10 Spiritual Principles I Learned from the Yard Guru

The great guru in my life in recent years has been by yard. No ordinary yard, I live in the foothills east of San Diego, abutting on the true wasteland between here and Mexico, where scrub brush, poison oak and rattlesnakes would scare away the most intrepid gardener. This is why I refer to working in my yard, rather than working in my garden. This yard of mine is 4 of the toughest acres in this neck of the woods and I’m proud to say I wrestle it all on my own.

In what I am pleased to call these my “battles against nature”, I have been reaching higher levels of understanding about the Laws of Nature. There is nothing you know better than what you are fighting.

As a spiritual teacher, I know that every thing is in our lives to learn with and from. I would like to share some of my experiences with you in what I hope are colorful and dramatic illustrations from real life experiences with the Yard Guru.

1. Red Geraniums Teach Me the Lesson of True Happiness
In my years of casting about for flowers that will grow in this floral combat zone, I had many hopes and dreams. I was envisioning an English garden with a little drift into Monet. I’m a romantic. I wanted cut flowers for my great hall and wildflowers to greet my eyes as I looked over the dusty and barren hillside. I thought of William Randolph Hearst planting wild flowers on hills wherever his eye could see at Hearst Castle. Who wouldn’t do that, I thought, if they could afford it.

I live near the best nursery for miles around. I got plants there. I ordered plants from the Internet. I drove to anyplace anyone recommended. I tried everything and very few things grew. Nothing I had in mind seemed to like it out here.

There was one exception. The geraniums flourished. As a matter of fact, the red geraniums had been here when I moved in. I just didn’t acknowledge them. The geraniums are deep red and I don’t like red. But … the geraniums like it here and so finally I have accepted them and committed to them. I have welcomed them, thinned them, pruned them, fertilized them and planted cuttings from them that are now thriving all over the yard. I receive many compliments on my red geraniums.

What I have learned is that sometimes in life, in fact most often in life, things happen while you are making other plans. The key to true happiness, as all ancient wisdom knows, is to choose what has chosen you.

2. The Butterfly Bush Teaches Me about the Laws of Attraction
I grew up in the Midwest and I had nostalgic memories of rich black earth filled with earthworms, thick, lush grass and brilliant Monarch butterflies.

I have cactus and honeybee swarms instead. After I got the ground cleared and the bee’s nest removed from my kitchen wall (they thought it was part of their tree), I started looking for butterflies. Every once in awhile I would see a small white butterfly but that was all.

I heard in passing that butterflies are attracted to certain types of plants. Sorry, but this was news to me. At the nursery I asked “Do you have something called a Butterfly Bush?” It worked like a charm. Actually I got two bushes and pretty soon after that, a little drove of white butterflies arrived.

What a mathematical and predictable universe this is! If I want to attract butterflies into my yard, I find out what butterflies like (not what I think they should like but what they are known without a shadow of a doubt to like) and put it there. The butterflies come. Easy. One plus one equals two.

Let’s build out on this principle. Many women I read for want a husband. But they don’t bother to find out what kind of husband-attracting things they should put out in the yard. They want hot passionate nights, courtly romance, extravagant spending allowances and trips to exotic places. Passion dies, I say. What about cooking dinner? What will you offer him in exchange for these things you want? Heads shake. They get very impatient when I say these things. They don’t realize I am trying to teach them about the Butterfly Bush.

3. The Morning Glories that Wouldn’t Go against their Own Natures.
I didn’t have much success with my morning glories, though I have seen them covering 50 feet of wall different places around town. Everyone at the nursery said the same thing: “You never have trouble with morning glories. (shrug) They’re just a glorified weed, you know.”

I discovered what the problem was. I had been insisting on putting them in places where they would have to trail rather than climb. Morning glories want to climb and if they can’t climb they die.

The morning glories reminded me that you have to let someone or something be true to its own nature. This is the principle: don’t use a fork to pound nails and don’t ask someone for something they can’t readily give.

4. Being Whole
It amazes most of my friends and sometimes I will admit it irks me, that I choose to do all my yard work myself but my Yard Guru has gotten quite a claim on me by now.

Instead of separating my life into “this” and “the gym”, moving my body, sweating, and “working out” are integrated into my life in a seamless way. I think this is what integrity is all about. All of me does all of these things. I am not compartmentalized. I am not two different people.

The added benefit is that I’m in very good shape for 58 years old. When I get grouchy, I remind myself that some people my age are not so lucky as to be able to do this kind of hard work.

5. The Underground River — Use it or Lose It
We have a well out here and there is always threat of drought in Southern California. For many years I have sweated out the last two months of the dry season, wondering if my well would run dry as some of them out here do.

A couple of years ago my daughter married a young man from Morocco who is a Sufi, those wonderfully centered mystical people who are so easy for someone in the New Age to relate to. When September came, I began my propaganda about conserving water. My son-in-law looked in the well and said, “It’s a river, running under ground. You won’t run out of water but if you don’t use it you have lost it.”

I was quite shocked to hear this. It reminded me of the River of Life and I made a resolution to use every moment of my life and not miss a minute! Like this underground river, time does not stand still either.

6. If You Believe You Can Fly, You Can (Vision)
Even today, 10 years after I started, the casual visitor would not likely be impressed with my yard. It is still mostly in my head, you see — my vision of what it will look like someday. I am visionary and I recommit to my vision every time I work in the yard. I look at my creation and I see that it is good.

I think of the people who created Palm Desert, the people who drove over those barren mountains down into a desert valley and had the temerity to think, “If only I could get some water in here.” Or I think of Peter the Great, reclaiming St. Petersburg from a swamp. How I appreciate now the hard work that must have taken. How convenient for autocratic Russian feudalism to provide thousands of people like me all day every day for many years to do the work.

It’s the vision which drives the person who has the vision. No one else will see it but you!

7. To Prevail, You Must Act
I have developed my male side out here in the yard. I used to hear it said that to prevail you must act. I thought that was for the guys. However, in this natural environment, if I don’t clear, Nature marches. There is no stopping this process. If I don’t push back, Nature pushes forward. It’s a jungle out there.

So what I’ve learned is that in order to prevail, one must act. The wonderful thing about enlightenment is the holistic knowledge that if I do something in one area of my life, it will also be happening in another.

What I have learned is that it does indeed require action to prevail on the environment and I have begun to be far more pro-active in other areas of my life besides the yard. I am pro-active with home repairs, meeting county regulations, potential disputes with neighbors, political representation, taxation and other things. I no longer stand still in my life, though I do always stand at the center of my life.

8. I Will Have Eternal Life
As I work in my yard, I see the monkey grass I planted on the walkway, without much thought, and the crepe myrtle tree which is at the very center of my yard, young but doing well. Oddly, crepe myrtles are not very popular out here. In my crepe myrtle tree lives a jaybird. Jaybirds are not very popular anywhere, but I have always loved them. There was a jaybird in my grandmother’s front yard and a whole hedge of crepe myrtle bushes. They were her pride and glory. She also planted monkey grass along the walkway.

I look down at my brown arms and bare brown feet, how muscular I have become, working out here under the invisible whip of the Yard Guru. I know that my grandmother lives through me. I look like her now. I am small, muscular and brown, like her. And like her, I am a little overweight. Right now, I am at the age that I remember her best.

I work very hard, like my grandmother. I am spiritual like her. In another area of the yard, I have a Viennese bird bath and some Alpine wildflowers. I got them after I returned from Vienna a few years ago. I understood now why my German grandmother and many other people in America created the kinds of lives and gardens they did.

Now, at 58, I know why my grandmother did all the things she did and I allow her expression to pour through me out into the world and to infuse my spirit. Today I will go down to my daughter’s yard and pull weeds. I will tear out some bamboo and weed whack. I want my daughter to see me working in the yard so I will live through her someday when she has a yard of her own. Through her and through everyone I have touched and influenced, I will have eternal life.

9.. To All Things There is a Season
One thing about living in Southern California (I am not a native), you can really lose track of time. It is not unusual out here to not know what month it is. This is because every month is the same. We have what is called a temperate climate, so on average it is 65-70 degrees 365 days a year.

Having grown up in Chicago, I missed the rhythm of the seasons til I began to work in my yard. Now I am in touch with the seasons again, but in a different way.

My year begins with the sudden growth of wild grasses in January. In February come the snails. In March the gophers. In April the field mice. In May there are the big fat harmless bees outside the front door. In June, the grass goes dormant and looks horrible for the rest of the year. In July, there is a smell in the air I think from the stems of the red geraniums drying up and as a result, sometimes I get allergies. Also at this time the crepe myrtle blooms. In August we begin to worry about water and the second round of notices from the fire prevention people come out. In September the water is rationed and some things die. October brings a certain slant to the sun and relief to the remaining plants and flowers. In November my fall shrubs bloom if they are going to. I rest in December because in January there will be a sudden growth of wild grasses and I will need to get the mower out again.

To all things there is a season. When I walk around my yard I wonder if I will live to see the jacaranda tree really take off or the shimmering alder reach full height. I also wonder about the Mother-in-Law tree in the front yard. And I wonder if I will ever have any grandchildren. I am very much at peace. I know that for my life, too, there will be a season.

10. What Goes Around Comes Around Sanctuary
In my yard there are three statues. Well, nowadays they would be called “yard art”. I have a face of Buddha, the Tibetan kind, that is very big and very serene. It sits by a Baja California cactus that makes it look very small. Then there is an angel under my lemon tree and in a grove on the other side under a huge pepper tree is the Mother Mary.

I created these sacred areas and also turned my living room into a Great Hall when I returned from the Benedictine Monastery in Santa Barbara. I was restored there and refreshed and I brought that feeling back with me into my yard.

It is the intent of the Benedictine monks to provide a place of refuge, a sanctuary, and as I look around my yard, I see how much my stay there had meant to me. I am reminded that very small things in life can make a very big difference. When someone feels at peace in my yardFree Reprint Articles, I remember the peace I felt at the Monastery.

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