Mistress Mary, Quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,
And so my garden grows.*
Remember this little ditty as part of your nursery rhyme repertoire? As a kid I wondered, “what the heck are Cockle Shells?’….sadly Wikipedia or Google hadn’t been invented yet so I couldn’t just look it up on the fly….
….and, I digress…two sentences into this post this morning.
The ENTIRE reason this little set of verses ran through my mind in the first place was the fact I took time to play in the dirt this weekend.
Sunday afternoon was simply stunning – it was one of those beautiful afternoons with golden, slanting sunlight, the air soft and silky, and the sky the most serene blue; it was absolutely perfect for being outside and turning soil in the garden (after a bike ride which had to happen first).
And, as I raked the straw and leaf mulch away (don’t worry – it is to be added back), I was dismayed to discover a hearty crop of weeds already well ensconced. Damn it.
However, the joy-of-my-heart rhubarb plant was also looking pretty hearty, herself. Now, I love this old girl. She comes back reliably every spring with a take-no-prisoners-full-on-thriving attitude. She is simply luscious (and delicious in pie!).
This battle for real estate in my garden, between the weeds and high-value crops, reminded me of how Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, uses the analogy of our mind as a garden. To somewhat paraphrase what he says:
- We can be simply be with what is in our mind, looking at its weeds and flowers without judging or changing anything, or
- We can pull weeds by decreasing the negative thoughts which roam around in our minds, or
- We can actively choose to grow flowers (or rhubarb or spinach or arugula) by increasing the positive thoughts in our minds.
The Garden of Our Mind:
The field of neuroscience continues to uncover what an amazing organ our brain is. It likes to learn; it is designed to be changed and sculpted by our experiences. As Rick Hanson points out, what we repeatedly sense and feel and what and think is slowly but surely forming neural pathways in our brain. Our experiences “don’t just grow new synapses, remarkable as that is by itself, but also somehow reach down into your genes…and change how they operate.”
Naturally then, the questions become:
- What do we want growing then in the fertile soil of our brain?
- How can we direct the flow of thoughts, emotions, and sensations through our minds so as to cultivate the most positive and fruitful harvest for ourselves?
Well, my dear, I’m so glad you asked!
…And like the smart kid in class who is just-about-beside-herself with the answer – practically standing up in the chair, arm waving – I’ll happily field the answer…Happiness Habits.
Sowing Seeds: Plant Happiness Habits
Instead of sowing seeds of discontent – Mistress Mary, quite contrary – through frequent ruminations, spinning-worry thoughts, or telling well-worn stories of anger and outrage, we can invest a little effort into consciously planting seeds – Happiness Habits – which will produce peace-of mind, contentment, and harmony.
Happiness Habits are those practices we continually do until they become the habits of our mind – the powerful, positive habits empowering us in creating a thriving, joyful life.
Two of my favorite Happiness Habits to practice are Gratitude and Forgiveness and because their power is demonstrated not only in our minds, but also in our bodies. According to Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, active practices like gratitude and forgiveness have the following benefits:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
- Higher levels of positive emotions;
- More joy, optimism, and happiness;
- Acting with more generosity and compassion;
- Feeling less lonely and isolated.
Hmmmm…..such a lovely list of benefits…..
And, the more we implement practices like gratitude and forgiveness and appreciation, the greater their presence in the fertile soil of our minds. Eventually, they win the battle for the precious real estate in the garden of our minds.
What will you sow in your garden this spring?
Perhaps a daily or weekly (Sunday evening) Gratitude list or journal will cultivate greater levels of joy?
Perhaps you will weed out or let go, of someone or something, through Forgiveness?
Perhaps a deeper commitment to Appreciation will help your relationships bloom?
And, PLEASE, feel free to add your suggestions in the comment box – we all benefit from learning what others are up to!
*These are the oldest known version of these lyrics was first published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book (c. 1744). Check out Wikipedia if you want to know how this little rhyme relates to the Catholic Church or the Mary Queen of Scots.