My Journey to Finding 10 Meaning and Purpose in a Japanese Garden

In a world that is increasingly fast-paced and chaotic, many of us find ourselves yearning for a sense of peace and tranquility. We seek out moments of stillness and reflection, hoping to find meaning and purpose in our lives. For centuries, Japanese gardens have been a source of inspiration and solace for people around the world, offering a window into the natural beauty of the world and the deep cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.

At the heart of the Japanese garden is a deep sense of harmony and balance, a belief that all things in the world are interconnected and that true happiness comes from finding our place in this interconnected web of life. Whether we are walking through a winding path surrounded by vibrant flowers, sitting quietly by a flowing stream, or sipping on a cup of tea in the shade of a cherry blossom tree, the Japanese garden invites us to slow down, breathe deeply, and connect with the world around us.

In this sense, the Japanese garden can be seen as a metaphor for the meaning of life itself. Like a garden, life is full of unexpected twists and turns, moments of beauty and moments of challenge. It is up to us to find our place in this ever-changing landscape, to cultivate a sense of harmony and balance, and to discover the beauty and meaning that lies at the heart of our existence.

“The beauty of life is that the journey itself is the destination.” — Confucius

1. Embracing the Journey: Trusting Your Path in Life

No matter where we find ourselves in life, we are always on the right track. That’s the message of the Japanese garden, a space that invites us to slow down, reflect, and appreciate the beauty and meaning of the world around us.

For those living in Chicago, the Japanese garden at the city’s Botanic Garden is a beloved destination, full of life metaphors and reminders that nothing in life is an accident. Every element of the garden is deliberately designed to convey a sense of balance and harmony, inviting us to contemplate the path of our own lives and find meaning in our experiences.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we wander the trails of the Japanese garden, we are reminded that experiencing life requires all of our senses. We don’t need to be experts in gardening or spirituality to appreciate the beauty and significance of this space. All we need is an open heart and a willingness to slow down and appreciate the journey, one step at a time.

2. Finding Peace in the Present: Embracing the Slow Journey of Life

Our perspective on the world is reflected in how we treat nature. The design principles of gardens can reveal our cultural values, aesthetic preferences, and attitude towards nature.

European gardens in the 18th century reflected a desire for order and control, where the garden was an extension of the château and showcased wealth and power. The emphasis on symmetry and geometry mirrored the man-made environment and urban planning of the time. In contrast, Japanese gardens embraced the diversity and impermanence of nature, seeking to create a harmonious balance between natural and artificial elements.

The design principles of asymmetry, enclosure, borrowed scenery, balance, and symbolism in Japanese gardens create a sense of tranquility, simplicity, and mindfulness, connecting the viewer with the natural world. Japanese gardens remind us of the interdependence and responsibility we have towards nature, capturing the essence of life.

“We do not create landscapes. We discover them.” — As Japanese landscape designer Shiro Nakane said.

In this way, gardens can serve as a reflection of our minds, cultivating our inner landscape, observation, empathy, and creativity. Gardens can also serve as a reminder of our relationship with nature and our responsibility to preserve it.

3. Embracing the Natural Flow: Allowing Your Path to Unfold Naturally

the more we try to impose meaning on our lives, the more confused and lost we may become. Instead of forcing our path, we should allow it to unfold naturally.

In Japanese design, the walkway is the last thing considered in building a public park. They allow people to walk freely and observe where the grass is worn away to determine where people naturally walk, and then pave those paths. This approach reflects the idea that the path will reveal itself to us if we allow it, rather than trying to impose our will on it.

In life, we are often raised to anticipate events and plan for the future, but the reality is that our existence is unpredictable. Japanese gardens are designed to be experienced by walking along them, rather than trying to anticipate the journey. This philosophy encourages us to embrace the present moment and enjoy the journey, rather than constantly trying to control or plan for the future.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” — Lao Tzu

Ultimately, the message here is to trust the natural flow of life and allow ourselves to be guided by it, rather than trying to force or control it. By embracing this approach, we can find greater peace and fulfillment in our lives.

4. Shift Your Perspective: The Power of Slowing Down

Designing a Japanese garden is a mindful exercise that can help travelers increase their focus and awareness. The use of a narrow path made of uneven stones can slow us down and encourage us to be more present in the moment, while large, open pathways allow us to appreciate the garden as a whole.

Sansho-En, a stroll-style garden, is designed to be experienced by walking around it. The careful composition and arrangement of views create a sense of journey and discovery, as we move from one scene to another. By strolling through the garden, we can appreciate each scene in its own right, and also see how it fits into the larger whole.

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

This approach to garden design reflects a mindfulness of the journey, rather than just the destination. By slowing down and paying attention to our surroundings, we can deepen our appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the natural world. In a fast-paced world that often values efficiency and productivity, Japanese gardens offer a reminder of the value of slow, intentional living.

5. Redefining Happiness: Finding Fulfillment in the Present Moment

We often think that happiness is somewhere else, and that we would be happier if we were somewhere else. The reference to the Horaijima island at the Chicago Botanic Garden represents this idea, as it is seen as a symbol of paradise or everlasting happiness that is inaccessible to mortals.

Horaijima is designed to be observed and contemplated from a distance, reflecting the idea that happiness may be beautiful and alluring, but also unattainable. The lack of bridges or pathways to the island reinforces the idea that it is meant to be enjoyed from afar, rather than visited or possessed.

In life, we may be tempted to think that someone else’s grass is always greener, and that we would be happier if we were somewhere else or had something else. However, the message here is that true happiness comes from appreciating and enjoying what we have in the present moment, rather than always looking for something better.

“Happiness is not a destination, it’s a journey. Happiness is not tomorrow, it is now. Happiness is not a dependency, it is a decision. Happiness is what you are, not what you have.” — Alan Watts

This approach to garden design encourages us to find happiness and fulfillment in the present moment, rather than always thinking that it is somewhere else. It reminds us to appreciate the beauty and abundance in our lives, even if we cannot have everything we desire.

6. Embracing the Journey: Finding Direction in Life’s Twists and Turns

Finding our life’s purpose is not a linear process, and that rushing towards our goals without considering the bigger picture is ultimately pointless. Japanese zigzag bridges, which force people to slow down and appreciate the garden from different angles, reflect this idea by emphasizing the importance of taking a broader perspective and avoiding shortcuts.

Life is not always a straight line, and sometimes we need to pivot or take a detour in order to find our way. By embracing new perspectives and exploring alternative paths, we may discover new possibilities that we wouldn’t have otherwise considered. This philosophy encourages us to approach life with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.

Japanese design also reflects this idea by avoiding straight lines and emphasizing free forms and organic shapes. Rather than providing shortcuts or clear paths, it encourages us to find our way around and explore the space in our own way.

“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” — Eckhart Tolle

This approach to garden design encourages us to embrace the twists and turns of life, rather than always looking for the shortest or easiest path. By taking our time and exploring different perspectives, we may discover new opportunities and find greater fulfillment in our lives.

7. The Beauty of Wisdom: Finding Meaning and Fulfillment in Life’s Lessons

The pursuit of perfection and comparison with others can ultimately lead to failure, and that true wisdom involves accepting our flaws and imperfections while focusing on self-improvement.

Japanese gardens embody this idea by celebrating the beauty of aging and imperfection. Rather than striving for symmetry and flawlessness, they emphasize naturalness and authenticity, reflecting the essence of human nature.

“Your competition is not other people but the time you kill, the ill will you create, the knowledge you neglect to learn, the connections you fail to build, the health you sacrifice along the path, your inability to generate ideas, the people around you who don’t support and love your efforts, and whatever god you curse for your bad luck.” — W. Edwards Deming

This approach to beauty and wisdom encourages us to embrace our imperfections and to focus on developing ourselves, rather than trying to compete with or measure ourselves against others. By accepting our flaws and focusing on self-improvement, we can find greater peace, fulfillment, and happiness in our lives.

8. The Beauty of Impermanence: Embracing Change and Finding Meaning in Life’s Transience

The changing seasons can serve as a reminder of the impermanence of life, and that adapting to and embracing change is essential for finding meaning and beauty in life.

The different seasons, with their unique characteristics and qualities, symbolize the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The flowering trees of spring represent youth and growth, while the autumn leaves remind us of the passage of time and the inevitability of aging and decline. Winter snows provide a new perspective on the shapes and textures of the natural world, emphasizing the beauty of stillness and the power of nature.

Japanese gardens reflect this idea of impermanence and change through the use of natural materials that are allowed to age and weather naturally. This approach, known as wabi-sabi, emphasizes the beauty of aging and imperfection, encouraging us to embrace change and find beauty in the transience of life.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin

This approach encourages us to embrace the changing seasons and the passage of time, rather than resisting or trying to control them. By adapting to and embracing change, we can find greater meaning, beauty, and fulfillment in life.

9. Finding Stillness: The Power of Contemplation in a Busy World

The importance of creating a tranquil environment for contemplation, and suggests that Japanese gardens serve as a reminder to slow down and appreciate the present moment.

Japanese gardens are often enclosed, creating a sense of isolation and separation from the outside world. This creates a peaceful and contemplative atmosphere, allowing visitors to reflect and appreciate the beauty of their surroundings.

This approach encourages us to prioritize personal time for reflection and contemplation. Activities such as meditation, reading, or journaling can help us gain peace of mind and perspective on our lives.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” — Rumi

By creating space for reflection, we can gain clarity and insight into our experiences and relationships, and find greater fulfillment and meaning in life.

10. Life as a Symbol: Finding Meaning and Purpose in Everyday Experience

Life cannot be defined or understood through rational thinking alone, and that finding meaning and purpose requires a deeper, more metaphorical approach.

Metaphors and symbols play an important role in Japanese garden design, with each element representing something deeper and more profound. Rocks symbolize mountains, while white gravel and sand represent water. These elements are combined in a way that represents the fluidity and impermanence of life, encouraging us to contemplate our own nature and existence.

This approach encourages us to approach life as a metaphor, looking beyond the surface level to find deeper meaning and purpose in our experiences. Rather than getting stuck when things go wrong, we should seek to understand the symbolism and lessons contained within each event or situation.

By designing our lives as if they were a Japanese garden, we can cultivate a deeper sense of meaning and harmony, and find greater fulfillment and purpose in our existence.

Editorial Staff

Sparkles Garden