Often the lessons I am learning as a gardener are a reflection of those I am learning as an ever-evolving human being. I will sometimes notice that humans in general seem to be working on the same thing, as well…
Just as I have been learning to let go of the need to control every aspect of my garden and take on a deeper role as observer and listener – I am working to let go in the rest of my life as well and to listen more closely for that “still small voice within”.
We have all sorts of ideas on how things should be – how our life should go. We have an image of who we are and what is important in our life. And then life comes along and switches tracks or changes lanes on us, and we realize that – although we thought we were in control – it was all an illusion. I reflect with great compassion on all those this year whose lives were utterly changed by the forces of nature – fire and wind and water… And those whose lives have been affected by illness and death. There are so many things in life that are outside our control.
The one thing we can learn to control is how we respond. Granted, that can be incredibly hard at times because of all our subconscious programming, much of which was set firmly in place when we were children – and some that is programmed into our very genes as a human. The fight or flight response is pretty automatic and not always easy to over-ride.
But with practice and perseverance we can change how we respond. We may still feel the fear or the anger or other negative emotions but we can learn to alter what we DO with those feelings. I’m not saying this is easy – but that it is do-able. Just as we have choices in how to respond when a plant in our garden is attacked by something. We can reach for a heavy duty poison, or perhaps a less intense home-made spray – or we may choose to lovingly nourish and support the plant in a way that may strengthen it so it might survive the attack. We may choose also to do nothing and allow nature to take its course. I remember years ago discovering a rose in my garden that was covered in aphids. Every day I dragged a hose over to it and sprayed the aphids off. And every day they returned. Then I got busy and wasn’t able to get back to the rose for several days. When I finally did I found ladybugs on the rose and nearly all the aphids were gone.
How we make these decisions is also a choice. We can listen to “experts” and follow some traditional path, or take the advise of friends or family, or we can work to quiet our minds so that we might hear our own inner guidance. This last choice is a challenge to us because it puts the responsibility for the outcome squarely on our shoulders. If things go wrong we cannot blame others for the outcome!
I went through a long period of on-again, off-again illness this year that some part of me knew early on was stress related. An ongoing situation in my life was continually poking this part of me. Time and again over the months I went to the medical system for help and time and again it was made apparent that they did not have an answer. There wasn’t a magic pill I could take that would heal me. And boy, I so wanted a magic pill! I finally did what we humans often do when we get to a place where it’s obvious that there is no help coming to save us – no cavalry riding to our rescue. I turned inward. I learned how to stop the incessant gloom and doom message looping through my brain. I discovered, weirdly, that forcing a smile – even when I didn’t feel like smiling – shifted something in me – in a really good way, as though the act of smiling sent a message to my body that everything is okay. I discovered I had a choice in how to respond to what was going on in my body and my mind.
One of the things I noticed was that having made a choice, the entire Universe seemed to jump on board to help! Not a day went by that I didn’t have something show up in my Inbox or on Facebook or a comment from a friend, that was specifically supportive of my needs at that moment.
And suddenly it all began to shift – and I knew I was healing.
I share this deeply personal experience with you because I know that I am in no way unique in my response to stress. There are things going on in the world right now – everything from politics to natural disasters – that are very stressful to many of us humans. Our bodies weren’t designed to be in a continual fight or flight mode and that’s where many of us find ourselves at this moment in time. Unfortunately this continual stress can be a factor in all sorts of human illness. It depletes our immune system which leaves us vulnerable to all sorts of challenges.
The stress is due, I think, to our collective feelings of helplessness and hopelessness – of our lives being out of control – which in a very real sense, they are. The only thing we can control is how we respond to what is going on – in our own bodies and our minds.
If you need science to prove to you that’s possible you will find plenty of evidence and studies to support it. Just look at the placebo effect. It’s strange that it usually takes getting to a place where the medical system can’t really help us – to push us into discovering that we have within us the ability to heal ourselves – even if that healing is in surrendering and simply accepting what is. We just need to change our response.
You may not be dealing with a serious illness right now but you likely are dealing with the stress the world is experiencing. Recognizing the damage that negative feedback loops can cause and developing the skills to deal with any sort of stress may be one of the most useful activities you can take on in the new year. The HeartMath Institute* has done studies that show that 5 min. of watching an upsetting video (or reading an upsetting news story) depletes the immune system for over 24 hrs. On the other hand it was found that immersing ourselves in 5 min. of uplifting, happy thoughts and ideas can boost and strengthen your immune system for 24 hrs.
I can tell you that it’s amazingly empowering to discover you have a choice!
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it,
listen for what it intends to do with you.
— Parker J. Palmer