friends in the dirt

I knew it.  Scientists now think certain soil bacteria work in the same manner as anti-depressants do.

Please note, I am not suggesting you should stop taking your medicine.  I’ve been on anti-depressants before, years ago, and I do not think you will cure chronic or clinical depression by sticking your hands in the ground.  (It can’t hurt, though, especially if you plant something colorful and scented that makes you smile.)

But I’ve long known that just the smell of dirt made me feel better, and getting my hands dirty while caring for my plant friends often works wonders for my mood.

It kind of makes sense, too, that human beings’ bodies and minds might have evolved to expect or need that contact with the earth, and that some of us would feel its lack more than others.  I know the most depressed I’ve ever been was when living in a high rise with about 10 square feet of balcony space in which to cram a few pots.  (Of course, because it’s me, I still grew herbs, tomatoes, and a riot of flowers.  The dill was spectacular there, I remember, year after year.  And the high rise was in a cold climate, so I could grow lobelia to my heart’s content.  The poor things just wither and die in the summer humidity here.)

As I learn more and more about soil, my picture of it is changing dramatically.  It is basically a living thing, a huge organism that breathes and regulates itself so that enough space remains to continue breathing, and it has wastes and even cleans up those wastes to make gold, and the gold, itself, is a network of billions of living organisms that can’t be separated from the whole process — and even “it” isn’t the right word.

They.  They are very like the ocean now in my conceptual dictionary.

We need a good plural word for “soil,” or “earth,” so that I can use they comfortably and not feel my grammar genie rise up in protest.  I’ll be on the lookout.  And anyone with word-creation talents, please feel free to contribute your ideas.

P.S.  I want to once again reiterate that I’m not offering a blanket prescription for anyone with depression or any other mental illness.  Everybody is different, and if you are suffering, I hope you will visit a medical doctor, get some therapy from a therapist or spiritual counselor you click with, and do whatever makes you feel better about living.  If that’s growing a flower, great.  If it’s reading a romance novel, going on an impromptu hike, changing careers, getting more sleep, learning yoga, taking a bath, or baking dessert, that’s great, too.

Some of the things we need to do to get our enthusiasm for life back seem a little simple, even silly.  They’re not.  It’s loving this moment, and doing something you love in it, that can often put you on the path to recovery.

But sometimes we need help to be able to get to even that point, and the doing of a tiny action on our own behalf can seem an impossible goal.  There is absolutely no shame in admitting you need help or just a little guidance now and then.  Life is beautiful and complex, painful and joyful, mysterious and deep, a mix of light and shadow.  Sometimes the shadow is wide enough to get lost in.  I’ve been lost in the shadow, and if this is where you are now, I send you love and understanding.

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4 Responses to “friends in the dirt”

  1. A beautiful post, Meredith. I know that being in my garden restores my soul. It’s my go-to place when things are irritating or upsetting me. I get my balance back and get some perspective. Things that seem terribly troubling and sometimes unmanageable become much easier to handle. I’d like to hope that everyone has a place that brings them some serenity and peace when life overwhelms them and as you’ve pointed out it can be many different places for different people. I know in the winter, when the garden has an austere beauty, it allows me time to get perspective on the garden, too. We all need those retreat times to fully take stock of all that transpires in our lives.

    There have been times when the dark seems to eclipse the light in my life, too, and it is always okay to hold out your hand and let someone you trust to help you. And know that there will come a time when you can repay the favor as we go through the ups/downs of a well-lived life.

  2. I did not get the gardening gene, but can see the curative powers of it. A wise man once told me, knowing we would never see each other again, to not be afraid to get my hands dirty. To dig in the earth and rejoice in doing it. I do it a little and always think of him. And it does work…

    • That is such wonderful advice, and I’m glad you have a lovely memory. I understand about not getting the gardening gene. Several of my family members missed out 🙂 But they have other talents and passions to make up for it, as I know you do, too, Lynn.

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