Tending Your Mental Garden
In the early morning, I sat pulling weeds one by one. Gripping them by their roots and placing them in a bucket to discard, they seemed endless. As I labored on, this ordinary task got me thinking, because these weeds were actually growing in artificial turf! Despite my best efforts to discourage their growth, there they were – sprouting precisely and somewhat unexpectedly where I did not want them.
As I carefully and meditatively grasped each one by the root, I started to consider the weeds that had been growing in my mind as well. The ones that I had plucked before, only to find that they had returned.
Why are these weeds here again? How did they proliferate and spread? What has allowed them to sprout? How do I get rid of them once and for all? Just like weeds, our thoughts need a few things to take hold and grow.
Firstly, they need the seed – the initiation of the belief or the idea. And just like these weeds that blew in from somewhere else, oftentimes the seeds of negative thoughts come from outside of ourselves. These negative thought seeds may come from our family of origin as well as our greater culture. What are the seeds that are blowing your way and where are they coming from?
As much as we should pay attention to what we eat and drink, there is an increasing need to also pay attention to what we are consuming mentally. Just like we would limit or avoid consuming foods or beverages that are not contributing to our overall health and wellness, we should also limit or avoid consuming mental information that does not support us. That may mean weeding out conversations or visits with people who consistently undermine our wellbeing. Especially now, it means mindful consumption of media in all forms (see this excerpt from “Resilient Health” about taking a media fast).
I’m not saying that we need to stick our heads in the sand and resist listening to all negative messages. Some of them are true and necessary to hear for our growth and greater wellbeing as well as to be aware of potential hazards. But how often have we accepted messages that aren’t really true or productive? Messages like, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m too fat” or “Nobody loves me” or “I can never get ahead.” I encourage you to recognize messages like these as the weeds that they are and pull them out by the root. To do that sometimes requires assistance from a counselor, therapist, or other helpful person, just like we may need weeding tools or barriers in the garden.
Secondly, to grow, the weed seed also needs a hospitable environment. I was amazed that the weeds in my yard could grow in such a miniscule amount of dirt. But combined with some heavy rains and California sunshine, it was just enough to get them started. So I wondered, what environment was I creating in my own mental terrain that was supporting these thought weeds?
I recognized that certain conversations that I was having – by phone, by text/email, as well as internal conversations in my own mind — were fueling the growth of negative thoughts. Some parts of these conversations were necessary, but other parts led me down rabbit holes that did not need to be revisited. I chuckled out loud as I remembered the great wisdom of my mentor Dr. David Simon who loved to show this Bob Newhart video reminding people to just “Stop It.” This is easier said than done, but having a little humor about it helps.
Staying self-aware is necessary – pay attention to the things that support the growth of the weeds, as well as the things that can mitigate them. Personally, I try to stay more present to notice when I start to go down those negative rabbit holes, and I remind myself that I don’t need to go down there again to relearn the lesson. Instead, I can look back at the lesson itself, that I learned (or should have learned), from that experience and reflect on that. We sometimes need reminders of these life lessons, or to revisit them from a different perspective that perhaps may bring greater awareness and sometimes closure.
From this positive and health-seeking mindset, a thought weed can be a messenger, rather than destructive force, and it is the interpretation of the message that matters. Will I choose to use it to feed and reinforce negative thoughts and beliefs? Or will I choose to understand and learn from the lesson that is presented?
We don’t need to shame ourselves for allowing these mental weeds to sprout again. Instead we can acknowledge their presence and tend our mental gardens, including cultivating positive thoughts and messages that we would like to flourish. Let’s continue to weed one-by-one, mindfully creating the physical and mental landscape that we desire.
Resilient Health Tips to Tend Your Mental Garden
- Be mindful of the messages that you consume in all forms.
- Curate your sources of information – are they true, are they helpful, are they necessary?
- Enlist helpers to support you in cultivating a more positive mental landscape.
- Be ok with letting go of relationships and habits that do not serve your higher good.
- If you become aware of a negative thought or belief, ask yourself where this thought or belief came from?
- If you’ve had a persistent or particularly powerful negative experience, what lesson can you take from that experience that can help you to move you forward?
- Be kind to yourself. We are all works in progress. No one is perfect.