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Sustainable Mindfulness

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GARDEN RELAX
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico via Getty Images
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It's early summer on the East Coast, which means I'm spending a lot of time in my garden. I'm harvesting spring vegetables, and have planted my summer crop. I spend the majority of my weekends digging in the dirt, weeding, mowing, and tending to my plants.

I jokingly refer to my time in the garden as my "therapy." A good sweat and a sense of accomplishment at the end of a long day outside can't be beat. Eating a ripe red tomato still hot from the sun is a little paradise on earth. Not one day goes by in my garden that I don't marvel at how a seed I could barely see on my hand in February is now producing a bumper crop. And while I'm planting seeds, hauling compost, or pulling weeds, it gives me a lot of time to think. I sense myself slowing down, gaining new perspectives on issues, and appreciating the ebb and flow of nature. I think a lot about sustainability and the cycle of the natural world.

During my time in the garden this year, I've contemplated the parallels between sustainable agriculture and what I'll call "sustainable mindfulness." The USDA defines sustainable agriculture as incorporating practices that provide long term viability and enhance the quality of the environment, the natural resource base, and the lives of both farmers and society as a whole.

So, what if I applied the principles of sustainable agriculture to sustainable mindfulness? Reflection on what ingredients I need to prosper and thrive for the long term would serve me well. As I age, I recognize how important daily periods of reflection and quiet are. Whether you refer to it as prayer, meditation, reflection, or other, it allows the rest necessary to rejuvenate and see other possibilities. It is one of many ingredients that help my inner garden thrive.

Admittedly, I do really well for awhile with mindfulness, prayer, reflection, and meditation. I feel great -- calm, powerful, and centered. Then somehow, I don't tend to my practice as much and the weeds start growing in my brain. They choke out the good stuff and I'm back to a thorny mess. I haven't given my heart, soul, body and mind the nutrients or tending it needs to thrive.

Just like overwintering my garden, I'm learning to allow myself to rest and recover. My tomatoes don't grow well in the summer if the soil hasn't had time to rest over the winter. Similarly, I don't grow or perform at my best when I don't have time to rest, recover, and replenish.

Knowing all this, I still struggle with making mindfulness and meditation as much of a practice as I should (or want to). There always seem to be something more pressing or urgent to attend to. But like sustainable agriculture, I want to enhance my resilience and long-term viability. I want to make sure this is ingrained in me and that I recognize how necessary it is to have the energy to attend to all those "pressing" items. Or maybe I just realize that some of those pressing items are solely toxic chemicals, choking out the growth. And just as plants have their season, maybe some of my thoughts and stressors have had a season too. They fed me for a period of time. But with mindfulness and rest, I can recognize that their time is ready for the compost pile. I can recognize that similar to my gardening ventures, I try things out, they don't work, and I make adjustments for the next go around.

So, time to start working on my inner mindfulness garden. Weed all the garbage away that isn't helping me any. Replenish the nutrients and substance my mind and body needs. Get rid of any toxic materials that will stunt growth. Build a sustainable practice of mindfulness and rest that can prosper over the long term. Most importantly, realize that just like my vegetable garden, this is trial and error. I will make mistakes, try things that don't work, and course correct. And each time I will learn from the past and harvest better results.

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