August 5, 2022
The world is an imperfect place, and life is rarely fair. Difficulties and struggles abound all around us. But instead of agonizing over the many troubles that exist in the world, we must learn to distance ourselves to a certain degree. To be sensitive and empathetic is a great strength, but it is possible to go overboard worrying about things that are outside of our control.
Rather than expecting the world to suddenly become kinder, more hospitable, or more just – could we be better served by focusing on our own small plots of land instead?
You do not need to literally take up gardening as a hobby to understand how to apply Voltaire’s wisdom to your life (although that could be a great self-care activity for some!). Taken as a metaphor, the idea of cultivating our own garden helps us understand what is in our control. We can cope with struggles, grow, and thrive by working on our lives, beautifying our thoughts, and making better choices.
To cultivate your own garden means to:
· Look after yourself (mentally, emotionally, physically, etc.)
· Take responsibility for your choices and actions
· Weed out what’s not working
· Do what you can with what you have
· Have patience and be willing to wait
· Keep working, keep on going
Your garden is where you tend to your needs and work on yourself so that you can grow. A resilient garden is one that is carefully planted, tended to regularly, and not left to be choked by weeds.
Cultivating your own garden can be hard work that takes special care and patience. Change is a constant. Growth is not indefinite; it happens in cycles.
Unpredictable weather and unforeseen circumstances can temporarily throw things off kilter. You may go through more than a few dry spells. These things happen, and recovery is always possible. But when faced with turmoil, something becomes abundantly clear: You reap what you sow.
Disclaimer: Entering abstract territory! Let this section mean whatever it means to you.
Yet all is not lost if part of the garden does not bloom, if its fruit is unfit to harvest, or if something goes to rot. It just means that the soil needs to be turned and replanted with new seeds.
But not just any seeds. Choose to plant those that are most appropriate for the zone you are currently in and for the new season of life you are entering.
Only you know what you really need in your plot. Plant the things that bring you the most joy. You can even try planting a few seeds that may be difficult to grow, provided you are ready for a challenge (you can always ask for help – you don’t have to do this alone!).
Consider adding perennials. With care and the right conditions, they come to bloom year after year, bigger and stronger than before.
Leave room for a few of those seeds that seem to grow effortlessly. You know – those plants that will probably still be hanging in there if you forget to water them as often as you should.
Do what you need to do to set your garden up for success. Be patient and allow yourself time to grow. Get some sun and drink plenty of water. Accept that you might need to get your hands dirty to keep the garden in order.
The strongest seeds will eventually sprout.
When weeds eventually come up (because they always do), consider how you can best manage them. Weeds, like our “negative” thoughts or emotions, are things we deem undesirable. We either decide we don’t like their qualities, or they seem to keep showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But even weeds have their place. They show us where the garden is open, or possibly vulnerable. They always point out which areas have extra room for growth. Weeds can cause an inconvenience or discomfort, but they can also be medicinal (think dandelion tea). Perhaps these obstacles are really opportunities.
Within your personal garden, continual self-work and self-care are the basic things that will bring about healing, change, and growth. But it doesn’t stop there. Cultivating your own garden can lead to a myriad of internal and external improvements in your life.
Take a closer look at the many different aspects of your life. How do the people around you, your day-to-day environments, and the world at large affect you? How do you affect them?
The peace of mind that comes from being in harmony with yourself will make it easier to improve those areas you are struggling with. You can become stronger and build the skills you need to handle whatever comes your way.
What’s more, what we do for ourselves can have a ripple effect. Your words, actions, and feelings generate waves. They expand and reach everyone around you, affecting how they respond and behave in turn.
So while we cannot change others, we can all certainly be agents of change. We can inspire others and live by example. This is especially true the more we are willing to return to the garden, till the soil, replant, and try again. ⯁
Former Director of Marketing and Communications at Andrews & Associates Counseling.