I live in a most satisfying retirement village. One of our many countless benefits is the availability of individual garden plots for residents. Visiting those garden plots is a real treat, virtually all year long. Whether vegetable or flower gardening, visiting the resident gardens is consistently exhilarating and uplifting.
I wish I could claim to be a gardener. I did supremely enjoy doing the landscaping when we had a home of our own. Digging the soil to position new plants and rearranging existing plants was always so rewarding and fulfilling.
There are certainly endless tangible and intangible benefits of gardening. Obvious tangible benefits are growing and consuming fresh, nutritious, delicious vegetables and enjoying with unceasing delight flowers and bushes of every conceivable color. Simply taking in the visual stimulation soothes our inmost being. I never tire of visiting botanical gardens wherever we travel.
Certainly, considerable pleasure is derived from daydreaming about what to plant in the spring. Ruminating with delight soon develops into planning, designing, and ordering desired plants and materials. Maybe enjoyment is deepened with growing your plants from seed.
Another enriching avenue is bonding with other gardeners. Maybe exchanging plants and sharing insights and practices that you have developed. A gardening bonus is tuning into the weather and the seasons. All of these experiences equip us to transcend whatever might weigh us down in our everyday life.
Transcendentals are defined as intrinsic properties of beings. The word comes from the Latin, “transcendere,” which literally means “to exceed” or rise above our ordinary human awareness. In our present time, transcendentals are commonly considered to be Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Ontologically, these three qualities are viewed as common to all beings. Cognitively they are “first” concepts that cannot be logically traced back to something preceding them.
Whether gardeners consciously think of themselves as engaging in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness or not, I am suggesting they are immersed in those qualities. Albertus Magnus or Albert the Great taught these transcendentals in the High Middle Ages to his pupil, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Transcendentals are not contingent upon cultural diversity, religious doctrine, or personal ideologies; they are the objective properties of all that exists. In ancient Chinese philosophy, truth, compassion, and goodness formed an important basis of Chinese aesthetics and have been a common theme in Chinese art and folk belief.
Truth is defined as being coherent and in accord with reality. In gardening, this would be the convergence of soil, weather, and seed or plant. Beauty presents itself in being well-ordered, integrated, unified, and harmonized, resulting in attractiveness. Beauty is pleasing to the eye in vineyards, vegetables, and all botanicals. The good manifests itself in fulfilling its designed purpose. This transports me to Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring, the Hillwood Mansion Japanese Gardens in Washington, Longwood Gardens in Delaware, and the Paca House gardens in Annapolis.
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, espoused the ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty. These transcendentals have historically been viewed as manifestations of God. Beauty is then seen as an objective reality and not a subjective one. In modern times, we commonly subscribe to the words of Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who wrote in her book “Molly Bawn” in 1878, that “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” I think it wise to accept both of these polar opposites, i.e., beauty can be both objective and subjective.
Plato and later philosophers taught that we always (beware that word!) seek the good and the true. Perhaps a wiser teaching is that we know in the depths of our being that only the Good and the true truly satisfy. And we wish we would always seek the good and the true. Realistically, we have internal battles about choosing truly great literature, music, and art versus junk.
Gardeners deal with elemental pleasure. Being immersed in the intrinsic rewards of soil, weather, and seeds soothes the soul. Philosophers agree that what you like and consider beautiful reflects the state of your soul. If you like sleazy and lousy music, art, literature, architecture, etc., perhaps there is disorder in your soul.
Gardening may give us the gift of silence. In the silence we may connect with ourselves and grow the courage to trust ourselves, to believe in ourselves as to what is authentically true, beautiful and good. Also, while our cognitions may readily deceive us, our bodies do not know how to lie. The true, the good, the beautiful are within us. Gardeners know this. Fritz Perls, the legendary gestalt therapist regaled us with “Get out of your head! Get into your body!”
Visiting the 168 garden plots in my retirement village never fails to gladden my heart. The incredible variety of plants, colors, and whimsical decorations provide total escape from postmodern inanities. In the classical tradition, from Greece and Rome, it was believed that Beauty captured the viewer’s eye in order to attract the viewer to truth and so inspire goodness. Others say that if you look after goodness and truth, kitsch will lose its appeal, and beauty will take care of itself. I believe gardeners walk in the footsteps of Albert Einstein who said, “The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with joy are Goodness, Beauty, and Truth.”
Dr. Jim David is a retired psychotherapist in Silver Spring. Visit www.askdrdavidnow.com for free, printable mental health newsletters and handouts. Email at [email protected].
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