Letter from the Editor

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Welcome to the spring edition of the ACI-LA newsletter! And what a lovely spring it’s turning out to be. Here in Illinois the grass turned green this week, and I went outside yesterday for the first time without a coat. The sky was blue, the breeze was gentle, and tender shoots are peeking out from the remains of autumn’s leaves. Sunny days and rainy days are coming together across the country to produce the bountiful blooms of the season. For me, the life and vitality of spring borders near bliss.

In my backyard, all these signs mean that gardening season is in full swing. But I don’t like to think of it as just gardening for the sake of curb appeal. For the past year and half, I’ve started thinking of what I do more as garden yoga. Granted, I’m not doing downward-facing dogs as I pull dandelions out of the lawn, but in my mind it’s a type of yoga nonetheless. Let me explain.

First of all, as Master Pantanjali notes, all yoga begins with meditation. This is also called Raja Yoga. There is mediation on the cushion to learn to control the mind, and then we take that meditation out into the world. I find working in the garden is one of the best places where I can be off my cushion but have a sense of mental stability. As I pull weeds, sow seeds, and dig in the dirt, I’m aware of the here and now. The sun warms my back, I feel the soil as it gets under my nails, I see the progress each plant is making as it changes through the season. There’s no better place for being in the moment, for being here now, than in my backyard.

Of course the point of meditation (or gardening) isn’t to simply feel good; there needs to be a higher goal involved for it to count as yoga. The meditation needs to be infused with wisdom, or Jnana Yoga. I look to my garden to help me think about how things are really working. Is that a beautiful flower self-existing in the backyard, or did I do something virtuous in the past to have the perception of visual beauty? Are the tomatoes from my yard essentially delicious from their own side, or did I give something yummy to someone in the past, keeping in mind that the giver, the object, and the receiver are all empty?

And then there are seeds, which bring me to Karma yoga. If you’ve never planted seeds, you may not realize they really are the best analogy for understanding how karma works! Even if you don’t have a backyard, you should try planting some seeds in a pot on the window sill as a supplemental homework assignment for ACI Course Five. Seeds, both good and bad, start so small. Given the right environment, they sprout, grow, and flower into plants that are many hundreds of times bigger than what you planted. If you continue to monitor your plant, you realize that you have also produced many more seeds. Once the flowers die and leave deadheads, you have hundreds of copies of your original seed. If they’re good seeds, hooray! Let the virtue spread. But if they’re bad, watch out…you’ve got a weed infestation on hand. It’s not a big cognitive leap to realize that if our thoughts, speech, and actions are indeed planting seeds, we might as well create a never-ending flowering paradise.

The last of the four yogas is Bhakti yoga, or the yoga of devotion. In Buddhism, the greatest form of devotion, the greatest gift to your lama, is your practice. My garden is a site for me to practice compassion with many forms of life at different stages of their development. It’s my duty to take care of all those little critters, big and small! I plant more veggies than I need knowing that some will get eaten by the bugs, the bunnies, and the squirrels. That’s good; they’re hungry too. I plant native flower species that provide nectar for the bees and butterflies. The flower seeds serve as natural bird seed to boot. In India there is a tradition of feeding guests as a way of showing devotion to the Lord. I feed the bugs.

Will I get Enlightened from gardening alone? I’m not sure. But certainly garden yoga helps keep me on the spiritual path. If you’ve never played in the dirt before, there’s no better time than spring to start planting some lovely seeds.

1 comment on “Letter from the Editor”

  1. hido you have a teacher training for Lady Niguma’s yoga comin up?


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