Farming and agricultural work became part of my daily life in the past few months and the connection between this and the fast evolution of my healing process is undeniable. I got to work out years of trauma, got more grounded and reconnected with myself and healed a great part of my inner child through practices I consciously use while actively working. I got more healing work done doing this than with years of therapy.
Many agricultural jobs involve being outside at some point during the working hours. Some jobs will be focused more on actual fieldwork, such as picking fruits or harvesting vegetables or tending to animals. Others might be based partly in an office, depending on the level of responsibility and what type of record-keeping is required. Personally I prefer the kind of work that is field-based. Simply being out and about and not being confined by four walls is so beneficial to a positive mood, with plenty of opportunities helping you thrive and develop yourself to become the best you can be.
What is physical activity?
I believe that every adult person should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day or at least 4 hours a week. This can be either moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, hiking or riding a bike, or more vigorous activities, such as running or any other activity that raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster, and makes you feel warmer.
What is well-being?
Well-being is defined as ‘a positive physical, social and mental state’. For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on mental well-being. Mental well-being does not have a single universal definition, but it does encompass factors such as sense of feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually or in relationships, the ability to deal with the ups and downs of life, such as coping with challenges and making the most out of opportunities. The feeling of connection to our community and surroundings, having control (though I believe full control can never be achieved) and freedom over our lives, or having a sense of purpose and feeling valued.
So basically, physical activity and mental well-being are the things I missed from my life when I was living a “normal” (or socially accepted) life and having a 9 to 5/ corporate job, trying to fit in and meet societal standards, working for goals I never even set for myself but was pressured to accomplish.
Of course, mental well-being/health does not mean being happy all the time, and it does not mean that you won’t experience negative or painful emotions, such as grief, loss, or failure, which are a part of life and these feelings make up a great part of the healing process as well.
The Connection Between Farming and Mental Health
A common trigger of mental health is sadness, feeling stuck, hopelessness and stress. Most people experience these feelings when they idle, or when they are alone and feel isolated (especially in the past few years with the lock-downs and the pandemic, many people went through such a triggering period.) Farming work – as it is mainly hard physical activity – can increase the production of dopamine in the body, which increases happiness and reduces undesirable emotions. This hormone can also lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Another link between a hobby farm and mental health treatment originates from eating a healthy and balanced diet. A significant number of people that engage in farming grow organic foods and avoid using chemicals. On the croft where I am staying at the moment, we care for sheep, chickens, and care for plants and tend to the garden. Each of these services can help you improve your mental and physical health.
Where to start?
Making changes to your life can be scary, and most people get anxious about trying something new. You don’t need to do drastic changes in your life like I did: I literally walked out of my “old” life embarking on a two-month-long pilgrimage. Ever since, I’ve been just going with the flow, trying out new things that add to my life and my personal growth. I first ended up working on tree plantations in Scotland and now I’m traveling around working on a farm. There are plenty of ways to engage yourself in such activities, like starting or joining a community garden near where you live or volunteering on farms and starting with part time or seasonal farming jobs such as fruit picking. My little sister (age 16) frequently visits a nearby farm where she can learn about horses and horseback riding in exchange of some work in the stables, which is also an amazing way to connect with nature, heal your soul and get some exercise as well.
How do I do the healing work?
There are dozens of ways I discovered in the past weeks that contribute to my personal growth and healing while I’m working outside on the farm. I bet you can google such spiritual exercises as well, but the more I know myself the more I like to come up with my own techniques. I believe in biodiversity, meaning that we are all different hence no one method will work for all of us. I also do believe that we are our own healers. Once we learn to really connect with our bodies and spirit, we’ll know the ways to heal it. I prefer to do whatever feels best for me at the moment. For instance, the latest technique I discovered was a meditation I performed while chipping twigs with a machine. I had a bit of a hard day, and wanted to get rid of old defense mechanisms that do not serve me anymore, so I imagined the twigs I send in the machine are the old habits and patterns I do not need anymore. I thanked them for their service—they once did good for me—but as I do not need them anymore, I let them go with love, so new habits and coping mechanisms can build in their place.
Here are some of the other practices I love to do:
Gardening as meditation
Meditation can mean different things to each of us. I always knew of people who use gardening as a meditative activity but I just never got the hang of it until now. I’ve done sit-down meditation, which is amazing on its own; but being outdoors in nature allows me to become more grounded and makes my mind much calmer. And a calm mind is key in establishing a flow state in which I can think freely. The horizon in my mind seems to become smooth and level like the open sea. During this time, I always feel the need to ask questions to myself, set intentions, or repeat mantras. Often when I’m planting, I also send an intention with the plant, (such as wishing for the health of someone) so the intention can grow with the seed/plant.
Getting to your senses
When I first get out in the garden, I like to take just a handful of minutes and actively engage with all my senses. I start with identifying three things I see, then I close my eyes and identify three things I hear, and touch and smell, and so on. This short activity really helps me ground myself in the garden space and get in a good mindfulness practice mindset. When the sun finally comes out and shines its warm rays, I often just stand still with closed eyes and imagine the warm golden rays entering my third eye and filling my whole body, cleansing it from any negative or stuck energy.
Connecting by disconnecting
Smartphones are like a gateway drug that leads to a lack of mindfulness. My phone is literally the death of my mindfulness practice (yes, even with the amazing meditation apps that are available). I keep finding myself getting “stuck” on Instagram, scrolling for hours if I don’t pay attention. For me, going phoneless is important. I used to take the phone with me to listen to music, but I kept it on airplane mode to be uninterrupted. (My phone has been on mute for two years now.) Now I try to even avoid listening to music or podcasts most of the time. I find myself much more calm and relaxed if I let the music of nature be my soundtrack.
Letting the inner child play
Whether you had a hard time growing up or you had the most amazing childhood, our inner child can get hurt many ways (even from friends, teachers, etc). Letting the inner child out to play is beneficial for our growth and there are so many ways to do it! My favorites are running through the fields and really feeling the experience and letting it all out. I love to run with my arms wide open, like an airplane, feeling the wind on my face, the fresh air in my lungs, sometimes I even shout or scream, whatever comes and feels good. Other times I race my partner—of course, as a true child I only tell him it’s a competition when I’m already ahead of him. Haha! I used to love to jump into puddles but my parents never allowed me, so this is another thing I allowed myself to enjoy (again). With my wellies and dirty working clothes, who cares if I get wet? It’s raining here almost every day anyways. Instead of walking down the hill as any adult would, I love make my way down jumping like a crazy goat. I don’t care if someone sees me and thinks I’ve gone mad. Just enjoy yourself in the process. The importance is to find things you loved as a kid and for some reason you stopped /were not allowed to engage in and rediscover their joy.
The art of letting go
It can be really hard at times, when there are so many things to do but you just can’t get it done. I used to be an overachiever during my corporate career but I am lucky enough to say that I learned this lesson (still mastering, though). On a farm or croft, it’s just impossible to always go with plans. The weather often stops you from doing certain things you planned to get done during the day, or random fatigue hits and you have to get half the day off or just become your own slow-motion version. It can be hard for the ego to let go of control and not to beat yourself up when you seem less productive than planned. Let me tell you, both ends of the productivity spectrum—and everything in between—is “right.” Things won’t always turn out the way we want (in fact they rarely do), every day is different so even if you do your best and give 100% each day it won’t look the same. Letting go of expectations and control is a crucial lesson we all have to learn on our ascension paths. On those days when I didn’t manage to get all the things done, I like to sit down and take credit for everything else I did before, especially considering the days when I did more than planned. Keeping a check list of such things helps to balance it all out, and there are plenty of other thing you might get to enjoy finally, such as reading a book or connecting deeper with your loved ones having a meaningful conversation.
Turn mindless into mindful
There’s one word that always freaked me out: multitasking. It’s such an over-rated “skill” workforces demand, and I truly believe there is no such thing as multitasking. We can do many things at a time but when we are doing one our brain only focuses on that one things, and it just fractions our brain. On the farm, I try to give it my whole attention to the one task I’m doing. A lot of gardening is mindless work—like weeding a bed—but there is so much mental health value in making a mindless task mindful. When I’m in the garden, I try to really be there. It can be super hard at times, I often get carried away by the bombarding random thoughts and ideas. But the whole idea of practicing mindfulness is to be able to let those thoughts pass by without engaging with them.
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Photo: Imola Toth