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Ryōan-ji Rock Garden/Free Images UK
An artwork always in progress.
EVERYDAY ILLUMINATION

For a moment of Zen right now, go to the heart of one of the busiest places in one of the world’s busiest cities

By Ephrat Livni

We all know we’re supposed to stop and smell the proverbial roses, to just take a moment to appreciate simple things. But when you’re busy trying to survive it’s easy to forget.

This week, though, New Yorkers rushing to catch their trains will be reminded to slow down by a pop-up rock garden in Grand Central Station. Japan’s national tourism organization is celebrating Japan Week by erecting an appropriately momentary Zen monument in the station from March 8-10, reports Metro.

Zen gardens are traditionally made of gravel, stones, and moss, designed to simulate ocean scenes and stimulate meditation, so there are no literal roses to sniff. Still, the pop-up plot is meant to have a similarly soothing effect on harried travelers, refreshing the eye and spirit.

This type of rock garden is thought by scholars to be inspired by Chinese landscape painting. Zen monks rake the gravel in the shapes of waves, very carefully grooming it, and it becomes a sort of ever-changing painting, an artwork always in progress—just like our lives. The shifting stones of the simulated sea serve as a reminder of the fleeting quality of thought and life itself, while the arrangement’s simplicity and monochrome tones are meant to be aesthetically satisfying.

Visitors to the pop-up garden in Grand Central can watch Japanese gardeners rake and—if they take the time and arrive at select times—join in the raking, which is itself a meditative practice. The garden follows the traditional style, and is made of large stones, moss, and trees surrounded by gravel raked in waves.

Stopping to take a look won’t necessarily lead to enlightenment. But it might. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, illumination can happen in a flash, accidentally, with just a hit on the head or a glance at the moon…or a glimpse at a gravel sea.