approaching mindfulness

Six summers ago a sunflower emerged in front of two weary, dilapidated sheds. It had pushed itself out between a crack of paving slab, and some scabrous weed.   

My reaction, at its first tender sighting, was to hack it down. Mindless, right? Perhaps its fledgling presence affronted some sense of horticultural choreography playing itself out in my mind.  

In any case, I did what I normally do when confronted with a horticultural dilemma. 

I drank a mug of tea. 

The hacking instinct receded. 

A couple of days later the family and I went on holiday and I forgot about the sunflower growing through the crack of the paving slab in the garden. But on returning, I was intrigued to rediscover it. There it was, still standing, flourishing, three times its original sighting height. A now proud, virulent spear of Mantis green.

I started taking photographs of it. I became curious about its supple, subtle, nuanced, resilient growth. I delighted in its presence. It became the focal point of the garden. 

During my son’s 3rd birthday party the children, unbidden, gravitated to its ring- a-round presence.

It also came in handy for charting other significant milestones of growth.

It became part of the fabric of everyday life.

I was beginning to find that by simply documenting its slow growth, as it harboured in warm shades of summer light, it became an anchor for my own emerging – albeit inchoate – sense of mindfulness. It embodied stillness, a rooted patience. It gave me some sense of what is meant by the unfolding of present moments.

Then I noticed a botanic sidekick emerging just outside the sunflower’s protective shadow. A small bedding plant, in full bloom.

This new presence somehow guided me to a sense of myself as a child. To a sense of how vulnerable I was.

Both sunflower and the bedding plant were coming to represent the idea of how we are seeds sown – scattered haphazardly – between cracks and scabrous weed, until, that is, we emerge into our own particular light.

I thought about how I too needed to be protected as a child, but also of how my parents had experienced their own vulnerability; how they had come from not the most auspicious of starts in life – not unlike the sunflower and the bedding plant. I thought of how we are all – in our present moments – a younger self; a still innocent self attempting to grow under the stern sun between the harsh spaces and the sometimes welcome – sometimes not so welcome – shades; of how we are still connected to the self that seeks and seeks to be sought. Seeks to be nurtured. Seeks to be seen. To be valued. To be loved. 

Lord, how we need to be loved.

Perhaps it is only through the prolonged noticing of things that we sow seeds of compassion towards ourselves before knowing how to extend it out towards others. Perhaps you are still that child. Perhaps you are still in the process of becoming. Perhaps in that process, you learn – oftentimes painfully – how to let go.

The sunflower and its sidekick did their best, regardless of the inauspicious start; regardless of their place in the prescribed order of things. The place where they grew had no effect on the vitality of their existence. All they needed was to be offered the active hope of being themselves. 

And so, through the rains of summer, 

and the hints of early autumn’s ‘mellow fruitfulness', 

the sunflower started to bloom.

Craning its neck toward the westward sun.

Slowly awakening…awakening slowly, out of its seemingly unwelcome home.

Until the storm came.

And my attention was diverted to other images of impermanence.

There was a sunflower. 

Then there was no sunflower.

Between existence and non-existence, there is a place of exploration that offers itself in a series of unfurling present moments that are each a new beginning.

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning….

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

TS Eliot – Little Gidding

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