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The Lowly Gardener – Humble Like the Dust

The Lowly Gardener – Humble Like the Dust

To me, a gardener as a profession is ranked in society among those activities belonging to the service industry. They cater to individuals or businesses and lack more advanced education or credentials. They are the house cleaners, the maid, and the janitor.

They are not revered in society as are other professions who are in positions of power, control, influence or fame.  Unfortunately, we label ourselves and others by what they do rather than who they are. Our identities are wrapped up in our work and people judge us initially by what we do for a living. Until we get to know the real person behind the veil of their profession, we are predisposed to classify everyone accordingly.

We do however, revere those who are modest. Those who are in an otherwise honorable profession or some kind of social leader who humbles their self by dismissing the importance of their profession or their title are actually revered. To set aside their sense of importance and inflated sense of self is to lower them to everyone’s level – to say, “I am not above you or anyone”.

In the original movie, Kung Fu, Caine is attending a festival honoring the Emperor when the Emperor’s son asks Caine, “Who are you?” Caine, responds, “I am but a lowly priest, humble, like the dust”.

In the TV series Star Trek Second Generation, Captain Picard reminisces about his days at the academy as a young student. He speaks of his most revered teacher named Sefarth from whom he gained the most wisdom. To which a fellow academy graduate says to Picard, “I do not recall any such teacher named Sefarth”. Picard responds, “Sefarth was not one of the professors, he was the head gardener”.

Books, movies and folklore recognize the virtues of humility and humbleness and create characters to honor that aspect within us that we seek to possess. Yet we are prejudiced by the appearance of one’s profession to see beneath the veil and to recognize those qualities. It is paradoxical that someone in a lowly regarded profession can possess the wisdom of great philosophers and leaders.

Since I earned a masters degree in Landscape Architecture, I have from time to time, had a sense of insecurity about being called ‘landscaper’ by clients. This internalized arrogance has made me react to situations where I am lowered in stature from where my ego resides. My sense of identity is indeed caught up in my title or my profession, partly because I give too much credence to how society values titles. I have since evolved to where I dismiss titles entirely as I see them as masking the true value of a person and their virtuous qualities, which to me, are what really matter.

Parallel to my issue with how people perceive me or what they call me, I never forgot the scene in that Kung Fu movie where the priest is being humble. I have not however changed my title to that of “lowly gardener – humble like the dust”, but I did instead attempt to label myself as a Spiritual Garden Designer. I saw this as a step above a mundane gardener who only toils in the maintenance of gardens and landscapes.

Not many people comprehend what a Spiritual Garden Designer is. It is not a common title within the professions of the landscape and garden industries. It is not even understood within the industry itself because most garden clients are focused on the outward appearances, whether that is the aesthetics, the maintenance or the functionality of garden spaces.

I found I had to do much explaining about this newly coined title. That realization alone showed me that I was amiss with my marketing message. I could not succinctly state what I did and what the benefit to the client is in a short, comprehendible sound bite. I came to the conclusion that it was too esoteric and was not a viable name to use for a business where mainstream conventional marketing methods are used.

Perhaps my target market was not being isolated. Perhaps I was going after mainstream clients who just wanted their trees trimmed or their yards cleaned up or a new patio built. But I could do all that and more. It was the ‘more’ that I was hoping that they identified with, recognized that in my abilities and would then engage my services to create something with ‘spiritual’ meaning.

I realized that I was promoting something that required a connection to be made between the client’s internal processing of the perceived benefits of the outward physical design manifest on the client’s property. This would require not only the ability to visualize, but to understand the meaning behind the design. I backed down from making the concept a project oriented endeavor and settled for simply conveying the concept through words alone. Ideas that people could process in their own minds in a way that would allow them to figure out the “What’s in it for me question”. If they truly “got it” they would understand. The question then would be, do they need or want such a garden space.

These concepts originate and are heartfelt from within. To project them onto the physical earth as a design or a garden space somehow modifies what is sacred in the elements of nature, plants, earth, water, wind, etc. It is the human mind imposing their ideas onto an otherwise primordial canvas. Is it not enough to simply go out into nature or a simple garden plot and revere the thoughts and feelings that are conjured up through experience?

The Spiritual Gardener has no need to wear a badge, enter contests or participate in design exhibitions to show off their accomplishments. The Spiritual Gardener does not care what their garden looks like, rather is more concerned about the inner garden that sprouts endearing virtues.