A ZEN GARDEN: By Jerry C. Weinstein
I used to go to Asia every year, especially to India, but had never been to Bali. So in Aug 92 l scheduled a trip there. It’s such a long flight l decided at the last minute to do a stop-over in Japan for 5 days to break up the trip. Before l left l told my caretaker to get rid of all the weeds in my back yard, which was quite a mess. Upon arriving in Japan l immediately went to Kyoto, which l knew to be a spiritual center with a lot of zen temples. It was then that l found myself in another world, sensing at once that destiny had guided me there. I’d been doing vipassana meditation pretty intensely for several months and was starting to feel the increased concentration and depth from this practice. In addition, I’ve always had a passionately aesthetic nature. So, l think it was a combination of these things that led to not only the temples, but particularly the zen gardens being probably the most wonderful moment of discovery I’ve ever known. There were many moments of melting in tears of joy, and many others of profound meditative stillness, induced by the sense conveyed of almost perfect harmony with nature.
It was with great reluctance that l left Kyoto for Bali, which, although it has its charms, proved to be an afterthought. Then, after flying home and pulling up in my driveway, l had the sense of being someplace else. My care- taker, instead of being content to get rid of weeds, had also cut down every tree in my backyard, making it unrecognizable. My upstairs tenant, a staunch environ- mentalist, was angry at me and ready to move out. The neighbors were furious. l called my caretaker and asked how he’d managed to so misunderstand me do something so unthinkable as this? He had always been a thoughtful and responsible person, and curiously, appeared to have no idea himself. My first reaction, since l now had a bare yard, was to arrange to have a bunch of trees planted. But somewhere within me the Kyoto experience resonated enough to lead me to postpone doing anything for awhile. The idea of having my own zen garden had an allure — the problem was l was bogged down full time in my law practice and had never even planted a tree or done any gardening in my life. So the notion of my doing anything was totally impractical. My hope was that, hey, maybe something will just evolve or manifest itself out of my meditation practice.
Less than 2 weeks after my return home my kundalini process began, with energy shooting out of my brow chakra and remaining there on a permanent basis (as well as elsewhere). There were 6 months of powerful but mostly pleasant energy sensations — interestingly, every time l looked at a tree my brow chakra would go crazy. Then certain breathing practices led to a long period of continuous headaches and other problems, making any meditation impossible. So much for the idea of a zen garden — that was the least of my concerns. So my yard just deteriorated more and more as first months, then years went by. lt became the junkyard of the neighborhood as weeds, beverage cans and dog crap became its main constituents. My neighbors were beyond being upset — l told one of them that someday it was going to be a zen garden, which drew a mixture of disbelief and ridicule.
My kundalini hit bottom in late 95, a time when physically l felt like l was going to die. I separated from my teacher and also began winding down my law practice. lt was then that l turned all my attention to my yard. l just stood out there, day after day, getting the feel of it and recycling ideas through my system. And so began a process that lasted for over 4 years. First, l did a formal zen sitting garden in the back, with a large area of raked, fine gravel and a meditation platform — enclosed by a fence and bordered by trees, a groove of bamboo, and a small Buddha statue in the rear corner. l often asked myself, why am l doing this? l can’t even meditate and may never be able to again. l just seemed to be driven to do it. What surprised me was that it worked — the effect was magical — friends started coming over to meditate there.
Once the back was finished l figured that was it. But 2 years later l decided to expand the garden from the back to include the side area. Once again l was completely stumped at first, but I eventually came up with a moss garden with a water feature, boulders, Japanese maples and conifers, enclosed by a bamboo fence. And again, l was amazed at the end result. Then last year l decided to go all the way and do the front yard also. l was just as clueless as before, and again spent day after day in front of my house, as my neighbors nervously looked on. l completely redid my front yard, enclosing it with a bamboo fence on top of a low dry stone wall. l brought in several huge boulders (which required months to select) which l arranged in various combinations surrounded by raked gravel and trees. l also tore up the straight cement walkway from the street and created a curving stone path that leads to the front door and also winds completely throughout the entire garden.
So, if anyone’s still with me here ( ha ha), l now have a completely enclosed zen garden which covers my entire property and consists of 3 distinct areas. At the risk of sounding egotistical, l am pretty amazed by the physical trans- formation that’s occurred. Several landscape architects have wandered in and have been stunned by it. Local garden associations have pestered me to take tours through here, but I’ve resisted that so far — just doesn’t feel right. And my dear neighbors have become humble admirers.
Of course, there’s a downside too — l could write a book about all the problems I’ve encountered. And maintaining it is no small thing. But l think being able to do the garden has been wonderful for my energy process, both in terms of strengthening my connectedness to the earth and in providing an opportunity to be creative in such a fulfilling way. For all this, l can be thankful that for some mysterious reason my caretaker decided to cut down all my trees. In recent weeks I’ve found that after nearly 7 yrs, my headachiness is finally getting better, and the energy is flowing more freely again. Maybe this summer I’ll get to meditate in my garden.