The Garden Teaches Managed Attention

There is a lot going on within a garden. It may even contain more than one ecosystem—a pond, a wild meadow patch, trees, ornamental borders, and a kitchen garden. There is upkeep for all of them and the infrastructure too—paving to be kept moss- or weed-free, benches and seats to be kept rot- or rust-free, and trellis or supports to be maintained. Attention and diligence are required. We gardeners learn to pay attention to all areas and prioritize our focus and activities too.

When we step into the garden, there may be more than one need competing for our attention. We can triage plants into water now, catch before we finish, deadhead now, prune later, remove pests now, and add frost protection before we wrap up. The wind-rocked, newly planted shrub gets priority over a slightly shaggy lawn. The weed about to flower—or, worse, disperse its seed—gets the “next” before the squeaky shed door gets the oiling.

On one level it is common sense, but it’s also a catchment of your experience—you know that if you don’t water the wilted plant, it could be set back detrimentally or even die overnight. You know that not bringing the tenders in before the heavy frost may mean losses. All this previous experience creates effectiveness. All this repeat effectiveness strengthens our effectiveness response and brings that potential to other aspects of our lives.

People who struggle with efficiency have an issue with prioritizing what needs to be addressed or seeing the forest for the trees. The garden—and its constant elicitation of managed attention—trains a clarity with regard to need and even crisis. We gardeners are fixers. We are prioritizers by nurture and, soon enough, by nature. In a crisis, we quickly spot that, yes, it’s a good idea to fire a flare gun, but instead of everybody waving to the horizon and shouting “Help!,” it’s better if the majority of hands tend to the leaky boat. The longer one stays afloat, the less likely one is to go under before rescue.

In a garden, a workplace, a domestic crisis, or a life-threatening circumstance, with so many stimuli competing for attention, the survival protocol is effectiveness. Part of that is knowing what to do, but a lot of it is seeing clearly. Mindfulness is seeing clearly without panic— mindfulness is focusing your managed attention to the now. When problems arise, managed attention leads to managed action—and that may lead to more than survival of a wilted herb container.

To discover more ways that the garden can improve our psychology, cognitive function and life dynamics – check out my latest book (all good bookstores now)

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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