Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Atmosphere and Perception in the Japanese Garden


Daichi-ji, Shiga Prefecture, Japan
I paid my entry fee at the temple entrance and walked the length of a dim corridor with a soft shuffle of shoeless feet. Turning a corner into the light I suddenly realised I was in a landscape. A landscape like no other. I knew I had arrived.

Shutlingsloe Hill, Cheshire, England
Atmosphere in a garden of any description is a quality we may experience, and something we invariably cherish deeply. The gardens of Japan itself and in 'japanese-style' gardens in many instances outside of Japan, are laden with the quality of atmosphere. It hangs in the air as if a breeze laden with scent. We are 'overwhelmed' by the shock of it all. It stays embedded in our memory, as if it has permeated our flesh and bone. To any garden lover a visit to Japan is a life enhancing experience, life changing even. 

Landscape in the palm of your hand
As human beings we cannot exist outside of our connection with Nature, and by extension, the landscape that is the flesh and bones of what Nature is. Even after we bury nature and wildness under a dense carpet of urban sprawl and development; taming wildness to create a space where we may 'live', we continue to vibrate with the natural world. Creating a garden, of any hue or style, is an attempt to reconnect that energy that floods through our being. A garden is never 'wildness', a garden is ordered, organised and above all crafted by our endeavours. Part vision, part perspiration.

Stone river flowing
 The atmosphere, the scent of a garden, the invisible which makes the visible 'real', is the quality of being transported and so altered by that which we experience through all our senses. Every thing that exists radiates a field of electromagnetic energy, every part of a thing transmits energy into the Universe. The rock carries the history of everything that has ever been, as does each crystalline part of its structure, every molecule, every atom. Each has its own memory, own story, its own song. The same for the tree, the shrub, air and space, water flowing or still. In creating a garden the garden creator attempts to channel those very energies; filtering imagination through intention to create a certain quality of space, a certain quality of atmosphere to be inhaled by the viewer, the one who experiences. The garden creator assumes the role of conductor seeking, however momentarily, to conduct and shape the very flow he or she is a part of. Nature can never be entirely consumed nor controlled, for to do so would be to consume ourselves. 

Atmosphere arises in infinite forms. Passing as if vapours within and beyond our conscious awareness. We are affected by it all. An infinity of potential, of memory, an infinity of songs of being. By its very composition and existence the garden is always changing, moment by moment, season to season. In the Kyoto gardens of the Heian period (794-1185) the aristocracy savoured the fragility of life in the passing of the seasons, in the brief glory of cherry blossom before the tears of fallen petals coat the ground in a flurry of 'snow-drift'. For the courtiers and nobility the recognition and interpretation of atmosphere through perception was known as mono no aware, the 'pathos of all things'.

Spring 'snow' carpeting moss

In the Japanese garden the creative perception of the garden creator is governed by intention and awareness. It is this that is strived for through practice. Seeing the flowing in the static, and the staid in the flowing. The constant movements through time and space, the flow of everything. As electromagnetic fields come together they synchronise and so interpenetrate; they become one dance. The rock and the petal together in one movement. The viewer becomes part of the fabric of the garden, and the garden an extension, a mirror of the viewer. In a space bounded only by linear consciousness, the heart perceives and knows the infinity of existence, feels the constant ebb and flow. The garden acts as a prism bringing sharply into focus the awareness of landscape, mountains and water. The interconnectivity of it all.

Harmony is never static, but in ceaseless change. The gardener a servant of the garden, much as its master. In change the heart perceives harmony. In the awareness of flow comes peace, because in becoming whole we recognise our place. The garden through atmosphere and perception becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The language of the song with which it sings is Beauty. The colour of Beauty is emotion, so we are nudged or shocked into dancing with ourselves mirrored in the garden's gaze. 





"Life as a whole expresses itself as a force that is not to be contained within any one part." 

Goethe





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If you enjoyed this, or any other post, please let me know! If there are specific aspects of the Japanese garden tradition you are interested in, please let me know. Thanks.