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Lessons from the Garden

As a busy working mother of two young children, I was thrilled when a dear colleague recently shared that even plants can be delivered directly to my door! When my two boxes of baby plants arrived, I rushed outside after the kids’ bedtime to unpack them from their cardboard and spread them out to be admired in the dwindling light. It took several more days before I could carve out the time to get them into the ground, and, when that day arrived, I was disappointed to awake to a drizzly gray morning.

Undeterred, I set to work amending the soil and carefully patting each tiny plant into its new home in our yard. On my hands and knees, working quickly as the rain began to fall more steadily, I noticed that my mind had tumbled ahead to what would come next. I gently invited myself back into the fullness of the present moment.

The rich green of the foliage against the darkness of the freshly tilled earth. The dampness of the ground and the air. The earthy smell of the soil beneath me. The lush soundscape of gently falling rain on the canopy above, layered with bird song, the occasional airplane overhead, my trowel digging into the ground, my breath. As I opened to these varied sense experiences, I felt myself relax into the moment, opening to the expansiveness in my heart and to a deeply felt appreciation for the experience of just being right there.

Gardening is, of course, a lovely metaphor for the experience of parenting. Just as I amended the soil for my baby plants, we work as parents to create environments for our children that will best help them to grow and thrive. Importantly, we must remember, even in the midst of the busy-ness of our lives, that in order to tend to our family environments, we must take care of ourselves as parents. (So get out there and garden, folks! Or run or paint or have a date night or a moms’ night or a yoga class or whatever it is that feeds you.)

Also, there will be many disappointments. The day will dawn gray and rainy when your whole plan centered on sunshine. So we adjust. Or maybe we just garden in the rain. Happily, when things don’t go our way or when we make mistakes, we always have the opportunity to begin again. Perhaps most importantly, there will be a hundred thousand things that call for our attention, even when our sincerest intention is to be focused on our families. We get caught in endless planning, our heads spin with worry, we feel like we will splinter from the brittleness of frustration, or we are bored by the tedium of yet another load of laundry that needs folding.

But when we can remember to drop into the present moment and fully show up for our lives, things shift. We can pause and really see, really hear, really smell, really feel what’s happening in any given moment. We can really notice the needs our children are communicating to us. Really notice the desire to connect more meaningfully with our spouse or partner. Really notice the messages our own bodies or hearts are communicating to us.

The simple act of pausing, dropping into the present moment, and connecting with our true experience opens us up to a wealth of information that helps us to respond more skillfully to whatever is before us. Even in the midst of struggle, we can start to access that expansive, open-hearted place that I connected to in the garden in the rain. And from that place of spacious, loving awareness, we have the chance to hold more lightly to the challenges, to respond with more patience and compassion, and to fully appreciate the richness of this wild parenting ride.

About the author: Elizabeth Wilder Young practices psychotherapy at Rock Springs and offers family mindfulness retreats and workshops.

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