During the European middle ages and into the Renaissance, secret gardens developed in inner courtyards, in monasteries and in the landscapes of lush, labyrinthine gardens. They became places of safety and serenity to escape from the chaos of the turbulent times. The plague, strife between lords and the church, struggles to find food and shelter and the general instability of the period made the outside world seem hostile. The secret garden reflected an inner space of light that sheltered the lucky few who made their way into the interiors and found refuge from dark shadows of doubt and fear.
On the French Riviera, at a cocktail party at Fontainebleau near Paris and even into Florence, Italy, foreigners whispered to me to "discover your jardin secret," or "keep that to dwell on in your giardino segreto." I’d walk away scratching my head. They didn’t mean a literal garden. I only had a small terrace with some laurel rose and cacti. They hinted at something deeper, mystical, secretive.
When I imagined my secret garden, I saw only a desert. Dry and vast, the dunes seemed to roll on forever like an immense ocean of sand. A dry fountain stood in the center and reflected inattention to my spirit. I felt the spark inside my heart would be extinguished if I continued to ignore this inner place. A sense of desperation overwhelmed me. I wanted and needed to hear about this mystical garden and how to cultivate it. "Change your life," a still, small voice whispered from deep within the garden. I stopped and listened.
If life was not what I had hoped for, in my hopelessness, I was largely responsible. I decided then to follow that inner voice and change. I quit my jo as international business executive and decided to do what I knew I was always meant to do – write. With the decision made, a wave of relief washed over me. This felt right. I would continue working in business for sometime, but I would also write and hold onto the intention to leave the world of financial reports, board meetings and masculine values. That point of crisis arrived just in the nick of time, almost fifteen years ago. Crisis and loss represent opportunities to grow and change. I set off on a long spiritual hero’s journey, both inner and outer, that took me into the depths of my soul, across Europe and into India to find the fertilizer and secret gardening tips to make my inner garden blossom. My secret garden thrives now and I can share its fruits and flowers with others.
How does your inner garden grow? If you sit down quietly and picture your secret garden in your mind’s eye, what does it look like? Is it a lush, tropical paradise? A tree filled, tidy English garden? A gravel and olive tree laden garden in the center courtyard of a Tuscan or Roman villa or a Japanese stone garden? What might you do to cultivate it and make it grow?
For those in the Charlotte, NC area in March, I’ll present a month long series on the Journey into the Writer’s Secret Garden at the Cornwell Center in Myers Park. They reserved a cozy space for us in the lounge.