Thursday, December 20, 2012


Dana Prom Smith


Wordsworth had it right when he wrote:  “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”  He wrote of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, not the Cyber Revolution of the 21st century.


Nearer to our time, Marshall McLuhan wrote:  “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.”  Nowadays things are coming very fast, taking in too much information at once, so that we don’t have the time to understand the information, much less what we think and feel about it all.  We lose contact with ourselves so busy are we handling the assaults of information.


Pico Iyer, the novelist and essayist, wrote in the New York Times (9/24/2012) in an essay “The Joy of Quiet,” “In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often to make more time.”     


We lose contact with ourselves, almost as though we weren’t there, becoming an information receiving machine without a soul.  In addition to the assault of information, we are rattled by the assaults within ourselves, such as indignations, ideologies, and unresolved conflicts.  When we turn from that inner fracas and begin to pay attention to our senses, the distractions fade away.  Enjoying our five senses takes our minds off our inner turmoil and external assaults.  Petting a dog will do it.  We need a refuge where we can become reacquainted with ourselves which is the reason that meditation is so important.  Gardens beget meditation.


Meditation is zoning out so that one can zero in, but how to do it?  Paradoxically, paying attention to our five senses is the pathway to the spiritual.  Many years ago I spent some time at a remote Augustinian monastery.  I’d been on a spiritual quest to find a way to meditate that was congenial to me, and the Augustinian monastery was a stop on that journey that ended the journey.  The monks walked around a courtyard garden chanting and invited me to participate.  The more I participated, the freer was my mind to focus.


Their theology didn’t beguile me although I relished theological conversations with them.  It was their method.  I learned how to meditate.  And so it is with gardening.  If we want to meditate, we first must leave the assaults and discords, becoming at ease with ourselves, recalling an experience in our lives where we felt completely at peace with ourselves.  Experiencing life in a garden is akin to such an experience of ease, especially near dawn or in the evening at the gloaming.  Enjoying the full pleasures of our senses is one of the gifts that a garden gives us to help us to zone out so that we can zero in. 


Such an experience leads to a fusion of our minds and our bodies. Experiencing wholeness releases us from ourselves.  Some people call it emptiness, but the word “wholeness” better suits the experience.  With our sensory needs satisfied, we can relax our defenses and be at ease with ourselves.  A garden with its tastes, aromas, sights, sounds, and touches is such a place.  


Once our senses are satisfied, we can move beyond ourselves.  We’re no longer hungry or grasping.  Meditation beguiles us, drawing us outside of ourselves in a moment of transcendence and clarity where we see ourselves from outside of ourselves.  We’re free to move beyond the bulwarks of our assaults and conflicts, opening to the new, seeing things in a different way.  In many ways, most of us have had such experiences, but they’re chancy and occasional.  A garden gives us the possibility of practicing and cultivating those experiences of discovery.  We become acquainted with ourselves once again, feeling at ease enough to move beyond our safe zones, to see ourselves from fresh perspectives, delivering us from perpetually rehearsing yesterday, embracing today and tomorrow.  If we embrace life as a gift, gratitude becomes the reason for living.    


Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele edits Gardening Etcetera, blogs at, and emails at



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