Does a green life mean a mentally healthy life?
We're entering a time where the boomer generation is larger than ever. We're also entering an age where healthcare is more expensive than ever and we're searching for new ways for preventative care so we don't have to just rely on our insurance. A doctoral student named Erja Rappe, D.Sc, conducted a study on the effects gardening can have on the health and well-being of those entering their golden years.
Rappe found that "Observing and cultivating plants promotes the mental and social wellbeing of the elderly. Often, the only thing it takes to improve one's mood is to be able to go out on a balcony to look at trees, bushes and flowers," says Rappe.
Sound too easy to be true? Rappe explains that elderly people in long-term care get to exercise their cognitive skills by doing ordinary gardening, like raking leaves and tending to flowers. This also gives them a feeling of purpose and makes them feel useful and socially active. I used to see a client who suffered from a devastating recurrent condition of major depression. She would tell me when she went into her garden, she would just lose track of time and feel a sense of interconnectedness with her environment, a sense of purpose, and well-being. Entering this flow state, has been shown to have great benefits for our well-being.
At this point you might be saying... "well, I tried gardening in the past, I don't have a green thumb, this isn't for me". If this thought is arising, see if you can treat it as just a mental event in the mind that comes and goes and not attach to it so much. When we hold onto past judgments we start to live life with a kind of tunnel vision, closing ourselves off to options and possibilities. It's like being at your 10 or 20 year high school and seeing someone who you used to dislike and telling the person next to you all the negative qualities of that person. It only takes 7 years for all the cells in our bodies to have completely been replaced. How do we know that after 10 or 20 years that person hasn't reformed? Maybe gardening deserves a second look?
Try and approach this idea of gardening with fresh eyes, with a beginner's mind as if you have never had an experience with it before. Go to your local nursery and inquire about plants that may be good for your home. Know that as you garden you may be helping the environment and nurturing a living thing. At the end of the day, gardening may or may not be for you. If note, try out some other flow-like activity (e.g., taking a walk, writing, working on the house). Just start small, one foot in front of the other.
A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step. - Lao Tzu