About the Author

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy joined the Irish Sisters of Charity in 1958 and has become one of the most influential social innovators of her time. She has received awards from many universities and institutions in Ireland and elsewhere, and founded Focus Ireland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Young Social Innovators. She also established The Sanctuary, a place of peace and meditation set in the heart of Dublin and has written several bestselling books, including her autobiography, The Road Home, Day by Day and Seasons of Hope. She lives in Dublin.

For more information on Sister Stan and her books, see her website at www.srstan.ie

About the Book

Sister Stan, as she is affectionately known, was brought up on a farm in Dingle, County Kerry, one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. It was there that she learnt to appreciate the earth, its stillness and its energy, its beauty and its bounty.

In this hugely powerful and evocative book, Sister Stan looks to the earth for inspiration. Reflecting the garden’s changing rhythms through the seasons, Gardening the Soul offers us a daily thought to keep us going as we face the challenges of modern life.

All our moods are covered here…

Comforting and insightful, Gardening the Soul is an inspirational daybook of lessons gleaned from the wisdom of nature.


The publishers have used their best endeavours to contact all copyright holders. If any errors have inadvertently been made, corrections will be made in future editions.


One line from ‘In Memory of W B Yeats’ by W H Auden. Reprinted by kind permission of Faber & Faber Ltd and Random House, Inc.


Extract from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Copyright ©1959 by SCM Press, Ltd. Reprinted with kind permission of SCM Press and Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Extract from Selected Poems of W H Davies (Jonathan Cape). Reprinted by kind permission of Mrs H M Davies.


Submitted excerpts used for 30 January & 27 December entries from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Copyright ©1974 by Annie Dillard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Extracts from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial, 1998) by Annie Dillard. Reprinted with the kind permission of Blanche C Gregory Inc. Literary Agency.


Extracts from ‘The Four Quartets’ from Collected Poems 1909–1962 by T S Eliot ©1944, reprinted by kind permission of Faber & Faber Ltd. Quotations on 10 March, 22 March, 17 November, 6 December and 15 December from East Coker. Quotations on 12 March and 13 December from Little Gidding. Quotation on 3 December from Dry Salvages.


Extract from ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ taken from The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem, ©1969 by Henry Holt and Co., LLC. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt & Co., LLC.


Extracts from Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld, translated by W H Auden & Leif Sjoberg, copyright ©1964 by Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. and Faber & Faber Ltd. Used by permission of Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. and Faber & Faber Ltd.


Excerpts from The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright ©1975, 1976 by Thich Nhat Hanh. Preface and English translation copyright ©1975, 1976, 1987 by Mobi Ho. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.


Submitted excerpt used for 19 February entry from Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman. Copyright ©1991 by Sandra Ingerman. Reprinted by kind permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.


Excerpt from ‘St Francis and the Sow’, from Mortal Acts, Mortal Words. Copyright ©1980 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted by kind permission of Houghton Mifflin Co. All rights reserved.


Four lines from the published poems of Rudyard Kipling. Reprinted by permission of A P Watt Ltd on behalf of The National Trust for Places of Historical Interest or Natural Beauty.


Excerpts from Total Freedom: The Essential Krishnamurti by J Krishnamurti. Copyright ©1996 by Krishnamurti Foundation of America and Krishnamurti Foundation Trust, Ltd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.


Extracts from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994) by A Lamott. Reprinted by kind permission of Random House, Inc.


Extract from ‘The Avowal’ from Oblique Prayers by Denise Levertov, copyright ©1984 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. Extract from ‘The Avowal’ from The Stream and the Sapphire by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of Laurence Pollinger Ltd. Extract from ‘In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being’ from Sands of the Well by Denise Levertov, copyright ©1996 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.


Excerpts from The Four Loves by C S Lewis, copyright ©1960 by Helen Joy Lewis and renewed 1988 by Arthur Owen Barfield, reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc. (US rights). The Four Loves by C S Lewis copyright ©C S Lewis Pte. Ltd 1960. Extract reprinted with permission.


Excerpts from The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, copyright ©1948 by Harcourt, Inc. and renewed 1976 by the Trustees of The Merton Legacy Trust, reprinted by permission of the publisher and Curtis Brown, Ltd.


From The Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers and published by ICS Publications, Washington DC. All copyrights, Carmelite Monastery, Pewaukee WI. Used with permission.


Extract from History and Truth by Paul Ricoeur. Reprinted by kind permission of Northwestern University Press.


Short excerpt by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Babette Deutch, from Poems from the Book of Hours, copyright ©1941 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. and Random House, Inc.


Extract from ‘The Waking’ taken from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke by T Roethke. Reprinted by kind permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. and Faber & Faber Ltd.


Extracts from ‘Gitanjali’ by Rabindranath Tagore ©1997. Reprinted with the permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Extract from The Upward Path (1995) by Van Dyke. Reprinted by kind permission of Shaw Publishing.


Two excerpts from A Tree Full of Angels by Macrina Wiederkehr, copyright ©1988 by Macrina Wiederkehr. Reprinted by kind permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.


Excerpt from Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber ©1991, 2000 by Ken Wilber. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, www.shambhala.com.


Extract from Dancing Moons (1995) by Nancy Wood, illus. by Frank Howell, Random House, Inc. Reprinted with the kind permission of Nancy Wood.


Extract from ‘Among School Children’ from Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats, Revised Second Edition, edited by Richard J Finneran. Copyright ©1928 by The Macmillan Company; copyright renewed 1956 by Georgie Yeats. Reprinted by kind permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. and A P Watt Ltd on behalf of Michael B Yeats.



Also by Sister Stan


and published by Transworld Ireland

January & February

In solitude we learn to explore, and in stillness we come to see that this is a time for new beginnings, a time to stop and be silent, to listen and to dream.



In January and February the garden grows in silence, the growth hidden from the gardener’s view. There is hardly any colour, other than the browns and greys of soil and stone; there are no scents or sounds, no signs of life. But the gardener knows that there is plenty of invisible activity in the garden. Down under the soil, where the earth is warm even when frosts harden the ground, the roots are already preparing for spring, life is stirring in the depths. The gardener knows that in spite of the barren aspect of the garden, the spring bulbs are preparing to make their adventure to the world of light.

For the gardener, this is a time for planning and looking forward, for dreaming of possibilities and planning the summer garden. The gardener paces the garden in silence and in solitude, seeing what is not yet grown, dreaming of how the garden will look in the coming months, deciding what to put where, thinking about the seeds and the bulbs and their underground activity. This is a time for patience and for taking stock.

January and February call us to get in touch with the stillness of our own inner garden, to be patient with ourselves, to appreciate our inner strength and to embrace the seeds of beauty within us. In these months we learn to recognise the busyness of our daily lives, where silence may be a stranger.


Week 1

A winter garden is like the dark corners in our hearts which we try to ignore.


IT IS IN the silent sanctuary of our own hearts that we make room for the transforming power of love to grow within us and radiate through us.


Allow your judgements their own silent undisturbed development, which like all progress must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation then birthing.




We all need time to be ourselves. This does not mean differentiating ourselves as much as possible from others in style of dress, mannerisms or beliefs. Nor does it mean distinguishing ourselves in situations that require uniformity, such as in the army or in the corporate world. Rather, it means listening to our inner wisdom, identifying our uniqueness and marching to our own individual beat.


If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.




Even when we stop our bodies, our minds go on and on, racing and chattering, whether we are listening or not. The important thing is to notice the mind’s chatter, for by noticing it we come to gain control over it and eventually to quieten it. It is not a question of judging it or thinking we shouldn’t be having this internal chatter. The noise is there, but just noticing it will lessen its destructive effect.


Millions of people long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.




‘Ni h-é an t-éadaigh an fear (clothes do not make the man).’ This old Irish saying tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the things we possess do not and will not define us, nor bring us peace and happiness. Some may still believe abundant possessions bring happiness or that they are a sign of God’s favour, but most of us know that when we are least reliant on material things, we are happiest.

A friend of mine who could be materially very well off made major changes in her home recently. By keeping only what she needed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and giving away everything else, she has discovered the secret of living simply. This woman’s attitude is a very simple one: people are more important than things. She has discovered that ‘I have’ is the greatest threat to who ‘I am’.


I breathe in the green grass and in

The flowers, and in the living waters …

I permeate all things that they may

Not die, I am Life.




In the stillness of silence, wisdom guides us to embrace those traits that previously were unknown to us, or that previously we weren’t able to face. Meeting ourselves in this way can be disturbing, but once we accept and embrace ourselves, it brings us a peace and a calm we didn’t know before – because we discover that, far from being as bad as we feared, we have a great beauty hidden within us, waiting to be explored.


Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.




If we listen, the earth can soothe our troubled hearts, refresh our weary limbs, soften our hardness and redirect us when we are lost. If we allow the sacredness of the earth to surprise us, we will not become withdrawn or sad or bitter or worn out; we will retain our vigour and our zest for life. The world will become for us an inexhaustible source of delight, of sounds, of textures, of colours, of patterns and harmonies. The world is a bottomless well, full of wonder and surprise, which can be endlessly drawn upon to recharge our spirits.


So rests the sky against the earth … I feel an ache of longing to share in this embrace, to be united and absorbed; a longing like carnal desire, but directed towards earth, water, sky and returned by the whispers of the trees, the fragrance of the soft soil, the caresses of the wind, the embrace of water and light. Content? No, no, no. But refreshed, rested while waiting.




Growing happens on its own. Most of the time we don’t have to do anything. We just have to be present to ourselves and to others.

Caring is the same. It is not some special gift, the domain of rare individuals. The caring impulse is natural. It comes naturally to us, happens almost on its own, as long as we are aware of and respectful of others. Even the smallest, most ordinary act of kindness can reveal a glimpse of our divinity in our humanity, if it is done out of respect and love.


I grow in those seasons like corn in the night and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been.



Week 2

Bareness and wildness in nature revitalises us and refocuses our energy.


To accept ourselves completely means, first of all, to know ourselves – our shadowy, dark side as well as our light, beautiful side – and to continue on the road of discovering and knowing ourselves more freely every day.

In order to do this, we need to care for ourselves with the very same attention and open-heartedness that we would like to offer others. Opening to our own pain can be of immeasurable value in our efforts to be of service to others, for as our understanding of our own suffering deepens, we become more available to those we care for. Running away from our pain limits us in our care for others.


The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.




A man who had lost his young wife in a tragic accident said to me once, ‘I wish they would stop talking and trying to be helpful.’ We all want to reach out to people in distress; there is a pull to fix things, to look for a solution. But maybe what the other person needs is not for us to talk but to listen. First, though, we need to calm the agitation of our own minds. If we develop a listening mind, we can become more centred, more focused, and in that way we can deepen our powers to heal and to help.


The way to do is to be.




A life that is too busy, distracted and unfocused kills the power of imagination. If we cannot be still, if we cannot come to ourselves in silence, then we lose the power to imagine, and if we cannot imagine and dream, then we will never be able to realise what we desire.


Peace hath her victories

No less renowned than war.




We are so used to an abundance of words that silence tends to frighten us. It seems to us like a vast empty space; we look down into its expanse and get dizzy or else we feel a marvellous attraction towards the silence that leaves us bewildered.

But when we discover silence, when we take the time each day, even if it is only for five or ten minutes, to close our eyes and to shut away the busyness of our lives, we find that this great emptiness of silence is already filled to the brim with what we cannot even imagine. Divine wisdom awaits us all in stillness and in silence.


After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.




As long as we go around unsurprised and taking things for granted, we never see the light. But in silence and stillness, wisdom opens to surprise. We arrive at an ability to wonder and to be surprised by being still within ourselves and responding to the gifts we are offered every day by the divine wisdom.


Real learning comes when the competitive spirit has ceased.




People sometimes confuse solitude with loneliness, but they are quite different. Loneliness is a painful experience that we feel when we are cut off or excluded, whereas solitude is an experience of being empty, free, serene and at peace, and yet alone.

Sometimes we need solitude so that we can confront our loneliness, and confront too the real cause of our loneliness. Perhaps we are lonely because there is something wrong in our lives; if that is the case, confronting our loneliness can help us to see this and may lead us to seek the appropriate help.

Or it may be that we are lonely simply because we have never rested with ourselves in solitude. To cope with our loneliness, it may be that rather than running out to find company we need to give ourselves up to the kind of solitude that allows us to deepen our sense of wonder.


Never less lonely than when completely alone.




Silence and stillness are useless, in the sense that, like many of life’s most important elements – water, air, the sea, mountains, flowers – we cannot assess their value in monetary terms. We have to learn their usefulness through our experience of our need for them. What is truly necessary will always crave our attention. ‘Behold the lilies of the field’: here Jesus is inviting us to take time to open ourselves to what appears to be useless, to see things as they really are, and to learn to value them.


We are all one silence in a diversity of voices.



Week 3

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.


Openness is the ability to receive the gifts the world has to offer. Being open to the now means being receptive, with our hearts and minds, to whatever comes. We can only live fully and spontaneously if we have learnt to be open to the now. The more present we are to the now, the more open we are, the more accepting we are and the less critical we are of ourselves and others.


For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.




Rest is an interval in the busy rhythm of our lives. It renews and freshens us. It helps us to become clearer, stronger, life-giving people. A time of rest, a fallow time, prepares us for the next time, the time when we need to be about our business. Rest fills us with vigour and readiness for action as we go about living out who we are.


By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done.




A time to rest is a time simply to be. Time alone and at rest challenges us to confront the reality of our value as human beings, rather than as human doers. It allows us to hear the spirit speaking to us and it allows us to open ourselves to darkness as well as to light, to moments that are desolate, empty, lonely or confusing. In doing that, we embrace the possibility of hope, as the morning light spreads across a dark sky.


The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.

EXODUS 31:16–17



The Greek language distinguishes between chronos, which means measurable clock time, or calendar time, and kairos, which has a variety of meanings including the opportune or favourable time. Kairos can mean also a time that is made special and gracious by a sense of one’s presence to oneself, to creation and to the creator; we can think of it as God’s time.

Our age is obsessed with chronos. Our daily lives are ruled by schedules and it is a constant battle to keep things on time. But we need also to make room in our lives for kairos, or holy time. And to do that, we need to listen to the voice within us that is reminding us to stop, the voice that is trying to reveal to us when it is time to sow or to reap, to wait or to go.


Health requires this relaxation,

The aimless life,

This life in the present.




There are times when we think, like the poor widow who shared her last bread with the prophet Elijah, that we have nothing left to give. But it is often at these times that we find new resources in ourselves.

The same can happen with people we are trying to help. They may seem to have no education, no programme, no sermon, no sound advice, no solution to their problems. But what they have to give is important, and they give not from their surplus, but from their substance. We may find that they have offered us their very being, their presence, their hearts.


She went away and did as Elijah had told her so there was food everyday for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

1 KINGS 17:15–16



Acknowledging our own weakness is an essential quality for those of us who work to provide a service to people who have been hurt and rejected. In situations where we are unable to be welcoming because we are just too tired or too busy, it is better that we acknowledge and accept that. People who have been repeatedly rejected see very clearly if there is a gap between what we say and what we do, between our ideals and our reality, and if they sense our hypocrisy, they will feel rejected and devalued once again.


It takes two to speak the truth, one to speak and another to hear.




City life is marked and scarred by the exploitative urban economy. I sometimes think that a return to a more rural way of life could be a source of renewal. But such a revolution would have to be accomplished by the community itself, not from outside by experts but from inside, based on the ancient rule of neighbourliness, the love of precious things and the wish to be at home.


Type of the wise who soar, but never roam;

True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home!



Week 4

Gentleness is ungrudging and, like the winter soil, quietly facilitates growth.


It is difficult to take the risks that love demands of us; it is difficult to reveal our vulnerability. Living in a loving community with other people, however, living and working in a way that celebrates ourselves and each other, provides us with the support we need to enable us to take those risks.


There is no path to truth. Truth must be discovered but there is no formula for its discovery … you must get out on an uncharted sea and the uncharted sea is yourself.




Much of the time we live trapped inside a hectic, mechanical lifestyle, getting up to the sound of an alarm clock, battered by news from the radio, tested by traffic, forced to calculate time and distance to the minute, going through the day using phones and lifts and gadgets, then going home again at the end of the day, through more traffic, with more news being shouted at us.

It is only when we make time for silence and for prayer that we give ourselves a chance to remember who we really are and what life is really about.


The well of Providence is deep. It’s the buckets we bring to it that are small.




We all have the seed of God in us, and it is because it is there, wanting to grow in us, that we cannot settle into complacency but must be always ready to grow. But we do not always allow ourselves to grow. We resist change, and that means we resist growing into our true selves.


The seed of God grows into God as a hazel seed grows into a hazel tree.




Real intimacy leads into unknown territory, and we find our way only through trial and error. As we leave behind old, familiar ways of being, we move towards new states of balance. Falling into one extreme or another is unavoidable along the way. We must give ourselves permission to go overboard sometimes. If we attack ourselves for going off course, we cannot learn from our mistakes.


The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.