The Birmingham Botanical Gardens (BBG) in Alabama is a living museum that offers visitors many varieties of fragrant, lovely roses; wildflowers; tropical plants and trees; cacti; outdoor sculpture; and miles of walking paths. Perhaps its best feature, though, is the Japanese Garden.karesansui_wall

That section of BBG features a traditionally-crafted replica tea house, a koi pond with at least a dozen turtles in addition to the fish, and a karesansui. The latter is a rock garden, made of sand meticulously raked to represent waves. Such gardens are considered ideal places for meditation.

The Japanese Garden is not in the interior of the BBG, but on its edge. Just yards from the koi pond, cars race by on a city street, their drivers intent on arriving at their destinations. Standing by the water, one can hear the noise of engines clearly.

Hardly a spot for quiet meditation and centering, we might say. But on second thought, what better place? Surely anyone could achieve peace in solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. I’m convinced the Japanese Garden was placed where it is intentionally, to remind visitors that the greatest achievement is to find tranquility in chaos and that such a discovery is indeed possible.

Tom Ehrich asks “How else do we find our center except by exploring our edges?” (“On a Journey: Meditation on God in Daily Life,” May 20 , 2010). BBG’s Japanese Garden asks the same question. It puts us right next to the noise and chaos of modern life and invites us to find tranquility in the depths of our being.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

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