When I bought my home in 1998, my neighbors and friends were surprised and amused when the first service-person I hired was a gardener. This house came with many fixer-upper needs to address termite damage, sewer backups, chimney cracks and well, the list went on. But my first thought was to establish a beautiful and healthy garden to add flowers and a comfortable place for me and my two cats Moca and Max to sit outside and enjoy. We had moved from apartment living in San Francisco. Leaving the congested city and the heartbreak of a broken relationship we found ourselves in El Cerrito in a lovely home with a large back yard for flowers and fun and plenty of easy parking to encourage friends to visit.
Life is about embracing change and adapting to what transitions can teach us as my Buddhist practice teaches. But when we are in the depths of pain and sorrow from loss no one really wants to hear about the “silver lining in the dark clouds, or something better is coming or time to move on”. Trust me, I have been there and the days of moving into a new home was not easy. It was my best friends who were the ones who came forward with a listening heart and the muscle to actually move my boxes forward to the new home.
In those initial days of filling up an empty home, I enjoyed watching the gardner dig up the garden and amend with new soil in readiness for new life. My garden was an empty palette offering growth for my heart’s desire of flowers and herbs and vegetables. My new garden would be my sanctuary and my soul healing to see me through this transition.
I love my study of Chinese Medicine because it offers a holistic way of looking at our health and well being from a body, mind and spirit viewpoint. The balance and harmony of these three variables make up what would be considered a healthy being. Yet, so often the Spirit gets lost when we focus only on our bodily aches and pains and malfunctions. We resort to medicines that cure the symptoms of pain and illness but lose sight of what it takes to prevent illness and maintain health. I am reminded about the importance of Spirit in our lives when I read this quote:
“Loss of soul is an ever-present danger for all of us; we need numerous ways of sheltering the soul and housing spirits so that they will not disappear from loss of memory or sheer evaporation in the plethora of things and events that blow through our lives” Thomas Moore.
Life can swerve us in many directions. Family obligations, job demands, media overload and boredom that leads us to take our lives and what we have for granted. It takes effort to focus on the Spirit within. Recently I confess I looked at my garden and realized how it seemed a little neglected in parts. I thought back to how it came to be so many years ago.
Intuition and self pleasure were my guides in navigating garden nurseries and plant and garden art placement. Mostly, I chose and planted for joy. One of my first purchases was a Buddha. I strategically placed the statue in the garden so as the morning sun came over my home its first rays would shine on the Buddha. And another day would begin. Looking back I can see that my Buddha placement was my intention to remind myself and accept change and adaptation. It’s another reminder of Nature’s way of leading and supporting transitions.
My garden has grown over these 17 years with markings of transitions. My selected additions and gifts from friends contribute to the sacredness of the place that I call a sanctuary. Moca has passed away and a statue has been placed over his ashes that have been incorporated into the earth to support new growth. An olive tree celebrates a honeymoon trip to Italy. An herb garden planted under the olive tree grows from soil blessed with the sand from a mandala created by Tibetan monks. A memory garden was created under a plum tree chosen for my first childhood memory of a tree in our back yard and where the plums were made into delicious plum jam enjoyed all winter. Bamboo in large containers offers a gentle, quiet and peaceful soothing sound as I sit in the garden.
Now we are in Spring time. I look around with fresh eyes. Time has passed by and my garden has tended itself while I was busy with other life demands. I realize now that its time to renew and refresh both the garden and my Spirit. A time to reflect. A time to amend the soil. A time to adapt and adjust to California’s four year drought. And a time to bring back the joys and lessons of what a garden can offer.
My sanctuary garden is a blessing to my well being that soothes my spirit and energizes all parts of me. It’s a place where sitting and reading are supported in a variety of nooks. It’s a place where qigong and yoga can be practiced on the grass and the life energy of trees and plants can be folded into my being. It’s a place where I can experience Nature’s lessons of growth, adaptation, function, beauty, and self expression. It’s a place where butterflies and hummingbirds are welcomed. It’s a place where friends gather for a glass of wine and a laugh. Most of all it’s a place that nurtures me and reminds me to take less for granted and more for gratitude. Enjoy my sanctuary garden!
RESOURCES: The Sanctuary Garden (Creating a Place of Refuge in Your Yard or Garden) by Christopher Forrest and Tricia Clark McDowell