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A Heart Garden

(printer friendly verison here)
This is a development from a Diana Cooper book. I use this with some of my clients and something I have done for myself as well.

Symbolism is mistakenly underrated or even considered to be irrelevant by many. The unconscious mind speaks the language of symbolism and metaphor and often responds well to it.

So, what is a heart garden?

It is an area of land that we assign to be a symbol of our own hearts where we can grow and nurture plants with love and conscious attention. It can be your entire garden if you are blessed with one or a pot with some bulbs or flowers in it or anywhere in between. I chose an area of my garden that was undeveloped and in need of attention; a perfect symbol of my heart if ever there was one.

What is the purpose of a heart garden?

It is about developing connection to ourselves. It is especially helpful for those that have difficulty meditating or connecting to themselves or are stressed. We tend to our heart garden in the way we should tend to our own needs and hearts i.e. with great focus, love and awareness. Whatever we do in this garden we do it with intention and feeling. Intention is a key tool in life. We are choosing to give our love and attention to the garden as if it was our own heart which is the core of our emotional and spiritual self.

How is it different from “normal” gardening?

We may approach gardening in a variety of ways including using the time to mull over things going on in our lives; as a release in order to escape from the world for a while or as a chore to be got out of the way.
This garden requires us to tend to it with reverence and with great care and attention at all times. The key to this garden is the conscious intention that we have while tending to our heart garden. We are sowing seeds in ourselves through symbolic acts and weeding out negativity in the form of our own feelings or external influences. It is self-healing and develops self-awareness.

So what do we do when we have chosen the site of our heart garden?

It doesn’t matter what you choose to grow or how you choose to landscape the area. It is not meant to be an attempt to recreate what you think your heart looks like in flower-form (or vegetable-form for that matter). It’s about HOW you grow not what you grow. I had a load of bulbs salvaged from another area of my garden and that was my basis for my heart garden topped up with some seeds and a few plants from the garden centre. I wanted something to be flowering all year round as it was important to me to see the bees we keep being supported by my heart garden. It was important to me that my heart garden balanced giving to nature with giving to myself. I also wanted colour for as many weeks of the year as possible and some evergreens for all year round signs of life. I know little about gardening so my wife helped me choose what plants we bought as well as instruction on holding the blunt end of the garden fork etc.

The next part is the key part. When I planted the bulbs I did so with great care and with the intention that I was looking after myself and growing love for me. What was being put into the ground was symbolic of my care for myself – an act of self-appreciation. Every flower is love blooming from my heart for me to enjoy and for the world (including my bees) to benefit from. When it comes to weeding I do so with the intention that I am weeding out negativity in myself (weeds are not negative but once again, it is about symbolism i.e. what the act means to me). So, I may be weeding out anger within me at someone or weeding out a negative influence that something has had on me. I am sending a clear message of healing and self-appreciation to myself. Simply looking at the garden with gratitude is symbolic of being grateful for being myself.

Why do it?

The western world has forgotten the role of the heart and has made the head king. By doing so it has lost its spiritual compass. I see so many clients with a multitude of problems that, while they vary greatly, at the core of most of the problems is a lack of self-awareness, self-care and self-esteem. Self-esteem, in particular, is in short supply in my view. I rate the two biggest problems for individuals in society as the fear of being themself and the belief that in some way they not good enough. We have sleep-walked into a society whose end-product is inadequacy and an imprisonment of self-expression through fear. What an indictment of the so-called developed world that is and we think it’s normal. It’s only normal because so many of us are like this, but it is not healthy and certainly not how we were designed to be.

So many of us have grown up with no concept of the importance of appreciating ourselves. It is this key aspect that makes us spiritually disconnected. We are taught that it is noble to give to others. Parents instruct us early on that we are to always put others first when they rip the sweet that we have just taken for ourselves out of our hands and tell us not to be selfish and then tell us to offer it to someone else. One can understand the parent’s motivation but the child gets a completely different message.

Giving to others is noble and compassionate to a degree but it is the conscious awareness of where the line is drawn that is sorely missing. For example, burn-out often occurs when we cannot stop giving to others, when our boundaries are blurred or non-existent and that fear how others will react of we did stop. As an added bonus we are taught to give to ourselves is to be selfish and that being selfish is wrong. All this creates a lack of self-respect (esteem) and a fear of doing what we ought or want to do to protect ourselves (fear of being ourselves).

Our hearts are severely neglected. Our emotional-self is an important guidance system. Heads make safe decisions, hearts make courageous decisions. Heads make logical decisions while open hearts make truthful decisions. Self-esteem depends on treating ourselves with equal importance to everyone else and not being at the bottom of the list all the time.  Where are you in your own life? Whose life are you living? Are you living it with you in mind? Where are you on the list of important people in your life? Who is tending to your heart, your dreams, hopes and ambitions?

Giving to self is prerequisite to spiritual development. A spiritual quest is a noble and heroic journey and one that in the end can only be made alone and it can feel a very lonely place indeed at times. It is a journey of honouring the heart and soul and can only be done by you. It’s not going to happen unless you have the ability to say “No, this is for me and I’m going to do it”. It requires self-love, self-respect and courage to be yourself.

When these traits are developed and in place, the true spiritual journey begins and, ironically, we begin to let go to our sense of “self” and move to a sense of oneness and there being no “self”. However, in my view, we cannot let go the concept of the self unless we have that concept to begin with. Once again, it begins with us. There is no escape from this.

Other ways of using the heart garden concept.

It doesn’t have to be a garden for your heart. You can use this symbolism for any change you wish to make. The key components are love and intention and must be maintained over time for benefits to manifest.

Illness: A small area that you can manage can be very healing. Everything you plant is an act of love for yourself, a healthy cell etc. Weeding is you taking out faulty cells or tumours. Always end the time with positive feelings of satisfaction and gratitude for yourself.

Relationships: Want the next relationship to be a better one? Then the heart garden exercise in itself would be very useful, but more directly you can sow the seed of intention of what you wish to feel in your next relationship. Do it with conscious intention and really feel it. Weed out the past relationships you want to be out of your life and weed out any negativity that still lingers from them. Grow the symbol of your future relationship with love and gratitude.

I’m sure there are plenty of other applications – have fun with it.


© Phil Grant unless otherwise attributed