Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/17/06)

The benefits of gardening are many, beauty, fresh air and food, physical exercise, but perhaps the greatest is therapeutic. The emotional and psychological problems with which we are all beset are internally head-bound. They may have originated in external impressions and events, such an abusive childhood, a betrayal, a failure, an exclusion, a rebuff, a physical wound or limitation, an affliction, or maybe even an off-hand remark, but we archive them in our memories where voices from the past keep echoing down the hallways of our years. It’s called down time.

The up times are when we are called out of our archived memories by physical sensations in the present, such as, the aroma of a rose, the feel of a baby’ skin, a breath of fresh air, the taste of a good cheeseburger, the pain of a stubbed toe. The therapeutic secret of gardening is sensory attention. We are drawn out of the remembrances of things past into the existential moment. It’s also the reason that so many gardeners, like fisherman, are happy fanatics.

It is perhaps what William Blake had in mind in “Auguries of Innocence.”
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Effective psychotherapy is not so much about insight as it is about transformation, our transformation from being a victim and survivor into being a prevailer and a pilgrim. It means no longer driving by the rear-view mirror but through the windshield. Transformation turns old memories into new promises. Such is the paradigm of gardening.

For many, autumn is a postlude to summer and a prelude to winter, but for a gardener it is getting ready for spring. It means raking leaves, pruning perennials and trees, and pulling out dead annuals and putting all that refuse into a mulch pile where winter will silently turn it into compost. It means cleaning up the leavings of the past and turning them into nutrients for the future.

We change not so much by advice and insight, but by osmosis in which we absorb the process of change from others. A maimed veteran will more likely triumph over his or her disability if he or she is in the company of disabled conquerors. Being with transformative people is transformative in itself. Change is more likely caught than taught.

Just as psychotherapy is more about transformation than insight so it is more about process than issues, those processes by which we can transform our issues. Gardening is parsing the paradigm of the seasons of change. Paradoxically, the most productive season is winter in which the soil is given a rest to recuperate from the hustle and bustle of spring, summer, and autumn. Winter is a time to get ready for change, fruition, and harvest.

As we work through the seasons we see seeds transformed into plants, buds into flowers, blossoms into fruits, saplings into trees, and refuse into creation. As gardeners, we are part and parcel of the transformation. Everyday, each season, is a day and season of change, a change that seeps into our spirits through the dirt under our fingernails.

The therapy of gardening is more than a sanctuary or a refuge, it is a transformation by which gardening becomes a personal paradigm for parsing our archived memories into anticipations and fruitions.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2006

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