The Garden

A story about paths, signposts, and choices

One of the articles in The New Story (IC#12)
Originally published in Winter 1985/86 on page 60
Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute

THERE ONCE WAS A WOMAN AND A MAN in whom the spirit of love burned so brightly, and the wonder of creativity played so joyfully, that they looked for some way to give form and life to what they felt. They dreamed together, and from that dreaming arose the vision of a garden – vibrant and harmonious, zesty and exquisite.

Together, they created this garden, and it was beautiful indeed. To be within that garden was to know and feel life in a wholeness that words can only hint at.

Around this garden they built a wall, and through the wall they built many gateways. As with everything about the garden, each gateway was lovingly and exquisitely made. Each was unique, yet they all had decorations and signs and symbols that were drawn from, and pointed to, the garden.

The couple then went out along each path that led from each gate, and with the same loving care that was in the garden and the gates, they created signposts throughout the world that could guide people to the garden.

By and by, people began to discover these signposts. They marvelled at their beauty. So much so indeed that they said to each other, "Surely nothing could be more beautiful than this, at least nothing that is safe for mortal eyes like ours to see." And so they gathered around the signposts, and worshipped them, but did not go where the signposts pointed.

In time, however, a few grew curious and bold, and set out along the path using the directions the signpost gave them. After a modest journey, they came to where they could see the wall of the garden in the distance. They sensed its beauty and power, and knew that it would change them deeply. At the prospect of these unknown changes, they grew apprehensive. With feelings of awe and confusion, they approached the gateway, which was, as always, open. They looked at the gateway and marvelled, for here indeed was something of greater beauty than even their beloved signpost. As they gazed upon it, one of them proclaimed an interpretation of the curious symbols, saying, "This much we are permitted to see, but we dare not enter into the garden, for it would change us forever. Let us return now to our friends at the signpost, and share with them what we have seen."

So they returned, but when they told their tale and encouraged their friends to travel to this gateway also, their friends grew angry: "How dare you claim that there is anything more beautiful than this signpost! We do not know where you have gone, but we know you have changed – and for the worse!" So they drove the travellers away.

The travellers were now in deep confusion, and they broke up into small groups, whispering among themselves. Some had been deeply touched by the presence of the garden, and in spite of this harsh reception, were willing to trust it. These resolved to return to the garden. Others were unsure, and the more they thought, the more confused they became. Some of these wandered off aimlessly while others slipped meekly back in with the signpost people. A few of the travellers, however, discovered in this situation a new opportunity.

After those who trusted the garden had departed, these few returned to the signpost people and declared, "Our friends, you are right and you are wrong. Where we have been is both beautiful and dangerous. It has destroyed the wits of most of our companions, but we have survived. You should not attempt to follow the path, for it would be dangerous for you, and we have learned all that you need to know. We have brought the knowledge back for you, and can now explain all the mysteries of the signpost to you."

The people were impressed and relieved, and so they accepted these few as teachers. All was not well, however, for these few could not agree among themselves. They soon quarreled, and the stronger among them drove the others away.

This same story was being repeated around the world at each signpost. In time, travellers between regions spread the word that others claimed to have their own signpost. But the people of each signpost just laughed, for each people had heard the false claim of other beauty before, and each knew that their teacher had brought them all the knowledge they would ever need.

In the meantime, those who trusted the garden had found their way back to the gateways. Most were comforted just to see again the beauty of the gateway, and they settled down to live outside the garden. Their experience had made them wary, and so they reassured themselves that it was best to avoid venturing through the gate. Instead they studied its symbols and devised the most wondrous interpretations.

For a few, however, this was not enough, for they felt the pull of the garden deeply within their hearts. Finally, one of them could stand it no longer, and against the opposition of the others, went through the gate and into the garden. Now the garden was so arranged that anyone who went through the gate quickly disappeared into the greenery. When the others saw this, they were confirmed in their caution, and sadly mourned the loss of their friend. The lone explorer, however, was enthralled with the beauty and the vitality in the garden, and in what seemed like no time at all, came across the woman and the man.

At the same time, there also approached lone individuals from each of the other gateways. The woman and the man invited them all to sit and be comfortable, and from this couple they learned the story of the garden and all its mysteries.

When they had heard it all, they marvelled and spoke with one another, saying, "All this beauty has always been here and always been available to us. All that has kept us back from it has been our own fear and misunderstanding. We have even been so silly as to think that ours was the only gate, but look, you who come from different regions have arrived at the same place by your own route."

Their hearts were so filled with the love and creativity of the garden that they too wished to share it. They resolved to return to their people and find a way, somehow, to share their good news.

Their first stop was at the gateway they had come in by. When they told what they had experienced, their friends didn’t know what to make of it. The more cautious thought them crazy, but others, remembering their own reception at the signposts, were willing to consider what they had said.

But the explorers of the garden did not stay long at the gateways. They returned to their people at the signposts, and, made bold by the love in their hearts, they proclaimed the good news, saying, "Our signpost is only one beauty among many, and more beautiful still is the garden to which they all point. That garden is open to you now as it has always been. To reach it, you must leave the signpost and go where it points. The only thing that holds you back is your own fear."

The people at the signposts were thrown into confusion. Some saw this as just the same old false story, but others, impressed with the love and the confidence of these travellers, began to wonder. At some signposts, these messengers were driven away, while at others they were given great honor, but only a few people did as they suggested.

Disappointed by this response, the messengers returned to the garden. Sharing their experiences, they said to each other, "What we have told our people has helped a few, but most cannot yet hear us. If they could experience even part of what we have, they would understand better. And since they will not come to the garden, we shall have to bring the beauty of the garden to them."

Now by this time, more explorers had ventured into the garden. The original messengers spoke with them and formed a plan. All who knew the garden would go out among the people, both at the gateways and the signposts, and they would quietly give expression to the beauty, love and creativity of the garden so that others could, through them, experience these qualities.

And so they did.

At first their presence was not strongly noticed, but as these qualities grew within people, there were clever ones among the old teachers of the signposts who saw what was happening and felt threatened. They spread the alarm, and soon all those who had lived in fear and on fear were alerted to the danger. They spoke out against these messengers from the garden and warned the people against them.

But by now the qualities of the garden had grown too strong to be easily swept away; the forces of fear and love were too evenly matched. A great debate grew and swirled and redoubled in its intensity. And so it was that each person found themselves confronted with the question:

The way of love or the way of fear:
which will you choose?