Like most people, I have been home most of the spring and summer, and have found loads of projects that need doing around my house. By far, the most satisfying has been reimagining my outdoor spaces and building a garden that I can enjoy every day. What I did not plan on, however, and have found to be the most gratifying aspect of this project, is how building the garden has become a metaphor for building myself.
I am very fortunate to live in a small cottage-like home that I love. When I divorced nearly five years ago, I bought this house because it felt like home. Since then I have made it more and more my own. I can track my own healing by the amount of color I have introduced into each room, the boldness in which I now make changes, and the feelings of peace and contentment that surge in me sometimes as I count my many blessings in being here.
This summer I decided to put in three raised garden beds in the back, where I have my “crops” – tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, butternut squash, peppers, leeks, onions, and lettuce. Then I looked at the front yard, where the grass was kind of spotty and the perennial garden constrained, and I decided (with the enormous and generous help of my significant other) to create a real cottage garden, tearing up half my lawn and creating a beautiful space filled with ferns, hostas, and assorted flowering plants. It is a work in progress, but nearing completion, and I love it!
Here are a few lessons I have learned from building my garden and building myself:
- Begin with what you have. When I moved in here four and half years ago, I knew I had made the right decision, but I was terrified of being on my own. That first year was a blur of mistakes, I am sure, but all necessary to healing and growing. Likewise, I have made numerous mistakes in the garden, but with each season I have learned more about how to nurture my plants (and nurture myself), and this year, the new garden space has been mostly filled with divided plants from other areas of the yard. Likewise, by nurturing what I have within me, I can feel my own growth and know that I much more now to offer others. What a wonderful feeling!
- Accept the generosity of those around you. Accepting help from others has always been difficult for me, as most of my life has been spent in an environment where I felt like I had to prove my own worth by being productive at all times. One thing that I have learned in the process of building my garden, and building myself, is that it is more than okay to accept the help of others! Because of a knee injury a couple of months ago, my contribution to the building of this garden has basically to plan what I thought would look nice and then to point as my significant other so kindly cut the sod to make the garden bed, dug the holes and placed the plants in their new homes. Without his help, I would never been able to realize this garden space. Once my neighbors saw what we were doing, they generously contributed plants from their own gardens to help fill the large new space. It feels good to just accept their generosity in the spirit in which it is intended, and I am grateful.
- Recognize that you and your garden are works in progress. Each year I recognize the progress that I have made – relearning who I am without the stress of an unhappy relationship and working on the parts of me that are less mature and frankly, not so pretty. Like my garden, I am a work in progress. Each season, I see plants that should be moved, changed, divided and shared. Each year, I see the same in myself. My garden will never be finished. At best, it will always need upkeep and care to maintain its beauty. I am likely to find other plants that I want to introduce which will require changes in what exists. The same is true for me. I will always need upkeep and care, and no matter what age I reach, I hope to always be willing and able to introduce new interests and things of beauty into my life.
“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” –Deepak Chopra
It’s our third week of social distancing and shelter at home. On family group chats, we joke about changing from our day sweatpants to our night sweatpants and how many jigsaw puzzles we’ve done. Yet while we laugh at our imposed laziness, there is a sense of malaise that cannot be ignored. These are scary times.
Anxiety and Imagination
For better or worse, we humans are blessed with imagination. We can create elaborate realities that pass the time as pleasant daydreams, but just as easily we can imagine scenarios that leave us breathless with fear and anxiety.
As the news about coronavirus becomes more grim, and as we realize the ramifications of no work, few face-to-face social interactions, and the possibility of serious illness, it is easy to see why so many imagine the worst and become anxious these days.
Imagine a Better Outcome
But we don’t have to do this. Imagination used in its best form can create a reality that is much more hopeful and optimistic. Here are five ways to release the anxiety and tap into a more positive use of imagination:
- Breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety hits. Focus on feeling your breath entering and nourishing your body and spirit. If you can’t control your breathing, try using a breathing or meditation app to help you visually regulate inhaling and exhaling. Practice it regularly, and use this time to imagine the feeling of being safe and loved. When I was young and feeling anxious, I used to imagine myself sleeping in the palm of God’s hand – totally cared for and safe. That image is one that stays with me now.
- Take stock of what you have and be grateful. Whenever I feel anxious about money or my future, I remind myself that the universe is an abundant place with plenty for everyone. I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. For today, I have everything I need (and most of what I want). Acknowledging this, and being grateful for it, relaxes my mind and allows me to imagine abundance rather than lack.
- Put things in order. An anxious mind is is cluttered with scary images and fears, and this disorder is often reflected in the space around you. To regain control of your mind, take back control of your space. Make the bed, put something back where it belongs, clean out a small drawer, or organize a shelf. These small acts of physical order can help put a mind at ease and free up mental space for positive imagination to work.
- Go outside. Set aside an hour to walk or go for a run in nature. Work in the garden, rake up dead grass (the order thing again), or plant a garden. Fresh air and activity do wonders to clear negative energy and help you imagine new possibilities. It is hard to feel anxious when the sun is on your face and birds are singing around you.
- Create a vision board. Once you have calmed your mind, creating a vision board is a fun way to use your imagination to design a better outcome to whatever the situation. Use old magazines and a notebook or one of the vision board apps that are available and collect images of the outcomes you desire. The pictures should reflect not just the things you want, but the feelings that are invoked when you think of your ideal outcome. Keep it fluid and update it often to start using your imagination more productively.
Imagination is a wonderful tool to help us create and escape the everyday. But when we imagine the worst that can happen, anxiety is the result. These days of isolation and uncertainty are scary. By harnessing the imagination, we can release our anxiety and create new possibilities for the future.
Last year I moved into a new home. As part of making it my own, I had several new flowerbeds dug, and this spring has been the time to fill them… a job I recently finished. While I spent a lot of time and money on my garden this spring, it has all been worth it. I love taking care of the plants, keeping the beds neat and weed-free, and trying to orchestrate the effects of which plants bloom when and where. In turn, I am rewarded with a beautiful palette of colorful blooms (I hope) from spring into fall, and with the numerous lessons gardening teaches each every day. Here are five I will take with me this growing season:
- “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” –Audrey Hepburn So often we don’t readily see or recognize the fruits of our efforts. Gardening teaches us to be patient, to wait for the signs of new growth as plants take root and begin to thrive. We learn that in time, our patience and care will pay off bountifully.
- “The grass is greenest where you water it.” — Neil Barringham Pay attention to your garden and care for it regularly, and it will grow lush and beautiful… as will your relationships and every area of your life. It is as simple and as difficult as that.
- “If you don’t like the way things are, change it! You are not a tree.” –Jim Rohn One thing I’ve learned from gardening is that nothing is permanent. Plants, like people can be moved to a place that’s best for them and where they will thrive. A garden is a great place to experiment and take risks, and so is life.
- “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” –A.A. Milne I tend to yank out plants I don’t recognize, but every so often I am surprised by something that I think is a weed, but is kind of pretty in a way, and I let it go, only to find out later that it is a flower I just didn’t know. The problems we have often seem like weeds because we don’t recognize them as valuable, and we want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. It is only later later that we realize just what they’ve contributed to our lives.
- “Bloom where you are planted.” — St. Francis de Sales I am always amazed at how tenacious some plants are, defying all odds and growing from a crack in the sidewalk, under the shade of huge tree, or in the rockiest soil. What an example for us… to take what we have been given and grow with it!