• Tara Callaghan

Cultivating Thoughts: Productive vs. Positive Thinking

Taking a two year hiatus from my farming dream has meant that some of the gardens I started in our first year are in a sad state. They’ve been completely overtaken with weeds and are in dire need of a makeover. The hours and hours my mom and I spent tilling, spreading compost, raking, shaping beds and consistently weeding to transform the once lawn into a luscious vegetable garden have now been reset to almost zero.

The garden is a great analogy for our thoughts. Negative seeds of thought, if nourished, yield negative thoughts that bear the fruit of negative emotions to generate more negative seeds. We think of something shitty, it makes us feel shitty and then other stuff starts to look shitty. Positive seeds of thought, if nourished, yield positive thoughts that bear the fruit of positive emotions to generate more positive seeds. We think about something good or funny, we start to feel good and then other things don’t look so bad. Though easy to lose awareness of, in the adult mind we are typically in control of what seeds we plant.

Regardless of what you plant, however, you will inevitability get some weeds. I’m referring to life’s nuisances and letdowns, as well as those serendipitous influential surprises. Not all weeds are bad, after all. Some we prefer to call wildflowers. It’s just a question of what you’d like to grow. These weeds arise because we individuals are not closed systems. We are connected to our environment and things happen that are beyond our control. It takes work to not let these weeds take over. Left unattended, they will rule and suddenly our life feels entirely out of our control.

In this garden-psyche scenario, the powers of influence are tri-fold: our own personal seed bank of (1) negative and (2) positive thoughts, and (3) those seeds that arrive outside of us to invade or inspire. What trips me up is the naive tick many people have to say, “Just be positive!” under any circumstance. In some circumstances, yes, being positive is a wonderful and beneficial approach. But when a traumatic event arises that destroys your positivity like a thick bed of weeds completely invading your garden, tossing some positive seeds into the mix ain’t gonna do much. Even worse, denying the existence of these weeds can debilitate and prevent new growth. Adding negative seeds will of course only make the problem worse.

From my own struggles, what I have found more useful is to force myself to think productively, not necessarily positively. What is the opportunity here? How can I best serve myself to yield the best results? Sometimes that means doing nothing. Letting the frost come in to kill everything off and waiting until spring when you can make a fresh start. Sometimes that means digging in and getting dirty to laboriously pull out the metaphorical weeds, likely dropping a few f-bombs in the process. The point is it takes work to prepare yourself for positive outcomes. One of the most important lessons I learned from one of the biggest struggles I have faced to date is that doing the right thing may not feel like the right thing in the beginning. It can feel bloody tortuous. But do the work, prepare the new ground for the seeds you’d like to grow, and something beautiful can come out of it all. Perhaps even more beautiful than where you were before.

Looking at the dead stalks of weeds protruding from the snow in my abandoned garden, with their seed heads empty now having successfully dispersed their plentiful contents into the soil below, I could feel discouraged. But, nah. I’ve started at zero before. I’ve done the heavy lifting and reaped the benefits. I know in what direction precisely I can grow.


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