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Sermon From The Compost Pile – Seven Steps Toward Creating an Inner Garden
by Edward F. Sylvia
                                                                                ©2009 Staircase Press. All Rights Reserved.
We all exist in two worlds—one visible, the other invisible. Whether you call it the soul, spirit, the subconscious, one’s inner child, or the mind’s eye, we all have a private little world. This world is just as important to us as the outer world. In fact, our inner world is even more important,1 because it colors our view of the outer world. This is why two people can react differently to the same external event in the outer world, such as a farmer thanking God for a rainstorm, while a city dweller curses the rain for ruining the weekend plans.

There are many other proofs that such a private and discrete world exists. We would not be able to lie, deceive others, or be a hypocrite, unless we could function under a dual dynamic and have the ability to separate outer appearance from our inner reality. When we observe co-workers kissing-up to the boss or politicians kissing babies, our suspicions are roused. We suspect such people as having a hidden agenda, or some ulterior motive, because we have all instinctively learned how to keep up appearances, e.g., “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” Through the years we have even invented sayings to help us keep wary of mere outer appearances, like, “You can’t always judge a book by its cover,” and, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

Perhaps the most salient words ever uttered to present this duality of worlds for our edification were, “White man speak with forked-tongue.”

In the works of literature or film this duality of character is designated as the text and the subtext. The text involves what a particular character is literally saying, while the subtext consists of all the clues a reader or audience is being given to reveal what the character really intends.  

Our justice system most certainly acknowledges the reality of this inner/outer dynamic. For instance, it is not enough to know that someone has killed another person, we also need to find the inner motive behind the physical act to determine the true severity of the crime. Because only then can we judge whether the killing was murder, manslaughter, an accident, or done in self-defense.      
We also use a dual system for judging distance between ourselves and others. There is the physical distance between two people, yet we can feel “close” or “far” from individuals depending upon our relationships. Same with time. Time drags on when we are bored and flies when we are having fun, despite the constant speed of the minute hand on the clock. So we experience time and space inwardly as well as physically!

Having a discrete inner reality also explains why a person, after having accumulated wealth and fame in the physical world, can still feel empty—that something is still missing inside. Money and riches never guarantee happiness nor does physical beauty assure one of finding true love, because these things only address one of our worlds.
This is why religious leaders, psychologists, and therapists who help people find wholeness and completeness in their lives stress the importance of developing the inner world. This world is not only real, it is who we really are. Any change made in this area, results in real change.

The problem we all face is, it’s hard to change something that we can’t see. Ironically, and unfortunately, our inner world is mostly invisible to us. The human eye cannot penetrate its mysteries. Microscopes only reveal neural- transmitters, ion pumps and synapses. So, as important as it is to develop this inner world, we first need a method to clearly see into it—as clearly as we can see the objects of the physical world! That is why I’ve written this book—to share with you a most remarkable, even miraculous, way, to see clearly into this otherwise hidden world.    

Having felt the need to develop my own inner world, I became interested in gardening. The planning, physical work, and the peace of being alone in the garden all helped me to regain some balance from the stress and artificiality of the modern world.

More importantly, I began to learn new things about myself, as I prepared the soil, planted the seeds, watched over the growing plants, and reaped the rewards of my labors. I somehow started to sense that the closeness I felt with my garden transcended even the physical closeness of my nose burying itself inside the petals of a Star Gazer lily. I was responding to more than the natural beauty of the garden, or the positive effects gardening has on health, but something much, much, deeper. The relationship with my garden was slowly turning into a kind of “peculiar recognition.” It strangely reminded me of myself. It was as though I was experiencing what was inside me, outside myself. When I looked out into my garden, I was actually looking into my spirit! A world that was so hidden from me seemed now to reveal itself in unending detail.

I have often been struck by how many gardening metaphors are used to describe psychological processes.

     We cultivate our minds (to make them more fertile).
     Our ideas flower and bloom.
     We bear fruit.
     We plant the seeds of ideas in other people’s minds.
     Ideas can cross-pollinate.
     We cut out the dead wood and yank problems out by their roots.
     Things bug us
     We can find ourselves in thorny situations
     We nip things in the bud.

     We reap what we sow.

Those are just a few of the gardening terms we borrow from the outer world to describe invisible processes taking place in our inner world.

I find this fascinating. Not so much that it displays the ingenuity of a poet, but that the processes of the physical world could ever be conceived as emulating psychological processes
in the first place. AND WHY DO THEY WORK SO WELL!?

There is an insight here that goes beyond creative license. And, after having spent 25 years of my life studying symbolism, this insight seems to have been fully exploited by past cultures. I am convinced that ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Egyptians and even the Greeks believed the outer and inner worlds mirrored each other—exactly.

This was no mere primitive pastime either, but a sophisticated and true science. According to the discoveries of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century scientist, philosopher and theologian, the ancients considered the analogies between the outer and inner worlds as the science of all sciences! He called it the Science of Correspondences.2 And it was boiled down to a very simple but provocative formula—As above, so below (also interpreted, as within, so without). This meant that the physical processes of the visible world corresponded exactly to the invisible processes of man’s inner world. In other words, both worlds evolve and manifest in the same way. So that if ancient philosophers wanted to discover the secrets of human mind, they merely had to observe the world of nature. And since they saw the garden as Nature in her most refined and perfected form, they believed that one’s inner world should emulate a garden.

This is why the ancient Persian word for garden was paradise.

In ancient Hebrew Scriptures, humans were put in the Garden of Eden. It was in this garden that Adam and Eve had everything they could ever want or desire. It was a perfect world, a world of peace, abundance, and harmony. And just as important, a world without stress, conflict or tragedy.
Today, thousands of years later, many people still feel a strong relationship to the garden, a relationship that seems to transcend the physical need to grow food or cut pretty flowers. A garden brings order, peace, and calm to the onlooker. There is some kind of profound and universal wisdom being displayed here.

I know I speak for other gardeners when I say I feel a special kindredness and connection to Nature when I am walking in and among the tomatoes, carrots, pole beans, grape vines and fruit trees growing in the garden. There are even days I feel like I’m in heaven! Especially on those magical days when all my senses and pores are opened by the vernal heat of spring, allowing me to receive all of Nature’s gifts to the very depth of my soul.

In the garden I am greeted by the smiles of flowers, the flitting of butterflies, and the waft of delightful fragrances. Here, I observe an inspiring diligence and a merry work ethic among the pollinating bees and singing birds – all encouraging me to do likewise, and not be afraid to open my heart. Because here I find balance and a belonging. This is why, if it is a healthy garden, all the secrets of living in true harmony are put on display for everyone to see.

Even the color green, the most dominant color of the plant world, is the most soothing and peaceful color to the human mind. Perhaps this is also why gardening is America’s most popular pastime, with two out of every five people participating in this “holistic” hobby every year.  
While I am not the first to find wisdom and insights to a better quality of life among the tomatoes and eggplants, the purpose of this book is to go deeper than ever before. To dig deeper with our trowels and shovels, in the hope of uncovering the most profound truths.

If the ancient Science of Correspondences is true, then proper gardening techniques will not only reveal techniques which can be applied to our spiritual growth, but that the hidden processes working even within a compost pile can be harnessed to significantly speed up one’s inner evolution, just as compost is used to speed up the progress and fertility of the worldly garden.

And something more. Something that will no doubt raise a lot of eyebrows and controversy. For if the physical world indeed is a mirror of our inner world, as the ancients believed, then the Creator made it so. Would God speak to us in a language that embraces both these worlds? Does God’s Word have inner depth? The greatest test of this concept would be to apply it to the Seven Day Creation Story of Genesis—to determine if the steps leading to the creation of the Garden of Eden might also correspond to the steps that a person must take towards the creation of an inner or spiritual garden!

This book is about how to help us fill the inner emptiness and the void left by living in the modern world—with a thriving, flowering and fruitful inner garden. This is the cornucopia of ancient legend, because only an inner garden can hold an unlimited harvest. The inner garden is the Promised Land! Blessedness and happiness are not some geographical coordinates, or something outside of us. They emerge from within, like a garden from its soil, and from our reaching our inner potentials.

As above, so below. And just like the things in a worldly garden, the inner garden has similar needs. It must be watered and cultivated. It is a world in which we must always be on the lookout for invasive weeds and annoying pests.

The inner garden suffers through droughts, heat, cold and storms... then rewards us with peace and beauty.

I will now take you on a unique journey, back and forth between the two worlds we all live in. But not as mere cosmic amphibians. Our goal is to become cosmic gardeners.

So let’s get going.


1. If our inner world survives the death of our physical existence, as we are taught by the religions of the world, then I couldn't imagine anything that could have more value to us.

2. Most of the ideas for this book were inspired by the works of Emmanuel Swedenborg. He claimed that legends, fables, parables and heiroglyphics were sophisticated methods for teaching eternal spiritual truth, rather than historical fact, and that this knowledge has been all but lost to the modern world. I have provided a source on this site for anyone wishing to investigate these ideas further.