May 4, 2017

Lessons from My Garden

closer look Yesterday, I spent two hours in my yard. I made new flower beds last fall, using compost and cardboard. I worked in one bed: digging out dandelions (how do they still exist in no-light conditions?), cleaning grass from edges, and loosening soil. It felt good to place my hands in dirt; to connect with the earth. It also felt good to be outside: to hear birdsong and talk with neighbors.

After planting groundcover in the front bed, I walked into the backyard. My intention: obtain an overview of my other garden spaces. But my “overview” turned into a focused mission: get rid of weeds. I was hijacked by some primal part of my brain, and although I was tired, I went to the garage for a trowel and began digging out weeds. Once I started looking, I saw weeds everywhere.

I credit my mindfulness practice with bringing me back—back to patience, perspective, and gratitude. I dropped the trowel, stood up, and walked slowly around the yard. Having released my grip, both literally and figuratively, I felt ease and wonder. I looked at copious plants, in different states of development. I saw possibility: open spaces where I can transplant or plant anew. I felt satisfaction with my careful work in the front bed. 

Gardening provides me important life lessons. Here are a few from yesterday:

1. When I focus on weeds, I ignore beautiful flowers. Where I regularly place my attention becomes the habit of my mind. When I cultivate peace, compassion, and generosity, I feel better. When I feed resistance, irritation, and judgment, I feel worse. Sometimes I incorrectly believe there’s no choice: I see only weeds and work angrily to get rid of them. Most times, I recognize the choice: yes, there are weeds—in the ground and in my mind—which I'll never eradicate, but I can be with them differently, and I can also consciously savor the flowers.

wait patiently

2. Everyone has weeds. When I inhabit the small-mind of ego, I take things personally. My thoughts feel real but aren’t true: “My yard is the only one with weeds—it’s a personal failing; I'm the only person who feels shame and inadequacy.” These untrue thoughts isolate me when I most need connection. We all have weeds. We all feel pain. It’s part of our shared humanity. Deep connection comes when we show each other our “weeds” and accept one another as the beautiful, imperfect creatures that we are.

3. Persistent effort is important; patience is even more important. My garden brings me satisfaction, both in short-term effort and long-term results. Still, I get tugged by impatience: I want all the weeds gone now; I want all the planting done now. These are just thoughts. And they aren’t actually true. My true intentions: to enjoy my experience; to feel satisfied but not exhausted; to work, not from fear or anger, but from love and creativity. This requires patience. I need to put in effort, but I also need the gentle reminder that everything takes time. 

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  1. I have been in this very spot so often. I head out to enjoy my beautiful gardens with a book and a cup of tea, only to notice all the things that I think "need" to be done and soon the book and tea are forgotten. After taking your class, I started a practice that has stuck. When I feel this way I lay down in the yard take some deep breaths and look up at the sky, look up at our huge trees. Soon I am calm. I also will just sit in the grass and really look at one of my flower beds, noticing all the beauty with gratitude. Yes there are weeds and because it is a growing thing, there will always be things that "need" to get done. But taking the time to enjoy the growth and how gardens change is why I garden. Thank you so much Joy!

    1. And thank you right back, Cathy! I love the practice you describe. If we're caught in the details, lie on the grass to look at trees and clouds. Just today I was weeding and planting. Near the end, I did another of your practices: I sat and looked closely at the flower bed; at all the growth and colors and vibrancy. It was beautiful.

  2. I do this very same thing (notice what needs to be done instead of what is already there). Thank you for the reminder to notice the beauty! :-)
    Have a wonderful week ahead, Joy.

    1. It's great to hear from you, Lisa! This practice can be applied in academia, too. Notice the important, meaningful work you've done. Let go of what's next and focus on the power of your presence. As Parker Palmer says, teaching is about creating space.