“Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners”  ~ William Shakespeare


In the spring we plant our gardens and in the summer, we relish them.  Some people really enjoy the process of growing food and beautiful flowers, while others can do without all the work.   This is understandable; it is work to tend a garden.  As Shakespeare is alluding, it is our will (and even focus) that is needed for the care of our gardens. 


I have often made the parallel of the human mind and a garden.  As weeds grow in a garden, they will also grow in the mind.  There will always be weeds in a garden and a mind, no matter what.  Yet, what are weeds to a human mind?  How can they be identified?  Through staying mindful and actually stopping to listen to the thoughts in our minds, we can become more aware of this.  Any thought that is not useful and/or brings about distress needs to be extracted from our mind garden.   In every human mind, our perceptions can become distorted – either through intense emotion or through a conditioning process that is unconscious.  These distortions begin to squeeze the life out of the beauty in our lives and hinders the growth of our spiritual and emotional development.


With regard to self-care, tending to our garden is number one.  Still, even if we are listening, how can we know if there is a weed in our mind garden?  Only with mindfulness – we can’t know what is really a weed until we look at it right in the face – look closely and really assess what the plant is.  We must listen and discern in our heads and our bodies as to what is true and what is not true – what is there can often times be a distortion or a cognitive error.  Tease out the thought and consider it from an objective perspective – consider if someone else were telling you this thought – would you believe it?  Would you challenge it?  What would you say? 


Let’s review a few common cognitive errors that we all tend to make.  First, mind-reading.  Have you ever had an exchange with another person and based on their facial expressions or mood, you make an assumption that they are angry or upset with you?  You might say, “that person was acting distant, it’s probably something I did – how can I make this right?”  It might behoove you to ask the person how they are feeling instead of assuming – we really don’t know what people are thinking and unfortunately, facial expressions are not a good indicator of true inner thoughts and feelings.


Still, we are humans and humans make judgments and assumptions about each other.  I’ve often said that if we leave blanks in human communication, someone is bound to fill them in.  The responsibility falls on both parties – one for leaving openness as to what’s going on and the other for filling in the blanks with their own story without checking in and asking. 


Another common error in thinking is fortune telling.   Ever find yourself predicting the future from an anxious, fearful place?  For example, one might think, “I will never pass this upcoming test” or “I’ll never get married and find anyone I will trust.”  Consider how thoughts like that might make a person feel!  Pretty de-pressed down.  Remember that we will never predict the future from an anxious place.  Counter your thoughts – pull the weeds of fear so that love can grow.


The last common cognitive distortion I will talk about is the “What if’s?”  Ever find yourself asking what if kinds of questions?  “What if I never find a job?  What if I get into an accident?  What if I lose my savings?”  Again, this is from an anxious place.  We can put our fight or flight system into overdrive and nothing traumatic has even happened!  Thinking about it will not prepare you!   In this situation, answer the question.  What if I get into an accident?  Well, I will call the police for help and keep breathing – I am resilient and strong and have faith that I will move through this - go through the emotions to gain movement (makes sense as the root word of emotion is motion).  We are much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.


So, it is up to us to care for ourselves and tease out the thoughts and feelings in our mind garden that hinder our growth.  It’s summertime – time to work on weeding our gardens.   This is a lifelong practice that becomes more and more comfortable as we do it a little bit daily (ever leave your garden for 2 weeks in the summertime – it’s a mess!).  Practice briefly each day and stay present to what your mind is saying – if not, the weeds grow fast and can easily overpower the growth in your life.  Be aware and continue to question if what you are thinking is nurturing your inner growth or is it strangling the life and love out of you.  If you listen closely and objectively, you will know.