Category Archives: metaphor
“Gardens, like lives, require choices. What will we let grow? What will we encourage? What needs cutting back because it’s growing too wildly and out of control? What’s crowding out what you really want in life?” —Rev. Sharon Moon
I listened to a reflection by Rev. Sharon Moon about spiritual wisdom gained in a garden.
It’s true, isn’t it? When we putter in our flower beds and dig in our dirt, we “plug in,” as she calls it, to a different energy level—a spirit channel, if you will.
At least some of us do. I enjoy my time in a garden and I do “plug in” to an infinite place, but I have many friends who regard gardening as a chore. But no matter whether a person loves or loathes a horticultural pursuit, the activities, complexities, the growth, the pruning and the death in gardens so closely mirrors our human existence that we can learn from them.
We learn to be ready for surprises: the flower you didn’t plant that suddenly appears or the tender sprouts you admire one day gone the next thanks to a hungry rabbit.
We learn that sometimes a plant needs to be moved to an area better suited to its needs.
We learn that when a long, cold winter buries treasures under snow, it is easy to forget the bounty we have.
We learn that weeds are inevitable, and that a garden left untended quickly becomes overgrown and filled up with “things that come in and just steal the energy from the life that you want to encourage.”
As Sharon Moon points out, a garden teaches us that pruning is a good thing—cutting out the dead wood that no longer serves a purpose. A garden teaches us to give of ourselves—generous perennial dividing and sharing for the good of both the plant and the recipient. A garden teaches us that “a material that has been allowed to die transforms into new growth.”
What is happening in your garden these days? Are you bursting with new growth? Do you have weeds that need careful pulling? Have you had a shock or trauma that requires you to take some fallow time? Do you need some support and attention from “the Gardener”?
How does your garden grow?
Listen to her reflection here:
I ponder the parable of the seed scattered on good or poor ground. (See below.)
Like any respectable parable, it can be interpreted a number of ways. Perhaps we are the “farmer.” If so, we need to choose carefully where we spread our “seed”—our ideas, our time, our friendships. Don’t share ideas with an audience that won’t appreciate them, don’t waste time on pointless endeavours, and don’t choose friends who choke out your potential. Or perhaps God (the universe, nature, Yahweh, Allah, whatever) is the “farmer” and we are the “seed.” If so, some of us have a tougher time of it—through no fault of our own—just because of the environment where we are born. Others—lucky sods—happen to land on roomy, fertile ground.
But I wonder. Why do we always put the onus on the ground?
The poor ground is just being what it was created to be. The footpath doesn’t sprout seed, but it makes the going easy for the feet that tread upon it.
The rocks of Georgian Bay near my cottage don’t welcome scattered seed—carrots would not sprout there, nor would lush lettuce leaves. But it has perfect nooks for evergreens and moss, and its granite craters pool water for birds to drink. It is not bad; it is beautiful and rugged, mineral-rich and solid. Best of all, it is not trying to be something it’s not, gripped with angst about why it can’t grow tomato plants like its cousin, the rich farmland.
And what about that loamy earth of a tilled field? How would moss manage there? The bright sunshine and the working of the soil would kill it. As judged by the moss, the rich, loamy soil of a southern Ontario tomato field would be “bad.”
Plants or soil aren’t really good or bad. They just have to match, that’s all—the right soil for the right plant.
People are like that too. Women of action sitting behind desks, or scholarly men digging ditches are like seeds scattered on the wrong ground.
They start to believe there’s something wrong with them. Their bosses air frustrations about their inadequacies. They believe they are deficient in some way. They tell themselves they need to change. All they need is the right ground.
Moss clings to the shady sides of rock, corn sprouts from the arable land: A plant for every kind of ground, and a ground for every kind of plant. All are beautiful in their own way.
They just have to match, that’s all.
3 He [Jesus] told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!
Take a moment with me to pity sporting events. They get very little respect from those who spend their days contemplating spiritual matters. Meditation, journaling, dancing or yoga make the grade for spiritual enrichment, but not sports. The idea that a person might experience transcendence during a sporting activity? Well, that receives a dismissive sniff. All too often, sports get shunted aside as “fun-but-hardly-spiritual.”
Activity: A man walks in the woods and feels at one with the trees around him.
Perception: He experiences the “All is One” of spirit.
Activity: A baseball player gets “In the zone,” slows down the ball and goes 4 for 4 at the plate.
Perception: She is swinging a hot bat.
Activity: A meditator focuses on her breath and stays present.
Perception: She is practising mindfulness and living the power of now.
Activity: A hockey goalie stays in the moment and performs well under the intense pressure of Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final.
Perception: He is mentally strong.
Activity: A dancer experiences transcendence induced by the music rhythm.
Perception: She is at one with God.
Activity: A tennis player experiences transcendence induced by the movement rhythm.
Perception: He maintains his focus.
Too bad. Athletes might not use the words “spirit” or “God” when participating in their sports, but they share similar experiences, and they reap the same benefits of those who do. Sports teach us about the human condition, relieve stress and depression, and awaken us to the message of life.
- Provides clarity and cultivates awareness (√ Check)
- Lifts mood and prevents depression (√ Check)
- Creates steadiness and grounding (√ Check)
- Helps you see the big picture of life (√ Check)
- Puts you in touch with your inner self (√ Check)
- Keeps you in the moment (√ Check)
- Gives “the assurance of practice being there for you at all times” (√ Check)
- Boosts health and well-being (√ Check)
- Restores a sense of purpose and boosts self-esteem (√ Check)
- Relieves stress (√ Check)
- Connects people with others (√ Check)
- Promotes self-actualization (√ Check)
- Builds lasting memories (√ Check)
- Encourages participants to let go of the ego (√ Check)
Sports give us heroes that transcend the game: Lou Gehrig. Sports advance social change: Jackie Robinson. Sports shine a spotlight on big societal problems: When the Baltimore Orioles played to an empty stadium, it was a siren warning. “Something is seriously wrong, and something needs to change.”
From pick-up hockey games on frozen backyard rinks to the Olympic podium, sports teach us about life.
- You can be an instant hero and fall flat in the same game.
- There are rules, and with good reason.
- You can be the very best at something, and still lose.
- Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a millimetre or a hundredth of a second.
- You can’t win them all.
- Some days things work, and some days they don’t.
- Things don’t always balance out.
- On any given day, anything can happen.
- You can make mistakes and still come back.
- You need patience and endurance.
- It humbles you. You never stop learning.
- You cry, you get frustrated, and you celebrate.
- You play it one day at a time.
- “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” —Yogi Berra
Here’s a timely quote from a well-known athlete: “I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability; it was my mental ability.” —Bruce Jenner.
Social change in action.
“The five Ss of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.” —Ken Doherty
I am reading a most interesting book: The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth. The title tells you all you need to know about the book. Forsyth takes his readers on a lovely jaunt on the intertwining trails and pathways—and dead-ends—of our continuously evolving language.
He clarifies misconceptions about some words and phrases. For example, according to Forsyth, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin did not invent the guillotine, as is widely rumoured. When the family name got attached to the device, the Guillotins were so mortified, they changed their name.
He also gives the background of how words evolved into their present form. I’m a baseball fan, so I was interested to learn that an umpire began as the Latin non-par, for not on a par with the sport participants. It changed to a noumpere in Old French, and then at some point the N got moved over from the second word to the first and became an umpire.
Forsyth’s description of the origins of the expression aim high caught my attention. I had always understood the expression to mean a person should set lofty goals and not settle for second best, but that’s not the case. He writes:
“The funny thing about archery is that you don’t usually aim at the target. Gravity decrees that if you aim straight at the blank, your arrow will hit somewhere below. So you point the arrow somewhere above the blank, and hope that this cancels out the effects of Newton’s troublesome invention. That’s why aim high is another archer’s term; it doesn’t mean you’ll end up high, or it’s not meant to. You aim high and hit on the level.”
His explanation is somewhat reassuring, isn’t it? Thinking metaphorically, the plain old “Aim high!” used as a self-help affirmation for the achievement of lofty goals doesn’t allow for the effect that forces beyond our control might have on our efforts. If we aim high, and if we keep our eye on the high goal, when we hit below that mark, we feel like failures.
But if we aim high with the understanding that outside forces will affect us, when we hit short of that mark, it’s not a failure at all. We hit exactly where we should be.
Aim high, with an archer’s aim.
Our 2015 Ottawa spring has been reluctant indeed.
This past weekend we—at long last—enjoyed a warm, beer-on-the-front-porch kind of day. For the entire month of March and the first days of April, it felt like such days would never come. We sat in the sun and said, “Finally, spring is here.”
When I walk to the bus stop in the mornings now, birds sing. One cardinal calls out, and a cardinal friend responds. Smaller birds twitter. I imagine they are singing, “Finally, spring is here.”
Last night, we Canadians watched another of the sure signs of spring: the home opener of the Toronto Blue Jays. Like Charlie Brown, we have been lying with eyes open, tossing and turning, waiting. Like Charlie Brown, we know that when the day dawns baseball, finally, spring is here.
Our city has shrugged off its sluggish blanket of snow, awoken the birds and dawned baseball.
(I give credit for the title of this post to Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith who used the phrase in a writing piece she completed at a workshop on the weekend.)
All around us: hungry mouths, people without affordable housing, victims of physical or sexual abuse, ill people suffering from diseases we could help cure, war casualties, crimes against humanity, child soldiers, gender bias, and the list goes on . . .
In the past, news of events in far-flung lands took days, weeks or months to filter its way around the world. By the time information travelled half a globe, the need for action had passed. And why do something for people so far away anyway?
These days, high-tech global communications systems convey news to us instantly. High-definition videos show us the creases of pain in human faces. Twitter feeds us first-person accounts of injustices. We see things, we know things, and we learn about them in time to do something.
A pointing finger jabs us in the chest. Do something. Do something. Do something. How can YOU live with this injustice?
Why aren’t YOU fixing this RIGHT NOW?
Guilt, guilt, guilt.
Hold on. Back up. Even if we split ourselves into a million pieces we could never fix all the problems. It’s overwhelming. In the face of it, we suffer “problem paralysis.” We think, “I can’t fix it all, so why even bother doing anything?
“Bloom where you are planted,” the floral metaphor suggests. I would add: “Bloom how you are planted.”
Grow fully where you are, and don’t try to be a lily if you’re really chicory.
Sometimes, lilies think everyone should bloom with the same regal beauty they do; they expect all “flowers” to share their same passions. What a boring and out-of-balance field of wildflowers that would be, without the nodding blue heads of chicory, the innocent white daisies, or the blushing pink wild roses.
One of the gifts of age is the gift of self-knowledge. I have come to accept my strengths and weakness. I have learned about my own passions, and I have learned what work I need to leave to others because their passion serves those purposes better.
I’m not here to do it all. I’m not supposed to do it all; I only have to do my part of it. I might not grow with the height or the potent fragrance of a Tiger Lily, but maybe I add something like the healing blue presence of nodding chicory.
The cure for problem paralysis is clear discernment of passions. Figure out what fires you up, and do that. Figure out which things make you say, “Meh” and leave that work to others. Don’t feel guilty about not sharing someone else’s passion and don’t pressure anyone to share yours.
Act on your own passions and support others in theirs and between us all, what a beautiful field of wildflowers we will be.