A few years ago, I discovered a TEDtalk by a mycologist named Paul Stamets, a man who believes that mushrooms can save the world. He talked about this miraculous organism called mycelium, and about all the ways that it can clean up toxic environments, save us from smallpox and other major miracles.
This started me into what I call my “mycelium obsession period” (MOP). During this MOP, I read everything I could about mycelium and fungi, started growing mushrooms myself, and started to make some astonishing personal discoveries and connections that I want to share with you.
I discovered that in this world, where it is so easy for me to feel disconnected, to feel like what I do has little impact on the big issues facing the world, or that it is hard to get my needs met, mycelium is a great teacher. During my MOP, I decided to apprentice myself to mycelium, and learn all I could from her.
Much like the Bioneers (www.Bioneers.org), a group of people who look to the systems and structures of the natural world to solve complex human problems, I was looking to mycelium to teach me about nourishment and giving, to help me understand how my naturally generous nature and prolific project creation could also nourish me. I was searching for a way out of cynicism, and a way into healthy, nourishing creation and generosity.
First, let me offer some information about mycelium to set the context.
The web picture (dyed blue) is mycelium. It lives in terrestrial ecosystems, everywhere that there is vegetation. Mycelium is the “parent” plant, and fungus and mushrooms are the fruit of mycelium. You have probably been very close to this organism but perhaps never noticed it, because it is mostly underground and out of view. Look for it just under the surface of the soil and on rotting logs.
Mycelium forms a dense mat of connections, breaking down organic material, absorbing nutrients from its environment and transporting them where nourishment is needed, while simultaneously taking care of its own needs, growing in size and the ability to transport more. It is an information and nourishment network. It is a grand connector.
It is a connector of grand proportions! In Eastern Oregon, there is a mycelial mat that, until recently, when a logging road bisected it, was believed to be the largest living organism. It was 2200 acres in size and at least 2400 years old.
Stamets says that mycelium is the earth’s internet (a natural world-wide web) and has in its structure the same patterns as spiral galaxies, hurricanes and the human brain. It is all about connection, nourishment and interdependence. It is a very complex web.
During my MOP, and as a result of the great coaching from one of my Coaching for Transformation students, I decided to assume that I AM mycelium, to take that as my metaphor for my learning journey. Some people have totem animals and I guess I have a totem fungus!
“Every single person I impact, everyone reading what I write, getting coaching from me, being the recipient of my volunteer work, or my good thinking, or my kindness or listening ear, is now part of my web, part of the tangle of goodness that I weave.”
If I am that blue web shown above, what does that mean? It means that I am a transporter of nourishment and nutrients, and by doing that, I feed myself and build a more connected web at the same time. Every single person I impact, everyone reading what I write, getting coaching from me, being the recipient of my volunteer work, or my good thinking, or my kindness or listening ear, is now part of my web, part of the tangle of goodness that I weave.
And, I am only one point in this vast web I weave. Everything I offer strengthens the whole web and allows others in my web to create more connections as well. This is important!
Imagine it for yourself – any gifts, whether it is energy, compassion, or ideas, strengthens the entire structure. Every connection you make, every act of kindness or contribution, creates another link, another alive interchange, in this ever strengthening web of global nourishment. Each gift you give invites the recipient to also give something. This is the principle of interdependence at work. Like mycelium, or the Internet, these connections just keep growing until you have a dense mat of connections, exchanging goodness with all living beings.
We are creating this web of interdependence right this minute. You might not even agree with what I am writing, but you are connecting with it. You are thinking about what is true or not for you, and it is having an impact on you in some way. New brain connections are happening as you read. You may share any ahas and personal learning with others. Maybe you are tweeting about what you are discovering, or posting it on Facebook, and someone you do not even know is becoming part of this web. Maybe you are joining the forum discussion that accompanies this blog.
Perhaps you now decide to listen to someone today, to believe in someone, to give money or time to a cause you believe in. All those things create your web, which is now connected to my web. And it nourishes us both. No matter the mode of connection, you are now part of creating my web, and now I am part of yours.
Personally, I was never very good at letting my good work nourish me. I never noticed if the workshop I led was powerful, and I never really took in that I had an impact.
It was like I was a fruit tree, who produced all these juicy peaches, but when they fell to the ground, I never took up those nutrients to support me. I was a generous giver and was starving myself.
My apprenticeship to Mycelium has helped me create the link between my good work and my own nourishment. She has taught me that my own nourishment is vital to the health of the whole web. If I don’t take care of myself, your web is not as healthy either, since I am connected to you. It is easier for me when I imagine that if mycelium does not feed itself, it cannot be the grand connector that it is and the web dies. It becomes a touchstone and structure to help me remember.
I do not expect you to take on my metaphor about mycelium, and perhaps you are thinking this is just a bit too far out for you to swallow. And, I want to challenge you to embrace the idea that you ARE always creating nourishment for the world and yourself, and perhaps not noticing that fully. It is easier sometimes to be cynical, thinking that you have no (or not enough) impact, but that cynicism only justifies and feeds the status quo.
What is your own touchstone or metaphor for the web you create? Some people think of strings from their heart that connect them with others, some use body metaphors like the circulatory system.
You want your gifts to be well used in the world, for the nutrients you have to offer (things like listening, money, skills, love, joy, connection) to be moved to the places they are most needed. Your heart knows where you want to have an impact and your soul knows how.
Here at Leadership that Works and through the programs we offer, we are all about transformational change. That means we embrace new and perhaps unconventional ways to move out of the status quo, for the sake of the world and to the benefit of all. We are all excited to have you as part of our web and to be part of yours.
Join me in conversation about the web of nourishment.
Contemplate these questions to create more awareness about your own generosity and nourishment:
- What is my own metaphor for my nourishing web?
- Who or what are part of my web?
- In what specific ways does my generosity feed my connection to myself?
- If I imagine a world wide web, what is my part in it?
Next blog: Giving actually makes you healthier and happier. The research proves it! All the details in my next blog!
Resources for deeper exploration:
Paul Stamets on TED http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world.html
Fungi Perfecti www.fungi.com
Paul Stamets. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms can help Save the World 2005.
Bioneers is a nonprofit educational organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Since 1990, Bioneers has acted as a hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. A celebration of the genius of nature and human creativity, Bioneers connects people with solutions and each other. www.Bioneers.org
Mycelium photo by Paul Stamets, Fungi Perfecti. Used with permission. (http://www.fungi.com/)