The Overseer of the Soul
May 6, 2022 by Catherine Viel
May 5, 2022
And when my ill-school’d spirit is aflame
Some nobler, ampler stage of life to win,
I’ll stop, and say: “There were no succour here!
The aids to noble life are all within.”
~Mathew Arnold, Worldly Place
Once upon a time, we hired a wise and talented gardener to work in our small suburban yard. He patiently explained his method so I could emulate it in between his visits.
“Work from the center out,“ he said. “Look out your kitchen window. Weed and deadhead first in the areas that you can see. Don’t worry about the side beds until you’ve taken care of the most visible flowerbeds first.”
I was mightily impressed by this wisdom. I figured Albert must really know his stuff because he’d spent years tending the eccentric and extensive landscaping at the venerable Lotusland estate in Montecito.
Over the years, without overthinking it, I’ve found myself applying this method to many other areas of life.
It’s often suggested that whatever we feel compelled to do to better the world, we should start with ourselves, first. Begin at the center of the self.
If I focus outwardly, I’m constantly seeing things that I think need changing or fixing. My mind loves busywork, and I’m never happier than when I have the energy and capability to organize and clean things up. It’s satisfying to accomplish something I can admire at my leisure, patting myself on the back: I made that better.
It’s tempting to label that satisfaction as oh, so 3D, but since I’m in this physical world, my surroundings affect me profoundly. Admiring and appreciating what I’m looking at, day in and day out, can be a prosaic yet effective cure for the sometimes-blues.
Although I’ve done a fair amount of emotional clearing work, and perhaps would benefit from more, it’s more alluring to work with the outside, visible world. I’d rather line up screwdrivers in the workshop than contemplate painful pockets that may still need to be cleared from the fringes of my soul.
I do believe that the controlling element of self, which I view as the soul, encourages me to indulge in puttering and outward focus because there’s a reverse principal at work here, too. As I line things up and clean, declutter, and organize, the tactile and visual restructuring, the creating-order-out-of-chaos, is percolating back down inside.
I am going from the outward to the inward, and in some mysterious way, an alchemy occurs that helps me to positively shift the inside because I am restructuring the outside.
As without, so within? If I—and my soul—deem the “without” desirable, why not?
I stand at the kitchen window, contemplating the yard. There’s weeds in the dymondia, and so many gopher holes it’s looking like a golf course. The crows have left peanut shells in the birdbath. And a dozen limes are scattered under the tree.
I could spend ten minutes doing a bit of basic cleanup, and I would feel better next time I look out the window. The shade of Albert, the wise old gardener, stands passively beside me, neither exhorting me to action nor blessing the somnolence I feel.
So, I do nothing. At the moment, I refrain from modeling with the clay of the outside world. I feel quiet, more internal, more inclined to spend a bit of time thinking of nothing, doing nothing. In this way, I’m quite sure I am tending to the inner garden of my own peace.
As we go forward into times of ever more chaotic change, it may become more difficult to find outer circumstances we want to mirror inside ourselves. It may be that we need more and more to begin with the still and strong integrity within our own center of self, and work outward as we grow our gardens of peace.
I believe there will be a time, not too far away, when those real and metaphorical gardens of peace are surrounding us, and surrounding all, and we will be able to drink in and absorb the qualities we wish to strengthen in ourselves from our outside environment. The environment we are helping to create right now.
I glance once more out the kitchen window. I can’t do much about the gophers and my body doesn’t feel like picking up limes. But I could fish those peanut shells out of the birdbath and add fresh water. That, I can do.
I think there’s always at least one thing we can do. The trick for me is to be willing to accept whatever assignment Spirit is giving me at the moment, and approach it with a little smile.
Positively changing our inner selves to affect the outer world. Allowing the desirable aspects of the outer world to affect our inner selves. I believe whatever I choose can be benevolently symbiotic when guided by the overseer of the soul.
Photos are of Lotusland in Montecito, California, and its creator, Ganna Walska. I’ve visited Madame Ganna Walska’s magical garden, and dream of becoming a docent. https://www.lotusland.org