Cultivate equanimity – integrating with nature and divine spirit. As we find our voice and then learn to stay in tune with what nature teaches us as we learn to sing. Re-discovering the portals that speak to our soul. Portals in that we affect everything we touch – as everything that touches us affects us as well. Knowing we don’t really have to leave our chair, because there is no place we haven’t been. Our soulmates those who have known us through eternity. Rekindling this flow with what takes us there as we learn to create and live the dream as we go. To never question when it happens just to be there when it does.
This is the bliss Joseph Campbell was talking about. Whatever we intend, whatever we plan, and whatever we have a tendency toward, that will become the basis upon which our mind is established. When we live and develop meditation based on equanimity, all aversion is abandoned. Equanimity fails when it produces the ordinary indifference of the uninformed.
Having thought simply as a mental object with our mind, one is neither glad-minded nor sad-minded, but abides with equanimity, mindful as we become fully present and aware.
Equanimity is often confounded with indifference or detachment, but this is far from accurate. These two are mild forms of aversion in which a person chooses to push their interest away from an object or deliberately remove awareness from attending to what is present. Equanimity is the opposite of these, engaging objects with heightened awareness, but without being pulled by attraction or pushed away by aversion.
We are to see if we can cultivate the attitude of equanimity, so important to the practice of mindfulness, as a refined state of mind. Equanimity is not a lack of interest but a state of heightened curiosity. It does not mean that we don’t care about something, but that our caring about it is not driven by likes and dislikes. As we regard the thoughts flowing through our mind abiding with equanimity, mindfulness and become fully aware.
I often think books and movies are based on a story portraying one line of thought or a few that tell what the author really wanted to say. It’s like a two-hour movie to convey a minute or two that is meant to stick with you. Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner and Burt Lancaster come to mind. Also, Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet. Like a great artist giving his voice to other people. That we are always on the journey until we are not. Living as if you are already there as we live and become the portals ourselves. When we fully integrate with the divine spirit that exists within us. It’s recapturing or re-entering this flow that eludes us when distractions overtake us.
Living in reverence with nature defines how we are to live as we create, and in-turn embody who we are yet to become. It is a learned attribute dating from the flow of antiquity we carry from within each of us. As the environment we create is the means of simply remembering what takes us there. To simply return to who we have always been. To what many have expressed as spiritual beings having a human experience.
If you are here – open yourself to meditate and think on what this means. Ultimately this becomes the “how to” we use to go there. How do we create the space that takes us beyond where to find ourselves that defines us that matches our highest endeavor? Again, how do we go there? What is it that prods us to go beyond the present that best illustrates our own divine nature from within? What universal vibrations are we attuned to that are meant to guide us? We can open this door by creating our own space that speaks both for and to us and eternity. The mind, body, and heart connection that serve to speak for us. Tending to our gardens and thoughts and assisting others in doing the same opens this door not only for ourselves, but others as well.
To the left is the depiction of how over a three-thousand-year period we are bound by evolving nature as we find ourselves in tandem. This illustration is from China.
Re-discovering the practice of meditation as a conceptual framework that reinforces the idea that we are going to gain something from it, i.e., lasting ideas, as Roshi calls them in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. That when we live through and as our eternal presence with mindfulness and a goal-oriented framework, the more consistent our lives become and the more we reinforce that eternal framework in tune with our innate consciousness.
Learning that one step leads to and defines another. Discarding the premise that things must be a certain way… what Monet was teaching us through his impressionistic painting of the garden. Things do not have to be a certain way and the lines can be and are often blurred. Just as flowers and plants have evolved in nature over the millennia and time, through our virtue so have we.
Just as teachings from the East and West, with Buddhism and Taoism, as well as the Christ presence within all things, other faiths, and paths, show us that life is eternal.
Always changing to fit the times, we approach our gardens and garden design with grace and the reverence they deserve. Just as we do our own lives and who and what we care about. Taking people and things to places they have forgotten, have not been before, or maybe just for a while. This mindset is important in letting go of thinking things must be a certain way and the impermanence we bring home from the stars and seasons of the sun and moon that guide us.
Seeing ourselves as eternal. Here this time to correct past mistakes and moving on to our greatest attributes, we become the ultimate self-fulfilling prophesy. In simple terms, what’s important to design is flow, movement, and how our eyes bring it all together. Like the balance found in feng shui, that as we align with nature it in turn aligns with us…
How our garden progresses over time we make progress towards an everchanging goal with what becomes unknowable.
It is as Thomas Jefferson said,
Jefferson’s garden notebook he kept for over fifty years was a comprehensive record of plants, horticultural techniques, and garden practices. His thoughts on landscape architecture and design at his home and gardens (illustrated on the right) in Monticello and the University of Virginia illustrate a unique sense of place… all of this is a prelude to today’s talk which is how and why we create a sense of place for ourselves as we design our own garden. (I made a visit to Monticello in 1993).
How do we introduce ourselves and others to a meditative sensibility by the way in which we relate to our surroundings? Creating a sense of calmness and tranquility that brings others into what we are doing by first examining our intent and methods. For myself it’s treating every plant, shape and design as a living thing that desires and yearns for its own sense of self-expression.
The oldest tradition of taking responsibility for what we are given and producing something useful for all things. Stewards of what is the ever-expanding nature of things that connects and pivots us to both our origins and what is yet to come.
To carry ourselves as if there is a presence that embodies and surrounds us. With a sense of knowing who we are beyond the present. When encountering others that presence speaks for itself as we are attracted to situations that sense this and are thusly attracted to us as well. It is as if we are entering a universal flow with our gardens speaking without words for all things past, present, and future.
Two books I want to reference, although it could be many more. The first Garden Design, History – Principles – Elements – Practice (pub 1994) that focuses on the European model and how it transitioned to America. And second The Way of the Virtuous, the Influence and Philosophy of Chinese Garden Design published in 1991. Kind of like seeing things in a yin and yang way that catches the intent of how your eye and mind visualize going beyond what you think you know. There is so much here I could easily teach a full college semester on elements of both and garden and landscape design. I’d like to give a few highlights as food for thought that I think can be relayed as nurturing spiritual insight.
As an aside, if I was locked away in a cave on HuaShan Mountain with only an occasional beam of light streaming in, in what is commonly referred to as a hermitage, I would ask for only one book… “The Way of the Virtuous, the influence of art and philosophy of Chinese Garden Design”. It’s a book that serves as a reminder or encapsulates, i.e., tells the story, of what I’ve always known but sometimes forgotten and to where I return.
Viewing the sunrise from the East Peak on HuaShan Mountain in October 2018.
Foremost is creating a sense of calm tranquility. Working within the intrinsic nature of our garden (that translate into how we live) that emphasizes ethical and moral principles. We are to make aesthetic assessments based on ethical values. Confucius taught us that we are to identify mountains and streams equal to benevolence and wisdom. He felt associating with nature one can cultivate a pleasant temperament and inspire better moral behavior. Ultimately, the key is in transforming natural scenery into a reflection of the moral character of our spirit.
Illustrating the art of wu wei, or doing nothing beyond ourselves, most famous for many are the Gardens of Suzhou in China. Gardens from a thousand years ago that illustrate this idea of Confucian “gentleman who copies the virtuous”. I’ve been here many times. When I was teaching at Jining University in Qufu I taught English to students who were to become tour guides. Some of them would go to Suzhou to be tour guides at the Gardens of Suzhou. I was so envious – but then again, I was their teacher. What is known as the “Lingering Garden” to the right is a favorite of mine. A key to this idea of garden design depicting our virtue is that “things appear to be harmonious yet different. That what appears as different becomes harmonious with its surroundings”. As if things that are the same do not contribute to conscious thought.
Eastern thought, especially Taoism and Lao Tzu, emphasizes the sense of “emptiness and calm”. Where our potential derives from this emptiness from within us. Emptiness brimming with possibilities with potential uses endless. To see and visualize all you encounter as being beyond the beyond as just a starting point and fearlessly going there.
A difference from that expressed in Western gardens where we begin with emphasis on solid large architectural objects (for most of us… our house) as a solid core signifying, we’ve arrived. Whereas, in Eastern gardens, there is an empty object signifying a certain reverence to nature in the middle. Most common are what is known as “courtyard” gardens that remain empty at its core with scenic objects and places to go around the sides that serve as an outside room. Both illustrating or contributing to our spiritual connection between man and nature or the lack thereof. As I said before, I could teach a whole college semester on Classic Chinese Garden design.
Another view or way of looking at things
Next for what I call a different perspective or point of view, is the book Garden Design, History – Principles – Elements – Practice (pub 1994) that focuses on the European model and how it transitioned to America. From this I would like to briefly talk about two key elements. First discovering our style and how we express our innate nature through our gardens. And second how we create our own sense of place that moves us beyond the present.
In Western thinking, we often seem guided by ideas along the line “we’ve always done it this way” moving as if by rote. Often with order and special definition the defining characteristic with landscaping and gardens appearing to serve as rooms where we create a certain view that highlights plants and features. This runs counter intuitive to nature in that “all things are meant to change” as nothing remains static or the same… bending nature to man’s will as the norm. That all things found in nature somehow are for the benefit of man to the detriment of all other things and not alignment with universal principles of cause and effect.
Over time – history – the garden and man have been a place where they co-exist. Serving as a place of inspiration as the number one leisure activity in America, gardening with the changing seasons dictate beginnings and endings where the true meaning of universal spirit resides. When we try to fit nature into our own paradigm, or way of individual thinking, instead of partnering, or letting nature show us the way – we can lose the inherent connection we have with our environment. As if looking for the association we’ve always had but by inattentiveness somehow lost. There seems to be a paradox here somewhere. Today we should be a model of climate activism that puts life at the center of every act and decision that prioritizes this interconnectedness… again seeing things that appear to be similar but different.
That we are one with all living things as our love of nature should be empowered with reverence and grace. To the left is a section of a wall panel found at the Qingyang Taoist Temple in Chengdu, China.
Our style tends to begin with borrowing and adapting to suit new situations often with little regard for what may have existed previously – things lost by our own inattention. Not by fitting in, but by creating something new. We look to patterns on the ground as a first step and think of structure and laying it out on paper to create an immediate sense of order and spatial definition. This structure leads to a certain disciple and order that we use to define the next step that needs to be taken. As we look to what a garden should do, rather East or West, in reflecting a life well-lived. Often though, instead of looking to emptiness to be filled in things described earlier in the Eastern courtyard garden, we sometimes have walkways used as boundaries around the edges. Without defining or knowing that it is our emptiness that serves to define us. Living within the confines of what nature allows as life’s greatest teacher.
It is this nuance that attracts our attention. With all things contributing to creating a sense of grace and space where our imagination and spirit have an opportunity to soar. Where we can discover our own space and use it to become our most natural selves.
It is best expressed in the essay, Self-Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson who claimed that to be a brilliant person, he must be able to be independent in his own state of mind in the midst of a crowd. He believed that being a nonconformist is the only way to be a man. His ideas on transcendentalism became a connecting piece between East and West and helped to shape the consciousness of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. Without him, Unity, and we, would probably not be sitting here today.
This entry is for the Adult Education Class for Unity of Springfield to be held on June 6, 2022.