Recently, gardening has become more than a metaphor for me. I have followed Candide in a literal sense and found great peace in our garden.
To quote W Beran Wolfe:
If we want to know what happiness is we must seek it, not as if it were a part of gold at the end of the rainbow, but among human beings who are living richly and fully the good life. If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double Dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar gold button that has rolled under the cupboard in his bed room. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living 24 crowded hours of the day.
I first read Voltaire’s Candide when I was 16 and the final lines of the book made an immediate and lasting impression. Candide eventually settles upon devoting his life to simple work and not concerning himself with external affairs:
Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
Why I have never learned that lesson is quite beyond me, but I have always known its truth at a deep and instinctive level. Desire and worldliness have perhaps been the obstacles for me, and they remain formidable opponents.
One morning I felt a need to bury myself, to soothe my mind in a simple physical task. My wife and I set about pruning the fruit trees in the garden and even as I climbed the ladder, I felt a sense of deep content slowly creeping over my mind.
Contentment – a physical, bodily feeling or an emotion of the mind, a purely mental phenomena. Both; a quiet mind and a restful body combined for a glorious period when all seems right with the world.
Pruning fruit trees is the very embodiment of oneness. Up in those branches, I felt little difference between myself and the tree. We co-existed as I gently snipped last year’s growth to help the tree produce next year’s fruit. It did not feel a destructive act, nor a selfish one – this ancient task flowed, quite naturally between myself and the tree. I felt a kinship, a closeness with an entity so very similar to myself. Two products of evolution in a symbiotic relationship.
No need for complexity or deep thought. No noise, no machinery – I could have performed the task with a simple flint had I needed to.
There was a simple, glorious, rhythmic flow. Mind and body and tree intertwined. Legs and arms and branches melded, two sentient entities in harmony. Two distant cousins, each from the same rootstock moving through the eternal harmony of the seasons. From the deep hibernation of winter to the rebirth of spring and the eventual fruits of Keat’s autumn.
And then the cuttings and the bonfire. No harm to the tree, and so the quiet crackling and smoking of thin branches and last summer’s dried out leaves brought an added heightening of the senses. A visceral pleasure, a meandering of the mind, a meditation where both body and thought drifted in the gentle melancholy of a winter’s morning.
Oneness. So often talked about, so rarely felt. But with what overwhelming pleasure when it happens. A spinning earth, a fiery sun, an infinite universe. A tiny garden with growing, spreading, evolving animals and plants. Water and birds. Spiders, moles, bugs. Earth.
Earth and air, fire and water.
Call it a morning of sudden and welcome revelation. A few hours of profound peace. A sense of gnosis. May there be ever more of such moments.