Posts Tagged ‘Horticultural therapy’

Volunteer Work

“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” (Booker T. Washington)

Spirits thrive in the dirt

Volunteers starting the Bok Choy garden together.

Beautiful Rainbow Chard is thriving.  We harvested the large outer leaves this week.  Our bed of lettuce and carrots are coming along well and the Bok Choy is gorgeous!  I’ve never grown or seen Bok Choy growing before, so it’s exciting. 

I have a special affinity for the Bok Choy.  Transplanting the tender babies into larger pots was the first vegetable we planted when my son and I started volunteering in the horticulture therapy program.

Participating in the group is fun and therapeutic.  I like being around and working with the other volunteers and enjoy the little things I become aware of, either during our activities or after I get home and have time for reflection.

Watering the gardens throughout the week, which I recently enthusiastically agreed to do, with help from my son, is rewarding in several ways.

The plants, especially the ones in containers and young crops need water.  I need something to do outside my personal life.  The responsibility makes me feel proud, gets me away from the challenges and hardships I’m experiencing and, the work brings immediate visible positive results.

“Sometimes you can feel the plants take a fresh breath of air after you give them some space and water,” the horticulture therapist remarked after we recently transplanted several leggy tomato plants.

I hadn’t wanted to work with those plants on that day.  It was cloudy, damp and a little chilly outside.  I was sleepy and tired.  I’d wanted to stay inside the big open educational room and make something out of dried herbs or take cuttings from the scented Geranium. 

I’m not sure of the moment when my lack of enthusiasm changed, but I soon became engaged with the plants and other volunteers in the group.  I enjoyed helping a young man continue the project after a plant broke when he had taken it out of the pot.  Helping him felt good, but I think it was after we were finished and I looked at the plants that I realized how my frame of mind and mood had greatly improved. 

I was moved, literally, to walk closer to the tomato plants.  They looked so happy!  I wanted to touch them.  It was a good feeling.

My son tells me he loves the group and it’s clear to me that he benefits from it, as well as from the time when we go on our own to water.  

“This makes me happy,” he told me the other day, while watering the lettuce and carrot bed.  Our day together had been terribly challenging.  We were not happy campers.  We almost didn’t make it that day, but we both knew that going would help us.  Plus, we knew the dirt was dry and the plants needed people to water them.  We got there just in time before the gates closed.

Seeing my son smile and hearing him say he’s happy is a sign of wellness, even if it’s brief in our notion of time.  This piece of time gives me hope.

The natural positive effects of working with plants is healing to our mind and body.  Having a sense of belonging and an awareness that we have something meaningful to offer a community is big medicine.  I strongly suspect that having more days filled with meaningful and rewarding work could reduce symptoms of ‘mental illness’ and heal wounded spirits. 

It’s hard to know whose on the receiving end of our time volunteering.  I know I’ve said this before in my earlier posts about our Green Healing days, but I am truly grateful for this opportunity.

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Green Healing

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Horticulture therapy is truly rewarding.  Working with plants has always been a healing experience for me, but this is my first time in a formal class.  It’s amazing how much insight I gain from being with people in this setting.

“That was the best time I’ve ever had,” my son told me after the second class.

While working with the Cacti, separating plants and each of us making a potted arrangement to take home, I realized how hard it was for me.  Everyone else seemed to be having an easy time, but I struggled.

I found a small piece of Thyme in the potting soil and I couldn’t let it go.  I wanted to save it.  I tried and tried to get it in my pot, but it kept falling over.  I also had a hard time with the Seeds of Pearl, as the plant’s roots are tender.

The group coordinator finally came over to help me.  She didn’t know, or maybe she did, how hard of a time I was having.  Trying to save the Thyme filled me with anxiety and a feeling of failure.  My experience reflected the way I feel most of the time.

Pondering on the anxiety after I returned home, I realized how hard I try to save people or fix situations that most people would walk away from.  I try so hard to get everything just right and that isn’t really the way life ought to be.  I need to simply let go.

Healing, Harleys and Horticulture

We planted Bok Choy in our horticulture therapy class

Bok Choy!

“Healing is complex,” the owner of the small cafe replied.

He was probably fifteen or more years my senior.  He was quiet, reserved and continuously co-occupied by what appeared to be data entry on a small older computer.  He carried on easily, relaxed and content.  People like that always capture my curiosity.

The cafe is part of a cultural oasis that I gathered the owner created and managed.  We were on the first level of the two-story building where he sold motorcycle parts and a small, yet obviously good quality choice of riding gear, my favorite of which were the attractive well-designed leather vests.

My friend, whom I had met there for a late breakfast on the way to visit my mother, obviously and understandably loved the place, but the vests were clearly the least interesting to him.  We moved on.

Aside from the cafe and parts store, the owner’s art covers the downstairs walls.  The upstairs is home to a motorcycle museum.

I had my camera, but it was in the car.  Part of me wanted to take pictures of the entire place and everyone in it.  The culture inspired me.

For a moment, I fantasized about writing a story about the place.  Alas.  I had brain fatigue and hadn’t had good sleep in a while.  I didn’t have the energy to go get my camera, much less write the kind of story I imagined, but I regress.  Chronic widespread fatigue and insomnia is for another story, I guess.

My friend and I were enjoying time together exploring the art.  He knew the history behind each piece.  “That place looks familiar to me,” I said in sudden excitement over one of the paintings.  It was a simple and old square wooden building with long windows, the latter of which brought images from twenty years ago to my mind.

“That’s over in Pisgah,” my friend replied.

“Oh yeah, I remember now,” I told him.   “I’ve been there!”

Seeing the building again, even though the painting portrayed an earlier image of the place, as it was before my time, triggered a nice connection to my past.  I remembered a gathering and my son’s late grandmother.  The place was a community building and my son and I had gone there for a family reunion.

Remembering can be healing.  Memories are like the roots of a plant or tree.

The owner started talking about engine parts.  My friend walked over to discuss the subject, but I stayed back.  I was altogether captured by the art.

Being in a warm environment, enjoying the company of my friend, around people sharing food, while in a place where their accents and the land felt familiar, was soothing to my tired body and mind.

I liked that people weren’t rushed.  They talked in a casual way, as if standing around in the middle of the day, having conversations about art, life, engine parts and old Harley Davidson motorcycle engines, simultaneously, was absolutely altogether a fine and perfect way to pass the time, which it was.

Much of the art depicted the countryside and many of them with cows in pastures.  They reminded me of my childhood roots.

Two paintings were on a wall apart from the other pieces.  They were rather intimate portraits of women.  The diversity in his art intrigued me.

One particular painting eventually caught my attention more than the others.   “How much is this one?” I asked from across the room.  I knew the price was likely not one I could consider, but I wanted to know anyway.

It was unlike any of the other paintings and was perhaps the darkest or rather, as the artist later remarked, “You can see that some of my paintings don’t have the color and life to them like the others do.  That’s the way life is.  There are times when things aren’t colorful or bright.  Things are always changing.  I can’t stick to just one subject either.”

I pondered on what he had said.  I thought about my blog and how I’ve always struggled to write an About page.  I keep changing mine. “What I write about changes all the time,” I told him.  “I never know how to describe my blog.”

“That’s good,” he said.  “You need a different flavor.”

“That would be a good name for a blog,” I replied, which it would.

I’ve been thinking about starting a new blog for a while.  I felt like this conversation was somehow part of that creation.

He talked a little more about focusing on different things.  He said something to the effect of life not being about one subject.  “Things don’t stay the same,” he added.  “You just gotta go with it.”

The painting I liked was of a man sitting alone on a city bench.  There was a bagged lunch beside him.  Without question, one would assume he had waited on work, without success.  It amazes me how people can paint a story with a seemingly simple image.

The man in the painting held his downward head with one hand.  “There’s a man with a family,” the artist said to me.  I understood what he meant, but I’ve seen many people who looked like the man in the painting who didn’t have a family to support.

At first, the image reminded me of a late friend of mine who had for too long suffered from a troubled mind.  I saw despair and worry.  I felt the despair, but equally and as importantly, I felt the art.  I felt the place it held on the wall with the happier and brighter paintings.  Utter despair had a place among the bright colors of a pretty young woman happily wooed by a handsome suitor on a motorcycle.

Where would I put such a painting I wondered.  In the hallway, where it’s darker?  And why would I do that?  Where do people display art depicting sorrow or despair I wondered.

I was right about the price.  It was way out of my league, so I didn’t think more about where I would display the painting.  I did think again about my writing.

It occurred to me that maybe it’s okay to write about sadness, sorrow, grief and pain.   Those are each part of my life experience.  Sometimes, I don’t write because of personal sadness.  I don’t want to pass it on, but this makes me feel silenced.  Writing is a healing process for me.  We can’t always dictate the mood, or at least, I can’t.  Nor can I choose the subject if I’m in a particular mood.

Healing may well come in a big chunk all at once, but I believe that most times, it comes in pieces.  It comes in different shapes and forms.  It happens in moments of time.  Little pieces of living life.

Personally, allowing myself to accept the colors of life, in the moment, even when they are faded or dark, is a healing experience.

Today I went to a horticulture therapy class with my adult son.  I’d meant to drop him off and have time to myself.  I was however drawn in by the energy of the grounds and the wonderful people.  Next thing I knew, I was invited to take part, so I did.

My son and I had a great time!  We experienced healing.  Truly, we did.  We’ve since discussed this.  However, the time exhausted us both.

Healing sounds like a happy and complete word, as if the meaning points only to creating or evoking emotions that we view as being the more positive ones, such as joy or peace, but sometimes having a cry is very good for the body and mind.  Crying produces chemicals that can help us feel better.

Experiencing healing doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly better.  There is a continuum of time involved.  Healing isn’t an isolated event that takes away all of our troubles or pain.  That would be more accurately labeled a miracle.

Both my son and I had good feelings and a positive experience during and after horticulture therapy.  We each have reasons for how we were affected and we dealt with that in our separate ways.  He slept the entire day after coming home, got up for dinner, and went back to bed.  He needed sleep.  We had both experienced what could be called post-neural fatigue.

I spent the rest of my afternoon with the Alchemist.  We talked about the fire of life, sadness and peace.  He encouraged me to, “Walk on Mother Earth,” a phrase he said he liked better than exercise, which I do too.  We discussed my acknowledging a connection to our, “True Mother,” by imagining roots growing from my feet into the ground.  We talked about me taking notice of the sky, or as he refers to it, “the Heavens,” and he reminds me to be open to the light and vastness of that.  I do enjoy these particular visualizations.  They help me feel more connected.  He made me laugh to help with my tears.  I left with a brighter inner fire and a deeper sense of belonging in this world.

Perhaps sometimes healing is a gentle gift given through something as simple as a few kind words from a stranger or a shared meal with a friend.  Other times healing is more complicated.  Something or someone may show us our reflection in a different light and we may not like all of what we see.

Maybe we see how much we need other people, which is a vulnerable place for some of us, but like with the horticulture therapy class we attended, I realized that the other participants needed my son and I there as much as we needed to be there.

The gap between our good time and the healing that happened was filled with an array of emotions for me, and I guess, for my son as well.  I could see that it helped us to share ourselves and interact with people, but for a little while, I felt sad when I realized how much time we’ve been isolated from the world.

I’m sure that after resting and eating a few good raw beets, we’ll both arrive at the next class excited to see how the tender young Bok Choy that we transplanted are growing!  And, I hope to meet my friend again at the cultural oasis in the country.

I agree with the nice man I met, “Healing is complex.”


PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

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