Environ-Mental Gardening

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The picture above shows Milan on his allotment. Within walking distance of Dewsbury Road, he grows spinach, rhubarb, potatoes, sprouts, cabbage, apples, pears, cherries, sunflower seeds (for the birds), cardoon (a Malaysian ornamental flower). I went there with him a few weeks ago, and asked him about it.

He told me about growing up on Spencer Place in the heart of Chapeltown, and being encouraged to garden by a neighbour. Now he reckons his allotment gives him the chance to get away from noisy neighbours, and in the warm weather he’s been coming here to:

‘soak up the sunset, exercise, breathe deeply and enjoy the company of generous, sharing gardening neighbours’

– who are ‘fellows in that vocational hobby’, and share their seeds and manure (well, not their manure). Milan is a practitioner of Buddhism, and it’s easy to see how this influences his gardening. He says his allotment is

‘therapeutic, good for anxiety and a good kind of contemplation or introspection. I call it environ-mental gardening. I use a fork rather than a spade so I don’t kill things. I get fresh food but it’s not just about gardening. I think you should always try something new and be unpredictable against your own habits. There is only the moment, the past is history and all barriers are bridges’.

So having an allotment will not only help feed your mind and body, but could also shave a few lifetimes off your journey to enlightenment. Could it be fun too?

Over the past year or so I’ve very much enjoyed reading the blog of the Reluctant Gardener by local writer Mandy Sutter. Mandy is well known in Leeds writing circles and she’ll be reading from her first novel Stretching It at Waterstones on 25th September. Her gardening blog is very funny and chronicles the writer trying to help her dad with his allotment. If you want a good laugh and a slightly surreal low down on the inner life of having an allotment have a look at it.

So how do you go about getting an allotment?

I spoke to Judy Turley, the Secretary of Leeds & District Allotment Gardeners Federation, ‘the voice for allotment and leisure gardeners in the greater Leeds area’. see their website at http://www.ldgf.org.uk/

Judy shared Milan’s enthusiasm for allotment gardening. She said:

‘having an allotment is just fabulous – it gets you away from the rat race, and it’s an oasis in the middle of a busy city’.

There are 97 allotment sites in and around Leeds, and you can find out about a site near you at http://www.ldgf.org.uk/index.php/members or through the council’s Parks and Countryside Department by ringing 0113 3367427. The waiting times vary considerably – you might wait for several years in some areas, and get one next week in others, according to Judy. The cost for 2012/13 is £37 per annum for a full plot, or £18.50 for a half plot.

However, according to Milan, there are other options – if you know someone who can’t manage their own garden,  you could ask them could you share the produce, whether flowers, fruit or vegetables, for doing the tillage, with them, or if they are too old or disabled, for them.

Landshare is a way to share land, someone has land they can’t manage; someone needs some, and the usage and terms are negotiated between the two.”

In Leeds Urban Harvest also organises volunteers to pick fruit, give tree owners a share and distribute the rest to community groups in Leeds. This is just the right time of year to get involved. They’ve teamed up this season with All Hallows in Burley, and “now have a great kitchen for juicing, space for sharing and lots of friendly faces too.”

Finally, Milan made an offer you surely can’t refuse if you like cherries:

“If anyone wants any Cherry Trees, your standard Morello variety, with large purple black shiny fruits, then please call me 0772 2301 002, after 6pm is best, then we can arrange a visit to Parkside Allotment. All I ask in return is a donation, however small or large, to Leeds Buddhist Centre. I will pass on the cash, and get you a receipt if you leave your email address.”

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need someone to talk to?

Some years ago in a television documentary I watched David Smail, a former psychologist, speak about the nature of depression. David suggested that counselling or therapy might for some, be the only place they receive emotional comfort. I  found his acknowledgement of this comforting in itself as I’ve been drawn to the comfort talking therapy can bring. It has been a way of telling my story, at times I have felt ‘addicted’ to its comfort , David acknowledges this can be an outcome.

As a child there were times the adults who cared for me,  for a variety of reasons, were unavailable to me emotionally. In later life this led me in moments of distress for a quest to be heard. Though I mostly found sufficient resilience  to be my own  counsellor, listening to my inner voice, and this calmed me, at other times that voice became muffled, jumbled and distorted. On occasion this has transferred to my ability to do practical things, I got overwhelmed, confused, the simple tasks of daily life seemed very hard. During these times my experience of counselling or therapy has been predominantly helpful,  it has ‘held’ me, the process hasn’t always been comfortable or benign, there are many practitioners, former practitioners and clients of therapy/counselling who will attest to this.

Jeffrey Masson, former analyst, in his book ‘Against Therapy’ reveals that he is one such renegade; Dr.Dorothy Rowe, former psychologist, said of therapy, something along the lines of, “all therapy works, but not all therapy works completely”. Ken Wilber and John Rowan view differing  therapies as working on different levels of consciousness, for example they consider seeing a transpersonal therapist could be inappropriate if you have little or no awareness of this level of perception, by level I didn’t understand it as a superior awareness,  just different to ‘everyday’ consciousness. Fancy and mystifying terms, and buzz words abound in the therapeutic community, just as much as they do in other circles, but woe betide if in some therapies you question the theory behind it. Depending on the skill or the orientation of the practitioner this might be interpreted as symptomatic of your ‘problems’.

I have both self referred and requested professional referral to all kinds of practitioners, mostly it aided me regain some calm and it has helped me to become more fully the person I wish to be, but at times I’ve found it almost abusive. It can be a space, either in one to one, or groups where a power imbalance exists and is misused.

My quest in finding “someone to talk to…..a new hiding place”..(Dylan), has involved sharing with friends, or even casual acquaintances along the way. It has helped as they listen to parts of my story, and I try in turn to listen to theirs. Having someone reasonably capable of ‘walking’ alongside you as you relate your story, either  in bite size pieces or big chunks can be reassuring, if that is a friend, someone you trust and who has the capacity, well and good. You may be fortunate to get a professional listener who views themselves as a ‘co-experimenter’, as some Personal Construct Psychologists describe their role, but even then these processes can unleash things that are hard to contain.

Someone advised me against the process some years ago as we had both read ‘Against Therapy’ and I was awaiting an appointment for a  therapy ‘suitability’ assessment. In part the course of therapy that followed, left me with an emotional whoosh of feelings and little way of stemming their flow. It was a ‘breakdown’ possibly a breakup/breakthrough of the then current untenable situation I was in just  prior to it. I  ‘fell into the hands of psychiatry’ with the resulting medication and electro-convulsive therapy. I’m sure the therapist did not expect that as an outcome, neither did I. Most likely I would align myself with the Post Psychiatry movement because similarly to them I think medication can help distressed people, but the commercial interests which are behind  it, makes an over reliance on it suspect.

I would not want my experience to discourage anyone from engaging with counselling/therapy if they are drawn to it. It can be a courageous step to discovering what your distress is about. Like many things it takes time to adjust to the process, but trusting your feelings about the counsellor or the theory they use is important, becoming informed about the different approaches can help, part of my recovery came from the wisdom I gleaned from books about the process, and also from song and poetry.

Stanislov Grof refers to some forms of apparent mental illness of ease as spiritual emergence, he does however distinguish between this and  spiritual emergency and what he terms ‘real’ mental illness……I’m not sure about these distinctions, though I would describe some aspects of my breakdown as spiritual.

Sam Keen refers to tapping into anger that has been turned inward ….inrage/depression once accessed, acknowledged and released becoming ….out rage, for a time a torrent or flood engulfing someone or anything  that  gets in it’s path, no matter how significant their role has been in the person’s life story., …..it.gushes muddied for some time……until the water runs clearer,….possibly channeled in a different way.

Despite my reservations,and experiences…….why am I willing to engage yet again ,with the process? I ‘ve had an appointment this week. Something happened recently which sent me into that confusing emotional spin, I made the appointment to tell another piece of my story, and because I’d had some  autonomy in choosing, where, when, how long, it might be, it seemed the safest place to test the water, for telling the next installment. The time gap between making the appointment and its arrival, had been space to regain some equilibrium and therefore I felt some apprehension about attending, ….should I cancel? Though nervous I kept the appointment. The waiting area was such a warm welcoming space, in it was an original black leaded fire range, complete with it’s oven! One of my family homes had a similar range……I felt relaxed with the memories it elicited of the family events enacted in the glow and warmth of the open coal fire….the ‘counselling’ went well, and I was given a choice of possible ways of working…..flexible follow ups with the same person seemed the most appealing on this occasion.

Writing a blog has also been partly therapeutic, another way of telling bits of my story and is my voice on wellbeing.

Sue Margaret

* details of the fireplace image by the National Trust

 

Heritage Open Days – Leeds

The free National Heritage Open Days events take place annually over a four day period usually in September, a variety of institutions open their doors to the public, it’s impossible to get to them all during this short time so last Sunday I settled for just a couple.

St.Bartholomew’s church in Armley, a well known landmark on the Leeds skyline, the exterior of which has always struck me as  dark and imposing, but stepping into it  I saw a surprisingly beautiful interior, sunlight through the stained glass windows beamed across the vaulted ceiling and the Schultse organ which is of a  particularly impressive design and proportion.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stagedoor/7821814670/

A service had just commenced therefore it wasn’t appropriate to take my own  photographs, I sat a while enjoying the mixture of smells; polished wood pews, that slightly churchy dampness, melting candle wax, the myrrh incense with its mist hanging heavily in the chancel. Listening to the singing I contemplated if the sermon or bible  readings had any relevance to my spiritual needs.

My next destination was the Makkah Masjid Mosque in Burley/Hyde Park area, set among rows of red brick back to back houses, this exotic edifice with its bright multi coloured brickwork, domed roof and minarets gives a hint of  what may be inside,

http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/West_Yorkshire/Leeds/photo1168187.htm

sure enough the interior is flooded with light from the roof , crystal chandelier reflections and the numerous windows of the large circular, furniture free room, its sumptuous bright blue and gold carpets, highlight its main use for sujud prayers, they were not in session, just a few visitors were listening to a talk about Islam, a view from a rear window, with the spire of Wrangthorne, St Augustine of Hippo, Church on the horizon seemed to link the importance of the two buildings to the community.

Religious tradition is often relevant to mental well being and many people find comfort  congregating with others in ritual and prayer in their places of worship, I guess that’s why the buildings intrigue me, however I choose to find my spiritual renewal outside religious confines.

Wandering towards Woodhouse Moor I noted that other citadel of community gatherings, Hyde Park Cinema, it’s doors were open for tours of the building, pausing to preview it’s up coming programme, I considered the powerful role of  film and media in maintaining or challenging our cultural, religious  viewpoints and traditions, thankfully this cinema offers alternatives to Hollywood film representations.

Su