Field Notes – Planting Seeds
In the hours and days when it’s dry enough, between the periods of rain that have seemed more frequent and of longer duration than last year, i weed and till my garden plot and try to get beans and lettuces and cucumbers planted. Over coffee breaks at work, my colleagues ask, “Is your garden in?” We see one another in businesses in town and ask, “Have you finished the planting yet?” Questions often met with either sighs of relief or headshaking looks of disappointment or frustration. Getting those seeds in the ground demands that conditions be ‘just right’. It depends on our own health and the state of our equipment, on the weather being neither too cold nor too wet, on the availability of seeds and fertilizer (at a price we can afford). Sometimes, the long hours spent planting require a cast of supporting characters to ensure the rest of the operation runs smoothly: that people and animals are all fed and watered. And once they’re in the ground, the viability of those seeds and that crop is predicated on so many other variables – soil condition and temperature, the amount and the timing of rain and sun, predation by ‘varmints’ and pests (the four- and the six-legged kind). And if the conditions aren’t right – if anything is off – we watch with increasing anxiety as the (re-)planting window becomes shorter and shorter.
We work long hours on the days we can. And then we wait and watch to see if those seeds will germinate and sprout – and feel a mixture of amazement and satisfaction and relief when they do.
We talk about planting seeds in the context of therapy, too. An idea central to the practice of narrative therapy is that our lives are multi-storied; that through the telling and re-telling of some of our stories, we come to be defined and to know ourselves in particular ways. Through the repetition of those stories, we develop patterns of behaviour – including the ways in which we respond to challenges in our lives. According to narrative therapy, we seek counselling because we’ve reached the end of what is known and familiar – we’ve tried all our usual coping, considered the issue from every angle we can imagine – and still have found only limited relief.
Alongside the ‘known and familiar’ version of our lives – the ‘dominant’ stories by which we and others understand ourselves – there exist the seeds of alternate or subordinate stories. Stories of “stubbornness” and “argumentativeness” co-exist with stories of “persistence” and “thinking outside the box” – they’ve just been suppressed by the re-telling of the ‘dominant’ story.
And it’s the seeds of those alternate stories – the stories of persistence and of thinking outside the box – that we search for and nurture in therapy. Those are the seeds we hope will germinate and grow.
In the therapy session, we invite new perspectives on the familiar stories. We look for different ways of understanding and thinking about things. We talk about what else is possible. We weed out the contenders that compete for nutrients and sunlight. We look for ways to protect these seedlings from predation. In the telling and retelling, these alternate stories take root and grow – sending out new shoots and sprouting new leaves.
Some therapeutic conversations may need to be revisited several times, because change – even positive change – is hard. Some seeds may take longer to flourish than others – and that’s okay, because we know that small changes can have a big impact. Some of our conversations may go no further than a particular therapy session – because even when the soil is fertile, conditions may not be ‘just right’ – maybe there’s too much rain or the temperature is too cool. But we’ve all seen it:
those seeds may remain dormant in the soil for a time and pop up when and where we least expect them.
Like gardeners, we plant. And wait and watch. And hope for a successful harvest.
For more information about narrative therapy, please visit https://dulwichcentre.com.au/.