Gardens of Consciousness can be seen as any environment that facilitates altered states of mind and being, states that energise and restore as well as enlighten and elevate!
.As we shall see, such Gardens range from natural places that are 'designed' to foster creativity, to sacred spaces that are 'configured' to heal; from environments that are designed to galvanise and motivate to more ritualistic 'tea' gardens that can ease the exhausted soul into a state of relaxation and restoration.
Our environment is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, peak states that can be harnessed for self development and self actualisation...and as Maslow realised, they can also help fulfil humanities' need for 'collective actualisation'
If you are lucky, like the ancients of old, you might just stumble across one ready made!
“The earliest human dedication to place making was done to recognise something particularly sacred, mysterious or numinous that was discovered on a site or attributed to it’ (James Dixon Hunt: World of Gardens)
Contemporary research suggests that the central essence, the secret ingredient of all G.O.C.'s, whether man made or found, is Awe!
'Awe is so powerful it alters your sense of self, connects you with humanity and boosts your mind and body. and there is a surprising way to get more of it...have you ever been stopped by the stunning view or gobsmacked by the vastness of the night sky' (The New Scientist July 2017)
From a garden design perspective, awe first made its' appearance in 1757, in the writing of Edmund Burke in his Treatise: 'A philosophical enquiry into our ideas of the sublime and the beautiful' in which he defines sublime awe as.....
‘amazement with a tinge of fear’.
Ruskin however qualifies and extends this definition with his conviction that awe is not in the earthquake nor in the fire but
"in the still small voice"
‘They are but the blunt and the lowest faculties of our nature which can only be addressed through lamp black and lightening. It is in the quiet and subdued passages of unobtrsiuve majesty”
In fact, the sublime, Ruskin insists, can be ‘pleasing’ and not just an after-effect of self-preservation or self-reflection. It is with reference to that 'still small voice' that Ruskin suggests another vital ingredient for a successful G.O.C., and for the creation all 'Places' of significance, is that...
"The environment speaks!"
By this, Ruskin meant that the environment is an active participant in our lives, it informs, conditions, it directs and depending on your viewpoint, it speaks! It speaks, either because it is alive or because it is meticulously programmed, replete with values and meaning systems, most of which we are only dimly aware of, for as Goldhagen claims...
90% of our experience is non- conscious.'
The benefits of making spaces of awe and restoration are listed in the book of the same name by Florence Williams: These benefits are: a reduction in cortisol, a fall in blood pressure and in heart rate after a few hours immersed in nature, as well as a 40% increase in natural killer cells after just three days. Increases in pro-social behaviour and generosity were measured at USC university in America by merely instructing student to look up at tall trees for a minute by contrast with looking up at tall building for the same length of time. Similar decreases in anxiety and negative thinking were measured at Stanford university when student spent 90 minutes in a public park as opposed to a car park! (Note these results were monitored by scanning the pre-frontal cortex of the brain)
The effects of awe experienced during the 'overview effect' and in other natural settings are described by Newberg as follows:
1. Time dilation – i.e.the feeling that one has more time 2. Prosocial behavior 3. Sense of togetherness 4. Dislocation of temporal and spatial … 5. Increased belief in the supernatural causation and less tolerance of mere random explanations of creation
The reward then for creating Gardens with concomitant elevated states of Consciousness are potentially very high. In fact, Ecstasis, once achieved has been shown to boost creativity by 200%, learning by 490%, and productivity by 500%.
We look at high tech methods of engendering these results in other sections. Similarly, in order to deepen our understanding of elevated states we also need to briefly survey psychedelics which are described by Dr Carhart Harris, a researcher at Imperial College London as:
'high-jacking the natural system and fast tracking our feelings of awe’