Love the outdoors but don't have a clue how to grow plants? No problem. A garden meditation may be the next best way to get the most out of your garden or next nature walk.
…a feast for the Senses
You don't need to possess a green thumb to intuit the inherent therapeutic quality of a simple stroll through a garden. On any given sunny day (see what I did there?), a garden expresses itself as a quite ambassador of nature, a living testament to the abundance of ancient beauty growing around us, and provides ample stimulation for all the senses.
Perhaps the first thing you notice is the dazzling kaleidoscope of colors a garden has on display. The floral denizens of a garden grow and develop in all shapes, sizes, colors and shades.
A keen eye will pick out subtle distinctions in the shapes of leaves or petals, the iridescent and fluorescent hues of flowering fruits and perennials, and shades of green you may never have known existed. A garden in peak season is a living canvas colored by Nature's very own painting palette.
As you're gazing around this beautiful vista you can't help but notice the proliferation of different scents. The entire place is literally perfumed by myriad flowers releasing their essences into the air. If you meditate on this for just a second, you know that this heady bouquet is more than just gimmicky, showy, fanfare; it is the flowers actively seeking pollinators to help propagate themselves.
The succulent scent of an orchid or rose is a release of volatile compounds the plant uses to attract birds and insects to the garden. Life attracting life through form and function. Beneath this are the deeper, quieter smells of damp earth, freshly cut grass and the musty smell of decay and decomposition. You can smell the cycles of life at play in a garden.
The flowers must be doing their job because the next thing you notice is the chittering, twittering, clicking, singing and humming of birds and insects. The discerning ear will pick out individual songs from different birds, and notice that the staccato hum of a humming bird is far removed from the bass drone of a busy bumble bee.
The sound of birds and insects going about their day in a garden is the sound of life, flourishing, competing, engaging and thriving. Birds compose songs to attract mates, flowers craft alluring scents to entice birds and bees and to deter pests. The plants and animals in a garden are engaged in a vital, timeless dance of life and if you pay attention, you realize that you are seeing, smelling and hearing that 'dance' as it unfolds around you.
Taste and Touch
If you've ever taken it upon yourself to tend a garden, or even to uproot a vegetable when it's at its peak, you'll know the gratification that comes with getting your hands dirty. The prickly softness of the grass, the damp coolness of freshly tilled earth, and the warmth of the sun on your face add depth and dimension to your garden meditation. And if you've tasted the bounty of a fully utilized vegetable or herb garden, you're well acquainted with the sensual delights that can be grown in a well tended piece of land.
Objects of Meditation
As an exercise in pure sensory stimulation, prolonged exposure to a garden is hard to beat. These very qualities are exactly what make a garden the perfect space for meditative reflection. While there are many different meditation techniques, one common thread that runs through them all is the practice of focusing on the breath. This becomes the "object" of our mediation, the thing we return to when we find our minds wandering lost in thought.
The thing is, anything can become the object of our mediation - an image, a scent, a sound - anything. And you don't have to be sitting, cross legged with your eyes closed. On the contrary, one of my favorite forms of meditation is walking meditation - where you use your environment to engage the body and center your mind. This method of focusing the mind and relaxing the body is ideal for getting the most out of your garden mediation.
Aroma for Thought
Consider the way terpenes impact your meditative stroll through a garden. How they shape your experience, color your mood and elevate your body's wellbeing.
If you're keen on using your breath as the object of your garden meditation, you'll no doubt become aware of all those lingering scents we talked about earlier. On every inhale, you can't help but notice the smell of pine, fresh cut grass, floral notes, and earthy tones- many of these familiar scents and pleasant aromas are in fact terpenes. Don't be fooled.
Beneath the lush, peaceful, serene veneer of a garden lies a veritable battleground of biochemical warfare. Many of those scents that we find so pleasant are actually devious, terpene-laden methods of execution plants employ to defend against pests which might attack them. For example, a plant under attack from a certain pest will release volatile terpenes that attract that pest's predators. Whether they're part of a chemical defense system or a sentimental offering (a bouquet of roses), terpenes, when it comes to us humans, are functional in the ways they can impact our body and mind.
A 2017 study goes to great lengths to demonstrate the anti-inflammatory properties of terpenes like d-limonene, linalool, borneol and β-caryophyllene. Yet another study done back in 2007 discusses the antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral and cancer chemopreventive effects of terpenes, making the major conclusion that large scale use of terpenoids in modern medicine should definitely be taken into consideration. To add to this, anyone who has utilized essential oils for relaxation, calming or uplifting effects is well aware of the power of scents and aromatherapy to dramatically alter subjective experience.
A single scent experience can transport us to childhood memories, calm the mind or immediately perk up the spirit. In this regard, terpenes can literally improve your daily life.
With all of this biological complexity manifesting itself in a single breath of fresh air, it's little wonder that a garden meditation is such an effective means of transforming everyday experience into something truly transcendental. As you focus on your breath, and you smell the world around you in that brisk garden air, remember you're experiencing terpenes, as an expression of nature, in action.