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Are You Cultivating Your Spirit Garden?

Some of the world's most beautiful gardens
Some of the world's most beautiful gardens
edward alderman

We cannot cause spiritual growth, a development that includes expanded meanings, and an exaltation of values. But we are able to embrace an ideal that reflects true values. As meditation teacher and author, Eknath Easvaran, put it, “mold yourself in the image of the loftiest spiritual ideal (Conquest of Mind).”
“The human individual undergoes this growth; he does not do it.... The individual undergoes this growth as sunshine, air and earth undergo transformation into a scarlet poppy. Men can do more than the poppy. A man can seek out the conditions that are required for this growth and for its greater abundance.” (Henry Nelson Wieman, Normative Psychology of Religion

oriental spiritual garden

Good decisions and wise behavior choices are those that encourage growth to take place. We can be about the tasks of organizing our souls for service to our communities, and mobilizing faith that our efforts are supported by spirit helpers.

“The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” (Meister Eckhart,

We can lay out plans for growth like we plot garden rows;
with practice, becoming expert, we recognize the frailty
of certain plants, how basil is subject to killing frost,
if you’re impatient and put it in early,
cyclamen who seem to love winter, can wilt
in a freezing cold. Or late spring lettuce
scorched by blasts of sun, is withered by a
dessicating Diablo wind off the hills.

We rake compost, dig fertilizer into the soil.
The job hurts our muscles; backs feel the strain.
We can stop to decide where each vegetable
and flower will have its most agreeable place,
by analyzing the hours of sunlight,
whether soil is acid or alkaline.
While you rest from the back pain, draw up a schedule
for activities of nurturing, watering, weed digging.
We won’t get to the point of reward
with ripe tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers otherwise.
Because this ground is dense with weeds,
we have to work at it many days, uprooting and hoeing,
Every day I water in the hot season, pinch off dead leaves
and prune branches, just like we try to remember to do
when striving to enhance our own reach for maturity using techniques
of meditation, prayer for the Spirit’s guidance as to the best way.

After weeks of preparation, harvest time arrives.
I ask for help to sharpen it, to feel the keenness of the blade
that harvests these many blessings.
Then the day when the fresh fruits of our labors go in the salad,
everyone in the house savoring homegrown flavors
makes oohs and ahs of pleasure.

Remember how the Psalmist sang to us:
“Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psalm 105)

What better way to understand such continual striving than by making a garden. But how do we know we’ve grown in spiritual matters? One thing that may block our understanding is the engrained cultural habit of looking for a measuring stick by which to gauge progress. In our vegetable gardens, it is possible to count how many tomatoes a plant produces, but not so with the unconscious accomplishments of spiritual growth.

When I was laid off from my employment in downtown San Francisco, a recession was on. The only solid opportunity that came my way was a job as a security guard at a science museum. I took it gladly so I could keep us in the apartment with food on the table. On the surface the museum guard job represented a regression in status, an unproductive phase in my life, but surprisingly it became an opportunity to set in motion greater achievements that came later, proof perhaps of this idea that spiritual growth happens unconsciously.

I’d begun a quirky practice I hid from the other security guards. I’d spend the quiet uneventful hours guarding the museum studying and reciting spiritual and motivational quotes as I made the rounds. The results came later in many good changes that flowed from my deeper intimacy with wise teachings. Not long afterwards, I went on to earn B.A. and Master’s Degrees in writing. While still in school, we had a child and my wife and I joyfully undertook the work of raising a wonderful daughter. I began a new career with a well-known California bank. Though the growth took place unconsciously, the results followed from the conscious creation of a partnership of mind with the spirit, consciously done for the first time, a partnership that bore fruit. When actions are “recollected in tranquility” far from the fields on which action took place, it is in retrospect that we may see the measurable results in our growth.

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