The Beauty of Gardening with Non-Attachment

When I let go of the output of my garden, I can enjoy its real gifts.

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Posted in , Jun 9, 2017

Gardening

I am not a Buddhist, but I have always loved that faith’s philosophy of “non-attachment” to the feelings, events and things that fill our days. This philosophy comes to life for me each year at about this time, when I am planting flowers and vegetables in my garden. 

The Zen Buddhist poet Brian Thompson defines non-attachment simply as “freedom from things.” He says on his website, ZenThinking.net, “Non-attachment is essentially a practice of presence and mindfulness. It is not allowing your sense of wellbeing to rely upon anything other than your own presence of awareness. It means to be in the world, but not of the world.”

What does this have to do with gardening? 

Everything.

Digging a hole, gingerly coaxing a plant from its garden center plastic and tucking it in for the growing season with a healthy sprinkle of water is quite literally a grounding action. But any gardener can tell you that from that moment on, you have very little control over what becomes of that plant.

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Will it thrive, or struggle to grow?

Will its roots like the soil they’ve been given?

Will it like its neighbors?

Will the weather provide it the right balance of sun and water? 

Will I find the time to clear its home of weeds?

As I set my plants into the garden, my mind fills with these questions, and I am tempted to fret over their un-knowable answers. All I actually do know is that the summer will unfold as it will; my vegetables and fruit trees will yield what they will; the flowers will bloom as they will.

Complete detachment from the outcome of my garden efforts—the literal fruits of my labors—is neither possible nor desirable. After all, gardening is a “want to” activity, not a “have to” experience.

But non-attachment, a present mindfulness that is free of outcome-based desire, is something I aspire to cultivate this year alongside my tomatoes, herbs and flowers. My sense of wellbeing in the garden shouldn’t be tethered to the output I am able to harvest or the vases I am able to fill. Instead, walking a positive path through my garden life means feeling uplifted by the process of tending my little patch of the planet, giving my green, growing things whatever I can—and letting go of the rest.

Does the philosophy of non-attachment speak to you, either in gardening or in life?

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