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Self Love and Plants:10 things I learned when growing plants

I took a shower with Fern this morning, my Boston fern. I have been meaning to give her a bath because I read that ferns enjoy a good soak in water, now and then. Something about washing my hair motivated me to thoroughly water my plant fern. So while I was shingling my hair, and looking at my fern, I started thinking.  I came to the conclusion that taking care of my fern has been an awesome reminder to nourish my relationship with myself. After much contemplation, I decided to write my revelations down.  Below you will find my reflections.  This is followed by a detailed explanation and then a re-cap, in case you'd prefer the short version.
  • Know yourself
  • Be Patient and Gentle
  • Cut Back
  • Shake off  Dead Leaves
  • Communicate
  • Switch up
  • Fertilize
  • Bask in Sunlight
  • Indulge in Water
  • Never Neglect 

Know Yourself

The best thing I could have done for my fern is to learn how to take care of it.  When I first got her, I approached her the same way I did my other plants.  She started to wilt.  Then I started to do the things I thought she needed.  For example, I put her in more sun.  Her leaves started to fall. Next, I read up on Ferns, and well I got some good advice, but she was still looking pitiful.  The problem with my approach was not in what I was doing. Watering my plants, moving her in and out of sunlight etc.  The problem was I was not looking at what she as an individual needed. 

The same can happen to us.  Sometimes we get on autopilot.  We focus our energies on what society thinks we should focus on, on what our communities tell us to focus, our loved ones, even our own self-created expectations of what we should be doing when.  Not stopping to pay attention to what we need or like as individuals. What do you need to thrive? What activities bring you joy?

This past week, while going through some boxes at my mother's I found two old journals. On the very first page, July 6, 1998, 12 years old me, wrote.  "Yesterday, I got further into the book A Rasin In The Sun. It's a good book. I would also like to watch the movie."  In another journal entry, I wrote February 16, 2008, I wrote about two books I had just finished reading the senior year of undergrad, Raising Fences and A Piece of Cake.  Reading is something I have always enjoyed.  As a child growing up across the street from a central library, I surrounded myself with books.  As an adult, I always it's not something I have always prioritized. I have always thought about reading, consistent with increasing my library. But I have not always made time for reading.  Take time to know yourself so you can take the best care of yourself. 

Be Patient and gentle

We tend to be our worst critic. This is not constructive for our plants or ourselves. When you are not patient with your plant a few things can happen.  You may become demotivated give up and write it off as dead. Worse you may throw in the towel and give up on gardening altogether. In addition to this, when you are not patient you tend to be rough and if you are like me you may lose a few healthy leaves and steams when trying to get rid of the unhealthy ones. 

Let's apply this to people.  Take weight loss and bodybuilding.  When you are not patient with yourself, you may wind up jumping from diet to diet, routine to the routine without the outcome you were looking for.  Regrowing a plant, losing weight, learning new skills, memorizing Quran.  It all takes patience.  Patience is mentioned in the Quran 90 times. It is mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible 34 times.  In fact, I can not think of a faith tradition that does not make patience a priority.  Be patient and gentle with your plants and yourself. 

Cut back 

I was terrified to cut away the dried stems of my plant.  I didn't want to cut the wrong thing.  I didn't trust myself to make the best choice.  But the fact of the matter is.  I needed to cut away the dried stems in order to make room for the new stems to grow. 

Sometimes we are tempted to pretend to be superheroes. We want to be that dependable employee always available for overtime.   We want to do everything and be everything for everyone.  But we can't, we are only human.  When we try to do it all, things may get done, but not done well.

Or we may fall on the other side of the spectrum and want to have all of our time for ourselves and our T.V. binges, internet addictions, and other overindulgences.   Don't be afraid to cut back. Recognize when you have a need to cut back. From, T.V. to hours at work, don't be afraid to reduce.  Especially if it means you either have more time to do things that allow you to be your best you. Balance is something we are encouraged to achieve in many faith traditions including Islam. When our lives are off balance it is more difficult to be successful.   Cutting back has looked differently for me at different points in my life.  It has meant everything from cutting back on activities, income, cutting to sugar, to sleep. 

Shake off Dead Leaves 

When I purchased my first plants I was told to "remember to remove the dead leaves from the soil". I was confused, I thought the leaves decaying would work as fertilizer and help my plants grow.  What I was told was that instead of acting like compost they would decay and cause the rest of the plant to mold and decay. The same goes for leaves of plants.  When the leaves are dead it's time to prune them.  The plant spends energy on leaves and stems that are dead when it can give its energy to a new life.

Death is another stage of life it's ok to bury the dead. Holding on to things that have lived past its prime takes from your longevity. Whether its thoughts and perspectives, relationships, beef, clothes or clutter, dead weight is dead weight. Dead weight becomes a burden and drags you down.  How many of us have clothes that don't fit, or are ore out, or just don't reflect our current lifestyle?  Let them go.  When we hold on to things that are dead, we do ourselves a disservice. You can't feel your best when you are surrounded by the things that don't bring out the best your or are life draining.  It is ok to respect that death is a part of the life cycle. It's ok to let go, remember Allah always replaces with something better. 

Communicate 

When we first brought Fern into our lives my husband told me, you have to talk to her.  I gave him the side eye. But apparently, research has been done to determine if plants grow better when you talk to them. So why not? It certainly won't hurt the plant. Even if you don't talk to the plant you should talk to yourself.  Talk to yourself, this goes back to the know yourself.  You can not know yourself if you do not spend time with yourself.  So for you, this may mean talking to yourself, when no one is around, talking in the mirror, writing in a journal. It doesn't matter what it looks like, so long as you be sure to spend time with your thoughts.  

Communicate with the people in your life.  I think as with everything else relationships can always be better. I could argue that communication is perhaps the most important thing in any relationship. Whether it be a working relationship, family relationship, romantic relation or friendship. Unless it's you happen chances are you could benefit from working on communication skills. Although we all have different needs when it comes to social interaction, don't underestimate the effect communication has on your well being.  

Most importantly, talk to your Lord.  There are numerous ayat or hadith that speak to complaining to Allah.  At the end of the day, you can talk until you are blue, without the help of your Lord, no effort you make matters. Speak to the one who can truly help you. Yaqub, Jacob (May Allah be pleased with him) said in Quran 12:36 
He said, "I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you do not know.

Switch it up 

I really wanted my Boston Fern to be in my living room window.  Even before we got her, that is where I envisioned her being.  Unfortunately, our beautiful bright windows provided too much sun for Fern. I had to move it, actually her home, so to speak, changed several times.  I had to switch it up in order for her to thrive.  I also know that in different seasons I will most likely have to relocate her as well to account for the change in light. 

Life is much easier when you can be flexible  When things have to be our way or a particular way, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Once that happens you are unable to recognize and enjoy the blessings that the situation brings. 

What is more is when we switch things up we are able to look at things from fresh eyes. It also helps prevent boredom.  I learned that I love doing room refreshes.  That is every so often reorganizing my home.  I recently reorganized my kitchen cabinets and I found that I love the flow better. Every good workout routine allows for some variation, because if not your gains and or losses get stagnant.  

It's not fair to yourself to keep doing things the same way solely because this is how it' always been done.  Don't get so comfortable that you are afraid of change. If something is no longer working change it. 

Fertilize 

Fern sprouted new stems, almost immediately after I fertilized her for the first time.  It was amazing. It gave me hope that I would be able to keep my plant alive.  When you fertilize your plants you nourish the soul so that new life can grow.  It's the same with us.  I am not suggesting that you expand your family.  I am suggesting you allow yourself to own new ideas,  new hobbies, new projects, new opportunities, new goals, careers. All of the great entrepreneurs, athletes, activist we know and respect recognized the need to fertilize their ideas. Feed your dreams and your creativity.

To feed your dreams you must educate yourself.  It could mean going back to school for higher education, taking a class or getting a tutor.  It could also mean picking up a few books, attending a workshop, conferences, watching videos. Or simply getting started and practicing.  This summer I took sewing classes and read more books. When you fertilize your mind you nourish your soul.  So even if you don't become a millionaire you are still winning.

Sunlight

We all know plants need sunlight.  So do we. Being a city mom, I am not a big fan of the outdoors.  I am always looking out for poop and other germy realities. The only outdoors I love are clean places like gardens. For the majority of my life, I lived across the street from a garden. So it worked out, I would randomly walk through the Botanical Gardens on my way home. Spend a morning in the gardens reading or writing or eating. Even in the winter, the Botanical Gardens was the place to be.  In fact, it's the only place I have allowed my child to play in the snow.  No poop risk. 

Now that I no longer live across the street from a garden, I have But like plants, we need some sun. Being as I am not particularly an outdoorsy person I underestimated the importance of spending time in the sun.  We NEED vitamin D.  A vitamin D deficiency is dangerous.  A vitamin D deficiency can cause bone diseases such as osteoporosis and osteomalacia.  Just like keeping your plants out of the sun can lead to it looking sad and limp.  Lack of sun can cause you to suffer from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause depression and a weakened immune system, increased risk for illness. Vitamin D reduces the risk of hypertension, diabetes some forms of cancer and more. Vitamin D also increases serotonin.  In short being in the sunlight helps keep you healthy and happy. 

If you can't be outside, bring the outside in.  Open your curtains and blinds. It is no wonder my two favorite places in my home are my living room and my bedroom.  With them both having two walls of windows, they have the most sunlight. They are the two rooms I thought of putting plants first. I subconsciously gravitated towards the places I consciously put my plants. You won't find an old-school American Home economics book that doesn't remind you to "air the house out"

Be intentional about it.  When I wore niqab (face veil), I took Vitamin D supplements.  I also would spend time near windows. I was also mindful as a woman of color because the more melanin your skin produces the less vitamin D it absorbs.  On top of that, in general, we live in more polluted areas, with buildings that block the sun. So it is important to set it as a priority and plan for it.  Just like how some plants can thrive in low light, while others need many hours of high light, we should learn our optimal level of sun.  Do you know if your vitamin D levels are low?  Have you ever paid attention to your mood before and after spending time outdoors? The amount of sun we need varies, but we like plants, all need some Sun.

Water 

Like plants, all we need is water.  In our home, water is by far our main beverage.  If we are in the mood for a different taste we drink hot and cold tea's, lemonades and the occasional. infused water.  There are many things you and do to make water a part of our lifestyle.  In addition to not bringing other drinks into the house.  We all make it point to pack a bottle of water whenever we leave the house.  A bottle of water gets's packed just as our keys are packed without fail.  Another thing I occasionally do is, to drink it from a fancy glass.

Water is one of those things that we tend not to remember until dehydration sets in. When our plant leaves are looking dry and droopy or your lips are cracked and your mouth is dry. Sometimes we don't even recognize the signs of dehydration.  They include dry skin, headaches, dizziness, tired, changes in your urine.  

Water is the first thing I got to when I have a headache.  It's also the first thing I give my plants when they are looking ill. The average human can't survive more than 3 to 4 days without water.  How can we remember to water our plants every day or every other day and not drink enough water ourselves?

Don't Neglect 

Ok, I don't have statistics on this, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that the number one killer of plants is sheer neglect.  We get caught up in life, we forget about our poor plants that can't scream out for help.  Our jobs demand our attention and care, our families won't fail to scream out for care, even our pets will make some noise if we are not doing right by them.  But who doesn't have a voice?  Our plants, ourselves. Well, it's easy to forget about us.  Especially when you play multiple roles, wife, mother, daughter, son, employee, coach, mentor, sports dad or mom, scout mom or dad, volunteer, organization member, mentor.  As we get older and take on more roles, it's easy to forget about yourself.  One thing I learned though, if you neglect your plant it will die.  Child neglect is a crime, elder neglect is a crime, patient neglect is a crime.  Be just to yourself,  for if you neglect to take care of yourself, you won't be your best to take care of others. 

The Re-cap

Zora Neal Hurston once said "Trees and plants always look like the people they live with, somehow."  With this in mind I summarize my reflections.  
  • Know yourself
    • Take time to self-reflect and make a self-care list.
  • Be Patient and Gentle: 
    • Be realistic about your expectations and respect that it takes time to make a break habits
  • Cut Back: 
    • Don't be afraid to purge or say no.  Make an effort to declutter your life.
  • Shake off  Dead Leaves:
    • Let go of your attachments. Remember that some things come to an end and that is ok.
  • Communicate:
    • Listen to your intuition. Work on your communication with the people closest to you. Establish a spiritual routine
  • Switch up
    • Be Flexible.  If something is not working then change it. 
  • Fertilize
    • Do not forget food for thought.  Without food, we can not thrive.
  • Sunlight
    • Literally, get some sun in your life.  Enjoy the outdoors.  Get vitamin D. 
  • Water
    • Drink more water, another literal reminder.  One of the best things you can do for your health is to drink water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Don't Neglect 
    • Taking care of your loved ones and responsibilities should not mean that you fail to take care of yourself. 

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