As many of you may know, I’m a big fan of listening for your impulses in support of mending chronic illness. The kind of impulses that can seem insignificant, sneak up on you and brighten your day. The kind that add a little more ease to the journey. The kind that lightened the lethargy I was feeling a few weeks ago when I suddenly wished for color in my flower box even though it was still early spring.
These little things are unlikely tools. They can feel like sneaking in through the back door and getting away with something because it seems too minor to “count.” Yet they are antidotes that pack a punch.
Here are 17 more gardening metaphors and tips for mending chronic illness that make a difference. They are antidotes to the effects of stress, adversity and difficult times and work from trauma and nervous system perspectives. They support our bodies, our minds, and our sense of self by “gardening with our souls.”
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1. Impulses That Make You Smile
When I had the desire to see my flower box filled with color a few weeks ago, it was one of those longings that caught me by surprise. It was still early spring and it was cold. The flowers I’ve used for summer color can’t be planted for months yet. But my internal solution that landed in my head was immediate: I could adorn my little deck with pansies.
Pansies make me smile. They make me think of my grandmother Alice who made the best fruit pies ever. Pansies were her favorite flower.
These feelings tell us when an impulse is a resource. Something worth paying attention to.
2. Impulses Can Shift States that Feel Stuck
The impulse for pansies shifted the state of lethargy I’d been feeling all weekend in one fell swoop.
Symptoms such as lethargy, fatigue, wanting to sleep or escape or distract, not wanting to DO much, or staying super busy are all normal reactions to stress and adversity. They can be especially prevalent when we’re dealing with a threat we can’t actually fight, escape or “see.”
We can feel stuck when we have symptoms and they can feel impossible to change.
Until something shifts. Even a little bit.
Little shifts are reminders and confirmation that symptoms are intelligent. Trying to protect us. That they are influenced by nervous system perceptions rather than something that is broken inside of us.
Little shifts are big clues.
3. Conveying the Sense of Safety
Conveying new information that makes us want to smile – or that makes us feel better in some way – sends new information.
When our nervous systems get new information that conveys safety or pleasure, something neutral or interesting, they can more easily shift, adapt, and adjust.
New information that conveys perceptions of safety helps weaken survival-based pathways – old ones and new ones.
4. Each Impulse is a Resource
When the image of pansies popped into my mind weeks ago I suddenly felt lighter. I had clarity. I felt purpose. I was out the door within 10 minutes – I had a whole hour to spend before my local nursery closed for the day.
I felt grateful that I could follow my impulse. That I could act right away. That I had a nursery just down the road. That I’d get to enjoy all the color in the warm, humid tropical environment that always evokes feelings of being on vacation. I’d get to see if they HAD any pansies, and if so, I might get to choose which colors I wanted. Each one of these opportunities was its own little packet of resource.
5. Each Resource is an Antidote
Every little step we take when following an impulse can provide another seed that counteracts old patterns of threat.
Every little pleasurable or even neutral part of the experience conveys another signal of safety or pleasure, comfort or connection. Gratitude. Enjoying the chance to look at color. Having a sense of Choice. Willingness to go back on a different day if they don’t have what I want. Readiness to look in other places if I need to.
Every such little idea, impulse, choice or action is an antidote that counteracts perceptions of threat.
6. Connection is an Antidote
Pansies are hardy annuals that actually LIKE it cool. Their very nature is adaptive to circumstances that can be difficult for other plants. They can handle cold.
Thinking of pansies makes me feel more connected to myself. They make me feel more connected to my grandmother.
Connection thaws our states of freeze and fold. It conveys safety through support, protection and not feeling alone. It conveys strength through numbers. It conveys a sense of options and capacity through resourcing memories and feelings.
Connection is another antidote.
7. Connecting to the Unexpected is a Bonus
I got to connect in other ways by following this impulse.
I got to connect to the earth.
I got to prepare the soil.
I got to play in the dirt.
8. Attending to Obstacles
There are often interruptions or things that need to be addressed or figured out when we honor an impulse.
Maybe it’s cold and you have to wait. Or it’s expensive and you have to find a way.
Following an impulse that is your very own may involve setting a boundary and then tolerating the flare up in symptoms that comes from taking action that may have been difficult or overwhelming or risky in the past.
This is normal. This is part of the process.
9. Real and Imagined: Both are Antidotes
Even the IDEA of pansies – or whatever it is that makes us smile or feel lighter or more present or more connected – can be enough. That’s because our nervous systems can’t tell the difference between ACTUAL or imagined.
This is what a resource can do. This is how impulses can help with mending chronic illness.
10. Increasing Resilience
Looking for and paying attention to these smallest of impulses is even more important than usual during difficult times.
It is a way in which our systems help us integrate the enormity of what might be going on in our world, in our back yards, and in the intersecting places in between.
The impulses themselves are ways our bodies share their wisdom and offer us guidance.
11. Scaffolds of Resilience & Resource
Following impulses gets easier with time. The more we listen, the more quickly we recognize the whispers in our hearts and ears. Each experience adds another layer to the scaffold of resilience we are building.
Each adventure strengthens our trust in the process and counteracts old beliefs about how things work or turn out. Each one enriches our soil.
Each additional time we practice makes it easier to access the resources next time. And the time after that.
I made my flower box 4 years ago when we first moved to the condo.
It was my first time but I’d inherited a flower box at our old house that gave me ideas on how to make one.
I’ve enjoyed summer flowers every year since then.
This year the container was ready for the promise of pansies – the first time I’d had that impulse in 4 years. It meant there were a whole series of steps I didn’t have to do this time around.
Our bodies are like that too as we strengthen pathways in the direction of safety and joy.
12. We are Designed to Heal
Like pansies, our bodies are designed to withstand and recover from adversity too. Above is how my pansies responded to a light snow. Their state of freeze and limpness, like my own, helps them survive until the danger passes.
Below is my pot just a few hours later, after it warmed up just a little.
We don’t have to have the perfect conditions to heal. Like the pansies, our systems just need “enough.”
13. Providing Protection
When we have a chronic condition, the survival patterns that drive our symptoms have often been with us for a long time, sometimes for decades. They commonly come from experiences that happened before that, which have also often lasted for decades.
Our task is to give the process of healing more of what it needs.
Sometimes that means more time as best we are able.
Sometimes it means a little protection from a hard frost or a wee bit of snow (like old beliefs, shaming messages, a pandemic etc).
Sometimes it means a lot of protection from the elements, including when there are a lot of them piling up.
Our task is to support, often in ways we may have never gotten ourselves.
That’s part of why it takes time – we may be growing this in for ourselves for the very first time.
It means we are also gaining skills and resources, more of a sense of Self and empowerment. This is our birthright.
14. Attending to What is Going Right
During the journey of healing, it is common to have to work hard to focus on what is improving and healing. Or on what is going “right” or “well enough.”
Our nervous systems are designed to scan for threat and to react quickly in order to maximize our safety. As a result, challenges and symptoms pull our attention towards things that are scary and stressful. This can make us see nothing but the mess.
Knowing this, we can place our attention on the little positives, such as the present moment experiences… feeling the dirt, making a mess instead of trying to keep it all inside the box, extricating my pansies from their little pots, noticing their roots are ready for a bigger space….
This is different from “thinking positive,” which can involve pushing painful things under the rug that actually need our attention.
Instead, paying attention to helpful and encouraging things can remind us that we are indeed on a journey. That our bodies are actually shifting or being stable or responding to something they’ve asked for.
Learning to look for indicators of what is going right, big and small, is a helpful skill set to hone.
This, too, is an antidote.
15. Patience for the Mystery
With chronic illness, healing tends to happen slowly, sometimes measurable only over months or from one year to the next. Or in ways we didn’t think would feel like progress. That’s okay too.
Progress comes in many and unexpected ways. Recognizing these ways helps us be patient as we recognize that healing is indeed happening. It enables us to hang out in the mystery with more ease.
16. Learning to Listen
Listening is a much-needed skill, especially in a fast-paced, heady, task-oriened, bottom-line, money-focused culture like ours.
Keep trusting and refining, leaning in and being curious.
Our bodies are wise. They have much to say.
They are our guides.
Revel along the way.
I’m enjoying my glorious little jewels in bloom.
I’m reveling in support from these little plants I didn’t even have to grow from seed. That someone else tended until I could take care of them.
We, too, are like our gardens in all its various forms – in pots and flower boxes, tall and wide, stocky and angular, short and lean.
In cottage gardens and community gardens, on wild seacoasts and in forested nooks.
We are working with what we have and improving the conditions. Offering our bodies and systems, our souls and wisdom support for healing. Listening to their recommendations.
Our bodies are integrating the composting leaves we give them for fuel. Appreciating the fresh, brisk temperatures. Welcoming the pansies and the sense of accomplishment and joy they bring.
In this moment, we get to enjoy our little blossoms in our yards, decks, and boxes, brightening up our spaces and places, inside and out.
I’ll be speaking about The Cell Danger Response and Fatigue on April 22 at the The Fatigue SuperConference, April 19th to 25th, 2021. This is a free online summit with over 40 speakers. Our classes are from specialists like Dr. Sarah Myhill, Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, Dr. Terri Wahls; on topics of childhood trauma by Irene Lyon MCS, Developmental trauma by Dr. Diane Poole Heller; emotional stress with Dr. Ameet Aggarwall; as well as on functional medicine, energy medicine, dietary support and more. Register here.