in General

People travel for different reasons. Some travel for recreation, others to see new sights and meet new people, still others to get away from their jobs and homes, to loosen the festers that bind them to their everyday lives. The problem with modern travel is that we often take our everyday lives with us, in every way that is possible to do so. What kind of clothes will I need? What items can’t I do without? What will I read or watch? How will I stay in touch with family and friends? Should I take my iPod, iPad, iPhone, Nook, Kindle, laptop?

William Scott Wilson, Walking the Kiso Road: A Modern-Day Exploration of Old Japan1

Behind City Hall in Kelowna, a magical place is tucked away waiting to be discovered. Kasugai Gardens is a Japanese garden in the downtown core, making it quite convenient to get to as long as you know where to look for it. When I found myself there this last time, I thought about what brought me there repeatedly, and then wondered what others were hoping to find there. For me, it’s a quiet place to escape to when I need a quick break from work or happen to find myself downtown. The more I go, the more I discover.

At first, it’s a place to explore, to see what is found in this space. It’s not incredibly well-marked and is easy to miss until you come across the entrance archways. Not knowing the history of Japanese gardens, the first few times I visited were spent walking around the path nonchalantly, taking it all in. Perhaps it’s a western way of viewing, but I believe most people here are looking for the grandeur: incredible views, large mountains, large waterfalls, big monuments. In Kasugai Gardens, there is no grandeur. It is a compact space full of interesting elements that can be easily missed.

It takes many trips through the garden to fully experience everything it offers. Many elements of the garden are tucked away in a corner, or may be blocked out by the foliage of the trees and only become visible in the early spring or late fall. Kasugai calls for me to return multiple times a month through the year to see all the different stages of the garden, the flowers blooming, leaves changing colour and falling off. Even as the sun rotates around the garden, certain colours become more vibrant, and the reflections in the pond shift as the sky changes above. It’s a magical spot that is constantly changing.

Each trip is not only a way to experience the garden in a new way, it also teaches me more about myself. The environment has very few moving parts, which only encourages me to study what is in front of me. I discover not only what has changed in the garden, but how I see. I learn how the changes in some sections of the garden are more apparent to me, and also how to focus on the forefront and ignore the cityscapes behind it.

A visit to the garden has become a walking meditative practice for me, thinking about what is present in front of me and letting everything else in my life slip away for the moment. Changing my perception of the garden to see things differently has helped me with other areas of my life, trying to find new approaches to problems that happen regularly. The peacefulness of the garden is brought forward as well, helping me slow life down when it’s chaotic and to be more focused in my approach to living.

Much like how I escape to Paul’s Tomb or Myra-Bellevue to calm my mind, Kasugai Gardens has become a new space for me to visit regularly. It has a calming influence on my mind as soon as I pass under the archways and begin to move around the walkway. It is my sanctuary away from the real world, where I can think and look at my own pace without feeling pressured to keep moving. The experience to be discovered is not me looking out over a canyon in a sense of awe, but instead gazing at the elements of the garden and have that gaze reflected back at me. It is pulled inwards back to my body.

And then, the garden asks me to look again. To see in a different way the garden that has not changed, but is changing under my gaze.

  1. Incidentally, the paperback edition is on sale currently.