A metaphor for mindful living can be found through the understanding and application of the principles of the garden. The more you spend time in a garden, the more you’ll understand the power of this metaphor (and I suggest that everyone spend time in a garden as often as possible and through as many seasons as possible). We can understand everything from the foundation of our lives (the soil) to the balance of elements (air, fire, water, earth) as necessary for a successful garden.
The Passage of Time and the Garden. In our lives, we have things that grow for just one short season (annuals) to those things that grow each season (perennials) to what grows tall and bears serious fruit only after substantial time (trees/shrubs). Small things in our lives may bear abundantly in most years and require practically no tending, like a black raspberry, while other things we must tend for very long periods of time (peach trees) before we see fruit. Other things grow and produce, but only for a season, and must be cultivated carefully and protected from extremes (tomato and basil pants). Occurrences at the wrong time, like a chill period or a three week period with high temperatures and no rain, might hamper the fruit for the whole season.
The Seasons. The seasons pass in our lives just like they do in a garden; there is a time where the annuals die off, the perennials and shrubs and trees send their energy back into their roots, and the land lies fallow. There are times of harvest, when so many good things come our way. There are times to plant seeds and tend them. Recognizing what season we are in–and EMBRACING that season, whatever it may be, is critically important. Recognizing also that we cannot stay in the late summer and fall harvest time forever, continuing to rake in the benefits and the harvest. Enjoy the harvest when it lasts, but recognize that harvest comes only so often, and only after the hard work of cultivation.
The Soil. The soil is critical in a garden–gardeners often say that they don’t grow plants, they grow soil. The soil, be it rocky, loamy, sandy, or full of clay, and the soil’s ecology (nematodes, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc) determines the health of the plants, their growth, their production, their resistance to pests and disease, and their general well-being. Compost, made of rotted down plant matter undergoing an alchemical transformation process, is added to the garden for nutrients and to help retain water. How will you build good soil? Will you do it naturally, working with the soil ecology? Will you allow beneficial plants, like the dandelion, comfrey, clover, blue false indigo, and so on, to help build soil with you?
Composting. Composting happens in our lives–sometimes what is growing has grown out of control or used up the nutrients in the soil, or plants that we don’t want and that don’t bear fruit (or even may be harmful, like poison ivy or water hemlock) are growing and we must pull them out. Sometimes, the whole garden must be started again as the seasons move in our lives from fall to winter. In the last year and a half, this is what happened to me–fall set in, my garden had to be cleared for the winter months, the old material piled upon a heap and simply let to rot, and my work in the broader world had to lay fallow for a time. I resisted this mightily at first, I thought there was something wrong with me, but as time went on, I realized that this period of composting and laying fallow was entirely necessary. I think our culture assumes we should always be working, always productive, always DOING something. But that’s not the way a garden works–it must have its time of rest and fallow….as do we. Embracing this time of fallow, of composting, is a necessary part of healthy living.
However, gardens that lay fallow (bare) for too long, however, aren’t healthy either. Perhaps you find yourself in a holding pattern, not able to move forward for a time. Don’t let that garden stand bare, ready to plant, with soil exposed to the elements. It will erode, and you will lose valuable nutrients and humus. Instead, plant a cover crop to give yourself time to move forward….cover crops are temporary things that fill gardens. I mean this literally and figuratively; clover is one of the best cover crops we have as gardeners. I’d also say that if you are in this state, you might work with clover (as a tea, sitting by the plant and meditating, as a tincture) and it will help you through this time.
Shelter and Growth. If we use additional shelter to protect our plants, they may grow better but be weak.I can put hoop houses up, to protect myself, my heart, my emotions, and for some plants they work well. But hoop houses can only be used in the spring in fall, as a buffer–if we use them throughout the summer, the plants will smother, wither, and die. This is another important lesson of the garden…know when to take shelter and make shelter; when to shelter yourself…and know what seasons that shelter no longer serves you.
Plant Allies. Plant allies are one of the most important things in a garden. These are plants that serve a beneficial nature, like companions, to those we want to have bear fruits. As we are going through our times of plenty and times of sorrow, look to the plant allies in a garden for help as to where you are. Dandelion breaks up compacted soil; dandelion may also help you break up stagnation in your life. Mints provide substantial, long lasting forage for pollinators, who help pollinate various developing fruits in our garden–mints might help cultivate inspiration and allow us to draw upon the awen within. Learn carefully what plants do in the broader world–I think you’ll find that they can perform similar roles within us if only we are willing to listen and learn. Will you draw upon these plant allies in your life when you need them?
Metaphor for life. When I look at my own life recently, I recognize that I’m coming out of a fallow period and now I look across this great garden, prepared with the soil that contains the compost of so many things I had to pull out of my life (or that were pulled out for me). While those old plants are gone, the nutrients haven’t been lost, and if I’m careful in my own thinking process, I can transform them and use them again. So the past experiences, people, and so on that may no longer serve us still can be used for new growth. Introspection and meditation can help us work with this old plant matter and transform it–that’s a lot of what I did in my fallow period, where my garden was barren but the bacteria were working hard throughout the winter to convert dead plant matter into rich earth.
This post was a lesson that my plant ally teachers, specifically, yarrow and dandelion, have shared with me. Its a lesson that I think can be useful to others, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!