Your new Zen Garden replicates the karesansui-style dry Japanese rock gardens, which reached their height in the Higashiyama culture period of the late 1400s. Over the centuries, they evolved from plant-filled gardens into abstract representations of natural landscapes.
There are complex allegorical, symbolic, and even religious meanings to the elements of a Zen garden, but in the most basic way, the rocks represent landforms: mountains, hills, and of course, actual rocks, while the sand represents water: streams, rivers, waterfalls, even the ocean. Wavy lines (called samon) mimic rippling waves in the water. One of the cool things about the magnetic zen garden is that you can sculpt the iron “sand” around the magnetic “rocks” to simulate waves and flows.
As you carefully arrange the elements of your zen garden, here a few tips:
- Consider balance. This doesn’t necessarily mean make your garden symmetrical, but that the elements should be balanced, so one thing doesn’t dominate your design.
- Leave some space – ma – in your garden. Gaps and spaces can accentuate the rest of the garden elements.
- Add elements to your garden! Don’t limit yourself to what came with the kit; many Zen gardens include ornamental components like stone lanterns, and even everyday or old objects reused for the garden, a technique called mitate (for “seeing in a new way”).
We can also draw inspiration from the Sakuteiki, the oldest known book on gardening. It was written almost a thousand years ago, about 1050 CE, and contains classic principles for setting up a Japanese garden. Some of these we can’t follow (it says that at least one island should be big enough to host a group of musicians) but also contains some ancient gardening advice:
- "When creating a garden, let the exceptional work of past master gardeners be your guide. Yet heed as well one's own taste."
- "Visualize famous landscapes, and come to understand their most interesting points. Recreate the essence of those scenes in the garden; but do so interpretatively, not strictly."
- "If there are stones that flee then there should be stones that chase after; if there are stones that lean, then there should be stones that lend support. If some face up, then others should face down; and to balance stones that are upright there should be some that recline."
Surprisingly, there haven’t been many studies on the neuroscience of zen garden contemplation. But in 2002, by using a spatial structure analysis normally used to analyze people’s visual processing perception, two researchers showed that the placement of rocks in the famous Ryōanji temple garden produced a subtle image of a tree when viewed from the main viewing platform at the temple. The scholars speculated that the subconscious perception of the tree contributed to the “enigmatic appeal” of the garden.
Another study provided important guidance for increasing the meditative aspects: it showed that the fewer stones that were placed in a garden, the wider, deeper, and more quiet people perceived it to be - so don’t crowd too many things inside.
Of course, you don’t walk through even a full-sized Zen garden like a regular one; they are meant to be explored mentally, as one contemplates the abstract forms of water, mountains, valleys, and other features that are created with the rocks and sand. And the true mediation found in these gardens was perhaps not in looking out at them, but in their daily maintenance, a process that requires slow, deliberate thought and care.
In the end, your Zen garden is about you; it’s an expression of your own personal artistic vision, expressed through abstracted (magnetic) nature. We hope it brings you hours of enjoyment and calm.
Magnetic Barber bonus: we’re also super excited that the bottom of your Zen garden includes a Curiosity Box take on the vintage “Wooly Willy” toy! Invented in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1955 by a toy company looking to use leftover iron filings (the same company who invented the first alphabet refrigerator magnets) Wooly Willy-style toys have become entertaining classics. Move one of the magnetic “stones” underneath the garden to give Michael a unique hairstyle, bow tie, and other accessories!
Magnetic experiment bonus: your product card provides a few experiments you could perform with the rocks and iron filing sand, and here’s a bonus: if you perform the experiment to make magnetic fields visible, you can try to make a permanent piece of magnetic art by fixing the filings in place while they’re being shaped by the magnetic field. Try clear spray paint or hairspray!