As gardening season beckons, many gardeners focus on the work of producing healthy food for their families. For others, the garden represents fresh air, a little exercise, or a pleasant pastime. But is it possible that gardening can serve a higher purpose...can the act of gardening heal a troubled mind, lessen feelings of depression, or promote spiritual growth?
"GARDENING IS HOPE PUT INTO ACTION AND MIRACLES MADE TANGIBLE." -PABLO SOLOMON
Award-winning Environmental Designer Pablo Solomon has spent decades studying Zen art, Japanese flower arranging, and Zen gardens, and holds advanced degrees in counseling and social psychology. He tells Natural Choice Directory that gardening can, indeed, heal troubled minds.
"Gardening has been part of therapy for troubled minds for centuries. Gardening allows one to escape one's worries and to concentrate on the beauty and wonder of growing plants. Even Van Gogh seemed to calm down a bit with gardening. Slaves and prisoners of war were usually allowed to grow gardens. This was as much to give them some false sense of freedom as well as to supplement their diets."
Gardening has always been part of monastery life, and all the major religions use gardening parables, Solomon points out. "Great teachers of all religions have known that 'the Way is through doing.' Gardening is an activity that allows the person to experience the miracle of life in one of its most demonstrative ways. Often as the plants grow, so grows the reaffirmation of life that tends to relieve anxiety and depression. One of my favorite little garden plaques says, 'A Garden is the place where the Heart feels at Home.'"
So what is it about gardening that promotes a feeling of well being? "Nothing gives one a better feeling than success," says Solomon. "Gardening allows a person to put his or her hopes and dreams into a tangible activity and to literally reap what they sow. The daily routine of tending the garden until the food is ready is a great lesson in life. Eventually people understand that they reap what they sow and that good results require discipline, work, and daily effort."
Gardening can even ease anxiety and depression, says Solomon, by "taking the focus off of the negative and giving the person positive experiences and ways to shift to a more positive way of life."
"GARDENS ARE BACKYARD PULPITS -- THEY TEACH THE WONDER OF LIFE, THE REWARDS OF WORK AND JOY OF ACCOMPLISHMENT." -PABLO SOLOMON
To achieve the spiritual benefits of gardening, one should implement "mindfulness" while gardening, offers Professional Counselor and Addictions Specialist Dr. Ka Rae' Carey. "In other words, being completely present in the gardening activity."
Dr. Carey often suggests that people who suffer from uncontrolled anger, stress, and anxiety engage in outdoor activities like gardening. "I further encourage my clients specifically by giving them tasks to help them be mindful in their gardening activities...such as paying special attention to the elements that help their gardens grow; being able to describe how the dirt, plants, and flowers feel in their hands; describing how the flowers and plants look to their eyes; how they smell; and how they envision the garden after they have completed it."
"Physical healing follows spiritual healing, for as we think/believe, we become," says Judy Winkler, a gardener and a minister who uses gardening as a metaphor for teaching spiritual growth:
"First, we clear the soil, pulling out weeds, rocks, and debris that don't support growth. We clear the mind of unwanted, beliefs, thoughts and behaviors that do not support growth. "Second, we prepare the soil by stirring it up, adding nutrients, and nourishment. We stir up old patterns and replace them with positive, uplifting, life-giving thoughts. "Third, we decide what we want to grow - peas, carrots, or petunias. We set a desire, an intention in mind. "Fourth, we plant the seed. We create a desire in mind and create a specific plan. (We don't throw a bunch of seed out and hope we'll get roses.) "Fifth, we water and cultivate. We feed our heart and mind with positive, useful thoughts to keep our mind stirred up in a helpful way. "Sixth, we prune, tend, exterminate. We eliminate what no longer serves us. We are willing to let go of everything that does not support our desire. "Last, we reap the harvest. We appreciate our spiritual growth, feel satisfied and grateful, and enjoy the fruit of our labor. The body "gets" the correlation between physically tending a garden and healing both physically & spiritually. With each step of gardening, the body is healed, as is the mind. Gardeners are practical, peaceful, purposeful, healthy people who feel connected to something greater than themselves."
"THE EARTH WILL NOT ARGUE WITH YOU."
Psychologist Nancy Irwin believes that "Gardening can be very grounding (pun intended) because anything dealing with the earth or nature connects us to our source. The earth is stable (generally), and will not argue with you, or reject you. You are safe. You are caring for something, and watching it grow. This is a selfless thing to do."
Life Coach and Author Mikaya Heart values nature as a healing force that cannot be underestimated. "When we are focused on being in Nature, on feeling the soil with our hands, intent on the wellbeing of the plants we are working and playing with, then we are in touch with the life force of the universe, which allows us just to BE who we are, loving and appreciating us for being who we are. Only too often, when we are with other humans, they want us to be different or they are trying to be different from who they are, and this sets up a dissonance.
"When we are simply working to help plants to grow, we are in tune with life force itself. It doesn't matter if we are consciously aware of this or not, it is occurring anyway, and can heal us on a deep level. Any activity that brings us into close contact with Nature can take us to a place of ease and comfort within ourselves."
"GARDENING IS LIKE COOKING -- A TACTILE EXPERIENCE THAT OFTEN EVOKES MEMORIES."
Carla Zambelli, who describes herself as a "simple layperson," relates her personal experiences, "When I garden as an adult, I remember gardening with my father and grandfather as a little girl. To me that is very positive. I started gardening as an adult on a more 'for real' basis in my early 20s because it reduced stress. I feel a positive and calming connection with nature when I garden. It's also great exercise and there is self-satisfaction with what you create."
From soil and seeds and a little TLC springs life. That can be an awesome thing, if we allow ourselves to focus on the positive, life-affirming process -- and garden for body, mind, and spirit.
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.