Thursday, 30 May 2013

Islands in the Sea

"The garden is the place where Nature is subdued, ordered, selected and enclosed. Hence, it is a symbol of consciousness as opposed to the forest, which is the unconscious, in the same way as the island is opposed to the ocean."                                         
J.E.Cirlot 'Dictionary of Symbols'

A memory came to me a few days ago of being with my mother in Sweden, we had gone to visit relatives who owned a summer house on a small island. One warm afternoon we took off, just the two of us to search for blueberries, and find any late wild strawberries. Most of the island was covered by a dense growth of trees, but here and there in open spaces created by the winter winds blowing down trees, there were carpets of blueberry plants as if someone had laid a thick duvet over the thin acidic soil. We wandered from place to place as if we were the very first mother and child; the only mother and child in the world. The blueberries mother picked were gathered into a container, my mouth and hands were soon smeared purple-blue. 

We wandered for what must have been several hours, hunter-gatherers roaming freely, our focus limited to searching out the treasure of luscious jewels hidden among the tiny leaves. Eventually, as children do I tired of the activity, my belly also no doubt satiated. It was after we had started to make our way back, when mother stopped, her eyes searching about trying to see through the dense foliage. "I am not sure which way we came now," she said. I instinctively drew closer to her. "But not to worry, you cannot really get lost on a small island, all you need do is to follow the water and eventually you will get back." As it happened her logic eventually brought us back in time for dinner.

The garden also teases us into believing we can be 'lost', that is detached from the everyday world. It is a place where our senses and imagination can roam freely and yet be safe in the knowing that there is a boundary which contains and holds the space.  Within this space the body and the imagination can wander. The wandering and roaming can occur so freely because there seems to be an reintegration between the 'I' and the 'It'. At least the distinction between the two begins a process of dissolution, just as the outline of the hills against the sky first softens, then blurs as rain sweeps across the landscape. 

No matter how naturalistic we may make it, the garden is not Nature itself. We draw on natural elements in our creations. We may even seek to imitate Nature in the doing, but the circle never quite closes. At least it can never quite close until we wholly relinquish the desire or need to control or guide that process, to project our 'self' on the process. If we do that then we are back to Nature. So the garden is a fluid compromise and arises out of a delicate balance between the hand which controls and 'being lost'. This ephemerality becomes part of the glory of the garden. It recognises that change and reinvention is at the heart of the garden. It would seem movement, implied or actual, is a quality of Beauty; a siren voice that leads us on such a merry dance. In truth, all we can do is but follow the music, which is a dictate of a spirit or essence beyond duality. The present moment, the absolute moment of existence, is every changing. Constant change and rebirth are embedded in the soul of Nature. If change and movement are at the heart of Nature, then it must also be so for us who are inescapably part of Nature. Islands in the sea.

“It is not a sense of identity nor tranquility that Zen sees and loves in Nature. Nature is always in motion, never at a standstill; if Nature is to be loved, it must be caught while moving and in this way its aesthetic value must be appraised. To seek tranquility is to kill Nature, to stop its pulsation. Advocates of tranquillity are worshippers of abstraction and death."
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