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The DAF blog aims to bring together a variety of voices and perspectives to speak to how we are adapting to disruption and collapse.
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Gentle persuasion in a time of crisis

How the cultivation metaphor can help

Probably most of us in DAF struggle with frustration that so many people can’t face into the climate crisis. I’d like to share an approach which could help.

A friend of mine who was a long-term XR activist told me sadly, “What I’ve learned is that you can’t change people’s minds.” I’ve tried too, and I share her view. I’d like to share information about an approach I’ve evolved, Natural Happiness, which can draw people into a journey that helps them change their own mind.

Many of us have a broad sense that intensive, industrial farming is bad for the environment, but it’s worth digging into the reasons, because there are powerful parallels with human nature. Intensive farms use chemical fertiliser to drive growth: over time, this pollutes the soil and kills its natural fertility. It also drives the growth of weeds faster than crops, requiring chemical herbicides. It’s a forced energy system which requires progressively more stimulants and suppressants to make it work.

Can you see the parallels for people? Many people push themselves along on stress, anxiety and caffeine. Social media is another short-term stimulant that depletes us. And work organisations often force outputs through tight deadlines, job insecurity and the gig economy, a culture of fear and competition, and total focus on results. It’s easy to get into a habit of suppressing your stress and worries with alcohol, comfort food, gaming and lots more. The consequences of all this are just like forced farming: people lose their natural resilience, become depleted, polluted, and even more dependent on artificial stimulants and suppressants.

Organics nourish both people and the earth

In my experience as a workshop leader, a session on the climate crisis won’t attract many people, whereas wellbeing interests most of us. The Natural Happiness approach helps people to cultivate their own human nature, using parallels with gardening methods. For example, composting can help us recycle stress and negative feelings, crop rotation can avoid burnout, mulching can nourish our roots. These are simple analogies that anyone can grasp, even if they’re not gardeners.

Many of us feel better around trees, but I’ve evolved a process called the Tree Talk which takes this much deeper. In a workshop, ideally I’d do this outdoors with real trees, but it works remarkably well with the imagination online.

The tree talk is simply imagining yourself like a tree, and asking if these three elements of your system are in balance. Be aware that the resources you take in and use are not only physical: you’re also drawing on emotional energy, such as appreciation, and inspirational energy, such as vision and hope.

Ideally, do this process outdoors, sitting or standing at the base of a tree. If that’s hard, at least picture a tree you like. Slowly imagine these three elements of your system in turn, from the roots up, as if you were a tree.

Your roots: do you have a good support network (inner resources, outer contacts) that give you stability in challenges? Does your ‘root network’ extend enough to draw in energy and nourishment to sustain your outputs?

Your trunk: the trunk represents the ways you use energy to create what you want and adapt to change. Are your ways effective, stable and flexible?

Your branches/fruits: do you feel your branches are over-extended in relation to your roots and trunk, or could they support you producing more outputs, more fruit?

Use this dialogue to see where your system may need balancing: for example, by nourishing your roots or pruning your branches.

Having woken people up to their personal wellbeing, it’s easy to invite them to widen their focus, and consider the collective impact of human activity on the ecosystems that we depend on. And ideas like regenerative agriculture are a good pointer to regenerative humanculture: for example, using resources less intensively so they can renew themselves.

The longest chapter in my book on Natural Happiness is the one titled Growing through Climate Change: it offers an introduction to some of the approaches which have helped me most, including Deep Adaptation, the Work That Reconnects, and Spiritual Ecology. The following chapter, Natural Inspiration, offers ways to connect our soul and inspiration to our current situation, and to feel ourselves as within the global ecosystem, seeking responses on behalf of all life, not just humans.

What these methods can do is empower people to cultivate their own wellbeing by treating themselves as a living organism, like the earth itself. This happens because Natural Happiness helps people to experience and feel themselves as a natural system, and this same embodied outlook then extends naturally to the environment around us.

If this approach sounds interesting, you will find the processes I use available for free on my website: They’re also presented in my newly published book: Natural Happiness: Use Organic Gardening Skills to Cultivate Yourself. And there’s a free online workshop on March 7, details on the website.

Alan Heeks has been involved with DAF since 2018. As well as his writing, he runs pilot projects on community adaptation and resilience: see

gardening as metaphor, human cultivation, new book, nourishment, relationships, resilience

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