Just as we transitioned from the fiery spark of physical movement outlined in The Crucible to the stillness of tuning in to the glorious space of the heart in The Tuning Fork, we now move from the practice of clearing our spiritual hearts of harmful emotiohttp://www.elephantjournal.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=302823&action=editnal blockages to the practice of planting, cultivating, and harvesting the love we want to develop in our hearts.
This practice I am calling The Rose Garden.
The first part of this practice is recognizing that there are certain qualities we want to actively cultivate in our hearts, and foremost among these is love. We are not seeking only to clear the heart of the harmful, but to actively grow the positive, to work through practice to align with the energies of harmony, peace, light, and love that are implicit in the great order of this universe.
The Rose Garden recognizes that we, as animate beings with our humble allotment of what we call free will, spend this life in the great garden of physical reality as planters, cultivators, and harvesters. We plant seeds through our words, through our actions, through our intent, through our practice, and through what we energetically put forth in this world from our hearts. We cultivate behaviors, tendencies, practices, and ways of being–consciously or not. And we harvest–inevitably–exactly we plant and cultivate.
The recognition of manifest reality as a great garden goes back to the earliest spiritual teachings.
In the Rig Veda, one of the first mantras we encounter speaks of the Divine as a gardener, the Fragrant One who sees all and brings each of us to fruition in our time. And in the Christian tradition, we all know the story–though perhaps not very deeply–of the primal garden from which we all came, and in whose fragrant bowers we were endowed with the defining quality of our humanity -choice.
We navigate a world of choice.
We choose, every day, every breath, whether to align ourselves to love or not. In the Buddhist cosmology this choice is both the great curse and the great gift that sets us human beings apart from the inhabitants of the other five realms of existence. Squarely positioned between the ground of our own cultivation and the stars of our creation, we, of all creatures, have the choice to forget our hearts and let them decline in neglect and disease, or to carefully grow the precious seeds of love.
And just as there are certain flowers we want to grow in a garden, so we want to develop certain qualities in our hearts and weed out others. Just as there are specific levels of sunlight and water that make certain plants grow to fullness, so there are ways to nourish and care for the heart that are optimal to its spiritual development. And as sure as there are actions and practices in this life that foster confusion and harm, so are there ways of living that allow our hearts to sing in harmony with the great heart of this great world.
A walk through a well-tended garden reminds us of what is possible with the delicate combination of care and practice and love.
If our hearts are to blossom to full potential, they need this diligent attention. And this care–just like the care of growing a garden—requires choices. It requires fundamental distinctions between what nourishes us and what doesn’t, what helps us grow and what doesn’t, what drags us into behavioral cycles that are harmful to ourselves and others and what lifts us up in harmony.
With the sheer volume of forces that we are subject to every day in this modern world–and with the continuous encouragement towards the self-serving, the immediate, the indulgent, the addictive, and the negative–it can be a lifelong practice just to begin to make these distinctions.
Yet the foundation of what nourishes us is very straightforward-community, true friendships, a healthy interaction with fellow human beings across multiple generations, time spent in nature, music, art, sport, dance, the preparing and sharing of meals, a regular spiritual practice, and a healthy relationship with the one we love. In other words, all the things we know philosophically but have to remember, in our hearts, to practice, every day.
Once we get to know, or re-learn, what in this life nourishes the garden of our hearts, the real practice is to build our lives around the cultivation of these things. How many times have we cast the seeds of positivity and potential about, making great claims about how today is the day that we are going to transform our lives? And how many times have we left those fragile new shoots of possibility to wither untended?
So we begin this practice with a deep and loving assessment of the garden of our hearts.
When I practice this I like to be out in nature, someplace where I am in proximity to two of the forces that are fundamental to all gardens – water and light. I sit and I breathe, allowing the warmth of the sun and the sound of the water to help me drop into the beautiful garden of the heart space. I sit there, at peace amid the humming of bees and the sweet fragrance of wildflowers, and I drop from the busy streets of the head into the garden of the heart.
The garden of the heart is a real place. We can go there.
Is the overall feeling we get one of bounty and blossoming and care or one of barrenness and neglect? Is ours a garden that has choked in dryness or one that is resplendent in love? Perhaps it is a garden of new shoots amidst old brambles, or of rich harvests of the past yet few new seeds for the future.
As we examine closer, we turn our attention to the key areas of our lives.
We look at the area of garden that is our friendships – feeling deeply and honestly which friendships we have cultivated well and which we have left unwatered. If we are watering unhealthy friendships and neglecting true ones, we might ask ourselves why. If we feel that there are latent seeds that just need a little encouragement, perhaps we initiate some loving communication with that friend. We go deep into each particular friendship, looking at what that person plants within us, and what we as friends cultivate together. We feel the fruit of our friendship, and the flowers. We let ourselves bask in the warmth of those friendships that bring forth good fruit, and we notice if there are friendships in which we are cultivating something less savory.
Similarly, we look at the garden of our partnerships. We look at the garden of our relationships with husbands or wives or lovers or children. We look at the garden of our work, and of our communities. And we look at the garden of our spiritual practice.
In the west there is often a great deal of neglect in the garden of spiritual practice, even among those who are spiritual in worldview. To grow something – anything — requires regular, daily care, and the spiritual heart is no different. If we tried to grow a garden the way that many of us practice spirituality – when we feel like it, how we feel like it, with occasional floods of eager watering followed by months and months of drought – we wouldn’t have much of a garden. If we gardened the same way that we approach our diet, our practice of exercise, our love relationships, our relationship with the Divine, would our garden be thriving or just getting by?
As we begin to be able to deeply assess these areas of our hearts – to truly see where there is abundance and where there is lack, where there is need for care — then we can start the practice of planting and cultivation.
The first part of this practice is the recognition of the need for actively cultivating love.
One of the great spiritual traps we can fall into along the path of the heart is the assumption that that which is good grows by itself. In our modern therapy-driven world most of us recognize the importance of spending a great deal of time accessing and releasing the emotions of anger and guilt and grief and fear. Yet when we experience love and joy and open-hearted connection we assume that this is just “how it’s supposed to be” and we don’t always do things to care for and nourish this positivity so that it stays in us and grows.
The good news is that the nature of love is to open and amplify. Even a small time spent actively cultivating the seeds of love bears tremendous fruit.
So we work to develop the eyes and ears of the heart so that we can recognize seeds of goodness and seeds of love when we encounter them.
There is often a moment, when we hear the words of a true friend, or when we find ourselves in positive surroundings that nourish us in just the right way, when our hearts recognize the seed of something good. There is a momentary opening and softening we feel, and perhaps a hum of recognition. And quite often, rather than vibrationally connect with this seed in a way that will give it space to start to grow, the winds of our thinking minds take over and the seed is quickly scattered and lost.
The practice of The Rose Garden is to start to recognize these seeds and to foster them diligently. These seeds are the whole point. Those little moments of love and goodness are invitations–openings through which we can change the course of our lives and of our hearts. If a seed of pure love blew your way, would you be able slow down and see clearly long enough to recognize it?
Maybe the important moment of our day was not the conference call we had or the deal we cut or the outfit we bought or the plans we made, perhaps it was the breath of fresh air we felt as we passed by that one community garden that reminds us that one of the joys we get in life is getting our hands deep in the soil. Perhaps it was the phone call with that friend we’ve been ignoring, mostly because they challenge us to go deeper into ourselves than is always comfortable.
One word from a true friend, if we listen, can bring forth an entire orchard of positive change in our lives.
A very specific practice we can do is to create space for seeds of love to land in our hearts and begin to grow. When we hear a good word, something that has the potential to open into something much greater in us, we pause. We breathe. We feel the goodness it offers us. We create an energetic space around that seed, offering it breath and shelter and we literally put that seed right into our hearts, holding our hands to our chest. Maybe we make a silent commitment to help grow that seed in whatever way we can.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus illuminates how the process of the development of the spiritual heart directly mirrors the act of planting and cultivating a garden. Here we find a profoundly simple description of the exact conditions that are necessary to grow goodness in our hearts and the exact obstacles on the path.
Sometimes seeds of love are cast our way but quickly snuffed out by external forces before they even have a chance to sprout. If we are trapped in a toxic lifestyle, the forces of stress, compulsion, immediacy, anxiety, and – perhaps most insidiously – fear of the change that love and goodness might bring, will see to it that all those seeds fail.
Sometimes seeds of love take hold in our hearts and sprout but we do not have a strong root to support the new shoots. If we have not structured our lives in a way that love can easily grow, if we haven’t made that choice and developed a life and regular practice that is conducive to healthy flowering, then it doesn’t matter how much we think we want it and how much lip service we pay to the lofty and luminous feelings of love. The plant is as dependent on the root as it is on the light. A plant with no root quickly withers.
We see this dynamic reflected across the human spectrum, in love relationships, in friendships, and in the work of activists and humanitarians, who, after years of projecting love and care outwards without cultivating an inner root of practice and spiritual foundation, often face burnout and depression.
Sometimes seeds of love sprout within us but they are quickly overwhelmed by other forces and emotions and feelings still living in our hearts.
In my practice with myself and with others, I have found that the forces least conducive to the growth of love – the choking creepers – are doubt and cynicism. Tendencies that we have to gloss over, brush aside, diminish, or discount, make it almost impossible to recognize love when it is delivered to us and to actively cultivate it.
Sometimes our doubting minds feel an aversion towards the very notion of goodness, a word that implies a duality we’re not comfortable with. For many years, I know I bristled at concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and at the suggestion that I could be “better” in life because it triggered deep feelings of inadequacy. The idea of being ‘better’ struck me as some type of imposed morality, and it made me feel judged against an arbitrary standard handed down by those who were no “better” than I.
Then there came a day when I realized that the friends that were directly encouraging me to be better were much truer friends than the ones who supported me in staying exactly how I was.
The fact is that our own hearts want us to be better people — more loving and more aligned. This is not some moralistic societal imperative – although it gets warped into such – it is the innate longing of the heart to be healthy, to harmonize well with its surroundings, and to give and receive more love. We can all be better human beings, and we can support and love each other every day in doing so. We can love our partners better, we can love our children better, and we can love each other better.
Imagine the goodness that each of us can bring to this world of 7 billion hearts. Imagine that light.
Sometimes, it says in the parable, a seed finds fertile soil and grows to fruition…
There are many, many ways to practice cultivating a better heart, but there is one very simple and straightforward way to start. Just as we become mindful of the seeds that are planted by others within us, so we work to become mindful of the seeds we plant in others. And perhaps the most potent seeds that we cast every single day are words.
We live in a world in which words are certainly not in short supply, so the practice of parsing out which words contain seeds that lead to true fruit and which are noxious weeds is a challenging and constant one.
Yet our hearts inherently know the harmony that grows from words that are delivered in love and union and they know the endless discord brought by harmful words. We can know this distinction too, if we let ourselves slow down and feel a bit more.
If we close our eyes and connect with our breath and tune in with our hearts and silently utter the word “harm,” our hearts immediately shrink back. If we softly utter the word “Love”, our hearts float outwards to the edges of the room, seeking connection. Try it.
The Word is Love.
No other word elevates as Love does. No other word causes hearts to sing so boldly. No other word brings such immediate harmony. No other word grows such fragrant roses.
So we practice being open to love and we practice building a life that allows for us to recognize it when it arrives. We practice carefully caring for the seeds of love in our hearts. We practice having our words come from a place of love, and we practice using the word ‘Love’ itself. It is a word that truly wants to be used, and the fruit this word brings comes in the form of smiles and warmth and harmony.
In every situation we find ourselves in throughout the day we can ask ourselves ‘How can I plant, and foster, and grow love through my words?’
This is how we cultivate love, in the garden of our hearts, in the sublime garden of this life.
In the vast, wild forests of the Divine Heart we encounter a love so deep and an order more sublime than any we can bring forth in our small backyard plots. We need only look at this universe and its wilderness of stars, all arranged in magnificent spiral symmetries across the sky, this world and its forests and ranges and reefs, to get a glimpse of the great and wondrous garden that we inhabit… the garden of the great and primal heart.
Let us grow what we can, with the simple tools we have.
Rejoice, unfading rose…
See the rest of Josh’s “The Crucible” series of articles in the “ele-writers Series” on the Elephant Spirituality Home Page
Editor: Tanya L. Markul
Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.