Wise men, artists, elders and spiritual leaders have harvested insights into the way people, the world and life operate, simply through observing nature and investing themselves in the practice of gardening. Even today, Buddhists use gardening as a tool through which to prepare themselves for meditation. Initially, gardens were tended for practical purposes; primarily for growing food or medicinal herbs.
As a result, the comparisons that were drawn between each microcosmic garden and the complexities of spiritual evolution were readily grasped.
Today, however, with gardens serving a much more aesthetic function, the lessons that nature has to impart can seem that much more veiled. Yet, if we take the time to structure our approach to gardening on a practical level, the lessons we can learn are that much more accessible.
Gardening for the soul
Shakespeare wrote that: “Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.” In many ways, his analogy is one of the purest analyses of how we can best approach gardening, in a bit to facilitate our spiritual development. Possibly the most important aspect of gardening is nurture. Nurture requires and appreciation and understanding of the plants you are caring for, it requires the need to offer protection to certain plants from the elements and creatures that would feed upon them and it requires a commitment to that garden.
On its own, this can serve as a good reminder of what it is that we need to do in order to encourage our spiritual aspects to grow. We tend to the needs of our bodies, minds and souls so that each facet of our being can look after the other. For our bodies, we need to eat the right food, undertake the right exercise and get the right amount of sleep. Our minds can benefit from weeding out negative thoughts and influences, while our spirits can be lifted from breaking with bad habits and dispensing with unnecessary worries.
The simplicity of gardening
The effects of gardening on those three parts of our being are immediate. The exercise we undertake in digging, pruning and weeding relaxes our bodies from the stresses and strains of our daily existence. It might feel like hard work, but you are flexing muscles that otherwise remain underused.
For our minds, it offers a chance to focus on one thing and one thing only; a state akin to meditation. Most of our attention is focussed on computer or TV screens and we subliminally absorb the messages we are sent, the advertisements we see and the points of view thrust upon us by TV producers. Gardening gives us a chance to live in the moment and deal with stimuli that are completely unbiased. They serve no purpose other than the joy of their existence.
For our souls, gardening offers the chance to wield power and responsibility; the lives of the plants we are in charge of are entirely in our hands. Unless we think about them rather than ourselves, they will never reach their full potential and may wither or die. In many ways, we are the gods of our own personal creation and the parallels between the way we care for ourselves and the environment we create are easier to understand. What we put into the garden is a good metaphor for the way we care for ourselves. It is a spiritual reflection of a physical backdrop.
Your spiritual Twelve Step Program
In order to achieve any goal, we first need a plan. In this instance, our goal is to improve our spiritual development through the process of gardening, so it can be a good idea to break down your gardening calendar into months, deciding what your physical aims are and what you hope to achieve on a spiritual level. There are twelve months of the year so, in effect, you are creating your own spiritual Twelve Step Program. Each of our desires are different, so the breakdown that follows is only a suggestion; feel free to tailor the physical and spiritual aims to suit your own requirements:
1) January. This is month in which you decide what you want from your garden. It’s a time for planning and thinking ahead. You’ll need to consider what plants you want to grow, the tools you’ll need to see the job through and any little extras that you might need. This is also the way you need to plan what you want for yourself in the year to come.
2) February. This is the time to slowly put the wheels in motion. As you set about pruning back old plants to encourage their future growth and to make space for the new, plan which habits you are going to break; certain thoughts take up too much room in your head and, similarly, need to be pruned back.
3) March. During this month, you can plant certain vegetables and shrubs; those that will take some time to blossom. In the same way, consider your long term plans and start laying the foundations for those to come to fruition.
4) April. Things are starting to grow – but not all of them are welcome. As you weed out the unwelcome plants in your garden, turn your attention to the smaller negative thoughts and worries that you can cross off your mental list.
5) May. As your plants begin to grow, you now need to tend them. At the same time, you may find that the change in seasons brings optimism, new ideas and new plans. Decide which ideas and goals you are going to pursue and cull the others.
6) June. This is the month in which the work really starts; weeds sprout, the soil needs water and plants need protection. Spiritually, this is the time to really look after yourself. Ensure that you meditate to erase negative thoughts and that your diet is a good one.
7) July. The garden needs to work to ensure that plants don’t get out of control. Certain plants will need deadheading and, similarly, it’s worth evaluating your spiritual progress, to ensure that your goals are achievable. Any that aren’t should be deadheaded; stripped back to basics so that they might take a better direction.
8) August. This month sees some plants offering up their fruits – but they will also need extra water. Spiritually, you may notice positive changes. As you save seeds from your harvested fruit, note which of your changes have offered the potential for future ideas; harvest the spiritual seeds of your labours.
9) September. Here, you will need to start planting seeds for next spring. Similarly, you can begin thinking about ideas you would like to implement next year.
10) October. Now, you will need to prepare the garden for dormancy. Leaves need to be cleared, grass needs to be mowed and some plants need to be moved to the greenhouse.
11) November. This month heralds the onset of winter, so it’s time to prepare in earnest. Winter bedding needs to be planted out and plants need to be insulated against the frost. Spiritually, this is the month in which you need to protect yourself against negative influences; it’s time to review how certain plans have succeeded or failed.
12) December. You can harvest winter crops and prune back plants that need it. On a spiritual level, you can see what you have gained from your twelve step plan and decide which ideas to implement next year and which might not be worth pursuing.