How to Tend to the Garden Within and Help Create a More Peaceful World


“Until we transform ourselves, we are like mobs of angry people screaming for peace. In order to move the world, we must be able to stand still in it.” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

It only happens about every ten years or so. The primal scream. It gets unleashed when things feel like too much.

But it happened recently, to the dismay of my husband who was enjoying a rare moment of quiet in the house. I had just dropped our son off to basketball practice. The soup I’d picked up for dinner spilled in the car, and the lid to the boiling emotional pot that I had been diligently managing for months burst off.

It had been a hell of a semester with unrelenting stress from a job that required more than I was willing to give. I exploded from the strain of responding lovingly to the confusion of a moody teenager managing peer pressures and media overload. And from the pain of caring deeply for our hurting, warring, grieving, angry, divisive, stubborn world.

The impotence I felt was crushing. The complicated layers wound me into knots. Until I came undone.

I sat for a while with the echoes of the scream in my ears, relieved to finally acknowledge that not all was well. And in the days to follow, as I meditated and re-centered and cared myself back into balance, I recognized that not all was lost either.

My mindfulness practice has held me steady over the years, allowing me regular contact with my heart. I have learned to look inward, getting to know the pain, the uncertainty, the non-answers. I have become comfortable with letting the breath unknot the blockages of unprocessed emotions.

I never know when they will break free or come out sideways. But as I have returned to the breath an infinite number of times, I have learned to trust that I can let whatever needs to arise speak.

Sometimes it’s sadness. Sometimes it’s hopefulness. But other times, I have to let despair and grief step into the light.

They say that what we resist persists. Our emotions have wisdom. Denying them now feels unkind.

I’ve noticed over time that even while the pain inside can be confusing and disorienting, something continues to grow stronger, steadier within me. Something grows lighter. If I let it.

I don’t limit my practice to one thing. Mindfulness meditation is my root teacher, my guide in this inward journey. But these times call for reinforcements, spirit allies, friends, prayers, and kindness.

I lean on the wisdom of shamans, mystics, and sages who instruct us to dream the world into being. I know well that the power of our minds can both create the world we want to live in and destroy it. I recently added courageous dreaming to my list of reinforcements.

The implications for my choices are not small as I watch my son navigate the shaky world he lives in. Checking the news. Asking hard questions.

I tell him with confidence that there is beauty and good and joy. Even on dark days. In our world. And I believe that deeply because I see it. In my heart and in the heart of so many others. The ones who have learned how to sit still in the midst of it all.

I navigate these times by tending to my inner garden. I know that when I nurture my inner world, I can be of wiser service to the world around me. I try to model this to my son who is too much in the throes of growing up to understand much of this directly, but I trust that the seeds are being planted.

I am dreaming the world into being in my small but mighty sphere of influence. And I am accompanied by countless others—friends, teachers, fellow wisdom seekers—who are similarly invested in caring for the garden within so that they can be the caregivers, healers, and magic makers that our world needs. This, I believe, is the way of change.

The pathway is simple but not easy. Mindfulness takes diligence and practice. But it can be the foundation for the steadiness, calm, and compassion required of us in these times.

This is how we can get started.

Develop a foundation for steadiness.

To begin, allocate ten minutes a day where you won’t be interrupted. Start with an awareness of breath practice. Sit comfortably and notice the in and out breath without trying to make anything happen.

When your mind wanders (which it will) bring it back to the breath, again and again. Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect radical change. Stick with the practice, gradually lengthening the time that you sit to develop concentration, trust, and stability.

Strengthen your heart connection.

Building on your awareness of breath practice, you can place your attention on your heart space. Breathe in and out of your heart noticing what arises when you pay attention. Is there aching, longing, tension, or joy?

You may put your hand on your heart as you listen, staying open without judging. Whatever you notice, consider sending kindness to your heart. Continue breathing through your heart space, thanking your heart for protecting you and supporting you.

Get curious about your emotions.

It feels counterintuitive to lean into what makes us uncomfortable. Yet leaning into our emotions can be our gateway to freedom. This practice is called tending and befriending.

Sitting quietly in meditation, you can notice what arises with kind curiosity. The emotion might arise from within the body; the belly, chest, and heart are the most common places where emotions are felt. Or you might just sense something in the background—anxiety, fear, anticipation.

Give the emotion a neutral name, see if you can let it expand or contract as it needs to, and send it loving-kindness. We don’t need to sit long with the emotion. Just long enough to get to know it, open up space for it, and send it compassion.

Instill gratitude.  

My son noticed a butterfly the other day. We were taking a walk and he just stopped in his tracks. He wanted to capture its beauty in a picture.

We talked about the transformation that butterflies go through in their lifetimes, and it reminded me of the profound and often overlooked beauty of nature. When we pay attention, these simple moments can be intensely healing. The more we touch into gratitude, the more we find ease.

Gratitude is an antidote to anxiety, worry, and negativity. We can formally instill gratitude by committing to a daily practice of remembering or writing down three good things from the day. Then we soak those things into our body, savoring them, and holding them with loving intention.

Envision the world you want to live in. 

When we are deliberate about connecting with our breath, body, emotions, and heart, and receiving gratitude, we can more easily sense being part of a loving, compassionate world. We don’t only envision this world, but we live out all that we hope it entails. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said: “If we want peace, we have to be peace. Peace is a practice and not a hope.”

We are at an inflection point in our world. A time of great change. We can decide first how we want to be. The rest will follow.

May you practice with an open mind, heart, and spirit.

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