Digging for Information on How We Tick
By Dr. Rachel Levy Lombara
Grab a pen, a fingertip, or whatever you typically use to write (eyeliners are acceptable). Answer this question: How do you garden? Don’t think, just respond. There are no wrong answers. I promise.
I am not asking how one gardens (i.e., with a shovel) but how you personally garden? Your answer may be anything from“with delight” to “only at gunpoint.” (Worry not if the closest you get to gardening is the fake ficus in your foyer, you can still play. Choose any activity and write down three adjectives that describe how you (insert it here) train squirrels, craft whiskey or make shoes for elves.
Okay, what did you write down? Look at it carefully and see if what you wrote about how you garden (snowshoe, make gummy bears) doesn’t bear an uncanny resemblance to how you do almost everything.
This parlor trick works because the way we do one thing is the way we do everything.
I asked my accountant, Rose, how she gardened. She tapped a few keys on her computer and swivelled the screen toward me. On it was her “garden” spreadsheet, rows and columns of numbers that indicated the dates she planned to seed, transplant and harvest the dozens of vegetables she grew. She clicked to a computer generated map-to-scale of her garden; it was a virtual planned community of vegetables. The photos she then pulled up showed Rose in her glory wearing high rubber boots, knee pads, gloves and what appeared to be a beekeeper’s hat and veil. I asked and no, she doesn’t keep bees. I could only assume that she was as cautious as she was prepared in her gardening.
When I asked Rose if organized, meticulous and safe described other things she did, the question was largely rhetorical; I had marvelled at how the crumpled, stack of receipts, bank statements, tax forms and errant candy wrappers I dropped off each year were returned to me in the form of a pristine completed tax return. I think she may have ironed the pages.
I have a tendency to place people who garden like Rose on a pedestal. Her methodical approach is a complete foil to my kamikaze one, marked by vision (minus preparation), (over) confidence, single-mindedness and (blind) optimism. I never wear a hat or gloves, instead sporting a colorful array of insect bites, rashes, cuts and bruises. Compared to Rose, I grimace at how quick I am to “go out on a limb.” Still, I wonder, how else would one set up a tree swing in a jiffy?
Which reminds me of this important rule; do not let yourself fall into the comparison hole; it is dark, low and unpleasant. You can never win. Yank yourself by the scruff of your neck out immediately, sit yourself down and remind yourself of all the great things you have done. For example, after seeing Rose, I say to myself, “Rachel, your unique combination of moxie and madness may worry your family and annoys emergency room personnel, but no one has ever called you boring and look at all the awesome things you have done!
“You are a maverick,” I continue, knowing that I am not yet convinced. “You have run marathons, accumulated degrees, played guitar in a rock and roll band and made two complete human beings from scratch, all by yourself, and without even thinking. If that isn’t amazing, then I don’t know what is!”
Patterns of behavior, like the roots of plants, run deep. The quote I chose, seemingly randomly, for my high school yearbook was this: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” It strikes me as uncanny that some part of me knew, over thirty years ago exactly how I would live my life. There is genius in all of us, even if it isn’t always immediately apparent.
Bud is quick to undertake big projects in his yard, throwing in time and money before deciding that the project is over his head and bailing. When I asked him if this mirrored how he did other things in his life, his face went ashen. He made the connection that his approach to dive in first and assess later had left him in a precarious financial state. He decided to try pausing before leaping at the next business deal. This tiny change minimized his misfires, while, capitalizing on his willingness to take risks, dramatically improved his bottom line.
Unearthing our root patterns is, in psychology speak, a process of making the unconscious conscious. Doing so gives us a freedom and creativity to behave and respond in ways that we weren’t aware existed. It allows us to tweak and prune.
But put away your machete. The key is small change. Each root holds an innate wisdom. As any gardener knows, you never want to damage a plants’ roots.
Gardening offers us glimpses of the invisible strands that weave the various parts of our lives so seamlessly together into a stunning whole. Marvel at nature, appreciating the tiny things for the huge lessons: tiny blades of grass that manage to poke through concrete.
Dr. Rachel Levy Lombara is a clinical psychologist in Chappaqua. She has been described as “down to earth” and full of useful tools for gardening and life. She prefers to work quickly and effectively.