Today, I am honored to share an excerpt from Fran Sorin’s book “Digging Deep:: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening” celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The updated 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening is a powerfully uplifting and transformative self-help book for the creatively and spiritually challenged. Overflowing with tips, exercises, and resources, Fran shares the lessons she’s learned from gardening over the past thirty years. If you’re yearning to cultivate more meaning and connection in life, the 7 Stages of Creative Awakening mapped out in the book will help you extinguish the stifling inner voice that says, “I’m not creative,” and replace it with strategies that will help you harness your instincts and live a life filled with joy and creativity.
I had a difficult time choosing an excerpt. Fran’s book is exceptionally good. I finally decided on the following.
An Excerpt from Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening
by Fran Sorin
“I loafe and invite my soul. . .”
I was at my friend’s house for dinner one night when her five-year-old daughter Elizabeth came downstairs, dressed in what looked like a princess costume. She had all kind of beads and baubles dangling from her—she looked sparkly and adorable—and I remarked on how lovely her tiara was.
“You wanna see my tiara collection?” Elizabeth asked excitedly, hopping up and down on little ballerina toes.
“Oh, sweetie, maybe another time,” I told her. “Mommy and I are going to spend some time together right now.” But you know what? I really wanted to go play with those tiaras! What could be more fun—or more important—than playing dress-up with a five-year-old I adore?
That’s what we all want, really—the freedom to be playful and spontaneous, to be able to say yes when all grown-up reason dictates that we should say no or not now. This is one of the main reasons I love gardening. Yes, there is work involved, and yes, it can at times be frustrating when things don’t work out the way I had hoped, but then I find myself out on my patio on a late summer afternoon, the stones warm underneath my bare feet, with a hose in my hand and no shyness whatsoever about spraying the cool water every which way so it streams between my toes and cascades down my back. Indulging these bouts of spontaneity breathes freshness into what I do and keeps the work from feeling like drudgery.
Being spontaneous immediately breaks through our self-imposed censors and brings us into the unfettered present moment. When I was in my late thirties, I studied improvisational theater with Paul Sills, one of the founders of the first improvisational theater in the country, The Compass (which eventually morphed into Second City
Improvisational Theater of Chicago).
On the first day of the week-long workshop at Paul’s farm in Wisconsin, we played a game called Throwing the Ball. It was as basic as it sounds. All of us stood in a circle and just threw a ball to whomever we wished—spontaneously, without thinking or hesitating. It felt kind of awkward at first, but it soon became clear that if any of us were trying too hard to look cool or be clever, we were missing the point of the exercise, which was to stay present and focused on the moment so that we were ready to receive what was sent our way.
Paul actually learned several of these improv games from his mother, Viola Spolin, who created Spolin’s Theater Games. She discovered that these types of games allowed the students in her Young Actor’s Company in Hollywood to let go of self-consciousness and enter a realm of total playfulness, spontaneity, and creativity.
Only the adult mind registers self-consciousness – children play naturally without worrying about whether they look stupid. Believe me, when my four-year-old niece and six-year-old nephew are tearing through the house with me on a breathless hunt for goblins, they aren’t worrying if they appear ridiculous. They’re just doing it, with no thoughts to hold them back from being themselves. When we can let go and get back to this state, we enter an altered state of sorts in which we are beyond our self-criticism. We stop worrying about how we look and sound and just start being who we are.
It is out of spontaneity that sometimes the best ideas and creative solutions arise. I once read an article about an actress from the 1970s who was known for her offbeat and trendsetting fashion sense. Whenever this actress couldn’t figure out what to wear, she would just randomly start putting different ensembles together until something caught her eye. She would block out her normal “rules”—no blue with red, no heels with jeans, no straw hats in the winter—and just let herself play dress-up with the fun things in her closet. Those were the times, she said, that she usually threw together her most innovative and fabulous combinations, many of which ended up starting major fashion trends simply because she wore them.
Play is creativity at work. It’s an attitude, a spirit, a point of view, and, most of all, a way of living life. It’s a commitment to finding true joy in any act with little or no concern about the outcome. In its purest, most unadulterated form, play is the expression of who we are when we can let go of who we are trying to be.
Playing is not frivolous—far from it. In fact, one psychological theory states that intolerance of a playful attitude is one of the greatest obstacles to creative problem solving. You can’t be creative without being playful—it just doesn’t work. Playing is vital to our well-being in so many ways. It increases joy, reduces stress, and, perhaps most important, forces us to put the schedule-minded, results-oriented, and often rigid persona on the shelf so that we can let our unconscious loose and let the true art of who we are come forth. As the cellist and author of Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch puts it, “For art to appear, we have to take ourselves out of the way.”
If you take only one thing from this book, let it be to play in your garden. Play in the dirt, play with ideas, play with new projects, play with possibilities—not just now, in the initial stages, but every single day you are in your garden. Let your mind finger-paint new color combinations, run your hands through the leaves and over the petals, twirl around barefoot under a midnight sky lit with stars. Invite children over to smell the flowers. Let your dog wiggle his back on the dewy morning grass. Allow yourself to get dirty and have fun! In the end, isn’t that what gardening is really all about?
At the end of each chapter in the book, Fran offers a delightful activity titled “To Try” which helps the reader explore and rejoice in their creativity.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful book, Fran!
Fran Sorin is the author of the original and recently updated 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, a book inspired by her thirty years of playing and working in the garden. She is also a recognized garden expert, deep ecologist, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach and CBS Radio news contributor. She shares her wisdom at Fran Sorin and Gardening Gone Wild.
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