Modern life is wonderful in many ways, but — from the omnipresence of social media to financial pressures to navigating dating and relationships — it can also be overwhelming and stressful. Basically, we all have a lot on our minds, so it can be challenging to focus on what matters (and weed out what doesn’t) in our day-to-day thinking.
Enter: “mind gardening.”
DISCLOSURE: This post is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Always seek medical advice that is specific to you and your situation.
What is mind gardening?
For many of us, a peek into our brain would reveal a glut of thoughts, distractions and worries (fun fact: according to a 2020 study, most people have more than 6,000 thoughts each day).
Put simply, mind gardening is a mental strategy that takes the basic principles of gardening that we use for growing plant life (think: planting seeds, caring for what we want to grow and weeding out what we don’t) and then applies them to our thoughts. It means visualizing our thoughts and feelings as a garden – in our mind.
So, if we picture our inner mind as a garden filled with “thought plants,” we might then visualize an array of thought-flowers and thought-fruits that we want to grow and harvest, as well as some thought-plants that are overgrown, destructive or in need or pruning.
By giving these thoughts and feelings a visual representation (aligned with the ideas of growth, pruning and weeding), we can gain greater autonomy.
Mind Gardening Inc. (now called Mana Gardening), further explores the concept of mind gardening (which may also be called “mana gardening”) as a “unique, relaxing and quick method of going inward that guides you to know clearly and concisely what you want, what you need and what is the best path forward for you.” As they explain, these techniques can be a practical way to help people “stop re-living and reacting to problems, pain, trauma, bad habits and grievances by reflecting inward to find concise solutions.”
Especially in a time where social media and constant digital connection can heighten anxiety and put stress on our mental health and wellbeing, it seems that more people are looking within and shaping their mind gardens into a vision that feels less cluttered, more intentional and more calming.
The benefits of mind gardening
Picturing your mind – and your thoughts within it – as a garden sounds interesting, but how can a mind garden actually be useful for our daily lives?
Many of the potential benefits of the creating a metaphorical garden in your mind centre on the shift from passive thinking (AKA allowing thoughts to happen and information to passively roll through our minds) to active thinking (that is, taking time to “garden” and bring heightened awareness to the thoughts that we truly want to focus on). This reframing of how we look at our thoughts can have benefits for productivity, creativity and stress.
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Increased focus on the things you care about
Tending to your mind garden is a powerful way to take back control from subconscious thoughts that — when left to grow wild — may distract you from your true goals and desires.
As author Dennis Merritt Jones writes in Huffpost, “An unattended mind can create havoc for you because your mind is amazingly receptive to whatever suggestions may be dropped into it. It has been said that the subconscious mind cannot take a joke. This simply means that whatever is introduced to it, it takes as serious instruction to grow that thought-seed into a full-blown plant — be it a rose or a weed, it doesn’t care.”
Taking control over your thoughts and happiness
Beyond focus, mind gardening can help us connect and direct our thoughts in more productive ways.
In Refinery29, for example, Sadhbh O’Sullivan touches on the idea of certain thoughts “living rent-free” in our minds: “Basically, mind gardening is the opposite – you’re removing all of the weeds, you’re only keeping in there what makes you feel happier and more fulfilled, more creative, more knowledgeable, etc. It’s like making sure your ideas are welcome tenants instead.”
Recent studies have also explored the connection between tapping into mindfulness and happiness, and cultivating a mind garden can help you actively be more mindful so you can curate more positive thoughts (while weeding out the negative).
How can you try mind gardening?
If you’re working on cultivating your mind garden, there are a few visualization techniques that you may want to consider — whether with the help of a mental health professional, a guided meditation or on your own through exercises (for example as part of a mindfulness practice or even a bullet journaling practice).
Check out your current garden – weeds, flowers and all
As Karo Wanner writes in Medium’s Mind Cafe, cultivating your mind garden starts with taking a look at the garden’s current state. “Sit down in the middle of your garden and watch what is growing,” Wanner explains. “Are you growing kindness and compassion? Is there a corner with anxiety, jealousy, and hate?”
Wanner suggests starting with a meditation to see what comes up in your mind. You may want to write down your observations about the thoughts that populate your mind garden, without necessarily trying to change anything right away.
Pull the weeds
If there are certain types of thoughts that hold you back, thinking about “weeding” them from your mind garden by taking the time to identify and “pull” them out of your automatic thoughts can be a useful way to actively clear out negatively from your mindset.
As counsellor and practicing psychotherapist Asha Raghavan writes, these “weeds of the mind” could include things like negative frames of reference (for example, perceptions that we have about our environment or the people around us), limiting beliefs and negative self-talk.
So, when we notice negative thoughts and emotions that arise, we can take time to sit with them and then let them go – AKA, weed them out.
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Plant lots of (the right) seeds
As with a physical garden, another key step in cultivating a mind garden is planting seeds. As Anne-Laure Le Cunff, MSc and the CEO of Ness Labs, explains in this post on mind gardening, “you need to seed your mind garden with quality content.”
It’s important to take some time to fill your mind with quality content and diverse information on a consistent basis. Then, when you come back to your mind garden, you will have “seeds” of ideas that you want to grow and develop. In her post, Cunff suggests taking notes and writing down ideas you want to “plant” (AKA come back to later) in your own words during your practice of consuming content.
As Cunff writes, “Over time, you will find yourself going back to certain corners of your mind garden more often than others, and that’s alright. That’s you developing your unique perspective and own gardening expertise.”
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Is it time to plant a mind garden?
Ultimately, in order to gain benefits from the practice of mind gardening, it seems that you must do just that: practice. Just as with a physical garden, you can’t do all the work in a weekend and then abandon it. However, by regularly checking in, nurturing and caring for your mind garden, you may just grow (and maintain) the more positive, calm and measured mindset that you desire.