As winter dredges on I find myself beginning to think about spring and the joys of planting a garden. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, where life grows out of everything that appears dead. Buds pop from the clusters of sticks that are my hydrangea plants, and sprouts come out from the soil where bulbs have been waiting to give life. It’s a time full of hope, renewal, and opportunities for positive growth. Reflecting on the wonders of spring got me thinking about how psychotherapy works and the growth opportunities that emerge from both. The fresh start of spring parallels the opportunities for positive growth and self-exploration we have in our own lives: rejuvenation, inspiration, self-discovery, and beauty. The roots of psychotherapy are wrapped up in the basics of gardening.
How psychotherapy works: What’s under the surface?
Looking out into my back yard, my raised beds are lying in wait for spring; piles of dirt with the remains of a few dead plants and weeds that won’t give up. Under the surface, the beds are full of roots: some big or small, deep or superficial. They form the intricate network of the past and the future; the remains of a previous life and the foundation for what is to come.
Our life experiences lay down roots inside us: networks of patterns, habits, and automatic reactions. Sometimes the roots are more like weeds forming the basis of worry thoughts, PTSD, or ineffective coping skills. But other roots are what we can fall back on: the building blocks that make us who we are, our resiliency, drive, and passions.
Self-exploration and the roots of life: Some wanted, some not
Unwanted roots grow pesky weeds. Remove them as I may, they come back as soon as I stop being vigilant. The only way to eliminate these weeds is to work harder to dig down and get them at the root. Though it is impossible to create a permanently weed-free space, once the root is eliminated, the network can be minimized and dealing with them as they arise will prevent a major problem.
Think, for example, what happens when the roots of addiction are present. Ongoing attention to self-care and recovery are required or addiction can pop up to the surface and produce its ugly fruit again. Without digging down and eliminating as many of the roots as possible, addiction will grow under the surface and pop through once it is strong enough.
Growth opportunities: Self-care isn’t a one time job
There are outside influences that invade my weed-free garden space. Seeds and grass clippings blow into the garden and the process of weeds choking out the good starts over. Weeds are hearty and some will find a way to survive.
If we can’t eliminate the negative roots, we can have a maintenance plan to keep them in check.
As much as we take care of ourselves, there will always be bumps and bruises that come with life. If we can accept this, it makes the process of recovery easier. Instead of putting our energy into thinking about the unfairness of it all we could more quickly and effectively address the fact that “weeds happen” and move forward. This is a growth opportunity for us. Life evolves so we need regular maintenance to nourish the parts that are positive and quickly deal with what holds us back.
The roots under the surface don’t only bring unwanted chores and negativity, they are also the lifelines to the plants that bring beauty and fulfillment. These roots give life to perennial strawberries and flowers, and they also form the basis of who we are. They drive our interests, passions, depth of experiences, resiliency, humor, and the ability to explore and trust.
If we steadily maintain and minimize the weeds in our lives we allow what fulfills us to spend more time in the sun not being crowded out or shaded by negatives.
Opportunities for positive growth: Building blocks of life
Inside the soil are key nutrients that prepare the land so it can continue to give hearty life. These building blocks come from the plants that were there before; the imprint of the past that gets brought into the future.
As we incorporate our life experiences (both positives and negatives) into the entirety of ourselves we can feel whole and not defined by any particular experience. We are the sum of all that came before this moment and one piece cannot define the whole of our being. It’s important not to forget this.
If the soil is missing a key nutrient it needs supplementation or we will grow vulnerable plants. These plants may be thin and easily blow over with wind or lack the energy needed to produce flowers and fruit because their efforts are going into staying alive.
Some of us need to supplement our lives to increase our resiliency and improve our foundation by filling in the cracks.
This could mean:
- Going to psychotherapy,
- Learning additional coping strategies,
- Education about and commitment to self-care,
- Medication to treat an illness,
Self-exploration: The benefits of ongoing maintenance
A garden that has been cared for and nurtured takes less intense effort to maintain. It’s easier to enjoy these gardens when we have soil that will support healthy growth.
People doing work in therapy mimic gardens full of roots: self-exploration and self-discovery create opportunities for positive growth. Some roots support weeds and some grow flowers and fruit. If a rock is discovered buried deep in the soil a plan can be made to excavate or plant around it. Tasks are manageable with ongoing effort and the payoff is great.
Enjoy the fruit of your life and pull the weeds when they get in the way.
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