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Meditation Garden Design       
Also called Tranquility, Serenity, Contemplation and Prayer Gardens

John Stuart Leslie
August 1, 2010

meditation garden

A meditation garden can have different meanings for different people. When you think of a meditation garden, do you think of a Zen type Japanese garden with raked gravel and an island of stones? Do you envision a secluded, private retreat surrounded by lush tropical growth as in a rainforest? Or perhaps you see an area in a traditional yard that has been designated for the purpose of meditating or just sitting in contemplation with a bench or chair or comfortable mat.

Meditation gardens can take many different forms, but their primary purpose is toprovide a vehicle for mental, emotional and physical benefits. A place that can offer refuge from a hectic lifestyle, a sanctuary for soul rejuvenation, a spot conducive for actual meditation practice. Meditation itself can be sitting meditation or walking meditation.

A meditation "garden" can also be a place to do Yoga or Tai Chi. It maybe a place where you perform your ritual ceremonies of prayer and contemplation.

Conversely, meditation gardens associated with churches, temples and other places of worship are often called Prayer Gardens.

outdoor meditation creates sacred space


Thus a meditation garden can take on myriad forms of expression depending on the desires of the user. The process of creating or designing the space starts with identification of the purpose of the space.

Of course, an otherwise simple garden that just happens to have a bench strategically placed near a waterfall can also serve as your meditation garden. Especially if you realize that it really does function as such and has the right "feeling". The space, as designed, must be conducive for meditation, yet allow the spontaneity of the mind to ascend to its own levels, irrespective of the aesthetics of the space.

To create these feelings, consider elements such as privacy, enclosure, canopy, exposure to the elements, amount of plantings, sounds, scents, color and proximity to your main house.

As I ponder meditating outdoors, I am reminded of something said in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu:

“Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form.

Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound.

Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible.”

In other words, ascribing a label to a garden as that of a "meditation garden" is misleading. I wonder how much more insight I would gain if I stop thinking that "I am meditating now". My legs are crossed in a sitting position, and therefore I must concentrate so hard that I block out all extraneous thoughts in order to experience something I know not.

The purpose of a meditation garden therefore is not to focus on the label, but to experience the inner calm and peacefulness one receives from the mind state of deep relaxation when one can experience the vibration of a hummingbird flying near your head.

When one sits like a Buddha in a meditating posture or in their meditation garden in perfect Lotus position, they may hear the sound of the wind, or see the green of the leaves, but they are not seeing and they are not hearing. These things did not come into existence as a result of your meditating. You became awakened to their existence because your thoughts were silenced. Your thoughts say things like, "Does the wind make a sound when I cannot hear it?

Perception is just a way to make sense of reality around us. Our state of awareness is transient. It comes and goes like clouds in the sky.

Therefore, we may loosely use the terms meditation, contemplation, tranquility, serenity and prayer when "describing" or labeling these types of gardens.

Labels are like badges. They help us identify what something is all about. The state of mind of meditation and contemplation however do accurately describe the intended qualities of the garden, that of a flowing stream, meandering peacefully among the pebbles of consciousness.

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