My Sacred Garden
“To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”
– Pablo Neruda
I am sitting here waiting for the words for this blog to appear. Neruda’s quote is the first sign of what is to come as it brings to my awareness the ones who watch over me.
No longer are they unknown to me, for I have been learning how to allow them to guide me on this journey through life. These knowers of Truth—the prophets, prophetesses, saints, and mystics of all traditions, whose words appear in the scriptures and texts that make up our sacred heritage—have become the gardeners of my soul.
As I stare at the blank page, the gardeners start appearing; for a moment I am caught between whether to tell you about the feminine lineage that nurtures me or the masculine one. As I ponder, I think of my friend Theodore Zeldin (www.oxfordmuse.com) who says that the greatest adventure of the 21st century is the conversation between men and women, as it is the first time in human history that men and women are experiencing some kind of equality.
My eyes come to rest on the beautiful painting of Radha and Krishna that hangs on the wall in front of me. As I look at it now, I know it holds a key to unlocking the words that wait in me, for in the story of how this painting came to me is the power of what happens when my friendship with these gardeners comes alive.
My journey toward these friendships began as a child, when I accompanied my grandmother to the ashram of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother at Pondicherry. Once I got bored with playing outside, I would wiggle my way into her lap, pretending to meditate like her. I didn’t know then what I was doing, but I loved the feeling of serenity that enveloped the room we were sitting in. I also didn’t know then that Krishna was the gardener of Sri Aurobindo’s soul. For me he was the butter-stealing God who made me smile, and as for Radha, I had no sense of her.
Through my twenties I tried many paths to serenity, and yet a love for freedom kept me from committing to any particular one. Until on a beautiful summer’s day on a mountaintop in the Alps, I found myself once more meditating in the presence of that serenity. This time I realised that if I wanted to truly be free, it was time to stop and stay, which is when Radha and Krishna turned up again.
A few weeks later, in my grandmother’s kitchen in India, I found myself asking her the meaning of the word Radha. This question came from nowhere, but as soon as she said it meant soul, I was gripped. Who was Radha?
I started to search through the scriptures for her story, and while reading I experienced all kinds of emotions: indignation at Krishna, sadness at what I perceived to be her search for her place amongst the other cowgirls who Krishna loved, and finally, bafflement—what kind of love was this? With Radha I discovered what it means to be devoted and to surrender to the moment. On days when I don’t know if I can trust life, when the ground beneath my feet is not so solid, I call on her to sit beside me so I can breathe in the strength of her commitment to love, and in doing so, find mine.
As for Krishna, at this stage I had stopped being a fan, the best indication that I needed to turn to his story. In the pages of the Gita, I fell in love again, partly because I read them with the commentary from Gandhi, which allowed me to see first hand how the study of a scripture led one of the other gardeners of my soul to action.
I started to appreciate this flute-playing warrior. He showed me what to fight for and how, he reminded me that being myself was more important than trying to be someone else. In the book, Gandhi writes that his secret weapon in the fight for freedom was what he called mute prayer, the silent recitation of a mantra. I took up the practice of repeating the Sanskrit words Aham Prema, I am Love.
On a cold winter’s day, as I absentmindedly did my recitations, Krishna’s voice said, do you really want to know the power of love? Yes, I said, now suddenly awake to my practice. An image arose in my mind of a man crawling across a desert floor, dying of thirst. As I said the mantra, it felt as though with each repetition he could keep moving, so now the practice was a matter of life and death. I kept going, still unsure how the mantra could save him. At some point I let go of worrying where the water was going to come from and started to feel love, and as I did so I could see that he too was feeling love, and in that moment the desert rose to show him where the water was.
In the world in which we live, it sometimes feels trite to say love has the answers, but the gardeners of my soul are my best reminder that when I pay more attention to how I am being rather than what I am doing, and allow this to govern my actions, then the power of love can truly provide me with what is needed in the moment.
And the painting: It was given to me by a stranger, a customer in a shop to whom my heart had been closed as I had let appearances deceive me. But as she said, “I am looking for a home for a large painting of Krishna and Radha as I have to move,” I could feel Krishna laughing at me as he reminded me once more of the gift of an open heart.