Friday, 3 August 2018

Mindful Gardening

"Nature is our mother. Because we live cut off from her, we get sick. Some of us live in boxes called apartments, very high above the ground. Around us are only cement, metal, and hard things like that. Our fingers do not have a chance to touch the soil; we don’t grow lettuce anymore. Because we are so distant from our Mother Earth, we become sick. That is why we need to go out from time to time and be in nature. It is very important. We and our children should be in touch again with Mother Earth. In many cities, we cannot see trees—the color green is entirely absent from our view." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step (1992), p106.
"If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk; If you want to be happy for three days, get married; If you want to be happy forever, make a garden." -- Chinese Proverb.
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." - Cicero, To Varro, in Ad Familiares IX, 4.



Professor Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, states in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p246:
"How long should you meditate for? The practice itself will teach you. Recall that meditation was first developed when humans lived in and off the fields. Indeed, one of the words that we translate into English as ‘meditation’ actually means ‘cultivation’ in the original Pali language. It originally referred to cultivation of crops in the fields and flowers in the garden. So how long should the cultivation of the mindfulness garden take each day? It is best to go into the garden and see for yourself. Sometimes ten minutes in the garden of meditation practice will be needful, but you may find, once there, that your cultivation will slip effortlessly into twenty or thirty minutes. There is no minimum or maximum time. Clock time is different from meditation time. You could simply experiment with what feels right and with whatever gives you the best chance to renew and nourish yourself. Every minute counts. Most people find that it is most helpful to combine some regular (every day) formal practice with mindfulness in the world. There is something about the ‘everyday-ness’ of the practice that is important. By every day we mean that a majority of days each week will find you taking yourself away to be by yourself for a period, no matter how short."
Mindfulness: Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on its Meaning, Origins and Applications (2013) adds, p66:
"Mental training in general, and the development of mindfulness and wisdom in particular, will optimize the functioning of the mind, and will culminate in its transformation such that unwholesome states can no longer occur at all and the mind will become entirely liberated from its suffering. The process unfolds something like the classical image of the lotus, whose roots are in the mud, growing through the water and ultimately opening its petals to
the sky."
Thus, caring for plants every day - caring for life, becomes a great living metaphor for our own mindfulness practice, and the plants that we nurture are a reflection of our practice. Mindfulness & The Art of Urban Living: Discovering The Good Life in The City (2013), therefore states, p31:
"With our own garden, however small, we can stop and meditate on these things. Without photosynthesis, without the growth of plants, without a source of food, we humans wouldn't be here - our appearance on the planet was totally dependent on having something to eat."
And, p30:
"A garden of any size, whether urban or country, offers wonderful opportunities for mindfulness training, bringing our awareness to focus on the present moment, becoming more conscious of where we are in the here-and-now, while helping us to remember we are part of the organic web of life that wraps the planet.
The growth of plants - the simple unfurling of a leaf or the blossoming of a flower - is a mystery we too easily take for granted. It has been happening on the planet for well over a hundred million years, aeons of time before we were around to stop and take notice."

Professor Mark Williams also agrees, in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p183:

"Nurturing a plant, or sowing some seeds, are among those very simple things in life that can have a surprisingly big benefit. It might even save your life. In the late 1970s, Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer and her team conducted a now classic series of experiments in which they asked a group of elderly people in a care home to look after a plant in their room. They were told it was their responsibility to water it and make sure it received enough food and light. At the same time, another group of elderly people had a plant placed in their room, but were told ‘not to worry about it’. The nurses would look after it for them. The researchers then measured the levels of happiness in the two groups of people and found, to their surprise, that those asked actively to look after a plant were noticeably happier and healthier. They lived longer too. Just the act of caring for another living thing had markedly improved their life.
So this week, why not sow some seeds or buy or borrow a plant from a friend? If you plant seeds, why not sow those that bees can feed off? There’s something mesmerising about bees at work. Alternatively, why not sow the seeds of a plant you can later eat, such as tomatoes, lettuce or spring onions? As you sow the seeds, feel their texture and that of the soil. Is there any tension in your body, perhaps localised in your neck and shoulders? As you sprinkle the soil over the seeds, watch how it falls through your fingers. Now do it at half speed. Does it feel any different? What does the soil smell like? Does it have a deep, earthy aroma or the slightly acidic smell of sandy soil? When you water the seeds or the young plants, pay close attention to the way the light glints off the droplets. Why not spend a little time finding out more about the plants you’ll be nurturing?"
And this is because we need to find a balance in our lives between encountering positive and negative forces, as Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book, Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001), p95-96:
"If you listen too much to the suffering, the anger of other people, you will be affected. You will be in touch only with suffering, and you won’t have the opportunity to be in touch with other, positive elements. This will destroy your balance. Therefore, in your daily life, you have to practice so that you can be in touch with elements that do not constantly express suffering: the sky, the birds, the trees, the flowers, children—whatever is refreshing, healing, and nourishing in us and around us."


Thus, a garden becomes the most reliable source of peace a person can bring into their lives - no matter indoor or outdoor, small or large - as stated in Mindfulness & The Art of Urban Living: Discovering The Good Life in The City (2013), p25:
"Nothing should deter us from enjoying what we might think of as rural pursuits when living in the city. The tiniest space can be used for growing flowers and shrubs or for cultivating vegetables."

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