Throw open the doors, walk barefoot across the grass and just... be. Appreciate what you have around you to reach the ultimate mindfulness moment.
Words: Wendy Megget
When you go out into your garden, are you truly present? Are you really experiencing each moment? The smell of the plants; the touch of a leaf on your shoulder; the feel of dirt between your fingers? Or are you thinking about your list of chores, planning a birthday party, or even talking on the phone?
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme, which he developed to help patients deal with stress, pain and illness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He defines mindfulness as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”. If you are not experiencing the moments in your life as they occur, but are instead thinking about the past or future, then are you really living this life? If you spend your life thinking and not experiencing, then your life is really just an illusion created by your mind. Your actual life is passing you by, while you are thinking about what you are having for dinner tonight.
It is, of course, the very nature of the mind to wander, and this is okay. When you realise it has happened, just gently bring it back. Herein lies the practice. There is no point in doing this for 20 minutes sitting on a cushion in the morning, then being a frazzled animal for the rest of the day. Being mindful during the day gives you your true life experience back, and correspondingly the joy that comes from little things that you may otherwise miss.
A garden is an ideal place to practise mindfulness, containing so many things to be consciously aware of – things that activate the senses. The call of a thrush in the evening air; the smell of freshly cut wood; the softness of a petal. If you cannot be mindful in your garden, how on earth can you be mindful in the rest of your life?
So, how can you design a garden to help you remain mindful? The answer is to provide as many things as possible to activate your five senses, to remind you to come back into the moment, each time you experience them.
But before we begin, please take your magazine and cuppa outside, sit or stand, and simply observe your garden. Perhaps it’s the colour of the flowers, the sound of a dog barking in the distance, the smell of lavender, the taste of parsley from a nearby pot, or the breeze brushing your face. Completely immerse yourself in the experience you are having in your garden. Don’t judge anything as good or bad (even the barking), just be aware of it all. This is mindfulness, and it is the true and full experience of this moment in your life.
Now that you’ve experienced a moment of mindfulness, was there anything you would have liked to add to your experience? Don’t think about what other people would want. It’s all about what brings you back into yourself.
Having been brought up immersed in music, I love to sit in my garden and listen to the sounds around me and the tunes of nature. The wind chimes sing their song; the neighbour’s children make sounds of delight as they play; the wind rustles through the cabbage trees.
If you pay attention, you will discover noises you have never noticed before. But think about what sounds you would like to hear in your garden. If you want more birds, start encouraging them with food. If you want music, add wind chimes or a Japanese water fountain. If you want to hear the wind, plant trees that catch and move with the breeze.
If you are more intrigued by tactile things, enjoying the feel of different textures, then perhaps start by taking off your shoes and gloves. The senses can be activated by basic things, as well as the sublime. Don’t forget to feel the roughness of the spade in your hand, as well as the softness of lamb’s ear or hare’s tail grass. Become familiar with the feel of the bark on every tree in your garden. Even the cut of a rose thorn can be observed in a mindful way, just before you mindfully run for a plaster.
If you are a foodie, your garden is likely to be more about tastes. Generations have survived eating sweet organic carrots fresh from the ground, washed under hose water, so go ahead and taste your way through your garden. Sneak a strawberry – no one will know. Crunch some mint. Steal a handful of cherry tomatoes. Create a smorgasbord in your backyard.
Don’t eat absently, like we often do, shovelling down breakfast while racing out the door. Notice the smell before you even put it in your mouth; then the textures and flavours as you chew. When you stop to really taste your food, you will be surprised by the things you never noticed before.
Some of you may be more about the visual feast. Maybe you want a rainbow of colours? Maybe you want every flower to be pink? Maybe you want every shade of green under the sun? Think about the light in your garden. Use glass to tint and reflect it, glinting in your eye as you walk by. Think of your garden as a canvas – throw as much paint at it as you can.
Something that seems to have been lost in modern gardens (and florists) is fragrance. If you are willing to sacrifice this for beauty, then that is your prerogative. But if you love wonderful smells as much as me, fill your garden with fragrant herbs, jasmine, daphne, violets, jonquils and scented roses. Again, don’t forget the simple smells – soil, cut grass, drying firewood and even impending rain.
So, now you should have some idea of what you want in your own mindful garden. Make it an experience for the senses and I promise your mind will follow with peace and serenity. Namaste.