Running toward the Embarcadero. On Battery, I believe. Lost in my iTunes playlist, I cut through a swath of green. I guess we call them parks. But suddenly I stop, arrested. I am in fact cutting through a Japanese Garden. It really is just a swath of green. A scattering of stones. A splash of water. But it is a Japanese garden in the truest sense.
A Japanese garden is not a swath of green. Nor an arrangement of plants. It’s a psychological experience. A metaphysical state. A state that opens up the boundary between self and the outside world. We call this boundary “perception.”
A masterful garden will arrest, it will capture the attention in the way I have just serendipitously experienced.
A park, a swath of green, has no rules. Or rather, the chaos of the self rules. Parks are primed for the 21st century American. We are free to experience it in whatever way we damn well please. Throw a frisbee. Loll on the grass. Kick a ball. Read a book.
In a Japanese garden, the designer rules supreme. We become subjugated to the designers intent. His intent becomes our experience. And if the designer is gifted, a new layer of reality becomes our experience.
In this garden, the path turns and breaks. A runner must slow down to a trot. And then a walk. And as you walk, you see the stones. The swath of grass is home to the stones. A pool of water is laced with moonlike stepping stones. The stones invite you to enter the pond. But not on our terms. Instead on the terms of the stones. The stones suggest where we should walk. We have some measure of choice. But the stones dictate the range of choice.
We have to pay attention. If we misstep, we fall in the water. And when we reach the last stone, what do we find? Nothing.
But it’s not nothing. It’s the oval of rock upon which we stand. It’s our vantage. And it’s enough. From this perch we see a small tree ungainly enough to be unworthy of attention. So we look down. And our attention is drawn to the reflection of the tree shimmering in the water.
We return. But this time we see the fallen cherry blossom petals speckling the ground. The death that arrives in hand with incipient birth.
The asphalt walkway turns to rock turns to a grass path, turns once again the rock. This part of the garden privileges our feet. Not our eyes or other senses. Instead it says, you oh lowly feet. You the ones that carry. This spot has been created just for you.