You are the gardener

I remember one Spring morning, I woke in a low-energy, ‘yeah, whatever’ kind of mood. The day didn’t feel bright; I didn’t feel particularly zingy; my cat wasn’t particularly cute (and believe me, even on an average day, Dylan is cute as a button).

Not a great start.

I shlumped downstairs, put on coffee – no savouring the rich aroma of the grounds; no anticipatory joy as the machine started gurgling.

And then I pulled up the kitchen blind, and life changed. On the windowsill, my sweet pea seeds had sprouted during the night. So teeny, so tenacious, so nearly-fluorescent green. It was impossible not to smile wide at their little miraculous selves. My whole morning changed.

We contain multitudes

In my practice, we talk about every human being born with the same seeds: the seed of joy, fear, kindness, murderous rage. Each of us tends to be born with some seeds that are naturally strong: for some of us, generosity or joy is easily accessible; others may be quick to anger, or to feel the pull of despair - even as a young child.

But the thing to remember is that we have charge of the garden.

What all the research into neuroplasticity tells us is that where we repeatedly rest our attention becomes a habit and then a trait, which feels like our essential ‘nature’. So the sense of being an anxious person - that feeling of ‘this is just who I am’ - is actually not entirely true. It’s more accurate to say ‘anxiety is a well watered seed in me’.

And you can start to cut off its nutrition.

High-quality nutrition

Everything needs to be fed to survive. Every seed needs sufficient conditions to germinate: sun, water, nutritious soil – and time.

As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says:

The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow. Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow. When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy. When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry. The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Over time, we come to understand how we are nourishing our seeds. With every thing we take in, we are eating constantly: every text message, document, programme, conversation, song, landscape, game, radio show. Everything in our environment is a source of nutrition: some are superfoods that nourish us, and some are highly toxic. Some leave us suspicious or isolated; others leave us warm and grateful.

Cultivating with care

With mindfulness, we learn to cultivate with care. A few years back, I started checking in on how I felt before I turned on the radio, and how I felt a few minutes later (spoiler: I was never happier for having listened to the radio).

With this awareness, we can have more care when we’re at risk. Whether it’s a conversation, a person, a thought or an environment, we know when we’re in a more toxic space and we can protect our sense of solidity and peace.

At the same time, we intentionally connect with our wholesome seeds, so that they can gain energy and strength. Those sweet pea seedlings shifted my mood because I'd nourished a sense of wonder for a long time, and so the seed popped up easily. We learn to savour the good stuff, so that when something like anxiety looms, we know that we are more than one emotion. And we can invoke other seeds to take care of us: mindfulness, patience, calm, acceptance, humour. We can conjure an entire garden around that seed of anxiety. It'll revert to its seed-state in time, and meanwhile, we are not alone.

You are the gardener. What are you growing?

Wishing you patience, wisdom and much joy in cultivating with care.