My office is in a garden in Los Angeles. My garden is my co-therapist. I should talk about this more.
Emily, a graduate student at a respected university, wrote to me asking whether I had written anything about my experiences in using gardening as a therapeutic tool. I'll start now.
Gardens as part of eating disorder healing
Gardens, as I'm sure you appreciate, are ever changing. So are you. In gardens you see moments of surprising beauty and life, the life cycle of plants, birth, maturation, illnesses, recovery, death, seeding.
These moments are aspects of what happens in the ongoing development of all of us including people with eating disorders. But if you have an eating disorder you can be blocked or unaware of your own life forces.
Continual or regular experiences in a living garden, even if only at the periphery of your vision, contribute deeply and perhaps subtly to your being grounded in the natural life force of everything.
End of Isolation
When you suffer from an eating disorder you feel separate, different, isolated or unaccepted and unacceptable in the world. You attempt to block those painful feelings or put up an attractive false appearance to hide those feelings. Yet you are a living being and part of this earth, You are as natural and vital as a red hibiscus flower or an orange blossom swelling into a globe of sweet fruit or a green and crimson throated hummingbird sipping nectar from a bougainvillea. You are alive and here. You are a part of everything.
Life is Surprise
You can influence a garden with love or neglect or control or benign neglect. But you can't govern a garden, and you can't control it for long. Neither can you tightly govern and control your own life spirit.
With gardens you have to drop all expectations except those that have to do with surprise and the remarkable courage and ingenuity of life.
You might see hummingbirds one day and mocking birds another, no birds another day and, on lucky days, a flock of parrots might squawk by in a flame of color.
Wind chimes ring, or not. Purple hollyhocks, long forgotten from a planting many seasons ago, come up and bloom. A transplanted tree sits quietly like a small forgotten twig for years and suddenly explodes into a glorious abundance of green and gold.
You too, are a garden
As you heal, beautiful elements of talent, creativity, wishes and visions, dormant for years, waiting for the safe and healthy time to emerge, come forward in you - much to your surprise. Dreams you put away return, only now you have the health, strength, support and resources to really make an effort to bring them into reality.
Acceptance and integration
Occasionally, when the time is just right, I'll invite a patient to select and pick a ripe orange from my tree to take where she will. It's food that nourishes like no other, from a tree she knows and has watched through seasons growing in the garden of the person who cares about her and knows her best.
Patients often come early to their appointments here. They sit in the garden not just waiting for their time to be with me but to be with the garden itself. I can't say they sit alone, because the plants and animals of the garden are with them.
And often, so is my gold and white corgi/terrier named Winston.
The healing elements of a garden are vast and profound. Simply and tenderly they caress and awaken your soul.
Emily, as part of her Masters of Education project, plans to create a gardening/environmental curriculum for young women with eating disorders. I wish her every success, and ony hope she includes older women with eating disorders in her plans.
If you have garden stories, please write and share them.