Skip to content
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

There's a great gardening book called “The Tao of Vegetable Gardening.” The author, Carol Deppe, applies Taoist principles (especially that of wu-wei, “not doing”) to the soil, but the book isn't about Taoism. It's all about gardening. The Taoism is rarely explicit, but rather merely laces, or informs, the book as a whole.

I like the book because it cuts against “intensive gardening” (my phrase).

When I read about gardening, authors often talks about plotting out the land, keeping planting journals, etc.

I don't do that. During idle moments, I often think about gardening, but I rarely resort to writing things down, except for reminders. I rarely plan and when I do, I don't follow the plans.

Which really cuts against my nature. I plan, scheme, think about the future . . . worry . . . to an embarrassing extent. I am an affront to Matthew 6:27.

But not in the gardening at this point (in my early years of gardening, when I was just learning, I had to figure things out and plan).

When I enter the garden, I go on auto-mode. I just go: make potting mix, haul forest humus from the woods, pull weeds, put down seeds.

It doesn't really matter. I just do whatever I want from moment-to-moment, just as long as it's furthering the garden somehow.

And it all comes together in ways that I couldn't have possibly imagined, much less planned, during the previous winter.

When people come by and see it, they're like, “This is quite the operation. You must've put in a lot of hard work.”

I normally shrug.

And think to myself, “I'm just out here f'ing around, quite frankly.” The effort never strikes me as work (except for watering . . . the only gardening thing I consider “work”).

I think my approach to gardening should be applied to every other area of life.

Put time into the activity, but don't put the activity into your time.

When you're involved in the activity, let it take you over and “go with it” in whatever direction it leads you, like I do when I enter the garden.

But when you're not engaged in the activity, don't let it take you over. I'm not very good at this, mind you, but the garden is informing me and molding my development in this area.

I also believe this approach to gardening can be applied to prayer.

Now, let me be clear: I haven't had nearly as much success in prayer as I've had in the garden, but I still think there's a connection between the two approaches.

As a Catholic, I'm always frustrated by the overwhelming number of prayer injunctions. Here are things that spiritual experts have said a devout Catholic should do every day: go to Mass (if your station in life permits), say the Rosary or do the Liturgy of the Hours, examine your conscience, and meditate.

On top of that, there are many other recommended practices: scripture reading, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, spiritual reading, the Jesus Prayer, studying the Catechism, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, etc.

You simply can't do it all.

But you can put the time in to do some of it.

I think that might be a good approach. Just set aside the time . . . walk into your quiet corner like I walk into the garden. Then let it take you over. Do whatever prayer practice you think best at that time, just like I do whatever gardening “chore” I think best at the time.

Go on auto-mode to your prayer session and do whatever you want from moment-to-moment, just as long as it's a type of prayer.

Just put the time in, without worrying about how to put the time in or what you want to get done during the time.

Maybe at the end, an angel will look at your soul and say, “You must've put in a lot of hard work,” then you can shrug and say, “I was just screwing around.”