My mom and I used to play this little game; every year, she’d give me the rooted cuttings from some of her spectacularly healthy houseplants. Pre-planted, fertilized, perfectly formed. She’d bring them over and I’d be excited about the prospect of beautiful plants filling my porch and the corners of my home – just like my mom did in her home.
And then I’d watch those plants die.
Too much water. Not enough water. Neglected too much, or not enough. Who knows; it just seemed that there was a toxic aura in my house, one that ensured certain death to any living photoautotroph (word of the day, y’all!) that dared enter.
So I’ve had it fixed in my mind for some 30-odd years; I don’t do plants. I’m not good at that. Not my skill set.
But here’s something I have become more and more certain of with every passing year:
A lot of what we believe about who we are is not rooted in truth.
And it’s interesting – sometimes painful – but inherently helpful to spend some time pushing past those assumptions about ourselves. I daresay it’s even necessary.
The use of garden as metaphor has been worked to death. Countless poems; a gazillion blog posts. The creation story. The scriptures are full of cultivation images.
It’s almost too easy; the representation of tilling soil and death to life and rebirth and fruit and vines and all that. I’ve got nothing new to say about that. Who needs another blog post about gardens and growing and process?
Well, I do. Because this is my life, and the twists and turns of the process of embracing fully who I am and my responsibilities in this world become clearer to me when I take the time to contemplate the things that are living and dying in the soil around the place I call home.
It is not true that I am incapable of managing plants – houseplants or any other kind of plants. It’s a false belief I have chosen to hide behind when things died or didn’t go as expected.
And that, my friends, is the metaphor that matters.
I’m reading two incredibly powerful books at the moment: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, and Discovering Our Spiritual Identity by Trevor Hudson. One might say I’m overdoing it in the area of introspection, but I have come to believe what Scazzero uses as the tag line for his book:
It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.
Don’t be offended, but I believe this is true: You are emotionally immature. So am I. Emotional immaturity is the reality for all of creation, I think. All of our life experiences are opportunities for growth; speaking for myself, I see places in my soul that will need healing until the day I die.
Fear of conflict and pain.
Feelings of inadequacy.
Using God as a safety net or insulation.
Refusing to acknowledge my feelings.
We all struggle, and if you say you don’t – well, I’m not judging you, but you’re either super-evolved and I need to spend some time with you, or you’re not being completely honest. In my experience, emotional health is something we humans all wrangle with, regardless of age or circumstance.
So, anyway – back to the plants. Contemplating my own attitude about gardening and growing things, and pushing past the assumptions I’ve carried all of my life; here’s a few things I’m learning as I walk around outside:
With or without your intentions, stuff grows. There’s no such thing as complete control because it’s simply a fact of life: stuff is gonna grow, because that’s the nature of life. You can ignore it, declare Well that’s not my problem – I didn’t put it there!, or get angry because your plans didn’t include six square feet of wild mint, but at some point you have to not only accept reality, but embrace it, quit blaming somebody else, and find a way to work with what you’ve got. (Feel free to run wild with your own metaphor here, about all the things that have happened in your life that were unplanned, unwanted, and unfair.)
There Will Be Interference
Every time I encounter the hostas in the backyard, ravaged by the hunger pains of our friendly local deer population, I mutter angrily under my breath. I grieve over the desolation, the utter destruction of all that was beautiful reduced to blunt, chewed-up stubs. The Japanese beetles – well-known for their voracious appetites – are hard at work, chomping the leaves of our grape vine to bits. These attacks reduce the healthy plants to broken, desecrated shadows of what they once were. But I cannot complain too much; the deer and the bugs are simply doing what comes naturally to their species. They eat what’s in front of them. The natural order of things often includes actions that are for the good of one, while terribly upsetting to me. That’s just the way it is.
Sometimes You Gotta Use Protection
Thinking ahead and utilizing the wisdom and experience – and sometimes a concoction of rotten eggs and garlic powder – can keep things intact. I can accept responsibility and do my best to create boundaries, and that can preserve the status quo. I don’t have to simply accept all that happens to me; it’s possible to act in advance with positive results.
Life Comes From Devastation
Even when new growth has been laid to waste, beautiful things still rise. There is resonant strength when roots are solid; though what’s apparent on the outside is in ruin, beauty still pushes its way to the surface.
Sometimes Things Die
It is the very nature of existence; there is birth, and there is death. At some point, we must relinquish control and accept this truth. And we must confront the pain, the grief, the sorrow and the frustration; we must acknowledge the desperate anger of unfairness and inequity, and make peace with our own pain – even if it is self-inflicted.
Stop And See
It’s easy to stop and look; much harder to stop and truly see. What is in existence around me is often completely independent of anything I have done. The view is spectacular and beautiful simply because it is. I am welcome to move things in and out of the frame, but the bottom line is one I must accept and understand: I am a witness to this life, and if I fail to truly see the panorama of beauty around me, I remain ignorant. I am lessened.
Your Efforts Count
The small things I add to the landscape around me can make a huge difference. My contributions matter, and ultimately I can take responsibility to appreciate the end result. Regardless of whether or not anyone else notices or applauds my input, it is legitimate. It’s enough me to appreciate my own effort and call it good.