THE BLOG
09/23/2014 08:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Meditative Value of Houseplants

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There's contentment in them thar house plants! Imagine this said with the same adventurous certainty as Western movie characters of old who claimed that "... there's gold in them thar hills!"

Those old cinematic prospectors were sure that the distant foothills held as-yet untapped veins of riches. It was enough to believe it possible that sent those rugged individuals into uncharted territory. Their goal? Financial prosperity. The hint of promise that riches could be stacked up waiting for them was enough for people to leave everything comfortable and head West.

Did you know that a plant sitting on the kitchen windowsill, or the edge of your desk, can be the repository of spiritual riches? That by caring for the plant, you give yourself the gifts of meditation in the form of tranquility and peace? Are you aware that in caring for a houseplant, you are also caring for yourself? That nurturing the health of a simple plant can nurture the complexities of your soul? Bring you joy?

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Photo by author, Linda C. Smith

This is quite a lot to expect from a little potted African Violet, isn't it? It really is not the same as discovering a vein of gold, perhaps, but if you can suspend your disbelief for just a moment and step a toe into uncharted waters, then you might discover a gem of enlightenment. The tranquility and peace spoken of above comes in action and the action is in the caring for the plant. Houseplants are living things and require periodic attention. At times they need water. At times they need a bit of trimming and grooming. At other times they need washing, dusting and sometimes a complete new pot of soil. The "doing" of these things is nurturing... caring for the plant.

So where does the contentment come in?

When you take a few minutes to care for something, it requires you to step outside yourself. It requires you to change your focus and put it onto the wellbeing of something else. In this case the little plant. The magic is that in nurturing the wellbeing of the plant, you are also nurturing your own wellbeing: positive action results in positive responses.

Many times when a person is down in spirits, whatever the cause, it causes them to turn their radar inwards. As humans, we have a tendency to cocoon ourselves when we're not at our best. We fold our arms around ourselves and keep a close eye on what is bothering us. The unfortunate aspect of this tendency is that it keeps us from looking outwards, from reaching outwards and putting our focus on something else.

Bringing a plant into our home is bringing a commitment along with it; the commitment to keep it alive. Houseplants cannot feed and water themselves. They cannot pick the best windowsill. They can't trim overlong branches or pinch off spent blooms. A houseplant can't thrive unless it is cared for.

The few moments spent each week watering a plant are moments where attention is paid to what is front of us, and not what is inside of us. There is a way to maximize these moments and turn them into truly enriching and personal times:

  • make the wellbeing of your plant a priority
  • make caring for your plant a ritual
  • learn all you can about your houseplant -- its history, its origins, know why it is special

Wellbeing: Here's what a houseplant is not -- it is not bric-a-brac. It is not a book, and it is not a piece of furniture. What a houseplant is, is something that is alive... it breathes and grows and ages and can die. Make its life in your home a rewarding experience for it... and for you.

Ritual: Turn the actual acts of caring (watering, trimming, repotting) times of meditation and reflection for yourself. Rather than just tossing a half cup of water at the plant, take the time to fill a special watering can with water that is just the right temperature to which you've added the appropriate plant food. Give attention to how much water you give the plant. Talk to the plant. It most probably doesn't hear you, but you hear you. Give this nurturing experience as much intention as the tea ceremony masters do their craft in Asian cultures. This isn't a time for rushing, this is a time for enriching.

Learning: The more you learn about your houseplants, the more you appreciate their individual characteristics. The more you know, the more you care.

What does your plant give to you? Beauty, oxygen, life-in-a-pot. It doesn't matter if you have but one lone African Violet or a whole atrium of tropical specimens. The very act of nurturing goes so far beyond just keeping your plants alive... it has within it the ability to provide you with peace and contentment.