The Nurse and the Artist were in town this weekend, and on a bright and beautiful Sunday, the Photographer and I took them to the botanical gardens near my home. The gardens are huge, and we spent all day walking the grounds, looking at flowering trees, watching turtles sun themselves in the pond. In the domed building that houses tropical plants, I showed them the sensitive plant, a small thing with fern-like fronds that draws it leaves in closer to the stem when you stroke it lightly. It happens quickly, like a reflex.
As we moved on to the home gardening center, with its displays of plants for the East, South, West, and North walls of a home, I thought, if I were to garden, I would want to know each plant. I would want to develop a sense of plant character, to know which plant folds its delicate blooms like the sensitive plant, or drinks water voraciously, or hides in the shade. I would want to cultivate a felt sense of how each crafts its particular slow and careful movements towards the sun.
Over the course of the weekend, our little gathering included many conversations about this life, and what we are all going to do. The Nurse brought up the Rumi poem, “The One Thing You Must Do.” It says:
It’s as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a priceless Indian sword were used to slice rotten meat. It’s a golden bowl being used to cook turnips, when one filing from the bowl could buy a hundred suitable pots. It’s like a knife of the finest tempering nailed into a wall to hang things on.
We sat with difficult questions: What is it we are to do with this life we are given, and how will we do that? And if we are on the wrong path, or the right path, how will we know? And though it seems like tragedy to all of us that so many lives seem full of labor with no sense of purpose, we acknowledge, it’s a common experience. We asked ourselves, how we will write our lives differently? And the biggest, scariest, mostly unspoken question is, what if we are not able to? We tossed the questions around, shared strategies, tried to help each other to have faith.
Falling asleep I felt the familiar tug of anxiety that often comes when my mind lets its guard down. And then an image came to mind; I seemed to have a plant self, something green and leafy with long, slender fronds. I fell asleep feeling that this plant self knew with its body what I was trying to know with my mind. I felt I could almost trust it, that even when I was asleep, it knew what kind of plant it was. And it was busy with its whole self, just being that, and moving slowly towards the sun.