Sunday, March 25, 2012

Making a Zen Garden - This Time it's Personal

I have decided a Zen garden is a good idea because 1) I like Zen; 2) I like gardens; 3) I have been collecting rocks since I was a child and my 5-year-old has adopted the hobby -- hence, we have a lot of rocks lying about; 4) I live in the desert and have access to copious amounts of free sand; and 5) I saw this tutorial on how to make a Zen garden on a budget on Pinterest, and it is a new goal in my life to do every single craft I see on Pinterest

Mostly though, I’m just trying to figure out how to meditate.  I’ve been trying to shut myself up for years.  And years and years and years. Most of the time I fail miserably.  So instead of just repeating the same process over and over again, I’m trying to look at meditation from a more personal perspective.  Instead of trying to meditate how other people tell me I should meditate, I started thinking about how I would teach myself to meditate. 

I started to ponder over the times when I would be able to zone out, so to speak.  It always seemed to accompany some other action like watching the same TV show or movie over and over again, vacuuming, crafting, singing or humming in the shower.  The times that I zone out always include movement, sound, patterns, and/or vibrations. I’ve been trying to meditate by sitting perfectly still with my eyes closed and my head clear.  I think I’m beginning to see the problem.  At least one of my problems, anyway. 

Zen gardens are simple in design, rich with history, and contain an intricate web of possibilities.  Most consist of nothing more than rocks and sand.  One meaning of the Zen garden is to resemble an aerial view of islands floating in the ocean.  The Zen rake creates an endless array of waves in the sand.  I am particularly drawn to the natural transformation of using one element - Earth - to represent another element - Water. 

A Zen garden allows me to bring movement into my meditation practice.  The act of raking the sand waves around the rocks brings purpose to my body, which allows my mind the freedom to wind down.  The key to the success of my Zen garden, I believe, is to make it as personal as possible - to give it meaning.  After all, that sand is supposed to be me - my mind, my body, my spirit, my soul.  The rocks are supposed to represent my life - those ever-present islands, anchored about.

So here is my attempt to make a personalized Zen garden.  I started by thinking about EVERYthing in my life as a different rock - what it would look like, what it would feel like, what emotions it would evoke.

Here is my husband:


My husband is most definitely my rock.  His incredibly logical, black and white mind balances my overly sensitive and intuition-heavy brain waves.  I’ve often called him the yin to my yang.  He embodies the classic strength that brings me a feeling of safety when he is near.  He is hard, strong, stable, and unchanging. 

But turn the rock over and you see this:


My husband is also scarred.  He carries the physical scars of a car accident that left his legs mangled and his life scattered into little pieces on the road he was planning to take.  He carries the emotional scars of a hard childhood marred with common, yet no less jarring problems.  He carries the moral scars of a religion that he has come to realize failed him in every possible way.  While I desire the stable, smooth side, it is the scarred side I find most beautiful. 

Here are my two beautiful daughters:


I mined this geode myself out of a rock bed just feet away from the Mississippi River.  I then strapped it and a backpack full of other geodes onto my back, and hiked it out of the woods.  It was hard work, let me tell you.  Every time I look at this geode, I remember how hard it was to acquire, and it makes me smile every time.

Two halves of a whole; not twins - the two parts aren’t identical, my girls are about 4 years apart.  But they have many similarities, were actually formed out of one piece, and were brought forth from their resting place in space by the same pair of hands.   

From the outside, a geode looks like any old rock - hard, strong, set.  But if you look inside the geode, you find a beautiful and fragile world of crystal and light, surrounding a hollow place in the middle.  This hollow space can range in size, depending on the condition and age of the geode.  I’m coming to see that the void may be even more beautiful than its jeweled casing. 

    “Thirty spokes will converge in the hub of a wheel; but the use of the cart will depend on the part of the hub that is void.  
     With a wall all around a clay bowl is molded; but the use of the bowl will depend on the part of the bowl that is void.
    Cut out the windows and doors in the house as you build; but the use of the house will depend on the space in the walls that is void.
    So advantage is had from whatever is there; but usefulness rises from whatever is not.”
    -- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (No. 11)

If I fill the void in my geodes with mud, I will no longer be able to see the beauty that lies within.  If I fill the void in my geodes with water, the beauty of the entire rock is cleansed, freshened, and enhanced.  And the water is able to rid itself when it’s use is done, by evaporating back into the atmosphere to continue its purpose in another state. 

Here is how I see the memories of my mother:


This jar of rocks also came from the muddy waters of the Midwest.  They were hand-picked and sent with love to my mom, shortly before her death, by a dear friend.  Each rock differs from the next in shape, size, and color.  Each one will feel a little different when I pick it up and hold it in my hand.  Each one, taken individually, contain the potential to hurt, to damage, or to scar in a painful way.  But when brought together, they compliment each other beautifully and make a wonderful, cohesive package.  They fit together to make a larger, stronger, more stable, and more beautifully powerful structure. They can also be contained, if I choose to contain them.

Here’s my collection of daily chores:


Those four big rocks on the left are all dishes.  Man, do I hate dishes.  At best, these just look like big dumb rocks put here for no particular reason whatsoever.  At worst, these are huge boulders that, if one doesn’t watch carefully, can wreak havoc with the peace of the day.

But with a different view:




They can become an amusement park of fun and learning, a constant reminder of the importance of hard work, and a lesson in the value of monotony, rhythm, and the patterns of life. 

Here is the school pick up/drop off at my daughter’s elementary school:



So close, and yet so far away.  We watch the sun rise over this mountain range on our way to school every morning.  From far away, the Organ Mountains look like a painting of perfection from the beauty inside the human mind.  Up close, it’s a big fucking mountain that exhausts me to my core every single time I try to climb it.  Sometimes we must decide when to hike up the mountain and when to avoid the mountain altogether.  But that’s a blog for a different day...

The Sand

The sand is me.  How did I want to portray myself in sand? I could have walked about a block and a half from my house and scooped up a bunch of yellow, desert sand for my garden.  Instead, I decided to be patient and wait until a trip to White Sands National Monument (only about half an hour from my house) would yield a bucket of pure white, fluffy sand that is so fine and soft it hardly sticks to the skin.

The rake represents the control I have over my own life.  In this particular instance, it helps me to see the difference between a sea of water and a sea of sand.  A sea of water is uncontrollable; the rake is rendered useless.  It can be calm, peaceful, tranquil, but it can also be chaotic, violent, and damaging.  I can definitely see myself in that metaphor.

My Zen garden allows me to see myself, instead, as a sea of sand.  With my trusty rake in hand, I can control the waves of my own ocean.  Right now, I’m using a fork I found right in my own kitchen.  The tools we need in life are sometimes right under our noses.

I can decide whether to softly wind my waves around my islands or whether to lead the waves to the islands edge.  I can decide if I want to make a bee-line right to my island, or whether I want to leisurely spiral to my islands.  I can decide if my sand waves stop short of the island altogether, or even, occasionally topple over my islands, burying them in a dusty white comforter. 

By making my Zen garden a personal experience, I’m making it more of a life tool.  When I tend to my garden, I’m not just moving sand around.  I’m manipulating the energy of my life.  I’m learning about myself and the people I love most in the world.  I’m coming just one step closer, to learning what the hell meditation really is. 

My Zen Garden!


 I added in my birth art sculpture.  It means a lot to me and I thought this was a better use for it than sitting in a drawer, collecting dust.


Everyone is loving it.  Both my husband and my 5 year old have been using it.  My daughter likes to take all the rocks out and just rake the sand.


Then she put every single rock in at once.  Always experimenting, that one.





Do you know what your personal Zen garden would look like?






5 comments:

  1. I really like this idea, and will happily steal it for my house. I think I'll wait until the two and a half year-old isn't quite so two and a half...perhaps at the end of the year. Really liked the analogies with the stones/rocks. - got me thinking about my family too.
    I find that my mind is free when I am doing something boring and physical, but I am trying to re-establish a ritual of greeting the dawn. It worked well for a while and then the baby became a toddler. I am inspired all round!

    ReplyDelete
  2. kloppenmum, thank you SO much for your comment. I always feel better when I wake up with the sun. It has taken me many years to accept the fact that sleeping in just makes me sluggish and irritable. It's definitely a hard routine for me to stick to, but I do feel better when I do.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is BEAUTIFUL, Leah! What an awesome idea.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Sunshine! You picked such a great name for your blog. Every time I say it, it makes me smile.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for sharing

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...