Growing like trees

Trees in temperDSC_0563ate climates grow outwards; they cannot grow indefinitely upwards because the roots would not be able to transport the nutrients needed for the top of the tree if the tree is too tall. Even Redwood trees have a limit. Trees grow by concentrating cells in one place, for example at the edge of branches, so that they can grow outwards unlike humans where cell growth takes place everywhere. Roots grow downwards and outwards. The system of roots can be as deep as the tree is tall. Roots provide structural architecture; they can harvest enormous quantities of water and mineral resources. The stems divide into nodes which are points at which the leaves are attached, and internodes, the length of stem between the nodes. Shoots can be separated into long and short shoots on the basis of the distance between buds. Some buds can lie dormant, ready to re-grow when conditions allow.

On 2 December 2018 Sideways Times facilitated a workshop with rashné and Lani (the person writing this post) at the Our Bodies Know event, hosted by Arteries. In designing the workshop, we wanted to find ways in which we could look at movements for change and learn from other ways that change is made. We applied the way that trees grow and sustain themselves that I outlined above to thinking through ways in which change happens and how we see ourselves in that process.

We looked at the tree and found some important similarities, in particular the way they exist as a system. When you are in a particular place it’s difficult to see that there is a bigger system of change that you are part of.  In my experience, this is one of the elements that can leave people feeling isolated and burned out. In looking at the tree we can notice that everything is connected – each part communicates with the others, and are in tight mutually reinforcing relationship. Through seeing this, the  workshop gave space to talk about our own positions at the moment, and encouraged a non-judgemental approach. The idea of dormant buds seemed to be particularly powerful. As the buds only grow when conditions are right, waiting in a dormant state until they are, we can recognise that our own dormancy allows us to gather resources, and acknowledge that the conditions may not be right for us. The acknowledgement in itself provides us with power.

Dormant buds also connect to the cycles of growth that the trees go through, in response to external conditions, and also internal conditions, for example if there are not enough nutrients, or it is too cold, the tree will die-back and then start growing again when conditions change. Expansion and growth then is not a continual process, but goes in cycles which include dormancy and recuperation. So in terms of social change, dormancy can be a signal that there are not enough internal resources, and/or that we are reacting to external conditions. Leaves also fall off the tree when they have given all they can at that time, and so become nutrients for the soil. Applying this, we talked about how for people this is also often to do with conditions not being right for them and burning out, as well as lack of support. We discussed this ‘falling off’ as a powerful process which could communicate something important to the system, and also could allow for a different role to be taken up of becoming nourishment for the system.

One of the things that I loved about thinking about how trees grow is that realisation that growing outwards is an effective way of growing. For me again, it focuses my attention on making connections and expansion, with an openness to the world. This connection is grounded by communication – the different elements all talk to and support each other, giving the growth strength. So while it can appear as though the new leaf or new shoot is fragile and out on its own, it is actually held up by another part of the system that is far away.

The way that trees grow seemed to really connect with people and the metaphor opened up conversations about our relationships to movements for change. For me I came to appreciate exactly where I was and appreciate more deeply others’ positions and work. I saw in a new way how important it is to support each other and communicate to strengthen our relationships and understand how we connect.

To Be Grateful

Gratitude is a practice; it is a practice which can make someone feel alive and heard in the world, and one which can make someone feel small, unwanted and worse. Perhaps here I’m talking about two different kinds of gratitude.

For a long time I resisted the idea of cultivating a gratitude practice mainly because I saw the expectation to be grateful as a way which oppression manifests itself in the society in which I live. Children are often told to be grateful for what they have as a remedy for either seeing injustice or directly experiencing injustice. In the Protestant tradition, as far as I can see, being grateful became a virtue which was put onto others. The poor should be grateful for what they have; those people over there should be grateful that we came to civilise them; the disabled people should be grateful that we have not left them to die. It is wrapped up with charity and toleration of your circumstances rather than a window to liberation. The way that expectations of gratitude are structured and repeated become a tool to disconnect and separate people.

Used in this way gratitude is a way of indoctrinating people, telling them that their ways of life are not the right ways. Expecting and telling people to be grateful as a way of infantilising them. When I use the word infantilising it implies that a child is less than fully human. In my mind this brings us straight back to the

gratitude jarstripping of humanness that structures of gratitude do in the world. The practice of expecting gratitude has been and continues to be a tool of oppression. One function of this is to stem anger about injustice. This adds weight to the sense that anger is not a good thing, and it is not easily tolerated. But part of working towards liberation is to make space for anger, to take up space with our anger. This is a form of resistance.

There are of course many types of gratitude practice, and of manifesting gratitude, not all of which operate to stem anger, infantilise, or oppress. Appreciation for what is now, for the good things in life, for small things; appreciation for the work you do, how you survive and for your skills and strengths; for the fact that you are here and that you are enough, no matter what. This kind of appreciation cultivates a sense of belonging and a sense of groundedness.

This kind of gratitude practice, appreciating the small things that you are grateful for, is about connection rather than disconnection. Connection to what is happening now, to humanness, nature, the world and your place in it, to the beauty in the universe and to the people around you. Being grateful for the small things makes it easier for me to be grounded in what is happening now.

But then what about the place of anger?  The difference here is between something that is given to you that you should be grateful for and something that is innate, your innate human connection. Perhaps we should refuse to be grateful for the things we are ‘given’, and refuse to honour the expectation of gratitude which keeps silence, allows smallness and diminishes everyone. Instead, we should work to honour our innate right to follow a life of joy, love and anger, using a practice of being grateful for it all.

by Lani Parker

“Disability justice is the art and the practice of honouring the body” An interview with Lydia X.Z. Brown

In this interview Lydia X.Z Brown  talks about disability justice as a praxis which honours the body and the whole person. Disability justice is a radical framework which requires understanding the interconnected nature of oppression and that we must tackle all forms of oppression in order to change the system we live in. We also talk about differences in language,  tensions within disability movements and the importance of using a variety of tactics amongst other things….

Download as mp3.

Transcript below:

Continue reading ““Disability justice is the art and the practice of honouring the body” An interview with Lydia X.Z. Brown”