Oh reluctant travellers
Tho’ you shy many times from the path,
It is only through the fiery gateway of your own suffering
That you can reach the garden of peace.
I’ve been hearing people saying lately that Spring has arrived, as if it is a date on the calendar. Well, actually in New Zealand we do describe September 1 as the first day of Spring. Herein lies the truth, it’s the beginning of the process of unfolding and releasing the new emergent energy; it happens slowly, one day at a time. In order to notice the changes I am daily in communion with the parts of my garden that express ‘Springness’. I check the plum blossom and the foliage buds on my oak trees. In my vege garden I check the temperature of the soil. It’s still too wet and cold to plant Spring veges. I know this because my brassicas look so fine; they’re loudly expressing that Winter hasn’t fully released its grip. Which is ok too; greens are good for us & we need to eat plenty – or so I tell myself when I experience resistance to the idea. Fortunately as I stand surveying their healthy vitality I’m nourished by the beauty & elegance of the red cabbages and radicchio. Food for the soul is every bit as important. This radiant show helps remind me that the slow letting go of Winter into the quickening of Spring is inevitable and soon a different kind of expression will take the place of my gloriously ruffled radicchio. Even as I write the first plum blossoms are welcoming bees as they feverishly collect pollen to keep the hives healthy in preparation for a new seasons honey making. So much promise yet to be fulfilled.
Now that we’ve had some sunny days I’ve been seduced out into the garden to feel the warm sun on my skin and seek for signs of Spring. Sure enough, there they were, tiny white bumps of blossom just about to burst forth; the scent of grape hyacinths, so big considering the tiny bells it emanated from and the distinctive call of the quail as the return to their summer home. Sometimes when I’m out in the garden the smallest things capture my attention. As I wandered around the vege patch taking account of all the work needed to prepare for Spring planting I spotted the happiest Prunella vulgaris I’ve ever seen. It makes sense really; it was growing in a warm, moist spot which would have been exactly what it preferred; how wise of it! Normally when I see these flowers I’m instantly motivated to pull up the plants straight away; in my garden they’re a weed. This one though, I had to leave exactly where it was – I felt such a sense of pleasure from its abundant growth. It warmed me on the inside and made me smile – how clever to win me over with its show of vigour and enthusiasm – I couldn’t resist taking a photo!
Since then I’ve been back in the garden sowing seeds and watching the bees busy collecting pollen from my profusely blooming Eriostemon. Each time I find myself thinking about that cheeky Prunella. Then, this morning I remembered its common name, ‘Self-Heal’ and immediately began to laugh. I’d been speaking to a friend who’d been sharing her troubles and need for healing. Now I know I‘ll have to send her the photo I took so she’ll be reminded where to start.
My exhaustion is reflected in the exhaustion and desiccation of my garden. No rain means no reviving. Our spirits are dried out and desperate for renewal. I’ve been watching the horizon intently for signs of Autumn’s approach. I’ve even Autumn-cleaned my house. All in readiness for the long-awaited arrival whose accompanying entourage will embellish the garden with shades of red, gold and orange. Plump raindrops will freshen grass, late seasons fruit will swell and sweeten. Harvest will be upon us and we will revel in its abundance; only let it be soon….
Well, it’s not much, dear friends, but we have had rain! Long enough and slow enough to sink in and do some good. Everywhere the garden is reviving; new shoots show themselves, the last flushes of flowers bloom. The weather is still warm, a gentle heat the harbinger of Autumn – a warmth that encourages me out into the garden again. Unlike the Northern Hemisphere where gardens are left to ‘over-winter’ because the ground is too cold and hard, here my garden must ‘over-summer’. Dry earth is hard too and cultivation leads to desiccation. As well, the gardener is fanning herself in the shade of the grape-covered pergola so no chance of work from her! This is my time out, my siesta of contemplation and creativity – plans for reinvigouration unfold. Then, as the harshness of the sun declines out I go, like the Monarch breaking free from the chrysalis, into a new relationship with my garden. As I wandered around today reacquainting myself with old friends I noticed two bees drinking from the bird bath. In greeting them they expressed deep gratitude for the rain; a hardworking bee needs constant availability of shallow water and this had been hard to sustain. There is a feeling of newness and possibility alive in the garden; a freshness which speaks of unlimited possibilities. This is my favourite time of the year and I can feel a childlike excitement building as though after too long a confinement. No more stultifying humidity, no more total immersion in sunscreen, so much more freedom. In unison, my soul and the garden sigh with relief!
A couple of posts ago I wrote about being all out to sea; adrift on the vast blueness that symbolises the infinite. Although I felt rudderless I was being steered by the gentle but firm hand of God. Most recently I have been on retreat learning about the subtle and magnificent teaching in the 14th century treatise The Cloud of Unknowing. Our very able teacher Cynthia Bourgeault has inspired me with her deep understanding of the writer’s perspective and has made available with great clarity the gift within the writing. It seems as though all my previous experiences have culminated in this deep understanding of what is now necessary. I see my life including all my actions and inactions totally differently. I’m experiencing a sense of greater freedom already and I am as yet to penetrate the cloud. The horizon is rich with promise. I now fully understand the yearning that has been urging me on for some time. Add to this the joy of daily swims when the wind and water turn from cold to warm magically upon submerging your body. The waka shaped roof of the chapel and its attendant Norfolk pines pointing heavenward like fingers pointing to the moon. All this held in the gentle embrace of silence. And so I come at last to land; no doubt I will bide here for a time before the gentle but firm hand of God moves me on.
This Christmas I received many gifts. None came wrapped in pretty paper with large bows. I actually thought Christmas was passing me by to begin with. Whilst everyone round me experienced the joys of family and free time I journeyed to the underworld and like Persephone I resisted frantically. It took a couple of weeks to uncurl from my foetal ball and realise that the end of the world hadn’t come. Finally as my nervous system relaxed and my perspective shifted I no longer regretted eating those three pomegranate seeds. Pluto’s underworld is, of course, full of riches. If only we can sit with our terror long enough to calm we will receive them. And that is what I did. So many silver linings to this cloud. A doctor who was locuming at my local practise who had a strong Integral faith attended to the healing of body and soul. My beloved husband who took care of me and all the challenges of home and visitors. My friends who gave up time with their families and their own time off to sit with me. My surgeon and my support team who accompanied me. My mum who put aside her own fear of rejection to bring me close when things were darkest. The calming peace of my garden where I grounded my inner disturbance. All these gifts have led to a further opening of my heart as i allowed myself to receive and receive. Never have three pomegranate seeds been such a rich harvest. My lesson? Well, that the very thing I think will destroy me makes me anew. I was as equally grateful for the gifts as I am for the suffering. In the garden of my soul many weeds have been pulled and flowers are flourishing, especially the pomegranate.
Dr Sharon Blackie: writer, psychologist, mythologist
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