When the intense heat of summer kicks in we find ourselves hiding from the sun. Physically the heat slows us down, it strains our brain and finally our spirits wilt. We need our garden for green and shade, with a bit of water rippling by and a breeze to cool us down. Hopefully you find this right outside your back door, if not search for it in your travels.
For centuries travelers seeking to escape the heat would seek shade from trees. A real find for even better cooling would be an overhang in a cliff, a niche in the rock, or a small natural cave. Here water seeping through breaks in the rock face causes plants to sprout right from the wall. The coolness of the space is so restorative a traveler’s thoughts turn to spiritual gratitude. This natural formation is called a Grotto.
Since the mid-16th century, gardeners have been recreating similar spaces. Small niches, or porticos created a cool space in many early gardens including Versailles and other famous castles. Grottos frequently served as shrines celebrating a gardener’s spiritual traditions.
Peg Streep in her book Spiritual Gardening explores the role of gardens in the major religious traditions of the world. Garden designs vary according to the traditions of the faith. What is shared in common is the “why” we humans seek time in a garden. She writes “each of them (religious traditions) understands the garden as a place where we can go not to admire our skill as gardeners but to come into contact with the spiritual essence of nature.”
Finding a grotto in a garden can certainly revive your spirits and connect you to nature. The Self Realization Lake Shrine Meditation Garden offers a spot of nirvana right off Sunset Boulevard just north of Los Angeles in Pacific Palisades, CA. One minute you are driving in dicey traffic and the next you are walking a path of happiness and delight. Here you find a peaceful garden, flowers, a lake and a cool peaceful grotto full of lush green plants. In 1950 Paramahansa Yogananda opened this ten-acre site with these words, “This shrine is dedicated to all religions that all may feel the unity of a common faith.”
The center of the garden is a spring fed lake surrounded by a natural amphitheater. Terraced gardens along a circular path are rich with color and texture. The path spirals up and around the lake creating a meditative walk. The path leads down to the grotto; a sunken space of lush green covered by a lattice canopy of vines. You escape the sun. It is a calming place just right for sitting, reflecting and enjoying the essence of nature. The air is crisp and refreshing. Gone are the sounds of a busy city. Time slows down, your body relaxes, stress slides away, your brain clears and your spirit is revived. Happiness grows right up from your toes all the way to your state of mind.
The teaching of Paramahansa Yogananda encourages the goal of every religion which is to find a connection to God. As such in the floral garden’s Court of Religions there is a monument to the five principle religions of the world, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Statuary representing great teachers of many faiths are honored in areas throughout the garden.
Where better than a garden to recognize spiritual growth? As Buddha found enlightenment under a tree, Zen gardens are for meditation, the Shinto religion incorporates nature, and Islam refuses to separate humanity from Nature. Judaism, Christianity and Native American traditions have creation stories which begin in a garden.
When seeds sprout, the flowers open and the fruit forms, we feel hopeful and optimistic. Gardens revive our spirits. Roger Pogue Harrison, author of Gardens: Essay on the Human Condition, writes “throughout world cultures the idea of human happiness in its perfected state is as a garden existence.” Where better than a garden to lift our spirits and explore the idea of finding respect and common ground for all faiths?
If you are a happy person, a peaceful person,
Your family will benefit,
Your community will benefit,
Your world will benefit.
Originally published in Roots & Shoots, Maricopa County Master Gardener Newsletter, http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/August%202013-RS.pdf