Every week, I like to take a popular phrase from our language, and then play around with it a bit to see what I can learn. Today’s prompt is “Stop and smell the roses.”
Sitting at a cafe the other day, hunched over my laptop, I heard someone suggest to their companion that they should “Stop and smell the roses.” Of course, this phrase is just a fancy way of saying “You gotta slow down once in a while.” As one of those individuals that really struggles to relax, my anxieties love spending their free time whispering in my ear about every little task I’d be better off engaging in. In the past, I’ve forced myself to endure periods of inactivity in an effort to ‘Smell the roses,’ and part of me always resented feeling unfulfilled in these moments.
Today, upon leaving the cafe, I will no longer be fighting my true nature. Much as a gardener who prefers to be digging in the soil, and is only half-content with viewing the garden through the kitchen window, I will no longer view my constant desire to be tilling the earth as a bad thing. Even if I’m not going to take time to stop and smell the roses, I still wish to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Exploring this analogy, I think I can discover a way to remain in motion, and open my mind to embrace the smell of the roses all at once. After all, a rose in mid-bloom need not be sought out to be enjoyed; a flower spreads its petals to share its beauty with the world naturally.
Tend your garden
If you want to be able to smell the roses while you work, the most important piece of the puzzle is to plant some healthy, happy rose bushes. The great thing about flowers is that they really only require a few precious components: soil, water, and sunlight, in the right proportions, to allow them to flourish of their own accord. Similarly, our mindset needs these same three things (metaphorically speaking) to prosper, letting us smell the roses without taking a break from our lives.
Good soil is the foundation of a happy garden. While soil is a precious source of nutrition for the plant, its nutrients are limited, and if too high of a demand is placed upon it, any of the flowers planted within will eventually wilt and wither. In our lives, we have things that are absolutely essential: making an income, raising a family–responsibilities not represented in this analogy by the flowers, but by the garden of life itself. The flowers are activities that we might feel are necessary to our happiness, but are not absolutely essential. Because we have so many activities that seem prerequisite for our happiness, we plant too many flowers and overtax the soil. It’s far more beneficial to our well-being to maintain one or two activities that we permit to flourish completely, as opposed to a dozen hobbies shedding petals as we brush by them to reach the next item on our checklist. Pick the few flowers that you find most stunning, and leave the rest for someone else to plant in their garden. As the sun sets each day, what makes the activities we choose to spend our time on so utterly sacred is that they have been selected above so many others to be worthy of our time and efforts.
Watering the plants is a precious ritual to any gardener; it must be done deliberately and sincerely for them to prosper, and this requires great diligence. But we cannot neglect this task, because the roses are depending on us, and our mindset is depending on us to treat it with the same dedication. ‘Watering our minds’ is actually how we learn patience, how we enable the plant to grow strong and healthy; how we develop skills that bring us real joy. It’s no secret that we enjoy things when they’re coming easily to us, with times of struggle and stagnating improvement usually accompanied with mild resentment. These less desirable times will, unfortunately, always surface in any activity truly worth pursuing.
We all know that you can’t force a plant to grow. Even when we do everything we can for the flower, its prosperity must come in time, and all we can do is water it day after day. This means we simply return to our chosen activity, even when it brings us great frustration, ignoring the voice in the back of our minds that tells us we’re wasting our time. Most importantly, we avoid the temptation to over-water our rose if its growth begins to dwindle, just as we avoid over-exerting ourselves to overcome some obstacle in our own improvement. This tendency towards excessive compensation ends up taking us in the wrong direction, and the roots, the strong foundation we have laid, can actually begin to erode in the over-irrigated soil. Every day we just return to the practice, because it’s important to us, diligently watering the flower, but also acknowledging that a little goes a long way, and we are hopeless to do a job that can only be accomplished by time.
With our mind, wherever we go is our garden, and wherever our garden is, so too is the perfect amount of sunlight. Just like a flower turns naturally to follow the path of the sun, our mind naturally seeks the empty space needed to make room for the smell of the roses. Often times, this space becomes filled with excessive worries that carry our mind elsewhere, with these worries stemming from unhealthy soil or an inappropriate watering schedule.
The sunlight, to our minds, is the illuminating knowledge that allows us to approach all of our activities with ‘pure intent’. This knowledge is simply that a human cannot actually try to relax, any more than they can force themselves to enjoy something. If a flower grows too many petals in an effort to catch more sun, it can become too heavy and droop under the weight of its own efforts. Accordingly, when we try to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of something, we cause anxieties to accumulate within us that make it impossible to water our flower with the ‘pure intent’ its success depends on. We must learn that sometimes, the efforts we think are taking us towards our objectives are really the same things holding us back, simply letting go of the tendency to try and think our way to success. Nurturing this ‘pure intent’ within ourselves, the things we truly desire will bless us with their radiating warmth in time.
Isn’t the Aroma Grand?!
Being a human is nice for the same reasons gardening is; there are few highly demanding skills involved, thus inviting anyone to participate, while truly mastering the art is a life-long pursuit, always providing something for us to look forward to. We often feel that life is difficult, that dramatic things are always happening, in turn requiring drastic action to remedy them. But most of the time, life, like gardening, is a very subtle process. If the soil becomes depleted, we add a little fertilizer; if forgetting to water it one day, we don’t water it twice as much the next day to compensate and risk drowning it– instead simply resuming our typical procedure, trying to be a little more diligent from then on. Our efforts are not directed towards searching for the smell of the roses, opting instead to pursue what’s important to us, in the appropriate way, thereby welcoming the wonderful aroma of spring to find its way to our nostrils in due course.