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The mind is a garden

Mind gardening

I am the garden

I am the scented rose,
the bumblebees' hum;
I am the spider weaving
her delicate song;

I am the breath of air,
the wind in the trees;
I am the soft mushrooms
pushing through leaves;

I am the grass between toes,
the embrace of the Earth;
I am the sun soaking through
the skin of rebirth.

I am the garden I roam,
this nemeton, this moment, right here,
I breathe with my soul
and am never alone.

By Andrew Smith, 2011

I was sitting the other day, just sitting, and letting thoughts wander in and out of my mind like visitors to an art gallery, when a robin landed on a fence post.

The wind was combing his feathers up towards his chin like a rippling ruff, his head flicked from side to side; then he darted off into the breeze, lifted by natural forces invisible to the naked eye. He flitted around the garden, from lawn, to post, to clothes line, to wind-ruffled tree. It was a joy to watch.

The mind, I find, is often like this robin, flitting from one distraction to another. In fact, the mind is perhaps more like a garden full of birds flying in and out, hopping about, each feathery thought with its own plumage and songs, pretty as a goldfinch, or dark as a crow, each grabbing our attention for a moment, before it is gone.

This is not necessarily a problem, I have found, as long as we remember that our mind is the garden, not any one bird; and as long as we allow each thought the freedom to fly – without getting carried away by it, nor trying to clip its wings.

As poet William Blake wrote:

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the wing├Ęd life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

He also wrote (in Auguries of Innocence): “A robin redbreast in a cage/Puts all Heaven in a rage.” Caged thoughts, like caged feelings, can die of loneliness or burst out unexpectedly. For example, anger internalised can turn into depression; externalised, into aggression. Neither is healthy or useful when trying to deal with life’s ups and downs.

Or, as Lama Surya Das puts it: “Grasping fleeting things too tightly gives us rope burn.”

While I was sitting, I became aware that a passing thought had caught my attention and I was being carried away by it – I’m not sure whether I was grasping it, or it was grasping me but the effect was much the same.

Then it occurred to me that that thought was like a robin in the palm of my hand. So (in my imagination) I admired it for a while – its colours, and texture, its scent and sounds – then held out my hand, wished it well, and let the thought fly away. And I returned to resting in the peaceful harmony of the garden – inner and outer – ready to smile at the next visitor to drop by.

The experience reminded me of a technique (which I first mentioned a few weeks ago) that a counsellor friend once taught me to make any debilitating or destabilising emotion – be it depression, anger, guilt, grief or pain – more manageable. It goes as follows.

Say to yourself: “Part of me is... [upset, for example].” This does two things: firstly, it encourages us to acknowledge that there is suffering which needs our care and attention – the act of naming an emotion can in itself lessen its power over us; secondly, it helps us to appreciate that any suffering is only part of our experience. In effect, you are saying to yourself: “Part of me is [sad, for example], which means most of me is not. Therefore, most of me is able to cope.”

It is the emotional equivalent of banging our thumb with a hammer, but rejoicing in the fact that there are five fingers on the other hand to give it some tender loving care.

The mind is a beautiful garden rich with natural wonders and abundant in possibilities; and so much more than any one thought or feeling, however permanent it may seem, passing through.

A little bird on a fence post taught me that one – before he flew off again.


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