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How does your Garden Grow?

by Lisa Avnet

How does your Garden Grow?, Lisa Avnet in Pittsfield, MA

All of the garden photos on my website were taken in my own garden beds.  The gardens are a legacy from my parents in law, both devoted gardeners, who installed them over the 4 decades that they lived here.  My sister in law,  garden designer Judy Murphy of Old Farms Nursery in Lakeville, CT designed the main bed with its Asian style rock garden many years ago.  The mossy stones bring a special energy to the yard year round, and clients coming for an office visit are invited to enjoy the gardens, which have many places to sit and meditate or journal.

As a dedicated gardener and lover of plant life, I find gardening an apt metaphor for the process of personal evolution and growth.  Gardens respond to outer conditions of weather and the other life forms that are ever present, just as we respond to life.  The wind, rain, seasons, microbes, bugs, birds, bees, bunnies, woodchucks, mice and voles constantly shape the gardens, creating changes big and small.  Oh, and I mustn't forget the pesky chipmunks digging holes everywhere!  The garden is always changing.  In the course of time, some flowers have disappeared, and new ones have arrived without me lifting a finger.  Blue lobelia, or cardinal flower, a large one called nicotiana, and others have come into the garden in the years I've been tending it.  Natur, and life, truly works in mysterious ways. 

While I love flowers and have admired gardens all my life, I came to gardening relatively late in life. The learning curve was steep: gardening is so much more than just weeding!  I always dreamed of having the kind of gardens I admired at my in law's properties and in magazines but I was completely naive about what gardening involves and the sheer amount of time  and effort it takes to maintain them. A gardener friend did tell me that 20-30 hours a week for much of the weed season was going to be necessary in order to keep up the gardens here, and in my naivete,  I thought she was exaggerating.  Not so.  What a shock.  Real life is not the movies!

However, the garden gives back so much more than I put into it - the joy that fills my heart just looking at the gardens is a huge sustaining energy in my life.  I love walking around the yard, taking photos of whatever catches my eye, and I've got about a zillion photos of them taken in all weathers, seasons, and times of day. My Instagram "berkshirehaven" is a place I post them, although it includes a few photos taken at my workplace at the Canyon Ranch Lenox property.  The garden is a never ending delight, and sitting in various spots brings peace and grounding that balance my day.

Spiritual traditions worldwide have used the garden as a metaphor for that part of us often known as the heart, and sometimes, the soul.  I often use it as a metaphor for the mind as well, as in "weed out the thoughts  and worries you don't want and replace them with what you do - a mantra, phrase, affirmation, or prayer that over time, creates a new pathway in your thinking."    My Mindfulness Meditation teacher once taught that we think approximately 90 thousand thoughts a day, and of those, 89,990 are similar and often less than positive things - part of the stories we tell ourselves about what's happening in our lives, the negative thoughts, and negative self talk that makes up our mind chatter.   

Try identifying and pulling a specific mind-weed from the garden of your mind, and replacing it.  If it's a negative thought like "you suck" find something you are proud of and reverse the negative with: you rock at ______!  Or if it's a worry, weed that and replace with asking for, or sending, a blessing or acknowledging something you're grateful for.  Like a garden, the thought weeds will keep popping up, and you just keep up the practice of weeding and replacing.  In the short term, you can feel the benefits of this practice in your energy - it feels better!  Over time, like water wearing a groove in stone, your persistence will yield the beauty of a more expansive and peaceful mind.

One of my favorite poets, speaks of it thus:

The Seven Of Pentacles by Marge Piercy

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

If this metaphor intrigues and delights you, consider booking a free Q and A call or a session here.  My new signature program offering "Tending the Inner Garden" is a deeply restorative, organic unfolding of transformative practices and inner work. Read more about it here.