Page 1 of 2
The Garden Path
It takes root; it grows; it blooms. CHERYL WILFONG on how meditation practice is cultivated like a garden.
friend who works on an organic farm brought home two trays of lettuce
seedling six-packs. The so-called seedlings were not only ready to be
transplanted, they were ready to be eaten. That made gardening
easy—transplant the lettuce and begin harvesting immediately.
might find ourselves wanting do the same thing with our spiritual
practice, eager to transplant it into our already-too-busy lives so we
can harvest the fruits of practice right now.
“I should really do yoga every day,” we think. Or we might give
ourselves a pep talk, saying, “I could sit every morning and every
evening for twenty minutes.”
trying to transplant a spiritual practice, however, we first need to
clear a space in which to sow the seeds of mindfulness. Taking care of a
burgeoning Garden of All the Things We Want to Do requires rushing. Our
lives might feel more like a loudly babbling stream than a still forest
pool. We can try to maintain a way-too-big Garden of Busyness, or we
can tend only as much as our tender hearts can open to.
we have an extensive stress reduction menu to choose from: meditation,
yoga, tai chi, qigong. Or, if we’re chasing the endorphins of exercise,
we might take up jogging or Pilates, or start working out at a fitness
club. Basically we think, “If I just add one more thing to do, I can
reduce my stress.” Question this belief. Racing to the gym or meditating
with one eye on the clock runs counter to the intent of reducing the
stress in our lives.
stress, like reducing weight, means subtracting something. In our
garden, the first thing we subtract is the weeds. In our daily life we
might consider, for instance, how much news we really need. I went on a
weekend retreat with my women’s group to Weston Priory in Vermont, where
Benedictine monks maintain a farm, gardens, and orchard. They live an
engaged life dedicated to justice and nonviolence in the world, yet they
told us their only source of news was the Sunday New York Times. Their example inspired me to weed my own news intake, limiting it to once a day.
our garden, though, it can be difficult to identify which plant is a
weed and which one might actually flower. In the spring, we sometimes
can’t tell the difference between a goldenrod and a sweet William. How
then do we discriminate between weedy activities in our lives and
skillful ones, such as meditation, that will sweeten our minds?
weeding out junk mail, catalogs, and unsubscribing from nonessential
email lists. Write down one or two things you might consider weeding out
for a week. TV? Movies? Shopping? People who went on a voluntary fast
from their credit cards found they stopped dashing out to the store.
They made do with what was on hand at home. And they felt calmer.
a space clear for meditation requires determination. Neighboring
activities will try to encroach on our cleared space. In gardening
terminology, such encroaching plants are called spreaders. Think of bee
balm or any members of the square-stemmed mint family—if you give them
an inch, they’ll take over the yard. Seemingly urgent incoming
information will try to crowd out our important relationships, including
our relationship to our meditation practice. Consider dividing in half
the time you spend social networking. I set a “mindfulness bell” to ring
an hour before bedtime on my computer to remind me to turn it off and
sit for twenty minutes before going to sleep.
some space in your home as well as your schedule. Set up a cushion or a
chair. Perhaps use a nearby shelf as an altar. Then commit to sit, at a
regular time in this regular place. Set a timer for, say, twenty
minutes on your microwave or cellphone.
you don’t have an established practice, I recommend beginning your
meditation by softening the heart. First, visualize a place of still