Back of child wearing hoodie looking at lush garden
99

Tending the Garden of Your Soul

A head-and-shoulders picture of Andrew Chirch with water in the background

I’m Andrew Chirch, an Interfaith advisor and coach. 99 is a special weekly podcast series where we meet for 9 minutes to regroup, re-center ourselves, and prepare for the work ahead.

Subscribe here to listen on your favorite podcast app, or you can use the player at the top of this post. A transcript is below.

I grew up on a small farm in the U.S. That was a long time ago, but I still remember like it was yesterday. We had a big garden and I was given a little corner of it for myself.

I would spend hours out there in the spring, getting my garden ready. When I was really young, my parents would till it for me, but as I got older, I did it myself.

I would start by breaking up the hard clay soil, then add some compost and some sand to loosen up the dense earth so it would drain properly and the plants would have enough nutrients to grow…. and grow they did! I won a ribbon at the county fair with the cabbages, cucumbers, and I think cauliflower I grew one year. I got good at knowing how to fuss over my little plot just enough, and to let the plants know that they were loved.

Sometimes I think that it was all the attention that made them flourish as much as it was the mechanical act of cultivating.

Today’s subject comes from a word that in the Arabic, I’m told, means inner knowledge – the kind that comes from cultivation.

As I read the prompt for our time together and started to write this episode, my mind was full of gardening metaphors; Here’s one: think of an onion. Imagine that your essence—whatever it is that makes you unique—is at center of a big, sweet onion, and the process of growing up and maturing is like starting at the outside of that onion, and peeling away layer after layer, one at a time, until you discover what’s really YOU.

Some people seem to instinctively know who they are from the moment they are born. I call these people, “old souls.” Others of us aren’t so lucky. Some of us have to do the hard work of discovering what’s inside the onion – crying our way through layer after layer in search of meaning.

Getting back to my little garden, I noticed that as I tilled the soil and took care of it more and more – spent time literally IN IT with my hands, I grew to know it better than anywhere else on earth. My INtention was turned into ATtention and this cultivating I did produced results.

It was kind of amazing when I first realized that I could sense what the garden needed. What the plants needed. I knew if it was a little too dry and needed water. I knew when to stop watering. I knew when the latest juicy cucumber, that wasn’t ready the evening before, nearly jumped to get my attention the next morning. I’m ready! Pick me! Pick me!

What if you could cultivate the garden of your own being like this?

What if you spent a lifetime down on your knees with it – hands sinking into the dark, nourishing soil, fussing, trimming, tending. What would it be like to pay this kind of attention to yourself?

Carl Jung said, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

The darkness he’s talking about: Is it akin to the soil of your garden? What IS your darkness?

As much as I romanticize the rich, black earth that made my garden grow, I know what the blackness comes from. I know what it is that nourishes prize-winning cucumbers.

Death and dying and decay.

Just like the cucumbers feasted on atoms and molecules that had been previously other plants and animals, your own spirit grows in symbiotic relationship.

Think of the wisest, most loving, most patient person you know. Those qualities are like fruits. Fruits don’t just appear from nowhere. They need nourishment.

Wisdom is the fruit of the mistakes of ignorance. Love is a fruit borne of suffering and rejection and fear. Patience grows best in soil nourished by decaying longing.

How long since you have been in the garden of your soul?

How is it?

Overworked and exhausted?

Wild and overgrown with brambles?

Lush and green with new life?

If you’re feeling triggered by this, it’s okay to walk away and come back later. Your garden will still be there. Sometimes it just needs to be left alone.

But sometime when you feel curious, go into your garden and just look around. Notice what’s there without judgement.

Get down on your knees and feel the soil in your hands. There might be a hard crust on top that you have to break through, but underneath that is where the magic happens. All the little deaths and big ones you have suffered were not in vain. They’re there—slowly decomposing into their component parts so something amazing can grow.

You.

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