Since writing the above there is a state of mind that has further intrigued me, we call it boredom. Now at first I did not think that a garden itself can actually be bored, but I have changed my mind. It can! But before I go into that it is the gardener who I shall attend to.
Firstly, when it comes to young, impatient gardeners, for whom boredom comes and goes like English weather, the subject is too big and the mammoth subject of child education is not what Gardens of the Mind is really about. I therefore leave you to figure out how and when you get your child to do his homework.
For us more mature gardeners there may come times when you are tired of doing the same repetitive things and feel there is nothing of interest to occupy your day other than the mundane hoeing, sweeping up of dead leaves, trimming and pruning.
Or you may look out at your domain and what you see no longer satisfies you. You may have whims of ideas, like you would like to see a mature oak tree where some brambles have taken over, but the effort required is daunting and the tree will take years to grow and mature.
Or perhaps you, a solitary gardener, may suddenly feel lonely with no one paying any attention, appreciating or ever discussing your garden or anything in it. Boredom, apathy and stagnation may result.
But what really is boredom? I have often thought that boredom is just laziness of the mind, but there is more to it than that. Boredom is the unpleasant state of mind when it needs stimulation but cannot find the motivation to find it. I have also come to realise that what makes the difference between enjoying some 'time out doing nothing' and boredom, is guilt. Guilt is what makes inactivity unhealthy. The feeling you have when you feel you should be doing something productive but have no motivation because you have heard, seen or done it so many times before. Guilt is a negative source of motivation. It may get things done, but not done well and without any pleasure other than a little, end satisfaction.
But boredom is seldom a permanent state of mind and realising this may help prevent it getting a hold on you.
The wise, ancient Preacher once wrote,
‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
As I examine my own states of mind and those I know best, it is clear that there are cycles we live in and live by. There is what I would call ‘rhythms of interest’. Maybe there are some who through discipline maintain a consistent level of motivation in one thing, in their key responsibilities, but - IN MY OPINION, AND I AM NO EXPERT – we all have cycles of interest and motivation. So with careful self examination we may find that where interest wanes in one thing, it arises in another. Recognising our ‘rhythms of interest,’ I believe, can help us overcome boredom and even be more successful in our key interests and productive in our responsibilities. If we have a variety of interests in our life we therefore feed the interest that is on the rise and put aside the one we have temporarily lost interest in. If that first interest is an important responsibility then allow the alternative interest to keep you doing just enough in the first. Tread water while you watch the dolphins.
To achieve this state of mind it may be helpful to do an inventory of your garden. Have you forgotten half the plants you have in it? Make a list of all your interests, past and present, old and new. When boredom begins to creep in look it up and find something or someone who may be the spark of interest you need.
But if this approach does not help what other therapy can we turn to? What can you do when you the gardener has become a cabbage? Or couch potato because there are no demands on you from anyone, your purpose has become minimal? When you suddenly find you have all the time in the day to fill with whatever you like doing, but can think of nothing but the ‘cookie jar’. Such a state of mind can lead to bad health, relationships deteriorating and becoming food for worms.
One approach to your state of mind is to appraise the situation. Ask yourself, why am I bored? You may hear yourself saying all sorts of things like,
“I have no one to talk to.”
“I can’t be bothered any more.”
“What is the point?”
“It just takes too much effort.”
You may find your attention span is shorter than a five year old with nothing else to captivate their attention. You have seen it, done it and have a drawer full of tee-shirts.
Well of course you have not done it all and there are many opportunities whatever your state of affairs may seem to be.
Have you set limitations on yourself that are more in the mind than in the body? How dependent have you become on a few interested visitors to your garden, be it family, friends or neighbours?
If so you might consider the following. Who else’s garden have I visited lately? Where can I go to discover gardens very different from mine? Have I thought of including in my garden a few extra places to sit and putting outside the gate a simple invitation, open to visitors Mondays to Fridays, 2 till 6 pm?
Your mind has to receive stimulation from somewhere if boredom has set in. Sitting in front of a TV has to be the last resort; it is all one-way traffic, even the quiz shows, unless of course you join a quiz team at your local pub. Motivation is dependent on social interaction. Boredom will inevitably take over if we stay inside a bubble. Indulgences will then lead to bad health and the inevitable.
Now at the start of this I said the garden does have a mind of its own. This is how I see it. There is interaction in gardens, not done by the botany (as far as I know plants do not communicate with each other) but by the next class of organic beings, insects. Okay, some insects are parasites and will only take advantage and cause serious damage, but then there are bees, butterflies and other insects that go from plant to plant without which a garden would almost certainly, eventually, become a wilderness.
So how do bees relate to a healthy state of mind? Where do they fit into the analogy? Well, whilst bees are going about their business for their own purpose, they are nevertheless a common visitor to many of the features of your garden. They are networking, connecting one inhabitant with another.
People today are interacting by means of smart phones, tablets, laptops or desk top computers at any time of the day or night and through the networks they operate on, boredom has its pill. Of course there are those who look down on or criticise the current trend of posting pictures of your latest plate of food or some trivia that has gone viral, they are just sad dinosaurs who will die out in a generation or two. Nevertheless you do need to learn how to communicate on these networks. Good manners through appropriate postings and language cannot be forgotten. You are not as invisible as you may think you are. Your personality will come through.
Now overcoming boredom through social media does not mean that everything written before in ‘Gardens of the Mind’ is no longer valid, it is even more so. If you want your mind to be filled only with fluff, then your mind will not be cultivated and become a garden. If you cannot discern between fact and fiction, between opinions of true experts in a given field and those of a celebrity or some anonymous plagiarist, then beware. But never before has there been greater opportunity to expand, keep vibrant and continually develop the gardens of our minds than today. Like never before, through the networks of the modern world, boredom, I believe, has its antidote. So do not have a guilt trip for using them but do consider how to use them in pursuing the kind of garden you would like your mind to become.
Through networking; families, communities, nations even the world can be a safer and healthier place. Of course predators may be part of that network, but the network will also provide you the warnings and the protection too.
Today, people overcome boredom by communicating with whoever they want whenever they want. The bees, that higher order of intelligence called digital networks, are the providers of the means to interact. Okay, their main interest is to fill their ‘honeycombs’ with cash from others like themselves, those trying to lure you into buying their hardware as you do a search. Digital cookies are like the pollen being gathered from you and me, from the trends of our minds recorded in our searches and lookups. But they also prompt us and get us interacting and thus stimulate the mind.
Now there are levels of sophistication when it comes to using digital networks. We can of course, by using our devices, just pass the time of day, brighten up a dull moment by sharing something you found interesting or posting a picture of your latest culinary creation, which is all well and good. Alternatively you could start something more purposeful like creating your own, special interest closed group. There are also specialist social media networks as well as just the big ones like Facebook and Twitter. In creating or joining these you are bringing together or joining minds with a common interest or purpose. These groups know no geographical boundaries or even language barriers with the way technology is developing. You can be the manager of that group letting only those you vet to join.