Growing a Heart Garden

Some time ago I wrote about gardening in your mind’s eye as a verdant writing practice. I’ve been exploring deeper work on this idea, and I’ve come to realize that inward gardening is not just a marvelous writing tool: It’s also a way to open your heart and grow your spirit into more and more love.

Many of us here in the northeast who have lived through one of the longest, coldest, and snowiest winters are savoring the call of our gardens this spring with more delight than ever before. Since my father’s recent death, I’ve been recalling all the many gardens in our family’s travels together as I watch the tiny shoots finally pouring up into spring sunshine.  My parents wanted us to view the world as our garden, which is why we lived in so many places, and why I’m thinking about them all so much just now.

Recently, I discovered Stewart Blackburn, a mystic, shaman, and healer who lives in Hawai‘i. He offers a ten-minute guided meditation called Growing a Heart in the Garden of Aloha. Stewart writes: “It is about going inward to see how we are tending to our Hearts and doing what we can to nurture our own hearts. If we look at how we support our own Heart growth, we will be able to expand our capacity to love and enjoy these magnificent lives of ours.”

I continue to listen to his meditation over and over, and each time I experience rich insights and profound peace. Here is the direct link to the meditation, and I urge you to explore his website, read his book, sign up for his newsletter, and enjoy the many other wise delights he has to offer.

With so much frenetic activity happening in the world, and most of it readily available for us to know about and sometimes even vicariously witness, it feels like a good time to grow our hearts in an inward garden of love and peace, and to create inner gardens of beauty and serenity as well as outward ones. Here are some of the gardens I have loved that I wrote about some years ago in my WriteSpa Oasis. I hope my memories will inspire your inner—and outer—garden:

“Gardens are backdrops to every Arabian Night tale, crucial to Alice in Wonderland’s mysterious adventures, vital in several Shakespearean dramas. Whether it is a miniature nature corner in a city apartment or a famous estate designed for an emperor or a queen, the garden is a symbol of something internal and external in each of us. Ideally, of course, the whole world is our garden. But it’s also one of the most personal daily aspects of our lives.

Sensual, moving, restful, refreshing, fragrant, our gardens hold qualities of symbolic and spiritual nourishment that make gardening as much as part of our lives as eating, speaking, or loving. All over the world, in every culture, society is comprised of a family, a house, and a garden. If you live in an apartment, your garden is the city park. In my travels, I’ve encountered hundreds of them: moss gardens and rock gardens in Kyoto, Islamic gardens with waterfalls, intricate tiles, flowering desert plants, and the quiet cypress trees; terraced gardens in Tuscany that brimmed and spilled over with fragrance and color, aromatic herbs, olive trees, potted geraniums and carnations, where we sat at a shady table under an old grape-vine trellis sipping vino rosso and savoring formaggio and fresh bread. Even in the jungles of India there were gardens: brilliant bougainvillea, hot and sultry hibiscus, and twining vines that gated and ornamented the sacred caves and temples.

In England, the gardens are artistic and carefully tended: the gentle, kind climate inspires blooms and fragrances subtle and fresh. I remember jasmine, wisteria, daffodils; stone paths meandering through carefully planted and lovingly tended shrubs and beds; holly, hazelnut hedges, a swimming lake, gaudy rhododendrons, and dear views, and shady groves.

In my Hawaiian garden there grew a mango tree, a plumeria tree, and an avocado tree. Enormous orange and blue birds of paradise perched before my eyes as I sat on my lanai. The rich, vibrant colors and the sweet, salty smell of the ocean saturated my senses and permeated my soul. I’ll always remember these images: the rustling wet rainforest … the moon behind coconut fronds… the trade winds blowing white plumeria blossoms across the hammock… the splash of vermilion from the ubiquitous hibiscus… the parade of red ginger and the fragrance of white ginger.

129Even when we lived in New York City, we had window boxes from which climbed the bluest morning glories you ever saw. And ivy fell like waterfalls down the side of the brownstone house, brilliant orange impatiens splashed bits of color here and there. Inside our apartment we had miniature gardens for our children: we called these ‘nature corners.’ Each month we’d change the nature corner to reflect the season, or a seasonal festival, and create a small place of nature and purpose in the corner of our apartment.

My favorite garden of all was the one in Greece, which was actually just a small rocky plot of marble and quartz sparkling in the red earth. Pine, fig, and olive trees surrounded me, and friendly crows kept me company while I gazed at the mountains in the distance, but the garden itself was untamed, rocky, solitary. The reason I loved it so was that there was very little I had to do except sit on a warm rock and write. That was my ideal way to garden.”

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