By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener
“Caring for your garden can be a great form of mindfulness meditation. By connecting with the earth and with the practice of gardening, you can cultivate a healthy mind and feel calm and connected. Simply planting a seed with intention, or touching soil, can be transformative. Go ahead and get a little dirty.” — Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Unplug Meditation and author of “Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers.”
As I watched the first snowflakes fall on my gardens the other day, I reflected on this growing season and how much my gardens (and gardening) have supported my physical, mental, and emotional health, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic where so many other activities have not been possible.
Gardening is just so therapeutic on many levels. What I love best from year to year is the transformation from an area of soil with some structure (shrubs etc.) to a lush environment buzzing with pollinators and birds and chipmunks just a few months later. A garden is so satisfying because it builds over time – plants, shrubs, and trees get larger and healthier with each passing year, and your garden becomes more beautiful over time.
Medical studies have shown that gardeners live longer because they are active, have better body circulation, lower blood pressure, less stress, the list goes on….
Horticultural therapy is now widely practiced, where participants become “plant caretakers”, supporting their recovery and improving their moods, resulting in shorter stays in medical facilities. Some of my fellow Peterborough Master Gardeners do wonderful work at our local retirement and nursing homes with their gardening activities.
Basically, our gardens are a more intimate form of enjoying and appreciating nature, helping us understand how everything is interrelated in nature, and how we can contribute to the cycle of life by planting a seed and nurturing our flowers, shrubs, and trees. It’s a powerful connection that gives us a sense of optimism and purpose. As Audrey Hepburn said..
My experience with gardeners is that they are lifelong learners, much of that from trial and error. In general we are a patient lot, planning each year and persevering through the seasons. We can also be stubborn and focused, to be found in the garden from early morning through sunset, having totally forgotten about time.
Gardening as Active Meditation
Active meditation or “meditation in motion” is an activity that requires full attention and concentration without needing much deep intellectual thought. Trail running, mountain biking, hiking, and riding a horse are all examples of active meditation, where you must focus on what’s right in front of you.
Trying to figure out the emerging weeds from the young seedlings, setting up your pots and planting your seeds, determining the best tool for an activity – all these things demand your full attention and presence. At the same time, you are allowing your mind to relax and stop worrying about all of life’s daily concerns. Of course, all is this is premised on your attitude. If you look forward to spending time in your garden, viewing it as a pleasure instead of as a “chore” or something that must get done, then you will experience all the positive benefits of gardening.
Certainly no one is saying gardening is not hard work, but on a sunny spring day I can lose hours working in the garden, totally absorbed in the physicality of the activities. Especially after a long winter I appreciate the texture and smell of the soil, the breeze, the birds, the flowers, the trees, and the clouds and sky.
So as the season of outside gardening winds down (yes I actually got all my bulbs in the ground already), my thoughts turn to all that my garden gave me this past year, and I start on my plans for next year. Ever the optimist..
Whether you call it meditation, mindfulness, or ecotherapy, gardeners are blessed to have a steady place of solace in these trying times. Here’s to great memories and planning for next spring.
Some further reading if you are interested
Why are Gardens so Good for the Soul?
Why COVID gardening is about more than just food
How the Coronavirus Changed Gardening
Gardening is fundamentally an act of enormous hope because everything you do in the garden is for the future.
Barbara Frum, Canadian Broadcast Journalist