Whatever You Water Will Grow

This summer I was determined to grow a beautiful, thriving garden. Last spring I packed away my excuses (not enough time, it’s impossible with a toddler underfoot) and proceeded, under the tutelage of my dear friend, Lisa, to begin my seedlings in greenhouses beneath homemade ligthboxes. My older son and I attended to them faithfully each day and delighted as each little green sprout poked its head above ground. We watered them, transplanted them, and loved them. (Everest insisted on eating lunch beside them to make sure they felt loved.) And when it was finally time to plant them outdoors, we did so with tender loving care. This would surely be the year that we picked peas and kale straight from our own backyard!

All proceeded well for several weeks. I found time to water and weed them each day and, sure enough, the peas began to flourish. My soul soared as my son and I picked sweet peas every day and munched on them during my baby’s naps. The kale, having suffered a bit from a surprise frost, needed some help, but after a couple of hours of loving attention under Lisa’s hands, they made a comeback. Amidst the fullness of my life, the fifteen minutes a day that I carved out to devote to the garden became a ritual that nourished me with pure joy. Nothing made me happier than walking down to the creek to fill up the two watering cans then slowly watering around the base of each plant. My husband had thoughtfully set up a drip system for me last Mother’s Day, but for some reason I felt compelled to water by hand this year.

And then the rains came. It rained in torrents every day for weeks. On the one hand, I enjoyed allowing Nature to water on her own accord. On the other hand, I dearly missed by daily ritual. But when I returned to my garden after a couple of absent days, I never expected the sight that lay before me: A riot of weeds. Weeds tangling around the peas. Weeds threatening to choke the kale and cucumbers. Weeds cavorting with the beans. Weeds laughing in the pumpkin patch. My precise hand watering had been overtaken by a few days of Nature’s indiscriminate watering system.

You might be wondering about now what this has to do with transitions. I’ll tell you: Whatever you water will grow, and when it comes to the workings of the mind, water is the attention that you give to your thoughts. If a negative thought pops into your head (as negative thoughts will do if you’re prone to anxiety), you have a choice regarding how you want to respond to that thought. If you water it, it will grow, just like the unwanted weeds in my garden. The longer you water the thought, the bigger it will grow. And once the negative thought has grown to the size of a roadside California weed, you have to work very hard to dig it out by the roots. You have to get down on your hands and knees and pull. And if that’s doesn’t work, you get out the trowel or pitchfork and dig until it breaks. It’s so much easier to nip the thought in the bud by learning how to work with it effectively which, in many cases, means not giving it any water.

Each thought is a seed. You can’t control which seeds decide to land in the garden of your mind; they arrive on the winds of life without permission or warning. For example, you could be happily spending the morning with your newborn baby when the thought arises, “What if I suddenly hurt him?” At that moment, you have a choice: you can water the thought with more fear-based thoughts like, “Oh my goodness. I’ve had the thought that I’m going to hurt my baby. That must means that deep down I don’t really love him. What if something takes over me and I harm him? What if I can’t control myself?” and then you’re off and running in a tizzy of new mother anxiety. Or you can rein in the habitual fear response, access a rational part of your mind, and say, “Most new mothers have that thought at some point. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed and I know I love my baby. I’m not going to pay this thought a moment’s more attention” and decide to focus on something else.

Whatever you water will grow. Water the fear, and the fear grows like a hydroponic plant in a sun-drenched greenhouse. Water the truth, and you find yourself in an increasingly sustaining state of hope, joy, and serenity. It’s a choice. I know it doesn’t always feel like a choice, and it is a practice that you will hone over time with patience and commitment, but in the end, it is a choice: to allow fear to run the show or to take the risk and open your heart to love.

5 comments to Whatever You Water Will Grow

  • Good post. And so true. I try focusing more on solutions rather than problems. I think watering in the right place is helpful.

    Great analogy!

  • Leisha

    Perfect for today! When I read the title of your post I knew it would touch on the topic of fear. Many thanks Sheryl!

  • Michelle

    Beautiful post! How do you determine which thoughts are safe to water and which ones are not? In other words, if you have the thought “I don’t love my fiancee” as you posted, how do you know that it’s a thought that should not be watered? What if you are missing something very important by not paying that thought attention?

    • Great question (and one that several people have asked me via email). If there are red-flags in the relationship, then it’s time to give credence to the thought, “I don’t love him.” However, usually when there are red-flag issues, you don’t think, “I don’t love him.” The thoughts are more along the lines of, “I don’t trust him. I don’t feel safe with him. I don’t feel supported by him.” In other words, in a red flag situation, there are tangible issues you can point to that absolutely deserve more attention. In a healthy relationship, there aren’t.

  • Rosie

    Wow! I am glad I read this cause those baby thoughts do creep in and after seeing a horrible incident in our area where a mom did harm her child. I often think of her, did she not have help? but I am doing it alone. Was she not sleeping? I am sleep deprived it comes with the territory. She was not breastfeeding there was no bond. I try to make sense of it all and I do have those thoughts and give them immediately over to God and breathe. I don’t accept those thoughts but I am relieved that I don’t have to believe that just by having such a thought makes me a bad mommy. I won’t win awards and my children have plenty of stories for their counseling sessions I am sure. But I am doing my best. 🙂 Thank you for such great advise.