As we adjust to the stages of isolation recommended by our governing authorities, and the personal challenges we navigate during the COVID-19 pandemic, for those who have outdoor space one solution to combat 'cabin fever' - "the distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended period of time" (Thanks! Wikipedia) - is to instead focus on mindfulness and contemplation.
And one of the best locations to achieve this is in a meditation garden. For example, the idyllic First Nations Gardens in Montreal, Quebec and the spectacular Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia are two enchanting Canadian gardens which have inspired millions of visitors to find peace, harmony & moments to relax.
So, if you have outdoor space, how about creating a meditation garden just outside your doorsteps?
Is that even possible?
I spoke with Allan O’Marra, a Canadian painter, practising Buddhist, and meditation garden enthusiast on the value and benefits of having a meditation garden.
Here is what he has to share on the topic:
What’s your background, and what inspired you to get into your field?
I drew prolifically as a child and ended up attending the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto. Since I grew up in a valley in rural Ontario, the surrounding landscape is very much a muse for me—having played in the fields and hills and swam in and skated on the lake. I was required to plant, hoe and harvest from a half-acre family garden (where the largest of my meditation gardens is now located). That activity helped cement my love of landscaping and nature. I don’t have any kind of formal background in meditation garden design. I’m simply an artist with a liking for them and a penchant for creating them.
How do you—or what do you do—to find your creative inspiration today?
The landscape surrounding my original family homestead near Bancroft provides inspiration for many of my works of art. My meditation gardens are my own personal answer to creating spaces that are helpful for my meditation practice.
How & why is a meditation garden important for you?
I discovered I’m a natural-born Buddhist more than 20 years ago, and a major practice of that philosophy is meditation. I quickly became an every-day meditator—typically on the bench, I made for myself in my living room. I became aware of meditation gardens in my readings on the subject of Buddhism and decided to make one for myself on the balcony of the 6th-floor apartment in which I was living at the time. Following no guidelines, but just creating it to work in the space available, I covered 3/4 of the floor of the balcony with cedar planks and then added sand in the uncovered space at the end and place river rocks randomly about and created an altar with bricks and set up a Buddha statue I had purchased on top of the altar. And then sat on my bench on the edge of the cedar to meditate. The garden also served as a sandbox for my two young children to play in.
After that, with each new place to which I moved, I created a unique meditation garden to fit the available space and landscape. [As I mentioned] the biggest one is at the country homestead property I had the good fortune to inherit near the town of Bancroft.
What does a meditation garden provide you personally?
I find that having a dedicated garden to sit in really increases the focus and depth and strength of my meditation practice. Being outdoors when you meditate really adds to the experience of getting to “just here, just now, just this”...
Has your garden changed much over the years?
Actually, not much has changed with regard to the components of my gardens—it usually begins with a dugout space filled with sand and some kind of brick edging and river stones placed randomly with ornamental grasses placed in clumps between the rocks. And with the brick altar and Buddha statue at one end and a stone bench for sitting at the other end. Just the overall shape has changed depending on how much room, etc. I have.
Do you have to be a Buddhist to have one? Do all Buddhists have one?
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to have one! Many non-Buddhists engage in mediation as a formal practice, but some folks just like to have them for decorative purposes. And, certainly, all Buddhists don’t have them, only those with the inclination and space!
Are they always outdoors?
I’ve never seen an indoor meditation garden. I think the tip-off is the word “garden”. That’s typically an outdoor creation. I do, however, have an indoor altar with rock crystals and tumbled gem tones stones on a stand with a Buddha statue in a prominent position.
‘Emily in the Meditation Garden’ oil on canvas by Allan O’Marra.
Now more than ever I believe many of us are collectively searching for personal places to find solitude and reflect on self-awareness. Personally, I always find spending time in a meditation garden has a calming ethereal effect that helps ground me for the day. In our quest for serenity and peace, I've learned a meditation garden invites us to clear our mind and engage in a healthy presence even when instability may be occurring around us. It's a tremendous asset.
Could a mediation garden be right for you?
If you enjoyed this post, check out these other houseporn.ca articles about our domestic landscape:
All photos courtesy of Allan O’Marra.
Researched and Written by Errol Knight, Architectural Technology Certificate, George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.