Tending the Garden, Tending the Body: An Interview with Lady Gaia

Photo credit: Bryonie Wise

Photo credit: Bryonie Wise

I met Kat Gibson (aka Lady Gaia) two years ago at a women's sexual empowerment workshop hosted by the fabulous Amy Jo Goddard. I was immediately fascinated by Kat's work and wanted to learn more. Consciously growing my own food had been a topic I had long been interested in, but I simply had no idea where to begin. Every spring I would tell myself, this is the year I will dive in full force and grow the most abundant, glorious organic garden imaginable and subsist on that all summer. And every year I would wimp out as I began considering the overwhelming task of figuring out exactly how much water, sunlight and special care each plant needed. 

As I began to think about it, I realized it was a lot like sexuality for many people: overwhelmingly complex and easier to put on the back burner than actively explore. Both processes involve cultivating a relationship, whether with your body, the land, the plants, or the cycles of nature. In order to succeed, we are called to stay present and attentive, developing a sort of intuition that has become somewhat lost in our culture. 

Photo credit: Amber Ellis

Photo credit: Amber Ellis

Kat's approach resonated with me because it invites a sense of the sacred into the gardening process. It is about gardening with intention. Her workshops bring together community and create a sacred space where participants can explore within themselves while linking their journey to the process of planting, tending and harvesting. We set intentions as we sow our seeds and align ourselves with the cycles of nature as we watch our projects come to fruition. We involve ourselves body and soul and connect on an intimate level with the land we are cultivating. 

As an Integrative Sexuality Coach, my goal for clients is to help them live a more embodied and ecstatic life, and this isn't confined to the bedroom. To connect to the earth with our hands and witness the birth of life from a seed is to experience the Universe making love with itself, as the tantric masters have described it. That is why I was so thrilled to participate in this year's Embodied Connections program with Lady Gaia.

I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her journey with gardening, and the impact she's experienced on the rest of her life. Here is her story:

 

Monica - How has your discovery of gardening impacted your relationship with your body?

Kat - I began growing food with a friend of mine on our balcony in a shared house about eight years ago after coming home to Toronto from living in Grenada in the West Indies. Living and working in the West Indies for 10 months, I was surrounded by neighbours who grew their own food, fished and raised animals. There was also lots of processed and imported food on the island as well, but it was the local food culture and wild landscape that really sparked something in me. Growing up in the suburbs, this was my first experience of being immersed in more of an agricultural community. A lot of the food that I ate had been touched by people in the community and, to me, felt more alive so this appreciation for freshness, flavour, deeper connection to my food source and the energy that went into the whole process developed. I grew up in a family that loved cooking, sharing a meal together and my parents tended to gardens at our home, primarily flower and perennial gardens. The gardens had a unique place in their lives, as it did with other relatives of mine. I remember helping out with weeding and watering and admiring the beauty but found more excitement in a forest, or a beach, in the water. From a fairly young age, I struggled with body image issues, belief systems and thought patterns that were negative and felt oppressive. Food was about pleasure but also self-soothing, a way to suppress uncomfortable emotions or to create a feeling of safety and security. As I understand it now, I was battling a lot of internalized cultural norms and messages that told me to look or be a certain way, something I think a lot of people work through at different points in their lives. In some ways, my body felt like the site of a lot of tension and conflict.

Photo credit: Bryonie Wise

Photo credit: Bryonie Wise

After that first growing season of balcony gardening, I got a position with The Cutting Veg community farm and dove into my first farming season. That season brought in so many incredible teachers and lessons. I worked on a farm where we acknowledged the land as the social worker, as wise, set up a sacred space to gather at and I learned a great deal from my mentors, Daniel Hoffmann, Paul Clarkson and Jane Hayes. 

Some physical and emotional health issues presented, teachers in and of themselves, and I moved and breathed with them at the farm and on my yoga mat. I followed signs and signals which led me to study reiki, learned embodiment practices, including a crystal yoni egg practice, started intuitively planting crystals in the Earth, participated in ritual and connected with some really amazing teacher-priestess-friends. As I reflect back on it now, I was learning how to be in relationship with my body as it relates to cycles and seasons, how to listen to deeper parts of myself, how to plant, harvest, nourish, let go and decompose. Through the process of growing food, combined with the other practices I mentioned, this time in nature was teaching me how to be in my body,  tending to the Earth and tending to my body (they’re one and the same), experiencing the sensual pleasure of working so tangibly with the earth and plants. The feeling of soil or mud on my hands and feet, it feels primal, reminded me of my animal nature, totally embodied and present to the sensory experience. I fell in love with the Earth’s aliveness and what she/he/they had to teach me. 

I ate most of what I grew that first farm season and experienced growth, awareness of both my light and shadow and a new sense of wellness (I believe this is ongoing, that we keep peeling back the layers of the onion and moving around the spiral). I attribute the growth and healing to weaving together and reclaiming of many parts of self, of the support of community and teachers, including the earth. So this deepening love for the Earth started to mirror a deepening self-love and appreciation for the body, and that just keeps growing, like every day, a little more, some days less, and then a little more and so on… it’s a kind of intimacy between self and the natural world, a partnership. This more erotic and sensual connection we have with nature not only feels really good but, I think, it also deepens the value and appreciation we place on our living, breathing planet. Eco-Philosopher and deep ecologist, Joanna Macy writes and speaks about the value of seeing the Earth as our Lover, and by doing so, we come to honour, value and protect our relationship with her/him/them because it's so near and dear to our hearts. 

Photo credit: Amber Ellis

Photo credit: Amber Ellis

Monica - In my previous years of practice as a holistic nutritionist, I often described my work as that of a gardener: tending to the human body as an elaborate ecosystem of interdependent parts, each of which contributes to the wellbeing of the whole. This is in stark contrast to the approach of allopathic medicine, which seeks to compartmentalize the body and treat it like a mechanic would treat a broken machine. Our culture promotes a model of handing over all responsibility to an external expert, rather than cultivating a relationship with ourselves and becoming familiar with our own innate rhythms and intelligence. Do you feel our modern lack of involvement in our food production results in further detachment from our physical bodies and disempowerment in our self care? 

Kat - Ya, I think that disconnect from our food source, from the ground furthers a detachment from our bodies. One of my teachers in the “Pedagogy of Food” course I took many years back used the analogy of a veil that exists between ourselves and our food and that the industry is quite content to maintain that distance and power dynamic where we just don’t know much about our food, where it comes from, who grows it, what’s in or on it. We’re so lucky to live in a time with access to so much technology and information and yet, in a digital culture like ours, we don’t really need to make or create anything physical or tangible if we don’t want to. We can essentially spend most of our days living above the shoulders, in our heads. It really takes a lot of practice to draw our attention and energy downwards, into heart, hands, belly, pelvis, feet. It’s a continual practice for me, as someone who has a tendency to overthink, doubt or worry. And this is the self-care, like you said, the cultivating a relationship with ourselves and becoming aware of our own innate rhythms and intelligence. It requires such presence and attention. Discovering those things that really feel nourishing, supportive, loving, attuning ourselves to a vibration of love that we can drop into when we’re feeling anxious, off-centre, out of alignment, whatever it may be. And maybe we’re always re-defining what our centre is, what alignment is because we shift, change and grow. I’m participating in an herbal medicine training called “Wildcraft Uprising” and my teacher-friend introduced us to Susan Weed’s book, “Healing Wise.” I’ve really been integrating her words this summer… "Healing/health in the Wise Woman (Being) tradition is concerned more with creating meaning than with creating a particular outcome. Healing/health is not dependent on curing, or removing the problem, but in making the problem meaningful, specifically, by finding the gift and the nourishment that the problem brings.” This resonates with me and at times, this can feel so frustrating, like healing/health really asks for our presence and patience. I imagine a future where there is a capacity for a depth of care, where we value the time it takes to take good care, where everyone has access to those layers of care, that we’re in dynamic relationship with our selves, our bodies, our environment, our communities. There are so many entry points into making that dream real, to practice that, for me, the garden has definitely been one of them. 

 

Monica - How do you feel that collaborative, intentional gardening might impact some of the broader social justice issues we see today?

Kat - As shifts and changes occur on the planet, slowing down to connect to the Earth, our bodies and community to listen, feel, give and receive can be such an incredible act of resistance to the current paradigm and an opportunity to actively engage in participating in the creation of a new earth. I think that gardening builds a sense of reciprocity and it seems we’re in need of that kind of culture, more than ever. 

 

Monica - What are some words of advice you have for absolute beginners who are looking to start growing their own food in an urban setting? 

Kat - There's a lot of information out there so it can be easy to feel overwhelmed about where to start or how to grow some of your own vegetables, herbs, flowers. I like to encourage people to keep in mind that it's all an experiment and a practice, that it can be fun and you'll just keep learning as you go. Begin by looking to see what resources are available around you and start there. If you’ve got a little balcony or a little patch in the backyard, start by planting some herbs, lettuce, kale or if you’ve got a community garden in your neighbourhood, get involved with them. Or team up with your neighbours and get a little shared garden growing in one of your backyards. Starting small and working with others definitely makes the process of growing some of your own food, herbs (medicine) a little easier and more manageable. One of the greatest lessons that nature has to offer is that there’s abundance here for all of us to share, especially in the margins, on the edges, or where you least expect it. 

Nurture and build your soil by using lots of organic matter (compost, compost tea, mulches, living mulches) and add amendments like seaweed fertilizer which are packed full of proteins, complex carbohydrates, minerals and trace elements including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, iodine. And plant a diversity of plants and flowers to invite in the pollinators so that your garden and the ecosystem flourishes. 

 

Embodied Connections runs each spring, summer and fall in Downsview Park. Visit Lady Gaia's website to learn more about the program.