Mindfulness Through Dirt

Lilacs: one of my favorites! (personal photo collection)

When I was a child, my parents had a small garden. In order to get us to help with its care, they would pay my sister and me a penny for each strawberry harvested from the berry patch. After hours of work in the Las Vegas sun with only a meager bounty to show for it in the end, I quickly realized that this payment arrangement was clearly NOT worth it!

I never really liked gardening. However, I love the idea of it: savoring your own home-grown food and the romantic beauty of flowers and foliage in your own yard. We have tended to crops and ornamental plants off and on throughout the 13 years we've been living in our current house, but I always tried to make myself unavailable for a good majority of the hard-work part. My husband was almost always the head garden keeper, but in the past couple of years, we have both focused more on traveling and climbing during the gardening season. The result: a messy yard!

This year, I decided that the garden and the yard (minus lawn mowing) were going to be my responsibility. In the midst of my one long pregnancy, I have been seeking more activities that are stress-relieving and active but are outside the realm of intense exercise. Gardening fits the bill! This 2011 study from the Journal of Health Psychology found lower cortisol levels in a group of people who gardened after a stressful test vs. a control group. And this article from Psychology Today talks about what to consider when using gardening for stress relief (hint: don't bring your phone!).

The more I do it, the more I enjoy my time in the dirt. When I run my hands through the soil, pulling out the (hugely abundant) weeds, it is a satisfying catharsis. Other times, the repetitive movements are calming. Depending on what time I happen to be outside, different sensations and smells from the ambient air fill my head. The sun warms my face and arms. And I have found that (unlike my past attempts at formal meditation) I don't have to tame my mind into "not thinking"... it just automatically happens.

The key to enjoying gardening for me, however, is doing it in small increments. When I first started, there was an overwhelming amount of work... and there still is. Each time I go out, I do just a little bit - a small chunk of cleanup along with a landscaping or planting project. It's still going to be there tomorrow, and ironically I look forward to it when I approach it this way.

What about you? Do you like gardening, and what benefits have you noticed from doing it? Share your thoughts here!


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