Expansion in the Garden and the Self

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Alongside our designated sacred spaces - our temples, mosques, churches and cathedrals - nature supports us in connecting with the Divine (or if you prefer a different label which points to the same essential mystery - the Self, Consciousness, Spirit or God). As one of my teachers would say; ‘Nature is the visible face of Spirit’, and if we open our hearts and look and listen we are shown many mysteries, lessons and metaphors for our spiritual path or sadhana. Among these are the seeds as they germinate and unfurl, with the roots penetrating the earth in search of security and nourishment and the leaves growing upwards and expanding towards the light; and in time the inevitable decay and death, all to continue the spectacular cycle again.

For several years I have been yearning to work outside with the plants and this opportunity recently arose for me at the ashram. Over the last few weeks I have begun to get to know the land a little better and one of the things I have noticed is that there are a lot of trees which is wonderful. However, many of them have been planted too close together and are battling with one another for space and light, bending in obscure ways to compensate. The other thing I’ve noticed is that some of them still have remnants of chicken wire, to protect them from rabbits, or plastic sapling protectors around them causing obstruction to growth and wounding the tree bark. These things are the natural outcome of regular changes within the ashram, changing gardeners, different priorities and so on, but what struck me is the important metaphor that these observations offer us. For our spiritual growth and expansion we need enough space to find our own way and make mistakes, and to be vigilant as things can be overlooked even with the best intentions. That being with others in sangha or community is important as others can help us see our blind spots. At one time the plastic and wire was given to the young tree in an act of love to protect the sapling; yet it has now outgrown this and what was once helpful has become restrictive. In the same way the lessons and teachers that we need will change during our personal journey and we must be willing to let go of our old supports to welcome in the new.

When I see these trees I have a visceral response and a wish to free the tree from its incarceration so that it can heal and grow into its full authentic self. On our yogic path we undergo a similar process of freeing ourselves from perceptions, habits and beliefs that no longer serve us, allowing us to expand fully into our authentic Truth. When I free a tree from its confines I like to think I can hear an audible sigh of relief and gratitude and that the process has helped me connect a little more to the individual tree and the ashram garden as a whole. Nature can always help us reflect and contemplate as well as bringing us back to the fullness and beauty of the present moment.