Buried Seeds and Change

Do you ever have one of those days when it feels like the universe is trying to hit you over the head with a message?  Days when you hear the same message again and again—and it’s just the message you needed to hear?

I had one of those days last Monday.  Frazzled and anxious about embarking on a new venture—one that I’m excited about but also one with unknown outcomes--I was second guessing myself and my plans.  After work, I headed to yoga to stretch and move and center myself. 


My teacher began our class as she often does:  she asked us to sit quietly with our eyes closed while she read a selection from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, a collection of daily meditations.  In her calming voice, she read:

“All the buried seeds

Crack open in the dark

The instant they surrender

To a process they can’t see.”[1]

For an instant, my eyes flew open.  Just that day, I had encountered the image of the seed cracking open in the dark, but where? In my stressed out state, my day already seemed a blur. 

I closed my eyes and tried to focus as my teacher guided us through our warm up poses, but again and again, my mind kept coming back to that image of the seed cracking its hard shell to produce new life.  Where had I heard that? 

After about fifteen minutes, it hit me: the metaphor appeared in the reading for my African-American history class. 

My students were engaged in a role play. They are portraying Civil Rights activists debating the location and nature of their next protest. They are reading the words of Civil Rights workers and trying to place themselves in the minds and hearts of the activists who laid their bodies and lives on the line to fight for justice. 

On Monday, we were reading about Myles Horton and his Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Horton was a remarkable man. Raised on a hardscrabble Tennessee farm, he enrolled in Campbell University to study for the ministry.  Profoundly moved by his experiences ministering to poor mountain communities, Horton co-founded the Highlander Folk School, a training and education center dedicated to the radical idea that ordinary people could collectively achieve social justice. Highlander worked with labor unions and civil rights activists to develop non-violent strategies for social change.  Well-known civil rights activists like Rosa Parks, Septima Clark, and John Lewis studied at the Highlander School. In the 1940s and 1950s, Horton’s work was considered radical by Tennessee officials not least because Highlander hosted meetings with interracial audiences, a clear violation of the state’s segregation laws.  Horton faced harassment, legal action, and threats on his life.

The students and I talked about Horton’s philosophy of social change. Horton believed that people already possessed the knowledge and skills they needed to solve their own problems.  The job of the educator, he said, was to help people analyze their own experiences and learn from the experiences of others in order to develop solutions.

Horton understood that change was hard for humans. He wrote, “People have got be to introduced to the pain of growth, and not shy away from it, not be afraid of the pain, not be afraid to be unhappy, not be afraid to be stretched out, not be afraid to be laughed at, not be afraid to grow.”[2]

On Monday, I could really relate to the idea of growth as painful, but as our class discussion unfolded, the students focused on a different image in Horton’s writings. They concentrated on his metaphor that growth was like the sprouting of a seed. He likened the ideas that people had about social change to seeds and he said, “What you do, you develop those seeds [for change]. They’re crusted over, you know, with all kinds of things and the people don’t even know they’re there.  We . . . cultivate those seeds. We help prepare the ground for them to grow.”[3] 

There was the image—the same image that Mark Nepo used--the image of a seed breaking through its hard outer shell and reaching out tendrils of new growth in the darkness beneath the soil.  The seed reaching out in faith that it would grow and develop into a mature plant. 

Last Monday, the universe was bombarding me with that image to help me find a new way of thinking about my own new venture—to help me embrace stepping out into the unknown with hope and courage. I can’t say that I’ve stopped second guessing myself, but I keep returning to the image of the seed as a way of understanding my own anxiety. Sometimes the best coping strategy for dealing with our feelings is finding the right image or metaphor for our experience. So this month, I’m going to focus on that image of the seed. 


[1] As told in Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, Gale, 2000.

[2] Myles Horton, The Myles Horton Reader: Education for Social Change, ed. Dale Jacobs (Knoxville:  University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 62-63.

[3] Horton, The Myles Horton Reader, 121. 

Read more about the Highlander Research and Education Center, which continues Horton's legacy of grassroots organizing and movement building today.  


©2016 Melissa Walker. All Rights Reserved.