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Gardening strengthens our muscles while also nurturing our mind & spirit. Here's a quick look at its health benefits and the life lessons it teaches.
Back in high school, someone gave me a cactus. And because I’m so not into gardening (even if I appreciated flowering plants), I forgot all about it.
Or maybe I watered it once or twice, then left it on the kitchen window sill. By the time I remembered it, it was already dead.
This and a few other fauna casualties made me believe I did not have a green thumb–at all. So I generally kept away from gardening. I wasn’t interested enough and apparently, I wasn’t even good at it. Plus, if the plants didn’t want me, why would I want them, right?
And then a few years ago, my retreat adviser asked me, “Why not try to garden?”
Her suggestion immediately conjured images of tiny green shoots dying one after another. There would be no apparent reason for their sudden demise, save for the fact that someone who didn’t have a green thumb–me–had touched them.
By then, I’ve been through enough failures. I’m not keen on nurturing plants and then watching them die on me. That would make me feel like a failure. Again!
Fast forward four years later, and I’ve actually begun dabbling on gardening again. Some of my plants died. I mean, can you imagine my frustration when my tomato plant was almost a meter tall and it withered! Then four garlic plants died after a month or two?!
But I’ve moved some plants from the back of our house (where they were withering) and used them along the edges of our front fence. I found some bromeliads waiting to be transplanted, and I placed them in pots. I think 3 or 4 have already blossomed. We were even able to bring one for Papa in the columbary.
Now that I’ve begun dabbling in gardening, I have a deeper appreciation of my retreat adviser’s suggestion.
Gardening is like a free crash course on life.
And here are some of the lessons it has taught me.
This is like Failure 101. You can give something your best, care for it, water it every day, but there’s no guarantee that it will flourish.
I don’t believe that you’d reap everything you sow. Sometimes, you sow a lot but reap next to nothing. Or maybe you reap nothing but gain lessons and wisdom instead.
Nothing in this life is guaranteed. But even if a lot of things are beyond your control, some factors are in your hands. This brings me to the next lesson:
While you can’t be 100% sure a plant will survive, you can increase its chances of thriving by finding the right soil type, learning how much water and sunshine it needs, and ensuring the plant gets these.
Every plant is almost like an individual, and you need to understand what the plant needs and provide that.
And just like when dealing with people, you need to understand who you’re dealing with. This way, you can tailor your responses. And I don’t mean faking it, but communicating it in a way that they are more likely to understand.
Similarly, when we’re learning to take care of ourselves, we need to ask what we truly want and need. For example, you may have been told you need to do X, Y, and Z in your career. But deep within, you know it’s not the track for you. The formula seemed to work for others, but it won’t give you the life you want. If that’s the case, stop forcing yourself to fit in. Or at the very least, don’t deny to yourself who you truly are.
No matter how many times you water a plant, if it’s not yet meant to bear fruit, it won’t bear fruit. If it’s not ready to be transplanted and you dare move it, there’s a chance it would die.
Gardening, just like life, seems to have rules. To succeed in both, you need to respect their processes, their seasons.
In the same way, you can’t just tell yourself to not be sad when you are grieving. You need to let the emotion pass through you. Then, it melts away faster. But if you deny it or repress it, it just festers. It will manifest in another form–perhaps a depression, an addiction, or another form of self-sabotage–until it can get you to acknowledge your sadness and pain.
In case you need a little more convincing to get your hands dirty and start digging, here are some health benefits of gardening.
Gardening, like dancing, yoga, tai chi, and sports, is considered a multicomponent physical activity. This means that it combines different physical activities–aerobic, muscle strengthing, balance training–into one.
Considered a moderate-intensity activity, gardening can lower your risk of injuries from falls as well as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death.
A beautiful garden is way more than Instagrammable. Rows of flowers or a wall of orchids quickly grab our attention. You’d look at them and admire them just because.
When we want to add some color to a room, we bring in some cut flowers.
Besides being one of nature’s most beautiful inventions, flowers are also healers. They can lower the risk of stress-related depression, help people relax, and boost their mood.
Even if you’re not really fond of flowers, the act of gardening itself can still wipe away your stresses. In one experiment, those who gardened felt more positive after gardening than those who were assigned to read.
So if you’re not the book-lover type, and you’re not into sports either, you just might want to garden instead.
Aside from the life lessons and the health benefits, gardening has also helped me see how much there is to appreciate now. Not when I finally reach my goals, saved an X amount, paid Y, or traveled to Z.
It’s hard not to be in the moment when you’re trying to gently replant the seedlings, or if you want to simply appreciate the tiny shoots by the windowsill.
Of course, I’ve often imagined what it would be like to finally harvest some greens, or gather some flowers. But I think I’ve exhausted my own impatience and excitement in the past months. Right now, I’m focusing more on making sure these seedlings grow, watering them regularly, and using organic trash we generate daily as organic compost.
I’m not really sure why, but somehow, gardening gave my left-brain personality a pause. While a huge part of me wants to ACHIEVE a beautiful garden and harvest home-grown vegetables and greens, a big part of me also wants to just be, to just take care of these seedlings.
And maybe, nurturing these tiny, vulnerable shoots made me aware of nature more: The sunshine streaming through windows, the occasional showers that nurture plants and trees we rarely water, the butterflies fluttering about.
And speaking of butterflies…
At one year old, I have no doubt my second nephew will love the outdoors. When he cries, sometimes I would take him to our porch. He would point at the butterflies or follow them with his deep, gentle eyes. He’d say something I don’t understand, and I’d just say, “Yes, yes.” I want him to know I’m listening and paying attention to him. And even if his words don’t make sense, I know he’s happy and that adds to my own joy.
Walking along the streets of Intramuros and seeing several well-preserved houses, churces, and government buildings is an experience in itself. A few areas, however, can only be explored for a fee. But last September, an Intramuros Open House was held as part of National Tourism Week, and entrance fees for Fort Santiago, Casa Manila, and… Continue reading Exploring Manila’s...
Walking along the streets of Intramuros and seeing several well-preserved houses, churces, and government buildings is an experience in itself. A few areas, however, can only be explored for a fee.
But last September, an Intramuros Open House was held as part of National Tourism Week, and entrance fees for Fort Santiago, Casa Manila, and Baluarte de San Diego were waived! (Another open house will be held this 13-14 October 2017.)
Below are some of my shots from this visit.
Baluarte de San Diego
Random shots inside Intramuros
“Travel can also be a form of therapy.”
Here are key life lessons I learned from Jerry Spinelli's book about a homeschooled teen, Stargirl.
Stargirl was the first book by Jerry Spinelli that I’ve read.
Since I graduated from high school, I never really found the time to sit with a fiction book. Until I got hold of a copy of this book. I just couldn’t put it down.
Stargirl was a homeschooled teen who eventually attended a public high school. She was unique, she was different, but she was more at ease with being herself than perhaps anyone of us had ever been. She struggled fitting in. She did find a friend or two. She fell in love. It broke her heart, but perhaps not her spirit.
Stargirl somehow awakened my own desire to finally be true to myself. Or perhaps to start asking myself, “Who do I truly wish to be?” After years of listening to society tell you what you ought to be, it takes a while to peel off each layer and reach within for the answers. It takes some time before you even hear your own voice.
Stargirl’s journey showed that being true to one’s self offers no guarantees. Some people will judge us, be rude to us, or cannot accept who we are. Some people will be our friends, while others will opt to keep their distance.
But Stargirl also gave me glimpses of the joy in just being yourself. There are so many ways to live and enjoy life. There are people who will love who we are, and perhaps that is one of the perks of showing up as we are.
Stargirl reminded me of something Braving the Wilderness author Brene Brown said:
True belonging doesn’t require that we change who we are; it requires that we be who we are.
Note: Spinelli continues Stargirl’s spellbinding journey of being true to herself in the book Love, Stargirl. Happy reading!
Many of us struggle setting boundaries. Let these books and materials teach you what boundaries are, why they matter, and how to set & defend them.
I sought out a therapist to help me heal and fix my life. And you know what was the first handout she gave me?
At first I did not understand what it had to do with the mess I found myself in. But as I went back to the “real world” after every session, I realized that my therapist was actually empowering me to engage with life once more–only this time, I already know my worth and I can already protect myself.
It was a difficult journey. Naming and asserting your boundaries when you grew up with next to none was like learning how to read when you’re still learning the alphabet.
But with practice, things became easier. Aside from listening to health professionals, I also read articles and books and watched tons of videos. I consumed every material I could on the topic.
Below are a few materials that have become my main references for this crucial life lesson:
If you are also in this journey of learning to care for yourself within relationships, I hope this post can help you.
I hope one day you, too, become better at saying YES to the good, while saying NO to the things that can harm you, or those that do not support your priorities and values.
Eckhart Tolle's book, "A New Earth" is more than just a great read. It helped me learn a key life lesson and answer the question: "What's my life's purpose?
In a previous post, I had covered insights about finding one’s life purpose. In this post, I’d like to add one more perspective that boggled my mind because it was SO SIMPLE (well, at least on paper).
Reading Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth felt like going through a spiritual text, a philosophy book, and a psychology material rolled into one. Among other topics, the book discusses human consciousness and how to rise beyond our ego in order to find our true selves. Toward the end of the book, Tolle shares about our inner purpose: to awaken.
“Awakening is a shift in consciousness in which thinking and awareness separate.”
Tolle distinguishes our inner purpose (being) from our outer purpose (doing). He also explains that our inner purpose remains the same, while our outer purpose such as our future goals, may change.
I have to admit that I only picked up the book because it was in Oprah’s Book Club list. Then the first time I flipped through the pages, I felt like the book was written in an alien language. The concepts were beyond me.
But perhaps it’s true that we will only recognize the lessons when we’re ready. The next time I opened the book, I found the section on abundance. After that the discussions on ego, and then on inner purpose. These were the topics I needed to understand to help me in my journey toward healing.
I will not say that the book is a good read, because it’s more than that. It’s a book to live out, if only so we can, as Maria Rilke advised, “live our way into the answers” we’ve been searching about the meaning of our lives.
I remember last week, while I was on my way home, my head was beginning to fill up with concerns about my future. Then I decided to apply what I learned from the book. I focused on my inner purpose and tried to be fully present in that moment. My only purpose then was sitting in that jeepney.
“This is it?” I had thought. I could not believe it was that simple. Yet it made sense. I had literally lost years of my life because instead of being present, I rushed through life, thinking of goals and deadlines, worrying, almost oblivious to the simple gifts and opportunities life presented to me during those moments. I thought success could be realized only through meeting future targets, and significance is a point to reach sometime in the future.
But perhaps these are not the only criteria for success. If I can live each moment fully, if I can be fully present, perhaps I have already won in life, regardless of the outcome. Because I am able to fully experience moments that will never happen again.
And to be able to inhabit each unique moment . . . I think that’s a beautiful way to live.
Abundance is often associated with wealth that comes from outside us. But Eckhart Tolle reminds us of a key life lesson: we are the source of abundance.
The importance of developing an abundance mindset was not a new life lesson for me. After reading articles and listening to videos and podcasts, I began listing things I am thankful for in my life.
As a way of increasing self-love (instead of listening to the constant barrage of criticism within and around me), I began listing things I appreciate about myself.
I realize now that these things are easier to do when things are looking up or going well. But when I began encountering failure and rejection almost everyday, it got hard. I would still make these lists, but I was emotionally removed from it. It had become a chore, just another item in my daily to-do list.
On the one hand, the list reminded me to look at the many ways I have been blessed each day. On the other, I had become so detached from my list I no longer felt grateful. I do ask myself, “Why? What is so scary about allowing the feeling of thankfulness to sink in?”
My only answers now are: (1) I can’t believe I’m worthy of these blessings; and (2) My attention is focused on just one area of my life, and since that’s also the area where I am experiencing rejection almost daily, I did not feel blessed. I actually felt deprived.
I was browsing Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and came across the section on abundance. I’m taking it as life’s invitation to experience life in a deeper, and lighter, way. My favorite parts are:
And today, I also received this post by James Altucher on The First Thing To Do After a Massive Failure. James enumerated some of the things he had been grateful for even as he lost millions (funds supposedly for his kids and his retirement) in a span of four days.
“When imprisoned in the solitary confinement of fear, the first challenge is to find the grace and honesty to see what is still fortunate in life. This is exactly the seed that will create future fortune.” ~ James Altucher
So today, I challenge myself to apply this life lesson: not just to list down my blessings, but to feel fully what it’s like to be blessed. And to build my life from a place of abundance I have always had within.
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