Using one thing to reflect on another - lessons from my lottie.




I have the luxury of taking five weeks off. I didn't take any real time away from the 'day jobs' since 12 January last year. I wanted to start this year on my terms and planned to 'do reflection'. I am coming up to three weeks off and I have achieved such a lot practically with my life changing allotment hobby. I have been wondering when that time for reflection would kick in - and feeling a little nervous that it wouldn't before I got back into the busyness of life and business.

Of a blog I wrote earlier last year my friend Paul pointed out that is was using one thing to reflect on another - which I hadn’t really realised. So to get my way into a reflective space, as I sit here tonight, I am pondering on what the allotment has taught me over the last year.

I came back to the allotment in March. It was a blank canvass, I had dreams and ambitions but no real plans, it was emergent. I had a dream and a passion rather than a goal, and there was no pressure to achieve it as it would be emergent and I would learn along the way. I had the guiding methodologies, grounded in sound values I had researched, was wedded to and wanted to follow. I was learning, open to learning and open to finding advice from people who knew about things I did not even when our methodologies were different - there was still something to learn from them, so here was a place that I did not take 'a position' - I could explain my adopted approaches but did not feel that I had to defend them as I was solid in them. Here I could hold my own compass so I was not swayed off course but could appreciate the journeys that other travellers were taking even when we had different destinations - we could meet in the moment.

Being in the moment is so much what I have gained from the allotment, and have found myself every day in that delicious state of flow where tasks are a joy or longer jobs are mindful activities that I can get lost in.

There were very practical things that I have learned down the allotment. To tidy away at the end of each day so the next one is a fresh start, to spend time at the end of the day reviewing and celebrating good work and taking time to appreciate achievements achieved and milestones passed. To look within for validation and not need the external. I have been really shocked when people have appreciated the work I have done and have admired it - whilst very welcome it was not something I felt I needed in this space as I knew I had done a good job, but I guess that is the benefit of it being my project which I could fulfil to my standards and for me to know what a good job looks like to me, in what I wanted to achieve.

So there was the review at the end of the day and also a peace in that. There is observation of what needs to be done on the next visit and mentally a view of what needs to happen over the next few days, weeks and sometimes months (like building the shed). Equally I found peace at the start of the allotment day or session. I generally start with tea and a review of what is to be done and this sometimes changes from the plan from the night before but everything gets done. Here I am in my very happiest of time management spaces. There are regular appointments (well only three in picking up food waste from a local shop) and there are jobs that I definitely do on certain days and at certain times. Saturdays and Tuesdays are compost days. If I am going to do more than add compost - i.e. turning or working with compost - jobs which can take some time, then they happen on compost days and they are the priority job. Mondays in the busy sowing times are sowing and pricking out days. So there is a rhythm to the work and each job is distinct, rhythmical and even when it is 3 hours of sowing (March!) then it is just one seed packet or seed tray to do at a time.

At the allotment I take regular breaks - you can't plant stuff and drink tea at the same time - it is not like a computer. In that time it is an opportunity to chart progress, take a mini review, see if there is something I can do to make it easier.

With the allotment I invested the time in the first year in getting the infrastructure in place, literally laying the foundations, building it on solid ground - and well nurtured, so that this next year there is far less work. The beauty of a No Dig allotment is you lay down the beds - cardboard, compost around 10 cm then you plant, tend and harvest. There is little maintenance needed as the foundation work is in harmony with the land's natural resources, rhythms and ways of being. This coming year I will just be mulching - around 3cm, no cardboarding, just building on the work of last year. Also with No Dig there is less weeding and watering than there is with digging. Digging seems to be fighting nature, where you have to work harder and keep working the same amount each year. With No Dig there is less and the more perennial growing I do then the less I will need to be sowing, pricking out, planting out but just reaping bigger and better harvests. There will still be work (enjoyable work to do) but there will be more time for play. There will be other infrastructure developments to do but actually there will be more opportunities for small income generation in selling plants and produce to friends, more time to think new thoughts, more time to just enjoy and take on other projects. But this is from a place of less work and more food security.

There is also telling people about what I am doing, and in doing that I have built a tribe of supportive people who have wanted to help, who have been inspired to do the same, to be encouraged by my enthusiasm far wider than I know. Even though I had done a few years of thorough research I remained humble with my feet on the ground and open to other ideas and ways of doing things but remaining guided by my compass - my dream - which evolved as I continued learning as it will continue to evolve as I learn what I don’t know, or haven’t even heard of yet.

Now those are lessons I would like to take into the rest of my life.

I think it starts with a dream. Followed by guiding principles. It is then doing something little and often each day. It is regular reviews at the end and the beginning of the day. It is working in flow and mindfulness. It is being calm, kind and courteous, it is about having structure and flexibility when plans need to change. It is about having inner knowing and a passion for what it is, and knowing when the job done is a good one.

The allotment came from a necessity and an interest. I had helped someone else on their garden but I wanted one of my own where I could do No Dig properly and to my standards, it came from concern about income and food quality so we could be more self-sufficient in fresh organic vegetables. It is something I will be able to make some seed replenishing money from so my hobby pays for itself. There is tribe building, people being engaged and inspired by enthusiasm, wanting to learn from, try it themselves and ask my advice on and be involved in supporting me on my way. And I am very grateful.

Wow - using one thing to reflect on another really does work.