Home Soil

By April Thanhauser

For many, gardening is a spiritual path, a way of deepening relationships to spirit and to Earth.  In monasteries and ashrams, abbeys and spiritual communes, the tasks of gardening are often part of the spiritual practice.

My own awakening to gardening on this level came through reading Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate, by Wendy Johnson (Bantam Dell, NY. 2008). Johnson writes from the perspective of a zen practitoner and gardener at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. (see gardeningatthedragonsgate.com)

While winessing tiny seeds sprout into magnificent plants was always a wonder to me, Johnson’s book opened my senses to the amazement of encountering soil. May the following excerpt give you a taste of her wisdom and a new way of seeing your garden’s soil (from “The Living Soil” p. 87-88):

The soil is dark, the wind is red, and my dreams are snake green with long white roots. At the back of my mouth, way behind memory and longing, is the taste of the ground I garden every day, grit that lingers on my tongue and tells me who I am. Gardens come up out of the ground, surfacing from fissured rock, lank air, and moving water, all teeming with indivisible life. Every garden is stamped with the indelible and evolving signature of its home soil

            The Zen tradition speaks of cultivating an empty field. This is the field of our whole life, full of every possibility and empty only of a permanent, unchangeable identity., of one absolute way to be. It takes true grit to cultivate this empty field that, from the beginning is vast and complete unto itself. This field includes all beings, animate and inanimate, in the folds of its ground. Gardening unfolds from this empty field and from engaging with your home soil and getting to know it in every way. Even if your garden is composed of earth trucked in from miles away, as soon as this soil is deposited on your land and you put your hands into it, your work begins. You are cultivating your life as well as your garden…..

            The ground that is cultivated in the garden is common ground, shared by many and host to multitudes. Every particle of soil, every atom of earth , is alive with the mystery and potential all stirred up together. Every soil is a long winding story, told in the voices of water and inhaled and exhaled air, of the stone-slow cycle of rock itself becoming soil, and in the voices of the swarming masses of microorganisms feeding, breeding, and dying on fertile dust, creating new life out of their own bodies made from exploded stone.