To nurture a garden is to not just feed the body, but the soul. - Alfred Austin
April was a tough month. Two losses, two funerals and a cascade of tears left me feeling emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and just plain sad. Being highly sensitive means I also become immersed in the feelings of those around me - adding another dimension to it all.
When the going gets tough, the tough get gardening, and that's what I've been doing. There's something completely grounding about, well, being on the ground - smelling the dirt. It centers and calms me. While gardening is good for my soul, not everyone feels the same. My husband would prefer to pave the yard and paint it green. He finds other things that nourish and balance him - books being chief among them.
Being surrounded by nature gives me time to reflect on how much of life is taught in a garden. The parallels are so universal that I thought I'd pass them on for those of you who may be city dwellers without a chance to garden (and for those who also prefer green pavement.)
Soil: It's easy to understand what soil is but harder to know what makes soil good. It's preparation and attention. Be it soil or life, when we prepare and plan we can be sure everything we plant will begin with a richer foundation. Just as we can amend soil with whatever it needs for what we intend to grow, we can train, and learn all we can before embarking. That doesn't always guarantee success but it does at least provide the best environment for success and that's about as much control as we can expect to have in a garden or life.
Preparation gives us a leg up - a better chance that our endeavors will be more fruitful. Even when our best efforts fail, knowing we gave it our best shot can ease the regret.
Weeds: Weeds are most often those things that show up that we didn't plant and would rather not have - but not always. In a garden, a weed is defined as "anything that's growing where you don't want it." Some "weeds" may be beautiful plants in their own right. That doesn't mean we have space for them or that they're a good fit in the whole (like that darned spider wort that went viral last summer.) Often we need to choose between two good things instead of a good and bad thing, but the right choice will provide a better balance.
In life weeds can show up as people, events, or experiences. Sometimes they pop up unexpectedly and at other times we invite them in hoping for the best. In either case they need to be attended to.
When we ignore the weeds in our lives or gardens they will, in time, over run it. Weeds are pernicious and will choke out everything else if given a chance. Garden weeds and toxic people or circumstances are easiest handled sooner than later before their roots spread - making them harder to remove. Waiting too long also increases the chance that they'll spread seeds, insuring more of the same will grow. Ignoring weeds, real or metaphoric, will make them more painful to deal with later on. Handle weeds early and often.
Storms: Storms are essential for a garden and also for a balanced life. Lightning, while it can be threatening at times, is also essential for plants. It provides nutrients along with the rain that feeds the plant and makes it grow strong. The storms in our lives do the same for us. They may not be desired or appreciated when they appear and threaten to ruin our plans but they offer us strength and resilience when we weather them well. And as my husband added: "Maybe a little manure in life isn't always a bad thing!"
Cursing the storms in our lives is about as effective as shaking our fists at the thunder and lightning. Storms play themselves out in their own time. Our best response is to wait them out and look for the benefits they offer. Learn from them. Grow from them. We may even be rewarded with a rainbow at their end.
Patience: When we plant a seed with eager anticipation, it seems to take forever to see anything happening. That doesn't mean nothing is happening. There are things going on unseen that are necessary before we're rewarded by evidence.
How many other things are like that? Often it feels like we're beating our heads against a wall and making no progress - like our invested time was all for nothing. No good effort is ever wasted. It may take longer to see the fruits of our labors than we'd like but there's no rushing an apple tree and if we walk away too soon in frustration, someone else will be enjoying the sweet fruit.
Patience can't be overstated as a quality worth developing. Impatient people go from one thing to another never knowing what may have sprouted right after they left. Impatience breeds discontent and bitterness. There's no place for that in a beautiful garden or a beautiful life.
Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden? - Robert Brault
Effort: Neither a garden or a life will tend itself. It takes effort. Constant effort. Gardens, like life, are never "finished" as long as they're alive. I spent 5 hours outside yesterday weeding, moving plants, edging, and removing debris. Was I finished when I came in? Not even close! I was sore. I was stiff, but definitely not finished. What I did gain from my time spent was progress. Some of that progress will take a whole season to realize. Some was apparent right away.
We need to expect life to be work. It wasn't meant to be easy. If it was, our muscles and intellect would atrophy instead of growing stronger and sharper. Our days would be strung together with meaningless boredom and nothing to look forward to.
I didn't finish the garden yesterday. I won't finish it today if I spend another 5 hours out there but I will make even more progress - and if I'm patient and consistent, I will in time enjoy the beautiful results - but it won't be because it's finished. It'll be because I've learned to love progress instead of holding out for perfection. Waiting for perfection is an exercise in self abuse and a guarantee of misery.
Nothing living is static. It's always changing, growing, dying, spreading or shrinking. We have to be willing to work at both gardens and life - always. Learn to love the journey. It's an important part of reaching any destination. Growth happens while striving - not on arriving.
Whether you also garden or have found other ways to nurture your soul in times of stress, look for the hidden lessons and parallels waiting to teach you important lessons. Wisdom is not reserved solely for weeds! It's around us all the time for our learning and benefit. Where do you most often find yours?