Friday, July 25, 2014

Zen Gardening

This summer the owners of our apartment complex have decided to embark on an ambitious project of landscaping “improvements.” This translates to ripping up all the walkways, grass, and vegetation and installing new curbs, sidewalks, sprinkler systems, new sod and new plants around the buildings. I’m sure it will look beautiful one day in the future when they finally finish, but in the meantime we are living in an arid dustbowl.

The view looking down from my balcony at our former front lawn.
When I was whining to Stretch the other morning about the bleakness of our vista this summer, he scolded me for my lack of insight. He said as a fan of Eckhart Tolle who talks a lot about Zen, I should be reminded of the Zen gardening philosophy where nature is reduced to its simplest and most abstract forms in order to stimulate meditation and encourage profound thoughts.

I didn’t want to admit my ignorance of Zen gardens to the little fellow and inflate his ego even more over his superior knowledge, so I did some research on them and discovered that the most famous of all Zen gardens is Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. This garden dates from the 15th century and was the first purely abstract Zen garden.
As Wikipedia describes it: “The garden is a rectangle of 340 square meters. Placed within it are fifteen stones of different sizes. . . The stones are surrounded by white gravel which is carefully raked each day by the monks. The only vegetation is some moss around the stones. The garden is meant to be viewed from a seated position on the veranda of the hojo, the residence of the abbot of the monastery.”

Well, this does put a whole new spin on my situation. So until they get around to replacing the grass and plants in front of my building, I think I will go out and rake the dirt and stones each morning and then sit back on my balcony and see if I’m stimulated to profound thoughts. Anyone who feels like trying a little Zen meditation is welcome to join me.

And I can report that on my very first try, I did have an insight that, if not profound, was at least correct. I asked Stretch if he and Tiny would like to join me on the balcony and he said they would be along later after they finished some work in their own garden.  As I sat there gazing at the abstract landscape, a little voice inside me said, “Stretch is up to something in his garden and it probably involves your charge card.”

The most famous miniature Zen garden—Stretch-ji.

 (With special thanks to Stretch’s new friend Carolyn for this idea and the garden to go with the idea!)

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