Thursday, December 27, 2012


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/27/2012)


Many years ago in an alternately different life as a clinical hypnoanalyst in West Los Angeles, a client who was barely able to walk was brought into my office, dragging her feet along the ground, supported by her husband and brother.  The presenting problem was her increasing paralysis.  In our second session, she told me about recurring dreams of water bugs and tarantulas dominating and ruining her life, such as water bugs overwhelming her apartment and a tarantula completely filling a room.


As we explored her dreams, we talked about how she could change them if she wished.  After settling on a strategy, she dreamt them again in hypnosis, transforming the dreams by sweeping out the water bugs and deflating the tarantulas.  Later, quite to her surprise, she told her older brother and her husband to “buzz off” after which she began walking normally, even driving, and becoming a docent at the Getty Museum.  She showed me pictures of her older brother with a black beard and black clothing. He resembled a water bug.  Her husband while not the color of a tarantula suffered a hirsute similarity. 


Dreams are often night letters we send to ourselves from our unconscious process to be read in the morning, almost always cast in symbols.  Although the idea of the unconscious process in human beings is popularly identified with Sigmund Freud, it goes back a lot of earlier.  Saint Paul mentions spiritual experiences “too deep for words” (Rom. 8.26.)  A proper reading of the story of Adam and Eve is that this wasn’t an historical account, but rather a metaphorical account about the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious in all of us.  The word “adham” in Hebrew is not a name but a noun meaning “everyman” or "mankind."


While the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Schelling coined the phrase, earlier Shakespeare in Hamlet told a tale of unconscious and conscious conflicts.  “To sleep, perhaps to dream— / ay, there’s the rub.”  In Macbeth, Banquo after his encounter with the three witches says, “A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, / And yet I would not sleep.  Merciful powers, / Restrain in me the ursed thoughts that nature / Gives way to in repose” (II, 1.)


As Plato made clear in the Allegory of the Cave, there’s a difference between appearance and reality which is precisely where the unconscious and gardening coalesce.  The reason that New Year’s resolutions so often fail is that they are made consciously, people thinking they ought to make the resolution.  It’s an appearance of consciousness, not the reality of the unconscious.


Another client for years made resolutions to stop smoking and failed to stop.  Only after a dream in which she saw herself covered with the slime and dirt of tobacco did she successfully stop.  Disgusted with herself for befouling herself, she stopped. 


The unconscious process of gardening is in the soil, not in the plants.  For most people, gardening is in seeds, plants, fertilizing, and watering.  Actually, the heart of gardening is in the soil because without soil everything else is for nought.  The first thing in creating good soil is in the right mixture of clay, sand, and silt.  In the high country we have very little silt.  Most of it has slid down to Oak Creek, the Verde River, and the Valley of the Sun; however, we have excellent sand called volcanic or lava sand and clay.  Mixed together with the addition of compost we have a great soil because the volcanic sand is jammed with nutrients which will be released by the mycorrhizae in the compost.  Clay stabilizes the retention of water.


Tightly packed, too much clay inhibits the growth of roots.  Clay when fired becomes pottery.  Sand allows for root growth, but the water flows right through it.  Mixing the two gives a great basis for excellent soil, and happily both are abundant in the high country.  The next thing is organic material and compost.  Once added, your soil’s unconscious process will be “rarin’ to go.”  Two New Years’ Resolutions: pay attention to your dreams and bury your kitchen clippings in the garden.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera.  Smith emails at and blogs at





Thursday, December 20, 2012


Dana Prom Smith


Wordsworth had it right when he wrote:  “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”  He wrote of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, not the Cyber Revolution of the 21st century.


Nearer to our time, Marshall McLuhan wrote:  “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.”  Nowadays things are coming very fast, taking in too much information at once, so that we don’t have the time to understand the information, much less what we think and feel about it all.  We lose contact with ourselves so busy are we handling the assaults of information.


Pico Iyer, the novelist and essayist, wrote in the New York Times (9/24/2012) in an essay “The Joy of Quiet,” “In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often to make more time.”     


We lose contact with ourselves, almost as though we weren’t there, becoming an information receiving machine without a soul.  In addition to the assault of information, we are rattled by the assaults within ourselves, such as indignations, ideologies, and unresolved conflicts.  When we turn from that inner fracas and begin to pay attention to our senses, the distractions fade away.  Enjoying our five senses takes our minds off our inner turmoil and external assaults.  Petting a dog will do it.  We need a refuge where we can become reacquainted with ourselves which is the reason that meditation is so important.  Gardens beget meditation.


Meditation is zoning out so that one can zero in, but how to do it?  Paradoxically, paying attention to our five senses is the pathway to the spiritual.  Many years ago I spent some time at a remote Augustinian monastery.  I’d been on a spiritual quest to find a way to meditate that was congenial to me, and the Augustinian monastery was a stop on that journey that ended the journey.  The monks walked around a courtyard garden chanting and invited me to participate.  The more I participated, the freer was my mind to focus.


Their theology didn’t beguile me although I relished theological conversations with them.  It was their method.  I learned how to meditate.  And so it is with gardening.  If we want to meditate, we first must leave the assaults and discords, becoming at ease with ourselves, recalling an experience in our lives where we felt completely at peace with ourselves.  Experiencing life in a garden is akin to such an experience of ease, especially near dawn or in the evening at the gloaming.  Enjoying the full pleasures of our senses is one of the gifts that a garden gives us to help us to zone out so that we can zero in. 


Such an experience leads to a fusion of our minds and our bodies. Experiencing wholeness releases us from ourselves.  Some people call it emptiness, but the word “wholeness” better suits the experience.  With our sensory needs satisfied, we can relax our defenses and be at ease with ourselves.  A garden with its tastes, aromas, sights, sounds, and touches is such a place.  


Once our senses are satisfied, we can move beyond ourselves.  We’re no longer hungry or grasping.  Meditation beguiles us, drawing us outside of ourselves in a moment of transcendence and clarity where we see ourselves from outside of ourselves.  We’re free to move beyond the bulwarks of our assaults and conflicts, opening to the new, seeing things in a different way.  In many ways, most of us have had such experiences, but they’re chancy and occasional.  A garden gives us the possibility of practicing and cultivating those experiences of discovery.  We become acquainted with ourselves once again, feeling at ease enough to move beyond our safe zones, to see ourselves from fresh perspectives, delivering us from perpetually rehearsing yesterday, embracing today and tomorrow.  If we embrace life as a gift, gratitude becomes the reason for living.    


Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele edits Gardening Etcetera, blogs at, and emails at