the nature of things

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (American professor emeritus of medicine and mindfulness advocate.)

Sure, mindfulness can be a relaxation technique – a way to attune to your inner peace – but it is also a means of immediate clarity – not just the development of focus and attainment of acuity but of paying attention to the nature of things and comprehending.

Mindfulness meditation is observation, the goal is to see clearly our true selves, we see it by dropping our beliefs and prejudices. We empty the mind of clutter to uncover what some Buddhist practitioners may call the original mind – a mind freed from attachment. We pay attention with our breath, with our body, with our full and true potential – with our presence.

We observe. We witness. We attend. We recognise. We are the awareness. We are the awe. We are not bound and we are not separate. That is the wisdom sought, that is the wisdom found, that is the original mind, that is the original soul. Discover that in the garden today. Let yourself notice the reality of life all around you. Let wisdom, joy, original self, unfold like a leaf or the pop of a flower.

I am reminded of a waka (traditional Japanese poem) attributed to Dōgen; ‘Mimi ni mite / me ni kiku naraba / utagawaji / onore nari keri / noki no tamamizu – Seeing with ears and hearing with eyes, there is no doubt that, the jewel-like raindrops dripping from the eaves are myself’.

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dandelion – the official weed with official healing potential

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) derives its name from the French for the lions tooth – dent-de-lion – the large toothed leaves are noticeably serrated but they also pack a medicinal bite with some potent bitter glycosides, terpenoids and a good complement of vitamins and minerals including plenty of potassium and iron. There are several explanations in botanical circles for the nomenclature but I personally like the one that derives from the Greek ‘Taraxos – akos’ meaning ‘disorder remedy’, its ‘official’-ness (denoting herbal validation) backing that theory.

Dandelion leaf is utilized in salads and both fresh and dried to produce a herbal tea; 1-2 tsps of chopped herbage per cup of boiling water , steep for 3 – 7 minutes. The fresh foliage is slightly less bitter than the dried. The foliage and tea exert a strong diuretic action and so has a long history in treating UTIs, oedema, high blood pressure, glaucoma, to eliminate uric acid and as a detox. Unlike conventional diuretics which cause a loss of potassium, dandelion tea contains good levels of potassium.

A traditional spring tonic in the customs and pharmacopoeias of many European countries and further afield. Dandelion’s bitter glycosides including taraxacin and taraxacerin – can ease the symptoms and flare-ups of arthritis, acne, eczema, and gastritis. Dandelion has a history of use as a cleanser of the kidney, spleen, gall bladder and liver but note cautions with medications to remedy conditions of those parts.

Dandelion leaf tea increases bile production and stomach acids and is utilized to stimulate the appetite and assist efficient digestion. It is often utilized in the relief of bloating and stomach distention. Dandelion foliage is also a potent source of kynurenic acid which plays a role in the healthy functioning of the digestive system and gut flora and is remedial to diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
The root is also a great resource, notably roasted as a coffee substitute and detox beverage. Decoct in boiling water for 5-10mins; the ratio is 1/2 – 2 tsp per cup required depending on preferred strength. Higher dosages are more potent therapeutically but also stronger in bitterness. Can be sweetened to taste.

Dandelion in supporting stimulation of bile flow from the gall bladder to the duodenum helps to prompt the efficient digestion of fats and is considered applicably in detoxing from a former fatty diet – and as natural liver detox. As to the ‘bitterness’ – we have a ‘bitter taste’ receptor known as T2R38 which is implicated in how we respond to upper respiratory infection and chronic rhinosinusitis and the aroma of a bitter brew can fire up our anti-inflammatory radar if not actively engage our immune arsenal.

The roots also yield sesquiterpene lactones including eudesmanolide and germacranolide, which act as anti-inflammatories via potent inhibition of transcription factor NF-kappaB. Dandelion’s sesquiterpenes are also supportive to the activity of the pancreas and dandelion root contains two substances, inulin and levulin, that as soluble fibres can help reduce blood cholesterol and lower glucose levels and may see useful application in metabolic syndrome and diabetes treatments.

Caution: Avoid if allergic to ragweed. Dandelion may cancel the action of prescription antacids and increase the action of diuretics, diabetic medication and blood-thinning medications. As with all strong diuretics, anyone utilizing lithium or with kidney or gallbladder problems will require guidance/supervision of use.

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The solace of solitude.

“Solitude is an essential experience for the mind to organize its own processes and create an internal state of resonance. In such a state, the self is able to alter its constraints by directly reducing the input from interactions with others”
– Daniel J. Siegel (American clinical professor of psychiatry and mindfulness advocate.)

Gardening can be a solitary pastime, but is rare we feel alone there. The garden is a comforting space, full of your creativity and your nurturing care, there are times it wraps its arms back around you as you have done for it but being a gardener is also an endeavour developmental of a resilient nature – we work it alone, we spend our time there often in silence and abstract of wows. In times of stress and pain, a step out into the garden refires that long wired aspect – the solace button is pushed.

Many of the great mystics found solace in their silence and solitude – in the quiet alone there is personal renewal. In the quite alone there is a deepening of the grace of self-strength – of bringing to the moment your capacity for unfretful stillness and spiritual grounding – of being here/there no matter what. That’s not just a comfort that’s fortitude.

“Solitude is a silent storm that breaks down all our dead branches; yet it sends our living roots deeper into the living heart of the living earth”
– Khalil Gibran (Lebanese-American writer and poet.)

Gardening strengthens our capacity to be alone – that does not mean to become loners and removed from sociability, it means not being desperate to never be alone for fear of loneliness or what you might begin to feel or think if left to your own devices. It is self-confidence. It is self-awareness. It is replenishing.

There is no fear of missing out when you are busy pruning a bush or planting up a planter. No need to find out what’s going on beyond – it is all here, all you need, all that needs you – the union of self and true nature. In the solitude of the garden there is the escape from the noise of the constructed and confounding world. The quiet alone is music to many ears.

“When from our better selves we have too long
been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
how gracious, how benign, is solitude”
― William Wordsworth (English poet)

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The way to be can be to do.

Lao Tzu, the Chinese Taoist philosopher (circa the 5th Century BC) is believed to have decreed that “The way to do is to be” – well the way to be can also be to do. I am a fan of mindful gardening as both a way to be and a way to do. It is both a cultivation of psychological resilience and spiritually gratifying.

It is no wonder that both contemplative Christian monks and Zen Buddhist monks took up gardening as part of their spiritual life. The grounding and commitment of maintaining an herb garden, and the discipline and patience of raking a gravel path. These dedications are devotion. These tasks are prayer.

This doing opens the self to being – whether that’s closer to God or closer to no-mind doesn’t really matter, it’s the being right there that is the transformative or enlightening power. Whatever your next gardening task, do it mindfully and deepen your awareness to its transformative power. You don’t need the robes or the haircut, but you can say om or amen.

In tune with our circadian rhythm. Just as plants react to daylight, soil moisture or ambient temperature so too we humans take similar cues from the natural world. In us, daylight triggers the activation of an alert neurotransmitter called serotonin which wakes us up to be active in daytime, while lowlight or night-time prompts the release of a sedating hormone – melatonin- to make us sleepy and go rest up. This is known as the circadian rhythm.

One of the stress factors of the modern world is that working or living under artificial light during daylight actually triggers melatonin and looking at phones and screens in the evening triggers serotonin – so our rhythms are off beat. No wonder we are tired all the time. The answer is to get outside.

Being and doing in the garden in the bright of day is you truly experiencing the day – the reality of it and the purposeful serotonin release of it. You are truly operating on daytime setting. If you have to be at work all day and only get to garden in the evening then being and doing in the garden in the ebbing light of the evening is you truly experiencing the transition of day towards night – and in the reality of it, this is also the purposeful prompts to melatonin levels and a shift in brain waves toward a better night’s sleep which will improve your daytime energy tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter when you tend the garden it tends you back.

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Mindful Gardening can cultivate calm and resilience in any crisis.

Amidst the current corona virus 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 beachfronts and over-crowding the local parks. To the degree that there are now restrictions on such activities. But within the confines of your own garden you can not only boost the functioning of your immune system with sunshine delivered Vitamin-D and increase good mood with blue-sky delivered serotonin but also get a few lungfulls of non-claustrophobic air without needing to dodge the speed walkers and the double masked nervous types.

If you are self-isolating by GP advice our obeying the mandatory notice to stay home then 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 like you are scared your kerb appeal will lapse – but to actually enjoy the gardening experience. And if you have ever gardened, you can dip the toe, 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 be. We can carry out our daily chores as mindful practices. We can rake like a zen monk for sure but we can also mow the lawn with attention, be there 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.

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 there – that is the aim and actualizing of mindfulness.

To sow mindfully. 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 so a prod of a pencil tip to set its depth in the growing media to success? 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.

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 success 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 a 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.

To plant mindfully. In the segment on sowing a seed mindfully I mentioned diligence. Diligence is acting with integrity; it is bringing your dutiful and alert self into the process. 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.

So 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.

To weed mindfully. There is the spiritual and psychological significance of weeding negativity from your life – to allow space for positivity to grow. Weeding being a great metaphor, but we are gardeners and gardens have actual weeds so some actual weeding will 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 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 the 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. 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 in to a purposeful action that can be carried out as a dynamic mindful exercise. Of course, some days it’s just weeding to get done and that’s ok too – but the more we do it mindfully, the more mindful we become.

So garden guru or mountain top guru, becoming is the thing to do.

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sowing some positive intent

In times of doubt and fear, the best antidote is a positive mindset. We gardeners know all about meeting uncertainty and getting on with it anyway – every plant planted, every seed sown is a risk, one we nurture out of potential failure into hopeful success. We cultivate our resilience and fortitude in the process.

how to sow intent – Gather some wildflower seed into the palm of your hand and take up a comfortable meditation position, imagine all the actions/goals you want to achieve – see each in scenarios; smiling and pushing your grandkids on a swing, in the changing room of an expensive clothes store fitting into a smaller size, doing a selfie on top of the mountain you just climbed etc. Let the seed absorb those wishes, feel/picture a ball of energy in the palm of your hand energize those grains with your intent to bring those wishes to fruition – now go sow it. Get up, go outside and sow them – on the wind or into soil. That wildflower seed may just germinate and not only bring the symbolism a step further via living reminders but also ripple positivity via food for larval butterflies, nectar for bees, beauty to your locality.

rice version – you do the same exercise but with cooked or uncooked rice grains (cooked won’t choke the non picky birds). With rice it is a wholly metaphorical sowing. It symbolises your intent to manifest a positive harvest. While it will not germinate it has the value of real seed in that what you are actually sowing in the exercise is your intention and inclination to positivity. The pure intent. You will harvest from this type of sowing too. Intent is all. Think of how we throw rice at weddings to wish luck and celebrate the new journey of marriage- rice throwing is a celebration – go scatter some joy.

breadcrumb version – well why not feed the birds, even more joy.

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the garden is therapy

You may think of gardening as your therapy or just as your pleasant pastime – but even passing time in pleasantness is restorative of mental health and prompting of a physical sense of wellbeing. The word therapy comes from the Greek therapeia meaning service. Horticultural therapy is nature at your service. Mindful gardening is ongoing access.

One of the biggest benefits of horticultural therapy is the regain of control – the fact that you can transform a container or whole garden with plants and your commitment to care – there is a psychological transformation in that. You can reshape your world. You can build again. You can nurture and act with diligence. You can adapt and survive. You can adapt and thrive.

Beyond resilience, the second biggest benefit is the distraction form pain and woes – engrossed in the garden there is no space to dwell on what has befallen or what may be pending. We can all bring our troubles of the day to the garden but the garden seems to wash them from us as our focus shifts to doing what is required. As gardeners we garden. There is enough to be getting on with. Our attention is required right here, right now. No future apprehension. No past regrets.

The nowness of gardening, the therapy of it, the temple space of it, the prayer of it, is why it is so suited to psychological and spiritual quests into the unburdened self – it is mindfulness in bloom. To be in a garden and by ‘be’, I mean radiate your spiritual self – not just be physically present. ‘To be’ or to ‘be present’ is not just to be there, it is to be here, right now – in the now of it. To be in your garden is to cultivate your conscious awareness – it is to bring your whole capacity and inner self to the moment.

Conscious awareness is the aim of mindfulness – It is also the way to attain mindfulness. So it is both a practiced skill and a living state. Conscious awareness is simply being present in the moment, being present to each moment, moment by moment – that intent/action is the means and end of mindfulness. Simply become aware of what is happening or what you are doing – use your senses to connect you physically to the moment – is your skin warm or cold, is there fragrance, sounds (this makes the experience both physical and mental – it is complete conscious awareness – you are of mind and of body in this awareness of what is happening right now, your spirit will meet this moment too.

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