Meditation Garden Design?

Linda EastmanFebruary 25, 2007


i have just found this forum and am not sure it's the right one but the closest GW forum to ask this question: does anyone have advice on designing a meditation garden? not really a japanese garden, but a garden space designed for meditation and/or the practice of yoga, perhaps containing a labyrinth, or a platform. i would like to know of any pictures of existing designs, suggestions for what to consider in such a design, books or other resources.



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Have you done a search? Google turned up about a bazillion hits, many with photos, and Google images provided many options as well.

Doesn't anyone do a simple Internet search anymore?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 9:14PM
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Linda Eastman

yes, gardengal, i spent a greater part of this afternoon searching for images and there are many references to this topic. however i found lots and lots of information about the benefits of meditation in such gardens, and many images of "healing gardens" and such in large public spaces, hospitals, botanical gardens, etc. i'm looking for ideas on a smaller scale for my backyard, and also to see if anyone has installed and uses such a garden at their residence. perhaps if this query is not appropriate in this forum, you might suggest an alternative forum?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 9:43PM
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Whiteviolet, it is possible to apply the ideas and concepts from larger spaces in your smaller space. A literal translation may not be the answer, but if you can understand the reasoning behind the design, you can use it to create a suitable and desired design for your space. For example, it appears to be that they pay particular attention to the senses. If you're meditating, you're (hopefully) going to be aware of sounds, smells, sights, and textures in your space. (Perhaps taste isn't quite as predominant, unless you take a very liberal view of meditation. However, the cues for different tastes, such as the sight or smell of fruits, vegetables, and spices, can evoke memories or sensation of different tastes).

I guess I can't offer you a concrete resource. However, I can suggest to be sensitive and aware when researching for your garden, just as much as you would be when you will use it in the future.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 11:50PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Here is my friends labyrinth. It is small, but the path is large enough that one person can walk it. She walks it for serenity.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 6:55AM
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miss_rumphius_rules(z6 NJ)

I find the rocks in the labryinth above to be the antithesis of meditative. A simple mown path to walk on feet or knees (the tradtional way) is very effective.

I would think a sense of enclosure or a vast vista. A flat stable area for yoga such as a small wooden deck. Plants that rustle gently, shade, birds--fragrance or not depending on your choice. Circles and soft edges. A path that can be walked barefoot. Flowing water can be distracting or not. When I was younger, I had a huge flat rock in the woods that worked for me. What you don't want is a space that requires so much upkeep that it cancels out the benefits. Simplicity is the essence of meditation.

Close your eyes. What do you imagine your peaceful place to be? Create that. It should be a personal thing.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 7:32AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

"Close your eyes. What do you imagine your peaceful place to be? Create that. It should be a personal thing."

That is one of the most powerful thoughts that I have read in a while. Thanks!

- Brent

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 9:43AM
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Perhaps I'm not understanding what it is you want. Just my very brief perusal of some of the hits that came up when I Googled "meditation gardens" turned up various elements that seemed to be common to them all - a sense of enclosure, seating, often rocks, paving or dry stream beds, a water element, lush greenery with no heavily distracting colors, some sort of focal point, etc. And many of these were illustrated very nicely in small private gardens, as well as larger, more public spaces. There were even several that had plans and plantings outlined as well.

How you put them all together will depend on your preferences and the space you have available and of course, your own creativity. There are some texts that may help: Spiritual Gardening, Peg Streep; Urban Sanctuaries, Stephen Anderton; and The Garden Sanctuary, Keith Mitchell.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 9:51AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Meditation gardens nowadays are usually small. They are intended to be an intense personal experience, so there should be many ideas you can adapt to a modestly sized area.

Two excellent books are:
Gardens of the Spirit: Create your own sacred space by Roni Jay (could be out of print by now, Godsfield Press 1998). A paperback which gives quick overviews of different types of spiritual gardens: Taoist, Zen, Islamic, Medieval, Italian Renaissance, English Knot, and Healing gardens.

Spaces for Silence by Alen MacWeeney and Caro Ness, Tuttle Publishing 2002. This one's more of an art book for displaying wealthy homes, but some of the spaces are truly exquisite.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 2:13PM
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Linda Eastman

thank you all for your thoughtful reponses. i especially apreciate those of you who pointed out the considerations of function: walking barefoot, low maintenance, minimal distractions. i will look into the books you've suggested and also "close my eyes and imagine..." yes! powerful!
thank you all again.
ps. miss rumphius, i have spent the past few summers travling in the canadian martimes and recall with special pleasure the endless views of wild lupines attributed to you;-)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 4:53AM
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The first things that I would contemplate are "what are the things that work against meditation". Then build those things out of the space as much as possible.

It seems to me that searching around for an item list of what other people think should go there is like looking to project an image rather than to meditate.

You have a Goal: A space to meditate.

You need to list out your objectives.
Such as, but you should focus in on your own:
A private place with no distractions
A place out of view where I can feel safe and uninhibited
A .....

Then list out the physical things that help accomplish these.

Determine the "ideal" arangement off those physical things.

Compare that ideal to the places where you can create this and determine how closely you can meet that ideal. Then adjust that ideal to best suit the site.

Maybe a labyrinth helps you meditate, but I have no idea why it would. Can someone help me out with this?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 7:07AM
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miss_rumphius_rules(z6 NJ)

Here you go...the labyrinth explained. I didn't have any idea either until I walked several in France years ago. They are another tool to focus thought. In a busy age with so many distractions, it's not hard to see why their popularity is on the rise.

Here is a link that might be useful: Chartres

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 7:33AM
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Daily meditation has been a part of my life for many, many years. Because one becomes more aware of sound while meditating I have chosen to seek quiet inside a building. Outside meditation finds me paying more attention to the plants requiring deadheading, the weeds in need of removal, other gardening chores. Plus, in meditation you can walk through gardens of color far more beautiful than the hand of man can create. Were I to install a meditation garden I would concentrate on a spot for yoga exercise, enclosure for privacy and minimal planting stressing interesting texture. Meditation is an inner discipline. Each person must find his own way.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 8:05AM
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For those who still may be unsure

A labyrinth used in spiritual disciplines allows progress through twists and turns to a central destination. It is not a maze, meaning that there is no puzzle or misdirection involved. One moves on a single path to the heart of the design, often presenting a specific petition or offering of oneself. The "Center" is understood in as many ways as human hearts can dreamÂa "thin place" where clarity, peace and understanding are Present.

Then one returns.

Some compare the twists and turns to the twists and turns of their life journeys. Others experience them as the necessary pattern of approach to the Holy One. I have heard a scientist speak of his own discipline in terms of seeking the next step in difficult chemical and mathamatical equations. He has had the experience of "seeing" a necessary formula "click" into place after coming to the center of a labyrinth and gazing down at its central stone for several minutes.

In some ways a labyrinth would be the last thing on my personal list for a private meditation garden. For me, since much of my professional life is spent teaching spiritual disciplines, I find that gardening itself is a necessary spiritual practice. What others would call distractions are for me the heart of the matterÂthe sound of children's laughter, a car moving down the street, a roofing gun clicking several blocks away, a siren in the distance, snow melt dripping, geese honking high above, wind singing its Winter's Ending lament all around the edges of the house. All of that is in this season when I really can't get outside, but it's the same stuff that can make even my humble ground holy. Can't wait for spring!


    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 11:52AM
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Linda Eastman

i am finding the labyrinth idea very intriguing. miss r, thank you for the link to the chartres labyrinth and wellspring, for the explanation. i've attached a website which has animated illustrations, photos and diagrams as well as lots of information about labyrinths from different eras and cultures.
i'm very interested in everyone's stories about what helps them in meditation. i am not an experienced yoga practitioner and have never meditated but these are things i would like to do. i'm a K-4 art teacher and my life is a whirlwind of activity. i love to be in the peaceful place of my garden and can easily ignore deadheading and weeding. it doesn't bother me a bit! still thinking about what to do but am liking all your ideas.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 5:41PM
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Actually I find laag's reverse engineering suggestions the most helpful. I do not know anyone who has arrived at the inner discipline Nandina wisely mentions through a labyrinth, there may be a mystical explanation but commonly it suggests confusion. I do know people, Charlotte (wellspring) being one who have arrived at the "centre" as she calls it just by being in touch with wherever they are, sightless may not even begin to explain this. Both of these girls suggest that it is more to do with you and Andrew is saying make the space neutral. Sounds a bit Zen doesn't it?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 6:29PM
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I now see that what a lot of you are saying is that there are different stages of what we might call meditation. I was thinking much more in that inner relaxation that Nandina practices.

Again, I think it really works to define what it is as I explained above. No matter what meditation means to you, you can develop a sense of what you need and then a means of attaining it.

That is the design process that was beaten over my head in school and I can tell you that is the method that I follow to this day. I have gotten to the point where I don't write out goals and objectives, but that is only because I process that much faster now that it feels like intuition, but it is not. It is that process.

It will also work with designing a sport shooting range. Very versatile indeed.

I have to sneak in a thanks to a certain professor who I had. Jim Kuska. He taught it with all the students fighting him tooth and nail and it was the best thing any of us ever learned. I hope half of them appreciate him at least half as much as I do.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 8:04PM
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I fell in love with walking labyrinths about ten years ago, and have aspirations to install one in my own garden someday. (It is the sort of project that probably benefits from waiting and mulling it over while waiting for the bank account to cooperate.)

The Labyrinth Company is one of several outfits that build them professionally and supply templates. (Link below. They also advertise on this site, and come up if you search on 'labyrinth'.) Likely most pictures you will find are of large ones, modeled on those in cathedrals like that at Cartres, which have eleven rings. However, they can be done with smaller odd numbers of rings -- 9, 7, 5, perhaps even 3. This allows you to fit a labyrinth into a much smaller space than the full Chartres model (which I think is about 60 feet in diameter.)

As you'll see from the Labyrinth Company site, they can be done in a number of media, ranging from turf to pavers to concrete to movable fabric mats. You can also get templates on landscape fabric. A permanent custom outdoor installation with pavers is a LOT of money (I priced between $20-40k for a 24' labyrinth a few years back), and might not be good for resale value of your property unless you find a buyer with similar tastes. (In which case, it would clinch the sale, I think!)

I am toying with the idea of just having the space hardscaped to the right dimensions, and purchasing a portable labyrinth that can be laid down in it whenever I wish to do so, leaving it a nice patio with a reflecting fountain in the center the rest of the time. But you could also do it as cheaply as getting a landscape fabric template, using spray paint or colored powder to mark the paths, and using either the pigment as markers or else cutting the grass shorter on the paths. (Well, if you can do some really exacting mowing.) Or you can mark the paths with stones, as in the photo in an earlier post. This can be done relatively cheaply and easily, and depending on the rocks and how you set them, with varying degrees of permanence.

Most of the labyrinths I've walked have been set off by boundaries that are largely suggestive. Indeed, the ones in churches have had no real boundaries save for those of the labyrinth itself. A ring of low plants would be quite sufficient, though I'd like to have mine sunken 24'-30' with a sitting wall around it. You can, of course, also put benches around the sides (or in the middle), or arbors, shade trees, etc.

The one warning I would give is that, if you get bitten by the labyrinth bug, you may feel tempted to install something that is not appropriate to your property. I think it would be hard to do it well with a space less than 30' in diameter, perhaps more if you have any kind of feature (like a pool or fountain) in the center, and not every yard will afford you such a space. Make sure you design something that the space itself wants -- few things would get more in the way of meditation than a feeling of being out of place, and you probably don't want a 60' full Chartres labyrinth on a quarter acre lot! It is good to have an area that is relatively insulated from outside distractions, but I've walked a nice labyrinth in Tucson that was 20 feet from a city street, without walls in-between, and the space drew me in quite adequately.

You may also find landscape architects in your area that have done labyrinths. In researching things, I found that there is at least one in CT. And if not in your area, you may find that a local landscape designer is sufficiently intrigued by the idea that s/he might want to make it a new part of his/her business, and give you a good price as the guinea pig. (Hey, one can always hope!)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 10:43PM
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I designed my own in an old garden plot (20x11'); plenty of room. I still have to figure out the plantings - the hardest part for me.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 3:59PM
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