Posted by: chrismaser | September 23, 2009



A Journey of Consciousness


Chris Maser with Zane Maser

Illustrations by Leslie Edgington


Over the more than twenty-five years that I have studied ecosystems in various parts of the world, I have often been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the ecological and social problems with which I was dealing. “How,” I used to ask myself over and over, “can I as one person affect anything?” And because I saw no way for me to change anything for the better, I often felt despair and helplessness. Then, a few years ago, I commenced gardening.

Now in my mid-sixties, I see, as I worked in my garden, that all the global problems with which I have for so long been wrestling (ecological, social, personal, and spiritual) are reduced to the size of personal awareness and understanding in ways that I could never have imagined as a younger man. Every conceivable problem is only a matter of scale and essentially the same, regardless of culture or language, and is played out again and again, whether I see it in the subarctic of Alaska, the deserts of Egypt or the American Southwest, the jungles of Malaysia, the Alps of Europe, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, or the coast of Oregon.


Trumpet lilies have Heaven’s own scent.

The problems were not only repeated elsewhere but also occurred in my garden in one way or another. This is not surprising, when I think of it, because culture is a structure that is artificially imposed on people and consequently reflected in their gardens. While the specifics might differ, the principles are identical, and the scale of the problem in my garden is one I can understand, relate to, affect, and expand again to a global view.

On the other hand, “think globally, act locally” is much too abstract for most people to grasp even if they want to. “How,” people ask me repeatedly, “can I as one person affect any change in the world? What can I do?”

For a long time, I had no good answer, but now I find that my garden is the perfect passageway to understanding the relationships among local action, global consequences, personal responsibility, and spiritual growth. This passageway is important because, as South African author Nadine Gordimer discovered, the “facts” as we perceive them are always less than the reality of what happened. And yet, my garden is also an isle of solitude around which the increasingly hectic, time-diseased human world turns. I thus return again and again to its quiet confines, there to touch my spiritual ground while I confront my understanding of the overwhelming worldly problems outside of its borders. It is this link that I want to share with you, because it can inspire us as gardeners with a sense of personal responsibility and contribution to the welfare of our home planet.

In my garden, I find the spiritual and the material, the intuitive and the intellectual (including the scientific) coming together—not in the deadly grapple of today’s outer world, but in a dynamic harmony that becomes ever clearer as I mature in both life and the art of gardening.

I offer these ideas with the hard-won realization that, of all species on earth, we humans are both blessed and cursed with the greatest of powers: the power consciously to change ourselves, to struggle towards an ideal of being, and frequently to fall short of that ideal. In struggling, however, we must understand and remember that anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly for a while.

I say this because we have control over what we choose to think and do—what we cause to be set in motion. The outcome (consequence) of our choice is therefore our responsibility. As such, it is within our creative power to change ourselves, one by one, from collectors of society’s increasing psychological and technological garbage to trustees of one another’s dignity, and it is within our power to transform the world from a growing toxic waste dump back into a heavenly garden.

We are at this juncture because we humans have forgotten that we are an inseparable part of Nature, not a special case apart from Nature. Although this juncture originates as the thoughts and motives in our hearts and minds, it is manifested through our decisions and the subsequent actions we commit in our surrounding environments and on Nature’s landscapes throughout the world.

What I have just described is a global problem, which is an abstraction to most of us almost beyond our grasp and seemingly beyond our ability to affect. To me, however, the abstraction becomes a concrete experience while working in my garden, provided I can see how my garden is actively connected with the larger world.

I now invite you into my garden to accompany me on a journey of consciousness, where we shall encounter the labyrinth of apparently competing values, such as the spiritual versus the material, and the intuitive versus the intellectual and the scientific. Our journey is a search for the center of the garden in which all things coalesce.

As you wander my garden, remember that your sense of truth, like mine and even the history of people and events recorded in books, is a flight of fantasy on the wings of perception. This said, you can find facets of the ideas expressed in this book that you would revise through your own lens to fit your own sense of truth, facets of ideas that are missing, and some with which you just plain disagree. You are, of course, free to feel all of these things.

. . .

I love my garden because it is small, and I can physically care for it, touch it, feel it, and smell it; whereas I can only love society, care for it, and touch it through words on paper or in front of an audience or a TV camera. But in my garden, I need no words.


“I confess to being an enthusiast for this book. ‘The World is in My Garden’ is based on a very simple formula, but one as far as I know never carried through in book form (there are plenty of poems in history that qualify):  the idea that the private garden is a metaphor for everything that goes on in the macrocosm, including ecological, social, personal, and spiritual issues. . . .  I have rarely so genuinely wished such a venture success.

“The notion of a garden has always been a metaphor for consciousness. There is the garden of Gethsemane; the gardens in which Persian and Eastern mystics saw their visions; the garden of Eden. In western literature and art there is a long-running metaphor of the garden:  the hortus conclusus, the enclosed space as representing communion with the virgin, the mother, and with the feminine.


Lilac in spring glory.

“In this garden, the eternal woman is shown encountering the unicorn; the virgin receives the angel Gabriel who announces to her the nativity—while a white lily in the painting attests her purity. Much later in art, the garden may be an image of wild nature; although none of these images are specifically taken up by the Masers, their garden certainly attests to the wild as well as to the enclosed and sacred. I simply wish to put the metaphor in its context:  let them tell us what it means for today’s world.

“This is a very intelligent sort of book. What simplifies it is human experience, the fact that it is their garden, Chris and Zane’s:  not just a metaphor but a very real place (indeed, if there is anything I miss at all in this book it is simply a description of the garden itself so that, as I consider the ideas raised, I can feel at home—and explore with my eyes as well as my ears). Chris writes, ‘It is through gardening that I have struggled with such concepts as crisis, self-knowledge, experience, change, killing, death, and peace.’ That he has wrestled with them actually in the garden of their Oregon home, is continually evident, both in the anecdotes of the book and in the general reference to the plants, weeds, insect and mammal life, predators, diseases, the compost, the young shoots, the cycle of generation and decay, and the presence in this remarkable space of two human beings—beings who are fundamentally part of the system, not even remotely separate.

“And that is a key concept of Chris’s ecology. He is not, I may say, someone full of ecological clichés: he is an original thinker around ecological issues, at times even a rebel within his own field (which is principally, but not entirely, forestry). At one stage I thought that it was only the comparison between the garden microcosm and the ecological macrocosm that the book was about. I could not have been more wrong: it has five sections, one of which is introductory. The others see the garden as metaphor for social issues (here questions of community, trusteeship, what is natural, how we can help, all get discussed); for personal issues (I particularly liked the discussion of the concept of crisis and opportunity, but this also includes a look at grief and death), and spiritual ones (transformation, acceptance, finding peace).

“If I say that MY GARDEN is a work of criticism I run the risk of puzzling readers of this magazine. But in the best sense of that word, it is precisely what this book is, and that is no mean compliment. The book is a criticism, that is to say a constructive exploration, of what really is our role in community, one with another and in participation with nature, and it will most certainly enlarge the mind. And that, too, I mean in the best sense.—Colum Hayward, Bookshelf, Stella Polaris (a British magazine)
, London, UK.

“Here is a book that says: ‘Come ye apart a while’ into the inner garden and take a closer look at some of our Western values. You will come back from this journey of consciousness with some changed view points. I feel The World is in My Garden should be required reading for all college students for the next generation because we must learn to tread lightly on the Earth.”—Edna Cowan, Perkasie, PA.

“In this original book, Chris Maser shows how every issue that comes up as a choice for the gardener comes up in a greater way in the world around. By the choices the gardener makes, he or she is influencing how the world—socially as well as environmentally—unfolds. The choices are important. Chris’s wife Zane takes this further, and introduces the garden as a place to go within and find peace. The result is a book that is magnificently re-empowering, as well as packed with information. We also become very attached to the central character:  the author’s own domestic garden, humble but well-kept.”—Cygnus Books


Red-flowering currant

Photos © by Chris Maser, 2009. All rights reserved.

The World is in My Garden:  A Journey of Consciousness. 2005. White Cloud Press, Ashland, OR. 303 pp. (UK edition by Polair Publishing, London. 2003.)

If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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