Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gardening: What Is Cultivated By Us Is Also Cultivated Within Us

By Rachel Nowakowski, L.Ac.

After a long winter indoors, many of us are ready to reconnect with nature and get the garden started. In addition to creating beauty around us, we can use gardening as an opportunity to cultivate a balanced life. Self-cultivation comes through awareness of our daily thoughts and actions and the simple act of tending a garden can be one way to practice. Think about how you feel when in a beautiful garden: relaxed, quiet, tranquil. Gardening can help us achieve that feeling in our daily lives.

For centuries, gardens have been sacred places of meditation and prayer. In the spiritual traditions of the east, Taoist gardeners use garden design as a means of self-development through their connection with nature. The Tao Te Ching, written in the 6th century BC, discusses the cycles of yin (dormancy) and yang (action). In the garden, we see the yin aspect of this cycle as plants hold their energy inward at the roots to rest for winter. As the days warm up, the yang energy is seen in everything blooming and coming back to life. When we observe nature’s phases, we are reminded that we should balance our hectic schedules with time for rest and renewal.

Gardening slows us down so we are able to see the Five Elements in action. As we work the soil (earth) with our tools (metal) we are able to grow our plants (wood) with the help of the rain (water) and sun (fire). Early gardeners and farmers recognized that the elements we see in nature also exist inside our bodies. This idea of the body as a microcosm of the universe is the basis of Chinese medicine theory.

Gardening puts us more in touch with nature and reminds us about:
Balance. Find time to rest between activities to balance the yin and yang energies.
Patience. There are things we cannot rush. We need to slow down and let it happen.
Gratitude. Be thankful for the beauty around us, in the garden or wherever we find it.

Exercise: Breathing in Beauty
(From The Inner Garden, by Diane Dreher)
The next time you are in the garden (or anywhere outside), practice this simple exercise.
1. Pause, take a deep breath, and look around you, slowly breathing out.
2. Look for something beautiful: a tree, a flower, the sky overhead.
3. Take a deep breath and breathe in its beauty. Then slowly breathe out.
4. Smile and open your heart as you take another deep breath and release.