A Magic Touch

"your hand

touching mine.

this is how


~Sanober Khan

Before I was a gardener I was a remedial teacher in a Waldorf school. Rudolf Steiner described twelve senses: touch, well being, movement, balance, smell, taste, sight, temperature, hearing, speech, concept, and the sense of ego. In Waldorf education, the maturity and well being of the senses is that  through which learning is rooted. I studied the senses for some time and they have influenced how I observe and understand the world. In this coming year, I would like to look at the garden and at the work we do with my twelve senses. In the coming year, I will dedicate each month to one of the senses.

Even though I am going to describe a different sense each month, in reality they work together to create a composition of a well ordered whole. The twelve senses provide us with the knowledge we need about the inner and outer world. They are the field where we meet ourselves and the world.

The four “lower” senses are touch, well being, movement and balance. They are called “lower” because they exist under the veil of consciousness. We are not aware of them but they are essential for our body to live within the physical forces of the earth. The same physical laws that work outside in the world work on the human body through the four “lower” senses.

When we isolate the sense of touch from other senses such as the sense of temperature or the sense of movement, we end up with a feeling of resistance. The resistance comes from the outside but its effect is an awakening to our boundaries. This sense does not convey to us a view of the world, but only a dull experience of the limits and borders of our physical existence.

In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were wandering naked. They felt as one with the garden in which they dwelt. A bite from the fruit of knowledge sowed the seeds of separation. Our longing to be in a state of unity with the world resides in our sense of touch. With each time that we bump into the world we feel separated from it.

Rudolf Steiner, in his course Study of Man, describes the four lower senses as senses of the will:

“These senses (touch, well being movement and balance) are mainly penetrated by activity... and also in touching, because when you touch something then in reality this is a struggle between your will and the surrounding”.

Gardening is an act of will. Our physical body informs us every day of its physical limits. When we do not attune to the signals that the body sends us, when we are not “in touch” with it, we have pains and aches that keep us away from the garden. We might even need to schedule an appointment with the chiropractor.

The garden also remind us of our limits when it comes to shaping and controlling it on a daily basis. There is the very wet area where weeds grow high to our shoulders, where we lose control every summer. Flee beetles ate the brassica seedling this past season. In other seasons we have had cutworms or blight that killed the tomatoes. As much as we want to extend our will into each and every corner of the garden, it will always meet an obstacle and come to a halt.

When we get in touch, we meet another being, be it a person, animal or a plant. Through touch we create an intimacy. Almost any task in the garden involves direct touch with the earth, worms, plants and animals. Walking in the garden, the quality of resistance that I feel changes with each season. Treading through snow is very different than walking on grass. Getting to know the Earth in her different conditions puts us in touch with it. Kneeling close to our goats Chocolate and Leela each morning and feeling the warmth of their body pressing against my shoulders, hearing their stomach growling, creates a bond. 

More than anything, while working in the garden I bump constantly into the limits of my own consciousness. We are not alone when we work in the garden. Unseen beings are responsible for germination and growing, blooming and fruiting. Although we cannot see them with our eyes we experience their work through the constant transformation we sense around us.

January 6 (Epiphany) is an important day for the biodynamic farmer. In the afternoon, we stir and apply the Three Kings preparation around our land. Developed by Hugo Erbe (a German biodynamic farmer) the preparation is an offering to the elemental world and a blessing for the earth. The three ingredients used are those offered as gifts to the Jesus child by the Magi (the three wise men) from the East: Gold (symbol of earthly wisdom), Frankincense (devotional offering to the Gods), and Myrrh (symbol for the victory of life over death). The idea is to walk the boundaries of the farm with a bucket in one hand and a brush in the other, dip, the brush and every few steps flick the preparation in an outward direction, away from our land, where it falls in droplets. We offer our gratitude and protection to the elemental forces who live and work within our garden. Like the skin, the route around our garden defines the boundaries of the garden and awakens within those boundaries the consciousness or wisdom that organizes and gives it a unique quality as an organism.

The sense of touch provides us with the experience of separateness that is essential to awaken in us our individuality, our uniqueness. But this gift comes with a curse. Being “left out,” we constantly knock on the gates of the garden of Eden trying to get access back in. One of the ways back is actually creating a garden and working within the framework of Biodynamic agriculture in which you experience and work with the cosmic elements. A gardener does not need a magic touch in order to create a flourishing garden. Since the garden is a mirror to the gardener, she just needs to be in touch with herself.