Planting the Garden of Our Mind II By Victoria Bresee MA, MAR, CHt.

Planting season is just around the corner. Have you started looking at those colorful, exciting seed catalogs? Have you already figured out what you’re going to plant this spring? It takes some planning, doesn’t it?

Do you give any thought about what you are planting in your mind, or do you just let in whatever grabs your attention? There are plenty of scary, depressing, and worrisome headlines nowadays.

Do you find ways to balance out the negative with positive information, pleasurable experiences and happy memories? Do you use your creativity to imagine worse-case scenarios? Or have you turned into a “doomscroller,” feeling the need to know the latest stats on COVID variant outbreaks. Do you constantly worry about what’s happening in Ukraine and with climate change around the world?

Thousands of years ago the New Testament advised, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely. . . think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Now in the 21st century, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson has similar recommendations. He says that in order to keep us safe (like other mammals), our brains are constantly scanning for danger and not for happy things. They function like Velcro for whatever is negative but work like Teflon for the positive, so it’s no wonder why we feel anxious so much of the time. It takes extra effort and even planning for our brains and minds to notice, take in, and absorb positive experiences and information.

Hanson suggests that we should imagine our mind as a garden and understand that we are the gardeners. Of course, it is possible to let it all go and allow ourselves to get forlorn and chaotic. But it’s also within our power to start weeding out the excess negativities too. Since weeds can’t grow where there is a healthy plant, we can choose to plant flowers and loveliness in their place.
Our brains are an organ that can learn and change. What we focus on and experience repeatedly sculpts the neural structure and grows new neural circuits. Hanson says that when you focus on absorbing good experiences and happy thoughts, you are “growing flowers in your mind” and actually “hardwiring happiness.”

Fortunately, this mechanism also works in an opposite way. The information, thoughts, and memories that we do not focus on eventually withers away over time, like a foreign language we haven’t kept up with. It’s the “survival of the busiest”, a natural weeding out process! What we pay attention to builds our brains and grows the garden of our minds. You might remember the parable about the wolf that you feed being the one that grows stronger.

Does your mind dwell more on your worries, past hurts, possible worst-case scenarios, guilt and injustices? Or do you focus on your great memories, the small pleasures around you, the love you’ve experienced, and gratitude for what you have?

What flowers would you like to see in your mental garden? It’s crucial to actively plant the positive and lovely in order to overcome the brain’s negativity bias. This is similar to how weeds seem to grow more easily and quickly than flowers or other plants we want to see. It does get easier with time, just like a well-tended garden. It takes less effort once everything has been well-watered and nurtured.

For a lovely imaginative meditation to get your gardening off to a great start, click HERE to access the Secret Garden of Your Mind. Enjoy!

Recommended reading: “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Resilience,” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. (2013).

Victoria’s own journey with addiction started in her 20’s. For years she searched for help, without much success. Finally, her explorations and specialized trainings brought her to new evidence-based approaches and tools, including powerful somatic techniques, CBT and powerful hypnotic visualizations,

Seven years ago, she created the program, “She’s on the Way Back-Alcohol Recovery for Women” and is now writing “On the Way Back: Regaining Your Life While Empowering Your Alcohol-Dependent Loved One to Recover.”

Victoria Bresee, MAR, CHt, has a Master’s of Religion degree from Iliff School of Theology in Women’s Spirituality, and is a Certified Integrative Addictions Specialist and SMART Recovery Facilitator.