A little over twelve years ago in 2009 and 2010, I made three trips to Paris for reasons that were of little seeming consequence. While from a financial aspect they did not work out, they gave me a chance to do an extensive walking tour of the city and learn about the underground and subways. As a gardener I was overwhelmed by the history of how landscaping and gardens in Paris illustrated how we are all connected through nature.
My bucket list included the Sorbonne and the parks in Paris, including the Parc André Citroën and the garden of the Musée du Quai Branly designed by celebrated landscape architect Gilles Clément, the prolific writer, who describes himself as a gardener. To be seen beyond the usual sites I observed in a walking tour of the city.
I often am accused of having my head in the clouds as though beyond occurrences in the present. What is it I come down for except to see skillful writing, nature, and its effect on us… what we are paying attention to in our lives, and what piques my interest.
I found a universal sense of caring for and cultivating a plot of land that a capable gardener must observe to act and work with, rather than against, the natural ecosystem of the garden.
Clément suggests that we should think of the entire planet as a garden, and ourselves as its keepers, responsible for the care of its complexity and diversity of life. I especially like his book “The Planetary Garden” that I highly recommend reading.
It is an environmental manifesto that outlines Clément’s interpretation of the laws that govern the natural world and the principles that should guide our stewardship of the global garden of Earth.
The seeming connection for myself to Eastern thought, Taoism and Lao Tzu, and the tenets of a humanist ecology, which posits that the natural world and humankind cannot be understood as separate from one another. The thought reminds me of Emerson and his musings on nature, the Fillmore’s, and Unity, and what was to become American transcendentalism.
The threads this philosophy forms can be seen as what becomes eternal. Pearls of wisdom that are woven through the accompanying essays of Clément’s volume: “Life, Constantly Inventive: Reflections of a Humanist Ecologist” and “The Wisdom of the Gardener.” Brought together and translated into English, these texts make a powerful statement about the nature of the world and humanity’s place within it.
Theadore Roosevelt’s speech was a reason for coming to Paris and gave me a chance to see places like the Sorbonne, a place with a global pedigree. For many Americans they were introduced to the Sorbonne by his speech Citizenship in a Republic in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910.
Many years later in October 2018 when I was in Lhasa, Tibet, I was reminded that the great Buddhist monasteries here were considered in the East as the equivalent of the Sorbonne in Paris, universities in London, or Ivy League schools in America in the West.
One notable passage from the speech is referred to as “The Man in the Arena“:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who lets refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workday world. Someone who is heavily involved in a situation that requires courage, skill, or tenacity, as opposed to someone sitting on the sidelines and watching, is often referred to as “the man in the arena”.
To just stand at the entrance of the gardens before sitting in meditation, thinking about the history of the Sorbonne and where I have travelled as my own arena, and that just being here, to simply have arrived was enough.
Just walking through history and the streets of Paris again and ending at the garden of the Musée du Quai Branly designed by Gilles Clément.
I especially enjoyed how the permanent exhibition at the park presents around 3,500 pieces divided into geographical areas: Oceania, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Illustrating a sense of global human nature, as a ‘circuit’ in a continuous manner, on either side of a central aisle conceived to resemble a river. A river of life as though a circle retracing our own continuous time on earth.