BEING in our Garden
As a garden designer I try to create meaningful spaces for people. An intimate seating area, abundant colour combinations or a calm glade. Each place that I apply my attention to needs to serve different functions and some of those functions are often not just physical but spiritual.
For example, a path might be needed to get a person from A to B. But alongside that function one can create a mini life journey for a client: a curved path that slows our walking pace to help us calm down, a beautiful focal point like a Greek vase which might symbolise something beautiful we are heading towards in life, not just earning enough to pay the bills. The path might enter a canopy of small trees that makes us feel held and protected by nature or the path might disappear and reappear allowing us to feel the sense of mystery that our lives are not mapped out and predictable.
I am really trying to design experiences for people.
Yet being able to experience what a design achieves in physical form is a whole other ballgame.
In my life I have at times been miserable in beautiful natural settings and been happy in ugly places which has led me to realise that the appreciation of nature is also very much an internal affair.
In the following paragraphs I’d like to share some of the internal ways I have learnt to BE in my garden more.
Choose a good spot– Find a spot in your garden that can be yours alone. A chair, or log to sit on that overtime comes to represent your contemplative intention. Make sure it is comfortable and leave your mobile phone in the house. This can become your time and your space even if it is only a few minutes a day. Make a promise that during this time you don’t look around and start deadheading or weeding. You are cultivating a new relationship with your garden and need to keep this separate from maintenance.
A really helpful thing to help you with the exercises below is to time limit them. They can be quite powerful and in my experience if I give myself, say 5 minutes on any one, then I can concentrate without the fear of being overwhelmed by the new things that are happening inside me.
1) Close your eyes and start by listening to all the different sounds you can hear. At first you may
hear a crow calling out, a car driving by or kids next door. See if you can gently separate the
cause of the noises from their actual sounds. Eg a man coughing in the next garden becomes
a rough barking sound, an insect becomes a low hum. The more you do this the more the
sounds reduce to their pure form less attached to the meanings and origins we give them. Your
experience can become more orchestral. In this state of mind there is no good or bad sounds
just the different vibrations.
2) Next you can start to focus on your breathing. This exercise never ceases to fascinate me. By concentrating on the area just below your nostrils where the breath can be felt moving in and out you can just observe the pace of your breathing. The important element here is not to make the breath do anything, not to make it come in and out with any evenness but just observe it’s natural rhythm . Eg my breath is often very fast for a good few minutes or quite sporadic. Then it changes again. All we have to do is observe this change like a curious scientific or a child watching clouds form shapes. You may observe how not only does breathing influence mental processes but allows us to connect to the space around us.
3) The Mind– It seems the mind’s job is to rove around and constantly produce thought and images. Normally we are quite invested in what our mind’s have chosen to focus on. In this exercise you simply observe what your mind is thinking about. Try not to give what is happening a value judgment but just like the breathing exercise you can observe ‘ your the mad monkey mind’ jumping around. Oh that’s interesting..I am thinking about work…that person I had an argument with…the lawn that desperately needs a mow. The core point here is that you can find a separation from your thoughts. They are always there but your ability to observe them in a compassionate and patient way can bring on a calmness. People often say “ Oh I can’t do meditation my mind won’t shut up”. But effective meditation if not fighting the mind and wanting it to be different but finding a calmer place within it to observe it never endingness. And sometimes a lucky by product is that is does become more still.
4) The Senses
Each sense can be engaged in our appreciation of our garden.
The first sense we have already looked at is hearing. Wth our eyes closed as if we were truly blind how do we experience the sounds and how do the sounds give us a different experience of different spaces. A far off seagull, a plank of wood falling from a truck, a plane overhead? The sounds interweave and overlap. This is your very own Spotify without advertising.
When I look at nature I like to feel that, as the self conscious product of millions of years of evolution, I am nature’s way that it discovered to look upon itself- to appreciate itself and care for itself.
Let your eyes Wander
This is a simple game where you get comfortable and then let your eyes wander where they want to go. Then let them fix on one particular thing. It may surprise you what happens. They may go onto a half buried stick or a woodlice struggling on it’s back, or a star shaped Echincea flower. Let yourself be taken in by whatever it is and let yourself be moved by what it is your are looking out. It is often unpredictable what comes up and if you stay as long as needed something important often emerges.
No not because of the sunlight but because this can help us see the whole visual field, including the merging of colours and the different dark and lights. Being in this state can let us see nature for the first time rather then seeing specific things- a bit like imagining you are a baby which hasn’t differentiated the world into particular things yet. This can be quite hypnotic.
Rather then touch the garden with your Green Maintenance Fingers, you can let yourself wander the garden and notice spontaneously what you want to touch. As with all these exercises let yourself be surprised by what your hands want to do. In this way your garden will always provoke in you different responses and it will feel like the relationship you can have with it is ongoing and can continually be created afresh. Your hands might be draw to the cool moss in the lawn, a scratchy trunk or even the thorn of a rose.
I find this easier with my eyes closed. Sensing what I can smell from one position in the garden then moving out. To broaden your sense of smell trying smelling everything not just the Jasmine on the fence: decaying leaves, the compost bin, the leaves rubbed together between your fingers of different plants not just your herbs.
There is so much more I can write here about this topic. Let me know if you want a follow up.
The most important point I would like to make is that we can have a garden but can we also know it. Can we create a relationship with it and keep this link constantly fresh. In that way even if we don’t have a huge garden or budget we can have a meaningful partnership with our green space outside our window.