The Zen of Gardening
“Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic; truly
in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest.”
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Springtime is an
opportunity to feel more alive by getting our hands in the dirt and
being part of the growing that is happening outdoors. Garden work can
be just a chore we do grudgingly, or it can be a fulfilling opportunity
for satisfaction and even spiritual practice.
If you visit a formal Japanese
garden, you find that it draws you into a more contemplative mental
state. You see, not so much individual plants, but pleasing
arrangement. Like a song puts together notes to form a composition, the
gardener puts together plant and earth to create balance and flow,
movement in stillness, a natural harmony within the context of confined
space. As you move through these gardens, your mind tends to settle
down. The garden asks to be seen with fresh eyes. It invites the busy
mind we brought through the gate to calm itself.
What must it take to create
such harmonious natural beauty? What state of mind must one attain to
foster such a peaceful environment? The oriental garden may be less a
showplace than a place for the gardener’s spiritual practice.
We don’t need acres of land
to bring gardening into our spiritual practice. We can tend a single plant in a
pot with mindfulness and compassion. But if we have a piece of
land, why not use it to create something beautiful, to bring another
dimension to our mindfulness practice. Working with plants and digging
in the dirt can be stress relieving. It brings us back into contact
with the natural world. We become aware of being part of the whole
process of growth, death, decay and rebirth. Gardening is a lesson in
the truth of impermanence. It invites engagement with the cycles of
As you tend your garden,
practice mindfulness. Create the intention of paying attention. Instead
of daydreaming or running your thoughts, focus your mind on the task at
hand. If you are digging in the soil, just dig. Feel your body, the
shovel, the movement, and the feel of the soil. Not so much thinking.
Just doing with awareness.
Take time to see. Look at
the garden as a whole. Observe the land and the plants. Observe the sky
and how your garden interacts with it. Feel the garden. Get a sense of
it as a unique place. Feel the energy. If it flowed like water, how
would it flow? Where would it go? Look at your individual plants and
how they fit into the whole. Look at the space where there are no
plants. How can emptiness create form?
As you prune plants and
pull weeds observe your emotions. To the extent that you take away
life, do it mindfully and with clear intention.
Don’t just work in your
garden. Spend some quiet time there. Enjoy the beauty. Appreciate the
life there. Open to the wonder.
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© 2008 Tom Barrett