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Wellness Wednesday: Gardening can cultivate calm and resilience in any crisis

As many people take to the garden during the Covid-19 shutdown, Fiann Ó Nualláin says there’s a mindful approach to the tasks that can improve wellbeing.

Fiann Ó Nualláin

AMIDST THE CURRENT coronavirus crisis, we are being urged to limit our circle and maintain social distance and that includes in the great outdoors. Recent weeks have seen the easily bored as well as the genuinely cabin-fevered flocking to the hills and beach fronts to breathe in the fresh air. All within allowable distances, hopefully. These excursions have raised concerns over viral spread and over-crowding in local parks.

Within the confines of your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have one, you won’t just boost the functioning of your immune system with sunshine delivered Vitamin-D and increase good mood with blue-sky delivered serotonin but will also get a few lungfuls of fresh air without needing to dodge large numbers of other walkers.

Far from this current crisis being an ever decreasing circle, there is opportunity to open up new horizons; to not just stand in the garden like a prisoner on yard break, to not just mow and preen – but to actually enjoy the gardening experience. In short, gardening can be done mindfully, as anything can.

shutterstock_1706825986 Source: Shutterstock/HollyHarry

If you have gardened just a little, you’ll know that it is a wonderful distraction to your worries and even better a respite from the rolling news. If you have always gardened, you can, of course, take it a bit further and try some mindful gardening. 

Becoming a more mindful gardener does not pit ‘being’ over ‘doing’ – to garden is to do – how we ‘do’ is also how we can ‘be’. We can carry out our daily chores as mindful practices. We can rake like a zen monk for sure but we can just as easily mow the lawn with attention, be present as we do it.  

Often the monotonous tasks of life are done on automatic pilot but if we are present in the moment, they are not so monotonous – we are alive in the moment of their doing – the doing is a vibrational lift to our being when it is done mindfully. 

To be present

Being present is experiencing life. Being present is the root of mindful gardening. Doing what needs to be done in the garden today with focus and conscious presence is mindful gardening. You may have been doing it all along but didn’t notice.

Mindfulness will sharpen that notice. To notice is mindfulness. In noticing the doing of the task is the witnessing of the now of it, and brings our being into the task. We are truly present – that is the aim of mindfulness. 

Sowing seed is not an act of will, it is participation in the divine force of creation, it is participation with the force of life; to renew itself. In sowing seed, you are present at the conception of a new batch of plants. Be present. Be awestruck. Be joyous. Be mindful. 

With diligence read the seed packet or recall from past experience the requirements of the seed to germinate. Does it need light and so a surface sowing, does it germinate in darkness?

This attention to detail is being present to the life process requirements of the plant. Taking it seriously, not just dispersing seed any old way and leaving it to chance, it is not just due diligence but respect. Respect is a loving-kindness, it is an open heart, it is an awake presence to the undertaking. 

Follow the process

Bring your awake presence to every stage; to filling the compost tray or making the drill or fine tilth in the earth. Put or manifest the intent to succeed in every action. Feel the seed in your hand and carefully deposit it into its position to grow. Consciously water it to its requirement. This may be a gardening task that you do regularly, almost on muscle memory, automatic, without experiencing but why not experience it anew by doing it as if for the first time, by letting it be the full focus of your attention. By being here and now with it.  

We gardeners can become automatic on regular gardening tasks and not really be present to what we are doing. We may dig the right depth hole and water in after planting but we perhaps ‘phone it in’ or go through the motions without actually noticing what we are doing or have done. To plant mindfully is not just to bring a correct method to bear, it is to be there.

Notice how you dig the hole, feel the implement in your hand or how your hand parts the soil. Feel it, register it. Become aware of the plant as you tip it from its pot, tease it roots, place it in the hole. Feel the sensation of backfilling, firming in – there is a lot of physicality and contact here. Experience it all.

Then with positive regard water the plant. Know that you have given it the best start you can. Know that by planting with your attentive self – in a mindful mode – you have really interacted with that plant, that you have cultivated a connection, that you are not just doing in the garden, you are being and a vital part of its being. 

Weeding

Like any good gardening book or visit into the garden there will be plenty of prompts to get weeding across the pages – often alluding to the spiritual and psychological significance of weeding negativity from your life to allow space for positivity to grow.  Weeding is a great metaphor, but we are gardeners and gardens have actual weeds so some actual weeding will need to be done too!

We can weed a physical weed mindfully and can bring our attention to how it may resist or give way to our pulling hand. We are not relishing its destruction, rather, we are acknowledging that it has to go – that it competes for water, nutrients, space, and even light. It may seem that we are being judgmental – we are not; we are simply acknowledging, accepting, and responding accordingly.

Many gardeners may root out a bramble or nettle with a judgmental attitude, with curses and even aggression, but why waste all that energy, why manifest contempt. We weed for the greater good of the garden so do it in the spirit of goodness. 

We can be present to a weed’s removal – actually witness it. We may notice how the hoe or other tool is efficient. We may reflect some gratitude for such inventions and the easing of our labour.

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I like to think of weeding as harvesting material for the compost heap, any negative associations and also the monotony of a mundane chore is thus transformed into a purposeful action that can be carried out as a dynamic mindful exercise. Of course, some days it’s just the weeding that needs to be done and that’s ok too – but the more we do it mindfully, the more mindful we become.

Fiann Ó Nualláin is an author and wellness researcher. A regular contributor to Ireland AM and RTE’s Today show. He has a background in medicinal botany and social and therapeutic horticulture. He has written several books on herbalism and mindful practices. Find him at theholisticgardener.com. Twitter @HolisticG.

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Fiann Ó Nualláin

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