Promote health and wellness by pulling weeds, planting flowers, and enjoying the view!
Life – for individuals, organizations, communities and corporations – is an ever changing, growing landscape. Life might be considered using the metaphor of gardening, whatever the scale – from container gardening to large-scale agri-business. How we tend to this evolving terrain can significantly improve our health and wellness – happiness, creativity, productivity and connectivity. Neuroscientist Rick Hanson describes three ways to approach this so-called gardening process of health and wellness: let be, let go, let in.
Let Be – Enjoy the View
As summer unfolds, plants emerge from winter hibernation. Green leaves begin to poke up through the soil. Buds appear on trees. Flowers bloom. Any gardener knows it is wise to survey the landscape before making drastic changes. You need to see what survived the winter, and to reflect and remember what was planted where, and to wait and see what is a weed and what is a flower. This requires patience, attention to detail, and a willingness to see that familiar garden with fresh eyes. Sometimes there are surprises – a stray bulb planted by a squirrel, a flower that self-seeded in the fall, a shrub that died. Knowing how things are – not how you remember things, or how you wish them to be – allows you to take appropriate action to tend your garden of health and wellness.
Sometimes what is most needed in a situation is to just pause and be present. Before rushing to analyze, fix or change something or someone, it can be beneficial to take the time and care to notice the nuance and texture of the moment. What thoughts, emotions, body sensations are present for me in this moment? What might be happening for this other person involved? Or what does this new project require of our team?
Let Go – Pull Weeds That Choke Your Health and Wellness
As you gain a clear perspective on the emerging landscape, you can determine what needs weeding. You notice what needs thinning, trimming, transplanting and removal from your garden. You clear things out to make room for new growth.
It can be hard to let go sometimes. We are creatures of habit and may not easily embrace change. However, when we have taken the time to know our internal and external landscape, we can see more clearly what supports our happiness and what may lead to difficulty or suffering. And with this knowledge we can begin to let go of old patterns – either on our own or perhaps with the support of a skilled professional. We can then begin to make different choices, to form new habits.
Let In – Plant Flowers for Better Health and Wellness
There is a Native American Teaching Story that shares a conversation between a granddaughter and her grandmother. The young girl inquires, “Grandmother, how did you become so happy?” The elder replies “I realized early in my life that I had two wolves in my heart – one of love and one of hate – and everything depended on which I fed.” Mindfulness helps us slow down to know the landscape of our heart and mind – and to make intentional choices about what we are feeding within ourselves and in our life.
To cultivate a beautiful garden requires preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering and ongoing care. We select plants we find beautiful and will thrive in our particular environment.
Developing our inner resources also necessitates care. Strengths – both personal and organizational – are traits, which grow from states. So to grow the traits we want in ourselves, our lives, our organizations, we need to activate and install desirable states repeatedly into the nervous system. We need to notice or create more moments of whatever we hope to grow – presence, joy, ease, patience, calm, collaboration, connection, creativity, caring, health and wellness – and soak them in. Rick Hanson says “without installation there is no growth, learning or lasting benefit.”
Installing the Good: A Practice to Try at Home
Our brain has a negativity bias. We are good at learning from bad experiences and bad at learning from good experiences. This has survival value. Back in the days when our survival depended on fleeing or fighting the saber tooth tiger, our stress response served us well and allowed us to live to eat lunch rather than be lunch. Our brains don’t have a parallel positivity pathway. We often skim right over the positive moments in our life. Thus it is important to consciously cultivate taking in the good. We need to draw our attention to the good and steep in it as a tea bag in hot water, savoring and enhancing the felt sense of the good.
To try this at home, begin to notice the good moments in your life – tune into the felt sense of connection with a friend, the taste of a really good meal, the warmth of the sun on your skin. When you find yourself in the middle of a positive experience, pause, take 30 seconds or a minute and breathe, feeling the experience in your body. Let yourself marinate in the moment, consciously connecting with the good and letting it sink in. “Taking in the good” in this manner five or six times a day can have a positive cumulative effect on your well-being. Try it and let us know what happens.
Health and Wellness Resources
Jean Leonard, Ph.D, RYT is a licensed psychologist and registered yoga teacher with 19 years clinical experience. Dr. Leonard is the Coordinator of Health and Wellness Services in the Pursuits Coaching and Wellness Network. She is inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit and is honored to accompany clients on their healing journeys through individual therapy, yoga, and mindfulness coaching and classes. Areas of expertise include Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), brainspotting, work-life balance, burnout recovery, transitions, grief and loss, women’s issues, trauma, health challenges, yoga for cancer survivors.
Rick Hanson offers advice and tools to promote happiness, health and wisdom