Lessons from the Garden

Over the last few weeks, a new activity has become part of my daily routine. Around six o’clock in the evening, I step out the back door of my home and walk through the back yard to inspect the condition of the garden. It would actually be more accurate to say that I inspect the various gardens in my back yard. There’s one garden with about twenty different culinary herbs. In another garden, a variety of flowers are in bloom. In still another garden, lettuce, tomatoes, a variety of peppers and other vegetables have taken root. Off to one side is the rose garden. There are also boxes of seedlings that are nothing more than sprouts waiting to become mature enough to plant with the other vegetables. There are also plans for a berry patch yet to come.

My parents always made a very large vegetable garden. It was my father’s pride and my mother’s favorite hobby. I learned some of what I know about gardening from them. Other things I’ve had to research and learn because of the uniqueness of the Georgia climate, poor soil conditions, and invasive insects. We decided to plant the garden this year mostly as an experiment aimed to see what we could grow.

Many people have written about tending a garden as a spiritual practice. There are a variety of metaphors that can come into play. Preparing the soil has been likened to preparing our hearts to receive the seeds of contemplation. Picking ripened fruit and vegetables has been compared to the harvest of benefits one can receive from spiritual practice. Those things are doubtlessly true. But there’s a different dimension to gardening that strikes me as very similar to spiritual practice.

I have a number of house plants. People who come to our home have commented about how healthy the plants look. I accept the compliment but avoid talking about my lack of care for the house plants. I’m one of those folks who every week or two, at some random time, decides that the plants should be watered. When I do, each plant is flooded so that water runs out below. That’s the last care they’ll get till I remember to flood them again in another week or two. The house plants that survive are the ones that can endure such treatment. Plants that require actual care – like several that were received as house warming presents last year – either end up dead or in the homes of friends who provide proper care for them.

I think a lot of people approach spiritual practice the way I approach caring for house plants. Every so often, when they decide they need it, they engage in a practice, an experience, a ritual, ceremony, or church service. It’s great and refreshing, but they don’t do much for a while after that.

My experience of gardening this year provides me with much more insight about integrating spiritual practice in my life and nurturing the spiritual dimension of life. When I go to the back yard around 6:00 in the evening, when most of the yard is shaded, I begin a ritual. I start in one corner and walk about the yard inspecting what’s to be found. In some areas, the ground looks particularly dry. I’ll need to water there. But when I stick my finger in other areas, the earth remains moist. No more water there right now. Some plants may need to be sprayed with a home-made pest repellant that I found on-line that does a pretty good job of keeping insects away. Other things may need a bit of pruning or cleaning or some other work. Some evenings, there’s not much to do besides admire the growth.

© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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