Cultivating Paradise

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. Joni Mitchell

Deep in our psyche there is a memory of a paradise. This is universal and even appears in religious/spiritual stories about our first home - the garden of Eden and Avalon being two examples. This archetypal theme includes a “fall” from this paradisiacal experience. It seems we were thrown from peace and harmony into a world of pain and division. But the story doesn’t end there because the rest of it involves our longing and our attempts to return to our original blissful state.

Many of us spend much of our lives striving to create or find paradise again, and we participate in ‘the pursuit of happiness’ so we can live “happily ever after,” each in our own way. These “happiness projects,” as Thomas Keating calls them, are bound to disappoint, however. The ego, or what he calls the “false self” believes it knows what will meet our needs. It decides what will make us happy again and we naively participate in wild goose chases, pursuing various goals which we believe will finally get us “back to the garden” and find rest for our weary souls.

The psychological theorist, Alfred Adler’s concept of “fictional finalism” is related to this. He describes how we all have some belief that when we arrive at a particular destination we will feel (you fill in the word.) What is it that the perfect mate, losing twenty pounds, buying a new car, reaching a level of wealth, retiring, building the dream home, etc., will bring you? What is the experience you imagine? Peace? Contentment? Rest? Happiness? Ease? Basking in the sun forever more? Since our “happiness projects” bring only temporary positive feelings and are doomed to provide any deep and lasting satisfaction, then is our longing for a rich and satisfying life doomed also?

There is an ancient way, to which various traditions refer, and which Carl Jung wrote about in great depth. It doesn’t promise constant joy, as dark times and periods of significant discomfort are essential aspects of it. But it does meet the needs of the soul much more than our ego’s naive attempts at happiness. It involves engagement with what I have been referring to by various names including Fate, but which I am here going to call Nature. You might prefer terms like God, Goddess, Great Mother, Christ, higher self, or Intentional field, but don’t omit the Nature part.

Though I am referring to the force behind and within the outer domain of nature, we can learn a lot about it by observing outer nature, and recognizing that we, too, belong with it. Though global warming is causing extremes in weather patterns, among other things, we can trust that the seasons will change, the sun will rise and set and there will be night and day. We, too, have seasons and cycles.

We can trust and attune to Nature within us so we know best how to live according to who we are. We do this by grounding ourselves in our body, our own earth, and attuning ourselves to our felt sense, our intuition, our deep imagination, and dreams, etc., in other words, by listening, which I have written about in previous posts. Rather than acting on every impulse, a process of discernment is necessary, which I will be writing about in future . I like to think of this process as collaboration with Nature, and as cultivating our lives.

Cultivating a life is just what it sounds like. Caring for, attending, studying, sensing, trusting, nurturing... When we cultivate our souls, we pay attention to the weather (various moods and feelings) we are experiencing and we do our best to provide what is needed. We figure out the required nutrients and we pull a few weeds, though as one wise gardener once told me, “weeds are a matter of opinion.” In other words, just because somebody (including you) doesn’t like something about you, it doesn’t mean you should get rid of it. Sometimes we do have to prune (let go of what is not needed) in order to grow more fully. We plant seeds (our intentions) which may or not sprout in the spring. We compost (allow parts of us to die and become the soil for new life) To prevent our life from becoming dry and arid (or treating it if it does), we bring the waters of life to it, which is symbolic of the unconscious and our feelings, through tapping into the springs and well waters of dreams, the imagination, and creative processes. Sometimes we discover surprises – volunteers – as we call the various vegetables and flowers growing from seeds that birds dropped or the wind blew our way.

What if we became gardeners of our lives rather than purchasers of packaged ones? What if we picked the fruits of our own cultivating, and spent time in gratitude and wonderment at the miracle and beauty of our own Nature?