Secret Gardens – an essay by Caroline Kerjean

Secret Gardens

I feel that something is missing from most conversations I hear about spirituality today. How many times does one hear the increasingly trite recommendations to ‘live in the moment’, to ‘mindfully embrace the present’? It’s a strange thing to notice that even our most well-meaning, serious-minded ‘spiritual influencers’ seem to ignore or simply forget a fundamental truth. I find the omission to be glaring, most days. For what seems to be missing from so much of the popular wisdom about mindful living is the notion that we also live in the Past.

‘The human conscience is dependent upon time for its existence’, wrote the great filmmaker Tarkovsky. ‘Time… is a spiritual category.’[1] Tarkovsky, just like Proust, felt that human awareness was rooted in the Past, that our identities are bound up with our personal and collective heritage. It is surprising to me how little heed our contemporary commentators pay to this elemental truth. What little interest they show for meditating and building upon the living connection we feel to our own histories. Yet our body and mind, our biology and psychological make-up, all of these are the Past, they are the products of a very, very long history. 

This neglect or even downright denial and negation of the Past is, of course, one of the stranger characteristics of our fiercely materialistic, capitalist culture. One which deprives us of the most elemental spiritual comforts. The creative act, be it writing or painting or crafting, allows us to gently and urgently reconnect with this truth. To begin a personal or even a collective conversation about the vital importance our histories play in the shaping of our lives. The creative act borrows its vitality, its intuitive spark from the same creative energy that flows through the natural world, past and present. In that crucial sense, it grounds us, it leads us ‘home.’

‘You can’t go home again,’ so goes the famous saying. Yet our ‘home’ is also the Past, and it lives within us. It breathes, it has a soul. It is our life’s work to cast a glance back into the depths of our elders and our ancestors’ richly woven stories and of our own authentic selves… I feel that in my own life, the creative urge to write and draw and paint invites me over and over again to discover a kind of ‘soul secret.’ Indeed, it is in the course of writing my book that I came across a particular philosophy that seemed to calm a basic restlessness of the soul. A restlessness I had always felt but never managed to properly name. I might sum it up by saying that it is rooted in the idea that it is Time itself which is the raw material of Zen art.

Once I began to absorb the full meaning behind this beautiful, age-old aesthetic, I also began to reflect much more deeply on the absence of a true ‘sense of the Past’ in our modern-day, and in particular in our Western cultures. Surely, this constitutes one of our greatest spiritual losses. Because when our deep, organic connection to the Past is rarely mentioned or even thought about, it’s as if our sense of belonging itself were broken, irrelevant. And as the French philosopher Simone Weil observed, a sense of belonging, of rootedness ‘is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’[2]

I believe that cultivating a sense of the Past and of our ancestors’ stories through the act of creating is like finding a door onto a secret garden. It is discovering that our souls have all been ‘pre-loved’, that we didn’t come from nothing. It is carving a way forward, discerning a healing process, a more authentically mindful path. It is choosing to lean into the ‘wind’ and ‘flow’, into the river of Time. It is finding a ‘home.’ Writing the Past, as it were, is one of the most important, deeply healing spiritual gifts we can give ourselves.


[1] Tarkovsky, Andrey. Sculpting in Time: The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art, tr. Kitty Hunter-Blair, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1987, p.58.

[2] https://atlasofplaces.com/essays/uprootedness/ (Accessed November 29,2022)

Caroline Kerjean is a Quebec City-based author, artist and designer. She fell in love with art and culture at a young age and, after a life-changing experience restoring two medieval castles in France’s beautiful Alsace region, enrolled in art history at the University of Paris. After returning to Canada, she worked in the museum sector and published a first book. Kerjean now devotes herself full-time to her artistic and literary journey, aiming to pursue a rich and meaningful dialogue between past and present, one which evokes the weaving of a tapestry, an art form the author holds dear.

6 Comments

  1. I appreciate this essay for reasons far beyond my being an admirer of Tarkovsky. You say exactly why we don’t move completely out of the past, no matter how much we live in today. It is a delicate balancing act for the mind, to feel grateful for former experiences while reaching for new ones, especially those that can overcome a loss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, David, for your generous feedback, it means a great deal. Yes, ”writing the past” into the present is not always an easy task. Another author I am looking forward to reading on this topic is Walter Benjamin. I believe he often revisited this idea in his work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Meelosmom says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Caroline. At this time of year, especially, we’re told to let go of the past, but how can we? The present moment quickly dims into the past. The past is the source of air for inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for your comment, it is lovely to get feedback! Yes, I believe that the past remains with us, lives in us and feeds our souls over the course of our lives. Far from a weakness, mindfully ”writing the past” into the present nourishes us in ways that our contemporary culture all too often ignores…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Meelosmom says:

        I reblogged your essay on my blog so that I could save it. ♥️

        Like

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