October 24, 2009
I enjoy reading about gardens and gardening as much as I enjoy actual gardening . Well, almost as much. And I usually have a pile of 4 or 5 books that I bounce back and forth thru, as one will trigger something I read in another, and I have to look it up, and that one leads to....I was almost going to say down the garden path, but that might have been a bit kitschy. Right now I am reading "Why We Garden" by Jim Nolan, and "The World of Japanese Gardens" by Loraine Kuck; a vintage book I found in a flea market in New Mexico, one of the better Japanese garden books I have found. Nolan's book, about cultivating a sense of place, though wordy and esoteric sometimes, is profound, witty and informative, and it has made me look at my gardens with a different perspective. His chapter on sacred gardens is not so much about magic or myths, but how we connect to Nature and the world, the two being inseparable. Earth and her wonders are not put here for the convenience and comfort of humans; we are after all, simply just another part of Nature herself, just as the tiger, the elephant and the lowly snail. No matter what humans manage to do to the environment, Nature does go on at her own pace, with no regard to our comfort or safety.
Finding our sacred space is not so much creating or controlling somewhere in which to "meditate" as finding a balance between wilderness and the profaneness of everyday living. He says" The sacred garden is four-dimensional: not just a place but also a time....the sacred garden emerges when a sense of place is wed to a sense of the timeless." As all of Nature is sacred, a sacred garden can be anywhere; a single ancient tree in the middle of a forest, a peaceful riverbank, a human-designed labyrinth, a tree house, a sandy ocean beach, your own backyard full of plants you have lovingly cultivated. It is truly a sense and not a place.
Japanese gardens convey the sense of a sacred garden , a place to meditate, to wander and lose oneself in peaceful surroundings and connect with nature. They are works of art, and art itself is a sacred space. I find that I don't actually even have to be in a Japanese garden to feel that sense of place, timelessness and peace; just sitting down with the book and gazing at the pictures is all it takes. One totally forgets all the intense labor that has to happen to create that feeling, and wandering about my own garden carries with it that same feeling of forgetfulness. As I walk the mossy paths with my trowel in my hand and a bag of bulbs in the other, or just stroll with my coffee in the morning, I am in a sacred space. Watching a bumble bee with his head buried in a crocus bloom, rear end in the air and kicking as hard as he can to get deeper into the blossom; being momentarily startled by a female oriole as she lands briefly at my feet; watching a fat swallowtail caterpillar humping across the patio in search of a place to spend the winter; walking in the wet woods and being unexpectedly showered as a squirrel races through the soaking leaves above me, loosing a spatter of second-hand rain on my head---these are all manifestations of the sacred and even tho I might not stop to "meditate", the simple being out of doors and connecting with nature relaxes and refreshes my whole being. Problems and vexations vanish like dandelion fluff upon the breeze.
The Buddhists have a practice they call "walking meditation", which often involves working up a sweat, connecting with their sacred space through hard work, interacting with Nature, creating with her in their ongoing work of art. And that to me is the key to a sacred space--not trying to control Nature and Earth for our convenience, but working alongside and with her to create and protect our precious environment so that we may continue to have the sacred places that we need.