In the wee hours every morning this week, I have woken up with these words running through my head: "Maybe the sorrow born inside this moment is the gift we've been waiting for -- just had to own it."
They're lyrics from part of the refrain in a song I love by ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) called "Room for Blooming". The rest goes like this: "In the story of how we grow, become the humans that we always were heading for -- just needed room for blooming."
Blooming. It's been one of the leitmotifs of this past month -- so clearly my internal morning music has been prompting this blog.
Two weeks ago, as my plane was making its final descent into Oakland, California, I saw that the beautiful Northern California rolling hills were carpeted in vibrant green -- and over the course of my visit, I reveled in flowering fruit trees, flouncing California poppies, heavy laden tulip trees, and the glorious lavender wisteria. I smiled for four straight days.
Now everything here in Austin has begun to bloom, too, -- the fragrant purple Texas mountain laurel trees; daffodils, iris and tulips; even the Hill Country's famous wildflowers are popping up. Spring is here.
I adore spring. But having spent 25 years living in Northern New Mexico, where it means harsh winds, the misery of juniper pollen, and just as the apricot trees finally bloom, it snows -- spring can be a heartbreaker.
And there you have it: Life as metaphor.
Let me explain: I had my Christmas in late February. My holiday gift to myself had been a ticket to share an intimate dinner here in Austin with a poet whose work I adore: David Whyte. In December, I had gone on his website to buy his latest book as a Christmas gift for a friend, when his appearance schedule caught my eye -- and I realized that he would be speaking in Austin while I was here. I splurged on the expensive ticket -- and boy was it worth it.
In a room of only fifty people, I sat less than two feet from David as he spoke about Hidden Harvests. He began by asking us: What parts of yourselves have never come to flower? What parts have you never met? What conversations have you never had? He then proceeded to talk about the hidden harvests in each of us that have yet to come to fruition, and the necessity to escape the imprisonment of our old narratives in order to be willing to meet another landscape. Well, if I'd ordered up a topic for myself, he couldn't have provided one I needed to hear more.
Interestingly, I'd been listening to a talk on audiobook by Clarissa Pinkola Estes about the late bloomer. In it she gave me a beautiful gift, when she reminded me that different flowers bloom at different times of the year. My personal favorites have always been the flowers of April and May -- I adore lilacs and peonies! But when she brought to mind all the summer and fall flowers that bring us joy, I had to laugh. For a supposedly smart girl, I am sometimes amazed at how easy it is to get into a thought groove that keeps us stuck without knowing it -- playing the same notes over and over again and calling that music.
When I was a teenager, I knew without a doubt that I would be a late bloomer. I even told my friends that, with great foresight into my own journey. But then, as everyone around me became forsythia and daffodils, lilacs and peonies, I forgot my own foretelling and hated my barren landscape. At times in my life, when others pronounced me a success, I convinced myself that this must be my blooming. But those flowers felt artificial -- sometimes beautiful, but always lifeless. Inside, I knew that I had never bloomed. The seasons changed; spring came and went, and now summer seems to be drawing to an end. I worried: Would I ever bloom?
Then Dr. Pinkola Estes talked about the majestic saguaro cactii of the Southwestern deserts, which take decades to mature and grow enough to even be able to begin to produce their waxy blooms. There was something about that thought that brought me great peace. So when David Whyte began to speak, I felt as though the Whole Universe had come together to provide me the assurance that, at long last, I am ready to bloom.
David's talk provided a glorious road map through the metaphor of journey and the conversations we need to have along the way. He spoke of his niece's pilgrimage along Spain's famous Camino de Santiago and the poems their conversations inspired. For me -- the perennially peripatetic pilgrim who is always happiest somewhere between where I've come from and my supposed destination -- this resonated deeply.
All of us are programmed with an interior need to always be going from here to there -- but upon arrival, we are often stricken by an amnesia that allows us to forget why we wanted to get there in the first place. The hidden harvests within each of us happen only when we are willing to have the courageous conversations that amnesia tries to make us ignore-- first with ourselves and then with others. And the first conversation is an interior acknowledgement that We Want to Bloom. Then the question is: What have we always hoped our hidden harvests would become? And what will it take to till the soil and tend it into fruition?
He exhorted us to be willing to break the old promises we made to ourselves by recognizing that they are always dependent on the seasons during which we make them. What we desire and avow during the springtimes of our lives is very different than what we wish for and how we live during summer, fall, or certainly winter. The temptation, of course, is to return to what we know and to value what society espouses. We are a springtime society: We value youth, freshness, promise, newness. We fear wrinkles and the wisdom their acquisition may have brought. But those of us who have been willing "to be weathered by what comes to" us know that the lessons of living are precisely what need to be shared.
In a culture that devalues aging so greatly that we hide our old people in homes instead of living with and learning from them; in a society hellbent on materializing a miraculous fountain-of-youth elixir; in a media filled with plastic Dorian Grays -- none of us embrace our aging process with much grace. We all want to be lilacs and peonies. Maybe a sunflower. But rarely a chrysanthemum. The hardy chrysanthemum who may not elicit the unbridled joy or emit the intoxicating perfume of its spring cousins, but for whose presence we will eventually be so grateful to stave off our fears of a flowerless winter.
So, once again from the life-as-metaphor department. . .It's been pouring rain here all week in Texas, mirroring the tempestuous grey skies of this week of my life. But I am also surrounded by glorious spring beauty, which this weekend, as the sun comes out, will blanket the Hill Country with its fabled wildflowers. Reminding me that every season has its weather, but that the cumulative meteorology of our lives is what creates our interior harvests. And, for the first time, I find myself in the knowing that my time to bloom has come. All the sorrows and sadnesses, the delays and disappointments, have led me to exactly where I find myself right now.
Anais Nin wrote, "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom." Five years ago, when I risked leaving everything that felt safe and familiar, little did I know that this journey would be both so beautiful and so bewildering, so joyful and so damn hard. I had done what David Whyte told us last Tuesday that we have to do to break our own promises to ourselves: I stood up. Had faith. Walked away. And then I had to do it again. And again. And again. Because the clutter of our lives -- the old stories, tired promises, outworn scripts, tight shoes -- does everything it can to keep us tightly in our buds, too fearful to bloom.
Creating this Daily Practice of Joy and Yes, I now see, has been the tending of my hidden harvest: The joy of planting the first seeds followed by the realization that now I have to keep up with it every day -- watering, weeding, waiting, culling, pruning, fertilizing, and of course, pest control. Those locusts of thought that plague us all with their destructive what's the point anyway that can devastate a whole crop overnight. For almost a year now, I have been cultivating my hidden harvest, to give it room for blooming. But it took a week of torrential rain, thunderstorms that kept me up all night, night after night, to be able to say to myself at long last: My time has come. Remaining tight in my bud IS more painful than the risk of blooming. At long last, the ghosts of false humility, the plaguing fears of deservability, that old monster of lack of self-worth, and the who do you think you are of self-hatred feel far more painful than the risk of flowering into my Self.
David Whyte asks: Why is it so difficult to have the courageous conversation? The root of the word courageous is, of course, coeur in French. Heart. We cannot have the courageous conversation until we love ourselves enough to risk it. Until we love our own voices more than those of everyone else we carry in our heads, which we have let drown out our own. Until we care more about the quality of our lives than the checklist we are led to believe is what we are here to tick off. "What you can plan," David Whyte reminds us, "is too small for you to live." Life happens, we all know, when we stop making plans. Life happens when we give ourselves the room to bloom. Then, and only then, can we, as David Whyte exhorted us last Tuesday, "have the conversation we were made for."
Last Saturday in the Berkeley hills, I saw the most beautiful tulip tree cascading over a low Mediterranean blue garden wall. I parked the car and got out to photograph it. As I moved toward it with a huge smile, I heard an angry angry voice yelling: "What are you doing?" I looked around and realized that an old man with a very craggy face was rushing toward me.
"I love your trees and I wanted to photograph the flowers," I said with a smile.
"Get out of here," he screamed.
I felt so confused by the contrast between the beauty of his garden and the anger coming at me that I heard myself say, "But you have such a beautiful garden. I would think you want people to enjoy it."
"Leave us alone," he yelled. "Get out of here and leave us alone." I almost started to cry as walked away. But I turned back and said, "How sad that you feel that way."
Yesterday here in Austin, on my morning walk I saw a gorgeous purple iris that had opened overnight. It was covered with water droplets, but just as I leaned over to photograph it, I saw the homeowner come out to his car. I flinched, but he smiled at me. Encouraged, I said, "What a gorgeous flower. Do you mind if I photograph it?" "Of course," he grinned. "Step over the fence if you like. It's beautiful isn't it?" My whole soul smiled.
In that moment, I understood something -- in order to have the conversation we were made for, we must speak to ourselves and with one another, sacred heart to sacred heart. One of the things for which I have been most grateful over the course of this past year of practicing joy with all of you is the conversation that has ensued. That courageous conversation IS the blooming. A flower in and of itself is, of course, beautiful. But a flower that is seen, smelled, cherished, and enJOYed -- well, that is the shared beauty of our blooming.
This past week, one storm after another has rolled into the Hill Country and rumbled through my life. But this same week, courageous conversation after courageous conversation has been had, with all my fellow wildflower, with so much love. Like the bluebonnets, who began this week poking their timid heads up from the grass and now, drenched by the storms, are covering the fields in purple profusion, I feel bloomed by the watering of all the love I am feeling in my life. And for that, whatever weather next week may bring, I am grateful beyond measure.
My fellow joy practitioners, let us remember that joy is best experienced in the sharing of it. Let us all become the humans we've been heading for -- by continuing to have the courageous conversations that seed our hidden harvests, and by doing whatever it takes to give ourselves the room for blooming. Or, as "Room for Blooming" reminds us: "Life is the story of Love is the inspiration. Out of the confusion comes the illumination. Headed for brighter days, new ways and fascinations. Life is the story of Love is the inspiration." Let's all sing along as we blossom into joy and become the human harvests of Love!