One of the most important skills of the landscape architect is to realize connections in the landscape. “Realize” is meant both in the sense of understanding and in the sense of achieving or building. Realizing connections might be, in fact, the essence of what a landscape architect does, given our current understanding of “landscape” as a web of natural and built systems.
Many landscape architects, like Larry Halprin, have included deep observation of the landscape as part of their formal practice of landscape architecture. Halprin, for example, recommended immersion into the landscape to be intervened before any design idea was developed. This immersion can take various forms: from freehand drawing of what exists (which is fairly common within the profession) to camping at the site for a few days (which I don’t think is common). In all cases, however, the practice is essentially intended to increase one’s awareness of connections in the landscape and to be fully present at the site at a particular moment in time.
I believe that immersion into the landscape to be intervened is very important for the landscape architect and that various forms of meditation can help to sharpen the mind in order to be present at the site or landscape more fully, to realize connections, and to feel/see what is not evident at the site.
Buddhist tradition is rich in meditation practices directed at mindfulness: being fully present here and now. In Buddhism, the idea of the connectedness of all reality through the law of cause and effect is paramount. Thus, Buddhist meditation offers a great opportunity to the landscape architect to sharpen the mind and develop observation skills needed to understand the complex reality of landscapes.
I offer here a simple meditation-in-action: the peeling of a fruit (a papaya in this case). The Zen tradition of Buddhism, in particular, perhaps has developed more than any other the “meditation-in-action.” It is in that spirit that it should be practiced.
- Begin by calming the mind and concentrating on the idea of connectedness and the intention of “seeing” it.
- Before peeling the fruit consider its form, texture, color, beauty…..
- While starting to peel it, consider how it came to be here and now: how it was a flower on a tree, how that tree developed from a seed, etc.
- Consider how the fruit reflects the conditions in the tree’s environment: soil, sun, water, wind….
- Consider how you acquired the fruit and all the people that worked to make it possible for you to have it…. As you open it and see all of the pearly black seeds, consider that maybe as many people were necessary for you to have this papaya at this moment.
- Savor the action of peeling and slicing the fruit and how this action makes it available for you to eat.
- See how each seed is connected to the fruit through delicate veins…. Consider how these veins provided nutrients for the seeds to develop…. How the energy of the sun is contained in these seeds….
- Consider how these seeds represent a very long lineage of papaya trees before them and how they contain the potential for future papaya trees and many, many more papayas….
- Finally, consider how the papaya will nourish you, give you life, and give you the sun’s energy to follow the path of the Dharma….