Jacqui Lewis is a writer, educator, speaker and co-founder of The Broad Place, a globally focused school sharing ancient knowledge and modern neuroscience, tools and experiences for mindful living. She's also an enthusiastic gardener, living on acreage in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
1. How do you connect with nature in your day-to-day?
I am truly fortunate as we live on an acre surrounded by rainforest and bush, with a huge edible garden and citrus grove, right on a creek filled with ducks and kookaburras! So my connection to nature is a daily practice. Whether it’s watching the sunrise, a coffee in hand with my husband, or tending to the garden, or just heading down to my tea hut barefoot, where I meditate, practice tea and work – nature is a huge part of my daily life. We are close to the ocean, and I grew up on the ocean, so it’s also a huge part of my connection – whether swimming in the waves, stand up paddling on the river, or watching the whales and dolphins, it fills my heart.
2. What does gardening mean to you, as a practice?
I have to be honest here, at the moment I am still learning what it really means to tend to an acre. We have incredible friends, and one of my favourites is our neighbour, Rip, who seems to know everything there is about gardening and helps us out all the time. He has taught me how to taste the soil for acidity, and understand the absolute importance of compost and worms. So as a practice, it’s been about humility, getting it wrong often, and surrendering to the absolute need for asking for help. Planting ‘a few tiny pumpkin seedlings’ in the middle of a vegetable patch is not a mistake I will make again! Nor will I avoid very heavily pruning the fruit trees. As a practice it’s also about curiosity, learning, and enjoying all the small wins. And going with the losses. Our peaches, guavas and lychees are decimated by fruit bats and lots of eager and determined bush rats and birds. Knowing they are enjoying it has become more important to me than fussing with tiny nets and throwing my hands up in frustration.
3. Are you often inspired by other people’s gardens? And if so, can you tell us a little about them?
Hahaha yes! I am now that creep who wanders neighbourhoods checking out everything, and where I used to invest in designer dresses, I now exclaim out loud about the cost of sheds and get shed and fence envy, and learn about syntropics. Where I live in the Northern Rivers, being self sustainable is a huge thing, so there’s no shortage of people to look to for amazing gardens. My crème de la crème garden, though I haven’t visited, is Jeong Kwan’s garden that you can see in Chef’s Table Season Three Episode One. Her approach to growing, and cooking, and being at one with nature is one of my key pieces of inspiration. Alongside Nigel Slaters utter reverence for his garden. When we lived in London, peeking into people’s gardens strewn with edibles and wild flowers in the most haphazard way delighted me no end. And I miss cooking with wild garlic that grew everywhere!
4. What plants would we find in your home, if we took a peek?
Different types of spinach, lots of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, snow peas, pumpkins, zucchini. Tulsi, all sorts of herbs including shiso, which I adore. Lychee, navel orange, an absolutely enormous mulberry tree, lots of passionfruit vines. And we just planted more paw paw, dragon fruit, and mini watermelon vines and pumpkin vines.
5. What feelings do beautiful gardens evoke for you?
Serenity, awe, and a connection to nature.
6. What’s the best piece of life advice that someone has ever given you, and who gave it to you?
This too shall pass. It’s an old Persian saying that I have been told by so many of my teachers, and I pass onto so many of our students. The grief, the challenge, the devastation will pass. So will the happiness, steadiness, and moments of feeling like everything is in balance. Everything passes, and we don’t cling to any of it.
7. What’s the best piece of advice you could pass on to a younger you?
Slow it down. It’s not a race to the grave. And hang in there, you have a stunningly inspiring and beautiful life lying in wait for you.
8. Who is your creative guiding force?
Hands down my remarkable husband, Arran Russell. He is a creative director, he is a fashion designer who won GQ Designer of the Year, he is an artist, and my ultimate collaborator. It’s not just creative projects per se that he inspires me on, but his willingness to explore all aspects of our life in different ways. He is brave, humble, intelligent and curious about everything. I cannot fathom life without his creativity, kindness and love.
9. Is there anything you still want to learn in life?
I feel like for me this is a joke question as I am such a thirsty learner! I want to continue my studies of Taoism, Zen, Vedanta, tai chi, martial arts, yoga, neuroscience and psychology as well as learn Japanese, Spanish, and languages.
10. If you could snap your fingers and change three things right now – what would they be?
More balanced, grounded nervous systems for all humans. More humility, kindness and compassion for all humans. More acceptance and understanding of death, so that it wasn’t as terrifying for so many and was an invitation to live with more presence daily. Then I think we could all deal with whatever the global political scene, climate and our daily life threw at us.
11. What does it feels like to meditate outside, in nature?
In all honestly I don’t love meditating outside. Everyone thinks it will be profound, but I meditate mostly with back support, and a tree is not comfortable. And then there’s the ants flies and and rustling in the leaves to deal with. So I meditate inside most of the time! Sorry, probably not the answer any one was looking for!
12. People often find gardening meditative; what are the similarities between gardening and meditation?
Gardening is meditative in that it is frustrating, awe inspiring, and brings us into presence, similar to meditation but also different in that meditation is seated, eyes closed and has no action but brings about an intimacy with ourselves, rinses our body of stress, tension and fatigue and brings us into presence. And it has an accumulative effect. Most people get confused between meditative experiences and actual meditation.
13. What’s something that has brought you joy, lately?
Our senior rescue dog Princess. She’s a terrier X and is the happiest chunkiest little old lady. She’s very nervous and timid, but also does the funniest zoomies, wants to be constantly close and is adorable and very in her heart.
14. What can people do to feel more present?
Meditation on the daily is the best route. Slowing our lives down, not rushing, feeling into our bodies, not ignoring our emotions and being kind towards ourselves also helps.
15. How has meditation changed you or your life?
Meditation has changed my life for the better in SO many ways. I honestly don’t know who I would be without it, but likely a mess. I’m wired pretty tight, have a tendency to be a perfectionist, overwork and overthink. Meditation has helped me be more kinder to myself, others, brought me into wisdom, compassion, and helped expand my creativity in so many aspects of my life. I adore it deeply and have seen the transformation over 25 years. I also want to mention that DOES NOT mean I look forward to it every day! I still have to drag myself often into the chair to meditate. And after each meditation I think, I am so glad I did that! But it’s not this seamless floaty easy thing I just do. The outcomes happen regardless of this though.
GARDEN LIFE. PLANT JOY.