ALANDA GREENE lives in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Having a deep connection with nature, she and her husband built their house of stone and timber and a terraced garden, and integrated their life into this rural community. Alanda’s primary focus is the conscious integration of spirit with all aspects of life.
I’m standing in the garden, enjoying the hum of insects intent on collecting as much nectar as possible. The season has clearly shifted, transitioning from languid long days of summer to cool nights, shorter days and a sense there is no time to lose. It’s a time of abundance accompanied by reflection and assessment. What do I want to keep, to nurture and what is ready to be released, discontinued?
These questions arise as I consider the garden’s production this year, planning what will be maintained, what I will no longer plant, what varieties are proving suitable, what needs processing. It becomes ever more clear that the lessons of the garden are the lessons of my life, and it is working in the garden that provides the most accessible insights into my life: the seasons, the patterns, and cycles. Now 75, I especially feel resonance with autumn, the period of reaping lessons from many years, ripening my understanding of the way the round squash has matured from a soft ball to a firm and nutritiously dense vegetable that will contribute to many meals in the coming months.
This process of assessment and reflection brings immense gratitude for being part of the garden’s cycle, for the lessons it teaches. How fitting it is that much of the world celebrates this season with rituals of thanksgiving. The garden reveals so many aspects of appreciation.
The food produced comes immediately to mind. Rich soil nurtures the plants’ growth. It has been cultivated for decades to become a foundation for full tastes, healthy content, vibrant colour. I gain the immense blessing of food that nourishes me, that does not travel long distances before it is consumed, that does not require packaging or unnatural treatments to preserve it. As our global community struggles with mountains of plastic and other waste, with loss of arable land, with sickness and disease that in many cases could be prevented through a healthy diet, with the consequences of applying pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers – I recognize the value of one small effort to counter these detrimental actions. Small efforts can have large outcomes.
In the forest around this garden are numerous insects and creatures, but in the garden they are abundant far in excess of these surroundings. Although the global bee population is declining at a frightening rate, here there is sustenance for great numbers of them. A variety of butterflies flit blossom to blossom from spring to autumn, one of them the white cabbage moth, laying eggs in broccoli, cauliflower, kale and of course, cabbage. I watch and see also the numerous wasps who fly behind and eat the eggs, later eating the small worms that managed to hatch. Where many people have large numbers of slugs or mice in their garden, here their numbers are low, thanks to the generous feasting of snakes. Because there are no pesticides, because I do not use anything that would poison these so-called nuisance creatures (and I have to confess that at times they are indeed a nuisance) things tend to come into balance. It isn’t about perfection in the eradication of anything that might nibble on a lettuce leaf. It’s about learning how tolerance and diversity work. I see it here in the garden and understand how these qualities can also contribute to a balanced and harmonious world community that finds a way for all creatures to be valued and included.
Many spiritual traditions and teachers extol beauty as a positive spiritual influence. I think of the Navaho prayer, “In Beauty I Walk” and of many Sufi and Zen teachings that encourage the practice of creating beauty. They counsel the seeker to create and acknowledge beauty for the benefit it confers. Dr. Zach Bush expresses the scope of it eloquently: If we make a conscious effort to elevate beauty in our work and our relationships, we can focus on doing our highest work and witnessing, with pleasure, the fabric of reality. It is in the garden that I repeatedly experience the transforming power of beauty. Light as it transforms an onion skin to ruby brilliance, veins on a cabbage leaf like the branches of an elm tree, the glistening webbed wings of a fly: these suspend my thoughts as I gaze in wonder. In such moments, the fullness of being is revealed.
Such moments bring me fully to the present. Thich Nhat Hahn wrote: Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. Having the blessing of a garden reveals this miracle. The various practices meant to bring awareness to the present, including meditation, hatha yoga, qi gong, journal reflections, and prayer, can include the garden as a means to develop conscious awareness of now.
Many philosophers and psychologists have characterized our modern world and its ills as evidence of a crisis of meaning. Rituals and connections that once infused meaning into our lives have been abandoned along with the meaning they provided. Yet people who find their way to tending a garden repeatedly express the satisfaction it gives. The process of interacting with soil, plants, and animals provides a community of relationships, a connection with other living beings that becomes a lived experience of the interconnectedness of all life. The question of meaning is transcended by living with it. This moves beyond the rational mind to include the more than human world. In doing so it restores something sensed as a great loss, which is our felt connection to this entire living world. An indigenous elder prophesied the “great loneliness” that would befall our civilization as we lost the awareness of our kinship with nature. The garden restores this awareness.
The process of interacting with soil, plants,
and animals provides a community of relationships,
a connection with other living beings that becomes
a lived experience of the interconnectedness of all life.
The bees continue humming, the autumn light intensifies the brilliant red and gold of zinnia petals and I resume gently digging to retrieve potatoes for hearty winter meals.
My determination to continue to support and nurture the life of this garden is strong. The life of the garden and my life are intertwined. The words of the medieval Zen monk gardener Muso Soseki reverberate: One who distinguishes between the garden and the practice cannot be said to have found the way.
Photographs by ALANDA GREENE
Alanda Greene lives in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Having a deep connection with nature, she and her husband built their house of stone and timber and a terraced garden, and integrated their life into this rural community. Alanda’s primary focus is the conscious integration of spirit with all aspects of life.