Sooth­ing spa­ces

Gar­den shrines turn back­yards into hal­lowed ground, places to recharge

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - STORY & PHO­TOS BY MAU­REEN GILMER

When does a gar­den be­come hal­lowed ground? When we have cre­ated a space for spir­i­tu­al­ity or re­mem­brance there. Tra­di­tion­ally called shrines, th­ese amaz­ing spir­i­tual nooks in na­ture re­mind us that peace can be found in this chaotic world. You’ll find shrines in the ru­ins of ev­ery an­cient civ­i­liza­tion, prov­ing de­sire for ex­pres­sion is in­trin­sic to hu­man na­ture.

Shrines are a tes­ta­ment to our be­liefs, loves, mem­o­ries and val­ues. That’s why they were so com­mon in Catholic fam­ily home gar­dens. Many were first con­structed as memo­ri­als for fallen sol­diers from many wars. Oth­ers were ded­i­cated to beloved par­ents and lost chil­dren. Most fea­tured Mary, the mother of Je­sus, of­ten perched in an up­turned bath­tub grotto, but St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, pa­tron saint of an­i­mals and na­ture, is even more com­mon.

To­day, many spir­i­tual path­ways are com­ing to­gether in the gar­den, so it’s nat­u­ral to rekin­dle this form of artis­tic ex­pres­sion to lend mean­ing to our fa­vorite spa­ces. There are two ways to cre­ate th­ese el­e­ments, de­pend­ing on your pref­er­ence. Im­ages and fig­u­ral stat­u­ary can re­flect Mary, Bud­dha and other re­li­gious icons. An­other op­tion: a photo of a loved

one in a weath­er­proof case or glazed on a ce­ramic tile.

Where no im­ages are used, then the shrine be­comes an al­tar for ex­press­ing our­selves with of­fer­ings, more es­o­teric sym­bols and ob­jects of mean­ing. This can re­flect a rev­er­ence for Earth with a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral space, pet­ro­glyphs, man­dalas, min­er­als and plants along with other nat­u­ral el­e­ments. It is the space you deem the cen­ter of your land­scape’s spir­i­tual uni­verse, be it a nook in the side yard or the fo­cal point of your view-shed.

To cre­ate such a space is a great way to re­fo­cus the mind from cur­rent events to the in­ner spirit that truly mat­ters. If you prac­tice yoga or other spir­i­tu­ally based dis­ci­plines, this is a great way to cre­ate an ap­pro­pri­ate out­door space. This is why the space you choose is di­rectly re­lated to the way you prac­tice your brand or blend of spir­i­tu­al­ity.

Spa­ces for shrines ded­i­cated to prayer and med­i­ta­tion should not be close to sources of neigh­bor noise. They should be de­signed with re­spect to the weather dur­ing sea­sons of use so you’ll al­ways be com­fort­able there. Where pri­vacy is needed, the space needs room for a screen, hedge or par­ti­tion.

Within the space you’ll need a com­fort­able place to re­lax and let your mind wan­der its spir­i­tual cor­ri­dors. A com­fort­able out­door chair with a high back takes the least amount of space. For larger ar­eas, a chaise lounge or a re­cy­cled fu­ton. Pay at­ten­tion to your ground treat­ment if you do yoga, as you will need a clean, smooth sur­face for the mat.

Once cre­ated, th­ese spa­ces tend to evolve as you do. Items gath­ered there may change from time to time as your path grows and di­ver­si­fies. Vir­tu­ally all spir­i­tual spa­ces are beau­ti­ful, so the fi­nal item — and most im­por­tantly — are plants and flow­ers. Th­ese give your shrine life, and change as the days pass with one bloom­ing and then the next.

Where shrines are sea­sonal, let yours be re-cre­ated each year in a fresh way. In­clude all your fa­vorite col­ors, or per­haps a com­po­si­tion of hues, for vis­ual ex­cite­ment. Make it a de­light­ful place to look at and one pleas­ing to spend time in so your shrine be­comes a place of ge­n­e­sis, rekin­dling the fad­ing fires.

In dif­fi­cult times, the gar­den has al­ways of­fered respite be­cause it never changes. The cir­cle of the sea­sons and cy­cles of na­ture are a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a higher power un­af­fected by our hu­man con­flicts. It is why hu­man be­ings have brought their spir­i­tu­al­ity into na­ture, and na­ture into their spir­i­tu­al­ity by cre­at­ing shrines in gar­dens. When na­ture and spirit are no longer sep­a­rated in part of your yard, that is all it takes to make hal­lowed ground.

Shrines made out of gath­ered things and mean­ing­ful ob­jects are very per­sonal.

Bury ashes of cremated pets be­neath mean­ing­ful and of­ten an­cient spir­i­tual fig­ures.

Niches in ar­chi­tec­ture are tra­di­tional places for gar­den shrines in­te­grated into the ex­ist­ing ma­te­rial pal­ette.

A sim­ple gath­er­ing of river­stones from trav­els evokes mem­o­ries as we per­pet­u­ally rear­range them.

Shrines can be very sim­ply cre­ated to suit the user and the space.

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