Once the Dalai Llama was asked by an American journalist for his thoughts on why so many people in the West dislike themselves. He had to have the question translated for him twice, because he did not understand it – to him it was incomprehensible that anyone would feel negative about themselves.
How this endemic self-loathing has come about in our society is anybody’s guess and surely a long and complicated story. But the consequences are much easier to identify. It is what drives consumerism, the urge to buy things we don’t really need, just to cheer us up, to soothe this chafing feeling of inadequacy and discontentment with who we are, where we are, what we have.
It is as if there is something missing in our selves and that gap needs to be filled in to make our being whole and well. We try to find fulfillment in intimate relationships with others, but if that does not work out, it’s off to the Mall to buy a nice new T-shirt or a dress, or hit the hardware store for a sexy power tool, which we then carry back home in a plastic bag, which we throw out in the trash, from where it starts to circumnavigate the earth.
The comfort we get from such acquisitions is fleeting, however. The joy vanishes with the first stain, the first dent or scratch. The mild disenchantment that takes its place reinforces the notion that we never seem to get it right. And soon enough, yet another shopping bag is making its way toward the ocean.
Whatever we try to fill the gap with, it never seems to be enough. Perhaps, then, we’re approaching it the wrong way around; perhaps we should endeavor to just widen the gap, by giving of ourselves, so that we open up and whatever it is that is lacking may freely flow into us.
How to make the change? How to overcome the deep-rooted inhibition that being open means being vulnerable? Many techniques and methods to that end have been brought to us from the East by such people as the Dalai Lama. There’s yoga, transcendental mediation, tai ch’i and perhaps dozens more of such disciplines. But, coming from such a different culture, and us lagging a couple of thousand years behind in learning them, there is a certain threshold there too.
However, there is a native method which is simple and universal. It is called gardening. A really good way to release tension, for one, is to direct it into the ground. Moreover, gardening is all about balances – the right amount of water, of fertilizer, how much to prune and where, and so forth – and that inevitably rebalances one’s own frame of mind. Not less rewarding, of course, is the flavorful produce resulting from it. Imagine tomatoes that taste like tomatoes instead of solidified water!
It is 25 years ago this week that George Brookbank and Darlene Schacht decided that this basic joy should be accessible to anyone and founded the Community Gardens of Tucson. It is also this week that CGT will dedicate its 25th garden at the Jewish Community Center on River Road during a celebration on Sunday, October 25th. Festivities start at 12:30 with live music and a lunch buffet. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased until the time of the event. Go to www.communitygardensoftucson.org for more information.