Imagine your very own, private flower garden with the most beautiful of your favorite flowers. See it in your head. Mine is full of sunflowers. If you don’t weed your garden regularly, crabgrass and all kinds of unwelcome volunteer plants will sprout up. Without any maintenance, the weeds will eventually take over choking out the flowers.
Your mind is much like this garden. With practice, you can learn to take care of your mental sanctuary by pulling weeds and planting flowers in the garden of your mind.
In his book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, Rick Hanson writes:
To gradually replace negative implicit memories with positive ones, just make the positive aspects prominent and relatively intense in the foreground of your awareness while simultaneously placing the negative material in the background. Imagine that the positive contents of your awareness are sinking down into old wounds, soothing chafed and bruised places like a warm golden salve, filling up hollows, slowly replacing negative feelings and beliefs with positive ones.
You know that pesky, ongoing, negative mental chatter made up of your subconscious thoughts, beliefs, and feelings? While some is material from the present and some from the recent past, most of this noise is derived from the implicit and explicit memories of childhood. Hanson suggests first becoming aware of and familiar with the “usual suspects” that cause recurring upsets and problems. In keeping with the garden analogy, find the root of the weed. Once you do, infuse positive material, the weed killer, into it.
The point is not to resist painful memories and experiences and grasp at pleasant ones because this leads to its own kind of suffering. The goal is to pair negative material with and eventually replace it with positive emotions and perspectives, the blooming flowers, in our mental garden.
For example, if not feeling good enough is one of your common negative themes, when this thought shows up, consciously recall a specific time when you felt more than good enough. Really recall the feeling of it. Give the experience the power of language and verbalize it or journal about it. Make it into an affirmation. Do this a couple more times in the following hour and repeatedly when you find the “not good enough” feeling coming through.
Scientific evidence shows that a negative memory is especially vulnerable to being changed after it is recalled.
For me, my most troublesome weed a general fear of the future and dread of the unknown. Can I handle it? How will it turn out? What if the worst happens? When these anxiety-producing thoughts start appearing, I remind myself that I have recovered from a serious brain injury with no professional guidance by sheer determination and tenacity. If I can do that, I can handle anything and know that I will figure it out. And you know what? I really believe that!
You can pull weeds and plant flowers in your mind anywhere at any time. With repetition, over time, through neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change structure and function based on input, this practice will actually change your brain building new pathways.
Here’s to us growing beautiful gardens!
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sakeeb/