Thursday, August 27, 2009

Three Ways to Grow

So the question is this: do we grow strongly and independently toward the light like the sunflower? or, do we lean into the darkness to get support from anything we come into contact with, like the ivy?

The sunflower, Helianthus annuus: its stem is stout and strong because it has to support itself. It bears a large flower that has a lot of fast growing to do and insects to warm and feed.

A vine is slender and graceful (think of the annual sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus). It has an entirely different orientation. It grows its leaves and flowers out in the sun, where flying insects are made at home, but deep underneath it sends out shoots and tendrils to attach it to anything it can reach in order to remain upright.

I'm sure the metaphor here is obvious, but I'll say it outright anyway.

It's unwise to judge the stem of a sunflower by comparing its appearance to that of a vine. One is not right; one is not wrong. One is not beautiful; one is not ugly. They are different manifestations of what is possible in the plant world, different answers to the same questions regarding propagation, nutrition, security. They grow under different conditions.

There are times in my life when I am like a sunflower. My strength flows, I feel the radiance I project, and I am strong in my sense of purpose and my role here in this life. Connection to the transcendent spirit that rolls through all living things pulses through me. God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world, as my mother said on many a fine summer evening, quoting Robert Browning.

There are other times when that strength slips away. I am more like the sweet pea: I don't mean to pull the life out of anyone else the way an ivy, given enough time, can strangle even the strongest tree. However, when I'm knocked off my feet, I need support: I will lean on someone or something else until I once again feel my own independent orientation to the morning light and can stand on my own again.

And then there are the darkest times when my strength has gone underground. I won't--can't?--lean on anyone. Circumstances have changed too much, and the connection is ruptured; new questions have arisen that I can barely articulate, much less expect someone else to understand. Such confusion can overwhelm me, and I will hide until I can re-emerge into the light with some sense of direction.

We are constantly charged with maintaining a course that we can seldom accurately anticipate. It serves us well to be flexible, and adapt to each new reality as we face it. Breathe in and breathe out, moment to moment: peel back the illusions of what you thought about something or what you hoped or how it used to be. Face the day. Every day. Every moment. Buddhists call this mindfulness.

I call it sanity. It is the way to receptivity, which is the only state in which the divine can enter into your life and re-animate you. Its gift is quiet hopefulness that leads to discernment.

Right now in your garden there are plants like the sunflower that seek the sun with no illusions of doing anything else. They're sunflowers, and this is what sunflowers do. There are also plants whose furtive and tentative reaching out for support is hidden by a lush display of leaves and tumbling blossoms. And then there are the plants still in the pots from the nursery that you somehow never got around to planting last spring. They don't look their best off in the corner by the planting shed, no longer in bloom with a few broken stems, lined up as if waiting for the bus to recycle-land.

How many times have you gone out looking around in the garden on a wet day in early spring and discovered that your dead plants in this discard pile are sprouting new growth? And the growth is at all angles, because the pots were heaped in a lopsided fashion for a disorderly demise? The urge to survive has transcended all the constraints you tried to enforce on them through your neglect.We contain all of these proclivities: we are created beings and we are not perfect, yet we are capable of remounting ourselves with great success if we go inward and rely on our connection to all of creation to get us through. There are seasons in the garden, remember. We can't expect the hydrangeas to bloom or the sunflowers to germinate in December, at least not here in the Pacific Northwest.

Photography: A Macro Photo of a Cluster of Sweet Peas, Giligone, August 31, 2008, Wikipedia; Vine Climbing on a Fixed Steel Ladder, Menazu-tron, 12 July 2009, Wikipedia; Flowerpot, Lombroso, 20 August 2006, Wikipedia. All are in the public domain.

No comments:

Post a Comment