The gardener – Part 1

‘The best fertilisers are the footsteps of the gardener.’ Chinese proverb

Most gardeners have probably had the experience of being too busy for a few days to check on the garden, and suddenly finding themselves confronted with a plant covered in insects or drooping with a fungus. It might seem as if the damage appeared overnight, but most of the time there would have been some early warning signs – a few insects exploring the plant, a couple of leaves which were changing colour. Whether we have elaborate watering systems or use a hand-held watering can; whether our garden has been landscaped by a famous designer or has been cobbled together by waves of tenants renting the property, the basic principle is the same – if we don’t take the time to notice what’s going on, we’re likely to miss the early warning signs. This applies to the rest of our lives as well, of course, but could also be said for our meditation practice.

We might feel as if we need to constantly learn new meditation techniques, buy the latest book, go to the workshop of a famous teacher, spend thousands of dollars on a retreat, and continually have a sense of progress and learning something new. A certain amount of this can be beneficial – just like a garden does need some fertilisers apart from the gardener walking through. But we can throw a lot of money at expensive fertilisers and gardening tools, and expensive meditation courses, yet without the commitment of walking through the garden every day, or meditating every day, taking time to notice what’s really going on, much of this can be wasted.

The best fertiliser for our meditation practice is simply showing up to the meditation, day after day. We may not learn anything, or solve our problems, or become more spiritually advanced. Yet like a gardener, we can observe and make little adjustments – pulling out a few weeds, adding fertiliser to a plant which is wilting, squashing some aphids on the roses, pruning spent flowers and making room for more to grow. Slowly, over time as we meditate regularly, we are making choices about what we want to nourish in the garden of our lives, and what we want to let go of. No one is going to do this work for us, though there are people around who can help, such as teachers and meditation groups. In the end, however, it’s up to us to show up – to be the gardeners of our lives, walking through, noticing what’s going on, making small adjustments here and there.

Weekly practice idea:

Take ten minutes to sit in a garden or a park, and notice of how much work has gone into creating this particular space over the years. What are some of the fruits and flowers you would like to cultivate in your own life?

Anja Tanhane

Cultivating mindfulness

Lavender

In a 2012 survey of British young people (16-23 y.o.) about the origins of the food they eat, 40% were unable to link an image of a dairy cow with milk. 7% instead thought milk comes from wheat.  A survey this year also found that 30% of UK primary students thought cheese was made from plants, and a quarter believed fish fingers came from chicken or pigs. Nearly one in three British adults had no idea how potatoes were grown, and one in five thought that parsnips thrived on trees. Hopefully Australians are a little more knowledgeable about growing food, but the link between cultivating food, and grabbing it off a supermarket shelf, is certainly more tenuous than for past generations. A counter movement has been the increasing popularity of home vegie gardens, farmers markets, and taking food miles into account when shopping.

The Pali word for meditation is ‘bhavana’, which means ‘to cultivate.’ To cultivate something implies ongoing effort and attention. It’s easy to stick a seed into the ground, and at the time of planting, you feel pretty good. This is like going to a workshop on mindfulness, or reading an inspirational book – you might feel you’ve done something important that you will benefit from. Yet most of the time, simply planting a seed isn’t enough. We also need to nurture it – by watering it, providing compost and other nutrients, and keeping the area free of weeds. Young plants also need to be protected against pest and diseases. All this has to be done on an ongoing basis, whether you feel like it or not. You might be in a rush to get to work but have to water the garden in the morning before a hot day. You might yearn for a lazy Saturday afternoon, but instead find yourself out in the drizzling rain weeding the vegie patch. This is like having a regular meditation practice – you just do the meditation, regardless of whether you are in the mood for it or not, whether you’d really prefer to be doing something else with your time. Continue reading “Cultivating mindfulness” »