At Home in the Garden of Our Heart

Last week, using the image of tears, we suggested that there is a place within us that is deeper than the separation of thoughts and feelings into opposite like joy and sorrow, fear and hope and the like. And it is this same place that is able to contain all these feelings within an underlying sense of hope and even of love. We also added that there is in us an immense longing, a longing for meaning, for wholeness for home, to come home to our heart, our core, and from there be a home to one another.

Last week in my children’s literature class, we discussed the story, The Secret Garden. The story also portrays characters trapped in loss that has closed their hearts, yet still with a simmering longing that remains and is still to be uncovered. In the end, a healing love is awakened. The two main characters are ten year old Mary Lennox and her uncle Archie Craven. Mary has recently lost both parents, and Archie, her uncle, had lost his wife, Lily, ten years previously. In his grief, Archie has closed and locked the garden–both the outer garden which Lily loved, and the inner garden of his heart. In doing so, he has closed himself to life, reflected in the sickness of his son, Colin, and the deadness of his entire household.

Assisted by the boy, Dickon, who is at home in the natural world, Mary enters the outer garden, where she uncovers the dead leaves and debris, and discovers the roots of life that are still alive and ready to spring more fully to life. She also plants the seeds of new life. In effect, she is getting in touch with the secret garden of her own heart, her own inner core, and finding and fostering the life that is already there.

Gradually they awaken Archie’s son, Colin, from the deadness that has been imposed upon him, reflected in his gradual process of standing, walking, and running. He has in fact entered the secret garden of his heart and discovered and opened himself to  life and let it flower in friendship. Archie’s encounter with his now healthy son reawakens Archie’s own heart and the love that has been implicitly there and now reaches out freely towards his son, Colin, and his niece, Mary. The tears that flow in these scenes express not only the pain and longing inherent in life but also the love that awakens and flourishes, and gives new and fuller meaning to that life.

There is factually no garden within our heart, but the story is truthful as it recounts the slow transition from paralyzing grief to renewed love. In the same class, we looked at the stories of Winnie the Pooh and Pumpkin Soup, which also illustrate the difference between fact and truth. Certainly the portrayal of animals in these stories is not factual. But they do embody, in an accessible and safe way, the truth of our profound need for food, friendship, and beauty. These are reflected in the making of soup, the playing and singing of music, and the endurance of friendship despite a few hassles.

Within a context of imagination, wonder, and magic, stories such as these bring out what Susan Cain calls the bittersweet character of our experience of life. They not only recognize that joy and sorrow, and all the “both/ands” are present in all our experience. They also help us to name that experience. When we wish to convey our deepest experience, we can capture it best, though still in a limited way, not be mere flat statements, but by images and stories. Robert Frost tells us: “I took the road less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” He is speaking of choosing his direction in life, not about changing highways. In Robert Munsch’s story, Love You Forever, the woman says to her son at various stages in his life, and, later the son says to his elderly mother, “I’ll love your forever.” They are not talking about time on a clock, but about the enduring quality of their love.

A favourite expression is from Winnie the Pooh. Of their friendship, Piglet says to Pooh.: “We’ll be friends forever won’t we, Pooh,” asked piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.. This comment is less about a length of time and more about the quality of the friendship, which is unbreakable, and therefore reliable and trustworthy. It teaches theses qualities to children. At the same time, it gives an assurance of stability in relationships.

Looked at from the eyes of the heart, stories such as these bring out the sacred worth of every human life and of all that is. They also acknowledge the interconnection of all that is. To experience further the gift character of everything is to evoke an underlying sense of gratitude. It is also a call to honour that sacred worth in ourselves and in all that is, and also to act with awareness of the interconnectedness of all that is.

May you come more and more to experience your own and others sacred worth, to live with an underlying sense of gratitude for this gift, to feel at home in this universe, and to respond to others and to life with a sense of generosity, compassion, and justice.

Norman King, November 14, 2022