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Cultivating the Garden of the Soul..

Ted Nottingham |

Caring for a garden is a perfect metaphor for the spiritual inner work necessary to one’s conscious awakening.  The parallels are so striking that they reveal how natural it is to undertake the spiritual journey.  It is indeed part and parcel of our natural existence even though it takes us into areas that have been called “supernatural”.  The fact that we can recognize in the everyday work of gardening the very same attributes found in our psychological and spiritual evolution makes it clear that spiritual awakening is at the very heart of our human nature.

Perhaps you can find your own parallels and connections between the art of gardening and the art of nurturing the spirit.  Here are some classic examples:

It begins with the soil.  The ground must be prepared, broken through and fertilized.  Life itself generates this preparation in our psychic soil.  Hardships and unexpected turn of events do indeed shake up our soil and prepare it to receive something new.

Seeding then takes place.  Consider the power of ideas from the great teachings of humanity being instilled in our receptive psychology, there to take root and bring forth a miracle of new understanding and enlightenment.

As the plant grows, pruning must take place.  Surely we can each identify the aspects of our personalities that need this pruning – how anger and impatience must be removed, enabling our spirit to be exposed to light.  Classic spirituality speaks of cleansing and purification.  Sometimes it comes down to the discipline of simply removing those branches that take our energy in unhealthy directions, starving the rest of the plant.

This process of development is especially well expressed in the following metaphor of the seed taken from my translation of an article by Father Alphonse Goettmann and published in my book Written in our Hearts:

The grain of wheat is happy in its barn. It’s not too cold, not too hot. What more could we want besides the joy of health, achievement, and comfort? All is well. But these are tiny pleasures and if we remain with them, we will miss the meaning of life. God did not create us for that alone.

One day, the grain is tossed with many others onto a wagon, in search of more pleasures. This is a whole new life: a resplendent sun, a blue sky, birds and trees. Life is beautiful, God is good. But the grain remains an untransformed grain. In the midst of pleasure, its life is a failure. The wagon finally comes to freshly plowed earth. The sower places the grain deep in the soil. This is an unexpected trial: humidity enters into its core and it freezes in the darkness. Depression and illness come along. It decomposes and is going to die. Even its faith in God tumbles into dust, for the grain says to itself, “If God existed, this would not be happening to me.”

Winter passes, as do all winters, and the grain finally accepts this incomprehensible hardship, surrendering itself entirely to the fertile soil. In the very depths of its tomb, it suddenly feels a strange surge. An entirely different Life begins to grow at the heart of its acceptance. In discovering that Someone is at work behind all this, the grain of wheat even manages to say “yes” to all that happens to it, becoming one with the earth and the trial that is imposed on it. Every time the grain does this, it dies a little more to itself and to all its prejudices concerning happiness.

Then it notices a fullness rising within. One spring day, while its whole being gives thanks in this night within the earth, a surprising fullness breaks through. It rises above the earth, overcoming all obstacles. The grain is transformed into an ear of corn. Once again, it joins its song with the sun, the sky, the birds and trees, but it is no longer for the same reasons. It has now understood why it exists and where the joy is found that no one can take away.

The parables of Jesus are filled with such metaphors connecting universal spiritual truths with the realities we encounter in our gardens.  From the different kinds of soil found in the Parable of the Sower to the mystery of abiding in the stock found in the Parable of the Vine, the simplest elements of life give way to a wisdom that is cosmic and life transforming.  Consider the wisdom expressed through different kinds of soil.  Jesus is describing three ways of receiving transforming teaching:

  1. The hard path where nothing manages to get in — this is much of the human condition.
  2. The rocky ground where the teaching cannot take root because it is not being lived out in daily life.
  3. The thorny ground where the teaching competes with other things in our lives and does not have the priority that will give it power.

The teaching does not end there for it is not about three different kinds of people. This parable is about different places within us. Each of us has that hard path that is too prideful or arrogant to receive spiritual wisdom. Each of us has other interests that drag us away from enlightenment and new life. Then Jesus speaks to us of the good soil, which is also in each of us. That good soil is deep, soft, receptive, accepting and it is purified or purged. There are no weeds in it. There are no competing distractions that will divert the nutrition.

It is all focused on the divine seed. The word for “good earth” in Latin is humus.  Humus means humility, and such is the good earth where the teaching can grow, blossom, transform us, and produce a miracle yield. In a person with true humility, there is nothing hard that rejects the Word because we no longer come first.  Openness, simplicity, quietness, receptivity – this is the good soil. All of us are capable of that kind of receptivity.

So the next time you kneel down in the earth and care for your garden, be mindful of the wisdom it can yield, along with the beauty and food it offers so abundantly.

Ted Nottingham

Ted Nottingham is the author and translator of a dozen books, the producer of numerous televised programs, publisher of Theosis Books, and spiritual teacher at the online community for spiritual growth at innerworkforspiritualawakening.com



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