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How to find meaning & joy in the “Garden” of your Mind

We can learn to use our mind for what it was designed – to create the life we want.  

So, firstly, to live our best life, it is important to get clear about what “Utopia” looks like for each of us.  Write it down, visualise it.  Is it a long or a short-term plan?

 It is important to dream but we also need to set realistic and manageable goals for ourselves.  And remember, lots of people will want you to do lots of things along the way (and that can be very flattering) but if it doesn’t lead you, at least, in some small way, toward your “Utopia” then it may not be in your best interests or the right path for you.  There will be other ways to find meaning.

Secondly, while most of us now recognise that we need to look after our physical health by exercising and doing other things such as going to the gym, few recognise that we need to look after our mental health in the same way.  We can start to do this by becoming more aware of just what the mind is doing most of the time.  Most people assume that thoughts just “pop” into our mind, and that there is nothing we can do about it!  But we alone determine what thoughts we encourage.  Few people realise that unhelpful patterns of thinking can lead to depression, anxiety and stress and bring us misery.  Our thinking patterns are mental habits that we have learned and can be unlearned with careful attention.  Often we have had people around us, perhaps as we were growing up, who have lived with and modelled for us, overly negative thoughts and beliefs.  They have no model of the type of thinking or behaviour will allow them to flourish.

 We may think we live in our body, actually we spend most of our time living in our mind. Therapy can be seen as like a gym for our mind.  A useful metaphor can be to see the mind as like “a garden”.  We can choose to create either a beautiful, well tended garden or  let the weeds of unhelpful thoughts take over and make our lives miserable.  

Our strengths and our values, such as creativity, honesty, integrity, hope, prudence, gratitude and compassion, represent the blossoms in our garden that enrich our thinking, and our lives.

Our unhealthy thinking patterns, represent the weed filled garden filled with core beliefs such as  “self-sacrifice”, “worry”, “perfectionism”, “self criticism” and “people pleasing”. These patterns can become like “strangler vines” that take over and strangle the blossoms in the garden of our mind and our life, paving the way for anxiety depression and other mental health concerns.

We have a choice, we can acknowledge and focus on our strengths and values and manage or tend to our garden or we can allow the “strangler vines” of our “negative core beliefs” to kill off our creativity, curiosity, compassion, zest for life and talents.  

Thirdly, we can use tools to tend our garden.…such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, time in nature, inspirational reading, therapy, talking and problem solving with trusted friends, and meaningful pursuits.  Work to identify your unique strengths, use them and enjoy them.  Martin Seligman, Christopher Peterson and others working in the field of positive psychology, have indicated that each of us have 4 to 5 top “signature strengths” (go online for free questionnaire at www.viacharacter.org) that come easily to us and give us joy and positive emotions when we express them.  Using these strengths as much as possible, greatly lifts our positivity, and gives us the energy to move towards our goals and our “Utopia” and the sense of purpose that makes life meaningful.  

Research on positivity by Barbara Fredrickson tells us that to flourish or thrive we need a ratio of three positive emotions, thoughts, or behaviours to one negative. John Gottman’s research indicates five positive to one negative.  If you start to notice your thoughts, most of us become aware fairly quickly that we are nowhere near that ratio, particularly if times are tough or when there is a lot of stress in our lives.  This is the time when we most need to be mindful of these “strangler vines” and refocus our precious energy and resources on our strengths, values and our own personal utopia.  We move toward to what gives us meaning and purpose.

Each of us has at least one gift that we bring to the world; using it will provide that meaning.  Recent research tells us that happiness or life satisfaction, is about using our “signature strengths” as much as possible,  in each day, to get that “flow”experience (where we are lost in the moment, at the cutting edge of doing want we know how to do),  in the service of something what has meaning and purpose for us.  Ponder this quote  often attributed to William Shakespeare.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life if to give it away”

Our strengths and values represent who we are, and their expression is our true identity.  We even think we ARE our current negative thinking patterns which are mostly the patterns of our “strangler vines”.  They are the defences or coping strategies we learned, often as a child, to hide who we truly were, often at a time when we didn’t feel safe to express them or be ourselves. And these defences can make our lives seem like hell! 

So tend to your own garden, plant the seeds of your creativity and your “strengths”, live by your values and manage those “strangler vines” of unhelpful thinking.  When the vines threaten to take over, switch your focus back to your own beautiful garden and you will flourish.  And always remember that we can’t live our lives in anyone else’s garden, not our partner’s, not our boss’s, not our children’s, not our parents’ garden- it is ours alone.  We can’t force anyone else to tend to their garden and we are at our best when we just focus on our own.  Ours are the only “strangler vines” we can pull out.  We can meet others at the gate of our gardens and share some time but our work is our own and then we can fill our own cup and give easily from the overflow.  We can only help others when we have taken care of our own minds-our gardens!

We will still have problems to solve and things that need to be improved.  Life is a bumpy road. Our unique garden can be our safe place and our stability in a complex and sometimes troubled world. This approach helps us build resilience to shore us up in difficult times. And our gift, whatever it is, and no matter how small, can help resolve  some of those troubles. 

Surf champion Layne Beachly AO said;-

“If you are doing what you love then you’re doing what is right.  Desire and passion resonate with your body, mind and soul.  When you’re passionate you don’t question, judge, criticise, second-guess, or doubt.  It’s that passion that will fuel the fire to overcome challenges.” 

So enjoy the journey. Know your strengths through which you express your positive emotions, thoughts and behaviours.  The way to flourish and thrive will present itself when you are present and tending your own garden.  It is a refuge and a haven and perhaps the true Garden of Eden…………!