Mental Health Lessons from the Garden

Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in Farmer's Blog | 1 comment

  According to Craig Chalquist, PhD and department chair of East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, says there is a growing body of research on horticultural therapy.  Gardening has the ability to lift depression.  It can release stress and anxiety, stimulate the senses, improve sleep, reduce pain, diminish mental fatigue, strengthen the immune system, counter isolation, lessen eating disorder symptoms, and enhance mental and physical recuperation from surgery, post-traumatic stress, and other traumas to mind and body.  (Recommendations, Buzzell & Chalquist, Ecotherapy:  Healing with Nature in Mind–

In my first year of launching From The Ground Up, I’ve continued my work as a counselor at a local all-boys mental facility.  Many of these youth come from horrific broken environments, involving a myriad of abuse & exposure.  When being exposed to these early life experiences many youth come away with a plethora of sexual abuse, resulting in severe trauma and sometimes PTSD.  In the work, I’m assigned up to 2-3 youth that I advocate for, in hopes of building a relationship.  I develop certain target goals to help with their therapy & to achieve some much needed healing.  In doing so, all the youth I’ve worked with have had to learn how to care for growing food.  It can be a vegetable, flower or tree of their choice, or growing something within their favorite food.  Simple.  Of course, there is some resistance, but in time a general sense of care & responsibility would take hold.  A beautiful silent hush would sometimes take place in watering the plants and noticing how it’s doing & what it may need.  I would observe the boys senses firing within, slowing everything down & focused with task at hand.  From here, conversations about feelings & getting to know one another would sometimes blossom, the walls would come down for a brief moment, building the foundation of trust & learning the dance of working with one another to help heal & move forward.   

Gardening teachesveggies some invaluable psychological lessons–for example:

  • Abandon perfectionism.  There is no perfect garden.  Pests and weeds see to that.  In the garden one must learn to live with what cannot be controlled:  some eaten plants, stubborn things that won’t grow, weed seeds that over-winter invisibly and come back to life.  Nature schools control freaks.
  • Things take time to grow.  Gardening requires patience and trust in the powers of growth to keep their own schedule.  Nature ignores the consumeristic emphasis on obtaining results immediately by going about its leisurely business.  No instant gratification.  No deadlines.  No rush.
  • Things decay and die.  We know this as a general truth, but it can be hard to let a cherished part of our life decline, wither, and depart on its own.  The garden teaches that some things need to go away: some old structures should decline.  Many can become compost for new forms of growth.
  • Trust the senses.  Science and philosophy have shown the limitations of our powers of perception;  but we sometimes forget that, limited though they are, the senses open doorways that connect us to the world and to each other.  They also tell us what nourishes and what does not;  what is good for us and what is bitter and should be spit out.
  • Nature bats first and last.  The soil you cultivate took millions of years of weathering and building up to prepare.  The living world will have the last say after you are done with it.  If our lives are a kind of book, then nature provides the bookends.  Despite all our anxiety and doubt, loneliness and uncertainty, the forces of life and the cycles of seasons always have us firmly in hand.

One Comment

  1. 8-1-2013

    Love this blog. I couldn’t agree more. Life seems to come together, slow down, and make sense when we’re connected to the Earth. The more I read and learn, and the more I trust my own experiences, I believe this is the path to “mental health” rather than the traditional, Western medical approach. Sunshine and fresh air will take care of the fundamentals of being in ways that Prozac can never touch.

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