We have an intern right now on our farm who is very interested in plants. He’s working through a college program that gives him some hands-on experience in his chosen field. I’ve felt rather bemused while watching him work since he first arrived, though, because he’s never without his headphones.
So many kids today need to be constantly entertained. I’m not sure if that is what’s going on here, but I think the need to be “plugged in” all the time is contributing to our disconnect from nature. It is so prevalent that even in a young man who is interested in nature, even he can’t spend time alone with his thoughts and his surroundings. I often watch him and think how I would like to run out and snatch those headphones so that he can experience what he cannot experience while he’s trapped under their influence. Today, I’ve seen birds dancing in the grass behind him as he pulls weeds and a hummingbird come to rest in the roses nearby—is he seeing those things, as well?
Gardening isn’t just about the colors and textures we see with our eyes. It is about what we hear, what we feel with our hearts and what is whispered to our soul in the quiet moments. Those whispers don’t come if we are engaged in the latest podcast by our favorite herbalist, and they don’t come when we are showing off what we know to someone else. Gardening with our soul turned to the “listen” position is a completely different experience. It is how monks and nuns have interacted with their food and medicine for centuries. It is the basis of what is often called plant communication or shamanism in other cultures. It is an opportunity to shut off our brain and its endless prattle to receive information from that which is greater than us.
There are many different garden forms that have been used over time to enhance this listening aspect. The labyrinth is one of these. We have seen representations of labyrinths on cave walls and paintings in almost every ancient civilization. Today we see them in churches and hospitals as we have realized their potential for healing, meditation and spiritual renewal.
We created a labyrinth in the front yard of our farm. It is surrounded by the vibrant pink of our Rosa rugosa. From here you can hear the slap-slap song of the wind through the poplars. There’s a coolness that can be felt as the wind whisks over the surface of the pond. The mockingbird calls from the top of the house, inviting us to find our own truth in the song we sing. When I garden in the listening mode, my soul often hears hard truths about my character and choice of life path. I have the opportunity to learn far more in an afternoon working quietly than I would ever gain from any number of books.
There is a time and place for the music in our headphones and for listening to wise words from our heroes, but I’d like to encourage everyone to put these things down before heading out to the garden. The wise words we miss there are much more than knowledge for the mind—they’re food for the soul.