Anna Pavord wrote that “the act of gardening itself is what keeps us out of the hands of the shrinks”. There must be some truth in this because gardeners have experiential knowledge about dying and new life, about seasons, about their own quite humble role in the creation of beauty, about how despite one’s best efforts a garden and its inhabitants will just do their own thing anyway. Every gardener knows the disappointed fury of finding new buds chewed off and also the delight of flowers that have worked. Gardeners know that they can create only an infra-structure for growth; they cannot create growth itself. There is also the deeply nourishing experience of just being in a beautiful garden.
So too in our lives, we can only create infrastructures for growth and happiness. Somehow when we try to set up and control for what we believe will bring happiness, the happiness often eludes us. Our dreams of happiness are often informed by any number of discourses about what we should be striving towards – the perfect mate, the brilliant career, a wonderful wardrobe, more money, the right spiritual path and so on. There is nothing wrong in pursuing any of these things and putting a lot of energy into realizing any or all of them. However, if we believe that any of these things in themselves can give happiness, I think that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.
I suppose that one of the big things that we try to control is the response of others towards us. We want people to like us and think we are clever, beautiful, sexy, caring … whatever. And so we attempt to guess what it is that the other wants, and then mould ourselves into that shape. Often this process of squeezing ourselves into the imagined proper shape is a process that happens out of awareness, such as in the case of a small child trying to work out how best to please her parents so that they will love her.
The thing is though that love is about being rather than doing, and that is something that can’t be controlled. I have heard so many stories from people about how much they have done and how hard they have tried for other people. The conclusion of these stories is often about feelings of being unappreciated and therefore resentful and bitter. Or they may feel as if they have somehow failed, and make resolutions to try even harder. It can be a huge relief and liberation to realize that there is very little that we can control – in fact only our responses to interactions and events. Then we can let the burden of trying to control everything fall from our shoulders. This letting go can create space for all sorts of more interesting things to happen.
Gardeners can create the infrastructure for growth and beauty by digging in compost, by planting, by weeding, by cutting back , by watering – all the numerous tasks that can occupy a gardener. But even the best gardener in the world cannot make growth or beauty. Once you’ve done your work you have to let go so that nature can take over. Gardens are wonderful reminders of what can happen when we co-create with nature – our roles are very small and there is not all that much that we can control.