Lessons of the garden


I am the original fragrance of the earth; I am the heat in fire and the life in all living beings. Know Me to be the seed of all creation, original and eternal.

-Bhagavad-Gita 7.9

I inhale the fragrance deeply. Tucked into my favorite corner of Teresa’s herb garden, I relish the earthy salve of freshly tilled, luxuriously saturated Virginia red clay. I can’t explain why its texture and aroma are so intoxicating to me. Maybe it’s the antidepressant microbes getting to my head again… the scientists say they’re in the soil. But I think it’s because God is there. This scent reminds me of him.

Today, Teresa and I had scheduled some website maintenance and other online projects. However, after last night’s tornado-esque storm sabotaged our Internet connection, we had no choice but to shift gears into our favorite mid-morning pastime… some tender loving garden time. The sun is back out and we are happy to let its rays warm our skin.

I now absorb myself in the deeply meditative act of weeding. My main target is the abundance of invasive bamboo grass that encroaches the domain of our illustrious lemon balm patch. I feel sort of funny choosing to protect one weed from being overtaken by another… but some weeds are more medicinal than tedious. Here at the school we harvest lemon balm for use in a wide-variety of calming teas due to its sedative qualities. Bamboo grass just takes over.

Beyond the immediate objective of cultivating the garden, I imagine myself to be tilling the fertile ground of my own heart as well. This analogy is one I read from Caitanya Caritamrita, a Vedic text that discussing the science of bhakti yoga, the art of love in servitude. Ultimately, devotional service culminates in Divine intention: offering one’s very life to the glorification of God. To find the inspiration to make such an offering is considered a blessing in itself, and therefore, “when a person receives the seed of devotional service, [one] should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart” (Caitanya Caritamrita: Madhya-līlā, Chapter 19, Text 152-156). Nourishing the seed includes a process of weeding the harmful mentality of greed and envy so there is ample opportunity for love to germinate and blossom with compassion.


As I endeavor to cultivate compassion outside of the garden, there is a book I have turned to for guidance and inspiration. The Journey Within, by His Holiness Radhanatha Swami gives the practical and deeply realized insight of a Vaisnava monk who dedicates his life to inter-faith celebration and universal upliftment. According to him, “spiritual life is the science of cleansing the heart and exploring the joy of living in harmony with the Supreme being, each other, and nature” (128). With these meditations in mind, I hope to act as a steward of the Earth and an instrument of divine love. The garden feels like a fitting place to start.

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