I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God(s) or Deities that are imagined in the likeness of human beings. I don’t believe in higher powers with lists of rules and regulations that must be followed to avoid spiritual stagnation, or worse, damnation. The idea of a higher power with a thirst for blood, vengeance, and world domination seems like a shabby reflection of humankind rather than an elevated and evolved energy/being/power. Most depictions of Gods and Devils bear a striking resemblance to the emotional maturity of a human toddler.
Every time I talk about my garden, about gardening in general, about how I feel when I’m in the thick of my plants, I’m talking about my version of religious practice. In my garden there is no plant that is lord of all the plants, there is no law that is the law of all beings, and the idea of virtue is egalitarian. I give dandelions pride of place just as I give roses pride of place.
My garden is a small ecosystem, a universe constantly expanding and contracting with the seasons, with new information, new ideas, established roots, thick bark and thin. Within the small ecosystem of my garden there are micro ecosystems and all of them reflect the greater universe all around it.
When I finally got myself a diagnosis for my mental illness it was clear that I needed the support of medication to keep myself safe and healthy, but my psychologist asked me what I do in my life that is calming, that makes me feel good, centered, and happy. I told him that deadheading my roses always pushed my anxieties aside, that it brought a quietness to my brain that I rarely experience otherwise. I told him that one of my keenest pleasures was to cut roses to place around my house. He suggested I make my roses part of my daily self-care, part of my mental health-care routine.
This morning I watered my front and side gardens and then deadheaded my roses. I brought my cup of coffee out there with me. I was still in my pyjamas. When I’m out there with my plants I’m not an infirm obese middle aged woman, I’m just another spirit among kin. The plants speak to me in color, in shade, in density, in volume. They speak to me in shattered petals, old scabs, and new sap. When I’m in my garden I make sense, I belong, I am never shunned nor judged. I am not lord of my garden, I’m part of it.
My garden full of wild sproutlings, sudden inexplicable deaths, and regal insectary towers reminds me at all times simultaneously of my insignificance and my influence on the outcome of universal truth. I matter here, I just don’t matter more than anything else does. I am equal with the plum tree and dandelions alike. When I’m weeding I know what’s truly bothering me the most because nothing amplifies my worries more than total silence and the bitter tears of false dandelion smeared across my hands. I can’t make my brain stop playing the endless tapes that cause it so much distress, but when I let them play while I’m buried waist high in my wildflowers, their power over me is diminished as everything is leveled among the plants and the locusts chewing on them.
I’m struggling pretty hard right now to be okay with humans, with BEING human. I’m struggling pretty hard right now against my own brain that doesn’t exist peacefully in the world in which it must function. Even with medication I can’t shut out all the noise of all the pain others are going through, all the spirits being crushed by systems that oppress love and celebrate hate.
My garden is my religion. My religion is the smell of hot blackberries hanging heavily sweet on the summer air. My religion is camouflaging myself among the Lacy Phacelia as though I grew from a winter seed up into a six foot tall flower that looks like a synchronized Busby Berkeley number performed exclusively by purple caterpillars. My religion is trial and error, accidentally thick pasta, opera playing full blast over a bowl of rising bread dough, my accordion playing Amazing Grace into the golden hour. My scripture is knowing to deadhead roses to a 5 leaf set.
It isn’t my place to give benediction, it isn’t my place to request favors of a God I don’t believe in. What I CAN do is let my plants breathe with me and you and the stars above.
My garden is my religion. It’s a place of healing, belonging, and perspective.