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The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. --Alfred Austin

Garden Gloves

--by Alanda Greene, syndicated from heartfulnessmagazine.com, Sep 27, 2017


ALANDA GREENE explores the idea of openness and protectiveness against stimuli by a comparison with wearing garden gloves while working in her beloved garden in British Columbia.

My relationship with garden gloves continues to consist of two opposing drives – the need to wear them to protect my hands, and the need for my skin to feel the plants without a barrier as I engage in garden tasks. Each drive excludes something. In one case, the sensitivity of touch is dulled. In the other, protection of my hands from abrasion, cuts, punctures, dirt and stains is given up. 

I see a similar paradox between openness and protectiveness in the experiences of daily living.

Most of the time I wear gloves while working in the garden. Otherwise, my hands are stained with plant juices and my skin is embedded with dirt, as well as marked with cuts and scrapes. Although I scrub and lather at the sink, clean hands are difficult to retrieve. Too many times have I looked down at my fingers while passing a receipt to someone, or playing my guitar in public, to discover with mild horror that my fingers and nails are not clean after all, but embedded with dark brown plant dye that looks like dirt.

Gloves are not my preference, especially when removing weeds. If not removed early, these weeds will surge ahead of tiny, slow-growing carrots and crowd them out entirely.  I need a more sensitive touch than gloves can give, to clear this uninvited growth and not disturb the tiny seedlings that I wish to remain and thrive.

Sometimes, I also just enjoy feeling plants. My sense of touch is dulled by a thick layer of glove. Touching the plants directly slows my work; I attend more carefully and work more precisely.

Transplanting tomato seedlings, I feel the fine furry texture of their stems. The impossible delicateness of celery brings protective and gentle caution, my awe renewed as I wonder, “How can these tiny plants become so strong?” Celery seeds are so small, as are their emerging leaves, their stems more like thin threads than stalks – yet look what they become. 

I feel encouraged with the potential of my life, any life, to evolve beyond what is currently evident, in the same way that these celery beginnings give no hint of how they will stand lush and strong in a couple of months. That will happen, however, if they are not crowded by aggressive weeds. And those weeds need a careful touch to be removed without harm to the celery.

I keep my gloves on when cutting back the thorny stems of roses, the sharp edges of irises that can slice an exposed finger like a knife, or when pulling larger weeds like burdock and dandelion that require a better grip. Also, when I want to keep my hands clean.

I have been transplanting this morning with bare fingers, delighting in the process and seeing a connection between other sensory perceptions and that of touch.

I recognize that much of what I perceive or interact with in daily life can be like wearing gloves. In the same way that I do not feel sensations on my skin with gloves, my other senses at times do not perceive more delicate input. 

When sounds are harsh and loud it is difficult to perceive more refined impressions, or even be sensitive to perceiving my own thoughts and interior feelings. The onslaught of noise that I experience when visiting the city leaves me rattled: stores that play loud music, trucks and cars filling road space with roars, and quiet environments hard to find. Friends who live in the city do not display the distress I feel. In the same way I protect my hands with gloves from thorns and thick stalks, I feel the need to protect my ears. I find myself wearing mental garden gloves, tuning out the noise volume. I notice other people adopting a similar process as a necessary shield. But I wonder if this ‘tuning out’ of the excess is actually conscious? Has it just become a habit?

When teaching, once a week I would take my class on a walk through the woods to a friend’s land where we did a variety of exercises in this outdoor classroom. At the beginning of the year, the students each chose a place on the forested hillside that was a minimum distance from any other person. This was their space for the year to write, listen, watch and reflect without any outer conversation. We concluded these visits by sitting in a circle and reading from journals about what was learned, observed, heard. I remember vividly one loudly talkative young woman who told us with clear excitement: “I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been quiet. I could hear my own thoughts. This is amazing.”

It’s like she took off the hearing gloves and noticed something new. I realized that I can and do have ‘attention gloves’ that limit my perception as surely as this young woman’s appreciation for hearing had been limited.

How often am I busy doing this and that – arranging mulch, pulling grass, pinching back basil – and not noticing anything about what I am touching, with or without gloves? My attention is elsewhere, on what needs to be done, planning lunch, a conversation from the day before. If a thorn pokes me, I notice. Am I giving myself a subtle message that I will pay attention only when it is extreme or when it hurts? 

Am I wearing metaphorical garden gloves that are a barrier to refined sensations, because of a habitual lack of attending to the delicate and refined?  When sounds are loud and constant, when other sensory stimuli are intense and lacking refinement, are these endured by moving attention away, in order not to be overwhelmed? Yes, and I need that protection in certain circumstances or I will indeed by overwhelmed. But too often, I tune out from habit and lack of awareness; it is not conscious, it is not a protective choice.

How often when eating a meal do I miss the taste and texture of what is in my mouth? When I take time to chew, to notice, to absorb, tastes emerge that are unexpected, new, subtle. I create receptivity for perceiving, and after a time, begin to notice what was previously not there.

If I don’t ‘take off the gloves’ to attune to even more refined vibrations, I am missing a whole other world of being. In meditation, where sensory input is minimized and where thought patterns gradually become quiet, subtle perceptions are recognized. It is just like taking time to remove my garden gloves to feel the fine velvety surface of a sunflower petal. I have to remove them to even know that exquisite texture exists.

Our culture tends to excess of sensory experiences. Often I need to protect myself against such excesses as surely as I need protective gloves in the garden for some activities. Just as surely, I need time every day to consciously attune to more subtle impressions, where I remove the protective shield. Creating time and space to regularly practice builds remembrance through experience of more delicate sensations and information. I then can choose when to be open and when to protect. In the garden, I can wear gloves when needed, appreciate the subtle touch of various plants without gloves, and still have clean hands for another task. 

In daily life, where ‘attention gloves’ can be removed very quickly, I can choose to tune in whenever the possibility presents itself, keeping this awareness alive through regular practice.

Syndicated from Heartfulness Magazine. Find them at Heartfulness.org or on Facebook      


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