Paradise: An Exploration
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"So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.Ē
From ďKubla KhanĒ
By S. T. Coleridge
Molly Roach March 19th, 2004
What is Paradise? It
is a strived for, difficult to find, even harder to construct ideal. Paradise comes from ďpairidaezaĒ (Old Persian) meaning an
enclosed park or hunting ground belonging to royalty, but has evolved
towards broader and more evocative definitions.
What makes this Paradise so moving?
The idea of paradise has inspired gardens, poems, music, and
literature. It is Eden the origin of Man, and heaven where the blessed
will be rewarded after death. In Istafan and Bagh-i-Vafa (the Garden of
Fidelity) the drive to build Paradise necessitated hydrological invention
to get the water to irrigate the gardens. The Taj Mahal, Generalife, and
Alhambra are all ďParadisesĒ in conception and design.
The hortus delicarium was a popular place for social
gatherings in the Medieval Age, while the hortus conclusus and
cloister gardens were places for quiet reflection.
Forms of Japanese gardens even fit into the category.
Paradise is a garden, an enclosed or walled garden, or a place
built around one. It is the common factor shared by all of the examples
There is something in this idea that is more than just a garden, so
what is it that makes paradise so different from other gardens? Itís like succulents and cacti. All cacti are succulents,
but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti have prickles, and Paradise has
something that regular gardens donít have. Most regular gardens are all
about form and color, and where the eye is drawn; itís about design,
with nothing else beneath it. Paradise is not just about design.
Paradise is not just a walled garden. There are things within the
physicality, and beyond it, that make it more than a simple pleasure to
the eye. Paradise as a whole is made up of the physical place, how it
affects you, and how you relate to it.
The physical place is what you see. Itís the walls and the plants
and the trees and the sky and the paths. The physical place is important
to Paradise because it is a support of everything else that Paradise is.
Effects of Paradise and Attention
Paradise has an effect on you.
It makes you feel relaxed and renewed, itís a place where you can
forget everything for a while. Itís like an oasis in the desert. The two
things that make up the most part of this effect are the walls and what is
The walls make you feel separated from your usual way of life, like
you are in a whole different place, where you do things and think of
things differently. The walls focus your attention on where you are.
This effect can be understood through what William James wrote
about attention. James says that there are two kinds of attention;
involuntary attention, and voluntary, or directed attention.
Involuntary attention is the kind of attention that just happens.
The kinds of things you notice are things that grab you. Loud noises,
colorful things, or as James says, "strange things, moving things,
wild animals, bright things, pretty things, metallic thingsÖ" This
kind of attention takes no effort on your part, it is a reaction to your
Directed attention on the other hand, is you trying to focus only
on the thing of your choosing. You do this when you are doing a project at
work, or thinking about something intently, or trying to write. According
to James, directing your attention is not a strengthening of focus on what
you are trying to do, but is you trying to not notice all of the things
that try to grab your attention. This blocking of involuntary attention
exciters takes a lot of mental energy, and it is an overuse of your
directed attention that leads to mental fatigue.
Being mentally fatigued can make a person irritable, more likely to
make mistakes, and less able to keep their concentration. Luckily, along
with his outline of mental fatigue and its cause, James wrote about a
cure. To cure mental fatigue,
you must rest your directed attention, which is best done in a place which
is away from all that might induce its use.
With the walls of an enclosed garden, you have two places, inside
and outside. Outside is where you experience your mental fatigue. Inside,
is the place you go to relax. The walls block your view of your usual
doings. You canít see any reminders of the stress, of things you need to
get done, or things that might induce you to direct your attention. What
you do see is what is inside, most of which should be things that appeal
to your involuntary attention. So as long as you arenít bringing all of
your troubles in with you, you will find relief from them, and restoration
in the involuntary attention that the garden incites.
Effect and the Arrangement of Physical Things
What excites the involuntary attention are the elements of the
garden within the walls. Vegetation and other things in nature provoke
your involuntary attention. (R. Kaplan, S. Kaplan, 1989) Though the
vegetation is likely to stimulate your involuntary attention, its
arrangement, or design, influences the overall effect
The design of the place is how the vegetation is organized, what
paths there may be, and the placement of other non-vegetative elements in
the garden. The effect of the design is that the scene is pleasing. It is
interesting without being bizarre, and makes you want to stay there and
Designers have followed certain principles involving balance,
contrast, continuity, and texture because following these principles
produces a design which is very likely to have the desired effect, such as
the one described above. These things have been put to use for hundreds of
years, and recently, through research, it has been found that the
particular aspects in landscapes, that are analogous to design principles
already in use, have predictable effects.
These factors are well represented in design theory, and are a way
of understanding the intuitions that led to the formation of the design
Regarding what physical attributes contribute to the effect of a place, the Kaplans generated, from many studies about preference for place, a Preference Matrix, made up of four factors, divided into two sets, which, if balanced in a scene, can predict that there is likely to be a general preference for the particular scene. The Preference Matrix looks like this:
The factors on the two dimensional plane (coherence
and complexity) involve the direct perception of the elements in the scene
in terms of how many there are, how they are grouped, and where they are
placed. The two dimensional label classes these factors as things
that have no depth. It is something like looking at a picture; these are
things to which you simply react. They
are there, and you perceive. Thatís
it. The factors on the three
dimensional plane (legibility and mystery) involve the implication of what
being in the space would entail. (The three dimensional label refers to
the added dimension of prediction. This
is doing more than just taking stock of what is there, these things have
to do with imagination, thinking about what might happen there, or what
might be there for you to find in the place that you canít see now, but
might be able to get to.
The four factors are defined as follows:
Coherence: A coherent setting is orderly; you can easily discern a
few distinct areas. These make it easier to make sense of a place.
Complexity: A complex setting has many different components to
consider, it appears intricate. The greater variety in such landscapes
would encourage exploration.
Legibility: A legible setting is distinctive. It has landmarks that
help with orientation as you move into or through the garden and make
way-finding more straightforward.
Mystery: A mysterious setting is one which holds a promise that one
can find out more about it after further exploration. This makes
exploration more alluring.
All of these factors are different aspects you see in the
A place that abounds in one of these factors, but is lacking in
others is less likely to be desirable. It is the balance of all of these
factors together that makes a preferred place.
If you think of a place that is dominated by Coherence, for
example, it will be a flat landscape without many different components.
The like things will all be grouped together in easily identifiable
clumps. It is simple to
comprehend, you can easily see what is there and what isnít.
But would you be very interested in spending a lot of time there?
Probably not. It would be boring. Without
the other factors, there is nothing to sustain your interest.
On the other side of the spectrum we can look at an overly complex
landscape. There will be lots of different things, with no organization,
a riot of shape and color where it is hard to identify anything in
particular. A place that is
both coherent and complex would have the interest and intricacy of
complexity, but it would be organized and identifiable, thanks to the
A good design for a place is important to its restorative effect.
If the previously described factors are not effectively
incorporated into the design, you canít reliably develop the
characteristics that foster restorative effect. R. and S. Kaplan, in connection to their other research
identified these four characteristics that arise in a well designed place
and make it ideally restorative.
Being Away: taking a
break from your usual routine.
Extent: the sense that where you are is a universe in itself, that
it is separate from other things.
Fascination: things that catch your involuntary attention, but are
connected to things you know and are interested in, therefore holding your
interest, and fostering the kind of attention the Kaplans call ďsoft
focusĒ. ďSoft focusĒ is when your attention is held by a
particular involuntary attention grabbing thing.
Action and compatibility; where the place is compatible with your
desired action, i.e. mountains and snow if you want to ski, paths if you
want to hike, benches if you want to sit, etc.
The restorative effect is directly linked to these things and to
the length of time spent in a place. The more time spent, and the more
restorative a place, the greater the difference in effect.
The restorative effect has been described as having four levels,
all defined by R. & S. Kaplan. The first level is the "clearing
the head" effect. Itís a clearing of all the little bits and pieces
left over from things youíve been doing, allowing them to run their
course and fall away. The second level is to permit the recovery of
directed attention. In the third, one faces all of the cognitive residue that
needs attending, facing and thinking about things that have been on your
mind that usually have gone unheard. The fourth level, a very deeply
restorative experience, is likely to include reflections on oneís life,
on oneís priorities and possibilities, on oneís actions and oneís
Relating to a Place
So far, I have discussed things which have a place in any walled
garden. They are important to Paradise, but these are not the things which
set Paradise apart. It is the third aspect, relation, which gives Paradise
Relation is you adding a new dimension to your experience of the
place. It isnít an action in the sense of directing your attention, but
it is using the place to be closer to things that are important to you or
the way you live your life.
What you relate to are reminders. The same way the walls keep out
the reminders of our mental fatigue, assigning Paradise this meaning is a
way of reminding yourself of what is important to you.
These things you are reminded of in Paradise, are not little
things, these are things on which your lifeís foundation is laid.
Not jobs, or belongings, but beliefs, aspirations, or things that
are fundamental to your life.
There are two ways of relating to a place. You can relate to
something else through it, or to the place directly.
When relating to something through Paradise, the place is a
representation of something else. Paradise is a stepping stone between you
and the other thing. An example is found in the hortus conclusus, a
popular garden in the Medieval Age. The hortus conclusus was a
Paradise garden representative of the Virgin Mary. Everything inside it
represented one of her features or her virtues. By being in the hortus
conclusus you are connected to the Virgin Mary.
When you relate directly to a place, in-betweens are not necessary.
You directly relate to a place when what you are connecting to is in the
place, or in one of the aspects of it. This doesnít mean that there are
no outside connections. The difference between connection through and
connection to, is that when you are connecting through, the focus is on
the connection, and when connecting to, the focus is on the thing that is
there. An example of
"connecting to" is a person connecting to a type of design, such
as if you connect to Japanese gardens because your Japanese heritage is
important to you. The heritage is something outside, but the design of the
garden is the focus, it is what is there.
The assignations are things that essentially grow from something
that is in the place that already resonates with you somehow, even if you
donít know why. People go
places and "like the feel" of them. They canít necessarily
verbalize what it is that they like so particularly about a place, but it
makes them like it better anyway.
It is through noticing, exploring, and then developing the existing
resonant quality that you begin to relate to a place.
It is not through the conscious application of the directed
attention that resonance develops. Using
your directed attention to develop the resonance into something more
wonít work. Your directed attention is supposed to be being restored, so
you canít encourage the connections by exhausting it further.
Allowing your involuntary attention to be drawn in, allows for
associations to be made between what is seen and what is fundamental to
your being, so that even the process of developing resonance is, overall,
a restorative experience.
For the connections to be made and at the same time to reach a deep
level of restoration in the place, you need to know what to connect to.
You do have to be aware of the kinds of things that are integral to
The knowing is important, because although one can be affected by
resonance, there is a danger of losing the motivation of the effect when
you donít know what it is.
"Ö To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is
as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you
let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as
"So long as Mistress Maryís mind was full of disagreeable
thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her
determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a
yellow-faced, sickly, bored and wretched child. Circumstances, however,
were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began
to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself
with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer
crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with
springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with
a moor boy and his "creatures," there was no room left for the
disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made
her yellow and tired."
"So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only
of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him
and reflected hourly on humps and early death, he was a hysterical
half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the
spring and also did not know that he could get well and could stand upon
his feet if he tried to do it. When new beautiful thoughts began to push
out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran
healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like a flood. His
scientific experiment was quite practical and simple and there was nothing
weird about it at all. Much more surprising things can happen to any one
who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just
has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an
agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one
"Where you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow."
Excerpt from "The Secret Garden" By Frances
Mary and Colin were both profoundly affected by the garden.
Their lives were drastically changed, but will they be able to
sustain that? What of the
ďtendingĒ of the rose? If
itís just something that resonates, they might lose it. If they realized the embodiment of life and living in their
interactions with the garden, then they would be able to be consciously
affirmed in their living every time they entered. It is in realizing the things that resonate in the place and
are integral to your being, that you make that connection between the
thing and the place.
Knowing what you relate to is not the whole activity of relating.
Once you know what you relate to, you need to practice it.
The action is something that is practiced from the beginning, at
least in the sense that you practice leaving your worries at the door, and
practice not directing your attention.
You spend time there, relaxing and being restored.
As it becomes a habit, it comes with less effort.
Itís easier to leave badness behind.
Itís easier to relax and let your mind wander. When you have this, and the understanding of what you are
connecting to, the connection is incorporated into the restorative
experience and you relate to the place.
Once outside of the restoring place you will be better able to stay
connected to these important things.
Paradise is a place enclosed, to focus one on what is inside and to
help keep other things out. What
is inside excites involuntary attention for general restoration.
As you are restored you are reminded of the thing which Paradise
represents, and are renewed in belief or aspiration to return to the
outside world. Every other aspect intensifies this central idea of
renewal. The place, the
effect, resonance, and relation work together to support and renew you in
a fundamental way.
Islamic water gardens, Moroccan gardens, cloister gardens, and the hortus
conclusus all follow the pattern of representation or manifestation of
ideals and beliefs. It is this which gives Paradise its power and
Even now, though contemporary definition has freed Paradise from
itís walls, Paradise is an ideal. Paradise
is the best and most desired, embodied in a place, where itís all you
have to see.