Last week, John Briere was in town giving a lecture on Mindfulness & Trauma. He was quite entertaining, insightful, and very well-versed in the pain of trauma. I appreciated his transparency in talking about his own trauma – just enough for us to know he’d walked the talk for many miles but not so much that he became a caricature of “heal thyself.”
At one point he challenged the now-trite phrase “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” I won’t go into all of his argument on whether suffering is truly optional. Suffice to say he made irrefutable points backed with solid data. It did however remind me that I prefer to say, “Pain is inevitable; suffering offers options.” I shared this with Briere at one of the breaks and we discussed the paradox of pain – that without pain we may not know our true suffering; without suffering we cannot know our true nature. And that perhaps, our practice of sitting with that suffering burns way the multiple layers of assumptions and false logic we are heir to.
There were also parts of his talk that affected me deeply and so I sat with it over the days that followed. I noticed that the suffering I felt gave me options large and small. I had the option to tuck back into my autopilot ways of facing pain. I had the option to turn towards it tentatively, ever ready to duck back under the covers of my favourite delusion, numbness. I had the option to face it head on, engage it fully, and burn away the protective shell of stories in one firestorm. I had the option to dance with it.
What was not an option however was the knowledge of being in pain. We often hear that pain is the body/mind’s way of saying it needs something, that it is trying to adapt to a shift in demands and resources. I wonder now if suffering is the body/mind’s way of saying we need to look closer to what is going on, to locate what is awry, and meet it with compassion.
There’s a purposeful blindness that centers our perception. I went out into the garden that hugs the south side of the house. It tends to be a haven for butterflies, moths, and assorted flying bugs and beetles. Thankfully, the ravenous Japanese beetles have gone after decimating my lily collection over several years.
I go out with my camera into the adolescent growth which sways with a gangly awkwardness as I wade through it. Usually this is enough to send most winged beings flying for safer havens. But that’s only been my perception. Going over several pictures, I was amazed to find little bugs and beetles, ants and bees tucked away in the recesses of petals and leaves.
The first few shots of this bee balm caught the blossom and my little green friend didn’t appear to me until I stepped into the shadows and enlarged the shot. He (she?) must have been having a kindness practice day because when I turned back, he was still there, ready to pose in several more angles. He walked daintily across the petals and paused on the crest of the flower. It reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings; to walk on the earth as we would on lotus petals without crushing them.
It amazed me that he stayed for so long. Mostly, it amazed me that I had not seen him in the viewfinder the first time. And yet, it might have been a good thing because in the excitement of seeing that luminous green against the mouth-watering red, I might have become obsessed with getting the perfect picture and forgotten to be surprised by his tender relationship with the blossom.
Sometimes when we see everything, we miss what is important to truly see.
There is something about persisting. Last Spring the vegetable garden looked beyond salvation. But we persisted because we knew somewhere in the thicket of stinging nettles and various noxious growth lay our good intentions for eating loca-mindfully. Notice that I didn’t call the rampant flora “weeds.” I’m finding it harder and harder these days to use words that betray my blindness and my preferences. Keeping the ever-spinning wheel of dependent arising in mind, how can I label something as not belonging when it has simply moved into the space I created by moving out.
Still, there were boxes that leaned more towards the nomadic type of plant life. So this Spring we decided to let the two Western-most containers house various grasses and the occasional volunteer squash vine while we reclaimed – yet again – the others for tomatoes, lettuce, chard, chili peppers, and (something new!) eggplant. It was an easy negotiation – much easier than the one I tend to have with myself about the boundaries between mental order and chaos. And so far the pact is being honored, even after all the heavy rain and blistering heat which would make the mulch sprout.
I suppose there is little that is beyond salvation if we’re willing to dig deep enough, negotiate wisely enough, and allow enough time and space to focus on the essentials. Most all, there is little that won’t change or rearrange with sufficient persistence. Showing up each season, each day, each moment is all it takes.
Each year I work away at one more hindrance by setting the intention to let it be. Whatever “it” is, I leave it to be what it is going to be. Well, more accurately, I set the intention to leave it to be. What typically happens is that as “it” becomes more and more its own self, my need to cull, cut, contort, and otherwise connive it to be what I want it be asserts itself. And nowhere it that more apparent than in my garden.
I’ve defined a new psychological disorder; if delusions are inexhaustible, so too are shrinkolexical categorizations of the impenetrable. Gardener’s Obsession Circumscribed to Dirt – GOCD. It is diagnosed by an uncontrollable urge to punctuate clusters of flowering plants with spaces of dirt. It can be chronic or acute. Typically, it is a low-level dysfunctionality (sort of like a dysthymia of gardening illusions) but can surge into a full-blown acute case in the months of July and August. The more serious cases are found in August if one has a case of GOCD – vegetative type.
As you know I’ve spent two years away from my garden during its most formative and needy periods of development. This might well give rise to another disorder – some sort of parental neglect of blooming potential or something. Anyway, having left for the wilds of Santa Fe every March and August, I seem to have developed a slight tolerance for letting go of the garden I had planned to have and an acceptance of the one I do have – not unlike being a real parent of a real child. No longer do I yearn (too much) for a neatly established garden with swathes of dark earth or mulch caressing the growth edges of Ox-Eye Daisies, Campanula, Pasque Flowers, Bleeding Hearts, and Bee Balm. I am at one with the Azaleas with their twiggy branches and have left the Nishiki to skirmish with the kiwi vine for canopy space. The Irises seem quite content with the Lupines and the Clematis are holding out against the Sandcherries. Even the dreaded Peonies have re-asserted themselves quietly in the side beds.
This year, with no travel plans on the near or far horizon, I ironically find myself confronting my GOCD full on. Where I thought there would be time to edit the garden beds, I find only time to edit out the unnecessary from the narrative of my lifeline. And the most unnecessary at this moment is the illusion that anything can be picture perfect. So, I am embracing my garden in its gardenness and slumming in the messy delight of its tangled growth. Strangely, that messy English Garden I coveted for so many years seems to have manifested. Perhaps it has only if you tilt your head a smidgen to the right which allows the echinacea to block the view of the weedy grass between the spirea and the honeysuckle. But it is there.
Deeply embedded in the foliage and flowers, it is there.
It’s all in the details. Or maybe not. I was relishing the rich prose of one of my most favoured bloggers, Zen Dot Studio, just after returning from my guerrilla gardening incident on Sunday. It amazes me how a good writer can capture the details in the devilment that is life. You know what I mean: the ability to freeze-frame an experiential moment, to re-frame the quotidian so it shows off the extraordinary in the ordinary, to… oh! Just go read Rowdy Abundance! My words will simply ruin it for you.
Now, I will admit to having been somewhat peeved at this raucous talent that ZDS exudes in every post. Well, not every because I do admit there was one… or was that a half of one… or a third of something about three years back when I was feeling very intimidated by all these bloggers out here? Suffice to say this meeting of like-minded people has an edge which is to show me the height and depth of what talent looks like when cultivated. I don’t always welcome the challenge. Thankfully, ZDS isn’t the only mirror I face every morning as I do a quick run through of my favoured literary pixies (that’s those of us living in our pixelated lives) and I am learning that there may be a possibility we can each attain this quality of careful attention to our lives.
At the same time, facing this call to dive into the details of life can be daunting. It can inflame the smoldering coals of self-pity, whining, whinging, and all other forms of self- assassination. Or it can ignite the embers of creativity, commitment, and change.
What does this have to do with Zen? Nothing. And everything. Life only happens in the details. When we see what is right there in the center of our vision field, life happens extraordinarily. When we don’t, life happens anyway – and we call it ordinary.