As one of my New Year challenges, I have enrolled in a short taster course at Birmingham Buddhist Centre (Park Road, Moseley) to learn about meditation. I have learned about the concept of ‘mindfulness’ which is somewhat of a ‘buzz word’ in secular self-development as well as a core element in Buddhist teachings. Essentially it is being more conscious and ‘present’ to all your daily activities however simple or menial. The benefits to mental health and wellbeing of such behaviour are well documented now.
Gardening, like almost all daily activities, can be approached in a ‘mindful’ way and yet so many of us tend to participate with our eyes shut. For instance, It struck me that as a gardening professional, I can tend to get on to site and immediately focus on individual tasks, blinkered to the big picture, driven by the goal of getting the job done to keep my client happy, and in a most cost effective way. The trouble is that the very nature of focus can block out the peripheral vision. Becoming aware and conscious when in our garden is a joy. It connects us more directly to the earth we aim to interact with in an almost primeval way. Our gardens are a vibrant living environment, we step out there and become part of that environment, but we are guests. When we leave there the garden continues to morph, to grow and to ‘be’. I do understand the argument that time is money and being mindful doesn’t get the task done any quicker, but here lies the crux of the discussion. Are our tasks in the garden, or when we walk the dog, go shopping, put out our shiny new wheelie bins on rubbish day, are they indeed chores or a human experience to enjoy in whatever way we can and then become a potential source for pleasure? It is all in the mind isn’t it? It is all down to perception right? Being mindful can be a pleasure; it opens our hearts to a wider and more visceral human experience. Kids have a natural instinct to be mindful, something we can grow out of as adults as the pressure of life bears down on us. Try to revert back to the enthusiastic child, open your ears and eyes because it’s good for the soul. Stop for moment to watch and engage Mr Robin as he hops around the recently turned soil sometimes as close as a spade away or turning a rockery stone to see hibernating frogs and woodlice. When you find those little red brandling worms in you compost, they relentlessly turn leaves and clippings into usable garden compost for us. That compost that is feels soft and sensual and smells good enough to eat. Raking the leaves away to discover a small clump of Snowdrops days from flowering, or noticing the roses you cut down in autumn have developed juicy plump buds waiting to burst forth in May and June.
Gardening is a meditation in itself, anything that one enjoys as a process that can take your mind away from day to day worries and strains. Undertaken ‘mindfully’, it can awaken the senses to the world around you. So next time you are out in the garden cutting the lawn, weeding or planting up your borders do start to look and listen more. Look up at trees, look and marvel at these giant organisms that in some cases have been growing 100 years or more, listen to bird in song.
In short, wake up and smell the freshly mown grass, it smells good!