Just like any well tended garden, in the garden of inner being, the soil has to be fed, weeds need to be pulled, mulch needs to be laid, and decisions need to be made about which plants we want to introduce, encourage, tend, or remove. Tending the inner garden is an ongoing opportunity for us to release that which does not serve us, which may be in our gardens from our own plantings within this lifetime, or already present in the garden through tenders of the past (ancestors). Tending the inner garden is a metaphor for care-taking ourselves; body, mind, and spirit, in order to maintain balance and vibrancy on all levels. Depression, as with all kinds of pain, is a blessed indicator of something that needs attention and care. It is an opportunity for more authentic, fully expressed humanity if we can rise to the occasion and find the support and the inner resolve to do the work that needs to be done in order to heal. (And remember, shit makes gardens grow, so if you have a lot of it right now, your potential for a beautiful and abundant inner garden is very high!)
We need to cultivate these multiple levels of being in order to grow, mature, flower, and bloom in a holistic way. Through tending on all three levels, mind, body, spirit, we can have a verdant garden that nourishes and delights us rather than imprisoning us with noxious vines and poisonous plants (although don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of ‘poisonous’ plants, but I am going with the metaphor, here).
In research there is evidence that we inherit memory from our ancestors throughout generations. We receive many things in our DNA that are like seeds. Through meditation and mindfulness practice, counsel and reflection, we can begin to become more aware, especially of seed thoughts and patterns, and weed them out consistently as plants we no longer need or want to propagate in our gardens. We can also consciously plant seeds of thinking and feeling that can help to crowd out weed and rot and reshape the garden of inner being in a more holistic and harmonious way. Generally in depression, there are modes of thinking and self talk, most often below the radar of consciousness, that inform and feed the pain and suffering we are experiencing. If we can begin to become aware of, to notice the seeds of thought that have overgrown our mental garden, we can begin to weed them out on a regular basis and make space for the seeds of thinking that will help us to thrive, and choose instead to plant those. A useful and well written book on the subject of how powerful our thoughts can be is Mindful Loving: 10 Practices for Deeper Connections, by Alexander Grayson. This book has simple practices for working with our minds to create lasting and positive results. Another wonderful book that explores the physiological consequences when we think ‘negative’ thoughts or feel ‘negative’ emotions, and also the physiological benefits when we do the opposite, is Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. In this book modern neuroscience is in conversation with Tibetan meditation adepts, including the Dalai Lama, in order to show the amazing benefits of cultivating a mind of compassion and equanimity.
How we think shapes who we are. Sometimes we have habits of thinking that are not serving us, noxious weeds that are choking off our confidence or sabotaging our relationships (or contributing to deep depression). Some thoughts are like plants that spread like wildfire in the garden, taking over everything else. We have to be vigilant in our weeding and go to extra lengths to create an environment that doesn’t encourage these thoughts to grow. I have found meditation and mindfulness training to be a profound gift to me in my life on this front. I am able to listen to my thoughts and choose to refute the ones that don’t belong, to weed them out. Meditation has been shown to be equally as effective as medication in healing from depression, without the pernicious side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
I am personally also deeply indebted to the tools of NVC, or non-violent communication, which helps to work with recognizing how we feel and claiming it in a non defensive way, having compassion for ourselves and others, and really listening. How we speak, like how we think, also shapes how we feel and who we are and of course, how the world reflects back to us.
We need to tend the garden of the body through such practices as ecstatic movement, dance, yoga, thai chi, or other energy circulating, building, and refining techniques, and a healthy diet including wild harvested and crafted whole foods and medicines. There are many techniques in addition to the ones I mention here, that honor a variety of different faiths and spiritual needs that can address clearing trauma and toxicity while nourishing and building vitality in the body. As I’ve mentioned already, I have found massage, yoga, dance (especially group ritual dance, 5 rhythms, etc), and holotropic breath work, among other things, to be delicious and efficient tools for stewarding and tending the garden of the body, as well as mind and spirit.For the same reasons that massage is relaxing, it can also soothe anxiety and depression. Massage reduces cortisol (a stress hormone), which often results in lifted spirits and lower blood pressure. It can also increase our levels of seratonin and dopamine, which are involved in depression. Yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation also have been shown in research to produce similar effects to massage, reducing negative hormones that make us feel stressed and acidic, and increasing positive ones that help us to feel energetic, optimistic, and healthy. These practices help to move on that which does not serve us, enliven every particle of our being, and welcome the inputs that will help us to unfold in our fullest potential.
Recently I was blessed to participate in a traditional Lakota Inipi lodge and was able to sing and sit in community sweating our prayers together. This is another practice that tends the garden of the body as well as the spirit in a profound way. The sweating purifies the body of toxicity while the prayers and the spirit of the herbs shared in the canupa pipe purify the spirit. The added element of community or group ritual takes it to another level of healing and releasing grief while building connection and compassion.
If a sweat lodge doesn’t sound right for you, you can also benefit from sweating in a sauna, an infrared sauna, or steam room, and using hot and cold hydrotherapy to supplement your sweating and its healing and detoxifying effects. Saunas have been proven effective in helping to deal with a variety of complaints, including mild depression, chronic fatigue, and arthritis, just to mention a few.
It is highly recommended in many traditions to undertake a seasonal cleanse to ‘piggyback’ on the energy of the change of seasons,especially summer to fall and winter to spring. Through cleansing we release emotions from the fat cells of the body, release accumulated toxins from stress, environment, or ancestry, as well as break out of our patterns and habits and get perspective on how we want to craft our lives moving forward. A cleanse breaks the rhythm and allows us to start fresh. Sometimes we can’t get out of a self defeating habit simply due to inertia. When we take the time to shift one of the most important habits in our daily lives, how and what we eat, even for just a couple of weeks, we give ourselves the opportunity to do a major overhaul and to move on that which is no longer serving us and create space to welcome in that which will flourish. It is akin to pruning roses in the garden, cutting off old growth and making room for fresh new buds to emerge. A physical cleanse is for the body, but (like many of these practices) it is felt and benefits all three levels of body, mind, and spirit. According to one of my favorite teachers at Institute for Integrative Nutrition, John Douillard, “Molecules of emotion, such as anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, etc., are lipophilic, which means that they take safe haven and store in our fat cells. When we burn our fat cells, we release old patterns of behavior that we find ourselves repeating over and over again.” Again, Many of the practices here overlap with the multiple levels of our being, and so cleansing traditionally clears both physical and psychic toxins while creating space for getting closer to our needs for true, authentic expression.
Another important aspect of tending our inner garden is ancestral healing. There is an enormous grief we each carry, even when we are not depressed. Some of it is ‘our own’ from this life, but often also back into the generations. In my experience in these modern times, some of the grief we carry is our connection with the earth and its pain, as well as conversely, our dis-connection from the earth, and our lack of intimacy with that part of ourselves. Rediscovering my connection with my greater body of mother earth has been and continues to be a profound element of my personal healing and my efforts toward healing with others in my massage and holistic health counseling today. These things, this ancient and new grief we carry, this isolation from our very own true selves, this is our work in this lifetime to heal and if we can, to gift that healing to generations to come. This gets more into our spiritual work, energetic healing, group rituals, and earth based spirituality. Ways that I have found effective of working on my own ancestral healing, spiritual expression, and re-wilding have been through the practice and study of yoga asana, mantra, meditation, holotropic breathwork, plant spirit medicine, massage, deep nature connection, group ritual, and women’s shamanic groups, especially the Tantric Dance of Feminine Power with Nita Rubio.
In order to tend the inner garden, we each need to find tools and practices that support our own flourishing on all three levels; body, mind, and spirit. We can find and cultivate practices specific to our own spiritual and cultural backgrounds and appropriate for our individual needs in order to tend our gardens on all these levels on a daily basis to stay in balance. A garden is in constant need of attention in order to provide us with what we require. I hope that you will find tools, community, and lifestyle practices that will help you to remain in vitality and personal balance in your own inner gardens.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free.