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The Spirituality and Practice e-newsletter is a regular update from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat with teaching stories and links to new posts on the site.

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Gardening as a Spiritual Practice

 

"Spend time in a flower garden. Stay there as long as you wish, but make sure your visit is long enough to take in the various charms that the world of blossoms and petals provides. You can sit in a chair or on the grass, lie down looking up at the flowers from below, or walk around. However you choose to spend your time, be aware that you are a guest in someone else's home — nature's — so act accordingly.

"If the day is warm and sunny, savor the rays and imagine how the flowers must feel at this very moment. Look closely at the variety of blooms, at the different shapes and colors, at the way the individual blossoms grow out of their leafy sheaths. Now use your sense of smell to take in the stunning array of fragrance, all of which can be divinely overpowering.

"Keep an eye out for the various animal life that also lives in the garden, the birds and squirrels, the insects that fly, the ones that crawl. Notice how intently they go about their business, how they move from place to place trying not to notice you but in fact finding that task difficult. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the garden, the chirping and humming, and the movement of the stems and leaves in the mild breeze.

"Now see if you can transcend your individual senses and feel the presence of the garden inside you. Try to become just another flower, at home in the garden as if you were in your own house or place of worship."
— Alan Epstein in How to Have More Love in Your Life

 

When we included this passage in Spiritual Literacy and later saw it illustrated with beautiful close-up photography in the "Beauty" episode of the Spiritual Literacy DVDs, we decided that Alan Epstein was really onto something. Gardens are special places — spiritual places — because they engage our senses, evoke our sense of wonder, bath us in beauty, and connect us to a wider nonhuman world. A garden can be a place of play and of transformation. It is a setting where we can celebrate both The Mystery and our own larger being.

This map points you in the direction of quotes, films, books, excerpts, and audios that show how being in a garden can be a spiritual experience and gardening can be a spiritual practice.

 

QUOTES

• "The garden reconciles human art and wild nature, hard work and deep pleasure, spiritual practice and the material world. It is a magical place because it is not divided."
— Thomas Moore in The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life

• "It would never occur to most of us that 'plants' say anything at all, except in terms of what we read into them, or try to use them for. Yet in their responses to this wonderfully rhythmic and varying earth they are the most expressive of all forms of life."
— John Hay in A Beginner's Faith in Things Unseen

• "Gardens bring us into contact with the cycles and irrefutable laws of nature, teaching us indelible lessons about ourselves and about the messy, difficult, and beautiful processes of living."
— Cait Johnson in Earth, Water, Fire, and Air

• "A garden is so much like a church. So much care and feeding. Such competitiveness among the plants — some of them literally choke each other to death if you don't get out there and put a stop to it. The big gorgeous ones get lots of attention, but then one comes along that looks almost dead all season and suddenly, almost overnight, blooms splendidly forth. Never write anybody off completely. You just don't know.
— Barbara Cawthorne Crafton in Let Us Bless the Lord, Year One

• "When a garden is used as a place to pause for thought, that is when a Zen garden comes to life. When you contemplate a garden like this it will form as lasting impression on your heart."
— Muso Soseki in The Temple in the House by Anthony Lawlor

• "Japanese gardens ask that you go beyond the garden spiritually, that you look at the garden not merely as an object but also as a path into the realms of spirit."
— Makoto Ooka in The Temple in the House by Anthony Lawlor

• "The gardens of Islam also embody a religious ideal. The name 'Paradise' comes from 'pairdaeza,' Old Persian for a park or enclosure, and wherever Islam held sway can be found enclosed, paradisiacal gardens. These ideal oases of a dessert people have trees for shade, and water, revered as an elemental force, for music and entrancement, and its ability to open the mind to inspiration.
— Jennifer Westwood in Sacred Journeys

• "It is forbidden to live in a town that does not have a green garden."
— Talmud, Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12

 

DVDs

Greenfingers
This English comedy is written and directed by Joel Hershman. It tells the story about a prisoner soon to be up for parole who is transferred to an experimental open prison where he is given the assignment of cultivating the prison's first garden. In caring for the plants, he learns what it means to look after himself and to reach out to others. Best of all, gardening gives him a small taste of freedom — the kind that no one can take away.

The Secret Garden
Directed by Agnieszka Holland, this is an elegant and beautifully photographed screen version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's classic. It is an emotionally resonant earth-cherishing film about the restorative powers of nature, friendship, and nurturing.

 

BOOKS

A Mystic Garden: Working With Soil, Attending to Soul
Gunilla Norris pays close attention to her feelings and emotions, the inner changes and questions that come to her, as she does repetitive tasks in the garden. She finds that the garden is a place for learning patience, letting go of the need to control, and leaving behind expectations of how things will turn out. In an excerpt, she shares the ways tending a garden nurtures us.

Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of the Self
Beth Kephart describes the healing powers of a weekly trip to Chanticleer, a peaceful and luscious 30-acre garden outside Philadelphia which became for her a mini-spiritual retreat. She writes: "I was drawn to the changeability of things. To see how the clenched fist of a bud would grow suddenly generous and unfurl. To see how something limp or pale in color would take a stand and intensify. I was drawn to the birds that were drawn to the trees and sang songs they never sang in my back yard." In an excerpt, she writes about the garden and transformation.

Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outodoors
Peg Streep explores ten different types of gardens honored in many of the world religions. She also examines gardening as a spiritual exercise with suggestions on working with colors, using gates and pathways, how to plant for companions of spirit, and ways to acknowledge the cycles of time.

Inner Gardening: A Seasonal Path to Inner Peace
Diane Dreher notes that human beings have always enjoyed gardens as connections to the Earth and ways to witness growth from the earliest subsistence gardens of 7,000 years ago to the medieval pleasure gardens, the seventeenth century devotional gardens, to the modern "show" gardens of suburbia. The author relates composting, watering, weeding, mulching, sowing, pruning, and fertilizing to the spiritual ideals of renewal, balance, order, patience, presence, attention, and care. In an excerpt, Dreher presents composting as something that can lead to a transformation of your relationship to the past.

Anatomy of a Rose: Exploring the Secret Life of Flowers
Sharman Apt Russell ponders the beauty and the incredible variety of flowers. She enthuses: "This is pure spectacle, worthy of P.T. Barnum's greatest show on Earth." Russell will draw out your delight in the loveliness and the bounty of flowers. They provide us with ample evidence of Earth's enduing marvels.

The Japanese Way of the Flower: Ikebana as Moving Meditation
H. E. Davey and Ann Kameoka present a sturdy and illuminating examination of kado, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. This art contains meditation exercises and aims for harmony, asymmetrical balance, artlessness, impermanence, and oneness with the universe. They tell an old Japanese legend: "A young girl came to her local well to draw water, only to discover that a trailing vine had wound itself around the rope that pulled the bucket. Baking in the sunlight, a single blossom had opened itself to the day. The girl savored the flower's beauty for a few moments. Then, in order not to disturb the plant, she walked out of her way to the next well to draw water. This is an example of union with the 'flower heart.' "

Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the Soul
Elizabeth Murray takes us on an enlightening tour of 12 gardens of transformation including the Kokedera (Moss) Temple in Kyoto, Japan; Monet's Water Lily Garden in Giverny, France; the Esalen Institute Gardens in Big Sur, California, and Mary Holmes's Gardens in Santa Cruz, California. The 80 full-color photographs and illustrations make this a beautiful and profound meditation on gardening for the soul.

The Lively Garden Prayer Book
William Cleary is a poet and a composer who regards prayer as a light-hearted, imaginative, and gladsome adventure that enables us to see, touch, hear, smell, and taste the "Green Spirit God" in the backyard. Cleary guides us into the garden and takes the side and perspective of the vegetables, flowers, and creatures who reside there. In an excerpt, he talks about manure as a transformative vehicle and spiritual teacher.

Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening
Vigen Guroian discusses his garden as something that has given him insights into the cycle of the church year: there are meditations on Lent, Pentecost, Transfiguration, and Christmas. At one point, he suggests that we see ourselves as God's garden; thanks to the divine miracle of grace we can open our petals and shine with beauty.

Creating Eden: The Garden as a Healing Space
Marilyn Barrett, a psychotherapist and photographer, shares the pleasures of tending her garden. She states: "Planting a garden is an act of optimism. When you plant a seed, you put hope in the ground. Your trust is in the future when there is no present sign that life will come." As we take care of our gardens, we are nourishing our souls in a greater appreciation of the abundance of life.

 

POETRY

Blue Iris: Poems and Essays
Mary Oliver pays tribute to flowers and plants. If you love to brighten up a room with flowers or flirt with them when no one is looking, you will identify with Oliver's enchantment with these festive beings who are in such profusion at weddings and christenings. This is an absolutely splendid collection.

 

CHILDREN'S BOOK

Mr. Goethe's Garden
Diana Cohn pays tribute to the spiritual practice of wonder. This volume with illustrations by Paul Mirocha was inspired by the life of German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his botanical treatise The Metamorphosis of the Plant. Mr. Goethe teaches young Anna how to appreciate nature's dance in the garden.

 

SPOKEN-WORD AUDIO

Spiritual Gardening: Cultivating Love through Caring for Plants
Judith Handelsman presents five attitude changes that grow out of the process of spiritual gardening. One is stop treating plants as objects and cherish your reciprocal relationship with them. This audio presentation is a fine example of everyday spirituality.

The Faithful Gardener
Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells a grace-infused parable about God's garden and the joys of loving seeds, trees, and the good Earth.