Tending the garden of life & death
If you are a gardener, then you know that spring brings forth many new growth. Some flowers we like and other plants we designate as weeds. I was once told that gardeners decide which plants live and which ones die. This is true as I pull out the excess calendulas in order to make room for the tomatoes.
Ever since I was a young child, gardening has been part of my life. Hence, I have also accepted the dual nature of life and death within its bounds. As I plant anew in the garden this year, I’ve also been working with clients who’ve been touched by death.
Death reminds us of how we live. It can be a gift. Do we choose to plant seeds of fear or love? Do we fertilize anger or harmony? Do we water the connections we have or let them die of thirst? At the end of life, more than likely, the habits we have cultivated in our lifetime will be the easiest to bloom then. The pull of uncertainty may elicit something new or bring up our deepest defense systems as we clutch to our old ways of knowing. Some of us may die with love surrounding us if we are fortunate. Others, not. There is no guarantee of how we will take our last breath on this earth.
If we allow ourselves to be touched by the gifts of death, we may feel the heart broken, its tender opening swelling with sadness. We may gurgle with laughter as we remember endearing moments shared. We may glimpse once again the bright light we first recognized long ago or the absence, leaving only our aching longing within our bosoms. What is a life, but many moments of sharing? In the sharing with another human being or the sharing with an animal or the sharing with a plant or the sharing with the rest of creation, we have an opportunity to share in the adoration of each other. When we truly see, we pay homage to each other. This is the fruit of knowledge, not simply the seeking of it.
In the garden today, someone gave me strawberries and dahlias to plant. Another offered baby Johnny jump ups to border the entrance. I offered advice to someone on how to set up a drip system whilst I consoled another that as a group, we will not all agree at the same time. This garden has seen many friends push wheelbarrows of manure, soil and wood chips. There have been calloused hands, sore backs and sweet tiredness at the end of a work day. This garden is a labor of love. I have seen so many strangers passed by, lit up by the beauty of life they see and feel here.
Oh, if we were only to look at each other as we look at flowers – with delight, with wonder, with awe… What would it be like for you to look at yourself with delight and cherishment? What would it feel to tend those places in you that are young saplings? In my garden, when there is a fragile plant, I place big stakes around to protect it from being stepped on accidentally. I water it gently and speak with kind, encouraging words welcoming it. I appreciate the plant verbally in joining me here. As it grows, I thank it continually for bringing joy to my life. How many of us do that with each other?
Once I lived in a bad neighborhood in the city. I set up big pots outside the sidewalk and planted flowers there. The next day, all the plants were uprooted, withering. I couldn’t understand how anyone could do that. Then it dawned on me that sometimes it is too painful to see a plant getting so much care when the person isn’t being tended to in a similar way. We all want and need to be tended.
In my professional work, I spend much time in teaching about self-care to my clients. When we don’t think there is value in self, caring for self is harder to come by. For some, it doesn’t compute somehow that one is precious and of value. That means one is expensive (yes people are expensive and valuable) and worth spending on (resources of time, quality, occupying space). We pay more attention and care and know its value. When one is precious, one is treated dearly. We look at the ways of contraction, but more importantly we experience expansion together. It is important for humans to be witnessed in their expansion. When I witness another person truly breathing (feeling safe and relaxed enough to take up his/her space), I am witnessing his/her life-force, his/her life principle.
How do you spend your energy, your resources, your thoughts and actions? We trudge through life mostly playing the same old records of our beliefs. We seek others to give us what we desperately long for, yet unclear that it is us who need to do those for ourselves. Our souls are gardens. Our hearts are flowers. They need to be watered, tended, fertilized and acknowledged. Don’t wait until you or someone you know is dying to know this. Happy gardening to you!
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