Gardening has the potential to be an incredible spiritual discipline. It's all a matter of frame of mind.
I should say that as I write my forearms and ankles are covered in anti-itch cream as I've just finished weeding (for the first time in my life) and I got all scratched up. Though I've been planting for a couple of years now I'm still very much a novice. Being a novice isn't a bad thing at all. The fact that gardening is an art that requires mastery and that many of us never get beyond the novice phase is a surefire sign that gardening is a spiritual discipline.
Let's get practical. What is spiritual gardening?
1. Different for every person. While all of us (or the vast majority of us) respond to nature in fairly predictable ways (awe, inspiration, fear, gratitude) we all connect in unique ways as well. For some it's the mountains, others the beach, some love skiing, others love sleeping under the stars. When it comes to enjoying nature's bounty we all have different tastes and palates. Foods awaken deeply personal associations. Spiritual gardening begins with an awareness that gardening is a way of connecting to and participating in nature. Through gardening we come home to the reminder that we too are created beings needing sun, water, love, and attention.
2. Creation and creator. Gardening is a way of partnering with God in the work of creation. God provides the sun, water, soil, and seed. We tend, care, and protect.
3. Constant energy. Gardens change day to day. There's great joy in discovering that cherry tomatoes have sprung up overnight or that the first strawberry is ripe for the picking. Visiting a garden every day we notice the subtle differences. The new shoot or blossom or pest-devoured leaf catch our eye. I know my garden more intimately than anyone else. I witness the sun and water stimulating the foliage.
Becoming accustomed to spiritual gardening is different for every person. Here are a few techniques for infusing your gardening with spiritual awareness:
1. While gardening recite the words of hamotzi as a mantra. Hamotzi is the Jewish prayer recited before eating a meal. It reminds us that God is the Source of all sustenance. By reciting hamotzi as a mantra we invoke the notion of divine blessing and sustenance. We remain mindful of the miracle of divine sustenance.
2. Engage all senses. Working the earth is a multi-sensory endeavor. Whether we focus on all senses at once or one sense at a time, engaging our senses gives us a feeling of wholeness and connectedness.
3. Garden intentionally. Know your garden. Aspire to understand what kinds of plants grow best in what spots. Be sure to honor plants by giving them the space they need to grow. Think about why you are growing food and what you plan to do with your harvest. Try to make your garden beautiful as well as functional. Care for your soil and try to make it rich. Embrace your role as steward and cultivator and think about how the lessons of gardening apply to your life beyond the garden.