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September 01, 2008

Strolling Through the Garden of Consciousness

Visitors to Tayu House outside Sebastopol know that gardening has long been one of my persistent preoccupations. Assisting plants to grow and flourish can provide great satisfaction, not least because the successes and failures of gardening offer ongoing instruction in the ever-changing processes that constitute Great Nature. Gardeners attune themselves to this instruction by paying attention to the effects of these processes on the plants they select for cultivation.

 

I was reminded of this earlier this year when I came across a wonderfully succinct and sage bit of gardening advice by a woman who owns and operates a delightful plant nursery (Annie’s Annuals) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her advice is so simple and straightforward that its application to the practice of meditation instantly suggested itself to me. If you want to grow a garden, Annie says, spend 10 minutes every day walking through the garden, observing what’s happening.

 

Such simple advice! Yet how many beginning or would-be gardeners do not think to apply such a direct strategy. Instead of hit-and-run gardening, dominated by bursts of energetic activity followed by long stretches of inattention, Annie’s advice suggests cultivation of a consistent, appreciative relationship with the garden and its contents.

 

To linger with awareness means to put aside other considerations. In the garden, that entails letting go of the usual egoic habits of mind. So instead of imagining what you’ll do later in the day, or remembering the offensive remark your friend made the night before, you recollect your consciousness so that you can observe how this area is dry while that soil remains moist. This plant is unhealthy, while another is so vibrant that it is growing through and over two other plants. The honeybees are going crazy for those flowers while ignoring those others. What an enormous praying mantis on that stem! Those tomatoes need to be harvested and eaten soon, or they’ll go bad. The more you look, the more you see.

 

The same principle applies to spiritual practice. The more you look at the contents of consciousness, the more you see.

 

Moreover, despite what you might have heard or read, this principle applies to the contents of the egoic or android mind as much as to any aspect of consciousness. It is easy to get the mistaken impression from reading spiritual literature that we should direct attention away from the ego/android (which is “bad”) and toward spaciousness of mind, compassion, love, “higher” energies, etc. (which are “good”).

 

It is easy for the visitor to the garden – and the visitor to the garden of consciousness – to have such an attitude, because it is the natural tendency to seek out the beautiful, or the interesting, and ignore the ugly, or that which we think we already know. Yet the skillful gardener understands that every part of the garden – the successes and the failures, the barren and the lush – has important and useful information, if only it is seen and appreciated for what it is. Similarly, the accomplished spiritual practitioner knows that the ego/android is a vast resource for engagement with the practices of non-identification and non-grasping.

 

Seeing and objectively appreciating what the garden contains does not mean that the gardener abstains from the responsibility to make necessary choices. Without choices, there is no garden. The sustainable process of gardening encompasses sowing, planting and fertilizing, as well as pruning, harvesting and composting. The gardener makes choices about when to engage in any aspect of gardening based upon the best information possible. That’s why Annie’s advice about the daily witnessing of the contents of the garden is so crucial. Consistent witnessing is the best source of data for the crucial choice of timing.

 

Living life beyond the constraints of egoic/android habits means discovering what the Universe – the greater Garden – calls you to do from moment to moment. It means giving up the crutches of android/egoic attachments and directives, and listening instead to hear the song that tells us of the service we can offer right now, in THIS moment.

 

But this can only be done with full attention and awareness. The beauty and even elegance of the system is that we learn to cultivate full attention and awareness through observation of the tawdry, contractive egoic/android aspects of consciousness. Although they act as obstacles because of our tendency to become ensnared in identification with them, the products of the ego are not irrelevancies to be ignored. To transcend them, we MUST come to know them objectively and without reservation. The garden of consciousness will sustain itself and flourish best with the generous application of that full regard and attention that all aspects of creation call out for.

 

So take regular walks through your garden, observing all there is to see. And objectively witness the contents of consciousness on a consistent, regular basis. Thus will your gardens grow extravagant.


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