Once upon a time, I had a conversation with a friend. We spoke of past hurts and creating spaces to grow and experience wholeness. He even enlightened me to the reality that men should make this for women (if they love them).
It’s called locus amoenus (low-cuss a-moy-nhus). This Latin phrase translates to a “pleasant place,” according to the illustrious Google translator’s detection. It seems to be a phrase fraught with historical and social implications (one I don’t feel like exploring here).
This friend is a theologian of sorts, enamored with Renaissance notions of chivalry, polished to a beautiful pre-Industrial sheen. He’s as labyrinthine in logic as me, so I can’t claim to understand all his motives. I do know his reasoning for sharing this phrase with me.
As we sat on a back porch, sipping whisky and sharing sentiments, I had a moment of recognition. It was the first time I realized a man could love you incompletely the futility of utility (a.k.a., use). This moment was the start of something pivotal in my personal growth.
I needed to learn this truth from a friend not in love with me. I could hear the truth of what he said without distractions of personal motive. This rational epiphany gave me the moral objectivity needed for healthy introspection.
Before that conversation, I’d never considered what a man is supposed to do, why he’s called to it, and how I deserved it. We’ve all got self-esteem issues, sure, but when people you trust use you up, it changes how you see the world (and your place in it) forever. And for a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved a pleasant place.
Insecurities aside, I realized I was more than worthy (we all are) of something secure and pleasant. It’s not a question of worth but a recognition of our inherent dignity. And too many of us aren’t raised to see that in one another anymore.
My parents raised me to see this in others. I could chalk it up to moral fiber, faith, their upbringing, or a million other little reasons. I know this: my father created a pleasant place for my mother when the world told him he owed her no obligation. And he strives to provide this space for her through every day of their union.
Mind you, I didn’t always recognize my father’s role in creating a space for my mother in his heart, but if a man loves a woman, he does this. I’d never describe my father as a gardener. Despite his deep appreciation for the natural world, he’s a hunter above all else.
But the same reverence he holds for God’s greenery he shows for the garden of my mother’s heart. And, damn, if that doesn’t move me to tears. I’m so blessed to have this model of love in my life. Make no mistake, I recognize it as the unicorn who rests in a garden.
Taming a wild heart is no mere task. It often scars the man who tries, and it’s nothing to be taken lightly. This taming is even more challenging when the world disillusions both unicorn and gardener.
Over time, I’ve come to see these scars in my father. I saw those in my mother sooner—as we talk matters of heart and spirit more often. Seeing this legendary romance in those who reared me gives a good frame of reference for choosing the right man for me.
Garden of the Heart
Before I venture further into the man’s role of creating a space, I must write of the woman’s role, rite, and privilege, too. There’s a reason we refer to nature, and the earth is the feminine. Mother Earth, Gaia, and other cultural signifiers reflect femininity’s relationship with creation and life.
I’m a believer in the garden of the heart. It’s a fertile crescent, an Eden of potential for love and courage. But of the many metaphors for growth and discovery, there are just as many for corruption and decay.
When we think of the heart’s chambers as garden boxes to till and tend, think of everything from soil to leaves to vines to branches to sunlight to weeds to rot and to new growth. There are all sorts of lovely biblical implication to insert here, so there’s nothing particularly original to add.
I could mention our role as branches of the vine. I could also refer to the parable of mustard seeds or the weeds which grow up among the wheat. I could refer to the fruits of the Holy Spirit, too.
There’s so much rich imagery about harvest and growth and the price of neglect in the Bible. I really do love it, but my modern takeaway isn’t some primordial ode to the divine feminine, nor is it partial only to my Catholic upbringing. I’m talking about something innate to every womanly body.
We try to subvert or reinterpret natural truth, and it’s often to our detriment as a species. The kind of misconceptions we carry about our bodies is due to a myriad of maladies. Most often, it starts with a disorder untraceable beyond the subatomic—it’s of soul stuff.
So much of today’s world pretends to protect when it poisons from within, a wolf among sheep, weeds among the wheat. I mentioned earlier how I experienced incomplete love from the men who used me. I’m not blameless here. I want to state that I returned the incomplete love I offered.
Most of the time, I didn’t see the love as incomplete, but hindsight reveals much. What I chose to do in my past relationships didn’t feel like use. We were happy and enjoyed what we shared, no matter how small and incomplete it was.
The world tells us, guides and molds us into believing that we should settle for less. And when we have the truest good in our lives, less really is more. But most of the time, we supplement what we settle for because it falls short of the truest good.
We’re so incredibly gifted at lying to ourselves, at deluding ourselves into believing in an illusion of abundance. But the truest, most beautiful things are unicorns in gardens. They’re the cliched flower sprouting out of concrete. These things are often buried amongst the weeds, rarely standing out as the legendary things they are.
I’ve written before about taking time to look for these things. I’ve written of building the mindset, skills, and virtue to see and hear these things. I’ve written of appreciating everything for the golden moment it may be, and still I cannot see.
Still, I remain blind and ignorant to so much of what I try to see. It’s one of many reasons I find the notion of revisiting the past so healthy (assuming it’s not for self-blame or idealistic malingering).
I find my retrospections a consistent form of enlightenment, largely when they’re fertilized by sources outside my garden. For instance, pressed flowers may be the memories we choose to keep. The beauty isn’t the same as it once was; the life essence dried up.
But there’s still a beauty present, albeit a different one. The lingering scent of what once was intoxicates, all the same, a nostalgic perfume. And the blooms pulled from our garden hearts depend on how well we tend them.
Despite what modernity shouts at the tops of its lungs, there is strength in silence and patience. As a strong-willed woman, I struggle with this. Many of my peers fight this, too, seeing it as timidity, sexism, denial of agency, and worse.
But if we’re too busy yelling for attention, who’s ear do we draw? I don’t want to scream my throat raw to capture anyone’s attention. I may be loud, but it’s from my love of life (and a natural ability to project).
The garden of the heart must not harden into fallow ground, despite what fear and doubt and delusion demand. More than ever, we women must embrace our virtue. We must create a place of calm within to weather the maddening world outside.
If we neglect our gifts, our strengths, we neglect those we dream of one day loving. I say this for myself as much as any women who read this. This simple truth shouldn’t be controversial, yet some would deem it as such.
The truth is hard to accept, even once recognized. Acceptance means actions of sacrifice, change, and vulnerability. It means no more hiding in the quiet, cozy comforts of naivete and immaturity.
When we carve out a space for visitors to our garden hearts, we can dazzle them with once-in-a-lifetime beauty. But we must take the time to cultivate our gardens into things of beauty. If we wall them off, denying sunshine’s truth, they’ll wither and fade. And if we let anyone wander through, we risk more than we know.
Guarding the heart might seem like a wise solution, but alas, it’s not. If anything, we risk our hearts becoming overgrown, untended spaces for wild terrors to rest. A heart overgrown with wildflowers seems romantic (and in some circumstances, it is!)
But everything that grows in the wild isn’t as beautiful as it seems. Some wild flora and fauna choke out native plants. If foreign flora finds its way into your untended heart, you may find yourself overwhelmed.
There’s a reason gardens are hallmarks of civilization. Many cultures develop unique methods to tend their gardens, from the Arabic tendency for symmetry and balance to the Japanese emphasis on union and harmony to the Irish transition of utility to ecologic form.
Our hearts have their own ways of blooming, requiring different levels of care. Different things nurture different types of flora, some requiring more or less attention. Each of us blooms in our own season, and it’s important to recognize our inherent perennial natures.
Some parts of our garden hearts may rarely bloom. There are some flowers that only bloom once annually, or every few years, or even once a century. Some things bloom only once, fading into the dust of the past.
Walking through a garden requires some kind of path. It may appear as a simple dirt walkway, as concrete steps, or ornate mosaics handmade with care. These paths can guide us to new destinations or secret places off the beaten path. Where we wander is determined by many things, particularly the stones laid before us by our choices and experiences.
In dating, some people feel as if they’re stepping stones to the next person or experience. I find that people who feel this way lack perspective or suffered use from their dating partner. The best “stepping stones” don’t care what paths they’re part of; they’re too busy enjoying the journey.
I find wandering down unknown paths is intimidating, but it’s exhilarating, too. You can let yourself drink in the new air, the fresh sights and sounds, and smell some damn roses, too.
I can’t recall any time I ever knew at the moment that I was someone else’s stepping stone. I only recognize the roles I played in hindsight (and the same goes for those who lead me further down my path, too). I don’t begrudge those I helped along any more than I hope I am not resented for others’ parts to play in my growth.
That’s the thing about a garden; it never stays the same. No blossoms come back exactly as their original. Stones weather over time, with every passing season. We can choose which stones we follow, and even those put in our path on occasion. But we can’t stop the passing of time and how these stones wear.
Stepping stones aren’t just symbolic of use. They reflect the imprint of others’ on our lives. They’re the weight of regret, as much as the grounding stones and for hope. The largest stepping stones actually become cornerstones, foundations of our core selves.
Stones laid down can be removed from a path, but there will still be the impression of what was once there. We can’t erase others’ effects on our lives, regardless of a desire to ignore the past. Instead, we can choose what paths to follow, even choosing which stones make up which paths.
I know it’s been a couple of weeks, so I’m super grateful you stayed with me. Your patience is much appreciated, as well as the time it takes you to read my thoughts. If you’re new here and want more 🔥 content lighting up your life, sign up for email reminders. Or, you can follow my page on Facebook.