Machine vs Garden

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What if, instead of thinking of our mind as a machine that breaks down and requires fixing – we instead choose to view it as a garden in need of nurture?

This morning I was reading an article that was talking about the effect of lock downs on mental health.

It was a particularly relevant article for me because today, where I live in Melbourne, Australia – we are mid-way through a 5 day mandatory lock down.

Now 5 days isn’t a long time, but when you consider that last year the people of Melbourne went through a 112 day lock down – just the prospect of returning to a lock down setting is bringing up a lot of stuff for everyone.

Anyway, this article was talking about feelings of depression, the loss of hope, and anxiety within people who would regularly characterize themselves as mentally well – and also the devastating impact of lock down on those who are already dealing with mental health issues from day to day.

In pastoral care conversations over the last year – I’ve noticed a bit of a trend. And that is, while people are happy to chat about having difficulty with being in lock down and not feeling like themselves, I’ve had quite a few people take care to point out that what they’re experiencing is most certainly not a mental health issue that requires any sort of medical assistance and that ‘they’ll be alright, and they’ll get through it.’

When you consider that these are the same people who would be first in line at their doctor to receive treatment for a health problem in other part of their body – it started me wondering what was so different about our mental health, that we would avoid seeking help – when that help is readily available.

The way I see it, our worldly way of thinking about our body is partly to blame. Our society has taught us to think of our body, and by extension, our brain – as a machine, where all the parts have a function and need to be connected together in the right way to function properly.

The problem is, when you have a machine and some small part of that machine breaks – or wears out – or stops functioning like it should, then the whole machine stops.

It breaks down.

It no longer functions the way it should. It either gets fixed with a replacement part, or re-lubricated and gets back to functioning at 100% – or it remains broken and out of service.

There seems to be a huge stigma associated with mental health issues, and it isn’t helped by this ‘broken’ vs ‘working’ way of thinking. And as far as analogies go, the machine illustration isn’t particularly accurate or appropriate.

So what, then, can we do instead?

I’ve found that it really helps to think of our brain not as a machine but as a garden, a living organ that if it isn’t thriving – may be in need of some assistance from a gardener.

If you take a look in your bible, you’ll notice that God is not in the business of building machines.

He creates gardens, he sows seeds and he’s in the renewal business – not the machine repair business.

As well as not being a medical professional, I’m also no neuroscientist – but if you look at the growing scientific understanding of how our brains work – I’m told that viewing our brain as a living garden is actually a pretty good fit.

Our brain is a wonderfully complex living organ that is continually creating new connections and it’s capable of establishing new pathways and re-learning different ways of doing things in response to life’s problems and issues.

Gardens just don’t fit the broken vs working paradigm of the machine world.

If an established garden has a problem – whether that’s poor soil quality, weeds, pests, or environmental conditions that don’t suit some of the plants – the gardener doesn’t condemn the whole thing, rip it out and start over.

They carefully spend time resolving the issues, one by one, so that the garden as a whole becomes healthier – and in time, once the issues are resolved or managed – the garden will begin to thrive.

It’s interesting to note that some garden problems, like pest infestations, require treatment – and others, like poor soil condition, require specific nutrients to be added – so if you’ve been thinking about seeking some medical help for your mental health but you’ve been delaying and putting it off – make sure you do something about that today.

Gardens that are created and cultivated by a gardener who knows what they’re doing – thrive. Just as thriving gardens require the nurture and care of a Gardener, thriving mental health doesn’t just happen by itself and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Romans 12:2 encourages us to not copy the behavior and customs of this world – but to let God transform us into a new person by changing the way we think.

We are not machine transformers, who can suddenly transform from one object into another.

For our mind, just as for a garden, the process of renewal is one that takes time, nurture and care.

These thrive messages may be fairly short, but each one is designed to give you a daily boost – to help you see things you’ve never noticed before, and to help you to become clear on who you really are – the thriving person you were created to become.

If your mental health isn’t in a good place today, then I want to reassure you that you are not broken, like a busted up old machine – even if that’s the way you might have been feeling.

Just like a garden that isn’t thriving, your mind is ready and waiting to be transformed and renewed by God, the ultimate master gardener, whose will for you is good and pleasing and perfect.

If that’s something you want to know more about, then make sure you subscribe and get notifications for when new Thrive episodes are released.

Until next time, blue skies!

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