My garden mends an anxious mind.

I have a chronic Anxiety disorder. While it is not always a problem, I frequently obsess about the mistakes of my past and think others pay as much attention to them as my anxious mind does. Also, during difficult times, I can create immense fears of my future, assuming there is no way I can handle what life will throw at me. The emotional, as well as physical, pain of Anxiety can seem overwhelming.

Luckily, there are many tactics an Anxiety-ridden person can use to abbreviate their period of distress. One effective practice is to jostle your mind out of the past or future, focusing, instead, on “the now.” Mind you, this isn’t just “snapping out” of your Anxiety. It is highly intentional and often disciplined work to get your brain to move from swirling around “fight or flight” chemical reactions to either a more neutral or even better place. Some sufferers focus their mind for quite some time on someone or something they are grateful for in order to find relief. Others count how many shades of green they see around them. (No kidding, it can work if you look long and hard enough.) I’ve used both those tactics successfully. However, the most common thing I do during the summer is to head out to my garden and become fully aware at how my five senses ground me in the present, making the past and future disappear.

First, let me share a couple of points about working in my garden. Weeding is very tactile and observational, locking my mind into the present as I find and pull the big and/or invasive plants that will crowd out the veggies I want in my plot. Harvesting is similarly tactile and observational. For example, I often need to search for green beans as they camouflage well with the rest of their plant. And, picking other veggies requires sound judgment. Is the beetroot the right size? How long can I trim back my lettuces before they go to seed? And are my tomatoes ripe enough? The key is to spend some time doing the work. It consumes the brain-space rather than the deep worries that would otherwise reside there.

Next, just spending time in my garden can be an intense sensory experience. If I try, all five senses can be employed to move me into “the now.” Let’s take a look at each:

Sight
I have at least three sight-based focuses:

First, if some or all of my plants have popped through the soil, I like to observe the topography of my garden. What are the largest plants? The smallest? When I walk around my garden, how does it look from different vantage points? If my kale plants are 2 – 3 feet high; if my tomato plants reach 5 – 6 feet; if my amaranth is 6 feet tall with long strings of little crimson, gold, or green flowers; if my sunflowers tower 10-plus feet in the air; does my backyard look like a different place depending on the various places I can view it from? Lastly, what do my plants’ leaves look like from an underbelly perspective? I am often interested about this in particular.

Second, what mixture of colors do I find in my garden? Lettuce is green, along with many other veggie plants. Some beetroot has purplish-red leaves. Red orach, a leafy-vegetable is, in reality, purple. Tomatoes can be red, yellow, purple, striped, or even have multi-color swirling designs.

And third, if I move the green bean leaves, will I find several beans ready to pick? Or if I grow purple-podded string beans, some growing 4 -6 inches for prime picking, other beans growing as long as a yard to do the same, what will they look like against a wall of green foliage?

Smell
After a rainstorm, have you ever took in a deep breath in of healthy, fertile soil? It’s wonderful! Similarly, have you ever smelled a tomato leaf after rainstorm or while it still has morning dew on it? Again, it offers up an awesome scent. In fact, it’s fun to weed — in the rain — near a wall of tomato plants to be in the presence of this scent for an extended period.

Touch
Many vegetable plants are prickly to ward off pests as well as Michael Dahl. In fact, bean leaves can be Velcro-like. Sometimes I plunge my head into a high wall of bean plants, only to leave with two or three half-dead stems with multiple leaves on the back of my shirt.

Now, far from prickly, there’s the silky feel of some leaf lettuces. It amazes me that some of these leaves are delicate to the touch but sturdy enough to make it through a hard frost.

Hearing
I like to go out in my garden under a bright morning sun. The place is full of vociferous insects of many kinds. However, I especially love to hear the buzzing of bees as they do the impressive work of pollinating what will eventually become food for my belly.

Conversely, I have a great time going out into my garden during a light rainfall or even an intense rainstorm. It’s fun to listen to raindrops hitting the leaves. Variations of sound come from leaves of different sizes and different intensities of rain. Close your eyes; you can almost imagine you are in a jungle downpour.

And finally, taste
Obviously, an imagination can have you dreaming about the wonderful flavors of the grand variety of heirloom vegetables. For instance, the taste of one variety of tomato may be nothing like that of another size, shape, or color. Of course, you don’t need an imagination to pick a handful of snap peas and eat them before you even reach the kitchen!

Has my indulgence in my garden given you an idea how you could use a different situation to immerse yourself in your senses in order to put your mind in the now? I hope so.

Garden on, friends!