Imagine your very own, private flower garden brimming with the brightest, most beautiful of your favorite flowers. See it in your mind. Mine is full of happy yellow sunflowers. If you don’t weed your garden regularly, crabgrass and all kinds of unwelcome weeds will sprout up. Without any maintenance, the weeds will hungrily take over choking out all the beautiful flowers.
Your mind is like a garden. With regular 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 of the material is from the present and some from the recent past, most of this background noise is made up of implicit and explicit memories of childhood. Hanson suggests that we become aware of and familiar with our “usual suspects” or the recurring thoughts that cause upsets and problems for us. To continue with the garden analogy, you have to find the root of the weed. Once you do, you need to infuse positive material, the weed killer, onto it.
You don’t want to resist painful memories and experiences while grasping at more pleasant ones because this practice will only lead to its own kind of suffering. The goal is to pair and eventually replace the negative material with more positive emotions and perspectives, the blooming flowers in your mental garden.
How To Plant Flowers In Your Mind
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 remember 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 every time you’re aware of the “not good enough” feeling showing up. Scientific studies show that negative memories are especially vulnerable to being changed after they’re recalled.
For me, my most troublesome weed is a general fear of the future and dread of the unknown. Can I handle it? How will it turn out? “(Whatever “it” is.) What if the worst happens? When these anxious thoughts pop into my head, 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 most anything that life throws at me. I know that I’ll figure it out.
And you know what? I really do believe that!
You can pull weeds and plant flowers in your mind anywhere at any time. Over time, through neuroplasticity, the ability of your brain to change its structure and function based on your repeated behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, this practice will actually change your brain building new more positive pathways — and some beautiful gardens!
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sakeeb/