A Meaningful Gardening Metaphor

Many who know me, know that I am an avid gardener. My love of gardening started early in life and has brought me so much joy over the years. One of my greatest pleasures is taking an overgrown jungle and turning it into a lush, textured and colorful retreat. Years ago, I nicknamed one of my shaded garden paths Nature’s Chapel for it was full of majestic Jack in the Pulpits and large-leafed variegated hostas that held raindrops like sparkling jewels. That graceful garden offered both calm and wonderment. Gardening has always been therapeutic for me. It brings me joy and a deep sense of satisfaction to transform an eyesore into a treasure for the senses.

Over the past few days, I have had to sit with some heavy emotions from my past. The images of my many gardens kept intertwining with my thoughts. Suddenly I realized that there was a meaningful metaphor emerging. I recalled a piece of raw land covered in thorny brambles and thick underbrush. At first sight, it looked like a daunting task to clear it all. But my vision of a lush garden with blushing pink bleeding hearts and emerald ferns spurred me on to tackle the clearing process. It took nearly a week of manual labor, blood (in spite of thick gloves), sweat and even a few exasperated tears. Eventually I was gazing at that thick rich composted soil, eager to plunge my fingers into it and inhale the promise of a dense flourishing garden.

I used this gardening metaphor as my anchoring point to revisit an old emotional wound. It has had a profound impact on my mindset to continue on — digging deep and clearing away thorny emotional brambles. I know that it will be hard work, but in the end I will have a clear, clean healthy space in my heart and life story.

Perhaps one of the most revelational transformations that happened during this clearing is that I am able to use tools I did not possess at the time of origination of the painful emotional trauma. It could have been one of many incidents in my childhood where a parent shred any hope of trust and protection through uncontrollable abusive responses. It could have been occasions when I was pleading for help for myself or my daughter and was completely ignored, even dismissed. It could be the innumerous times a former partner stripped me of self esteem and self-worth in spite of facts that proved otherwise. In those moments, I was not strong, lacked confidence and believed I was unworthy. Too young and insecure, too mired in dysfunctional circumstances others were unconsciously creating for me, for us.

Today when I stand facing the thorny brambles of revisiting those old traumas, I am an older, wiser and more self-compassionate woman. My tools are knowing my own value and self-worth. I recognize that I have overcome some really painful, challenging life experiences and am still standing. I also know that in spite of mean, spiteful and deeply hurtful actions of others, my tender heart remains unchanged. My loving heart may be bruised, scarred and creviced, but it is capable of deep love and true warmth. In fact, I am certain that my brokenness is what allows more light and empathy into the deepest part of my very being. I have an innate understanding of the human condition precisely because of the pain I have endured.

In some ways, it is like having a crystal ball. I envision my crystal ball look as a snow globe. I can look at my young granddaughter as though she is in a delicate glass snowglobe, shake it and watch the fairy dust of snowy white sparkles drift over her. I can hear her laughter and I can wrap her in my arms when life hits her hard, offering comfort and assurance that she is loved, safe and protected. My wish for her, and all my grandchildren, is that this is their true foundation.

My improved self-awareness in my 60’s means that I am a better advocate for my innocent and vulnerable grandchildren. Of course, I will not be able to protect my grandchildren from life’s hardships, but I will hold space for them, I will honor their true feelings and I will be a source of comfort and strength. Awful things happen in life — how we show up for others in there hour of need is paramount. This is how we help our young people grow their character, their values and their resilience.

I am a crusader for my grandchildren. I will never watch silently as an adult carelessly and unconsciously strips a child of their worthiness or their need to feel safe and protected. While much of life’s challenges and heartbreaks cannot be changed, how we treat others is fully within our power. I have zero tolerance these days for adults who expect more from their young children than they do themselves. How can you expect a little one to have emotional regulation and patience if you are not role modeling that for them? Let’s face it, we are all imperfect and we will make mistakes but even then we have precious teaching moments and an opportunity to restore trust and worthiness. Our greatest tools in these moments are personal accountability and sincere apology.

These transformational tools must be used swiftly. I cannot stress this enough. We can circumvent serious emotional damage and development of unconscious protective behavioral patterns by owning our mistakes and hurtful actions and offering a sincere apology. Not just I am sorry, but a true commitment to change.

Imagine a fiesty preteen girl being told by her birth father that she’d be pregnant by the time she was 16. For three years she’d carry this in her heart like a heavy rock weighing her down. On what should be a very happy milestone 16th birthday, she bounds down the stairs and asks her mom if she should call him and tell him he was wrong — very wrong — about her on so many levels. It is caustic, toxic actions like this that plant the seeds of unworthiness in an innocent child. This young woman will carry this with her all her life – it is her emotional baggage packed and handed to her by a careless adult.

This is another example of a sliding door moment in life. That birth father could have realized what an awful thing he said to his daughter and he could have immediately apologized. Perhaps he was angry about something else and directed all that pain at his daughter. But years go by and he’s long forgotten he ever uttered those words to her. Yet she carries them buried in her heart and they will shape her through the years. She will always have a nagging inner voice telling her she is “less than” and there will be days she believes it. When people let her down, she will see it as proof of her own unworthiness. It will make recovery from life’s blows all the harder. When she becomes a mother, she will make every effort to ensure her own child feels completely loved and accepted, just as she is. It will take this woman years to undo the silent messaging that she is unworthy of love and belonging. And this is precisely why swift action is needed when we screw up.

I do believe that each generation becomes better at parenting in a healthy way by learning from our own parents what we do not want to repeat. This has been a guiding principle for me and many of my friends, and we are seeing that unfold with our adult children as they raise their own families now. I am also grateful for the work that Brene Brown has done to bring out into the wide open just how these very real life experiences impact us emotionally and psychologically throughout our lives. Which is precisely why we need to do our own “clearing and excavating” work. In my viewpoint, Brene has been a leading catalyst for making very public the critical need for all of us to dive into self-discovery and to support each other in a wholehearted way when we find the courage to do so.

It is my hope that my gardening metaphor will become a strong visual for consideration should someone ask you to help them as they are pulling weeds and emotional brambles from their own stories.

Almost a year ago, my lifelong friend, Judy Chesters, told me that we still had a lot of deep diving to do into our work of “emotional excavation”. Admittedly she caught. me by surprise because she and I have worked so hard for over 5 years supporting each other through a lot of processing of archived traumas and self-discovery. All I can say now is that she must have had a crystal ball of her own — for after a year of pandemic and unprecedented uncertainties she was so very right. Both she and I have gone much deeper into our own stories. The healing and empowerment that we have gained is almost hard to explain but how we both feel is much more grounded, expansive and light. I shared with her one day that I describe it as “rare air, deep water.”

When I am in that space of “rare air and deep water”, I let my imagination run free and wild. I envision my grandchildren traveling through their incredible lives without emotional baggage and scarred hearts — no limitations on their creativity, worthiness and ability to live authentic wholehearted, free-spirited lives. I imagine a world where we give to each other an enriching environment and nurturing support to be our best selves. Amy Davis

Helpful Resources:

RISING STRONG by Brene Brown.

Check out this overview: https://www.meaningfulhq.com/rising-strong.html

RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

Read this summary by GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/173666.Radical_Acceptance

Check out this recent Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron for some personal insights on the value of doing your own “shadow work” and the rewarding personal evolvement that grows from doing that self-discovery work. https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/11/02/episode04-034/audreyassad

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