Friday, April 4, 2008

Life in the Garden

In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle tells the story of a man whose mother had been unable to properly care for him. The longing and the fury that resulted from that experience manifested itself in his adult life as a pattern of seduction and rejection: He became an expert at charming women, but as intimacy developed his fury with his mother would sabotage the relationship.

I see this hot and cold pattern in my own life, but because I have issues with both parents it takes a different form as issues with authority. Often in situations, both at work and elsewhere, I will exhibit a desperate need to please whatever person I perceive as an authority figure -- which makes me a very useful employee at one level. But when the authority figure fails to live up to my ideals, the anger I feel is often out of proportion to the actual "sin" committed, and manifests itself as a sense of having been betrayed "yet again."

So what does any of this have to do with this image, which for some strange reason is one of my favorites to come out of my weekend on retreat? I think each of us has a pattern we struggle with -- what Tolle calls the painbody -- and that the struggle manifests itself as a constant cycle of death and rebirth, of trust and betrayal, of longing and fury.

There is something in us that keeps that cycle going, because our egoic identity is somehow fed or reassured by this pattern. And it seems to me that religion and society both give us messages that make it difficult to extricate ourselves. If we attempt to shield ourselves by NOT trusting, we are accused of being cynical, or "not nice"; with the implication that failure to trust humans is a failure to trust God to take care of us. So we become like Charlie Brown, always wary, and yet, in the end, we take the plunge, run forward again to kick the football, thinking that is an act of faith. And then, at the last moment, some Lucy in our lives jerks the ball away and we fall flat on our faces yet again.

We who live outside the comic strip shake our heads when we see it coming, and wonder when Charlie Brown will take his football and find another friend. Even Charlie Brown understands that he has been foolish to trust again, and berates himself. But he is stuck in his pattern: I suspect it might be easier for him to go in for the kick knowing the ball will be pulled away and he will not actually have to run after it and enter the game; easier to stay with the known than to embark into the unknown.

Which may be why this image is so moving. We see all the youth and beauty of the daffodil, and it resonates with the hope that lies within us. At the same time, we see it defeated by the snow, face down in the dirt, and are haunted by the chill of that brokenness, by the inevitability of failure, loss, and death.

Perhaps I love the image because it doesn't stop here for me. I saw the same daffodil the next day, after the snow had melted, once again turning its face to the sun. Because I am not the daffodil I have the objectivity to know the snows will melt. I also know that eventually the flower will die. And I know a new flower -- or several -- will arise from its bulb next spring.

Perhaps, like the flower, we are hopelessly rooted to one spot in the garden. Maybe our only job is to endure the relentless cycle, to bloom where we are planted, endure the snows, and die. But when I look at this image, what stirs in me is the Mystical Hope that first led me to the teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault; the awareness that there is a life force that continues to flourish in us despite the snows; that there is a divine unity that calls to us, longs for us and thrives in us, and will never cease to reach out to us in yearning, drawing us back into the universal garden that is love.

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