Emotional health is an important component of our mental health and has to do with our subjective emotions like joy and sorrow, pride and shame, self-love and self-loathing, and more. While it’s true that emotions come and go, often striking us seemingly out of the blue, it’s also true that we are not powerless in the face of our feelings. While we might not entirely stop them, we can rise above negative emotions in order to live well in spite of them. One way to do so is by creating a bare spot in your garden.
A brief visualization exercise might be helpful here. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, lavish garden. What does it look like? What flowers or plants are present? Are there trees? Would you enjoy a pond, and if so, what is in it? How do you enjoy this garden? Are there comfortable benches or a swing within the garden or nearby? Perhaps there’s a winding path for walking meditation. Now become still and appreciate the beauty of this garden. As your eyes roam, your gaze falls on a patch of bare ground, dry and devoid of visible life.
Perspective and Emotional Health
As you continue to observe, where do you find your focus? Are you returning to the bare spot over and over again, are you seeing it while you’re looking at the beauty around it, or are you ignoring it and avoiding looking anywhere near it? Your response to the bare patch, a response you can learn to choose intentionally, is an important factor in your emotional health.
Our negative emotions are often responses to external events in our lives. We face stressors and problems on a daily basis. Some are chronic, such as toxic relationships, a hostile work environment, the effects of trauma, or caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled. Additionally, our negative emotions can be caused by internal factors such as mental illness or other mental health challenges.
Like everything in life, emotions are neither all good nor all bad. Just as there are negative emotions, there are positive ones, too. Some are a mix of both. Self-conscious emotions, those that deal with our feelings about ourselves, can be positive and motivating or negative and damaging. It’s actually not the emotions themselves but what we do about them that determine our emotional health.
The situations, whether external or internal, that cause unpleasant or life-disrupting emotions are the bare patches in the garden of life. Compared to everything else around them, they’re ugly. Barren. They seem to have nothing to offer. They ruin the garden. How can someone enjoy the garden of life and make it a garden worth being in when there are unsightly, dirty patches?
It’s a legitimate question that leads to some very important questions:
- What is the rest of the garden like?
- Is the bare patch truly capable of ruining the entire rest of the garden?
- Does the spot make the nearby vegetation worthless?
- Is the bare spot in control of what you see in the garden, or are you in control of your perspective?
- Are you looking exclusively at the bare spot in the garden of your life?
- Are you trying hard to avoid it but find yourself unwillingly focusing on it (because if you try not to think of X, you’re still thinking of X)?
- Are you seeing the complete garden, all of it—flowers, bare spot, and all—and appreciating its beauty for what it is?
To Enhance Mental Health, Appreciate Beauty No Matter What Surrounds You
Reflecting on your complete garden allows you to appreciate real beauty, the wonderful flawed beauty that is life and people and gardens, and to develop the emotionally healthy perspective that allows you to see the good that exists despite the not-so-good. Appreciation of beauty, incidentally, is one of the character strengths that research in the field of positive psychology has shown to be a component of mental health and wellbeing.
I planted a small flower garden in my backyard, and I purposely left a bare spot as a reminder to check my perspective, appreciate beauty, and maintain emotional health and wellbeing. Negative and positive will always exist together. It’s how we see it that enhances our emotional health.
Consider planting a garden of your own. If you don’t have a place for a garden, you might buy plant and a flower pot that is bigger than necessary. You’ll have your own mini garden, complete with a bare spot, as a reminder of perspective and emotional health.