What "The Garden Detroit" Means to Me, by Tom Milano

             On the surface, The Garden Detroit is a Michigan nonprofit organization that repurposes vacant land in Detroit into cut flower farms and sanctuary gardens. In just three years we have developed a comprehensive floral service business and turned our flower farm—Detroit   Abloom—into a beautiful urban oasis. Yet for me, The Garden Detroit represents something much more profound.

            The letter “T” in The Garden Detroit is capitalized because I believe the real “garden” we are meant to manifest is The Garden of Eden within us, nay, that is us, the very essence of our being. Throughout history many native peoples, ancient civilizations and all religions have believed that there was a span of tens of thousands of years when a heaven-like existence prevailed in human society. This outer state of existence has been called The Golden Ages, The Kingdom of God or The Garden of Eden. Since we live in a world based on the law of cause and effect, that heavenly existence on Earth was the merger of a multitude of harmonious “effects” that resulted from one underlying “cause”—our ancient ancestors love for their Creator and all Creation. Put simply, their universal love created an outer state of equality, harmony and prosperity.

            One view on human history suggests that animal eating and all the ensuing forms of human-imposed oppression gradually obscured the universal love in the heart of a small segment of humankind, casting us into a world of human-made problems. Just as a forgotten fortune cannot benefit anyone, our soul’s innate love for all life cannot benefit anyone if it is forgotten. Albert Schweitzer, who received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life,” once said, “Truly, to restore the earth, we must first restore ourselves. The outer and inner worlds are inseparable. They must be harmonious.” This wisdom reveals that if enough of us work towards restoring our individual consciousness, we could be enough yeast to leaven a whole city. Afterall, as Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near.”

            So, how does our inner world need to be restored? In a nutshell, we are all in illusion when we think and act as though our primary identities are merely these material human bodies. Incredible as it may seem, the bodily conception of life is the root cause of all human conflict and suffering. This mistaken identity not only makes us falsely believe we are separate from our Creator and both our human and nonhuman family, it also causes fear, a superiority/inferiority complex and a needless struggle for existence. If truth be told, each of us is an eternal soul, a unique personality full of spiritual knowledge and bliss, temporarily encased in a body. Only when we begin to realize the nature of our soul-identity can we value just how much we are all family, absolute equals and here to help each another on our path back home to Godhead.

            And it gets better! On this point the mystics are unanimous: if we seek The Garden of Eden first and live righteously, ALL THINGS WILL BE ADDED. In other words, all good things such as abundant health, prosperity, happiness, peace, and true self-expression will be ours, by God’s grace, if we allow our consciousness to be purified enough so that these blessings can flow through us. They are added things that come only after some measure of God-realization has been attained

            As projects unfold in Detroit and the landscape changes for the better, there is a great deal of enthusiasm and a growing sense that something bigger than all of us is brewing under the surface. I believe we are being brought together and called upon to inspire one another and the world, but not through our material achievements alone. Most importantly, we are meant to bring into full expression The Garden embodied in our souls, for this has always been humanity’s ultimate purpose. And if it doesn’t happen here and now, when and where will it happen?

            The Garden doesn’t grow by itself. It depends on us sowing all sorts of seeds and tending to them. The seeds can be our spiritual practices, the people we help to raise out of poverty, injustice and despair, a listening ear, an encouraging word, a warm smile. They are our prayers, the most vulnerable we protect, the kindness we share, the family members, neighbors and enemies we love and forgive.

            My friends, the presence of The Garden will be realized more and more each day in our midst as we learn how to develop a more soul-centered way of life. We are not only the sowers of The Garden’s seeds; we help to manifest The Garden when we commit ourselves to its core value to love as God loves with unconditional compassion for all living beings.

            Where individuals with hearts full of love walk, so walks The Garden. And where a city full of loving people blossoms, we have a city that can inspire widespread healing, community and love. Detroit is well-known for giving the world the automobile and Motown music. Now let’s give it the greatest and most awaited innovation ever—a city experiencing such a magnificent outpouring of love and harmony that it inspires world peace.

            My deepest wish is that Detroit’s remaking will harmonize with the remaking of our collective consciousness as increasing numbers of us open our hearts enough so that The Garden can easily flow through us.