A well-tended life
We know that anything which is well-cared for, well-tended, needs continual attention, gentle redirection, regular nourishment, and ongoing protection. When we look after children we offer them constant reminders – ‘say thank you’, ‘wash your hands’, ‘tidy your room’. A well-tended garden also needs constant attention – there are always plants to be fertilised, weeds to be pulled out, branches to be pruned back. Any care-taking activity works best when we work with nature rather than against it – when we adapt our parenting style to the personality of the child, or use plants in the garden which are suitable for its local climate and soil.
About thirty years ago my grandfather developed Alzheimer’s. He’d always been a strong patriarchal figure in my family, and to witness his decline was of course very distressing for us all. He became very ‘unreasonable’, but unfortunately my family wasn’t given much information about the condition at the time, and my grandmother exhausted herself trying to reason with him, and getting very upset when he would refuse to cooperate with her. Years later I worked in aged care, and learnt skills like validation, re-direction, and how to use music to relax and energise residents who were living with dementia. Instead of ‘reality orientation’, arguing with a resident who says it’s Monday when it is in fact Wednesday, validation works with the perceived emotional reality of the person with dementia – not lying to them, but focusing on what the emotional meaning of their experience is instead of trying to constantly correct their confused perceptions. Validation is like choosing the right plants for our garden – working with nature instead of trying to ‘fix’ something outside our control. It is about acknowledging different needs – that there is no fixed formula for how to be with ourselves or another person, but needing instead to adapt.
During this time of pandemic, what I have really valued about my meditation practice is the opportunity to re-calibrate myself for the day ahead. It’s easy during times like this, especially when the pandemic goes on month after month with no clear end in sight, to develop habits which, in the long term, aren’t very good for us. I try not to be ‘purist’ about this – we probably all need a few indulgences at the moment. Yet my morning meditation allows me the opportunity to set some intentions for the day ahead – to include things which are nourishing to the spirit (spending time in the garden, playing the piano); to gently re-direct myself from time to time, for example when I’m going down the rabbit hole of spending too much time on social media; and to protect myself when needed, for example not checking the news obsessively.
To return to the garden analogy – if we notice an area of our life which isn’t working well for us, instead of going out and randomly splashing weedkiller all over the garden and hoping this will fix the problem, a well-tended life is more a matter of going outside each day and taking stock – pull out a few weeds here, dead-head some flowers over there, give a thirsty-looking plant some extra water. A well-tended life is less a matter of ‘this is what you should do’, but more a question of ‘I wonder what might be needed today, given this time and place, and my particular circumstances?’
Set aside some time in the morning, and reflect on your day ahead as if it were a garden. What nourishment might you need today? What might need pruning, or watering – or simply being with and admiring?