If I had a million dollars, I would buy a large piece of land and start a therapeutic community garden. I would like it to be a place of healing for survivors of trauma. Yes, they would have to work a little in the garden. Not like slaves or cult members; their work in the garden would be therapy.
It’s not an original idea. It is the idea that makes my heart leap when I try to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ve asked myself this question repeatedly throughout my life, and find myself asking it more and more often. I’m way beyond grown up, and the question should have been answered years ago. But I’m not a machine, and the question has not been answered and may never be answered. I know successful people have goals and timelines and they never say die yada-yada-yada. A successful person would not be asking this question at my age. Whatever.
Back to the garden!
The therapeutic community garden I envision would have both individual allotments and group areas. Counselors would need to have basic horticultural knowledge in addition to their psychotherapy training. Counselors would work in the garden with clients, and these encounters would build trust while allowing issues to arise.
To join this therapeutic community, a client must understand and agree that issues will be addressed, therapy will happen everywhere, not only at a desk. And because therapeutic community is a group process, clients would also work with one another, and therapists would not be rigidly assigned to individual clients. The client and therapist roles would be fluid.
Why gardening to heal trauma? Because trauma dissociates the mind and body, and working with the earth reunites them. Merely talking does not heal the body or bring the mind to rest in it. A body injured learns defensive habits; some injuries cause disabilities. A physical therapy/bodyworker component could be part of the practice.
Trauma survivors need to act out. They need a safe space with imaginary walls strong enough to withstand their emotional torrents and permeable enough to filter out all the poison. A garden is a great object to attach projections to, because it is not going to participate in an unhealthy relationship. A few plants may die, but it’s not the end of the world; no cycle of violence is perpetuated.
There is gentleness even in violence in the garden. A natural occurrence is never personal or abusive. A hurricane has no intention, a flood has no will. Horrific as they might be, natural disasters lack the personal component which makes torture, rape, and human aggression so irreversibly wounding. Plants are never violent.
There’s so much violence in the world, and so little space for healing. We have spaces for everything else. We have spaces for shopping, for drinking, for working out, for watching bands, for playing games, for getting smart, and of course hospitals for getting the body well enough to go home. But where do we go for true healing? The church is an option for a small number of people, but I would argue that the conformity demanded by any creed makes a church’s value negligible.
I’d like to start a Space for Healing, a community garden one could join for free. I’d like to see it right here in Detroit, where there is plenty of vacant land and there are more than enough terribly wounded souls. I’m excited by urban agriculture, but this would be more than a farm. Its purpose would be more than food production. It would be an intentional community, a space set apart for beauty and healing and becoming whole.
Ah, some day perhaps.