Archive for April 25th, 2008

Garden Post: the one about my favorite book of all time.

Posted on April 25, 2008. Filed under: Philosophy, Science, Spirituality |

I’ve participated in a few book memes, and most of them ask for lists of favorite books in categories. I’ve never allowed the book I’m going to discuss here to be on any of those lists, because it’s so special it deserves a post of its own. The book is about spring, rebirth, and coming alive with a garden. I wanted to post this on my birthday because that’s a good day to think of renewal, and the book makes me feel fresh and alive.

It’s also a book about spring, and spring has truly sprung here in the desert this year. We have “good years” and “not as good years” for spring wildflowers, and this year is spectacular! I’m sprinkling a few photos around my post today so you can see what I mean. The desert blooms are not at all like the the cultivated English gardens of Yorkshire featured in the book, but are beautiful just the same.

Even though I know Spring “officially” began in March, I tend to think of April as the “spring month”. Besides, right before the Spring Equinox this year, our desert experienced rain and snow! Spring also reminds me of gardens and growth, and brings to mind an announcement I made at my college graduation ceremony.

I attended a very small liberal arts college in San Francisco, and there were only about 25 people in my graduating class. We were each invited to “say something” at the commencement if we desired to. I chose to take the opportunity to donate a book to the college library, my battered but happy copy of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. For those of you who have read it, The Secret Garden might seem like a strange choice for a college library—after all, it’s a children’s book, isn’t it? —Well, yes and no. I first read the novel, published in 1911, after acquiring it at a school book sale when I was eight. I was entranced at the time, and it started me along a philosophical path. At my graduation, my announcement contained the words: “…it’s a book about some children coming alive with a garden in the spring, and says a lot about my experience here”—“here” meaning at the college.

I was grateful to have found a college that encouraged and enhanced my philosophical interests, and since The Secret Garden was the most profound metaphysical novel I’d read, I felt it belonged on their shelves. This novel, long before the discoveries of theoretical physics had been popularized, presented a belief system which seemed to me at the time to be logical, consistent, and, most of all hopeful! For various reasons during my childhood, this “hopeful” aspect was key to my development. I needed to know that things could get better, and that, with spiritual support, I had the power to change them from within.

Here are some of my reasons for valuing this book: When we first meet the main character, Mary, she is bored, unpleasant, nasty, and unattractive: “When Mary had a headache, she did her best to see that everyone else had a headache, too.” But, gradually, as the tale unfolds, we see Mary transform, as she finds a garden to nurture, which in turn nurtures her. She meets some remarkable teachers along the way, and is able to use her new transformative power of thought to help others find joy.

Mary and her friends are engaged in a “scientific experiment” which they called “magic”. They felt the magic coursing through their bodies, giving them strength and health. They saw the magic flowing through the flowers they planted, growing them from buds to blooms. And they felt the magic within themselves as they slowly realized they could transform unpleasant thoughts into joyful ones. The “…scientific experiment was quite practical and there was nothing weird about it at all.” Indeed, one reviewer believed the experiment was “…about love. About healing. About bravery, confidence, nature and those secret places in our hearts and our imagination”.

One of my favorite parts of the book comes near the end. It astonished me when I was eight, and I continue to be amazed by it to this day. The author takes a small break from the narration of the story to comment on the nature of reality:

“In each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have been discovered. In the last century more amazing things were found out than in any century before. In this new century hundreds of things still more astounding will be brought to light. At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts–just mere thoughts–are as powerful as electric batteries–as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.”

Wow! This in 1911! This one paragraph is what gave me “hope” throughout my childhood. I hung onto those words until I grew up and was able to investigate such things for myself. To a small child who was not raised at all that way, they were truly magic, real magic.

I have deliberately not said much about the plot, because you really must read it, or reread it if it’s been a while. The novel is exquisitely plotted, and is a delight to read. I hope I have given you a taste of the philosophy behind it. The book also started my lifelong love of beautiful gardens, and planted in me a desire to visit Yorkshire and England. Which I did, ten years after I first read The Secret Garden.

[The novel is now in the public domain. It can be read here, or also as a downloadable e-book]
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