The Cell Within

Somewhere in the writings of Saint Francis of Assisi is the line that goes “Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.”

This time of year is hard for many of us.  For some people it’s about the joyous time of year when family reunite and celebrate among each other, trade presents, eat too much, and celebrate the season.  But for some of us this is a painful time of the year that we struggle through and hope comes and goes quickly.

Saint Francis also somewhere talked about taking the cell of the monastery with us where-ever we go in the world.  For me, it’s a cloister.  Yesterday rather than dwell on what was troubling me I retreated into my gardening  books, seed catalogues, and continued to plan the forthcoming spring garden.  There will no doubt be challenges that have to do with the purchase of the house, and the learning curve of taking on a larger space, but I know that the challenge is what keeps me going.  Not knowing all the answers is what keeps me going.

Even before I put a spade to the ground to break the earth, the garden is peace to me.  It is an act of meditation to contemplate the placement of plants, to visualize the smells and the colours in the early morning, the cool of the day, the thunder storm, the first frost of fall.  I consider the collection of seeds from my hollyhocks, the digging up of treasured bulbs and plants, the worry about the gas plant and not wanting to disturb the roots too much because I know this is something gas plants don’t like…the choosing of vegetables, the building of paths, the digging of the pond, the choice of water lily, and other lilies, the grid system I’m thinking about using now rather than a parterre, wondering if the roots from the trees that surround the yard will be an issue, wondering if the back space I’ve set aside for a patio would be better suited for a compost bit and maybe a small garden shed, wondering if the statuary I have will function, wondering if there’s a way I can set a path next to the current trees and create that sense of cloister….

The idea of this garden is to force the person to look within, to compress one as they enter, and have a sudden release of compression into a formal space, an ordered space inclusive of wildness.

Even now, writing as I am, I’m focusing less on what I’ve perceived as the troubles before me and more on the challenges that are only a few short months away.  Will my little olive tree come back and overwinter ok in this south window?  Will the bougainvillea bloom again, or just keep branching out towards me, reaching out to touch me at my desk?

And then I look at the little garden on my desk beside my computer and I’m reminded even in winter one can garden.  A six gallon enclosed tank, four small copper tetras, snails, and aquatic plants suitable to low light.  Even someone in a small apartment can water garden this way and create entire landscapes for relatively small costs compared to an acre, a yard:  probably the same price as some container plants on a balcony, and it lasts all year with relatively simple care, changing water and filter cleaning, cleaning the glass every once and a while, making sure it has sufficient light, and feeding the fish as needed.

Even in our despair there is hope, the days will get longer, the snow will melt, the ground will thaw, and we can again plant seed, watch plants creep out of the ground, trees come into bud.

Cloister-Saint-Paul-de-Mausole-St.-Remy-de-Provence-France

The Cell Within

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