The Book Brigade talks to coach and author Fran Sorin.
Posted Nov 17, 2016
Gardening may be the perfect counterpoint to tech-overloaded times. Just the act of digging in a garden can bring joy, and it’s a path to encouraging the creativity within. Feeling the soil in one’s fingers can redress the imbalance that derives from living a nature-deprived life.
Why does the soil feel so sacred?
When you dig a hole in the ground and feel the crumbly soil between your fingers, you’re participating in a ritual that has been taking place since the dawn of humankind. If you close your eyes, you can even imagine your ancestors doing the same thing. There is something so very deep and primal about humankind’s connection to the earth. It’s in these moments, when we are connecting to nature in a most profound way, that we connect to our most essential humanness. No matter how much money, joy, sorrow, achievement, or failure you’ve had in your life, when you dig in the earth, you can experience a feeling of oneness with the universe.
Human existence depends on plants. Why does this seem so easy for us to forget?
In today’s world, we’re addicted to technology. The average amount of time spent on electronic devices is 7-plus hours a day. One result is that we are increasingly disconnected from nature. Our culture also places a high priority on productivity and achievement. For so many people who are working nonstop at making a living and raising a family, spending time reflecting on our relationship with plants doesn’t even cross their minds.
From the time they are infants, our children need to be taught about the magic and power of plants—and learn to relate to and appreciate them. There is no better way to have children experience our dependency on plants than to have them sow some vegetable seeds, tend to the seedlings and plants throughout the growing season, and then harvest ripe vegetables.
How does working with dirt and being in nature inspire creativity?
Gardening is a wonderful way of de-stressing, letting go of everyday To Do thoughts, and opening up to the unconscious. It’s very often in these “nonthinking” moments when creative thoughts germinate and express themselves spontaneously. Also, being in nature—really being there, not just passing through—can provide a profound sense of peace and belonging. When we are able to let go of our problems and awaken our senses, our consciousness is ripe for creativity. Individuals like Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Winston Churchill, and Vincent Van Gogh credit their time observing and being in nature as a great tool for creative problem-solving.
Do you feel you are meditating while digging?
Everyone has the ability to use gardening as a form of meditation. It all depends on your mindset. If you go into the garden with the intent to use it as a tool to slow down, awaken all of your senses, appreciate the beauty surrounding you, experience gratitude, and practice mindfulness, then you absolutely can experience a meditative state in the garden.
Even going into the garden with a mind filled with all that has to be done that day, people can still find reverie there. Just starting to work in the soil—planting, digging, weeding—relaxes the mind.
What do you make of all the mindfulness books on the shelves these days?
Books on mindfulness can be wonderful gateways to learning how to slow down, stay focused on the present, and really appreciate the moment. But like anything else, it’s not enough just to read a book on mindfulness. To make sustainable changes, you need to commit to a practice—and be diligent about it.
What do you think people get wrong about creativity?
We’ve been brainwashed into believing that either we’re born creative or we’re not. If, like most folks, you’ve been told from a young age that you weren’t born with the creativity gene, then you learn very quickly to stay away from creative pursuits.
That truth is this: We are all inherently creative. It’s our birthright. No matter what age you are, you can access your creativity. It’s about opening up to possibilities, maintaining a beginner’s mind, experimenting, being spontaneous and playful, taking risks, and learning that mistakes are an integral part of the creative process.
I’ve been coaching clients for more than 30 years. I’ve witnessed individuals transform their ordinary lives into extraordinary ones when they’re courageous enough to take risks and open up to their authentic self. This is the place where all creativity germinates.
Are children better at “digging deep” than adults?
Children play naturally and don’t worry about how they appear to others. Unlike the adult mind, which registers self-consciousness, kids are just doing it, with no thoughts holding them back from being their authentic selves. That’s why when we observe children at playgrounds, involved in sports, or even creating their own plays or musicals, we marvel at their free and unfettered spirits—and secretly yearn to be more like them.
Play is creativity as work. It’s an attitude, a spirit, and a commitment to finding true joy in any act, with little or no concern about the outcome.
What is the difference between being more creative or living creatively?
In our culture, we talk about being more creative as it relates to a specific project. I use the phrase “living more creatively” because I believe that humans have the potential to be creative with every breath they take. Living creatively is about how we walk through our day; it includes how we can communicate with others (and our own inner voice), how we go about doing tasks, how we observe the world around us. Living creatively entails approaching each moment as fresh and new, holding unlimited possibilities.
Do you see working with soil as a salve for our modern-day device obsession?
Absolutely. I have seen it time and again that when people get their hands in the dirt, a sense of calm overtakes them. They connect with nature and are able to experience a sense of oneness with the universe. When surrounded by green, inhaling fresh air, and awakening their senses, individuals expand their reality, create new possibilities, and open up new neural pathways.
What’s the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?
I was surprised that I was able to put into words what flowed from my unconscious. I had been developing my thoughts about gardening for decades. Writing the book enabled me to organize them in a fashion that I felt could offer information and inspiration to a large audience—gardeners and non-gardeners alike. I was delighted that the process of writing the book was such a joyful and creative one.
Who is your hero?
The one who immediately comes to mind is Richard Feynman, the celebrated physicist who lived a creative, playful, joyful, and rich life.
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