Ingo and I head to Home Depot to buy the red cedar he will deck our back sitting sanctuary with. Minka VanBeuzekom – running for Cambridge City Council, by the way! – having just planted beautiful honeysuckles to learn to crawl along our gold and black railing with riotous multi-colored flowers spilling from bee boxes out front. A movable palette for the storefront is being customed so we can host a variety of ala carte performances be they lyrical or musical. Every inch of available space on the outside and in being transformed into something sweet, artful and magical. To wit, my new kindred friend J.g. Hayes [Joe] Vision Landscaping the back bringing sacred sanctuary sense and sensibility to each stage over time which fully invokes the secret life of bees and honey in this little piece of urban heaven. Thanks to Renaissance man J.g. Hayes for sharing the following with me and – who as everyone involved in this store [story] – wears infinitely eclectic coats of personal color; shaman drummer, author, bard and so on; for receiving this from him yesterday softened sticker shock felt when one is investing such money into a dream. We still do live in the material world after all! However I keep supreme faith in “build it and will come” when the intention rises from the heart and soul serving the need in others for a taste of sweetness in their midst to manifest. This is good and right livelihood.
Many seventeenth-century garden designers set aside a wild, uncultivated patch of land to be used as a private place of prayer and meditation. It was called the sacro busco or ‘sacred grove, in
recognition of the ancient Celtic practice of worshipping in cleared patches of forest. The stylized Zen gardens of the Japanese Buddhist monks served a similar purpose. Our ancestors considered God as an ineffable Great Spirit, the universal life force which animates every bird, tree, flower, and shrub. Today we find it difficult to accept this simple concept. We want to anthropomorphisize the Supreme Life Force. Is he a man or a woman? Black or white? Does he speak to us through the Koran, the Upanishads, or the New Testament? We trivialize God whenever we attempt to make him conform to these man-made images and contrived theologies, for the Supreme Creative Force is all these things, and at the same time none of them, and yet much more than them all.There are many definitions of spirituality. According to one source it is ‘the experience of meaning in everyday life,’ while another suggests that this is the act of uniting ‘our true selves with the great whole of all beings.’ If we accept either of these definitions as a starting point, it becomes evident that feelings of spiritual purpose and cosmic unity are more likely to be found in a sacro busco than in Piccadilly Circus or Times Square. In order to bring our religion down to earth we need to create our own sacro busco, a peaceful spot in the garden which can be used as a place of contemplation. This could be a seat under a tree, a garden house or a secluded, hedge-lined arbour. We should try to set aside a few minutes every day for meditation. As we sit in our quiet haven we should leave behind our worldly cares and bring into play what St. Augustine described as ‘the intellective organ of the heart,’ that part of our being which is neither rational nor emotive, but which offers us a direct, intuitive appreciation of Spirit. The more we use this retreat the more effective it will be, for the more strongly it will become associated in our minds with feelings of repose and peace. Just as our digestive juices begin to flow the moment we approach an aroma-filled kitchen, so we will begin to relax the moment we approach our sacrobusco.
Icons have been described as pictures which provide ‘a window into heaven.’ If this is their prime function, then a Soul Garden should be designed as a living, horticultural icon. Ideally it should form a green telescope, open to the skies but enclosed by a leafy framework which directs the gaze and acts as a barrier to distractions. If conditions permit, the garden should not be flat but three-dimensional, with soaring vertical lines to lift the eyes and the spirit upwards. This elevation can be achieved by planting trees, trelisses and archways festooned with rose, clematis, and honeysuckle. When we are depressed we instinctively cast our eyes down, whereas when we are elated we look to the heavens. We are by nature optimists, and in good times and in bad we prefer to take the upward view– a truth recognized by the Greeks, who coined the name anthropos–’the upward looker’– to describe the human animal.
The inclusion of symbols and mottoes within a garden can be an additional aid to inspiration. A garden could contain a mosaic depicting the Tai Ji Tu, for example. This is the emblem of the Taoists, a circle broken up into two interlocking black and white tadpoles to represent the Supreme Ultimate, the union of the opposing forces of yang and yin. Other evocative symbols are the ankh, the key-like corss which was the ancient Egyptian symbol of life, and the lemniscate, the symbol of eternity which I have carved in stone in the center of my garden…or it might be a living symbol, a bird gaining sustenance from a sunflower seed, a bee feeding on nectar, and both representing our soul, feeding here in our sacred grove….
If heaven means to be one with God, as Confucius claimed, then gardeners and those who idle in gardens have the good fortune to create their own heavens right here on earth….
Donald Norfolk, MD, The Soul Garden