I enjoy hiking but am not an avid hiker. It’s something I’d like to challenged myself to do more frequently. To help me engage this desire, I recently joined a casual hiking group in the area, and I was delighted (and a bit relieved) when I saw an “outdoorsy” movie screening come up on the group calendar thinking: this is probably a little more my speed at the present.
The Littlest Big Farm is a documentary about the start of a self-sustainable farm that takes place over 8 years and centers around one couple’s journey to create a farm using more “old fashioned” farming techniques and practices that are not as common today amidst the abundance of factory farms. The film shows the incredible work ethic, clarity of purpose, and sticktoittiveness required to bring their vision to life and highlights the many significant ups and downs they experience along the way.
After working to raise capital to purchase some abandoned farmland outside of LA, they began to map out the necessary steps toward their vision. They had no idea what they were in for considering the soil on the land was completely dead and hadn’t been used for farming in many years. They would have to start at the very beginning. They had to accept that this task was going to be a process and their dream would have to unfold over a long period of time with dedicated and focused attention. The first step would have to be to nurture the soil back to life.
They encountered many problems along the way. It was interesting to observe that the more they tried to “snuff out” or correct (individually) a particular issue and isolate it from the system in which it was existing, the less successful they were and the more robust the problem became.
An example of this unfolded when snails began to eat the bark of the fruit trees at a rapid rate, slowly destroying the fruit trees themselves—at first the farmers decided to save the trees by painstakingly plucking each snail from each tree.
The farmers understandably felt demoralized. They wanted so much to make their vision a reality, but couldn’t seem to make it all come together.
Removing the snails was futile and not to mention completely unsustainable for the farm—the snails simply returned after being removed. When they took a step back and observed the systems at play that were informing the problem, they were able to implement practices that nurtured natural solutions.
For example, they discovered that the ducks on the farm ate the snails which then allowed the snail population to slowly decrease. In order for the diversity of the farm to flourish and for the creatures and plants to multiply at a healthy rate leading to the diversity they desired, they had to facilitate the interplay and strength of the ecosystems on the farm. This required them to listen carefully to all that the farm was communicating on a daily basis.
It is interesting to apply this logic and understanding to our own health and sustainability. If we consider what makes a healthy relationship, and the idea of what constitutes a “healthy intimate relationship,” it is more than only what occurs between individuals. It is the outside forces at play, the family, society, culture, experiences of oppression and each individual’s relationship to self that informs and influences the felt experience of the relationship.
Each of us is our own complex ecosystem where there are many processes unfolding on a regular basis. If we do not attend to our own natural processes and nourish our internal systems, it will be difficult to tune into and respond to our own needs and feel a sense of wellness. Further, the “brokenness” happening outside our relationship is critical to understand how it affects us and how to empower ourselves amidst the brokenness.
Health and well-being is not the result of doing just one particular thing or avoiding that one other thing; health has many components.
Problems and their solutions need to be explored in context in order to create sustainable long-term improvement.
In training to become a therapist, we learn about taking a bio-psycho-social approach to understanding presenting issues. While there may be a biological component to an issue, the presentation is also influenced by additional contexts. This can help us to think about optimal functioning instead of merely what’s not healthy. We can start to look at health from a holistic stance: it is a series of choices, an overall feeling, a disposition, a mindset, and comes from an acknowledgment that one problem can significantly influence the balance of health in our own internal system – and the systems involved in relating to and developing a sense of self.
So often, it is common for individuals and couples to approach therapy from a perspective of, “If I can just fix this one issue,” or, “If I can just overcome this anxiety,” or, “If I could just improve communication with my partner, everything will be okay.”
While this reasoning in itself is not bad or wrong, we need to do more.
Desiring to address a particular problem and fantasizing that life will be better when the one issue is fixed is natural to romanticize. The simplicity of it all is a very tempting thought. However, in order to bring about sustainable healing and health, a deeper, systemic approach is often what’s needed.