During our trip we spent several days in Antigua and Chichicastenango, where we stayed in gorgeous old-world style hotels modeled on the villas of classical antiquity. To me, the most appealing feature of this architecture is the atrium; an inner garden/courtyard centered around a fountain. Located directly off the hectic bustle of the streets, the atrium creates an immediate impression of intimacy and tranquility, not to mention beauty.
The layout got me to thinking about the meaning of the word "paradise." The original Persian word which actually means "walled garden."The concept of paradise as a walled garden includes an inner space, set apart from the outer, which has very different qualities.
The outer world is agitated, busy, noisy; the inner world, within the impregnable walls of the garden, bespeaks an entirely different set of influences.
It is a sanctuary with a profusion of flowers blooming. Surrounded on four sides by the shaded, columned darkness, it explodes with sunlight in an exuberance regulated only by the strict discipline of its structural laws. In its center lies a fountain, a place where that substance which represents the essence of life--the Tao--wells up from an invisible, but seemingly inexhaustible source.
The garden is open to the sky; surrounded on four sides by walls, the aperture represents an opening to high influences, while the garden soil and the flowers tacitly acknowledge the inevitable debt owed to the lower.
So the symbolism of the walled Garden as paradise- a place of bliss, repose and beauty—is very apropos. Paradise, you see, is not somewhere else-
it is available inside us.
On the trip, as I took in repeated impressions of the lovely tropical country and the gardens of the monasteries, nunneries, haciendas and posadas, I was struck not only by a sense of awe. Awe is merely a footnote that hints at the presence of the divine; it comes from worldly places and speaks of worldly emotions. Don’t misunderstand me: awe is good; but there is more than awe in a man, and to stop at awe alone is to remain a spectator.
So for me, awe alone offers no alms and pays no dues. In order to truly enter the garden, a different kind of feeling is needed. I have to be willing to stand naked in the midst of this magnificent purgatory. And indeed, the Holy Planet Purgatory Mr. Gurdjieff describes is this planet, this holy place--where all is beauty. Yet here we are all forced to continuously confront the reality of how far short we fall of God’s wish for us.
I am convinced that the allegory he offers us is exactly about this earth, this time, this life.
Can we sense this on the inward breath? Does the faint and perfumed scent of musk tickle our sinuses? Is that glorious, subtle fragrance of God that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians available to us?
Does it trickle into our heart?
In seeing my condition, and all conditions that we collectively labor under, I am filled with a kind of sorrow that has no person to it- it isn’t my sorrow, it is not a sorrow of what I am, or what we are, or what “it” is.
It is sorrow and sorrow alone, and furthermore, a kind of sorrow that is not sorrowful, but contains within it the seeds of an impermissible, impossible joy: one that touches me in such a way that the only possible response is to accept the sorrow. To drink the beauty around me in a condition of suffering—of allowing life to enter.
What crude things, words, to try and grasp this mystery. Yet words are all we have.
If we tend to our walled gardens, nurse our flowers, and drink from the cool and refreshing waters of the courtyard fountain, we may find ourselves in the midst of a new kind of life.
May our roots find water, and our leaves know sun.