Wendy's WanderingsWendy Wilber

March 11, 2021

Zen and the Art of Yard Maintenance

March is a super busy time for gardeners. Our to-do list is long — we need to prune, we need to mulch, we need to go shopping for plants, we need to plant the plants that we bought, we need to... the list goes on.

Top on my list is raking up all the oak leaves from my zoysia lawn and composting them. I usually think of this as a chore that hardly ever ends, but an experience I had last month has changed my thinking about it.

I had the fortune to visit the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida. It is a beautiful space that gives you the essence of Japanese gardens. The gardens at Morikami are named Roji-en, meaning Garden of the Drops of Dew. These 16 acres of six distinct gardens were designed and created by Hoichi Kurisu to be a living extension of the museum. It is truly a treasure in Palm Beach County.

I was excited to learn that on the day of my visit, there was going to be a Karesansui raking demonstration. This is the raking of the lines in gravel or sand around rock arrangements. The raking pattern is based on Zen ideology and the lines represent currents or waves around the carefully positioned boulders. I thought I was going find out what kind of rake they use, the type of gravel that is best, and how to rake without leaving footprints.

What was actually presented was a lesson in meditation and mindfulness. Garden curator and educator Heather Grzybek did give us the basics of Karesansui and then she led us in a mindfulness exercise that forever changed how I will think about raking. In the shady Late Rock Garden she had us close our eyes and listen to the soft sounds of the wind moving through the leaves and bamboo stalks. She had the group pull their attention to the present moment and to block outside thoughts. This is what she does as she rakes the granite gravel around the large Tennessee marble boulders in the Zen garden. The movement and the sound of the rake through the granite is what she focuses on when raking the lines. The group was quiet, still, and focused on the sound — for me it was transportive.

"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991).

Practicing mindfulness has psychological, spiritual, and physiologic benefits. People who regularly practice mindfulness have enhanced immune system functioning, lowered blood pressure, lower levels of cortisol, and greater resistance to stress-related diseases like heart disease. For more information and suggestions for incorporating mindfulness in your daily life look at the UF/IFAS EDIS publication "Mindfulness: An Introduction."

woman with long blond ponytail carefully raking a circular pattern into gravel around a large boulder

Morikami Gardens instructor Heather Grzybek demonstrating the Karesansui method of raking. Photo by Wendy Wilber, UF/IFAS.

I don't have a gravel Zen garden in my yard that needs to be raked but I do have plenty of oak leaves that need to get into the compost pile. Can I transform my raking chore into a mindfulness exercise? I will try to bring purpose, presence, and acceptance to my leaf raking and you may want to give it try too.

-- Wendy Wilber


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