Posted on 10 September 2015 by Michael

gardening: medicine for a wounded mind

In her short essay, “Value Added,” Anna Pavord writes “My garden not only gives me pleasure, it instills calm, grafts patience into my soul.  Gardening slows me down and puts worries in proportion. My garden teaches me to be observant and how to looks at things.  I become less inclined to leap to conclusions or jump onto the latest bandwagon.  A garden hones my senses.”

I am typing these words at 3 am, an hour after I first woke up stressing out about absolutely nothing.  I can’t be in my garden to calm my mind.  It’s pitch black, dark outside.  So I’m doing, let’s say, the next best thing:  reading and reflecting on a couple of the essays in a short book, The Roots of My Obsession.  I’m looking back on the essays from people who garden for one of the main reasons I do … to bring me peace.

I shouldn’t assume Pavord is writing about anything other than her garden being a calming place; I don’t want to put words on her paper.  But for me, my garden is a form of medicine, a yoga practice, a place to stop catastrophizing over whatever I am blowing out of proportion.  My garden, at least temporarily, shuts down the Anxiety-ridden part of my brain, so I can focus on more healthy things like weeding, harvesting, or just simply being.

A few paragraphs later Pavord writes this paragraph which is speaking to me right now:  “At the heart of the whole business is the feeling that, when we garden, we abandon a timetable constructed around dentist appointments, car services, and the possible arrival of trains, to plunge headlong into a completely different timetable, an immense and inexorable one entirely outside our control.”

The last few nights — okay, actually very early mornings — I’ve been woken up by my bully named Anxiety.  Its slam danced around in my wounded brain, chiding me for all the stupid things I did the day before and warning me about all the stupid things I am going to do in the day ahead.  Now, because I am healthier now than I was several months back, I am able to access another part of my brain to say I wasn’t so stupid yesterday, and I am not going to be stupid later today (remember, I’m awake at 3 am).  So, despite my ability to get part of my thinking healthy and in proportion, my bully named Anxiety still grabs ahold of another part of my mind to go to war with the healthy thoughts.

Oh, I wish I could be in my garden right now.  As I write in my own essay on why I garden:  “I often think that my garden is a great listener.  It allows me to process what’s going on with the rest of the world and in my head.  Little mumbles and whispers from me to the earth and its bounty begin to make everything make sense again.  Pun intended:  my garden grounds me.  And then, the stress gone, I can just look at the plot in front of me and think, “What can I do right now to make this small patch of land better.”

In another essay in The Roots of My Obsession, Chaos Theory, Page Dickey writes that she loves to weed.  “This world of earthly details absorbs me.  I think of nothing else — not the emails I haven’t answered, nor the errands that need doing, not the state of the world, or how we are going to pay our taxes, or what I am going to wear to the dinner party in the city.  My thoughts, my body, my whole being is concentrated on the feel of the earth, the look of the plants, on the vignettes that are being created through this basic sorting out of what is desirable and what is not.”

Yes, that is what gardening does for me as well.  On par with my actual practice of yoga, gardening “absorbs me … I think of nothing else.”

So how to conclude this essay?  I’m not gardening.  I’m not practicing yoga.

Any regular reader of this blog knows, writing is another form of meditation for me.  Thoughts — negative and positive — jump around in my brain until my fingers can keep up, typing away at the keyboard.  Energy directed from my mind to the screen in front of me.  Thoughts acknowledged.  Thoughts put in proportion.  And — if needed — thoughts let go of.

So, while it is now 3:43 am and I am still awake.  My bully named Anxiety is no longer slam dancing in my brain.

I have just written and reflected about one of my favorite things … gardening … stewardship of the land … soil and the bounty it produces.

Calm.