Monday, July 12, 2010

The Garden

In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful. ~Abram L. Urban

As I have written before, I am, sadly, not an adept gardener. My gardening skills (or lack thereof) are legendary. I can manage to kill even the most hardy of plants in a matter of days. I have even tried to grow herbs in pots on a sunny window sill in my kitchen, and still have found my efforts to go unrewarded. I am somehow able to manage to over-water and dry out my flowers simultaneously. I have never figured out where my deficiencies lie. I'm simply content to admit that I am not, and will never be, one of those extraordinary people like my Grandma Rose, who could take a simple cutting and make an entire plant out of it.

What I lack in ability, however, I try to make up for in appreciation. I delight in other people's gardens. I have friends whose gardens are the most tranquil places on Earth, but at the same, a true reflection of their personalities. One friend, who is incredibly orderly and precise, has the most lustrous roses I've ever seen. She has each type of rose down to an exact science. Her beds are labeled with both the common and Latin names for each species. I have another friend who is a designer. Her garden reflects her intuitive and creative nature. She has wildflowers mixed in with annuals, and native perennials side by side with rare Asian flowers. Yet, it all comes together to create a cohesive, elegant design in a seemingly random fashion. I have loved going to visit Botanical gardens in many of the cities I love. I've enjoyed the variety of natural designs in the Arizona, California, Georgia, Rhode Island and New York. I've daydreamed walking through garden paths in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Each public garden showcased the natural elements native to the region, but did so in such an aesthetically graceful way, it was just like walking through an art museum outdoors. I've never left a garden feeling anything less than serene.

During one of my yoga classes, I began to picture using the image of the garden as a visualization technique. I asked my students to envision themselves in the garden of their dreams. Some pictured the highly manicured gardens of palaces, such as Versailles or Hearst Castle. Others pictured more Zen inspired creations, like Nanzenjii Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Still others thought about the gardens of their childhood, some with vegetables, rather than flowers. Yet more contemplated a strictly imagined place that exists only in their own daydreams. Each one of my students was able to construct the mental image of the garden that best suited their needs, thoughts and ideals. I asked my students to envision these places as ones they could cultivate on their own, returning to them over and over again. I asked every student to conceptualize this peaceful oasis, and to ruminate on the healing properties of their imagined space. During this exercise we began to notice tiny weeds cropping up in our meditative inner yards. These weeds would begin microscopic, and then begin to grow larger, choking off the plants we'd so carefully constructed in our minds. They'd begin to take over the garden if we didn't immediately cut them off, pull them out by the roots and not allow them to grow in that same space.

The weeds, I explained, represented the negative thoughts we have each day. The flowers, shade trees, helpful herbs and lovely plants symbolize the areas of growth, as well as our positive thoughts and personal strengths. The garden itself is our very soul. As we find the way in which we notice how the weeds our growing in our minds, we can discover ways to 'yank them out by the roots'. We can empower ourselves to prune our thoughts regularly, and to allow the flowers we wish to cultivate to flourish. We can do this by identifying the negative thoughts (the weeds themselves) as they occur through practicing yoga, meditation, prayer, exercise, reading, daydreaming and even, yes, actually spending time in a physical garden. We can create the inner garden of our hopes, dreams, wishes and goals. We just need to remember to sort out the weeds that tell us that we're not good enough, we're not smart enough or we simply don't deserve to have beauty in our lives. These weedy thoughts are insidious. They will creep up when we're low and take over our entire oasis if we're not careful...choking out all the goodness and light. So, we need to make time each day, even if it's only for ten minutes to close our eyes, look for the weeds, and get rid of them.

Hanna Roin once wrote "The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses". I would take her words one step further. I believe that the greatest gift of the garden includes the five senses, but is actually the restoration of our soul's serenity, creativity and contentment. Ask yourself, what does my garden look like? Where are the weeds choking off my flowers? How can I prune them to allow my garden to become inspirational? I'm sure your own garden will be extraordinary.