May is a time when many of us spend time in the garden, planting, weeding and enjoying the longer days and warmer weather. Sylvia Clare from the Isle of Wight shares about her practice of mindful gardening below.
Thich Nhat Hanh says if we have one eye that can see the blue sky then we have enough conditions for happiness. I’m not sure I could manage that yet, I am still developing my practice, but I can get a very strong sense of what he means when I’m in my garden.
For me there is a deep sense of peace when working with the natural world. I can be fully present with simple repetitive tasks like planting seeds or clearing spaces, using them joyfully for my active mindfulness meditations. I am in a state of flow with the garden
I also find I can connect to the deeper teachings, and perhaps for me this is the most profound part of gardening mindfully, or even just being in nature. I can look at the trees or grass growing and see that it is made of non-grass elements like carbon and water, I remind myself that I am also made of non-Sylvia elements in the same way, just to a different template. This brings me closer to the recognition of my inter-connection or inter-being nature with everything. We are not called the Community of Interbeing for nothing.
There are so many teachings from the natural world we can take into our hearts and find the liberation they bring. I see a plant in the wrong place not as a nuisance weed but as potential compost for use to enrich other plants later on. Did you know that historically weeds were not seen as such but instead left to provide ground cover and prevent soil damage around the crop plants and distraction for pests, companion planting of a more laissez faire style. When harvesting was all done by hand, it was also easier to manage. But I do take this approach in my own vegetable plot more and more, clear a space for each plant to settle into and then let it grow up. We talk about competition for resources of light and minerals and overlook the positive sides of their weedy presence. Many so called weeds can be thugs. We might control them slightly more, yet these thugs, like thistles are also fantastic food for birds in autumn from their seed heads. Let them be if you can.
There are so many other topics for contemplation like the seasons and cycles of life and death which never end, the meaning of eternal life, growth, change and impermanence. In rows of seedlings, one does not see itself as inferior or superior to the others, they just are what they are. The list is endless
My final take away is not to judge the weather as good or bad. All weather is necessary for a healthy garden and too much sun or rain is what can be fatal to a plant or even a human of course in real extremis. So if it is too wet to go outside I can instead contemplate how nourishing the rain is to the water table and the life of my plants growing, if it is cold I think how that is allowing plants to rest and be dormant, to re-adjust the balance between different creatures and organisms so that one does not become a pathogen to others. And if it is too hot for me outside for parts of the day then I can take the time out to do my sitting practice or read and study to deepen my understanding of the dharma in a shady spot.
Words by Sylvia Clare.