Wednesday 24 April 2019

Sowing seeds: Tend to the garden that is your mind


Transformation is a gradual process
Transformation is a gradual process
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

When we think of the self-development movement, our thoughts usually turn to the current crop of oratorical grandstanders who pound up and down convention centre stages, evangelising into detachable microphones.

We think of the authors that we see on the front of books lining the shelves of the 'Mind, Body, Spirit' section; the motivational speakers who claim they can transform our thinking and change our life. 

We're less inclined, however, to think of the people who inspired them ­­- the pioneers of the movement, so to speak.

The idea that our thoughts create our reality has certainly become more popular - and marketable - in the 21st century, but it's far from a new genre.

The earliest self-development writers - Samuel Smiles, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Allen, Florence Scovel Shinn - were sharing the very same ideas that we read about today during the mid-to-late 1800s and 1900s. 

The philosophy was the same - think it and you will become it - but the approach was markedly different.

Many of today's self-development writers sell the dream of overnight reinvention with big-talking titles that promise instant results. The pioneers of the movement, on the other hand, were more modest and methodical. 

They often likened the landscape of the mind to a garden, describing thoughts as seedlings that have to be cultivated. And as any gardener will tell you, careful cultivation takes time and patience.

Smiles famously wrote: "Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny."

Emerson, meanwhile, described thought as the "seed of action" and reminded us that the "creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn". 

Shinn shared mantras that described "harvests of endless opportunities" and Allen said a "man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life."

When we think of the mind as a garden, we are more likely to understand that transformation is a gradual process. We also become more mindful of the cycles of nature and the conditions necessary for personal growth.

It's a slower but more thorough approach to self-development, born out of an age when delayed gratification was simply a way of life. 

The garden metaphor might seem crude in its simplicity but dig a little deeper and it will reveal some big questions. Here's just a few of them:

Are you, in the words of James Allen, the "master-gardener" of your mind or have you delegated that duty to somebody else: a domineering boss, a controlling partner, a passive-aggressive parent? Have you put up clear boundaries around your garden, or can anybody trespass? More to the point, have you forgotten that you, and you alone, are responsible for everything you reap and sow?

Have you prepared the garden beds? Novice gardeners can get a little excited about the idea of cultivating seeds and bulbs for the first time - so much so that they often overlook the preparation of the soil that the plants are to grow in. It's much the same when we want to cultivate a new habit, lifestyle or way of thinking. In our rush to reinvent, we don't think about stability or sustainability. Before you try to grow the seed of a new idea, think about the environment that you're in and the conditions that are favourable to growth. Sometimes it only takes a few tweaks to ensure success.

Have you thought about companion planting? Good gardeners know that the right companion plants will support the growth of other plants and vegetables in the garden ecosystem. It's much the same with habits. The right 'keystone habit', explains Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, will spark a chain reaction of  additional positive habits. So choose the right keystone habit - drinking two litres of water a day, waking up half an hour earlier, writing tomorrow's to-do list before bed - and watch your garden grow.

Do you have a weed problem? Weeds are the bane of every gardener's life. They damage plants, stunt growth and generally just get in the way. It's much the same with emotions like jealousy, bitterness and regret. They fester, metastasise and eventually overgrow anything positive that we are trying to cultivate. We ought to think about these emotions in the same way that we think about garden weeds - sometimes it's best to just pull them out at the root. 

Do you blame the weather? Some gardeners take one look at their undeveloped garden and immediately blame erratic weather conditions. Other gardeners are less inclined to play the blame game. They use their initiative and find a way to make even extreme weather conditions work in their favour. In other words, we are all at the mercy of Mother Nature, but some people find the will and the way to overcome their circumstances, rain, hail, or shine.

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