Saturday, January 17, 2009

Zen Gardening, It's All In Your Head

It is that time of year when gardeners pour over seed catalogues and plan and dream of digging their hands into the cool brown loam.  In this corner of the world if you're lucky some kale may have survived and perhaps the garlic is poking it's head out timidly.  As my partner turns his mind to our community garden I am reminded of a gardening metaphor.  

About 30 years ago (eek!) we went to a series of workshops with  John Kehoe, who was just starting out in the field of mind training.  He used the "mind as a garden" metaphor  and when I think back,  it had a very Buddhist quality to it -- Buddhism without the Buddha.  Here's how I remember his little garden manual.  Our minds are our gardens and it's up to us to cultivate them.  How we work with them will determine what grows there.  If we plant the seeds of hatred well guess what grows, if we plant the seeds of happiness, the crop ripens accordingly.  It is up to each of us to plant the appropriate seeds.  If we cultivate and tend and water, our harvest will be bountiful.  If we neglect our tender seedlings they will be withered, dead, stunted.  This is  akin to the idea in Buddhism of working with our minds... cultivating awareness, wholesome thoughts, choosing and re-directing our thoughts rather than letting our minds run wild.  When we work  to cultivate  mindfulness, faith and wisdom  we are working to enrich the fertile ground of our minds.  When we cultivate joy and gratitude we are planting the seedlings of happiness.  When we try to step back and see the bigger picture we are planting a stalk of compassion.

Kehoe talked about weeding the garden, which was an idea I loved.  Weeds pop up in the garden, that is simply the nature of the garden (our unwholesome habitual tendencies from a Buddhist point of view).  And so the garden needs weeding, otherwise you will end up with an unruly patch of goodness knows what, something bitter or poison or just inedible.  (The definition of a weed is a plant growing where you don't want it.)   So the weed or the thought is not inherently bad (an important tenet of Buddhism) it is simply growing where we don't want it. Presto -- out comes the hoe.   When I think about it now, those weeds can actually become good compost for our gardens (our unwholesome thoughts or obstructions can become the fodder for good, showing us where we need to do our work and providing us with the opportunity to turn weeds to rich loam)

 He pointed out that we don't dig up the seeds we've planted to check on them .... because if we do there can be disappointing consequences.  So as in Zen training we just train.  It is not helpful to be constantly checking to see how our "meditation" is doing.  We just do it, for the sake of training.  It takes time and patience and faith.  And then one day we notice something nice growing in that sunny patch over there and we are as surprised as anyone.  

So dust off that Buddhist  (or any other tradition) seed catalogue and start studying what you might plant and get inspired and motivated.  Start digging around in that fertile patch of yours, planting and weeding and adding compost and water.   And if you need to borrow a hoe or a rake, just ask.  Oh ya,  that's me over in the corner plot holding the biggest weed you ever saw!

No comments:

Post a Comment