From the Back Deck

You might call it a setback for the summer. I was recovering from a concussion from April, and still have a touch. For six weeks, I was mostly sitting in Anne’s gorgeous garden doing nothing, frustrated with not able to do anything. I cheated a bit, having my camera near me and taking the odd shot of the life going on about me. The link below is a gallery of those images.

Turns out it wasn’t lost time. Not due to the images though I’m grateful to the muse for allowing me these.

No, I learned a lot. I had thought I meditate well. I always had an ability to concentrate intently. But it’s not the same. Only with many hours of sitting, feeling with every turn of my head some swilling of pain, and sitting with nothing but the garden to occupy me, well, something happened. And this took many days. I recalled how Emily Carr would go out to the forest for the summer to paint. She’d find a subject to paint but wouldn’t start painting right away. She’d sit motionless and just look at her subject. She waited, often for eight hours or more, for the subject to speak to her, tell her what to paint. 

I felt the same, came too me, after long hours and days sitting still in the garden that the garden began to speak to me. It took me that long to see, really see, the garden. Without the concussion, I would have stood in the garden at times and said how beautiful it is. But it would have been only an object to me, something outside of me, that I abstract in my critical judgement. I would be in control, superior in judgment to what I felt object to me.

That all turned upside down after time as I witnessed a life in the garden unfolding before me, its own life and way, with the various coloured and shaped petals budding, blooming and falling to the ground. I saw how the sparrows play as a little group following each other to sites of interest, gathering around suddenly, together, flying off somewhere else to investigate; how the robins were so curious…how the squirrels never stop gong somewhere, yet do for a brief moment stretch out on top of the fence every muscle relaxed…how one stem grows tall, another twists exotically around a bamboo stick… how a plant’s leaves shrivel to expose the fruit to the sun and expand to take on energy….how a pool of water caught by a plant leaf helps other life with a drink… how the whole garden is deeply entwined with life in every part.

What changed for me? I felt in my body a new belonging that my life is actually something I share with them, the rest of nature, a nature that is very much alive, even the rocks catching a bit of the morning light, have life, are as alive to me as I am to myself. That’s the thing I feel: that each part of nature I see is as alive to life as I am, has its own life, is not simply my wet-nurse, there for me, to cater to me. 

And more, that they all are my wise counsel, me the neophyte about life. The birds go back to the time of the dinosaurs, have in them 55 million years of being on this planet, living. If I would but listen; and that was the experience of the concussion for me, that I began to shift, now to listen to the garden and the neighbours’ trees. Listen. I was now beholden to them for truth and wisdom, sitting there feeling my human frailty, barely able to grasp the wisdom, but the branches waving in a particular rhythm were patient with me, repeatedly and rhythmically shared their understanding moving and drifting in the breeze to reach into the structures of my mind with their rhythm and rhyme, every leaf expressing a thought if I could with all my attention but see what they were saying, telling me about life, my self as part of life. A thought, not abstracted in my head, not my reasoning, but felt in my being, body and mind, felt in my wholeness, a wholeness in my own being, and a wholeness with seeing my being as entwined and undifferentiated from all that lives, all that has life as I, too, have life.

In the past, I would admire and enjoy the garden as something I have. And walking from the deck to Anne’s studio at the back of the garden, I could get a bit annoyed at the plants growing out over the path making it harder for me to make my way, especially after a rain and getting my pant legs wet. I’d think to myself, that cutting back the foliage from the path, where it didn’t really belong, would make it so much easier to get around. No longer. Since I have actually paid attention to the garden, seen that the garden has its own life, heard from the garden telling me about that life, I have no problem making my way down the path stepping around this flowered stem hanging heavy over the path or sidestepping a voluminous fern spreading itself out over the bricks. They are my companions now, each with its own life along with me and my life; now I’m glad to share the path with them, no longer assuming it to be my garden but ours. Not my path alone. We share the path, as I would do sharing a sidewalk with others. We all belong. The plants have a life, too, and I am grateful to them for sharing life with me, no longer me thinking to push them out of my way. 

For that we are both better. Much better. Myself feeling much better within, much better about myself for meeting them each day, much better for noticing them, appreciating their kindness to me, being kind to them, stepping around them; for the stepping becomes a dance, a bit of play with the world I live in, a new exuberance, for life, joy in the privilege of having my life.

Sure this world is a mess, our doing, such a mess we make of it. Why do we even exist for all the pain and suffering there is; how is that? What is the point of going through all this for a lifetime?What are we doing here? Good questions. No idea. We believe ourselves, us humans, so intelligent. And look at us. Maybe as T. S. Eliot and many others say, it is to return home, find our way home, see it again as if for the first time.

An indigenous elder referred in passing to Mother Earth, two words I’d heard many times and thought I’d understood. Never had actually. Now, as I am immersed in the activity of the garden as part of it, not simply observer to it, I find a knowing in my body, not just my head, a felt experience with sitting for hours in the garden, a felt experience held within me, a sensing really in all that I am, that the earth is in fact my mother, Mother Earth. I sensed how my body when done with would return to that Mother Earth, is just a part of the earth, like the earth in the garden that all the plants spring from, and I an they return to in our seasons. In the end, at the end of my time, I would be returning to my actual mother, the earth, my mother. My body returning back to the earth body that birthed me.

Even now I am home, in this world, as I am, if I could but see that, see where I belong, one part of this whole, a part of the whole of the earth. If I but see, hear, the life around me witnessing to me. Thanks to the concussion I know where to look for my home, am no longer so self-assured by my superior humanness, my sure standing. No. I know little of life. I am here to learn, discover life not lord over life think it owes me. No. So much I owe it, if but one thing, to love life, be grateful for what I have in having my life.

Nature, the natural environment, and too the built environment, the shape of it, the line and colour, how it is just there, how it moves in a breeze, has something deep to say to the internal structures of my mind, to tell me of my human origins and destiny and rhythms and belonging, my home, where I belong, who is my teacher, the world itself, not me, not my wisdom, but there in the simple bending of a flower stem or the top of a tree blowing in the wind, or the bit of light at the end of day, or the flight of a bird across the blue sky or squirrels chasing each other through the trees, that there is my healing and my wholesomeness, my joy, my love, the life I am, here to find that. Thank you dear garden. Thank you for your love and tenderness in telling me where to find my self. With you. In your company. Much to tell me about how things are. Much to celebrate, we all to play together for a time, in a world of songbirds and tsunamis, gentle rain and hurricane, to delight ourselves, in the wonder, that we get to join in for a while. Thank you. In my concussion I felt how fragile is my life, my tormenting pained head taking away the life I know, felt I was losing everything, but no, I had something to see. The garden, something to share with me.