Get Your Hands Dirty

Simon Shadowlight
We continue our exploration of the book, Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. This month, the focus is on the practice of gardening. There are few—as far as I know—practices that can so readily return your awareness to the great cycles of life as gardening. Gardening requires that you "dig in" and get your hands dirty, allowing you to fully participate in the process of growth, harvest, and eventual decay.

When my wife and I moved into our current house, some 20+ years ago, we decided to give vegetable gardening a try. Oh my God… we were clueless. We built two raised beds in the back corner of our yard because, well, we had space there. Never mind that those beds were under a large ash tree and received zero hours of direct sunlight (perhaps fine for shade crops but we had no idea what a shade crop was).

We planted seed based on what we thought we would like to eat, giving no additional thought to placement, spacing, compatibility, growing season… you get the idea.

Our biggest mistake was that we had no concept of tending a garden. We just planted the seeds and then—except for an occasional watering—forgot about them. We did notice that something was eating the broccoli and someone mentioned something about broccoli moths so we covered them with netting. What we didn’t realize was that the “pretty little white butterflies” had already laid their eggs and the worms were responsible for the first signs of damage. A month or so later we came back to uncover the broccoli and… that was almost the end of me ever eating broccoli again. We had effectively provided the perfect, protected buffet for the worms and the broccoli heads looked like malformed, decaying stumps of alien biomass. Oh well. A great lesson.

Growing plants for food and pleasure has been a sustaining practice for humanity for many thousands of years. Today, with our modern food-production systems and our crowded cities, many of us have lost the intimacy and nourishment that come from working directly with the Earth. But this connection is dormant, like a seed, in all of us, and can easily be awakened by a conscious practice of growing and tending plants. Caring for growing things, even a single houseplant or a pot of herbs on a windowsill, can restore us to our fundamental connection to the Earth and remind us of our place in the intricate interconnectedness of all creation.
~ Lewellyn Vaughn-Lee

Many years later we decided to try again. By this time, with years of parenting under our belts, we had learned about patience and consistent effort and vigilance and caring for living things. We started with just a few new beds (the former beds having been converted to a composting site) and enjoyed the success and continued to learn from the failures. We don’t garden as a hobby and we will likely never grow enough to be fully self-sustaining. Rather, our garden is a classroom and a church.

I could—and probably should—write a book on the life lessons learned in my garden. I won’t venture down that pathway in this article but I will repeat what I mentioned before. A garden must be tended… cared for. Daily. Watering, fertilizing, weeding, checking for insects and disease, shaping, trellising, pruning, and finally, harvesting, Gardening requires ongoing and consistent effort. This has led me to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the power of small, consistent effort which tends to win out over short-lived grand endeavors that “go big” and then fade away. It’s the story of the Tortoise and the Hare experienced directly in my 6 x 8-foot boxes of life.

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

  • Mindfulness and intention provide the heart of gardening as a spiritual practice. Gardening allows you to participate in the co-creative relationship with the elements and the natural cycles.

  • It’s one thing to talk about unity and oneness. It’s another thing to experience it. Gardening exemplifies the intricate web of interdependency which many of us experience infrequently or only theoretically.

  • Check your attitude. Like anything, gardening can be treated like a chore or an obligation to be done as quickly as possible so you can get on with the next “to-do” item. Or, you can take your time. Forge a relationship. Be fully present. Explore. Allow yourself to be delighted and surprise. Just. Slow. Down. Care for your garden. Nurture your garden. It is alive, after all.

  • Learn. You could spend your life gardening and still have plenty to learn.

  • Apply. Whatever you learn about garden will—I can almost guarantee—have application in many areas of your life that have nothing to do about gardening. [This relates back to that idea of everything being interrelated and connected].

  • Celebrate abundance and enjoy the harvest. Be amazed at what the sacred Mystery has brought forth through you. And if you really want to experience abundance, plant cucumbers and zucchini. Your friends will thank you… initially.

If you’re brand new:

  • Try growing something indoors. Perhaps a houseplant is the perfect starter for you. Begin the habit of caring for another living thing.

  • Grow a small herb garden in a sunny window.

  • Try microgreens. Go to YouTube and Google “growing microgreens.” You can find all you need to know to easily grow fresh, nutrient packed baby greens (try basil, sunflower, pea, or chard) that can be added to salads, sandwiches, smoothies, etc.

If you’re ready to embrace the dirt:

  • Head outside and mark a section of ground for your garden. A 6 x 8-foot plot is a great start. Or try container gardening on your patio. All the details you will ever need can likely be fund on YouTube or your local nurseries.

  • Start small. It requires effort so don’t get crazy.

  • If vegetable gardening, focus on what you enjoy eating. You would think this would be common sense but…

  • Accept that you will make mistakes and things will go differently than you planned. Nothing introduces the concept of humility like a spring hail storm.

If you’ve been doing this a long time:

  • Plant something you’ve never planted before

  • Try micro-climates. Experiment with soil composition, water cycles, and shade cloth to alter the local conditions your plants are growing in.

  • Try growing vertical using trellises or stacked containers.

  • And, for the really bold, enter the world of hydroponics.

Get out in the sun. Get your hands in the dirt. Co-create with the sacred. Have fun.

(And good luck).

Peace and blessings,
Rev. Simon

And in His hand He showed me a little thing, the quantity of a
hazelnut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball.
I looked thereupon and thought; “What may this be?”
And I was answered thus: “It is all that is made.”
And I marveled how it might last, because it was so small.
And I was answered: “It lasteth and shall ever last for that God
loveth it. And everything hath being by the love of God.”
~ Julian of Norwich"