Building a Garden, and Building Myself

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.

Five Ways to Regain Focus in Trying Times

Living in crisis mode takes a toll on everyone. The Mayo Clinic cites the many physical effects that chronic stress can have, but cognitive effects can be just as debilitating. Depression and anxiety are common. However, with the uncertainty of when and if things will return to normal, one effect that I’ve noticed more often is just an inability to focus or concentrate on anything long-term, whether it is a work-related project or plans to visit my kids. If this is you, too, here are five ways I am trying to help regain focus during these trying times:

Step away from the internet. While spending more time at home may mean more time online, one way to fight concentration impairment is to be offline for as much of the day as possible. “Surfing” by definition implies short, superficial and mindless browsing, which only encourages a lack of concentration. Instead, set certain times and purposes for online browsing, and once completed, move on to something else. And when you are online, try positive sites such as Upworthy or ViralNova to pique your interest and renew your faith and hope!

Take active breaks. Instead of surfing the internet when taking a break from work or chores (see above), why not do twenty minutes of yoga? Or take a walk? Stretch? Physical activity is a great way to clear the mind and refocus your energy — and you’ll be healthier for the effort!

Get creative. Take advantage of more time at home to make something. Learn to knit, quilt, draw or paint. Take up jewelry-making, stained glass, or papercrafts. Anytime you immerse yourself in the creative process, your focus and concentration improves — plus you get the satisfaction of making something new!

Go outside. Can you sit outside to work? Lucky you! The sun and breeze and change of scenery is bound to help you concentrate. Even if you can’t, getting outside for a portion of the day will help you clear your head and regain focus. Breathe the fresh air, admire the summer blooms, feel the grass beneath your feet. Walk in the woods, work in your garden, pull some weeds. Nature can be a great ‘reset’ button.

Organize your stuff. Lack of focus often manifests itself as cluttered closets, overflowing drawers and piles of who-knows-what stacked on a desk. If you have trouble concentrating, start to clear the clutter that fogs your thinking and makes a mess of your home. Pick one small space — a drawer, linen closet, or bathroom cabinet — and spread the contents on a table. As you put things back, eliminate items that can be tossed or donated and rearrange what you keep to make the space more inviting and useful. Warning — this practice can be addictive and very satisfying!

Most of us can handle a crisis. We leap into action and with laser-like focus make decisions and move to make life normal again. These times require different strategies, though, because the crisis is out of our immediate control. But by actively taking steps to regain our focus, we will not just survive the following months, we’ll thrive!

Are You Finding Peace or Avoiding Life?

Virginia Woolf once said, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” And of course, she is right. Peace as we generally think of it can be elusive at best, changing with circumstances and mood. But true peace, lasting peace, is earned through the hard work that comes with facing and walking through life’s challenges.

The trouble is “finding peace” can look an awful lot like avoiding life.

We “keep the peace” by avoiding difficult decisions, delicate discussions, and painful circumstances. We “make peace” with something that if we were honest about it, we would admit makes us uncomfortable, angry, or discouraged. We search for “inner peace” by creating a facade of outer peace rather than risking a painful encounter or conflict. We content ourselves with being “at peace” with something, though this “peace at any price” comes at the expense of what our gut is telling us — until finally we “rest in peace” after possibly never really living at all.

Honestly, I am as guilty as anyone of avoiding the messiness of life under the guise of “finding peace”. In fact, I have probably raised avoidance to an art form. But “peace of mind” (and heart and soul and spirit) cannot be found through avoidance. Life has a way of leaking into our facades no matter how carefully we try to contain it.

So what are the choices?

  • Let go entirely. Drop the issue, the relationship, the job, the friendship — just walk away. But this strategy can feel like giving up, and worse, giving up on something or someone worth keeping. It doesn’t result in peace, but in a constant state of wondering, “what if”.
  • Lie to yourself. Hide behind being busy. Tell yourself that really everything is OK, there’s nothing wrong, it’s all good and you are doing all that you can do. A very wise friend tells me often that it is impossible to lie to yourself, but I am not so sure we don’t try. Either way, though, this strategy is nothing more than a band-aid and there will be no peace.
  • Have a plan for dealing with the issue — but at some nebulous time in the future. Think “if this happens, then I’ll do that” or “I’ll give it until (fill in any date or circumstance) and then I’ll decide what to do.” While this strategy can allow you to feel a temporary moment of peace, it doesn’t work in the long-term. The plan will need to be constantly revised, the timeframe pushed back, and the terms re-negotiated with yourself — not a peaceful process, to be sure.
  • Acknowledge the issue and its context before taking steps toward the outcome you want. Recognizing the issue and defining its context is half the battle. Maybe you want a new job, but you are afraid to leave the security of the one you have. Acknowledging the issue of wanting new employment and the context of fear allows for a manageable approach. You can address the fears as they arise and watch them dissipate as you begin to achieve your goal.

Obviously, the last choice is the best choice.

Virginia Woolf was correct that real peace does not come from avoiding the trials of life. It comes from meeting those challenges and growing through them!