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Tackling Blackberries through Taoism

Blackberry branch with thorns and a new shoot
Photo by waferboard

I’ve been hacking away at the invasive blackberries that have been steadily taking over the bottom corner of our property. After getting rather scratched up in the process, I decided to stop and approach the problem differently. I started thinking about Taoist principles:

Look at what is happening and how it happens.

Working With the Blackberry Vines

I was facing a wall of blackberry vines—a thick, tangled, thorny thicket. Previously, I’d just tackle them and end up bloody from the encounter. This time I took a moment to observe what the tangle actually looks like and I started to see how the blackberries grow.

The new growth shoots straight up from the curved main canes. If I cut off the new growth first, I eliminate the threat from above. That leaves the long main canes, which I can cut off a few feet from the ground and pull free from the tangle. The old dead canes are tangled and matted underneath, but they’re brittle. I can just stomp these to pieces and rake them up later. By this time, I’ve cleared enough around the root stalk to dig up the root ball and eliminate the vine completely.

Within an hour, I’d cleared a sizable patch and ended up with a neat pile of canes and another pile of raked-up debris.

Working With Groups

As I worked, I realized how much this is like collaborating. I know, I know… how can dismantling a blackberry patch be similar to working together as a group? But these Taoist principles apply to everything: observe what is happening and how it happens.

  • Don’t try to force things. If you just hack your way through the blackberry patch, you’ll get all scratched up. By the same token, trying to make a group do anything will backfire.

  • Work with the natural rhythms. Whether it’s the natural growth patterns of the blackberry vines or a group that is just forming, work with what is happening.

    • How does a blackberry thicket grow?

    • How does a group form? How does a collection of individuals come together, learn to integrate their differences and then produce and create together?

  • Observe what is happening. What is already there? Where do the natural connections and alliances occur? How can I foster these and make room for more?

  • Observe how it happens. Where and how does creativity bubble up? How can I encourage and nurture this bubbling?

Using these principles is allowing me to dismantle a blackberry thicket quickly, easily and without harming myself. The same principles can also help us build, nurture and sustain collaborative efforts. What is your experience in observing “what is happening” in a group? Share you insights in the comments below.

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