The following is excerpted from Shamanic Gardening: Timeless Techniques for the Modern Sustainable Garden, published by Process Media.
For fifteen years, I facilitated a Sacred Space study group. We met weekly and studied a specific plant, bird or animal. In a meadow near my home outside Philadelphia, we were studying the flower Indian paintbrush (Castilleja mutis). It is a striking, scarlet flower that helps open the mind to the special realms of nature.
It was a lazy summer day. We had brought our lunch and our constant companion when visiting the meadow: My little dog, Tricksy. We planned to reflect on the flower silently; afterward, we would share our insight.
Before beginning, we expressed thanks for the flower's beauty and wisdom. We asked to have a deeper understanding of how it could help us, family, or others. We had spread our blankets out on the earth under some very tall trees so we could look up into them as we reflected. We looked not so much at the trees, but through them.
What we saw is always present in the natural world; we had just never seen. We saw circles, as wheels, in every part of the trees. Some circles were gently moving; some were seen as huge circular designs weaving remarkable patterns across the trees. The circles seemed to bind the trees together in an exquisite, moving tapestry. The trees were meshed together in a unique blend of unity and harmony.
Later, observing the meadow, we noticed that circles were an integral part of every plant and the grand design of the meadow.
The circle is a sacred form of the Truth of Harmony that represents wholeness, unity, perfection and infinity. In the natural world, it exists everywhere as a basic form of life. As the tires on a car allow the car to move smoothly down the road, circles allow everything to move through space smoothly, in a synchronized harmony.
The following is a famous interpretation of a circle by Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux medicine man (1863-1950).
"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle; everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves."
A goal of sustainable gardening is to highlight the unity of all life and celebrate circles by including circular designs or structures throughout the landscape.
To our ancestors, a walk in the wild was like going to the grocery store. The recognition of food and medicinal plants was commonplace. Life evolved through deep, personal relationships with the earth. Keen observers of the earth, they learned that the earth is a self-contained, self-reliant and self-resilient ecosystem. It was everyone's responsibility to care for the earth.
I first encountered the concept of the "Circle of Life" from Sandy Taylor, a friend and director of a non-profit organization — Rainbow Child International — which offers environmental and multicultural programs. A student of indigenous wisdom, she was taught about the earth through the circle. "The circle, a sacred form of harmony, represents the unity of all life on the earth, which is interrelated and interdependent."
This ancient, deep-seated belief became a standing foundation for planetary health that has existed for thousands of years. With a commitment to preservation, ancient edible gardens not only offered a road to physical and mental health but, also, ways to sustain the health of the Circle of Life.
With an understanding that the Earth is alive, a consciousness to whom attunement can be made at any time, all life on earth is part of an Earth community. A garden is the perfect example of a place where that can be experienced and learned. With ingenuity and the American brand of freedom, E pluribus unum, restoration of the Circle of Life is possible. Your edible landscape can be a model for survival; a beginning for growing gardens with a conscience.
1. How does the garden make a difference for the next seven generations?
2. How does the garden affect your family? Neighbors? The Circle of Life?
3. What do you want to learn about the Earth? Wind? Water? Circle of Life?
Life in all its forms is bound together by a common thread. Each is an essential part of the circle-of-life. This is beautifully demonstrated by the indigenous peoples' way of referring to life in all its forms as "People." For example, all trees can be known as Tree People; different flowers can be called Flower People; Air People refers to those creatures who fly, as the Butterfly People, the Winged People; Water People are those who live in water; the Two-Legged People are humans, and the Four-Legged people are those who walk on four legs, as the Bear People or Wolf People. In this book we can include all the Bean People, Herb People….
Ways to Support the Circle of Life
1. Honor the Earth and remember All is One — One is All.
2. Grow at-risk plants whenever possible, e.g., two black-eyed Susan species are considered to be endangered: Rudbeckia missouriensis and Rudbeckia scabrifolia.
3. Attract and provide for birds, butterflies, bees and other beneficial critters.
4. Plant natives and historical trees.
5. Purchase heirloom seeds; save your own or leave them on the ground for the birds and renewed growth.
6. Express joy, gratitude or compassion for the Circle of Life, family, friends and the planet.
7. Have ceremonies expressing wisdom, talents and gratitude for the Circle of Life.
8. Place seating to best experience the beauty of your garden during different times of the day, even in the moonlight.
9. Improve the soil for growing healthy plants.
10. Have thoughts, actions, words, or feelings that support peace and harmony with the earth community. As an example, when planning a new garden bed, ask yourself what would be harmonious for the entire property.
11. For artful naturalism, include curves, ovals, rounds or arches throughout the landscape design.
12. Include space in your garden to honor relatives and ancestors; e.g., plant a tree or a special flower.
13. Design garden areas enclosed with a Medicine Wheel, or install a classical 7-path labyrinth. Both offer personal healing and energize the atmosphere.
14. Create magical spaces for children to rest, imagine or reflect; e.g., place a seat in a vine-covered grotto or where looking up into a tree is possible.
15. Ask yourself often, "How can I diminish harmful imprint on the earth and wildlife?"
16. Be a working partner with the planet.
17. Recycle natural items, e.g., add shells, make stone towers, use branches from pruning for flower stakes, or make weed barriers from old, eco-friendly rugs.
18. Senses are rewarded by a diversity of plants and species.
19. For an alliance of spirit, nature and beauty, set aside a wild space and make it off-limits to everyone. The tiny microbes in the soil will thank you for not stepping on them. As an example, I chose an area in my backyard underneath a huge eucalyptus tree. To keep mowers and weed whackers out, I placed a fence on one side, with strong shrubs and flowers along the other edges.
In the fall of 1990, The Wolf Clan Teaching Lodge invited Elders from around the world to gather at Grandmother's home, to share their wisdom and create a vision of peace. The event was to be known as Wolf Song One. Many elders arrived, several from the jungles of Central and South America, some for the first time leaving their home, one lay dying to be carried onto the plane. They came to keep the Sacred Teachings alive. We were asked to give the name Indigenous to Native People and to begin the tradition of honoring Nine Sacred Directions.
The Sacred Directions offer an opportunity to focus the mind. To each direction, Native cultures assign a specific season, an element, animal, and a symbolic meaning.
I was taught that at birth, spirit guides from each direction teach wisdom from their different points of view. Throughout life, these experiences develop earth awareness and allow us to make deeper connections to the circle of life.
The influence from the sacred directions helps to build personal skills of creativity and inner harmony., Through these skills, we learn to appreciate who we are and we also learn to appreciate others. This is our mission in life. This process, known as the Beauty Way, awakens the spiritual nature and fills the heart with an inner peace and contentment.
Nine Sacred Directions
East Inspiration, clarity of vision, growth, new beginnings
South Love, trust, communication; change lessons into stepping stones for love
West Honor, going Within, relatives, ancestors, goals and achievements,
North Wisdom, gratitude, unity and health and healing
Above Sky connections, dream thoughts
Below Earth Connections
Grandmother taught to celebrate and honor the teachings of ancient indigenous ancestors. They are teachers of peace. Our elders tell us that we enter this Earthwalk as I AM to become WE ARE. We are individualists living in a world of unity. We are peace seekers in search of Inner Truth.
Teaser image by Loves TaiShan, courtesy of Creative Commons license.