Lao Tzu, the Chinese Taoist philosopher (circa the 5th Century BC) is believed to have decreed that “The way to do is to be” – well the way to be can also be to do. I am a fan of mindful gardening as both a way to be and a way to do. It is both a cultivation of psychological resilience and spiritually gratifying.
It is no wonder that both contemplative Christian monks and Zen Buddhist monks took up gardening as part of their spiritual life. The grounding and commitment of maintaining an herb garden, and the discipline and patience of raking a gravel path. These dedications are devotion. These tasks are prayer.
This doing opens the self to being – whether that’s closer to God or closer to no-mind doesn’t really matter, it’s the being right there that is the transformative or enlightening power. Whatever your next gardening task, do it mindfully and deepen your awareness to its transformative power. You don’t need the robes or the haircut, but you can say om or amen.
In tune with our circadian rhythm. Just as plants react to daylight, soil moisture or ambient temperature so too we humans take similar cues from the natural world. In us, daylight triggers the activation of an alert neurotransmitter called serotonin which wakes us up to be active in daytime, while lowlight or night-time prompts the release of a sedating hormone – melatonin- to make us sleepy and go rest up. This is known as the circadian rhythm.
One of the stress factors of the modern world is that working or living under artificial light during daylight actually triggers melatonin and looking at phones and screens in the evening triggers serotonin – so our rhythms are off beat. No wonder we are tired all the time. The answer is to get outside.
Being and doing in the garden in the bright of day is you truly experiencing the day – the reality of it and the purposeful serotonin release of it. You are truly operating on daytime setting. If you have to be at work all day and only get to garden in the evening then being and doing in the garden in the ebbing light of the evening is you truly experiencing the transition of day towards night – and in the reality of it, this is also the purposeful prompts to melatonin levels and a shift in brain waves toward a better night’s sleep which will improve your daytime energy tomorrow.
It doesn’t matter when you tend the garden it tends you back.