Zen Gardening

Michael Ken
5 min readOct 17, 2023

In Gladiator’s opening scene, Maximus is daydreaming while walking through a wheat field, lightly brushing his hand against the golden grain. We soon learn Maximus is on a stark battlefield. Even so, he has the presence of mind to notice a small bird perched on a nearby branch. Just before the battle ensues, we see Maximus kneel and grab a handful of dirt, rubbing it through his hands, holding it up to his nose to smell the wet earth.

This scene always intrigued me. Maximus seems to contemplate what is important in life, the return to his home and family where he farms the land. It is also a reminder of what we fight for and what is precious: dirt. Working with the soil provides us with sustenance. In this way, dirt is life itself. It is where we come from; where we go after we die.

Agriculture has long been a vital part of our existence; a technology, if not a ritual, that both connects us with the past and provides us energy to move into the future. Farming the land is also an indicator of stable times, a sign of peace. It is the perfect juxtaposition for the warrior. A stable landscape is the thing we fight for and the end goal we wish to achieve. When war becomes a profession, then peace is sure to elude us.

History has inextricably linked the way of the warrior with the way of the farmer. Before the movie Gladiator, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, combined his fierce warrior skills with his avid love of farming. Before him, Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous ronin, was said to have tended the fields after mastering the way of the sword.

In modern times, most people are far removed from working in the fields that produce the food we eat. I think this is a good thing because our population has grown so large that without commercial farming, we might all starve to death. Still, there is some connection between humans and the soil, whether it is from our cultural past or embedded deeply in our DNA.

Dirt has something for every human being. Whether you’re a farmer, gardener, or take care of the plant that sits on your desk, there is something special about feeling the earth in your hands, its rich organic scent awakening memories of our ancient past.

Gardening, while no longer a necessity, can be a powerful ritual that…

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Michael Ken

My journal about life in the woods. Visit intothewoods.blog to see my complete journal, photographs, and articles.