Lan Su Chinese Garden – a haven of peace and tranquility “designed to inspire, facilitate personal growth, and spark creativity,” according to its website – is located in the middle of the busy bustle and noisy mayhem of downtown Portland. Artisans from Suzhou in China’s Jiangsu province modeled Lan Su after their own historic Ming Dynasty gardens, which were intended to be spiritual utopias for their visitors and inhabitants. So why construct such a place downtown? It turns out the decision was very purposeful. The garden is meant to provide a bit of a break from the hustle of everyday city life, which is a concept I found interesting. While it is nice to wholly escape the perpetual grind (vacation, please?), finding calm in the midst of the storm is the order of the day for most of us.
Lan Su turned out to be just as described – a bit of a respite. When I stepped inside the inner courtyard, the pandemonium of car horns and barking dogs and cabs zipping to and fro faded into the background and were replaced with the serene melody of a traditional Chinese guzheng. Flowers and plants of all kinds bloomed and shared their fragrant fortunes, and stones on the ground were perfectly arranged to create pretty little pictures. The gurgles of Lake Zither beckoned us to come and listen a bit more closely and to watch the koi fish play. I walked a little further and looked up to discover rows of beautifully decorated drip tiles. I was told that each tile allows a single droplet of rain at a time to fall to create a pearl-like curtain of showers (wow). A little more wandering and I found myself in a structure – The Reflections in Clear Ripples Pavilion – that was named for the reflections of light that are cast upon it as a result of the way the sunlight hits the water upon which it sits. A little further still and I stumbled upon detailed reliefs inspired by traditional stories, lines of poetry written on columns in calligraphy with Chinese characters, and blooming lotus flowers swaying contentedly in the water. Around every corner was the evidence of ardent dedication to beauty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about presence lately and my experience at Lan Su reminds me that beauty has a significant role to play. I was able to attend to, and rather easily, the minutest details in front of me despite the ever-present commotion just outside the garden walls. How could I account for such acute awareness? Certainly, I was on vacation and my mind was clearer than usual. I had walked barefoot across tilted stones and my Qi was flowing more freely. There was the green tea that I had had at the teahouse. It could have been any of those things but I suspect the extraordinary beauty of those minute details had a lot to do with it too. Lesson learned.
Filling life with more of the beautiful things from which one cannot possibly turn away is as brilliant a strategy as any for staying more awake. Plus it’s proactive and requires us to exercise our abilities and power to bring our desires to life. We must look for those lovely things in which to indulge and if we can’t find them, we must necessarily create them. As I’m sure the Chinese artisans I now hold in such high esteem would attest, cultivating beauty takes time and attention but it’s a worthwhile pursuit and important for its own sake. How much effort was required to build The Reflections in Clear Ripples Pavilion so wonderfully? How much awareness was required to perceive the details necessary to authentically name it as such? How many people have been enriched when they see those reflections tell their story?
Most of us are not able to maintain a constant state of Zen, finding bliss and harmony all around us. It’s there but our tantrum-throwing toddlers or attitudinal teenagers or difficult bosses or crazy schedules keep us from seeing it. We do have available moments, however, and so much can happen in a moment. We can take a moment to perfectly plate and add a little color to our dinner. We can take a moment to put a few sprigs of lavender under our pillows. We can take a moment to grab some wildflowers and stick them in that plastic bottle we were going to throw away (how’s that for up-cycling). We can also see beyond the tantrums, the attitudes, the difficulty and the craziness and find the beautiful truth. We can fill our lives with a little more beauty, every moment of every day and I believe that beauty will reward us with something precious in return – open eyes.
Love in all things,