I studied three semesters of French in high school and, embarrassingly, can’t speak a word of the lovely language. But all these years later, I’ve never forgotten the phrase: Il faut cultiver notre jardin. Its meaning is quite profound, but I hardly knew it then.
Voltaire published the satire Candide in the mid-1700s in which the hero (Candide) lives an ideal, sheltered existence only to have it shattered into a life of great hardships and disappointments. Through extraordinary adventures in which Candide and his friends narrowly escape death on several occasions, Candide cultivates a belief system counter to his mentor, the philosopher Pangloss.
Pangloss believes that everything that occurs in life is perfect, and that the universe is the best possible one that God could have created. Borrowing heavily (and satirically deriding) the philosophy of Leibniz, Voltaire makes it clear that spiritual growth is not possible following a path of blind optimism.
Considered one of the greatest novels of Western literature (and certainly Voltaire’s most well-known), Candide was banned in several countries due to what some deliberated to be obscene and anti-religious viewpoints. At the end of the story, following many harrowing escapades, our hero Candide offers his quintessential philosophy: in order to grow, we must cultivate our garden. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
What Voltaire was on to 255 years ago was the idea that our mind is a garden, and thoughts are its seeds. Without any nurturing, our mind will be preoccupied by ego thoughts (fear, guilt, anxiety, lack, judgment) and our garden is overtaken by a desert of weeds. With proper cultivation, our mind can be filled with our true nature of spirit leading to an abundance of gorgeous flowers and succulent vegetables. In such a state:
The desert becomes a garden, green and deep and quiet. See your little garden gently transformed into the Kingdom of Heaven, with all the Love of its Creator shining upon it. (T-18.VIII.9;10)
And what we hold in our minds translates into what we experience in the world. The world is nothing more than the result of a choice in our minds.
The world is nothing in itself. Your mind must give it meaning. And what you behold upon it are your wishes. There is no world apart from what you wish. (W-pI.132.4;5)
Thus it is with our thoughts that we must work. That is what Voltaire meant by cultivating our garden. And like Candide, we can move beyond the blind faith of an outside world affecting us to the wondrous realization that the source of all happiness comes from within.
Join us in Monday’s class where we will further explore these concepts and learn what the Course has to offer regarding Candide’s perceptive declaration il faut cultiver notre jardin. I look forward to seeing you then.