Friday, January 2, 2015

Life as a Garden


Love is the magician, the enchanter, that changes worthless things to joy and makes right royal kings and queens of common clay.  It is the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart, and without that sacred passion, we are less than beasts; but with it, earth is heaven and we are gods.” –Robert Green Ingersoll

It is the second day of 2015 and I am sparkling from within as I become acquainted with the intentions of my heart.  There is an entire beautiful, flowering world just waiting to meet me.  I can’t wait.

I feel fed by my optimism.  It is an optimism rooted in my observations of nature.  As the new year approached, I began to take stock of my life and inquire about what I wanted to see unfolding for myself.  I felt torn between two approaches.  (This blog will spend a lot of time looking at paradox, or twos.  The whole world is a dance of opposites.  Fusing the paradox requires compassion, wisdom, and humor.)

As I sat down to envision, I found myself going to two common approaches towards my life.  Neither one was giving me the inner "YES!" I was looking for.

The first approach I tried on was the approach of self-improvement.  This approach has a can-do attitude.  I've used it and it can be powerful.  This approach is all about goal-setting, accomplishment, effort, sweat, bigger, and faster.  It's about having a clear list of things which you can easily check off.  The trouble with this approach is that it can be exhausting.  Sometimes we put so much effort into our goals that when we finally achieve them, we are find ourselves depleted, drained, and in dire need of a vacation.  Another trouble with being in a self-improvement relationship with our life is that our inner-critics can take center stage.  We then spend our waking moments focused on fixing “what’s wrong with me.”  This can definitely be a soul-crusher and can quickly drain precious energy from us.  It can also silence some of the more subtle, yet profound, desires within us.  A lot of resolution-setting centers around self-improvement.  "Be Your Best Self" fit, tanned model after fit, blonde model tells me behind the photo-shopped improve-your-life packages sold online. (More about that in a coming post).  No thanks, exhaustion and self-criticism.  I've had enough.

The second relationship that we commonly form with our lives is one of defeat.  Whereas self improvement takes a "I am in control," a relationship of defeat says, "I have no power whatsoever.  I might be dying."  We find ourselves so beaten down by the daily onslaught that we forget to dream.  We can't voice our hopes, not because we don't have them, but because they've been systematically choked out of us.  This attitude is not so much one of gracious surrender, but of being slowly broken down until we no longer have a will, or any joy for that matter.  I have a lot of experience with this relationship as well.  It has value.  Being slowly killed by life (yes, I see the irony of that statement) has helped me learn to be more compassionate to others.  It has taught me the virtue and alchemy of acceptance.  It has made me reach outside of myself for help.  But it’s not a great place for envisioning.  It doesn't exactly inspire imagination or creativity.  And, felt often enough for long enough, it robs us of our vitality.  I’m thinking about the last day of the school year when the last kid leaves and summer begins and all I want to do is curl up in a heap and die.  This attitude is not so much about letting go, but of giving up.  Who wants to give up?  Who wants to die and have their funeral speech be "well, she sure knew how to give up."  No thanks, defeat.  I'd rather live.

So what's a girl to do?  I had played along with these two approaches and knew that neither one felt right for calling in the life I want to be living.  And then I stumbled upon the approach, the metaphor, that felt just right.  Suddenly I saw that my life is a garden.  I’m not entirely responsible for what grows, (basil just doesn’t do well in a high-altitude desert) but I CAN cultivate some perennial favorites.  I can plant a variety of seeds.  I can find out which ones do well and which ones not to plant again.  I can become acquainted with invasive species and weeds.  I can do my best to make sure the invasive species of my life (stress, work, worry, lists, and bills) don’t choke out the more beautiful, flowering plants that I love.  I can discover the very best fertilizers for the plants I want to grow.  (Some of my favorite fertilizers are conversation, movement, writing, cooking, eating, and laughter.)

I can’t grow ANYTHING in my garden.  But I can grow a helluva lot.  I can do my best not to be disappointed when some long-hoped-for seeds don’t grow.  And I can be pleasantly surprised when long-forgotten seeds do sprout.  I can learn as much as possible about the climate of my life- my environment, local weather patterns, etc. and try to plant what I know will thrive.

My garden is never going to be completely weed-free.  Weeds are going to show up.  This isn’t negative thinking.  This is nature.  Where do they come from?  I have no idea.  My neighbor’s yard, deeply rooted seeds underground, a burr brought home by my dog after a mountain outing.  I don't need to freak out or despair when I see them.  I can calmly start digging them up from the root.

I love this image.  A garden, for as careful and contained as we try to make it, has an element of the wild in it.  Isn’t that exciting?  As my friend Elizabeth reminds me, “anything you can plan is going to be too small for you.”  This is where relaxation can come in.  We’re not in charge.  We are not the source of life.  We’re just the gardeners.  We're taking care of the garden.  We are not the garden.  And it doesn't require constant effort.  There are days, weeks, or even seasons when we can sit inside and do something entirely different from tending the garden.  We are also the ones who harvest what we sow.  And what is more delicious than a home-cooked meal straight from the garden?

I can picture her now: a girl heading out in the morning to check on her plants.  Blue jeans, colorful plastic boots, hat, and shovel in hand.  Good morning, life!  What are we growing today?

This brings me back to my original statement that I feel an optimism coming with the new year that is rooted in nature.  Nature has her seasons, her inhales and exhales.  She can be brutal and destructive.  But she also sustains life and creates without rival the most beautiful views I've ever seen.  The older I get the more I have come to believe in the goodness of nature, the friendliness of life.  What I used to think was the world collapsing, I now know is a change of seasons.  2015 is the year I am declaring myself a magician, a gardener, an artist.  As I learn how to line up more and more with natural rhythms and cycles, I see my life flowering in ways I never knew before.

I hope you will join me in watering your dreams, planting seeds that will one day grow into a garden, a life that makes you wildly ecstatic.

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