June 9, 2013
“Don’t just do something. Stand there.”
This street wisdom has become encapsulated in an orphan saying separated from its author’s name. I have heard this attributed to Buddha, to Jesus, and several others as well. Whatever its authorship, this idea carries truth that our culture finds difficult to understand, and even more difficult to practice.
I had an experience “standing” this week, and can testify to the value of the experience. Nevertheless, from the outset I must confess that I did NOT find myself in a “standing” space by wise decision. I arrived there by providential accident, the result of the serendipitous collusion of several factors which could be considered irrelevant in themselves.
My body is a year older than it was last spring. Aging, while a complex and significant process, is not a daily compelling interest even to the person who is aware of aging. In retrospect, I understand that the developmental space I occupy contributed to my experience. However, I know that did not cause it.
The weather this spring was capricious and unkind to plants. While weather fascinates me, prairie person that I am, and the power of weather to shape my world sobers me, I think about many other things. And on that planting day, I had thought all I wanted to think about past April snows and freezing temperatures. Nevertheless, these factors too provided significant context.
My decision to develop a “garden” spot on both the front and back patios appeared to be a wise decision regarding the use of limited available space. However, the decision made only small ripples of effect, significant primarily to me and the nurseries whose plants I would purchase and transplant to my small world. The patio decision too provided context not cause.
The setting for my “standing” experience was the essence of unglamorous reality: the lilac bordering the patio was ragged and struggling to recover from the spring freeze. The flats of young plants were ‘second generation’—I had frozen and baked the first seedlings, unintentionally but fatally. Taking my morning meds had momentarily reminded me of the consequences of numerous past birthdays. But that was then. Now was a glorious spring morning and it was time to plant.
The pots in the garage had to be moved around the house to the back patio, along with the potting soil, the compost, and the fertilizer. This could be accomplished only by numerous trips with soil and containers reduced to manageable loads (sized, I’ll admit, according to the principle that the greater the number of birthdays the smaller the load).
This was not the first planting day. The trellis, new and beautiful, supported a newly transplanted trumpet vine, uncertain yet of its anchor to the redwood grid. Moving the hose from its earlier position would require careful attention; the young vine was vulnerable and easily disturbed.
I moved the pots; they are beautiful ceramic but they are heavy. I moved the soil, compost and fertilizer. I repositioned the hose. I carried the flats of seedlings from garage to patio. I mixed the soil and compost.
Spreading the fragile young roots gently, I nested each plant into the rich earth cradle I had prepared for it, and then covered it with nurturing soil. I watered each plant with a careful, easy mist (too much water is as destructive as too little in the early life of plants). Then I hosed off the patio (and my cane), thinking that the bordering lawn and struggling lilac were grateful for the good soil and water they had received as a by-product of both my spills and my clean-up activities.
Then I sat down.
“I am finished,” I thought, and smiled to myself. I certainly was finished, and in more than one way!
Yet in that moment, sitting there, I entered a “standing” place astonishing in its fullness of life.
I was not thinking in the cognitive sense of the word. I was doing nothing. But without volition or language, I became mindful—deeply mindful—of the living space that formed the context of my shared aliveness. There was the sound of bird song, the essential blueness of high sky, the imperceptibly slow drift of white clouds and the movement of the wind in fresh new leaves of trees. Annie lay asleep in a dappled pattern of spring sunlight falling through the trellis on the patio floor. The stillness held such rich silence that it seemed I could hear the tiny green leaves emerging on branches of the lilac that only last week had appeared to be dead, and I could sense the unmerited gift of life in myself. I was alive, carried effortlessly on the warm fragrant ocean of life, a fragment of knowing life in a world in which the trees and birds and my tiny plants and I sang together in the great hymn of creation. Even Annie—sleeping—joined in.
Wanting for you this week a space in which, doing nothing, you know yourself while standing there.
See you next week.