Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cultivating the Garden of Your Life

Every year spring blows my mind, how it just happens. How everything seems brown and dead, then you begin to see the tendrils of green in the midst of the brown, and before you know it whole plants and flowers have come back to life. Somehow the elements of water and light have combined with the dormant seeds and plants to create just the right conditions for the new sprouts.

On a beautiful spring day I went out to survey my garden, considering which vegetables I’d plant this year. As I dreamed of my first greens and tomatoes, I realized there was already a lot growing, mostly weeds.  A lot of weeds.  These were the plants I had let go at the end of the last season, too harried trying to harvest the last of the tomatoes and basil as the first frost came. So I have a lot of work to do between eliminating those weeds, preparing the soil, and planting the seeds for my future garden. I tend to favor the cultivating and planting, and not the weeding.  Yet those weeds will not be ignored, they just keep perpetuating themselves the more I ignore them.

I am so struck by how my thoughts about the workings of my garden coincide with the teachings of yoga, and how yoga works.  Our lives are each a garden which we can consciously cultivate. A healthy garden requires constant tending: cultivating the soil, planning seeds, nurturing the plans, and…pulling those damn weeds. Each of our actions is a seed that we sow.  Some of them grow into sturdy healthy plants that nourish us.  Some of our actions are more like the weeds, they just get in the way and take nourishment and light away from the healthy plants. In the garden of our lives, we must choose: which do we cultivate?  Which do we eliminate?

When I first moved into my house, the garden was full of huge weeds, and the first summer it was all I could do to remove the weeds from the hard-packed Colorado clay soil, and amend the soil for the next spring’s planting.  This coincided with a time in my life after the crash of a romantic relationship, when I was preparing for a whole new life. I wasn’t really ready to plant new seeds, new ways of being, as I first had to clear out a lot of old stuff, and prepare the ground of my being for what was to come next.

Oftentimes we plant seeds that just don’t sprout.  Perhaps the seeds are too old, like our old ways of being that no longer serve us.  Sometimes the seeds sprout, but the results are sickly, not robust.  This could be due to not properly tending the seedlings, or perhaps there is some condition in the soil that is not quite right.  Perhaps the time is not right, it is too early or too late in the season.

So as I plan this year’s garden, I find myself looking at my life as a whole.  And I remember, spring doesn’t just happen in my garden. Those seeds have been dormant, waiting for conducive conditions to sprout. The weeds are what I have allowed to persist in my garden, I haven’t gotten down to their roots, so they keep coming back.  Primary to the whole process is the condition of the soil in which we plant the seeds, and how we nurture them once sown. If the conditions aren’t right, the seeds will not thrive.

The beautiful thing about the garden of our lives is that it is a garden, not a forest.    We can consciously cultivate it.  Granted there are forces that are beyond our control, as any gardener knows. Yet we can choose which seeds to sow, which weeds to pull….and we can prepare the soil for the best potential outcome.

I have been cultivating the soil in the garden of my life through my practices, so that any seeds I plant have the healthiest conditions possible in which to grow.  I have been practicing, meditating, studying, contemplating, and journaling.  I have been enriching the soil of my being with these practices.  Looking at my life from a clearer place I can see the weeds, the habits I keep perpetuating that act to choke out any new seedlings, and little by little I am removing them.  And I am considering which seeds to plant, what new ways of being and new projects I want to cultivate.

Consider the garden of your life through contemplation and journaling:

– What are the most persistent weeds in your life?
– What habitual patterns are getting in the way of cultivating a more healthy and productive way of being?
– How can you eliminate them?  Do you need support?  What are some practical actions you can take?
– Remember: weeds are really hard to get rid of, persistence is key.

– What do you do to take care of yourself?
– What creates health for you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
– Amend the soil of your life by practicing what creates greater health and clarity.

– What would you like to cultivate most in your life right now?
– How can you do that?  Do you need support? What are some practical actions you can take?

– Remember that the success of any new planting depends on continuing to remove the weeds, and keep the soil and conditions around the plant healthy.  How can you do this?

The power of words

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  Oh really?  I beg to differ. I understand this phrase may be good to remember in the short term when you are being verbally attacked. But we all know that the pain from words spoken, or not, can outlive physical injury.

I have been pondering the power of speech for quite a while, ever since a Vedic astrologer cautioned me that though I speak the truth, I sometimes “hurt people with my words.”  Those words he spoke to me held power as they struck a chord deep within me, and I knew I had to become more skillful in my speech.  This has been a long-term practice for me ever since.

My first approach was to practice silence: just keep my mouth shut.  Zip the lip potato chip.  I learned a lot from this practice.  Often the best way to use speech is to just keep quiet, for a number of reasons. Speech is energy, and sometimes we waste a lot of it in useless conversation, like talking about trivial things or trying to convince someone who disagrees with you who is simply not going to change their mind.  Why waste your energy?

The most important thing the silence taught me was to pause. A lot happened in that pause.  I was able to feel, think, and summon my higher self. It allowed me to look at the intent of my words.  Am I trying to convey information to actually enhance the conversation or resolve an issue?  Or was I trying to bring attention to myself, show how much I know, or who I know, prove I am right, put someone in their place, or inflict pain?

The pause allowed me to be more skillful when I did choose to speak. I saw how without the pause, my initial reaction was often based on old habitual reactions.  And then the other person might react likewise.  For example, speaking out of anger can escalate a situation rather than diffuse it.  I learned to step back to reflect on what I want to create in that moment and consider how to speak in a more skillful way to accomplish that.

In that pause, in that moment of intention before the speech, many of the practices of yoga I was engaged in began to guide me, including:

  • ahimsa/non-harming
  • virya/courage
  • karuna/compassion
  • svadhyaya/self-study
  • upeksha/equanimity.

When I pause to tune into these aspects, the words then flow through me in a more skillful and effective way. Ultimately, my intention is to create more beauty and love in the world.  This is especially true in potentially conflictful situation.  In these instances I try to tune into a higher place in myself, remind myself of the qualities I want to manifest, and allow that to guide my words.

Our speech is so powerful, those words of the astrologer set off decades of practice for me, with very potent results. What effect do you want to have with your words? I invite you to consider how you work with your speech by considering the following.

  • When is it necessary to speak?  Are there times when remaining silent is a good idea? When is it especially important for you to speak?
  • What is your intention when you speak?
  • Are there any particular qualities you would like to manifest through your speech?
  • How can you summon your highest self to guide you in your speech?