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Tending to Your Garden of Thoughts and Keeping Your Mind Weed-Free

Garden Buddha

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” ~Buddha

Imagine your mind as a garden. Positive thoughts are the beautiful flowers that brighten your life. Negative thoughts are the ugly weeds that spread and suffocate the flowers.

Tending to my garden is an ongoing process.

I’m not into chemical pesticides, but my natural weed killers are yoga, meditation, inspirational reading, and hanging out with positive people.

Sure-fire weed food is worrying about what other people think, taking things personally, and stressing out about situations that don’t matter or are out of my control.

I used to find myself having drawn-out imaginary conversations: “And if she said this, I would say that…” with absolutely no outcome. Now I catch myself and change the channel.

I’ve seen firsthand how dangerous it is to let weeds snarl and take over.

My dear Grandma Betty lived to be ninety-two. She outlived all six of her children, and had a lifetime of good physical health, yet her mind was tangled with weeds that began growing decades before she died.

She was suspicious, distrusting, and convinced that people didn’t have her best interests at heart or were talking behind her back. I never noticed it when I was a kid, but it became increasingly apparent later on.

Perhaps she felt lonely when my grandfather died early and she had too much time alone with her thoughts.

It’s easy to over-think things, jump to conclusions, or get wrapped in negativity when you don’t have others to give you a fresh perspective. It then becomes a bigger problem when you alienate the ones who love you the most because you’re difficult to be around.

This is what eventually happened. I loved her to bits, but she became challenging to talk to. The cup wasn’t half full; it was bone dry.

This was in sharp contrast to my Grandma Millie. She was always smiling or laughing with a twinkle in her eye.

Life dealt her a crappy deck. She was widowed young and had to raise three kids alone. She nursed her second husband through a nightmare of Alzheimer’s. She also experienced the tragic loss of both of her sons.

But she always picked herself back up and remained positive.

She drove for Meals on Wheels, delivering to people younger than herself.

She went blind from cataracts disease in her early eighties but continued to find volunteer work so she could feel useful and keep active and social.

Insistent on staying in her apartment, she remained fiercely independent.

I used to ask her how she kept her great outlook when she’d been through so much. Her reply, “Well, I could sit around complaining, but then nobody would want to be around me!”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Complaining is pointless. It doesn’t make things any better, and it drains the complainer and everyone else around them.

I loved both of my grandmas equally, but I know which one I was more likely to pick up the phone and call.

Having these two amazing examples in my life gave me huge inspiration. I saw for myself how important it is to tend to my garden regularly and give it high quality fertilizers to keep it abundant and healthy.

My friends are my fertilizers!

My positive Grandma had a gaggle of girlfriends and those gals knew how to have a good time. They got together and played cards or Scrabble, went off on outings, and even went on a camping trip in their eighties. They were each other’s support systems.

She used to say to me, when you get married, don’t ever forget about your girlfriends. They may outlive your husband and be all you have in your old age.

Her very best friend died two days before she did. Both asked after the other in their final moments, neither knowing that the other was dying. They’d been friends for eighty-eight years.

Both grandmas were my mentors in their very own ways. One being an example of how I want to live my life, the other showing what happens if I allow my mind to become overgrown and tangled with weeds.

I wish I could have done something to help my Grandma Betty tend to her garden. If she had the awareness, she could have taken a machete to those weeds and felt a lot happier.

We can all use the garden metaphor to bring an awareness of what helps our own mind grow and flourish, rather than creating a dark, tangled mess.

What’s on your list of fertilizers and weed-killers? How does your garden grow?

Photo by Neil Piddock

About Kelly Pietrangeli

Kelly Pietrangeli is the creator of Project Me for Busy Mothers, helping women find a happier balance between the kids - and everything else. Mixing practicality with self-awareness, Kelly helps mothers get on top of their endless to-do’s and see life beyond the laundry pile. Grab her free Life Wheel Tool for discovering what needs your focus first.

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  • Jukti Pratim Saikia

    There are so many lessons to learn from older generation. But we never notice it until we are hammered with life’s problems we never thought can touch us. I miss my grandpa and grandma so much..I lost them two years back

  • Having grand parents is a huge privilege because you get to learn great insights and lessons from them. I never really had the opportunity to relate with my late grandma, because she was really old and couldn’t interact nomore. I guess you should feel happy you have yours. Visit http://www.tinyphoenixx.blogspot.com for inspirations

  • Peace Within

    Hi Kelly, I love the insight you have shared with us. I think this is a beautiful way to put it. I like how you said you don’t like “chemical pesticides”. Nor do I. Your grandma’s attitude is inspirational, I love people like that. I myself have both of my grandma’s and have learned so much from them in my life. Over the years, I have even build relationships with other elders who I consider grandmas too! I tell them they are the key to life, they have already lived so many years. The wisdom they have we can’t find in books, only by living and experiencing. I believe we make our own situations better or worse just by the way we think. I love the way you compared the garden and the weeds in our minds. It makes sense! Keep up the great work, you are helping others. Take care!

  • I had a Grandma Betty too. My Grandma Betty was full of life. I’m a worrier and she’d always scold me for worry about things I couldn’t change. Change what you can and forget about the rest, she’d always tell me. Grandparents can teach us such wonderful lessons.

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    I agree Jukti, we have so much to learn from them – but usually don’t realise it until we are much older ourselves. Sending you love x

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Yes, I do feel gratitude that I had my grandma’s until I was well into my 40’s because I didn’t stop to sit down and really get to know them properly until I was a parent myself. x

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thank you for the lovely comment. I love it that you have adopted more grandmas and that you let them know how appreciated their insights and wisdom are. That’s wonderful!! xx

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Lovelyn, you ought to listen to your wise Grandma Betty. She’s talking sense! 😉 x

  • Nina Mosely

    Thank you Kelly for reminding us that tending to the garden of our mind is a daily practice, just like yoga and meditation are a practice. Each time we do the work we get a little better and the quality of our practice deepens and improves. Thank you Grandma Betty and Grandma Millie for a beautiful truism. Cheers to the beautiful gardens in all of us!

  • Awww, thanks for your super kind words Nina. I’m glad you liked it. Cheers!!! xx

  • Talya Price

    Great article.

  • Thank you Talya! 🙂

  • Excellent analogy! I use mindfulness techiniques to keep the weeds out of my thoughts. I am glad you mentioned how we can change directions of our thoughts when we are ruminating. Thank you for sharing your stories about your both of your Grandmas. Wonderful read.

  • Thank you Kari! It was in a Sivananda yoga class many years ago that the Swami told a story about our minds getting tangled with weeds. The analogy stuck with me ever since! x

  • Peggy Nolan

    Beautiful analogy Kelly! I love how your Grandma Millie told you that if she sat around and complained all day, no one would want to be around her. So much truth in that!

  • Cindy Cheek

    Thanks Kelly, for your words of wisdom and reminding me that I need to be more like Grandma Millie. 😉

  • Saiisha

    Kelly, I’m always reminded of how well gardening teaches us life lessons. I love your analogy of weeding, and yoga and meditation as your weed killers 🙂 It looks like this could become a book you might someday write!

  • Clare Greig

    Such a beautiful post Kelly. I love the metaphor.

  • Thank you Clare x

  • Hmmm…. Not a bad idea Salisha 🙂

  • Let’s all channel Millie! Thanks for your lovely comment Cindy. x

  • Wise words indeed Peggy xx

  • Eric

    Really?? the first lines of this article contain a quote that is NOT properly attributable to Buddha. I didn’t bother reading the rest of the article.

  • Patsie Smith

    Beautiful article Kelly, thank you. Indeed such contrasting grandmas you had! We are certainly the thinker of our thoughts, as such should always maintain the one with the power to choose our thoughts, as our thoughts create our reality. Love your weed-fertilizer analogy, as I love gardening too 🙂 certainly agree that yoga and meditation are my fertilizers too. Blessings and Light to you xo

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    To be honest, I wasn’t too keen when you started with the whole ‘weed & fertilizer’ comparison, but soon the story really got to me…it was short & sweet, a good reminder about the power of positiveness! Trying to picture Grandma Millie & her friends going to camping in their eighties brought chuckles, hehe! It was also very touching about the bond with her best friend! Thank you so for much for brightening my long night of college papers to do a little better…:-)

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    If you ever get a chance, you should really travel to India & South-East Asia…you will meet a lot of like-minded people & cultures that truly appreciate the WISDOM that we can all gain from our elderly people, who I feel are often under-appreciated in the U.S.

  • Peace Within

    Hi Jeevan, my family is from India. Punjab, specifically. My parents were both raised there. I have not visited yet. Hopefully soon! They brought the beliefs with them and raised us to respect our grandparents. I am glad they did. It has taught me a lot and has made me a better person. <3

  • I’m glad you kept reading and it brought you some brightness in the wake of your college papers! Thanks for your lovely comment xx

  • Thank YOU Patsie for taking the time to leave such a positive comment. Many blessings to you too xx

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Really; COOL..!! That’s great to hear & I do hope you get to visit our homeland sometime soon…:-)

  • Jason Holborn

    I want to talk about this with flowers, not weeds.

    Of course, I too know the two personalities you’re describing here. I too have met them. At different times, I’ve been each of them.

    Absolutely, I can never know the real, true circumstances of the deceased’s lives. However, there is a fundamental difference between these personalities that we are missing out on identifying, I believe.

    The solution, or prime fertilizer, is probably not Millie’s realization/observation that, “no one wants to hang around a complainer”, and the proof of this comes from Betty’s own requests for her correspondence to be burned up, lest her own complaints become known to others.

    Clearly, Betty knew (all too painfully well) the rule that “no one likes a complainer”. Clearly, she suffered from a multitude of complaints she was unable to process on her own, and needed to share with others in (increasingly slim) hopes of alleviating their weight on her mind and shoulders.

    I believe that when we say, “I don’t hang around negative people!”, we are Other-ing. We are classifying and labeling and constricting and defining, we are closing ourselves off. Often, we’re also patting ourselves on the back for not being one of “Them”.

    Without knowing the specific people, I would hazard that one lady was sexually abused as a child, while the other lady escaped this burden. We all know that sexual abuse is shocking rampant in the world, and that it’s impossible to guess who we run into in the street, at work, by the beach, in our living rooms, lives with the subsequent, resulting issues. The most tragic part of this scenario (assuming I’m even right about sexual abuse as a factor here) is that Betty, at that time, had absolutely zero resource or recourse to access in order to help de-weed her garden.

    Having been both of these people, and having known people who were just like Betty (all of the time), and people who were just like Millie (all of the time), and having known people who (like me) were, at different times, activated in each of these personality types, I believe the picture of the garden is extremely complex (like all ecosystems are!).

    I strongly suspect Betty ruminated often on, “Why don’t I have happier thoughts about myself and others? How can I be more like, say, Millie, on this day?”, only to be defeated over and over by negative thoughts which she was unable to control (negative thoughts which she obviously tried to learn to control). Again, my inclination is a hidden, secret, shame-filled history of sexual abuse, and resulting confusion.

    However, whatever the underlying causes here, be it sexual abuse, or chemical imbalance, or trauma, or who knows what, I sort of think that all humans can benefit from sympathy and empathy, and exercising this to build them. I know I have to work (constantly!) on building these in my own self (or, in my own garden, if you will — sympathy and empathy are lovely flowers to cultivate, n’est-ce pas?!). 🙂

    We do all have great responsibility for our mental gardens, altho I think that our mental gardens overlap with each other’s mental gardens enough to warrant some reflection on “community gardening”. Today, Betty might have more, and more easily available and accessible, resources to turn towards to till and hoe and weed her garden; I completely empathize with her struggles.

    Certainly we humans don’t like to socialize with Negative Nancies or Dougie Downers; I get that. Still, we as a culture and society do have some self-work to do in listening skills. Many complainers go unheard, and this — every bit as much as a lax attitude towards gardening — causes these complaints to fester and grow faster and stronger and higher. I must work on my listening skills as much as anyone else in our world and our culture. I am only beginning.

    Two years ago, a friend (“Ian”) was victimized at an armed robbery, in which he was cited as a hero for protecting a male and female co-worker. However, as a result of this protection, he was beaten with a loaded gun and threatened, barrel to his skull, unless he opened the safe, which he had no combination to. Mercifully, he lived; no one was shot.

    However, no one could hear his complaints. He was terrified (he even up and moved out of the city, within 8 weeks, to a city he disliked intensely, purely because of his terror. He had no idea who out on the street might be the persons who had held that gun to his head).

    His own dad (!) said, “Yeah Ian, I hear you man. I hear you. Work’s been a slog for me, money’s tight, and my dog ran off. The world is tough.” Most everywhere was the same; Ian’s complain soon became, “Why is no one listening? I am a victim of trauma here, and every single time someone “offers to talk”, all I really get is THEIR complaints!”

    I too was personally unable to give him what he needed; probably I heard him more than most, however, I really didn’t do the job justice. He was unable to be heard. This inability to be heard festered and grew and became a bigger obstacle to his mental health and landscape than the armed robbery itself had been.

    Of course, some of the solution is within his grasp. Perhaps yoga would help; probably, boxing would help. Many boxing students (of all genders) find punching a bag to be extremely helpful in dealing with personal stress. Perhaps time in nature would help.

    Perhaps a cultural paradigm shift would help, every bit as much. Perhaps it would help even more.

    A restorative healing circle might have helped Ian; maybe the same thing (along with boxing and some nature walks) could have helped Betty, too.

    Betty or Ian can choose to plant all the flowers they want; de-weeding is also important. Ian had an insanely hard time de-weeding and it sounds like Betty’s experience was the same. She was obviously conscious that her complaints pushed others away; her story breaks my heart.

    Many of us humans can benefit from simply writing out our negative thoughts to ourselves. This is easy to overlook and forget (for me, too). It’s one of the effects of the weeds, I suspect, to cover over this idea, and hide it.

    Our mental gardens overlap in a society, and one flower we could maybe plant for others in a community garden is to practice good listening. Honestly, my own listening needs great work.

    Negative thoughts are not always simple weeds which can simply, easily be plucked by choice; if that were so, would we really need mental hospitals, courtrooms, gurus, yoga classes, or even http://www.tinybuddha.com? Betty would have chosen a different personality and perspective, had she only known *HOW*. So often, we are directed to “just let go of the past”, to “simply forgive”, to “look on the bright side”, without receiving useful information on HOW to do those things. Clearly Betty knew that negativity was unattractive and ugly and repellant to others; clearly she struggled with the How Mechanics to transform her mentality.

    I’m touched by the sharing of her story, and I have thought about her much over the last two days. I send her spirit a hug and much love.

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  • Ioana

    What a lovely article! Thank you for sharing!