....or where I share my thoughts on growing dahlias AND myself.
If you're just here for the purty flower pics, scroll to the bottom!
Heads up on content: contains references to depression
I've been growing dahlias for a few years now. This year I decided to really go big and we took over our front yard (where there is soooo much sunshine! also, who actually *needs* all that grass???) with 3 big raised beds and 60+ plants.
These dahlias have given me so much to think about this year.
When we were planting them, it was long, hot, dirty work. Identifying the tubers we dug up last year, sorting out the ones that didn't save well over the winter (luckily I only lost 3 or 4 due to rot or mold), moving dirt into the beds, digging holes. There's dusty bone meal, there are slimy worms. We were hunched over, and lifting, and getting up and down, crouching, and twisting, and generally moving our bodies in all kinds of ways that weren't comfortable and definitely were not what we are used to!
We got all those dahlia babies tucked into their dirt beds, markers identifying what was nestled in below. It was a couple of really intense days of lots of work. And when we were done, we got to stand back and proudly survey our work.....lovely piles of DIRT.
So we were dirty, dusty, tired and achy and all we had to show for it was dirt, and hope. From there, all we had was information from past experience and from guidebooks and friends - which all told us to wait and trust that these flower babies would indeed grow and bloom and add something beautiful to our yard and life.
I keep coming back to this process of planting dahlias. It has reminded me of another season in my life of a different kind of planting, and growing, and waiting.
Several years ago, I found myself in a pretty dark place. Lots of things had shifted in my life. Things that had been central to my identity had been lost, or changed in major ways. I found myself wondering if I actually knew who I was anymore. I felt disconnected from myself, from my partner and family, and just generally from my life.
I felt adrift and unmoored after a huge shift in my perspective of faith, after leaving a life of immersion in toxic religion (hello, any other exvangelicals??) I wondered how I could find a connection to spirituality without religion. Because of health reasons, I'd had to step away from birth doula work, which I loved and was a huge part of my identity. I wondered how I would be of service in work that felt meaningful to me. Our family had recently moved from a very rural area to a much more urban one, and I felt disconnected from nature and from a community. I'd been diagnosed with MS for some time, but the reality of how it had physically affected me really came crashing in. I wondered who I was now that I wasn't a fully able-bodied person any more. My big kids had grown up and were out in the world doing their thing. My "babies" were pre-teen and becoming more self-sufficient by the day. All of it compounded until I was truly in a deep state of depression.
For those who have lived with depression, you'll know that it can really take over every part of your life - mentally, emotionally, physically. It is hard and all consuming.
Luckily, I'm privileged to have a supportive partner and friends and good health insurance. Therapy and medication helped a lot and brought me out of the darkest parts of that time. But for quite a while, it felt like there were "cobwebs" of that darkness clinging to me that I just couldn't shake. I still needed to explore my identity and who I was now that these big transitions had happened. I'd lost many of the tools I'd previously used for coping and comfort - prayer, worship music, the easy community that can happen when you show up once a week with the same folks. I'd lost the identities that helped me feel like I was doing good in the world - mothering a big family, doula work, a community that I volunteered in and gave to.
I had no idea where to begin to get these feelings to shift or to begin to find my way back to myself again. I decided to begin saying "yes" to anything that felt even remotely interesting or appealing. For so long, struggling through depression, nothing had felt doable or lit a spark for me, so I thought that might be a good first step - follow my "yes", follow that spark when I felt it.
I started exploring tarot and learning how to work with tarot and oracle cards and I began to plant seeds of getting in touch with my intuition for the first time. Toxic religion had taught me that my gut feelings my thoughts, my wants and needs were compromised by my "sinful nature" and that my own inner voice was unreliable, I should only listen to religious leaders and an extremely old (and overly translated) book. I began to see that my intuition was right and good and that my gut feelings could be trusted.
Another spark came when I first learned about Hakomi and on a whim I signed up for a workshop. That led to a deep dive and studying somatics and mindfulness as it relates to listening to ourself and others. People assigned female at birth often have so many reasons to disconnect from our bodies. Our bodies can feel unsafe because of assault or objectification, or the pressures of our cultural beauty standards. Somatics helped me begin to see a mind-body connection that was strong and wise. So I began planting seeds of connecting with my own body, and listening to and honoring her.
I had used art journaling in the past, but hadn't had much of a creative practice for a while. I began to create, work in an art journal, paint and doodle - just for the fun of it. In doing so, I frequently used tarot/oracle cards as part of my art journaling process and began to gain a lot of personal insight into what was happening for me. Art journaling allowed me to observe my experience and find interesting connections. It helped me plant seeds of nurturing my creativity and gaining insights into why I did some of the things I did.
Mindfulness had always been a part of the way I facilitated support groups, but I began to get curious about bringing it into my daily life. I started do mindfulness exercises when I thought about it throughout my days and I noticed a difference in my reactivity and my ability to re-center myself when something tipped me over. I could see that mindfulness was a small, useful, and very accessible tool to help me be with my emotions - even when they felt big. It helped calm me when I felt like the chaos of life was going to drag me under. And it helped me not to "check out" or turn to numbing behaviors when things got hard. Mindfulness helped me plant seeds of being more present in my own life.
I read the book "Saved by a Poem" by Kim Rosen and it brought poetry to life in a new way for me. I wrote my first poem when I was about 4 years old, I used to read poetry with my Nan, and those were treasured memories. I started to memorize some of my favorite poems and I found myself reciting them at times when I previously might have found prayer helpful. Poetry and all the beauty and wisdom it holds is a kind of scripture to me, I found it comforting and sometimes challenging or bringing new perspectives. So much of poetry contains universal truths. Poetry can be a conversation with someone I will never know that helps me see the world in a different way. As I continued to work with poetry - reading, writing, and memorizing it - I could feel that I was planting the seeds of a new kind of spirituality for me and a connection to something that was bigger than myself.
What does all of that have to do with dahlias?
During that season of moving myself out of the darkness of depression, I was doing all of these things. I truly was working hard to pull myself out of those last cobwebs of that pit. It felt like I was working hard. I was frequently uncomfortable. I was moving my mind and emotions into different configurations that were not familiar to me. I was trying new things and pulling out old ones - sorting through to get rid of the tools that no longer were viable for me, to find the fresh ones that would sprout and help me grow.
Every so often, I'd have a flash of understanding exactly *how much* work I was doing. I'd "stand back" and give my life a look, expecting to be so proud of all I was doing, but honestly there wasn't a lot of growth yet. I'd planted lots and lots of seeds, but my body-mind-soul still felt a bit like I was just surveying a big ol' patch of dirt. I would wonder when things in my life would feel more bright and colorful. Just about the only thing I could do was to lean into the things friends and teachers told me - it would get better, things would bloom - just have patience and keep watering all the things I'd planted.
Watering a dirt patch over and over and just hoping that they are right is not an easy task when it comes to dahlias or personal growth and healing. It's dirty and muddy and there are worms crawling in it and you *know* that you've put a whole bunch of work in, but you are still just looking at dirt. It takes hope and commitment and trust that the process WILL work. I learned that community makes planting seeds and being patient easier - knowing that others are a little further along or have walked the same path is incredibly encouraging. I was lucky to have a community of people who kept showing up for me on the regular, kept reflecting back to me the work they were seeing, and kept reminding me that I would indeed bloom again.
Spoiler alert: I did.
Those seeds I planted led to deeper connections to myself and my identity. I began to see more clearly who I was in this world again. Those seeds bore the fruit of deeper connection to the natural world and community, to my body, my intuition. Those seeds helped me nurture a connection to something bigger than myself outside of religion, and helped me see that I was a whole, wise, capable and creative human. And eventually, those seeds began to coalesce into meaningful work I could offer the world through Seeds of Connection.
So my dahlias are beginning to bloom and I'm thinking back to early summer when my back was achy and my fingernails were caked with grime, and all I could see out my front window were piles of dirt. But I believed in my work and I trusted the process. It leads me to thinking of that season many years ago, where I was doing new things that weren't always comfortable, and I chronically felt like a hot mess. When I surveyed my personal internal "landscape", it felt like the equivalent of looking at piles of dirt. Back then, I don't know that I truly understood what exactly I was doing or how to trust the process, but looking back, I'm so thankful I planted all of those seeds for myself. The work of it was challenging at times, but there were sprouts, and growth and blooms eventually.
In this season, I'm looking at my dahlia patch as they are beginning to bloom and open up and I'm thankful for the hard work I put in - even when it wasn't very gratifying at first. And I'm reflecting on that time of diving in to mindfulness, somatics, poetry, art journaling, and aaaalllll the other seeds of connection & healing & growth that I'd planted and feeling so grateful to my past self for that challenging work and for sticking with it until it bloomed.
And much like dahlias, or collecting seeds from plants, that investment keeps bringing joy and color and blooms to the world, now through Seeds of Connection groups and my other work. More importantly than that, I understand myself more deeply, I feel grounded (even in the chaotic dumpster fire that life can be sometimes!), and I LIKE myself and what I bring to this world.
So have a look at these dahlia pics, maybe think about what seeds YOU might like to plant in your life. I'm curious: would a Seeds of Connection group help support you in your next steps toward healing and growth?
There is a fresh new Seeds of Connection group SPROUTING next week!
Galaxy cycle begins Thursday, Sept 1st....and there is room for YOU.
Come learn, grow, heal, and plant seeds in community with us!!