Rarely has stability, from a universal standpoint or from an individual perspective, been anything more than a fleeting idea that presents itself for mere moments at a time. And yet stability is something we all crave, deeply. We’ll rarely (if ever) have it, but that only makes us hunger for it all the more.

These last two months have been wretched. Briefly, I thought I was alone in this misery, exhaustion, and instability; but, turns out the whole world, or at least this whole region, has been feeling it, deeply and truly. If you ask someone how they’re doing, you rarely get a “good” or “great” anymore; that once dependable social grace has become as elusive as the notion of stability itself. The malaise can perhaps be blamed on Hurricane Ida or Mercury in retrograde or heartache or climate exhaustion or pandemic fatigue or just absolutely everything that has happened to and around us over the last two years. But in the end it doesn’t matter why it is, it simply is.

The Earth itself is a monstrous bubble of chaos, ever roiling, ever changing, and we are having to face that reality head-on more and more each day as it reacts ever more unpredictably to centuries of our species’ ill-plotted environmental interventions. Despite this, we lean on it hard to hold us up. It is the biggest thing we know and we are all a part of it. So it makes sense that despite the planet’s inherent instability, one of the most effective meditation techniques for overcoming anxiety is to recognize that what you are sitting on is connected to the very Earth itself, or that that thing is connected to the Earth or that that thing is connected to the Earth. That something touching you is also touching something eternal and unshakeable, even as it is dependably unstable. 

“Grounding” or “earthing” is the practice of standing or sitting with your bare feet on the ground, in the grass, touching earth. It’s that simple, and it’s definitely for the New Agers, but it’s also surprisingly well-backed by science. The science part has to do with our body being in direct contact with ample electrons, and our dissociation with these electrons sets our body out of whack in a plethora of ways, causing inflammation, poor sleep, organ and tissue disease, and, well, pretty much any ailment. We are inherently meant to connect with the Earth in order to find balance in our physical bodies. And, beyond the science or the spirituality, y’all, it’s just relaxing to have your feet in the grass. In New Orleans, where broken concrete, broken glass, and discarded needles abound, it can be difficult to connect our bodies to the turbulent sphere that is Earth; it can be hard to “ground” around here. Still, if some intolerable weight is upon you I would encourage you to find a way.

If this practice is too woo for you, or you have an aversion to grass, allergic or otherwise, might I suggest forest bathing as an alternative methodology for connecting with this beautiful entropic ever temporal ever temporary sphere we call home. Forest bathing is just going into the woods and appreciating them. That’s it. Go be somewhere green and suck it all in, actively, with all of your senses, just as if you were on mushrooms. Heck, do it on mushrooms even. If nothing else, taking a dip in the forest can bring your mind into the present, and whatever dismal path your brain has been following can fade away into the verdant ether around you, for a few minutes or hours at least. I know places of deep nature can be hard to come by in New Orleans, but we do have our spots, and the city is incredibly green and floral almost everywhere, always and forever, dependably, for now. That said, if forest bathing seems too far out, metaphorically or actually, might I suggest sunset bathing, wherein one appreciates our dependably cotton candy dusky sky any given evening, in order to have a similar effect on the psyche. The world is not OK, but you might just be. For a while anyway.

Earth, grass, ground, forests. But this is supposed to be a gardening column. I hereby claim poetic license by way of my vague-and-open-to-interpretation nom de guerre, but anyway also, I was never going to talk about grass and forests and then not go on to talk about gardens. In our collective pastoral consciousness, the garden is a place of peace. In terms of things that humans have built or created, it may even be a place of peace. A garden is a place that has a touch of the wild in it, but it is also a place that feels eternal, stable, ever-shifting but also under our control.

Gardening, like standing on grass or sucking in forest vibes, is a tried-and-true way to reduce stress and anxiety, increase inner peace, lower blood pressure, and get some low impact ergonomic exercise along the way. It is also a tiny window into the impermanence and the void, for everything in a garden dies; and while the garden presents with a facade of tranquility, it is actually ever in flux and disharmony—insect combating leaf inserting disease at odds with fungus struggling to survive on soil wherein ant devours worm and beetle devours root and root reaches with futility for sparse nutrients and fleeting water before the sun takes it all back to the sky and leaves the whole microverse at odds, just waiting for another drop of rain to sustain it all, just like in Mad Max, that is to say, just like our future.

A garden will give us a sense of peace, physically, mentally. Simultaneously, it is a perfect representation of this unstable world, and if we are able to lean into that truth, and hold both of these truths together, a garden and what it represents can paradoxically bring us even more peace through this observation. In the end, all we can do is accept that chaos is inevitable and there is very little that we can change; in our lives, in this world, in our gardens. All we can do is learn to be OK with that and hold on to what we love the best that we can. Let a garden lead us there, let it be an illusion of stability that we can embrace wholly, even as we know it’s a lie.

If you’ve got questions for the Dirt Nerd, feel free to email ian@hotplantsnursery.com or visit@hotplantsnursery.

illustrations Rachel Speck

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