Why Your Soil Matters or Why I Love to Hate Gurus

Like a colorful pocket square on a tweed-suited salesman, the only pop of color along our Phoenix track home was the bright bougainvillea. If you have ever been to Arizona you have most certainly seen them lining the walls of retirement homes and master planned communities. There they are as common as golf shirts.

These bougainvillea varieties have pink or white flowers, thick and thorny stems, and are very common in warm climates. In our yard these bougainvillea grew like weeds. Out of the dessert soil or a crack in the adobe wall, out would pop this beautiful windy plant. It’s aggressive growing makes it a logical plant to use in landscaping, but how you contain its growth makes all the difference. Without any pruning this vine can leap up buildings like a rock climber, using its waxy thorns as pins and pitons.

For many years it was my chore to contain this pretty pink beast. While I am a man of great height, strength, and courage today (reader chuckles to themselves) as a child I was a bit more timid around ladders and didn’t do dirt. Needless to say that the 30 foot, thorny, vine creature was not something that I was very good at slaying.

Growing weary of my inability to tame the plant, I wondered if there was a way to outsmart it. Just like man – always trying to outwit the created order. To limit its height, I realized that I needed to move it away from the wall but also knew I must keep it alive because my mom loved it. So what if I just dug it up, potted it, and moved it a few feet from the fence? With a sweaty Tommy Hilfiger polo and some dirt under my nails, my experiment was complete. One potted bougainvillea.

What my experiment quickly taught me is that if you put the same plant in a different container, it reacts. This bougainvillea became sensitive. It dried out quickly. Its vines flopped over like wet noodles. The plant no longer grew up but out. It was now much easier to hedge. I GOT YOU, YOU DUMB PLANT!

The earth tells us that conditions matters. Temperature, the amount of water, how much wind, and in this case, what container something is in all have an impact on how something grows. It wasn’t that the bougainvillea stopped growing when moved to the pot, it was that it grew differently as a result of where it was hosted. This appears to be an ecological truth that we humans struggle with.

We live in the age of the guru. Right now your twitter feed has posts that read three ways to improve your team’s performance. The nine secrets to a better night’s sleep. Seven principals on the five steps to receive the three keys to greatness. I’ve always wanted to be one of these gurus – an expert in a specific field or a know it all – because gurus make them dolla bills! Why? Because in the age of the guru everyone is looking for clean, quick, answers.

But this kind of advice is like two Tylenol capsules for chronic back pain. We rely on guru-nic, simple, operational information when what we really have are transformational needs. Our chronic back issue needs physical therapy, one of those rolly styrofoam things, and $300 shoes with custom arch support.

Different learning needs require different learning contexts. If you turn to conferences, one off podcasts, Sunday’s sermon, and guru’s top ten lists you will grow accordingly. The fruit you bare will be trendy, temporary, and marginally helpful.  But I’m not sure this is what we want. This is not what I want.

I want transformation. I want to transform the way I use and view my money. I want to transform the way I parent. I want to transform my relationships. I want to transform how I work. I want to transform my prayer life. None of these things are easy. None of them are a quick solve. I (maybe you too) need transformation and therefore need transformational contexts.

We cannot assume that all plants will grow the same regardless of where they are placed.  I don’t believe we can pot ourselves in the soil of gurus and expect transformation. We cannot build gurueque soils and expect lives to be transformed. So what then is a transformational context?

I don’t really know. And to say I did would be pretty guru-otic, eh? Here are some qualities that I can identify, but I would love to hear your input.

Differentiated Encounters– It’s hard to be transformed while sitting on your couch. It’s too familiar and too pillowy. When we go to a new place, meet new people, or try new things the possibility of transformation begins.

Practiced – My friend Mark says that if we want to transform we should leave the lecture hall and get into the dojo. To me, this is the difference between taking in guru knowledge and developing a deep understanding. Understanding comes as we practice, reflect, improve, practice, etc. It’s risky. It’s hard. It’s rarely fun.

With Others – We are more likely to transform if others are committed with us. That hard work of practice, failure, and learning cannot be done along. I would also add that having a guide, coach, or mentor with expertise is also essential to good transformation of self.

I see lots of gurus and I’m green with envy toward their “success.” But because of my own experience with the quick hitting, short lived advice, I question their results – the strength of their roots and if they will last through the winter. Where we are planted matters. I want to plant well and differently (this is an ache of mine as you can tell by the many similar posts I have written) but am still discerning how to best do that. Maybe I need a new pot.


3 Comments on "Why Your Soil Matters or Why I Love to Hate Gurus"

  1. Dani says:

    I wish you were doing Experiments in Truth with us. Posts like this remind me why we’re friends.

    • Jarrod says:

      Me too, Dani! Travel, work, bla. Starts tomorrow, ya? Good luck and prayers for all doing the hard work of risk, practice, and reflection.

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