John Stuart Leslie, MLA is creator and founder of My Sacred Garden. A website, landscape design and construction company designed to help raise awareness of how the sacred-spiritual aspects of gardens and gardening activities can have a transformative effect on the mind, body and spirit/soul. He holds a Master's degree in Landscape Architecture and has been a landscape designer and licensed contractor since 1982.
The ideas presented on this website reflect a long road to manifesting the concept of 'meditation gardens'. I remember back 20 years ago, while browsing a Yoga Journal magazine in a local health food store. There was an ad offering "Meditation Gardens". Being a landscape designer and contractor and relatively new to the holistic movement, New Age concepts and the like, I was fascinated with the pairing of the words meditation and gardens.
Perhaps I was naive thinking that this was some type of cutting edge design concept. I certainly was aware of Japanese Gardens, Zen Gardens, etc., but for some reason, whether it was the ad itself, or just the moment or conscious space I was in, I was forever drawn to the idea.
I realize now what it was. The idea of meditating in a garden to me is really a reflection of how one should interact with a garden regardless of whether you call it meditation, contemplation, prayer or just relaxation. Gardens are microcosms of Nature, and to meditate within Nature is to connect with the essence of the garden and to Spirit. Meditation calms the mind, centers the self and unfolds the portal of awareness, allowing for that stillness to emerge.
So to me, the term Meditation Gardens goes deeper than just the visual of a Buddha statue placed next to a bench. The simple physical objects placed strategically in a garden setting opens up a whole universe of perception. This is how I see gardens. They can be portals of sacred dimension only limited by the thoughts hindering one's experience. Gardens and landscapes can be designed so as to be conducive for the user of the garden to explore the possibilities. Yet, how can such an inviting garden be self explanatory?
A church is usually designed with certain symbolic structural features like spires, stained glass or pointing towards "Heaven". Looking at the building, you often recognize church architecture whether it is a cathedral, a temple or a mosque. How does a spiritual garden convey the same message or set of symbols? That to me, is the challenge of the designer of the garden and what I explore on this website.
Since the experiences I allude to in my discussions of spirituality, connecting with spirit and the general sense of being awakened in a spiritual context have different ways of manifesting themselves, putting their descriptions into words is difficult and often impossible.
In order to bridge the gap, we must structure the experience in a way we can comprehend for the purpose of communication. Hence, the meaning behind the "name" of the gardens are implied through symbolism as the object is not the essence but a visual signal that says, "behind this door is deeper meaning" and to experience it first hand, to have direct experience is to truly have a spiritual experience -- that feeling of connection -- even if it is but for a fleeting moment.
I work primarily in Arizona, Phoenix area and Sedona but also wherever Spirit calls me to work on a project.