Tilling garden of our mind

It’s time for a spring clean-up. What’s true of the outer world is also true for our inner landscape.

With spring cleaning and garden preparation well underway, I’m drawn to consider my inner garden, the garden of my mind. Gardeners know weeding and preparing the soil for new seeds is key to a good harvest. So too with the garden of our minds.

The past year’s been challenging and it’s been all too easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of negativity and get stuck there, casting darkness upon our lives. Many weed thoughts, full of toxicity and prickly thorns, have certainly abounded this year.

Through the mind-body connection, our minds and their prevailing tendencies of thought have a direct bearing on our health and happiness, and how we’re able to contribute to life.

We don’t have to think long or hard to recognize the effects our thoughts have on how we feel and how we experience life.

One negative thought can move us from happy to sad, or peaceful to angry, in a moment. One happy thought can up our vibe and lift our spirits in a jiffy.

The content of my mind used to be a horror-show full of fears, dim forecasts for the future, negative self-talk, and bitchy conversations.

I resonated with Anne Lamott when she wrote, “my mind is a bad neighbourhood that I try not to go into alone.”

Freedom for me came when I learned not to believe everything I think, and not take my thoughts personally. I admit to a time when I believed my thoughts were truth, when in reality many of them were just old, well-used neuro-pathways from the past, often borrowed from other people.

I felt powerless over my own mind, until I learned that just because I’ve thought a thought, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Becoming conscious and aware of our tendencies of thought, without judgment, is a powerful practice.

Mindfulness was key in learning to stand back and become aware of my tendencies of mind, recognizing l had thoughts, but I was not my thoughts.

I could then observe them, without getting pulled down the rabbit-hole of thinking, thinking, thinking. My mind became a friendlier place, less over-grown by negativity.

What we focus on increases. We’d never water and fertilize weeds within our garden, yet we so often do this with negative thoughts.

Choosing to feed uplifting thoughts, and let the gnarly, weed-thoughts wither, changed my perspective on life.

We’re the master of our thoughts; we’re the only ones who can change them. We don’t have to depend on the whims of our thoughts, or the happenings in the world for our happiness.

It’s vital we learn to cultivate thoughts that support our health and happiness, and allow us to bring good into the world.

We don’t have to be victim to our thoughts and tendencies of mind. In learning to curiously question our thoughts and weed out those that don’t match who we choose to be in the world, we become empowered.

The thoughts we feed and nourish will bear the greatest fruit in our lives, either positive or negative.

This is the perfect time to consciously cultivate the soil of our minds, and plant the seeds we want to flower and bear fruit in our lives.

Perfectly anxious

Anxiety is hard, often masquerading behind surprising faces.

I learned this the hard way. Not only had I fooled the world, I fooled myself for a long time.

I had high-functioning anxiety and didn’t know I had a problem until I hit the wall. I bless the day I was forced to wake up.

I was like a duck; Zen on the outside, but under the surface, I was paddling like crazy just to stay afloat, until I finally drowned.

Instead of being frozen by the stress response, I was propelled into chronic busyness.

Ever the picture of success, I was completely unaware it was anxiety pushing me to become a perfectionist and workaholic, someone who was neat, tidy, organized, and ever helpful.

I was an over-achiever, and thought it was good.

These traits were rewarded, as I was the person everyone could count on to get things done.

All of my busyness and need to focus outward were driven by a need to calm my racing mind and the pit of anxiety in my belly. If I stayed busy, I didn’t have to feel what was going on inside of me. The problem was, the busier I was, the faster I had to run to quell the feelings inside, until I couldn’t.

The world is full of people with high-functioning anxiety. I know many people who are just like I was, the typical Type-A personality.

  • High-functioning anxiety may look like:
  • High-achieving and detail oriented
  • Punctual or early to arrive
  • Orderly and tidy
  • Proactive; ready for any possibility
  • Organized; well-detailed lists and calendars
  • Outgoing and jovial
  • Active and helpful
  • Outwardly collected and calm
  • Passionate and loyal

All these are lovely attributes, valued and encouraged by society. While everything appears wonderful on the outside, the picture of success, the internal experience feels anything but wonderful for many people.

It’s easy to miss the dark-side that may accompany the so-called positive attributes:

  • Inability to say no
  • Constantly busy
  • Overthinking, racing mind, rumination on the negative
  • Insomnia or poor sleep
  • Nervous habits and chatter
  • People pleasing; fear of letting others down
  • Procrastination
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Fear of the future
  • Never-enoughness: feeling they fall short of expectations
  • Anxiety, not ambition, creating busyness
  • Feeling internal struggle
  • Cold, or hard to read, stoic

Stress and anxiety are normal parts of life that can lead us to strive to do our best, when it’s situational and temporary. Yet, when we have to endure them for long periods, anxiety and stress can take over our lives.

How can we awaken from this very human tendency that creates so much suffering in our lives?

Becoming aware of what was fuelling my perfectionist and workaholic behaviours was a key to my recovery. Learning to pause, to simply feel my feelings, instead of feed them, was key.

Learning to feel my feelings and what they were telling me took practice. Initially, sitting still was torture. I had to change the wiring in my brain and body to overcome the demon of anxiety and learn what hid beneath.

One of the mindfulness practices that provided relief from the feelings and mental torment was simple; it’s called coming to your senses.

Take several slow, deep breaths, feeling the breath as it enters and leaves your body. This is not thinking about the breath; it’s actually experiencing the breath as it moves in the body.

Now, come to your senses.

What do you hear? Notice the sounds around you without judgment.

What do you smell? You might need to close your eyes to really notice this sense because we often overlook what we’re smelling.

What do you see? List the objects you see in detail: the names, the colours, and textures of what you can see.

What do you taste? Can you taste anything? Notice the mouth. How does it feel inside the mouth? Feel the teeth, the saliva, the tongue.

Finally, check in and become aware of what you feel in your body. Feel your feet on the floor, and your clothing as it touches your skin. Feel the temperature of the air, and any other physical sensations happening right now.

If any tension remains, consciously soften your face and shoulders, take another deep breath, and relax your body.

Check in again. How are you feeling? Do you feel better? Has the mind slowed? If not, go back and repeat the steps. For me, this usually means I was thinking about the senses instead of using and sensing them.

My thinking usually slows, and things start to become clearer. This means I’ve invited the executive centre of my brain into action, and deactivated the fight-or-flight response.

This technique is helpful not only when I feel anxious, but also when I get stuck in challenging thinking or feel overwhelmed by something.

Coming to our senses is a simple, yet a powerful technique. It’s portable, and private, but helps put us back in the driver’s seats of our lives.

If you have high-functioning anxiety, know you’re not alone. There’s help available in the form of wonderful counsellors and therapists who can support you in reclaiming your life from anxiety. For me, mindfulness practices have been key.

Paint your cracks with gold

I’m a little cracked and broken in places; wrinkled, and scarred. Most people are.

Life has a way of bumping us around pretty quickly after we emerge from the womb.

Within a culture where perfection and beauty are greatly valued, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to hide and cover our imperfections and blemishes, both real and imagined.

I wasn’t surprised to learn the global demand for plastic surgery, Botox, and facial fillers has risen dramatically, so we can all be Zoom Ready, prepared for our close-up.

I’m curious if we spend as much time scrutinizing and judging the faces of other people on these calls as we do our own. As you look at the faces around the virtual table, are you as critical of others as you are of yourself?

I’ll bet not.

While it may be easy to accept and overlook imperfection in others, learning to accept them in ourselves doesn’t seem quite so easy. This doesn’t stop with our physical appearance.

There’s a common human tendency to place ourselves under a microscope, reviewing all we’ve done and said, our failures, and even our successes, with an unkind, critical eye.

Holding ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection is costly. I know, because of my own internal dialogue, I refer to as my Committee of A***oles.

It was brutal, harsh, and unforgiving. I suffered as I reviewed every perceived flaw, mistake, and weakness I perceived about myself.

For many years, it was natural for me to dissect and criticize myself under this harsh light until I realized how it caused me to feel paralyzed and frozen. I grew afraid to show what was beneath the veneer of perfection I slathered on the surface. It was Botox for my spirit.

I felt unsafe and vulnerable, not wanting to show the many cracks and blemishes of my humanity beneath the surface. I didn’t want anyone to see my wounds. It was like a prison of my own making.

Freedom came when I realized I was both the jailed and the jailor, and I alone held the key to my freedom.

I began my healing journey by firing My Committee, and by recognizing not everything I think is true. I stood back and observed my thoughts. I’d never speak to another the way I spoke to myself.

Many of my thoughts were voices from the past, just old neuro-pathways I’d practised for many years. With mindfulness, I learned I could change my thoughts and my inner dialogue, and it grew much friendlier. I had to befriend myself.

Instead of trying to hide my quirks, imperfections, and mistakes, I’m learning to embrace them with compassion, and find enjoyment, appreciation, and even humour in who I’ve become.

I’m reclaiming those pieces of myself I’d thrown away because I thought they were broken or wrong, and I’m bringing them into the light.

I admit, I’m a quirky gal, and I’m learning to celebrate my uniqueness.

I used to believe if I accepted myself as I was that I wouldn’t change and grow. I thought I needed the harsh self-critic to change and become better. I was wrong. I’m learning to accept myself, warts, bumps, and all.

Acceptance is key to change. In accepting myself, with all of my quirks and foibles, I’ve found it easier to make positive change.

I’m less defended and am learning that great strength lies in my vulnerability. The Committee has grown quieter. Striving for perfection was paralyzing; I’ve grown happier as I’ve learned my strength lies in my imperfection.

I love the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, or golden repair. In kintsugi, broken pottery is not thrown away, but repaired with golden paint, highlighting the life and history of a piece.

These repairs become like waterfalls or landscapes on a once broken piece, as what was broken is transformed into something new and beautiful, while still retaining its history.

Much like kintsugi, I’m learning to highlight in gold paint those pieces of myself I thought were broken or lost. I now view the cracks and scars with appreciation, as they’ve made me who I am today.

Some of my very best qualities come from the storms I’ve weathered, the failures I’ve had, and even the mistakes I’ve made. I’ll bet this is true for you, too.

It’s not what life does to us but what we do with what happens that matters the most.

Until we die, we’re each works in progress.

What’s perfection, anyway?

Happy birthday to our daughter Amanda. Baby, we celebrate you!

Don't 'chunk' your life away

Where’d the time go?

I’m surprised to realize a year has gone by since the start of the pandemic. It went quickly for me; I know not everyone feels the same way.

I want to experience, savour, and remember my life, in all its complexity. It’s not comfortable when life seems to slip right through my fingers, like grains of sand in the proverbial hourglass that seems to have a thickening waistline.

Why does it even matter?

Our perception of time’s passage is important because it greatly influences how we evaluate our lives, and affects how meaningful we perceive our lives have been, according to psychologist Mark Landau of the University of Kansas.

At the end of my days, I want to be satisfied with my life.

Researchers reveal it’s normal to experience time flying by as we age.

But, just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean we have to be victim to the sense of time melting away. Research reveals there’re a number of factors at play affecting our perception of time.

It turns out, one of my theories about our experience of time proves true. One year to 10-year-olds is one-tenth of their life, while it’s only two percent of a 60-year-old’s life.

The older we get, the lower the percentage drops, as the relative time is reduced.

Also at play is the neural circuitry of our brains. As adults the circuitry is established, while in children it’s still developing.

This affects how children perceive the passage of time, according to neuroscientist, Patricia Costello, PhD., with time seeming to pass more slowly for kids.

Although these factors affecting our perception of time are unchangeable, there are some things we can do to savour and experience life more fully, thus deepening our sense of satisfaction with our lives.

As adults, we tend to “chunk” our experiences into broader categories, but children remember many more small, vivid details, because so much is new to them.

According to Landau, the “chunking” tendency of the adult mind causes us to perceive less has happened, thereby affecting our perception of time.

Our grandson, Roman, taught me this as he recalls our first camping-trip. He remembers the small, but wonderful details from being picked up, stopping for ice-cream and playing on a tractor.

He remembers details of what happened when we arrived at the campground, and everything in between. To me, we had a camping trip; this is a chunked memory for me.

I like Roman’s version much better than mine, and have taken the cue to start noticing the details of my life’s experiences, the good and the challenging.

Instead of “chunking’ and having my brain go off-line I am choosing to notice and remember the wonderful details of our trip.

It’s said we only truly experience something once, as a child; after that we’re going off of memory. I don’t want to live my life from the virtual reality of a memory. I want to drink it all in.

Increasingly, we’re living within a virtual world and not fully present to life. We are often so absorbed in the virtual reality of the past and present, or the one provided on our devices, we fail to take in what’s really happening, moment-to-moment.

I’m grateful for my mindfulness practice of being in the present moment. It’s made life so much richer and has helped me stop chunking time.

Being in nature slows our sense of time, according to researchers at Carleton University. I’ve started noticing more details with curiosity. A simple walk becomes a pleasurable memory, when we engage our senses, and actually see, hear, smell, and feel all of the sensory input.

The constraints of the past year have caused me to think out of the box, to try new experiences, and get creative with my time. Mindfulness has taught me to take in the details and notice life in all of its expressions.

With the rebirth of spring, it’s a wonderful time to awaken from the virtual reality of our minds, and experience the fullness life has to offer, in all of its rich details.

Instead of chunking see how much detail you can drink in.

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories