The Garden Experiment and Who We are Becoming

What does a garden have to do with who we are becoming right now in the midst of this reset?

My answer is a question: What if Nature is the teacher who has been patiently waiting for us all to slow down enough to witness how every organism is somehow connected to all of the others in an ecological balancing act? For example, trees are not jockeying for position or resources. In fact, when you look under the soil, deep within the earth, you see their roots align in ways that supports the overall structure and shares the resources with the parts of the system that need it at any given time. Winds can bend them this way and that way, but the many roots beneath the surface strengthens the ones that are part of the whole.

Unfortunately, above the surface, humans have been operating very differently for too long. Instead of realizing that our survival depends on the depth of our connection to the earth and to each other, we have suffered under the illusions that we are separate from each other, that there isn’t enough to go around, and that connecting with the strength of others somehow weakens us. And then our systems, built on those types of assumptions, perpetuate the illusion from one generation to the next.

I remember feeling something was off-kilter during my experience as a public-school teacher back in the early 1980’s. I knew there had to be a better way but didn’t know exactly what it would look like. I had the same feeling when I entered the domain of business and then healthcare and then technology.

When my own illusions of separation brought me to my knees with a health crisis, I started looking to Nature for answers. As I became more interested in systems theory and how Nature’s systems work, I began to investigate how the seeds of genius that each of us have could be nourished and supported to unfold the talent, the gifts, and the calling of each individual. I found a pedagogy called Natural Learning and sensed a grounding in my own awareness that learning is an inside-out process, just as Nature models around me every day.

I had the good fortune to meet Brent Cameron, who became the mentor who truly showed me how natural learning unfolds with each learner when given the nourishing environment to integrally unfold.

That was thirty-four years ago, and my life has been guiding me to be the catalyst for the design of loving, life-long learning communities with natural learning and well-being at the center ever since. I wrote about this in my book, Living The Potential: Engaging the Wisdom of Our Youth to Save the World, which has become a catalyst for teachers, parents, grandparents, entrepreneurs, conscious businesses, forward-thinking schools, and most importantly our youth to begin working together to create supportive learning environments.

Most people have not been encouraged to align efforts between domains or generations, and that is why my team and I designed The Garden Experiment as a proof of concept.

The first one happened in Washington D.C. last August. We invited five youth, ages 16 to 21. to share about what had worked for them during their 14,000 hours of schooling and what hadn’t, as well as what concerned them the most when they looked to the future.

We papered the walls with large post-it notes filled with their messages and then agreed, as a group, to work on the two main concerns they youth had brought forward: 1) Climate Change (which the panel renamed Climate Survival), and 2) Lack of Community, experienced through polarization and silos.

The adults leaned in while they listened and the youth were quite amazed that a roomful of teachers, artists, parents, entrepreneurs actually cared what they were saying.

We all acknowledged that WE could plant the SEEDS that we needed to grow in our Garden of Possibility. Walking through Nature’s garden of humanity, we witnessed the diversity and the natural organizing patterns; and this observation, this awareness, was clearly the shift to a simple process. Through our connection of open minds and listening hearts, we began to trust ourselves and each other at a deeper level and work together to co-generate new models for a better world.

People in that room realized that it’s not just the schools’ job to prepare our kids for a promising future — it’s our job to listen to them, nurture their seeds of genius, and co-create fertile environments in which we can all grow together. This intergenerational community saw how they could become the catalysts and nutrients for a healthier society.

Seven months later, COVID-19 hit, and we are in a whole new world. The abrupt halt to business and school as usual has rattled the status quo. Health systems are challenged, people are physically distancing, and now even more wounds from our unsustainable ways of living are surfacing, including the anger of underserved people and the brutality of “us vs. them” power dynamics.

Our team quickly realized that we needed to find a way to bring people together and model a new way of collaborating–something more in line with Nature.

Unable to meet in person, our team offered an online Garden Experiment on May 30th. Another proof of concept opportunity.

This time, we had close to thirty participants and showcased a panel of 6 youth. The audience of adults from various walks of life was there to listen and then co-generate solutions around the problems the younger generation had determined was most important to them.

We listened intently as they shared sentiments like:

  • Kids are not being taught to learn for themselves or have their own opinions.
  • It seems unfair that young adults and teens are expected to act as adults but are treated as though they are children and not given a voice.
  • Many kids don’t thrive due to a lack of connection with the real world and the kind of skills they will need to know once really get out there on their own.
  • Many graduates are seeing college as an opportunity to get money later in life rather than an opportunity to learn and become who they are here to be.
  • There is more to life than trying to remember things and get good grades.
  • A possible remedy is giving kids the option to be who they are instead of following the standard path laid out for them; or if that standard path is right for them, go with that (but there has to be the option).
  • Choosing what you want to learn can make a huge impact on the outcomes.
  • People don’t know what to look for to support issues revolving around depression and suicide. Mental health should be treated like a broken leg. It’s serious and can affect someone’s life very deeply.
  • Depression and suicide might stem from the unhealthy environment forcing people to do things they are not passionate about and doing it with others who are not passionate about it.

Some of the heart rendering shares made the zoom breakout rooms come alive with respectful, deep listening as everyone was seen and heard, even in this social-distanced environment. The top two issues we extracted from their shares were: 1) The Crisis of (lack of) Meaning, and 2) The Broken Mental Health System.

The prompts and breakouts helped everyone to see how each of us have a part of the solution, and that there is a better way to upgrade and design systems to include the many voices to learn and grow a more ecologically sustainable world together.

While so much of the world was glued to the news, feeling fearful and uncertain, this group was living what I believe is the solution to most, if not all, of our societal ills:

  • Deeper trust of self and others
  • A safe environment in which to share honestly and be heard
  • Collaboration between generations and domains of expertise
  • Conversation about regenerating resources and systems to deliver and sustain the changes
  • Technology that gave us the platform to reach higher together.

Nature has shown us the way, my friends.

We hope you’ll join us to experience it and take it back to the communities in which you are working to create change.

OUR NEXT Garden Experiment is August 1st, please register here to be part of it.

Bring a friend, and help us grow this organic learning model for life.

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