Buddha’s teaching method was counter intuitive, to say the very least. More often than not, he didn’t even talk. He just sat there.
There is a well-known story about The Buddha sitting in a place with hundreds of people gathered around him. (Waiting for pearls of wisdom I suppose. That would make sense.) However, he just sat, and after awhile those gathered started grumbling about how he was a fraud. Then he stood up and held out a flower. One of his disciples, Kashayapa, smiled. He understood. (Kashayapa became one of the forbearers of Zen Buddhism).
So that’s it?
He held out a flower?
That’s the moral to the story?
Please tell me there’s more…
On this late summer evening, I can tell you that for me on this day, with the well being of my spirit on tilt (for reasons that still don’t make sense to me), it may all depend upon a flower. The languid canes of Mary Rose (one of my David Austin English roses) reach for light, unstinting with a second blush of blooms. They are cupped–like halved cabbages–and on warm evenings, they carry the hypnotic scent of myrrh.
I’ve known this story about the flower for many years… although I wasn’t planning to use it for a Sabbath Moment. I suppose because it’s interesting how we’re wired. We want tales that we can parse or figure out. Tales that in the end, resolve something, or at least provide a band aid. I get it. I know that when my world is rattled I want someone to make it right, or help it make sense.
In other words, “what’s the lesson here?” (In the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples were continually aggravated because he wouldn’t give them the Cliff Notes to understand his parables.)
But here’s the deal: all the while we are looking for the revelation, we miss the flower.
What does the flower represent?
Well that’s just it. I don’t know.
Perhaps it’s the heart.
Or being present.
Or likely, all of the above.
But I do know this to be true: when I require certainty (tidiness or resolution) it is easy to be drained, and I will most assuredly miss the moment, the sacred, the serendipitous, the delightful, and the unfeigned. Or, in the words of Paul Tournier, spend my entire life indefinitely preparing to live.
When I lead retreats about Sanctuary (the permission to pause, to do nothing), people get it. You know, the need to let our souls catch up with our bodies. And then they ask, “Can you please give us the specifics? I mean, if we’re going to sit still, what is the requisite list? Because if I’m going to slow down, I want to be good at it! In fact, I want to excel at Sabbath.”
And this temptation is not just confined to faith and religion. I read this exchange in one of my garden magazines.
Q: I’m considering converting my lawn to a wildflower meadow.Can you suggest any wildflowers and provide some pointers on how to grow and maintain wildflowers?
A: You might want to check with your local zoning regulations to make sure you are permitted to convert your lawn to a meadow before you go to the labor and expense. Many communities have restrictions as to how tall grass is permitted to grow.
Lord help us.
Who knew that creating a pageant of indiscriminate beauty required a committee vote. (Truth be told, sadly, such regulations can set up shop in our own heart, with their pestering “can’ts” and “shouldn’ts”.) And yet… there is something comforting about the regulations. It’s as if we don’t want the moment without an ability to appraise it. (Who knows where the world would be if we all had tall grass…)
When people visit my garden, they ask for advice on their own backyard Shargri-las. Some are starting from scratch. Others are working with a garden they have had for years. Some have lots of space. Others have two or three whiskey barrels on their patio. “There’s always room for one more plant,” is my best advice, stealing from Oscar Wilde’s reflection, “nothing succeeds like excess.” Of course, once given the opportunity to dispense such acumen, I decide not to stop. The preacher in me is in full gear. “Besides,” I tell them, “Good taste is definitely overrated. Because you can’t really make a mistake in the garden. Honestly, if you don’t like the way something turns out, you can always move it. That’s part of the fun, and the wonder.” Which is about the time I usually spot some clump of an unnamed aster that has run amok, doing my best to resist the urge to start whacking at it with my spade.
Therein lies the temptation, as if we can ultimately “get it right” (whether it’s our garden or faith or prayer life or emotional well-being). Okay… we took the flower… are we done yet?
Or could it be that we are suffering from an excessive dose of self-consciousness? Feeling the glare of that third party in our heads demanding that we dance to one particular tune, or else. Some of us capitulate and dance. Some of us snap and kill the music, all the while looking over our shoulders just to see if they notice. It may be that we miss the point that our spiritual nature is enhanced precisely when, for these precious moments, we are able to shake that voice and find ourselves knee-deep in the colors, smells, and emotions of the day.
What does it mean to rest in beauty?
Not tidiness, beauty… the sacrament of the present moment?
It is a gentle reset button about what truly matters.
Many were reminded the challenging way this past week, hurricane, flood, fires, earthquake. I was out of harms way with each of those, but let me tell you a story…
Some time ago I spent a day with the good members of a Seattle area garden club. A woman approached me to say, “I don’t know if you noticed that I was nodding off during your lecture. Don’t take it personally. I just had my radiation treatment.”
“When?” I asked.
“This morning,” she told me.
I am surprised, at her admission and at the fact that I had seen her doze, and had made judgments about her before I knew any of the facts. And before I can talk she continues, “It gives me a new perspective on the kind of things that really matter.”
As we’re talking, a glass of sparkling cider is spilled, on the tablecloth, and onto parts of her dress. “Like what just happened,” she tells me matter of factly, “that’s not important.”
Encounters… Unexpected flowers for the sacrament of the present moment. But I wonder. Does it take disarray for us to pay attention?
Charles Dickens commented once about being in a gathering of divines in a very ecclesiastical setting, and the meeting extended itself a long, long time, droning away on unimportant subjects treated without feeling. Mr. Dickens interrupted the proceedings by saying, “I have a suggestion. Why don’t we move to a table, and sit around the table and hold hands, and see if we can make contact with the living.”
I spent time this past week in Vancouver, BC, talking about a paradigm shift, from distraction, to the sacrament of the present moment. There were moments, “flowers” inviting me to be still and to know. The picture above is from Steveston (fishing village) and the water is a perfect canvas for sunset glory.
Quote for your week…
Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also—if you love them enough. George Washington Carver
POEMS AND PRAYERS
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
Rainer Maria Rilke
there is more to life than we can see or fathom.
Yet how often we try to shrink the mystery,
tame the dream, limit what is possible.
Remind us that the Spirit of always blowing new life
into our days, surprising us with wonder and blessing.
Forgive us for dull awareness and hesitant witness.
Let us be made new again and again, no matter our age.
And let us hear again and again, of your mercy and your grace…