By Liz Summer, I Start Wondering Columnist
The Secret Garden, a childhood sentimental favorite, describes a garden that on the surface is a disorganized pit of weeds, neglect and disarray. For the lost children and fragmented adults who, for what ever reason, pay attention to the garden instead of thoughtlessly dismissing it, the true nature of the garden is the vibrant energy of life that fundamentally heals and makes whole. The final quote of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic book describes a deeper and timeless reality: “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
But how to “look the right way”? In today’s suburbanized, subdivided, oversubscribed world, being one with nature is often scheduled in as a side trip on a long holiday – “Day 2, Visit Aunt Gertrude; Day 3, Hike to Lookout Over Appalachian Trail; Day 4, Outlet Mall….” The tacit and unexamined assumption is the “Secret Garden” — the healing garden all around of wildlife and nature — is somehow separate from our daily existence. If time outside is no more than the time it takes from going out the front door to getting in the car (essentially moving from
an air-conditioned cave into an air conditioned box to power along a concrete river), then perhaps the ability to see “The Garden All Around” has not been realized and explored.
Finding Beauty in Life Right Now
The exercise is this: to find beauty and life all around, here and now. To realize and experience the miracle of the garden all around, almost every unexamined assumption of what the garden is must be brought to light and considered. It’s easy to look at a snow-covered mountain range, an exotic orchid or a powerful whale and be inspired by the miracle of life and our beautiful planet. However for most of us, those grandiose scenes worthy of inspirational quote memes are not realities in our everyday existence.
My own residence on the outskirts of a small city in central Texas is noticeably short in the obviously grand, stunning and majestic. Many people who move here from other states will spend decades complaining that it is an ugly area. Are they justified in this sentiment because there is “no garden here”? Or perhaps is it because the beauty that is here does not fit their preconceived narrow concepts of what is or is not beautiful? The truth is the garden is all around but they can’t see it. If you live in a heavily developed area, perhaps you too want to consider whether there really is no secret garden all around you – or whether instead you have not learned how to see it?
Take A Closer Look Around
The process is this: Look closely at weeds and small things and leave the judgments behind. The miracle of nature can be found anywhere; it is only the mind’s labeling and judging that separates us from this beauty. Labels are the mind’s judgment about what is even worth looking at to begin with. To start exploring, simply find a patch of plants growing in apparent disarray. Good areas include your own fence line, poorly kept parks, the side of the road, unmowed areas, vacant lots, drainage areas, the grassy dividers in mega-shopping center parking lots. These areas usually do not even register as existing until you look closely. Stop, just look, listen, and be with what is. Don’t think, label, compare or judge either yourself or the situation. Don’t compare what you are now seeing to what you have seen elsewhere. If you think “This is a waste of time because it is nothing compared to my holiday in Hawaii,” then you will never find the garden. The garden is not a memory or story – the garden is here/now.
If you really look without judgment, a plethora of vibrant wildlife appears – filigreed foliage, tiny bouquets of flowers no bigger than a grain of rice, kingdoms of busy little creatures living out their destinies, the bending of dried grasses in the sun, the rustle of wind through the branches or leaves. Often the most beautiful flowers are those the critical mind wants to label as “weeds.” I love taking pictures of weeds because each is so perfect and beautiful. Look, listen and feel what is here and now, whether it’s the breeze on your face or the clouds endlessly marching across the sky. From this humble beginning, the peace, stillness and true beauty of all is revealed.