If This Were Enough

canstockphoto1628056The yard was muddy, but the sun was out and the call of the garden undeniable. I’ve been turning our front yard into a perennial garden over the last 10 years. If a garden could have attention deficit disorder, it would look like mine. Nothing is planted by height or color or for an eye-catching display as people drive by.

There’s probably 50 different kinds of plants and flowers – things that caught my eye at a nursery or roadside stand or even better, plants that people have offered up from their own gardens. I have a high disregard for manicured lawns, because the cost of maintaining a monotone field is too high. Too much water, too many chemicals, and not enough joy. I rarely see people playing or sitting on their beautiful lawns.

canstockphoto15362073On my haunches and muddied knees, I dug around beds, cleaned out weeds. The sun was warm, but a chill spring breeze interrupted occasionally. I paused at moments to let bees pass by or notice the first of the season’s butterflies. I found cicada husks from last August and a rabbit’s burrow from where the first batch of bunnies emerged this spring (they’re now teenagers in the backyard grazing on everything).

I’ve been writing a lot of serious stuff lately, caught up in the news and politics and issues of the day. It occurred to me that it’d been a long time since I’d felt the kind of joy I feel while in the garden. I pondered why being there made joy possible. It was certainly not the end result, my potpourri of mismatched and misshapen plants. Even when my garden is in full bloom, I have the critic’s eye.

It occurred to me that when I’m in the garden, I’m not worrying about what needs to be done, what was said, what will happen. I just work. I thought “What if this was all I had to worry about? What if gardening is the only thing that I really had to do?” Now, anyone familiar with Buddhism or meditation could call this for what it is: being present.

Gardening isn’t something I just do. It is something I am part of – I am a caretaker of life that has little regard for me. I am honored to be in the presence of bugs and plants and birds and animals. I feel, sometimes, that they allow me to be there, this oafish, destructive human. And it brings with it a sense of freedom – this sense that at this moment in time, everything is enough.

canstockphoto18968974I am a grasping sort of person. I always want more – more knowledge, more books and music, more muscles, more economic freedom and better running shoes. Part of it comes from growing up poor and feeling like I was in a perpetual state of want and envy. Part of it is that we live in a society built on the very concept that success is only precipitated by want. Our economy teeters restlessly on the backs of our desires. Our politics would be earnest and lackluster without the want of power.

But always wanting is exhausting and demoralizing. It means that we are never satisfied and never feel we have enough. And the more denigrating message is that we, as humans, are not enough. I played around with this idea in my head. Not everyone is delighted by or has access to a garden. How can this idea apply for others and in different circumstances?

I thought about how to repeat that feeling, that sense of freedom throughout my day. What else relieves me of the burden of want and anxiety? If I’m deep into writing, I feel it, but it means wading through perfectionism and troubled expectations of myself. It’s a lot of work to get there. Where do I find the joy like I find in the garden? And I end up, once again, with more want. I could certainly do with less irony.

Where do you find your joy?

What keeps you in the moment?

When does it feel like this is enough, I need nothing more?

60 Comments on “If This Were Enough

    • I’d enjoy that, too. Although I suspect I’ve made some poor judgments in the past – some of those “gifted” plants ended up being incredibly invasive! Still, it does imbue the garden with more meaning and memories.

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  1. “I feel, sometimes, that they allow me to be there, this oafish, destructive human.” This is exactly how I feel when I’m out in nature. It’s a privilege to witness the greatness of the natural world–Red Rocks, Buffalo Mountain, the whole Rocky Mountain skyline. Even more breathtaking when I come upon one of its enormous creatures–buffalo, moose.
    On finding joy and staying in the moment: I remember Toni Morrison’s question, “Does your face light up when you see your children?” When they wake up in the morning, when they are leaving for school, when I pick them up in the car, when they are going to bed at night. I try to picture my own face and make it light up at the sight of them. This seems to bring me squarely, instantly, to the present moment, when I can really *see* them, and appreciate them exactly as they are, right here, right now. It relaxes me, and makes me deeply happy and grateful. Thanks for asking the question–answering it also makes me happy and grateful. 🙂

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Catherine. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years, as we traveled around the US, is that if I sit still in my own garden long enough, I can get the same sense of wonder as I do when seeing grand vistas. Nature is kind of magic like that.

      I didn’t bring up how I felt about my child, not because it isn’t joy, but that it’s a different kind of joy. Having been solo for much of the first part of my adult life, intrinsic joy tends to happen in solitude. Lately, too, as I’ve watched my daughter grow and mature, I’ve become sensitive to the idea of nurturing my inner life, so that when she goes out into the world, I’m not a shell of my former self. It’s that darned balance coming into play again – so tenuous and ephemeral!

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  2. Writing is definitely my joy, even when it is a client project. Once I’ve had the idea and I’m into the words, I am lost — no idea of time. Taking photos does it for me too and so does cooking when I’m in the mood for it, which isn’t all the time. Solitary pursuits that empty my mind of everything else.

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    • I wish I could get to that writing place more easily, but I usually have to wade through a lot of weeds before it feels like sacred space. I need to practice getting there. You make a good point about losing a sense of time – that does tend to be a feature of being in the moment.

      If I weren’t cooking for other people, I could see getting lost in it – especially when there’s a lot of prep involved. Thanks for sharing your “moments”, Fransi!

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  3. Gardening, for me, deepens time, as meditation does. It is definitely “being present,” but with a sense of timelessness, in that nature can’t be rushed.

    More than that, it puts human angst into perspective. I realize how absurd our neuroses must be from an animal’s point of view. We seem to be the ones out of touch with reality, by taking the benevolence of Mother Earth for granted. I believe our supposed stewardship obligates us to nourish and support all life rather than poison and pave the planet over for highways and shopping centers.

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    • I’m starting to see a theme emerge from people’s comments regarding the timelessness of being present. You make an excellent point about perspective – that’s exactly what nature does for me. It reminds me that I’m merely a resident, a speck on this huge planet which has no care for me, but to which I owe a great deal.

      Stewardship is something I wish more people felt. I’m afraid, though, that we’re becoming more disconnected than ever. I’m always astonished on beautiful days, how few people are in their yards or out walking. But all we can do is to focus on correcting our own deficits and hopefully, lead by example.

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      • Yes, and communicating with others of like minds, to validate each others’ perceptions. I believe that nature does care but is patiently allowing humanity to find its own way, as it does with other species.

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  4. I picked up on your point: what if gardening was all I had to do? I think it applies to other kinds of dissatisfaction too. I’ve always felt that my life was pointless, that I hadn’t written a best-selling novel, had never had a good job, had made a mess of my marriage – couldn’t even have children, which was surely my biological purpose. All I had done was take in cats and feed them. Then one day it occurred to me, perhaps this is why I am here – I needed to be here to look after this small selection of my fellow creatures. I am here for them, in this life, and if that is all, it’s something. Perhaps the Buddhist thing is an acceptance of what we happen to be, as well as where, and when, we happen to be. Tasting the lemonade we made from the lemons we found ourselves with!

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    • You have, perhaps, enunciated my point better than I. If who we are is all we are supposed to be, it’s an amazingly freeing feeling. It is such a simple concept, but hard to hold onto amidst expectation and disappointment and absorbing messages from all around us.

      I’ve never felt purposeful – and becoming a parent didn’t change that for me. I’ve always struggled to be better at whatever I’m doing and it’s exhausting. It’s the “not good enough” want. I’ve begun to think that my struggle is who I am – the constant inner wrangling is my nature and that if I stopped regarding it as a negative, it would be freeing. And when my brain gets too convoluted, I need to get back out in the garden!

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  5. Walking in the countryside. Photography – the complete concentration required to achieve a great shot. Spending fun time with my granddaughter. These are just a few of the activities that make me forget me. And lose track of time. I think that’s the key.

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    • Like the commenters before you, time seems to play a big role in being present. And you make a great point about things that make you forget yourself. That is so true when I’m outside. I become a speck in the scheme of things and it releases so much anxiety.

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  6. These are great things to think about. Working in a garden is a good example of living in the moment. I find that any physical activity, even if it’s a chore, puts me in the right place. Great post!

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  7. I have enough. I am enough. It’s a difficult balance to silence the Wanting. I’m still working on what brings me joy. Time in nature and alone is usually my most rejuvenating way to spend time.

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    • I think it must be a real gift to be able to find joy in the most mundane of tasks. I’ve started asking myself that question when doing things – what can be joyful or satisfying about this activity that isn’t just the end result? It feels like a challenge. Nature is usually my easiest route to feeling right with the world – it’s all those other times that are tough!

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  8. I truly enjoyed reading your words on gardening, planting perennials and watching them flourish and all the other plants. We lived in the country on a small acreage for many years, I had several gardens. I loved every
    minute of my gardening time you have a closeness to nature, it is very hard to describe. I miss my gardening very much, as my health got worse we had to move into a small apartment, my garden now is an assortment of window boxes out in our front yard. I have a few green beans and will put out some tomato plants. When the weather warms up. I plant green onions between the different plants to have green onions most of the season. Doesn’t that paint a pretty pathetic picture of gardening? But it is all I have today and I still enjoy it. I just have to be careful doing my little garden. If I fall now I can’t get back up anymore. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that was not well off, that is an education all by itself. I have learned be happy in all circumstances. I feel like I am a wealthy person to have peace within myself and in my writing.
    Best wishes to you and your blog.

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    • I feel wealthy having a little yard, but I also know that my garden is so labor intensive that unless I can make it lower maintenance, age will certainly impact my ability to manage it. Your little “garden” sounds lovely. I’ve been planting veggies among my flowers as well, trying to learn what make the best companion plants and I especially love chives and onions!

      I think that growing up poor was an education of sorts. Both my husband and I came from working class families, so we live under our means, which means that the stresses and strains of financial anxiety are fewer. It did instill a sense in me of always being hungry, I think – something I never outgrew and struggle with as an adult today. Thank you for your kind wishes – I wish you a healthy spring as well!

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      • When I had plenty of garden space, I always planted marigolds because they help keep a lot of bugs away from other plants. I still have much to learn on what plants get along with each other. I have also read spraying with homemade spray from jalapenos is good for many bugs, have to be careful working with ground up peppers.

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        • I’ve made that spray before and you’re right, you have to be careful with the hot peppers. I’ve been trying just sprinkling chili powder and I think it works, but has to be reapplied after every rain. Marigolds are supposed to repel mosquitoes as well, so I try to keep a pot on the deck.

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  9. Oh boy – now you’ve done it. Thank you again for your thoughtful post. Holy crap. My meager response is – music. Music. Always. The only space where I was truly present. Looking to find it again.

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    • Music holds some magic for me as well, especially live performances. I often get chills when a performance starts – those first few notes. If off-key singing were a form of meditation, I get zen a lot!

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  10. Being with my grandchild brings past and future into the present without any effort on my part … simply bliss! Thought provoking post and responses, thanks!

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    • I agree, being with kids definitely requires being present. I love that my daughter is getting to an age where we have these great discussions. We often lose track of time.

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      • There’s a misconception that living in the moment means forgetting the past and not thinking about the future, but I think it’s more about seeing how now is part of then and when … if that doesn’t sound too glib. In this way the moment expands to forever …

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  11. I know other gardeners who feel like you do, and it’s weird to me that I don’t. Maybe growing up on a farm where our huge garden was work I hated spoiled any chance of it ever being fun or relaxing. Doesn’t matter. I can enjoy your bliss since I have plenty of other ways to find it. Making my cards, writing, and doing the dishes (I think it’s the hands-in-soothing-water business that transports me there).

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    • My neighbor next door told me that she hates dirt and would rather have a yard full of weeds (and we can make that happen for her). It’s funny, I garden a lot, but I tend to think I’m a very bad one, unless lackadaisical is a new thing. I spend a lot of time making messes and staring off. Not the same kind of focused labor like it sounds you did!

      I am a little embarrassed to admit that I’m a hands-and-knees floor scrubber (forget those newfangled mops!) and that is one of those being present moments for me.

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  12. My joy is outdoors and especially on a tennis court. I think if I had that zen moment on the tennis court, also known as being “in the zone,” I would win 100% of my matches. Did I hear some of that inspiration and wonder from your recent Earth Day lecture in this piece? It was lovely and impressive that you don’t really have any expectations from your gardening activities. That you were doing them was “enough” (at that time).

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    • Ah tennis, the game where I keep one arm over my face to keep from getting hit with the ball because I’m horrible and ALWAYS get hit in the face with the ball. Running, on the other hand, that’s like meditation in motion for me.

      It’s a real trick for us to do things without expectations or being invested in the outcome. It makes me realize how few things I do like gardening and that I need to change that. It just feels better.

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  13. Pingback: If This Were Enough — The Green Study – Menentukan Point

  14. On those very rare moments when I remember to check-in to my life and realize “Hey, it isn’t all suck!” that is a pretty good place to be.

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  15. Apparently gardening is good for our mental health. I guess we didn’t need a study to know that.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-193859/Proof-gardening-healthy.html
    My joy comes from travelling, from photography, from exercise, from presence.
    Pain keeps me in the moment. It’s a reminder to let go. Also intense thoughts will propel me back to presence pretty quickly these days – I catch them so quickly they hardly get any traction.
    Don and I have a mantra – This is it. How could there be any more when this is it? We practice presence and acceptance. I also catch the wanting energy pretty quickly these days. It’s so counter-productive.
    Alison

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    • “This is it” sounds like a great mantra to keep one in the moment. I can attest to the benefits of gardening. It’s been hard to drag myself back to the keyboard this week when I could spend days in the dirt. It’s definitely one of my happy places!

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  16. For me it is definitely in the garden where I can drink in the satisfaction of simply being present. I thrill at the sighting of the first hummingbird or butterfly of the season. I am mesmerized by the buzzing symphony of bees on new blooms. No disturbance from the outside world passes through the garden gate where the small becomes great and my heart’s delight is the fragrance of jasmine and warm earth. Oh, got a little poetic there for a moment. It is funny, just this morning I said I hope it doesn’t rain for the next few days until my father arrives and can see everything in bloom. It means more, much more, to be able to share joy. Otherwise, it’s just selfish pleasure. (which is good sometimes too)

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    • It’s hard not to wax poetic when taking in nature. I like the phrase “where small becomes great”. Even an hour in the garden makes me acutely aware of the ecosystem at play, just in those few square feet. I hope you have a good visit with your father and that your garden is in full bloom!

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  17. Almost thirty years ago I threw wildflower seed mix on a patch of dirt in our backyard: gorgeous! My “present” is writing, Michelle. Hours pass without signifying. Thanks and peace, John

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    • Hours pass indeed, John. I spent six hours yesterday just gardening and I’m feeling it today! I wish I could say the same thing about writing, but I’m still challenged in getting to that place. Maybe it’s just that spring is in the air and I can hardly sit still.

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  18. I have started writing poetry while I swim! It’s become very meditative for me.

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  19. Mindfulness in the garden because that is the only thought at the time. I love that you call yourself a grasping person. Most of us are, but few of us will admit it. It’s wonderful that you admit it. Maybe the gardening allowed you to admit to it.

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    • I spend a lot of time, perhaps too much, being self-aware. Solitude is really the only space that allows thoughts and ideas to roll over me and gardening is such a space. Sometimes when I write about my flaws and foibles here, I wonder just how awful a person I might seem to readers. For just a moment, though, and then I blurt it all out!

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  20. “I am honored to be in the presence of bugs and plants and birds and animals. I feel, sometimes, that they allow me to be there” THIS… IS … PERFECT 🙂
    I love being outside – even just sitting quietly and listening. I am really enjoying finding and focusing on the little things that often get overlooked. Thanks for the post – I needed this today!

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I can barely type this comment – my hands are so stiff from weeding and digging! But I’ll be out there again today – I can’t help it. The sun is shining and things are growing quickly after a week of rain. Hope you enjoy your day as well!

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  21. I find that I lose myself when I’m tending to plants and flowers. I don’t have a large flower bed and I’m only able to have containers for my garden but I still love having my hands in the dirt and watching tiny seedlings grow and flourish. It’s one of the best times of the year for me.

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    • There is something grounding (hey – an early morning pun) about being able to “grow” something. I spend a lot of time walking around my garden, excited about perennials that reappear, as if I had something to do with it! Enjoy your day!

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  22. I wish I can get into planting. You seem to enjoy it to where it gives you joy. Maybe I will try it this year with some help..keep planting…..

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    • Even just tending a potted plant gives pause to routine day. I have created a garden that I will be unable to maintain in my senior years, but I hope that I’ll be able to afford hiring neighbor kids to help! Have a great Sunday!

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  23. My father enjoys planting more than he knows. I often find him smiling and feeling proud over his plants and flowers and fruits and vegetables he grows in his garden and backyard. It was a good read. Reminded me of my father.

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  24. Wow. I often also find myself thinking about all the things I could accomplish if I only had the time. But b now I know that it’s not as much about how much time we have, but how well we use it (though it helps to have options!)

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