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10 Life Lessons from the Garden

What connecting with Nature can teach us about living a more peaceful and satisfying life.

"Garden Joy"
Original Oil Painting by Pat Fiorello
"Garden Joy" Original Oil Painting by Pat Fiorello

I have to confess I’m not a gardener, but I am married to a master gardener. As an artist who paints florals and landscapes, I often go to the garden for my inspiration. My husband knows how important that is, so he has created a garden for me.

During this “stay at home time” due to the coronavirus pandemic, I have had even more quiet time than usual to enjoy the garden and reflect on life.  The garden has become more than inspiration for my art, it has also become inspiration for my life.

 As I am observing the garden, I have noticed the deeper life lessons it holds for us. There are simple truths that help us stay grounded, but often the daily stressors of life, like our never ending “to do” list, traffic jams, surprise deadlines at work, have us forget those truths.  We feel rushed, overwhelmed or even lost at times.

 Perhaps the garden has an inner wisdom that can help us to return to those truths and become re-grounded. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from spending time in the garden that can move us all in the direction of greater peace and satisfaction.

1)Slow down.

I love the words of Lao Tzu, “Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished”.  What if our daily lives could operate that way too?  In the garden, the plants grow on their own timetable. We can’t speed them up or slow them down. Mother nature is running the show.  The poet May Sarton once said, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace”. Spending time in the garden can help us to slow down to nature’s rhythm instead of reacting to the man-made, machine rhythms of our devices which are constantly ringing and beeping with notifications that continually interrupt our thoughts and focus.

2)Stop comparing.

I often have to remind myself of Teddy Roosevelt’s assertion that “comparison is the thief of joy”.  I know that to be true, but regularly get caught in the no-win game of comparing myself to others, to the way things are supposed to be or to unrealistic expectations. Comparing is a human thing we do to bring meaning to what is so.  Nature doesn’t compare. A flower doesn’t worry about competing with the flower next to it- it just blooms. It has nothing to prove. It is just being itself.

3)Life can be simple.

Once the basic requirements of water, nutrient rich soil and sun are met (plus maybe a little TLC from a gardener), plants flourish. They don’t need anything outside of the basics to be healthy and vibrant. Maybe we can challenge our own assumptions on what we really need to be happy. How much beyond the basics do we really need to be healthy and flourish? Are some of the things we think we need that are merely driven by imposed advertising, media or social pressures? Are there things we can let go of and still have a perfectly happy, healthy life? Maybe simple is enough. This time at home may have helped bring those inquiries into sharper focus.

4)Accept yourself as you are.

A sunflower cannot be anything other than a sunflower. No matter how hard it tries, or how many affirmations or visualizations it does, a sunflower will never be a rose.  Sometimes we wish we were different, looked different or were living somebody else’s seemingly magical life.  The sooner we embrace that we are a sunflower, the sooner we may find peace.

5) Be patient.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Gardens have cycles. They have seasons. The time when the bees and butterflies return. The time when the birds fly south for the winter. The time when plants will die off and then come back next Spring.  In uncertain times, this cycle of nature can be reassuring. We know the Spring always follows the Winter.  We just have to wait. Where in your life are you impatient?  Hard as we may try, we often can’t control the timing of things. Sometimes all there is to do is surrender to allow things to proceed in their natural order. Sometimes we just have to wait to have nature take its course. Breathe. Everything will unfold in its divine timing.

6)Balance is key.

We know “too much of a good thing can do you harm”. And so, it is in the garden. Water is essential- but too much or too little water can be deadly to a plant.  Where in our lives do we go overboard, perhaps overindulging in something, like food, alcohol, shopping, that once felt good but is now hurting us? Maybe it’s time to get in balance and get back to
“just enough” is enough.

7)Life is a process.

Being somewhat naïve about gardening and a Type A results producer, when I’ve heard “it will fill in in 3-5 years”, when asking about new garden projects, I’ve been taken aback. I thought you just put in the plants, and sure you have to maintain them, but can’t it be DONE now?  I’ve had to realign my expectations and understand that this is a process.  It never ends. Plants come and go, grow and change. Even the shadow patterns change as adjoining trees have grown and now cast a bigger shadow in an area that was once “full sun”. This requires plants to be moved (or the trees to be cut back). After accepting that it is okay and even necessary to move things around, I now relate to my garden as “The Grand Experiment”. That helps remind me that it is a work in process, with things to be learned along the way. It is truly never done.

8)Nothing is perfect.

Does it seem like the minute you have pulled every weed; another one pops up? Accept that nothing- not the garden, not our bodies, not our lives -is perfect. In the words of Tiger Woods, “I don’t shoot for perfection. Perfection is not possible.  I aim for excellence”. These wise words can apply the garden and most areas of our lives.

9)To be in awe is one of the great gifts of life.

The garden presents many opportunities for us to be in awe and wonder. How plants, that in January looked brown and dead, emerge just a few months later into growing, colorful specimens of flowering beauty amazes me each Spring. To closely look at the magnificent architecture of how a single flower is designed is a miracle of nature. To go out each morning and discover new flowers that have blossomed since the day before is a delight. I feel like a child again wanting to share it with someone. “Look at this, look what I just found, this wasn’t here yesterday”. That experience is energizing. Seeing plants grow and blossom reaffirms our own sense of aliveness.

10)We have much to be grateful for.

When I asked my husband about why he likes to garden, he confessed he does it because he knows it makes me happy (and I am certainly grateful for that). But he continued that, “In the garden, hard work is rewarded.” You literally see the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. The garden can bring you flowers, food, the wonderful opportunity to be outdoors in nature and to be creative.

For me the greatest gift the garden gives us the gift of Beauty. Beauty uplifts us and restores our souls.  It has the power to lift us above our everyday concerns and connect us to something higher, universal and eternal. Piero Ferrucci, author of Beauty and The Soul asserts, “Beauty is the affirmation of life. What is more, beauty grounds us in life and in the body. The more we can perceive beauty in our surroundings and also inside us, the more we will feel at home and glad to exist.” Perhaps this is the greatest gift of all.

Next time you are feeling stressed, I encourage you to go to the garden. Be still. Look and listen for its lessons. You may reconnect with these or other simple truths of life, regain a peace of mind and a sense of being present that restores your soul.

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