1. Nourish your roots: the basics of natural happiness
You can’t force things
Happiness and Resilience

2. Nourish your roots: take the tree test

3. The Seven Seeds of Natural Happiness

4. Improving your Ground Condition

5. How to nourish your ground condition

6. Why resilient roots help your happiness
What the research says

7. The Four Stories at the roots of Natural Happiness
My Story
Magdalen Farm
Hazel Hill Wood
Lynchetts Garden

8. Composting: the upsides of your downsides
Human Energy Waste
Five Tips for Good Composting in Practice

9. Resources

1.     Nourish your roots: the basics of natural happiness

Would you like your average day to be happier? Do you want better ways to handle the pressures of life and work, so you move through them more easily? Does understanding human nature, and learning to cultivate it, sound interesting? And can you imagine adapting methods from gardening to grow your own happiness and resilience? If you say yes to any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place!

Compare your life and work now to a few years ago: is it more complex, uncertain, demanding? And do you feel the future will be harder or easier? Most of us need fresh skills, new approaches, to stay happy in these times. In recent years, there have been lots of books and websites on happiness, but my approach is different: it shows you how to look after yourself as a gardener tends their land.

People often look for a quick fix to their problems: like taking a pill, or buying an app. But human nature is far subtler than this. What I’ve found through twenty-five years’ experience is that cultivated natural systems offer great guidance for people. Natural happiness is about steering a living organism to meet your needs, and this process is surprisingly similar for gardens and people. You’ll find the gist of my approach summed up on page 5 below.

If you’re a gardener, this approach offers you a unique way to use your skills to help yourself. Talents like observation, methods like composting and crop rotation, can be adapted to help you to flourish through all weathers just like a well-tended garden. And if you’re not a gardener, you will find that these parallels are practical, earthy and simply explained.

You can’t force things

If you’ve ever tried to get results from a garden, you know you can’t force things: you have to work with the realities of the situation, use natural processes, observe and learn. It’s more about steering and shaping than forcing or controlling. And all this is true of human nature: we can guide it to greater happiness, but it needs a steady, subtle approach which can be learned.

Here’s an example: in gardens and organic farms, waste is a major source of future growth. Rotting plants and animal waste may look and smell bad, but the art of composting transforms this into a source of fertility for next season’s crop. I’ve helped many people to compost their negative feelings and problem situations into a supply of energy and insight for future growth.

This is an opportunity!

Imagine yourself in your favourite garden or wood: recall the wellbeing you feel there. Now picture how this place is resilient to gales, droughts, pests, floods, diseases and more: how does it do this? For twenty-five years I’ve been learning from nature about human happiness and resilience, and have now written a book to share the wisdom I’ve unearthed.

I started learning all this from desperation. At age 42, I resigned my high-paid job as a Managing Director, gave back the Company Jaguar, and started an organic farm: with no farming knowledge at all. Most days I felt miserable, incompetent, but slowly I found my contact with nature was supporting me and guiding me. Since then, I’ve shared this approach with all kinds of people, and seen it work for them.

This short e-book gives the essence of the Seven Seeds of Natural Happiness: this is an extract from my forthcoming full-size book entitled Natural Happiness – The Gardener’s Way. This e-book offers you The Tree Test: a short self-help process, and shows how the idea of ground condition is useful for people. You’ll also find a bit about my story, and about three places: a garden, an organic farm, and a conservation woodland, which I have created over the last 25 years, and which inspired the book.

Happiness and Resilience

It’s clear that there are no instant ways to raise our ongoing happiness: this model offers a well-grounded, systematic approach which you can easily learn. It uses physical images and processes from the natural world, like roots and composting, to keep things down-to-earth.

Over the years I’ve learned that one of the best ways to improve our happiness is to strengthen our resilience. What I mean by resilience is the ability to handle challenges and stress in a positive way, so that you bounce back and grow through them. It’s very different from coping or getting by, which usually leave us anxious and subdued, not happy and robust. Natural Happiness can offer you a set of resilient life skills which should really help your general mood and wellbeing.

For most of us, work is a big part of everyday life, and has a major influence on our happiness. Some people treat work just as a chore to earn money, but it can be a major source of growth and satisfaction, even if the job looks routine. We’ll explore how work organisations can help us to be more happy and resilient: for example by reflecting our values, and including qualities of natural community.

Life is getting more complex and challenging for most of us, and this means we’re going to need better ways to co-operate in groups and communities, and more ability to handle friction and conflict with others.

It’s clear that many people’s happiness is affected by their worries about the state of the world, and big issues like climate change or the refugee crisis, which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and despairing. There are ways to handle these feelings differently, for example using  contact with nature, a method called deep ecology, and other approaches.

2. Nourish your roots: take the tree test

This short exercise introduces you to the first of the Seven Seeds of Natural Happiness: it shows you the benefits of balancing your system and deepening your roots. A tree offers us a beautifully simple model of balance between three main elements; as shown on the right.

A gardener knows that these three parts of the system must be balanced. If the branches are too extensive, the tree is physically unstable and won’t produce so much fruit: so the branches would need pruning. If the root system isn’t large enough to support the outputs you want, adding mulch and nutrients can help to extend it.

The Tree Test is simply imagining yourself like a tree, and seeing if these three elements of your system are in balance. Ideally, do this test outdoors, sitting at the base of a tree. If that’s hard, at least picture a tree you like, with you beside it. Slowly imagine these three elements of your system:

  • 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 enough energy and nourishment to sustain your outputs?
  • Your trunk: the trunk represents the ways you use energy to create what you want. Are your ways effective, stable, and flexible?
  • Your branches/ fruits: do you feel your branches are overextended in relation to your roots and trunk, or could they support you producing more outputs, more fruit?

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

3.     The Seven Seeds of Natural Happiness

Here’s an overview of the seven principles explored in my book Natural Happiness – The Gardener’s Way, which I’ve evolved over the years:

1.       Nourish your Roots: take the tree test: introducing the idea of treating ourselves like a cultivated natural system. The tree test looks at the balance between roots, trunk and fruits: in human terms between resources, processes and outputs.  Understanding and managing “ground condition” is crucial for people too: nourishing and renewing your underlying resources.

2.       Cultivate your ecosystem-natural energy sources: learn how to harness clean, abundant sources of human energy like inspiration, appreciation, friendship. Understand where your energy comes from and goes with the Personal Energy Audit. Apply gardening methods to your own human nature, such as mulching and crop rotation.

3.       Compost the Crap: The upsides of downsides: The composting principle enables us to transform negative feelings, conflicts and problem situations into a source of energy and insight to support our future growth. This also involves skills in communication and conflict resolution.

4.       Shaping Nature – The co-creative way: Steering a natural system, whether it’s a person, a team, or a garden, needs new skills like co-creativity, tracker vision, deep listening and the Diamond Process. The way a gardener relates to their garden, or a farmer to the farm, is a good role model for this. Learn how to get beyond your limiting habits, and befriend your problems.

5.       Growing Strength with Community: See how natural systems thrive on mutual support, use diversity and manage competition. Learn skills to cultivate communities of people, like including the wild margins. Why communities are so important in these times, and how they can create more resilience and wellbeing for individuals. How community qualities can help work teams.

6.       Natural Inspiration: Sustaining inspiration and positive perspective really matters when we have to face so much uncertainty, and the troubles of the wider world. Nature is a great ally in this, especially linked with methods like Mindfulness and Deep Ecology: it can help us relax, expand, and see different perspectives. The way a gardener evolves and reshapes the vision for a garden, and handles setbacks, can guide us too.

7.       Life as A Garden: local, natural, personal: Keeping your life more like a garden is a good antidote to the artificiality of ‘screen world’.  Gardeners celebrate progress, compost their failures, and know that the process is a big part of the product.  In other words, the love and care we put into everyday life and work can really nourish our happiness and other people’s. Many of the ‘outputs’ from a garden are intangible, yet deeply valuable: it helps to see our life this way, and value the quality of our connections to people and nature.  Gardeners give more attention to the journey, the here and now, than to the destination, and they are happier for it.

4.     Improving your Ground Condition

This may be a new idea for you, but ground condition is a vital issue for organic gardeners and farmers. In a cultivated natural system, the top measure of success is not outputs and results, it’s the vitality and resilience of ground condition – because this gives you the resources to handle problems and keep growing in future.

If this idea feels odd, let’s explore a different angle on it. Mainstream farming could mostly be called industrial or forced farming: crop growth comes from artificial fertilisers, not from the underlying vitality of the soil. Over time, these fertilisers, and related pesticides, pollute the earth and reduce its vitality and its resilience to such problems as droughts or diseases.

Can you see the parallel in human nature? A lot of people push themselves along with artificial, polluting habits like stress, comfort food, fear of being fired, strong coffee and lots more. This depletes their ground condition, and lowers their resilience to new challenges. The alternative is to cultivate your ground condition, and value both roots and fruits.  As Lady Eve Balfour, an organic farming pioneer, put it: “Feed the soil, and the soil will feed the plant.” Using clean, renewable energy is just as vital for people as the planet.

Have a look at this diagram of healthy soil. One of the important features of fertile ground condition is structure. Good structure is permeable, so that air, heat, and water can get into the soil, and excess water can drain through it. It has enough openness that roots can penetrate down, and enough strength to support root structures firmly.

Reprinted with permission from Organic Farming and Growing, by Francis Blake.

The most common structural problem with soil is compaction. This means that the soil is too dense: air, water and warmth can’t circulate, and so fertility drops. Can you see the human parallel? I meet a lot of people I’d call compacted: you might call them uptight or tense. One benefit of using this analogy is that if you really imagine you’re compacted earth, this can lead you to remedies. You may feel how you need to relax, open up to let resources in and feed your roots. Try the Self-Help Quickie below.

Self-Help Quickie 1: Handling Compaction

This self-guided process should only take about 10 minutes. Read these instructions a couple of times, then work from memory as much as possible.
Find a quiet place where you can sit upright but relaxed. Get yourself comfortable, and close your eyes.

  • Take some long, slow breaths. On the outbreath, push out any tension you’re feeling, park any worrying thoughts.
  • Now imagine your body like a garden with compacted soil. Really feel the tensions in your body as if this is hard, dense earth. And just as a gardener listens to the land, listen to what your body needs. How can you help it?
  • Take some really long, slow breaths, as deep as you can: imagine you’re relaxing the tension, opening up your body, as a gardener gently opens up compacted soil.
  • Appreciate some good things about yourself, remember kind words from other people, and let a warm glow seep through your body. This is like a gardener watering parched soil so plants can grow again.
  • Now imagine yourself as a plant, with your roots searching for nourishment in this compacted soil. How can you give your roots the resources they need?
  • Listen for any more ideas and insights. Imagine your body becoming relaxed and dynamic, like healthy earth. Then let your eyes open, and gently come back to here and now.

The other common problem in ground condition is waterlogging. In soil, this prevents air circulation and damps down fertility. In people, this is like being swamped by feelings, bogged down in emotions. To improve waterlogged soil, you often need a major intervention (like field drains), and the same can be true for waterlogged people: for example counselling, or a change of circumstances.

5.     How to nourish your ground condition

Once you start to see yourself as a natural organism that needs cultivating, hopefully you’ll be more aware of what will nourish you – including emotional support, healthy diet, physical surroundings and lots more. If you listen to your body, it can give you plenty of guidance.

Several of the chapters in my forthcoming book will show you ways to strengthen your ground condition: including natural energy sources (Chapter 2), composting (Chapter 3), and support from others (Chapter 5).

Get into the habit of strolling around yourself, as a gardener strolls round their garden, but with your focus on resources first, and outputs second.  Roots before fruits!

Steve’s Story: Compaction Crisis and Cure

Steve asked me for some coaching help. He was 47, a successful software engineer in a personal crisis. His health was going downhill, he was drinking too much, and his wife had threatened to leave unless he sorted himself out. One of the few things they still enjoyed together was gardening.

I briefed Steve on the idea of ground condition, and took him through the self-help exercise above. Afterwards, he looked worried: “I can see I’m compacted: in fact I’m so stuck, I don’t know how to change.”

I asked, “Do you think you take refuge from difficult feelings by working harder?” He groaned. “Well, yes, but…”

I said gently, “Steve, unless you really cut your work stress, you won’t change the compaction, and you won’t have space to look at the personal issues.” He nodded. I went on, “Try imagining that your marriage is like an undernourished tree, with its roots in compacted soil. Can you feel that?”

There was a pause. A few tears trickled down his cheek. “It’s painful. I’ve got to open up, give it air, even if it’s scary.”

We agreed some simple steps around exercise, diet, and mindfulness to help him relax. We also agreed that a couples counsellor would help him to express and hear some difficult feelings, his own and his wife’s. After that, the love could start flowing to the roots of the marriage.

A few months later, Steve told me, “Liz and I both got the likeness between restoring a rundown garden and renewing our relationship. It feels well rooted now.”


6.     Why resilient roots help your happiness

In the last few years, I’ve explored deeply how resilience and happiness are connected, and I’d like to share my learning with you. My exploration of resilience was prompted by the riots of 2011, when we saw looting and arson in London and other cities. It’s the most frightening breakdown of law and order I’ve seen in this country. Although there were provocations (such as the Government cutting tax for the super-wealthy), we’re all likely to face worse provocation in the years ahead. After months of feeling helpless and despairing, in 2012 I began to explore how we can handle such pressures positively, and this led to my work with resilience. The term is often used too narrowly: UK Government talks big on resilience, but they just mean responding to sudden disasters.

For me, resilience is a systematic ability to meet challenges and pressures of many kinds, sudden and ongoing, in a constructive way: with creativity and flexibility that enables you to learn and grow through this, and find the best outcome. Resilience of this kind is a crucial ability for individuals, communities and work organisations.

I realised many years ago that I was less happy than I could be, and all the methods in my book were learned in my personal journey. I tend to worry, I get unsettled by challenges in my own life and the wider world. My solution came by noticing how organic gardeners and farmers handle huge uncertainties well: they nourish deep resilience in themselves and in their land. And this resilience can be the roots your happiness grows from.

The term resilience is also used a lot for ecosystems – anything from a garden to a whole region. If we look at an ecosystem on a scale we can grasp, like a garden or a farm, we see that its resilience comes from the interweaving of many factors. The idea of ground condition, and how to increase its natural resilience, is a great start point in deepening the roots of your human resilience.

What the research says

Resilience is a means, not an end. It’s important because it enables us to be happier. There has been a mass of research and books on happiness in recent years, and much of it supports this view. The next four paragraphs give you more about this research, so skip them if you don’t want the technicalities.

Some experts define happiness to mean just short-term feelings, and use wellbeing to describe deeper, ongoing contentment. I’m using happiness to mean both. Many studies show that people who are happier achieve better life outcomes, including financial success, supportive relationships, mental health, effective coping, and even physical health and longevity. Happiness often precedes and helps create these positive outcomes, rather than simply resulting from them.

Ego-resilience is a technical term for personal resilience: an individual’s ability to adapt change: for example by spotting the upsides, adapting to losses, and bouncing back from misfortune. Ego-resilience is related to a range of important life outcomes, including quality of relationships, physical health, and less depression and more thriving following a real-world tragedy.

When faced with a stressful situation, people high on ego-resilience experience more positive emotions than their less resilient peers. This accounts for their better ability to rebound from adversity, ward off depression, and continue to grow. People who just feel negative emotions in a stressful situation have a narrow range of responses and more physical stress. Those with strong ego-resilience can see a bigger picture, apply more creativity, and draw on a wider range of skills to meet the problem.

The research shows that people who are more resilient are typically happier: and that’s not because they have no misfortunes, it’s because they respond to them more positively and creatively. So can we learn to be more resilient? My experience says yes, and so does most research. What this approach offers is a simple, natural way to deepen your resilience and grow your happiness.

7.     The Four Stories at the roots of Natural Happiness

This section gives you the gist of my own story, and of the three projects from which the book grew: a farm, a wood, and a garden.

My Story

My search for happiness grows from a rather lonely, unhappy childhood and adolescence. My first answer was to throw myself into work, at school and then in a successful business career. Getting married and being Dad to two wonderful daughters was good, but there was still stress and vulnerability deep inside me.

In my twenties and thirties I was a happy workaholic: working ridiculous hours and managing businesses in trouble distracted me from the pain. At age 39, I was a director of Caradon plc, a large building materials group which had a highly successful public share issue.

Overnight I became wealthy enough that I didn’t need to work: and I knew that I’d get really ill if I didn’t break my workaholic addiction. At age 42, I gave back the company Jaguar, left my posh job, and set up Magdalen Farm: you can read that story below.

My forties were a second adolescence. Without a hugely demanding job that defined me, I didn’t know who I was. So I explored a lot of meditations and therapies, went travelling, got more insights and more confusion. This led up to the biggest crisis of my life at 49, when my 27-year marriage broke up, I had a cancer scare, and my main consulting client fired me.

My second book, Out of the Woods, is about the midlife crisis. I believe midlife requires us to be shipwrecked, dismantled, and reinvent ourselves, and I did it thoroughly. What got me through this crisis was the methods in my forthcoming book. Living alone for the first time in my life, my garden was my biggest comfort: I learned deeply from it, and from the farm and the wood described below.

One of the ways I’ve evolved and shared my ideas is through workshops. I’ve led many personal development groups and retreats, especially at Magdalen Farm and Hazel Hill Wood. I’ve also done a lot of fascinating work with businesses and social enterprises on visioning, change management and resilience.

I’m now in my late sixties, happily remarried, feeling settled, working gently. The state of the world alarms me daily, so I still keep deepening my roots and learning from the land. I hope my story can help you too.

Magdalen Farm

I’ve started three major pioneering projects, and have realised that naive ignorance is essential. If you knew a fraction of what you were in for, you’d never get out of bed. When I made some capital from the Caradon share issue in 1987, I was sure there was something big to be done with it. In 1989, a vision came to me of a project which could help kids and teenagers find their feet through contact with nature. By August 1990, I had formed a registered charity and funded the purchase of Magdalen Farm in West Dorset

In many ways, this was a stupid move. I had no experience of charities, education or farming. But I did have a vision with passion, plus time, capital, and a belief that I could learn and find the help to make this happen. This was true, but it took a lot of time and stress.

Magdalen is a 130-acre farm, in the beautiful Axe Valley, in Dorset. We converted it from a rundown conventional beef farm to a certified organic system, with a herd of cows, wheat, grass pasture, pigs and a market garden. Although I had managed some difficult businesses, this was far harder. We were working with animals, plants, weather – natural systems where people aren’t in control. An organic farmer is like a driver without a steering wheel: imagine it!

Starting a mixed organic farm from scratch, and using it as an education centre, meant that I learned the principles and realities of organic farming from the roots up. After seven years, I realised how this relates to human resilience and sustainability: it was a wonderful aha moment. I started running workshops at the farm, and confirmed what a brilliant model this is.

My first book, The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself, grew from all this, published in 2000. Natural Happiness has grown from these roots. I stepped out of my trustee role at Magdalen Farm in 1992: I’m proud to say that the project is still flourishing and fulfilling its original vision.

Hazel Hill Wood

Hazel Hill Wood is a 70-acre wood near Salisbury. I used some of the Caradon capital to buy it in 1987: it was a treat for myself, a green equivalent of splashing out on a yacht or a Ferrari. Unlike Magdalen Farm, I had no project plans at all for the wood. That changed in 1991. As my daughters entered adolescence, I got interested in rites of passage for teenagers, and co-led one at the wood that year. It was a transformational week for all of us.

I had never spent more than a night at the wood, and had never been there with a group. Suddenly I experienced the wood as a subtle living organism, and a magical natural setting, which had great wisdom to offer people. Slowly through the 1990’s, more groups came to the wood, and I created simple, wooden, off-grid buildings for them, lovingly built by volunteers with a few craftsmen guiding them.

By 1992, I was unhappy with the purely commercial forestry managers I’d inherited. Robin Walter replaced them, and helped me combine sustainable forestry with good conservation practices. Since then, the habitat quality and the diversity of flowers, birds and other wildlife has improved greatly.

For years, I’ve led groups at the wood helping a wide range of people to explore natural happiness and deepen their resilience. In 2015, I gifted the wood to a new charity, Hazel Hill Trust, and one aim of the expanded project is continue this work and share it more widely.

One of the things I love about cultivating a wood is the very long time horizons. It’s a bit like farming, but your crops take 50 to 150 years to mature. Hazel Hill has taught me a lot about the approaches, which are largely similar between gardens, forests and organic farms. It’s also a place that creates a strong sense of community: among people, and with nature.

Lynchetts Garden

In 2010 my second wife Linda and I bought our first house together: Lynchetts, on the edge of Bridport in West Dorset. One appeal of the house was its one-acre garden, which looked sparse and dull, but had lots of potential. The house had been rented out for years, so it was a low-maintenance garden: lots of lawn, almost no flowers or shrubs, and some overgrown mature trees on the boundaries.

Linda is a keen gardener, who had created gardens in several houses but moved on within a year or two. We both hope to be at Lynchetts long-term, so it was worth investing love, time and money in the garden. I must admit that Linda has more garden expertise than me, and does a lot more of the work. My role has been more on the overall vision and layout, being a sounding board on details and occasional hard labour!

Our garden is now humming with colour, scent and textures most of the year. We have a wild area at one end, with a retreat cabin for me. There’s a lovely sunken garden that we planned together, inspired by Gertrude Jekyll, plus a thriving vegetable garden, and lots of fruit. I’ve learned that the subtle approaches of organic farmers are vital for gardeners too. And a garden that you’ve shaped and nourished gives you back a special kind of happiness and resilience.

8.     Composting: the upsides of your downsides

Imagine that you can tap into a major new source of energy and insight, that’s already within you: it’s free, abundant, and just needs a bit of effort to process it.  What’s more, you’ll be creating benefits out of problems that drain energy and pollute your inner ecosystem.  This is what composting offers you.

The ancient alchemists sought to turn base matter into gold.  Composting in gardens and farms achieves this.  It starts with rubbish, animal crap, rotting vegetable matter, even weeds.  All this “waste”, useless in these forms, ends up as humus, highly fertile, rich in biological activity, able to renew the earth’s vitality.

Recycling your waste gives your garden a free source of energy which raises the vitality and resilience of your soil, and avoids the pollution and depletion caused by artificial fertiliser. Physical composting takes several months – but the human equivalent can happen in minutes, days or weeks.  Plant and animal waste usually looks bad, and smells worse.  Yet it’s a major supply of natural energy, if only we can change its form.  And the same is true of human energy waste: composting this is a vital element of super-resilience.

Human Energy Waste

This may be a new idea for you, and it’s an example of how the natural happiness approach can help you see your life differently, and discover new resources.  By human energy waste, I don’t mean car exhaust fumes or old plastic cups: I mean personal energy that’s stuck or stagnant in a negative form.

Here are some examples:

  • Physical: stress and toxins that build up in your body, due to anxiety, unhealthy food and drink, etc.
  • Emotional: negative feelings like anger or depression, and unresolved conflicts.
  • Mental: habitual worrying, going round in circles in your mind, about big issues or everyday ones.
  • Inspirational: a sense of hopelessness or pointlessness about aspects of your own life and work, or the state of the world.

Most of us carry a lot of negative energy, stuck in our ecosystem.  The first two steps are starting to notice it, and having faith that you can compost at least some of this into a source of positive energy.

Five Tips for Good Composting in Practice

There are several methods of composting. In this section, I’m referring to hot aerobic composting, because it offers the best parallel for the human system.

This summary of the main principles of hot aerobic composting shows how they can apply to human energy waste.  To get the benefit of the composting process, waste materials have to be gathered, sorted, and brought together.  This is an investment of labour, and when you’re

dealing with smelly waste it may not be very pleasant!  In the same way, your first step is to identify and gather some of the waste in your life and work.  This requires patience, good observation, and resilience.  Your waste may include difficult feelings and festering situations that smell nasty, and you might rather bury them.

1. Gathering your rubbish

You need to see where it has been buried, suppressed or thrown out. Start with physical waste, reviewing tensions and health issues.  Then consider mental waste: insoluble problems, unresolved questions.  Why did that friendship or that project fail?  Facing such questions reveals their emotional content: many issues that may seem quite rational also involve our feelings.  Observe your feelings as clearly as you can: this is part of the collection stage.

Next, gather the emotional waste, identifying negative feelings and where you feel stressed.  Go into this, identify the sources, such as particular situations or relationships.  Keep breathing as you do this, aerating the compost.  Explore any negative feelings, such as fear, anxiety, uncertainty, anger.  Think of these waste feelings as a flow of energy that is stuck, and see what outcome would unblock them.  Possibly you are angry because someone has not acknowledged you, or fearful because you haven’t faced the implications of a problem situation.

Negative inspirational energy can be the most depleting and difficult to face.  A sense of pointlessness is like a major pollution problem: pervasive and hard to clear.  Use the parallel with air pollution: it can arise from one main source like a dirty factory, or from a diffuse problem like road traffic.  Either way, a systemic change is probably needed: a switch to clean energy sources and processes, and more recycling.

In counselling it is often said that expressing a problem is already half way to resolving it.  Gathering and identifying your waste issues is a significant step in the recycling process.  And avoid judging yourself or the issue as far as possible.

2. Sorting and Heaping

If you’ve done your gathering thoroughly, by now you may be feeling rather daunted and overwhelmed.  The sorting stage should help.

In garden composting, you don’t put all waste on the heap: some stuff is hard to break down, or simply unsuitable.  Especially when you’re starting on human energy composting, pace yourself, and don’t tackle the big issues too soon.  Build up your skills and confidence by starting on smaller, easier issues, and getting some early wins.

Typically physical and mental issues are easier to compost than emotional or inspirational ones, and work or practical problems may be easier than family and community issues.  In human composting, some issues may be so big that you need professional help: for example a marriage breakup, or a life-threatening illness.  Be realistic about the issues you can tackle yourself.

You build your compost heap by facing your waste issues fully and deeply.  If this leaves you feeling overwhelmed or despairing, just allow the feeling, observe it, and don’t deny it or judge it.  Keep your sense of purpose and perspective: remember that you are more than your feelings.  Adapt the Buddhist mantra: “I feel fearful, but I am not my fear.”  And ensure that you have support available to you.

3. Air Supply

A plentiful supply of air is essential to fuel the biological activity in the hot aerobic composting process.  If the air supply is inadequate, some or all of the heap will not reach peak temperature, and some waste material won’t break down.

For your own composting, this means that when you feel strong emotions, keep breathing! Deeper breathing is a classic way to stay steady amid intense, difficult feelings.  Mindfulness methods are just one example, so if you feel tense and distressed by your composting, try to slow your breathing and deepen it, for several minutes. Try deep, ‘circular’ breathing where you imagine pulling negative energy up from your belly into your lungs to cleanse it, and breathing clear energy back down again.

4. Turning

To get the full benefit of the composting process, it is common to turn the heap after a few weeks.  Turning the compost heap increases the air supply and renews the recycling process.  The effect is to achieve fuller breakdown of the waste and higher humus content.

You may find that composting your energy waste takes anything from minutes to months: some issues are bigger and tougher.  In human terms, turning your compost means reviewing your progress, and linking what may be a grungy process of recycling to a bigger sense of purpose.  When you remind yourself this is about feeling happier and re-energised, it will help you persist.  Aeration is about connecting to your inspiration and the bigger picture, and using deep breathing to gather the positive energy from your tensions.

5. Group Composting

A lot of negative human energy arises and gets stuck in our relationships with others, both individuals and in groups. Composting in these situations requires some different skills, as well as adapting the methods just described. In particular, skills in clear communications and listening are important, such as assertiveness or Non-violent Communication (less drastic than it sounds!).

9.     Resources

Natural Happiness and Resilience: for information about events with Alan, plus blogs and resources, see

Wisdom Tree: is a small team of professionals offering skills for wellbeing and resilience to work organisations, individuals and communities.  Alan is a founding partner, and many events happen at Hazel Hill Wood. See

Hazel Hill Wood: for information on events, the project, and a free newsletter, see

Network of Wellbeing: offers useful events and resources. See

Action for Happiness: if you’d like more resources and contacts for local groups on the theme of happiness generally, this may be useful: see