Breathing Exercises

Refuge and Prospect

Posts Tagged ‘gardens

Somebody Messing With My Zen

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I have a little rock garden out in front of my house, and I love the picture of solidity contrasted with flow that a good rock garden is. This kind of dry garden is popularly called a Zen rock garden because we learn them from Zen Buddhists, who see them as an aid to meditation, or entering into a calm reflective state (which is pretty close to a root definition of Zen). I’m not a Zen Buddhist, but I love rock gardens, in the same way I love how any work of art reflects something about nature, and ultimately, about God, who is the maker of all.

When I decided to pour a bunch of sand from the California coast into a large wooden platter and arrange some rocks inside, I was excited to search out the formal rules of arrangement. I wasn’t interested in becoming an expert, or in slavishly conforming to Zen principles, but I wanted to understand. I learned about the implied flow of water that is created by the arrangement of rocks in sand, as if they were rocks in a river. Another way of thinking about this flow is as a kind of life energy: the chinese word for this energy is ‘Chi’, which is literally translated as ‘air’ or ‘breath’. In Christianity, the source of this energy is the Spirit of God, whose primary names in Hebrew and Greek are the words for ‘wind’ or ‘breath’, and who ‘moved over the face of the waters’ in the beginning.

The first humans were brought to a special kind of life (one not shared with animals) by God’s breathing into our dusty shells. As I looked at some examples of famous rock gardens, I saw how there was an attempt to invite this flow to move in favorable directions. I don’t believe that properly arranged rocks will cause the Holy Spirit to land on a bullseye in my home or my heart, but as a piece of art that communicates my desire to make the way straight for God to wash over me, I love the visual aid of rocks arranged in this way–they help me consider the landscape of my life.

So I carefully arranged my rocks to create a picture of ‘flow’ in that little bit of theater on my porch. Very satisfying.

Recently, we’ve been having a group of people over to our house to practice Christian community. Just as with me and my little rock garden, we are in the learning stage, we’re just beginning to look at some of the ‘formal rules’, considering examples, and trying our hand at arranging the pieces. We’ve only met a few times, but I’ve been noticing that at the end of our meetings, someone has been hanging around on my porch and messing with my rock garden, and they’re totally breaking all the rules. After the first meeting, my rocks, carefully arranged in a sort of inverted triangle on smooth sand, had now been unceremoniously lined up straight across the platter, in the middle of the sand, which had been churned up by digging. Yikes! My flow has been interrupted! The following week it was changed again, the rocks no longer in a line, but spread out, and the sand marked with finger holes. Who’s bright idea was it to make rock gardens look so much like sandboxes?

Serene source of meditative calm? ... Sandbox? ... Or both?

What will I do? I could fix the rocks each week. I could hang a sign that says You Are Beginning to Damage My Calm. I could hide the rock garden in my closet and not let anyone else see it, let alone touch it. But I don’t want to do that, not even remotely. I think I like that the rock garden is more like a sandbox than a precious work of art. And anyway, it’s just a rock garden and it’s not like someone is rearranging the pictures on my bedroom walls after using the bathroom.

Here’s what I know: when we invite people over to our home and into our lives, things don’t stay neatly arranged. I can’t hope to maintain the arrangement of the rocks, or the chairs, and certainly not the social landscape of all the members of my family or my community. We are making a place where it’s safe to say what we think, and it’s not always going to be clean or well ordered. If I wanted to keep my garden neat, I would have to stop inviting people over, or hide my garden. If I do invite people over, house rules will be broken and sand will be spilled. But the life of community, when we make room for it, is like the rock garden: an ever-shifting picture of the move of the spirit within the person who currently has their fingers in the sand. It’s not always going to follow the rules, but there will be beauty.


Written by dmaddalena

2011/03/12 at 1:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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