Adding tranquility to your zen garden is a matter of raking circular patterns and enjoying the meditative process achieved through creating those patterns. Zen gardens are a place to experience peace and reflection, not vegetation. Traditional dry, landscape gardens, zen gardens may be any size, from a large yard to small enough to fit in a shoebox lid.
What creates the tranquility and calmness in a zen garden is the process of raking the sand, pebbles, gravel or rocks in the garden into circular and other patterns around objects, such as boulders in your large outdoor garden or small polished rocks in your smaller desktop version. The circular pattern may be particularly relaxing as it takes more concentration to rake a circular pattern.
It's not easy to rake a perfect circle. Buddhist priests who tend to traditional zen gardens may spend years perfecting their raking. The goal is not perfection, but rather the process and the journey of learning to focus enough to do so . Just as every gardener is different, in their lives, their skills, their focus and their discipline, so the art of raking is different. That's the point. Each gardener, just as each person, must learn to tend to their own garden so to speak. They must learn how best to hold their own rake or tools in a way that is most comfortable to them. The gardener must also learn through trial and error how to still their mind, silence the chatter and voices in their head that would take them away from the raking, and to focus on the tranquility that stirs during the practice. Each session or time spent raking is different, just as every day, every storm, every trail is different. Learning to focus on the same practice-the same pattern, that of the tranquil circle, eventually teaches the gardener how to recall that focus outside the garden and apply that focus to the problems and situations in their lives.
So the raking is both practice and art. The mental exercise of creating a circular pattern combines meditative focus with the physical act of raking. Thus the tranquility doesn't come from raking a perfect circular pattern. The tranquility comes from being in the moment as you rake. Raking may take a few moments, or long minutes or hours.
The sand, stones or gravel in a Zen garden represent seas, oceans, lakes or streams. Stones and boulders in the sand represent mountains, islands, people or obstacles. Any vegetation, such as moss, represents forest cover.
By raking circular patterns in the sand, the gardener chooses to reflect upon the motion and peace of water and rippling streams. The process of raking is designed to focus the mind and enhance your concentration. Contemplation of the act of raking circular patterns around the stones or rocks creates tranquility by eliminating other thoughts from the gardener's mind.
So how you hold the rake, your pace, your steadiness is all part of the process. Practice and enjoy.