While visiting a Nicaraguan farm one Sunday in September, just before the start of the Certificate Program, we hiked some of the property with the owner of the land, Ernesto, along with several of our Nicaraguan colleagues. His is a small-but-diverse operation, where he has raised beans, corn, coffee, cattle and cacao for his entire life. Walking the plot of land, even briefly, was a great enjoyment. I’m always amazed at what grows in sometimes-suspect soil, and how creative farmers have to be with the logistics of five crops growing on very limited acreage. But the plant that commanded my attention was not one planted in straight rows or intended for harvest.
As we walked to the grove of cacao trees, one of the family members bent over and pointed to a tiny plant growing wild in the pasture. The stems of the plant were no more than an inch or so in length, with delicate leaves symmetrically extending from each side of the stem. Though the plant was not in bloom, I was told that it boasts a beautiful pinkish flower. The stems were all over the area, like some special ground cover that I might see in a backyard where I live. The plant is called dormilona, sometimes called the “sleeper plant” or the “bashful plant.” For when its tiny leaves are even gently brushed, they immediately close up like the pages in a book. It’s a fascinating response to observe, as though the plant is either ticklish to the touch or so shy as to be physically introverted. The leaves eventually unfold again, once they are sure that the intrusion has passed. The experience of touching the plants and observing their response is oddly addicting. And I had it in the back of my mind at the start of the workshop.
On the following day, the Certificate Program began with each of the 40-some participants- class members, presenters, hosts and guests- introducing themselves to the rest of the crowd. This is an interesting and instructive process, however routine it may seem. For within these brief statements of “who I am,” we get perhaps our first opportunity to meet each of the individuals with whom we will be sharing an entire week. It’s a quick gauge of personality and perspective to guide the interactions to come.
It’s not unusual for members of a group like this, in any country or setting, to be a little hesitant or even shy about speaking up; many of us are “hard-wired” to be cautious about how much we reveal of ourselves until we’re sure that the surroundings are safe. It’s better to venture forth slowly, lest we jump into waters way over our heads and we suddenly discover that we don’t know how to swim. And particularly with rural Nicaraguans, many of whom have not spent much time in the presence of visitors, the tendency is to be reserved and quiet. (Unless you’re like the ubiquitous “Juan,” one of whom seems to be in every group, wisecracking and joking from the start!)
Nonetheless, we always start with these introductions, not for the completeness of what they can tell us, but for the brief glimpses of who is in the room. On this occasion, it’s what started me thinking about the dormilona plant once again. It seemed to me that there were many in our group who, when their turn to introduce arrived, were clearly humbled to even offer their names, standing in withering modesty, almost turning inward upon themselves, so tangible was their bashfulness. I thought of fragile green leaves, folding inward for protection until threats had passed.
During the ensuing week, the dangers must have dissipated, because the Program participants opened up in ways as beautiful as those little green, flowering plants which covered that Sunday hillside. We came to recognize each member for the capacity which he or she brought to the week. The participants were engaged and energized, and full of the ideas that could make their week successful. Indeed, by week’s end when the certificates were awarded, each individual was recognized for his or her own particular character and contribution, and there was nothing bashful about it. Only a sense of accomplishment and some pride.
Working alongside the Nica participants during the Certificate Program was not unlike interacting the dormilona plant. At first touch, palpable humility showed itself as a “folding inward” for many. But with time, the folded arms of shyness gradually reached out to embrace what was good in the environment, to soak in the essential components of well-being, whether personal of group. It’s a universal truth, though one that we seem to forget the next time we find ourselves among strangers.
Maybe I make too much of the dormilona and my fascination with its gentle ways. But I have found its character enormously attractive, and worth spending my time on….