Planting in the garden of life

This is a weekend for the beach, the golf course and the garden — to be in nature. After what seems like a long, hard winter and a so-so spring, finally, wonderful weather.

As nature awakens, even the world-weary cannot help but be thrilled with the buttercup and the butterfly, the hyacinth and the hawk, the spider and the sparrow.

We marvel at the multiplicity of life, but just as amazing is its tenacity and resilience. During the Great Die-off 250 million years ago when a large meteor slammed into Antarctica, almost all life was wiped out.

Then, 65 million years ago, another meteor — a much smaller one — splashed down just off Mexico. It caused the eradication of the dinosaurs and allowed our ancestors to grow, flourish and evolve into someone out in the garden this weekend celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday.

Life blooms and bursts forth all around us as we putter and pot. The mind slows as we dig, plant and replant. Gardening allows us to listen to a sermon in stone, to engage spider consciousness and follow the way of the butterfly, to feel the web that connects all things.

“Listening not to me, but to the Logos (the way of things), it is wise to agree that all things are one,” Heraclitus wrote almost 2,500 years ago.

Gardening allows life-enhancing thoughts to bloom, rather than the negative ones, the mental weeds: what we shouldn’t have done yesterday and what we’re going to do tomorrow. As we plant our knees on terra firma and plunge our hands into nature’s entrails, we’re reminded that life is an inward-outward process.

Away from the garden, we like to think things happen outside us. We project our concepts of the world outward and proclaim them real. Thought precedes action, but if we don’t like what happens, we try to fix the result, rather than change the thought.

“There is really nothing external, so I must spin my thread from my own bowels,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote.

Gardening gives us the time to contemplate the big questions — not what we’re going to have for dinner or whether we should go for a run — of purpose, life and death. While we’re at the office, in traffic or paying the bills, we forget the magnificence of life and the wonder of it all.

But as we watch buds unfolding, flowers reaching toward the sun, an ant dragging its prey toward the nest, or a spider munching on a fly, it grounds us in the now and reminds us life isn’t static, that it fills atoms, molecules, cells, planets, stars, galaxies, universe, multiverse and beyond.

We — this collection of virtues, vices, memories and aching, arthritic  bones — are only here for awhile. But we’re also infinity in a bag and when the bag breaks, the energy is released back from whence it came. The essence of who we are moves on.

Thousands of books have been written, numerous sermons delivered, countless points argued about the first cause, but we don’t know whether the primeval particle that banged 13.8 billion years ago was ignited by something or was just one in an endless series of big bangs. And how it happened doesn’t matter how we live today.

But in the garden, there are numerous examples of how to live written more plainly than any book and more convincing and insightful than any Sunday sermon. Nature has its lessons to teach.

We could learn from the Monarch as it dipsy doodles by. It started as an egg; as a caterpillar it shed its skin — and ate it — a few times before creating a chrysalis out of itself. When the time was ripe, without any help — because help would kill it — it emerged as a butterfly and then headed for a place it had never seen.

Two generations die on the journey, but yet the Monarch flies, mates, re-produces and dies so life can keep going.

In the garden, it all makes sense — this faith, this commitment, this dedication, this longing.

“The first, essential step in becoming a butterfly is to recognize that we can’t make it as a worm,” wrote Zen master Joko Beck. “We have to see through our pursuit of the false god of comfort and pleasure.

“We have to recognize that we cannot manipulate life to satisfy ourselves, and that finding fault with ourselves or others is not an effective way of helping anyone. We slowly abandon our basic arrogance.”

Unlike the butterfly, we have a choice in how we live and who we will become. While certain physical imperatives drive us, we choose how we act in the process. Each day, we emerge anew and can decide how we will behave.

“Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill,” Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, wrote in Meditations.

“I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together.”

In the garden, not of good and evil, not of duality, not of separation, we can see through the delusion into what is real and what we should honour about ourselves, others and life itself.

“There is no need of struggles, convulsions, and despairs, of the wringing of hands and the gnashing of the teeth; that we miscreate our own evils,” Emerson wrote in Spiritual Laws. “We interfere with the optimism of nature.”

That’s a thought worth planting in the garden of our life.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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