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Learnings from the Allotment - the benefits of flow.

I recently took over an allotment, laughably close to my house. We had been on the waiting list for about 18 months and were just very lucky that someone moved away from the area and gave up her plot. It has been well looked after, and still has enough of a challenge in it to keep me busy. I have some experience with allotments, having been allowed to plant a patch on a friends’ allotment site the previous year. Having my own feels very different and fabulous!

I would say that I am relatively new to gardening and newer still to vegetable and fruit growing. I often don’t know the name of things and have a few mishaps and have lost many plants. Overall, however it is an area of my life that I am relaxed with and I note more experimental. I can often be found chucking the contents of a seed packet on some (mostly) prepared ground, with very much a what will be, will be attitude. Some weeks later I am, more often than not, gifted with a beautiful display, often too crowded together and a riot of clashing colours. And I don’t care. With the veg I do confess to planting in straight rows, it’s just practical and I do have joy in order; but running in between with abandon, in my new allotment will be an array of wild-flowers, with no order whatsoever.

What does any of this have to do with being, wellbeing or with coaching for that matter, you may ask? EVERYTHING! I shout back. Google “nature and wellbeing” and 161 million results back me up in my assertion that nature is beneficial physically, mentally, wellbeing “ly”. The Guardian, the WWF, Mind, The Wildlife Trust, the BBC, The I, to name just a few, have all published on the benefits of nature. Whilst halfway through writing this piece, I received an email from Psychologies Magazine with an article titled Mindfulness in Gardening (typical!.. link at the end of this piece). Everyone’s at it.

Now I know that there are health benefits to tofu for example, but it doesn’t follow that I am going to eat it. So just knowing that nature is beneficial to us, doesn’t mean we are all going to leap into forest bathing (it’s a real thing). Lockdown has for many, forced us outside, we have had experiential learning, so there will be some converted reading this, but for others the tangible returns are not yet felt. Being outside and in my case gardening or working in the allotment, puts me in flow. Effectively this just means being in the zone and different things will do it for different people. It’s that time when you are so caught up in what you are doing, you lose track of time and your thinking mind just quietens down. This is Mindfulness. That was five hours for me on Saturday, five hours of quiet mind, essential for recharging; this time enables me to be fully present with my clients.

(An important distinction: being in flow is not the same as being on automatic pilot. When on automatic pilot, we are unaware of what we are doing and we are more likely therefore to slip into old habits of thinking, that may no longer be of benefit to us).

Having your hands in the earth is not going to do it for everyone, so I would encourage you to find what works for you.. what activity have you done in the past where you lose yourself completely, where only this is present for you at that time? It may be physical, mental or creative. Find your flow and know that by doing so, you are practicing mindfulness. And when you are mindful your awareness is increased, and awareness equals choice. So as opposed to reacting automatically and possibly in a non-serving way, you now have access to choose how to respond to everyday situations, that may previously have caused stress or anxiety.

My allotment will grow and develop through the seasons and will, no doubt, offer up learnings to me beyond the horticultural. Throughout, my intention is to be present and to BE, safe in the knowledge that I am nourishing myself and in turn my work. Should I produce any impressive veg you will be the first to know!

Post Script: I will no doubt return to Mindfulness in more detail in future blog editions – it has become a valuable tool to me. For those interested in a formal training course I can thoroughly recommend Oxford Mindfulness Centre Their Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Course was a peaceful delight.

Link to Psychologies Magazine Article:

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