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Gardening for Mindfulness: Cultivating Calm and Connection in the Soil

June 26, 2024

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Gardening for Mindfulness: Cultivating Calm and Connection in the Soil

The Transformative Power of Gardening

As I watched the first snowflakes fall on my gardens the other day, I couldn’t help but reflect on this past growing season and how much my gardens and the act of 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 therapeutically powerful on so many levels.

What I love best from year to year is the transformation that takes place – from an area of bare soil with some basic structure, to a lush, vibrant environment buzzing with pollinators, birds, and chipmunks just a few months later. It’s a process that builds over time, where plants, shrubs, and trees get larger and healthier with each passing year, and your garden becomes more and more beautiful. Like the Thornapp le CSA service, my garden is a constant source of discovery, renewal, and joy.

As Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” And that’s exactly the kind of optimism and sense of purpose that gardening has instilled in me. It’s a powerful connection that grounds me in the natural world and helps me understand how everything is interrelated in nature. By planting a seed and nurturing those flowers, shrubs, and trees, I feel like I’m contributing to the cycle of life in a tangible way.

Gardening as Active Meditation

But beyond the pure visual and emotional delights of gardening, there’s also a deeply mindful, meditative aspect to the practice. Gardening is what I like to call “active meditation” or “meditation in motion” – an activity that requires your full attention and concentration, without needing a whole lot of deep intellectual thought.

Much like trail running, mountain biking, or even riding a horse, gardening demands that you stay firmly rooted in the present moment. Trying to figure out which weeds are the young seedlings, setting up your pots and planting your seeds, determining the best tool for each task – all of these things require your complete focus and presence. At the same time, you’re allowing your mind to relax and stop worrying about all of life’s daily concerns.

Of course, this meditative state is largely dependent on your attitude. If you approach gardening as a chore or something that “must get done,” then you’re less likely to experience those profound benefits. But if you can shift your mindset to view it as a true pleasure – a chance to get lost in the physicality of the activities and the sensory delights of the natural world – then the positive effects are profound.

Especially after a long, dreary winter, I revel in the feel of the soil between my fingers, the gentle breeze on my face, the songs of the birds overhead. I lose entire hours, totally absorbed in the rhythmic tasks at hand, allowing my mind to simply drift and wander. It’s a form of active meditation that leaves me feeling grounded, calm, and deeply connected to something greater than myself.

The Science Behind Gardening’s Mental Health Benefits

And it’s not just my own anecdotal experience – the mental health benefits of gardening are well-documented by science. Studies have shown that gardeners live longer, with better body circulation, lower blood pressure, and less stress overall. Horticultural therapy is now widely practiced, where participants become plant caretakers, supporting their recovery and improving their moods in the process.

According to Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Unplug Meditation and author of “Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers,” the act of gardening can be transformative on many levels. “Gardening is just so therapeutic,” she says. “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.”

Schwartz goes on to explain that the sensory experiences of gardening – the feel of the soil, the colors of the flowers, the sounds of nature – can have a profound calming effect. “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,” she says. “At the same time, you are allowing your mind to relax and stop worrying about all of life’s daily concerns.”

The Cyclical Nature of Gardening

And for me, that cyclical, ever-evolving nature of gardening is part of what makes it so rewarding. As the season of outside gardening winds down and I get my bulbs planted for next year, I can’t help but reflect on all that my garden gave me this past year – the sense of calm and connection, the bursts of vibrant color, the steady hum of life. And then I start planning and dreaming about what the next growing season will bring.

It’s a practice that requires patience and perseverance, but the payoff is immense. As the Peterborough Master Gardeners note, gardeners are “a patient lot, planning each year and persevering through the seasons.” We may be a little stubborn and focused at times, but that’s what allows us to truly immerse ourselves in the process and reap the full benefits.

Whether you call it meditation, mindfulness, or ecotherapy, the simple act of gardening has the power to ground us, calm us, and reconnect us to the natural world in profound ways. And in these trying times, when so much of our usual routine and source of joy has been disrupted, that steady place of solace in the soil has become an even more precious and vital resource.

Embracing the Imperfections of Gardening

Of course, gardening isn’t all sunshine and roses (pun intended). There are plenty of challenges and frustrations that come with the territory – battles with pests, unpredictable weather, and the occasional crop failure, to name a few. But for me, those imperfections are part of the beauty and the learning process.

Mindful gardening means embracing the ups and downs, the successes and failures, with equal parts curiosity and compassion. When a plant doesn’t thrive the way I’d hoped, I don’t beat myself up about it – I simply observe what went wrong, make adjustments, and try again next season. There’s always another chance to get it right.

And that’s the incredible gift that gardening gives us – the opportunity to start anew, to put our hands back in the soil and nurture new life. No matter how many times we might stumble or encounter unexpected challenges, the garden is always there, patiently waiting to bloom again. It’s a powerful metaphor for the cycles of growth and renewal in our own lives.

Cultivating a Lifelong Love of Gardening

Looking back on my journey as a gardener, I realize that my relationship with the soil has evolved and deepened over the years. When I first started out, it was mostly about the practical aspects – growing my own food, beautifying my outdoor spaces, and getting a little exercise in the process.

But as I’ve gained more experience and developed a deeper understanding of the natural world, gardening has become a true sanctuary for me. It’s where I go to quiet my mind, connect with something larger than myself, and tap into a wellspring of creativity and inspiration. Whether I’m carefully tending to my vegetable beds or simply sitting and observing the rhythms of nature, I always come away feeling rejuvenated, grounded, and more in touch with myself.

And I know I’m not alone in this experience. Many of my fellow master gardeners speak of the profound mental health benefits they’ve derived from their time in the garden. It’s a practice that has the power to transform us, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

So whether you’re a seasoned green thumb or a complete novice, I encourage you to embrace the mindful, meditative aspects of gardening. Get your hands dirty, let your senses guide you, and allow the natural world to work its restorative magic. Because in these uncertain times, the garden can be a precious oasis of calm, connection, and healing.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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