Monday, 9 June 2014

Time and the Japanese Garden

Experiencing a Japanese garden, even one one of no particular antiquity is to also to experience deep time, the space seems to exude a quality of having been in place for millennia, whilst all about it time and history weave and dance. There is a quality of transcendence associated with the garden that lifts our spirit, taking us deeper into both the space and consequently further into ourselves. 


The stepping stone path flows as if a stream in a landscape, hinting at time beyond the present, hinting at a past before now. Okochi Sanso.
As Juhani Pallasmaa writes in 'The Eyes of the Skin' (Wiley, 2005): "We feel pleasure and protection when the body discovers its resonance in space. When experiencing a structure, we unconsciously mimic its configuration with our bones and muscles; the pleasurably animated flow of a piece of music is subconsciously transformed into bodily sensations, the composition of an abstract painting is experienced as tensions, the composition of the structure of a building are unconsciously imitated and comprehended through the skeletal system."


Of the garden at Kosho-ji, only the stone arrangements survive. The bleached skeleton of the garden  still exudes quality and transcendence.

This seems to catch the flavour of an experience of the Japanese garden, we embody the garden and the garden embodies us. Now, who is the viewer and who the viewed? For a moment we are both beyond time and beyond knowing time unfolding on itself. Something that is 'ancient' that we can relate to takes us out of our assumed relationship with time. That is the linear, historical, motion of time as an endless forward rushing sequence of moments, that once passed becomes remote and inaccessible. We move into a space that is no longer measured by the span of our own lives.


Ancient stone arrangement at Midera temple, the stones still resonate with voices from another time, another space.

Time in nature, and thus time in the garden, is no longer stretched and fragmented by linearity, rather time assumes the form of a spiral. Experiencing a garden, space predominates our consciousness. We look out over the garden and our eyes are drawn to the stones arranged as if a series of totems or focal points in the composition. Their very stillness and solidity root us in the present, hold us where we are. The passages between the stones lead us about the overall composition as if a stream running through a complex landscape. Now quickly, now slowly, held here for a time then released to move on towards the next point in space. 



In composing a Japanese garden every element is considered, every relationship between elements has purpose in the greater context of the whole. 'Empty space' (余白 yohaku) gives birth to form, gives definition, indication, sense and ultimately carries meaning. Balance and harmony comes through each part supporting another. Linear time, that is time without ending, becomes fragmentary because it carries us beyond ourselves. Time rooted in space becomes contemplatory, this is time associated with rhythm and renewal through seasonality. Time as a spiral, passing a similar place and so allowing for the potential for an interior renewal of the self. A coming back to selfhood, the one that observes and recognises him or herself in process, spiralling upward in expansion toward our destiny.
Gravel, moss and shadows. Rozan-ji

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