Saturday, October 29, 2016

Garden metaphor

This is an update of a post I originally wrote in 2008.

The brain, or the mind, or your life, is like a garden.

It has grown for many years, and there are aspects to the structure that are, or become, permanent (e.g. the size and shape of the garden).

Some structures in the garden may be dominant (e.g. a tree that monopolizes sunlight, water, space, or nutrients).

Some structures may be permanent (a tree), others transient (some small flowering plants).

There may be weeds in the garden. Or maybe they are only "weeds" because someone has said they are weeds, just because they are considered weeds by other gardeners. Maybe the beauty and importance of many so-called weeds are overlooked.

There may be parts of the garden that are profoundly important, extremely beautiful, and extremely complex, yet are not noticed because we haven't looked in the right way (e.g. tiny flowers; micro-organisms; ladybugs; close-up views of the structure of the leaves, etc.).

Old or dying plants may be integral parts of the normal life cycle of the garden, as things of beauty in themselves, and as components that help new life to grow.

There may be diseases in the garden that do harm in different ways (above the soil or below).

There may have been terrible events long ago that have done severe harm (a fire; an oil spill; a vandal; a careless former gardener; bad droughts or storms; a lighting strike).

The garden requires a healthy environment to grow, both above and below the soil. Sunlight, water, nutrients, soil conditioning.

The structure of the garden can get tangled up and confused if it isn't tended to regularly. It can get messy. The tangles may prevent certain beautiful plants from being cared for or thriving. The tangles can occur above the ground, or down underneath at the root level.

The structure of the garden can be stunted if it is tended excessively -- the overzealous pruner who cuts too many branches away, instead of letting the natural shapes and stems grow spontaneously.

In healing a troubled garden, sometimes simple, broad measures can make a huge difference (e.g. adding nutrients to the soil; introducing a new type of soil; keeping up this supplementation for months or years).

Other times, or perhaps in conjunction, work may need to be done to prune or guide the garden differently, above and below the ground. Some of this work can happen in a day, other aspects of this work could take years.

Maybe a major change is needed. A huge plant that is taking up all the space, water, and light, may need to be removed, so that other plants have a chance to grow.

Sometimes things that supposedly help need to be cut back -- maybe the garden is being over-watered, or is getting too much sun. Many of the plants may require moderation in order to thrive. There can be too much of a good thing.

New species may need to be introduced, to balance the health and esthetics of the garden. Synergistic benefits can happen with the right combination of species (two different species may help each other grow if they are adjacent to one another).

The effects of past trauma in the garden may gradually heal with care and attention. Some of the scars of the trauma may remain forever. Even if these scars remain, the other plants of the garden, and the gardener, can support the injured plant, help it be a vital, important, and beautiful part of the garden community.

While caring for the garden may be hard work, the process is intrinsically a joy. The results of the gardening are part of the health, but so is the process of the gardening activity itself.

In caring for your mind, you are taking on a role of gardener.  It is possible to "tend the soil" in many ways.  Part of this requires physical labour to improve the texture and drainage.  Sometimes the soil may be depleted or damaged in some way, and a fertilizer may be needed, at least for a little while.  This could be similar to using medication.  But also there are many other ways to care for the "soil," such as by having a healthy diet.  Psychotherapy is analogous to hiring a gardener to help and advise you, and maybe to work with you, kneeling in the soil, or pruning the branches.  Sometimes major structural changes may be needed, to plant the garden in a completely different way...this is akin to making a substantial change in the organization of your life, your goals, and your relationships.  And the best gardens are attuned to the larger ecosystem around it, including other gardens in the neighbourhood.  This is analogous to the need to healthily engage in your community, and in relationships with others.    Part of the life of a garden, and of a gardener, also requires simply sitting down and enjoying its beauty.

There may be hard work to do, but there must also be a lot of time spent simply savouring your efforts, and enjoying the view.  I hope that a good therapist might do this with you as well.  Make sure there is a bench in your garden, in a shady spot, in order to rest and enjoy.  In your life, there may be a lot of work to do, but make sure to spend time, every day, sitting down and enjoying what you have been working on.

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