Gardening: The Best Way to Cultivate Yourself

During the past few weeks, I’ve been digging my own grave, a pen in one hand and a book in the other, as I’ve become sleep-deprived day by day trying to finish assignments that never seem to end. The other day, I let out a bleak laugh when I realized that the physics problems I had thought I was solving in radians were actually in degrees, as I had forgotten to change my calculator settings to radians. Inhaling the scent of freshly bought coffee from the Science Center Cafe and exhaling a deep sigh made me somewhat awake but not at all refreshed. It is absolutely not that I feel dissatisfied with the education I receive at Swarthmore. In fact, all my classes are very engaging, and my professors are always happy to discuss class materials, or even trivial academic concerns. Still, the heavy workload, deadline race, and letter grades detract from the fun of studying. I started the year excited about exploring physics, sociology, cognitive science, and English literature but cannot seem to muster the energy to be enthusiastic about them anymore. Am I not supposed to find joy in studying the subjects I like? Upsettingly, I’ve found it hard to truly study for the sake of studying itself, with all my senses numbed after being chased by deadlines and pressured by grades. 

Lethargy followed me wherever I went until I found a magical place near the Black Cultural Center at the corner of Cedar and Elm Avenue: the student garden. My first visit to the garden was for the First Fall Harvest Event hosted by the Good Food Garden (GFG) Club. On the small green piece of land, surrounded by man-made roads and traffic signs, grew colorful flowers and fragrant plants with scented foliage. I still remember the piquant smell emitted by lemon balm leaves as I rubbed them with my thumb and index finger. After touring the garden, I took some lavenders and dried them in between the pages of my book. 

Carried away by the lingering scent of lavender emanating from the book, I revisited the garden. This time, I had the opportunity to plant new crops for the fall with the GFG Club. With a shovel in one hand and a precarious seedling in the other, we dug shallow holes in the ground to make cozy rooms for the baby sprouts. Planting endive with little green shoots over here, chard with attractive red stems over there, and butterhead lettuce with cute round buds in between, we arranged the seedlings in neat rows as if tucking them into a giant bed. After we covered their surroundings with blankets of soil and gave them a good-night shower, our seedlings were ready to grow. Wishing them good luck, we even weeded out potential hecklers and fenced them with wires. We had built an excellent little shelter for the plants.

The garden made me realize how human it is to grow and harvest what we eat. In the arms of Mother Nature, I was growing the plants, and they were letting me grow. I laughed as the soil tickled my fingers while I massaged the earth with my bare hands. I felt reborn as I inhaled and exhaled the fresh air, the plants and I trading gifts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in a reciprocal exchange. My experience at the garden was nothing like the caffeine-filled drudgery of the past few weeks full of dispirited laughs, during which I had been unable to feel grateful for anything. I believe this insensitivity is not only a problem of my own but a shared illness that modern people suffer. In a hectic society where everything changes in a blink and everything is quantified as money, scores, and ranks, it’s hard to relax or appreciate the small things in life. Thus, through this insensibility, we become more and more individualized, stuck in our own prison of the mind, unable to sympathize with the things happening around us as we fill the void with our endless negativity.

Do you feel stuck in a similar situation? How about visiting the student garden? How about rolling up your sleeves and dipping your bare hands into the soil? How about planting amaranth or taking a bite of freshly picked tomatoes? As you receive the present of nature and give back your own gift to it, you’ll realize that you aren’t just cultivating the crops but yourself, your mindfulness, and your sense of gratitude. 

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