Anything can be a mindful experience – from eating a meal to washing the dishes after it – if you allow it to be a mindful experience. If you become fully aware of it, in the moment of it – in the moment to moment to moment of it. Following your breath and retuning your focus back into the now of it. Ok that takes practice but it gets easier and almost automatic as you maintain your dedication to being more mindful. But some experiences lend themselves to mindfulness so naturally that many consider them not just tools of mindfulness but inherently mindful. Gardening is just such.
As a horticultural therapist I encourage my clients and students to find health, wellbeing, resilience and mindfulness through the garden and the practice of gardening. There is in the appreciation of a garden the opportunity to experience awe, wonder and peak experience as well as satisfaction, happiness, contentment and a grounded self. There is also in the construction and maintenance of a garden, the opportunity to experience achievement, self-fulfilment, self-awareness, distraction from woes and also a genuine enjoyment of both being and doing.
There is in the use or harvesting of a garden an array of healing potential. From nutritious foods to medicinal foods, from healing herbs to aromatherapy and even colour therapy. Just being in it delivers a daily dose of vitamin D which equals elevated mood, a better night’s sleep, a stronger immune system and a multitude of other health benefits. When you think that the human eye can perceive more shades of green than of any other colour and that green triggers a response in the sympathetic nervous system to relieve tension in the blood vessels and lowers the blood pressure. We automatically relax in a garden and become more physically and mentally receptive to a mindful experience.
Knowing there is all this goodness in the garden makes it a space imbued with a sense of wellbeing and a manifestation of abundance. It is an enriching experience and a safe haven. It promotes optimism and gratitude towards its rewards. It gifts positive regard for nature and the connection to the natural world. There is noticing, loving kindness and non-striving all present right there in that connection. We have not even consciously attuned our attention yet and already the garden is ticking the boxes of the positive attainments of mindful practice. Can you imagine how present all that will be when you are present to that connection. When you next step mindfully into a garden.
The garden is a contemplative space and so suited to hosting a mindful meditation – to be still and present in the moment – but it is also place to find your senses and enter the now. To touch a textured plant, to taste an edible berry, to smell a fragrant shrub – all portals to becoming aware to the experience, aware of this moment in your life, aware of your living self. Gardeners are vigilant to the water needs of the plants in their care and to pests and problems. The vigilant brain does not have to be on stress mode – it can be a managed attunement or a trained perception. When it comes to rewiring the brain – here is the automatic switch to present focus that gardening gifts.
Gardening is a moving meditation too and all of its tasks – watering, deadheading, planting, and weeding – are perfect opportunities for present moment awareness. It doesn’t have to be a Zen garden to deliver a Zen experience. More and more people are practising mindfulness in relation to a Garden. Workplace gardens and their benefits to productivity and worker wellbeing are gaining popularity and there isn’t a school, library, hospital, hospice or community centre that hasn’t got, if not a full on therapeutic and educational garden, then at lease a bench and some planters. Growing your own is not just frugal food growing – it’s an embracement of self-sufficiency and via allotments, community gardens and men’s shades, gardening is also about being social – strengthening our social skills as much as our horticultural ones. In the comradery of the allotment or garden club is all the positive psychology you might ever need.
Gardening always was a way to get outside of stresses and inner thoughts, a way to ignore the clock and the phone (and ever the other half – at times) . The ‘lost in the garden’ experience is what psychotherapists, sports psychologists and counsellors might describe as ‘Finding your flow’ – it is being completely absorbed in an activity but fully there – present to it – at your full potential in it. Mindful practitioners would suggest that the final step to attaining total mindfulness is the one in which you find your ‘flow’. Working in the garden systematically watering or weeding without distraction and focused on the task is one of the surest and shortest routes to your flow, to a natural, sustained mindfulness. You don’t even need to follow your breath just your passion.