• Ilan Cooley

the healing garden

Updated: Jul 15

"You can’t plant anything in a parking lot, but you can grow many things in a garden. There is no one I have ever met who is not worthy of a love, especially the love for ourselves that can only be found inside us."

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Life is like taking a trip without navigation. We encounter a lot of splendor and unprecedented wonder, but we also experience pitfalls, trials and tribulations. It is all a part of the human experience.


In order to move forward in our journey, we have to find our own way. It can sometimes be painful and difficult to figure out how. Life lessons are like a video game; if you keep making the same mistakes, you end up back at the beginning. The challenge is gaining the skills to move to the next level.

Unfortunately, the penance for not taking the time for mastery is misery, and who among us has not spent too much time in the relentlessly repetitive cycle of unlearned lesson purgatory?

It has taken me many tries to learn some lessons, because at first, I did not know my weaknesses. I think I take more time than most people to learn things, and even when I have overcome the obstacle, I tend to be pensive. I take extra time to ponder the lesson, process the situation, and only then will I try to move forward. I have come to realize not everyone does this. Some people plant a new garden and watch it grow, and other people pave over the past like it is a parking lot. This is particularly true when it comes to relationships.

I come from a family full of wonderful examples of love and commitment. My grandparents shared 53 years before death parted them, and my own parents recently celebrated 50 loving years together. People have asked me why I have not been partnered most of my life, and the answer is simple: I want what they have. In reality, I don’t think it is easy to find. I even thought I had it once, but I was wrong. That doesn’t mean I failed. I just had more lessons to learn.

I have a friend who is particularly vocal about the fact she has not liked some of the men I’ve dated. She lamented about one in particular for years, expressing her distain for him. I reality, I loved him, and my relationship with him taught me a lot. It took me about five years to fully recover from it. I was younger then, and the healing was hard, but I do not pave over things. It is just my way. I don’t regret that, or any other relationship, no matter how difficult moving on has been, because each one has taught me something I needed to learn.

When my marriage ended, I did not even think about dating again until I felt I had healed. It took me more than a year - thankfully not another five. I didn’t want to bring anyone into my life until I was certain I had nurtured myself through it. Like any garden, the seeds needed to be planted, and it took time, care and attention so it could grow. It is certainly more time consuming to tend to a garden than the alternatives, but I feel there is a benefit to the literal growth. One of the greatest gifts I have even given myself is discovering what it feels like to thrive.

All things come to an end. Relationships sometimes end too. I have done a lot of soul searching after the end of anything that meant something to me. I want to understand who I am in the absence of it. I want to be the best new version of me. After something ends, we are no longer the person we were at the beginning of it. That person no longer exists. Time does not stand still, so we need to get reacquainted with the person we’ve become. It takes time to fix the things that are broken and find the missing pieces.


Pain, loss and grief need to be healed and cannot be paved over without consequence. In order to move on, time must be spent tending to the intricate task of healing. I think this is the very reason it is called personal growth. If growth has not occurred, the problems will lie beneath the surface waiting to bubble up again. They will not be tempered, and will rise like a geyser. I understand it is tempting to take the faster route. If we could bulldoze the memories, bury the bodies in a hole and pave over them, it would be so much easier, but there is no way around doing the real work. No matter how many times that parking lot gets paved, the unresolved remanence of your past will still be there, rotting just beneath the surface.


You can’t plant anything in a parking lot, but you can grow many things in a garden. There is no one I have ever met who is not worthy of a love, especially the love for ourselves that can be found inside us.

It is never too late to plant some seeds and grow. All you need is some self-reflection, perseverance and time to create your own healing garden.

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