actually in and not just a demand I’m making of a plant. Now make me some broccoli!
Amanda: Yeah, the idea of nonviolence. I don’t want to meet my needs at your cost, at the expense of you, and I don’t want you to meet your needs at my expense. Ultimately, I don’t want to eat broccoli that’s been coerced.
I feel really inspired about the work you’re doing, in gardens. It’s such an embodied and practical and needed way of bringing these ideas into people’s lives. Not everyone’s like “I want to go to a nonviolent communication training!” but most people want their yard to look nice. It’s so radical what you’re doing!
Marisa: Thanks! I’m learning from this conversation that I want to highlight “sense and respond” more. I think people walk into a garden space and they get a certain feeling. Sometimes it’s claustrophobic, or dingy, that they don’t really want to pause there. Sometimes it’s really expansive. We know there are these certain feelings we like to have, expansive or curious or excited or awe-struck by beauty. So I’m wondering how can we navigate towards those feelings in ways that honor the natural pace of the world.
Amanda: Yeah, it’s a biological process of cells growing that you can’t just manufacture right away.
There is part of this Great Turning, which is coming back to trusting our bodies - trusting what we love. There’s that line from the Mary Oliver poem, let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. So just trusting if that looks beautiful to me and I’m wanting to amplify it and wanting to support it. Rather than our bodies are dangerous and the things I’m drawn to must be evil or wrong.
Marisa: Isn’t it funny that our classic new year’s resolutions are “our bodies are dangerous” - lose weight, stop drinking, somehow moderate impulses that we have for some reason.
Amanda: Yeah, I’m feeling sad. I want to hear more new year’s resolutions that are like “I want to have more pleasure in my life! Or I’m going to laugh more! Or I’m going to do what feels good more often.”
I remember going through this time when I had this relationship with exercise. I had an inner rebellion where I was like, I don’t ever want to force myself to do anything ever again. And then another voice was like “you’re going to get fat and old!” And I was like, “So be it. I’m trusting that there’s some integrity around what my body wants and what my body needs.” But it felt like walking through fire to say “I’m not going to force myself to do anything. It might mean I’m going to lie on this patch of sun on the floor here for the rest of my life.” I was trusting that something would happen - that I didn’t have to force myself to do anything.
I’m wondering if people are wanting to re-frame their New Years resolutions right now, do you have any guiding questions for them?
Amanda: We’ve been talking a lot about mourning, I would say start there. Before you add something new, what leaves do you want to drop from last year? In nonviolent communication there’s a simple practice of mournings and celebrations. What’s something that didn’t go the way you planned, or a dream you had last year that didn’t manifest? Just allowing yourself to feel that, and say that that matters, instead of trying to brush over it. Let yourself feel the sadness of what was hard about 2018. The same way you would talk to a child. Like, “yeah, of course you’re sad you didn’t get to move to the place you wanted, or didn’t find the job you wanted, or the relationship you were in didn’t pan out the way you wanted, like - yeah, that makes so much sense you’re sad.”
And then, ask “what would you really love for yourself this year?” I start with this prompt: “If you could wave a magic wand and have whatever you want without there being any consequences, nobody else would be harmed by it, and you don’t have to think about what would be plausible for you. What would your big dream be?” Just let yourself have a luxurious imagining, an extravagant imagining. So that’s a very different framing of what’s your new year’s resolution. It’s setting the frame - without having to temper it with what’s OK.
Marisa: In some ways, when I try to do that, I end up creating a blueprint for myself. Instead of creating next steps, I create a sensory imprint. If I think of this big dream, I feel this way. So then I can notice if there are places in my life where I feel similar ways.
Amanda: Yeah, so you have this beautiful image. And maybe it’s too vulnerable to share, but OK. So now what is one micro step you can take? Like, maybe putting on your calendar for 15 minutes Monday at 11am, to brainstorm about what’s the next step I can take? That’s all you need to figure out right now. We’re not actually going to plan backwards, because we don’t know. Does that answer your question?
Marisa: Yeah, I love those two questions. I love connecting back to mourning and celebration. And knowing that there are going to be future mournings and celebrations. Those questions help us orient in the present.
Amanda: Yeah, I also like to ask the question “What’s the most loving thing I can offer myself right now?” “What would self-love look like in this moment?” Sometimes it’s hard to act that way towards ourselves. It can be really obvious when you think about your best friend - “What’s the most loving thing for me to offer them?” And now turn that towards yourself. Giving myself permission to exercise for an hour every day is so different from making myself lose 20 lbs.
Marisa: Thank you! I love ending with these questions, like leaving little tendrils out in the world for people to play with. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective today, Amanda!