I am spending this summer visiting my parents. My eighty one year old dad is avid gardener – and a very good one. His garden contains a vast array of flowers that start blooming now and will carry on through the summer. All the colors of the rainbow will be well represented in different shades. Throughout the season, my senses will be enraptured by a range of colors, textures, shapes and scents that emerge, change and thrive in this garden.
Not only do I sit in the garden, but I’m also working in it. I’m new to gardening – all these years, I’ve made practically nil effort to learn about how my dad created his masterpiece. This year is different. I’m a keen gardening apprentice. This excites me for a number of reasons. They include, as I’ve suggested in a previous post, my belief that the gardener and his/her garden have a lot to teach me about social change and activism. This week, the practice of watering the plants has instructed me on the basics of awareness.
Warning: Some of you might get a bit distressed by the quantity of water you can imagine is being used to maintain the garden. Water is a precious resource that I do not take for granted. Yet, the joy gardening brings to my dad – and the joy his garden brings to anyone who sees it (as well as the bees, birds and bunnies that seem to be enjoying it, too!) – prevent me from boycotting it in the name of water conservation.
This morning, hose in hand, I slowly made my way around the garden to water the plants. In the past, I never had much patience for this vital task. I’d stand for probably what was a minute and then be ready to move on. ‘No, no, no,’ my dad would shake his head ‘Go back, you need to stay there for almost ten minutes – it’s really dry.’
Ten minutes watering the same set of plants? Really? I couldn’t fathom it. Thankfully, my capacity for patience has developed greatly in the past year.
Previously, my dad had mentioned to me that he likes watering; he finds it meditative and relaxing. Thus, I assumed that when he waters the garden he tunes out and his mind goes blank. The other day he explained that this isn’t the case at all. Rather, while he is watering, he uses the time to look closely at all his beloved plants and the happenings in his garden. Sometimes he focuses in on the minutia, sometimes he casts a wide glance to take in the big picture.
Look, the buds on that plant aren’t opening and the leaves on that one have a lot of holes. Maybe those plants would be better over there – more sunlight. And those plants are starting to take over – making the other one’s struggle. And these plants, well, the bunnies must be getting fat! And so forth.
He uses the time while he is watering to SEE his garden and understand it better. He is very present to all the creations in the garden – some of which he has had a hand in, and others that are beyond his control.
This morning, while watering, I started to play around with this practice. I quickly became pleasantly surprised by what I noticed when I paid close attention. Well, not so much by what I noticed but by how much I noticed. I was amazed by all the details I was seeing, e.g., amidst the browned, dying leaves are a whole bunch of tiny buds, if I consciously choose to pay close attention. So it is that watering the garden is also becoming a meditation for me – which most certainly is a tuning in and not a tuning out. In fact, it is about becoming finely tuned and is rather similar to my daily meditation practice of Vipassana – which involves closely observing what’s alive in me.
When I finished watering today, I found myself wondering, in what ways can I – and activists more generally – be more attentive? How can we create more spaces to meditate on the environment in which we are working? After all, our ego-driven activist instinct – in my experience – can easily default to “Here’s what I think you need to do….” or an anxious and overly-eager “What can I do?” without a pause to watch and observe.
Which of the mundane tasks we perform in our activism potentially give us an opportunity to see and connect with the world around us more deeply and thoughtfully? How can we create more spaces in which we can focus on soaking in what is before us in the here and now? How can we integrate different meditation practices, i.e., increased focus and awareness, into our activism?