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Lessons from the Garden

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I’ve found the garden to be a place of reciprocity. As I nurture it, it nurtures me. As my plants grow, I grow simultaneously. As my garden flourishes, I flourish. At least, this has been my experience as a novice gardener. I’ve learned much more than how to grow plants… I feel like I’ve been tuned in to what it really takes for life to thrive. Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up from the garden that have changed my relationship with Self, with others, and the natural world around me.

1. Reverence for the cycle of life

My yoga practice coupled with a vegan lifestyle has taught me the moral principle of Ahimsa — simply defined as nonviolence, compassion, and harmlessness. I’ve always believed that “all life is sacred,” but it is in the garden that I truly get to integrate this belief from my head, to my heart, and through my hands.

In the garden, I experience a plant’s life cycle from seed to maturity, compost then back into soil. I plant, nurture, and harvest, but also uproot, discard, and clear space for new life to flourish. Not to mention, getting up close and personal with the little critters that crawl, jump, and fly around the garden. All of this has given me a new perspective on life and death. There is no one without the other. Knowing how to let things live, and when to let things die has been a real lesson for me. Life it is a continuous process of degeneration and creation. The natural rhythm of the garden teaches me to accept the daily dying that is necessary in order for new growth to happen. Just as food scraps and other “waste” material are composted and broken down to nutrient-rich soil, it is often the grunge of life which transforms into the fertile foundation and wisdom needed on this evolutionary path of life.

Life is not linear, and nature does not operate according to our time. Life is cyclical, from birth to death to rebirth, and nature lives according to the elements — daily by the sun and monthly by the moon. Replenishment of all that we need to survive calls for reverence for all life. This deep appreciation is shown best by living in harmony with the Earth, water, air, and creatures that we (myself included) so often take for granted.

2. Patience

Anyone who knows me well knows that patience is not my virtue. But it is absolutely necessary when it comes to sowing, growing, and harvesting plants from seed to maturity. Preparing the soil, planting seeds, and waiting for them to sprout takes time. Nourishing them with water, fertilizing, weeding, and gathering their bounty takes time. On the plants behalf, I imagine that their daily soaking up of nutrients from sunshine, water, and soil takes patient effort as well. Depending on the plant, this process can take weeks, months, even years. Gardening helps to cultivate patience simply because the learning process and rewards are worth it. Few things satisfy me more than eating fresh fruit, veggies, and herbs straight from the garden. Paralleled to the joy of watching beautiful sunflowers sprout and blossom out of seeds planted just two moons prior.

Cultivating patience through consistent effort has been especially helpful in my personal life. Practicing this virtue in the garden reinforces the same patience with my Self when I think or feel like “I’m not ____ enough”. This patience ripples out to my relationships when my expectations of others get too high. It serves as a reminder to focus my energy on gaining understanding and inner peace rather than being disturbed by my own vices, or the errors of others. Each time I step into the garden, I am gently reminded that good things take time… and great things take patience. Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, writer, and the father of Taoism says, “Nature does not rush, yet everything is accomplished.”

3. Removing the excess

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with beautifying the garden; trimming the dead leaves off the greens (kale, lettuce, collards, and chard) as well as making sure the aisles between beds are clear of any rotting material. I’ve noticed that not only do my plants thrive more when they can focus their energy on producing quality food rather than expending energy on their dying leaves, they are also happier when their environment is favorable, clean of mold and adverse insects.

This has been a metaphor in my life, prompting me to constantly check in with my internal and external environments. By consciously choosing what I absorb through deep breaths, pure water and food, as well as purposeful information, I can maintain a healthy internal environment. And if have everything I need to survive — fresh air, clean water, good food, sunshine, and lots of love, then much of the stress and dis-ease I experience are the result of an accumulated excess. For example, my habits of thinking too much and expressing too little, eating too much and moving too little, or holding on to relationships that no longer serve their purpose, have all contributed to this excess. It is essential to recognize these barriers to growth and take care of them appropriately so we can thrive.

4. You get what you put in

Simply put, things grow where your energy goes. If I don’t attend to the garden for a few days, I notice the difference. The weeds are a little more overgrown, the leaves are more wilted. Plants, like people, demand considerate attention. Luckily, I’m not the only one looking out for them. But the fact remains that if I’m unwilling to put in the work, then I am unlikely to see any results. And in the long run, a little every day goes a long way.

Sometimes it seems easier to write about the lessons I learn rather than acting on them. I can intellectually understand having respect for life, being patient, and setting up favorable conditions for growth, but if I’m not putting these theories into practice, then I have not learned and will not gain anything. In the garden and in life, focused attention and concentration to the task at hand serves well in proving that I’m able to create anything, if I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and put in the work.

5. Be grateful for the rain

Waking up in the morning to the sound of raindrops used to put a damper on my mood. Now I look for rainbows and remember to be grateful because the garden is being watered by the sky. The plants are happy, and because of that, so am I. This has been a simple yet profound lesson for me in embracing all the weathers of life, whether or not I feel like it. If I have learned anything from the garden, it is that I can still do my best and something (whether it’s a storm, bugs, or a heat wave) can still cause things to not work out as I’d hoped or expected.

Change is the only constant and the garden proves that we need to prepare for and adapt to these changes. But that’s what the garden, and life, is all about — taking what we have learned, dusting off the dirt, and starting again. Because in the end we become more grateful for the sunshine not in spite of, but because of, the rain.

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