The garden as my mentor


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At this point in late Summer, the garden is looking full: still productive but with an untidy, crowded appearance. Plants, flowers and vegetables are now showing signs of having passed their best and beginning their decline towards decay. This is consistent with the time of year as the Autumn Equinox is only about three weeks away. However, there is something else that contributes to the unkempt appearance – something that has more to do with me than the time of year: weeds!

I am acutely aware that I have let weeds take over in places: massive thistles in the strawberry patch, vigorous buttercups creeping into the vegetable beds, docks amongst the onions, bindweed choking the gladioli, couch grass so tall amongst the irises that it is difficult to tell which is which, nettles that catch me each time I walk by… you get the picture! Walking around the garden and seeing all this overwhelms me to the point that I am unable to even make a start on weeding. Instead, my mind wanders to a whole list of reasons (or are they excuses?) as to why the weeds are there but this mental list as long as my arm does not get the weeding done! I attempt to come up with an action plan, a schedule for “making time” for tackling the weeds. This somewhat elaborate process uses a lot of mental energy (I get so busy in my head!) but it does not make me effective at solving the problem (the weeds are still there!).

As I catch the familiar scenario developing in my head, I pause… Instead of engaging with it, I tune out of the mental chatter in my head and as I do this, an insight comes to me: the weeds in my garden are showing me how, sometimes, I can allow my internal world to be taken over, tangled and even choked by negative thoughts, the weeds in my head. My tendency to put off pulling the weeds when they are small and easy to be hoed away mirrors my tendency to ignore the small negative messages that I allow to creep into my mind. Nowadays, I am much better at self-care. I have learnt ways to nourish and support myself so I can stay emotionally healthy and I can handle a few metaphorical weeds here and there but occasionally, I ignore something for so long that I end up feeling taken over by difficult thoughts and painful feelings of triffid proportions! How the garden looks in places, where the balance has tipped too far towards a messy and tangled jungle, warns me of the potential for such times in me - and in all of us. It’s now time for a good tidy up before it all gets out of hand... time to remove what I don't want to grow in there, to clear away dead growth and to give the plants still in bloom a chance to continue to flourish till they begin to decay naturally.

Just as it is a good thing, in the garden, to keep under control the weeds that we don’t want and to nourish, nurture and tend to the plants that we want, it is useful to pay attention to the negative thinking patterns that occupy our minds and keep them under control too before they take control of us. As I mindfully stayed attuned to the feeling of overwhelm I mentioned above and I disengaged from the mental chatter and internal drama, I literally "changed my mind". I felt calm, open and receptive to a solution. My thoughts transformed from "I can't do it" to "I can do it" and the feeling of overwhelm was replaced by joy and happiness. Where I experienced a block before, there was now flow and renewed energy.

Becoming more self-aware helps us take better care of ourselves, offers us real choice, opens up possibilities and increases our resilience so we can live well. Like weeding, that process is ongoing and requires discipline on a regular basis. My garden teaches me that taking care of myself is an ongoing process, a journey rather than a destination.