One of my favourite books as a child was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In it children find a walled garden that’s overgrown and neglected and restore it to it’s former glory. That garden captured my imagination and I dearly wished that I too had a walled garden to restore. 50 years on I’m still yearning for that walled garden. Analysing why this meant so much to me, I think it goes beyond just wanting to create something beautiful, I could do that with any garden. It’s about the high walls, the big strong door that holds out the outside world, the complete seclusion, the quietness, the safety, a place where I can be myself without fear of being watched and judged by others, a place to hide away, a place free from violation, where only those I invite get to stay and enjoy that space with me, a place of beauty, peace, love, light and joy.
In the book the very existence of the garden was concealed by an overgrowth of plants, hence it was ‘secret’ and had to be discovered by being searched for. Once found it needed restoring before it could become an oasis of peace and beauty. I’ve been asking myself ‘what if that secret garden I’ve been yearning for is inside me?’ What if this place of tranquillity has been with me all along and I just haven’t seen it because of the overgrowth of weeds? What if it’s there but it needs clearing out and nurturing for it to become that place of security and rest? The spiritual experiences I’d had previously gave me a glimpse of the love and peace it’s possible to experience in this life. I needed to embark on a search for the garden and make it my inner home.
A yearning took over me that matched the yearning I’d had for a walled garden for all those years, a yearning to make that peace a permanent state of being, a yearning to always feel secure in the knowledge of that limitless, unconditional love. A place where I can ‘keep my head when all around are losing theirs’ to misquote Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. I had a friend like that, he always looked like he was on holiday – not in the clothes he wore, just his demeanour – always chilled, always ‘on top of things’ even when he wasn’t, always peaceful. I remember the first time we met. He walked into the lounge of the hotel where I was staying and he stood out from everyone else in the room. His face looked as though it was lit from the inside, almost like his head was a lampshade with the light bulb turned on inside. Everyone else looked dark in comparison and like the customer in the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, I wanted what he was having. He was a church pastor and I eventually moved to be in his church, miles from home. It was there I met the man who was to become my husband. I was soon to discover that just because the pastor and his wife were lovely people, it didn’t mean that the rest of the church weren’t somewhat abusive and crazy. He himself pointed out to me that it was a source of disappointment to him that people would take his words, exaggerate what he said, then use it to inflict pain, or exercise control over others. I should have taken those words to heart and used them as a shield to deflect the impact of the behaviour of others, but instead, eager to fit in I allowed their abuse to corrode my self-worth. In the fertile soil of that environment, the plant by the door started to flourish and at first looked exactly like what I’d been searching for; a plant characterised by glossy leaves, deep roots and vigorous expansion. How quickly that became a choking stranglehold. My friends left to run a different church and I was left with a bunch of crazies obsessed with finding every minute shortcoming and magnifying it beyond all recognition, before rejecting me as disgusting. I saw in my mind’s eye an image of a beautiful black Labrador with a sleek coat. It was trembling, flinching, shying away from the people who were holding a giant magnifying glass to a mole on it’s side and recoiling in sheer disgust at the sight of it. I didn’t heed that warning either; afraid of losing what I came for I allowed them to set themselves up as intermediary to a ‘god’ they presented as beyond me somewhere, where I needed them to speak on his behalf to me. Anything they said was to be accepted as the word of this ‘god’ that I just didn’t recognise. Before I came here, he was always right here inside me, hanging out with Big Sue, he didn’t need a spokesperson. How come he moved? How come his personality changed? How come he didn’t like me any more?
Coming next: The key to the door of the garden