(Lesley-Ann Brown, Copenhagen)
I started doing something last year that I thought I'd never do: I started to tend plants. It all started with a cactus which was given to me as a Christmas present. At first it seemed like one of those gesture gifts: given perfunctorily, and it probably was. But then, the plant did something I had never witnessed a cactus do before: It flowered.
After a year of sitting absently in my apartment, pink buds started to push forth from little black knobs on the tips of its leaves.
It got me to thinking about a few things. It got me to thinking about that old adage, you know, the one about don't judge a book by its cover? It got me to thinking about surprises from the most unlikely of places and how much having this flowering cactus in my house uplifted me.
It got me to thinking about many of our ancestors who had to work Sun up and Sun down and who had to tend their own gardens in between working 6-7 days a weeks, in order to have but a little extra to eat. It made me a bit more connected to the relationship between us as human beings and the earth we have sometimes covered with concrete and littered with our indestructible gadgets.
See, I'm a city girl, a girl who can't even name flowers even if they grew with signs. But this flowering cactus was enough to make me decide to get a few more flowering plants. On cue, a moving colleague gifted me with 3 geranium plants (I think that's what they are!) and although I'm far from being a seasoned gardener, they have fared quite well for over a year now. And you know what? So have I.
The geraniums came from a well respected colleague with the instructions, â€œLet the soil dry out a bit and then water with food once a week. They love that. Funnily enough, unlike so many other things in my life, I have managed to do this. You know why? It was because someone took the time to tell me how to take care of these plants. See, sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious sometimes the reason we may not excel at doing something is simply because we do not know how. That's where teachers, true life teachers, step in. We're all students and teachers in life: Knowing when we're which one at different times is a good skill to learn. No one knows everything!
Taking care of these plants is a big accomplishment for me, because every time I take the time to tend to these plants, I feel like I'm taking the time to tend to me. If I'm too busy to take care of these plants, it means, in some tangible way, I'm neglecting myself. A dehydrated plant, strangely enough, reflects the fact that I'm probably not being too good to myself. Am I remembering to drink enough water? Am I taking the time to stretch? Am I spending the time to do the things I must do to remain centered, like yes, tend to my plants?
I like clearing the dead leaves from the soil. I like watering them. I like the way the green fills up my windowpane and how it foils the blazing blue of the sky.
Tending to these plants has made me think about my own life: If I was a plant, who or what waters me? Or better yet, what do I water myself with? Nourishes me? If I surround myself with healthy people and things, surely I am fortified as well? What if I surround myself with heavy, negative people? Do they, in turn, poison my soil? What if I surround myself with people who inspire me to be my best (the most patient of gardeners, the master gardener, the gardener I strive to be)? If I hang out with other, expert gardeners (I use this as a loose metaphor, insert anything you like ) am I not bound to learn new techniques that will help me become a better gardener? Remember: When the student is willing the Master appears.
Conversely, I must strive to contribute positively to those budding flowers around me as well I must be to others what I wish them to be to me. Am I encouraging my peers? Am I present with my son i.e. being there with him, when we are together and not worrying about my phone bill? Am I interacting sincerely with the woman who mops the floors at my job? Am I fertilizing those around me? Am I engaged?
Through my plants, I have learned to weed the negative images and energy out of my life. I have found that it is very easy to moan about my life, be unhappy with myself and dis the majority of those around me if I surround myself with people, with images, that do the same. Conversely, I find that I am elevated and experiences vibrations so positive that I experience a buzz when I surround myself with images and people who look at what is going right in their lives, who encourage me to be true to myself, who challenge me lovingly, who support me and my efforts.
This is my fertilizer.
Look around you.
What do you see? Or more importantly, what do you NOT see? Make a list, mental or otherwise, of the things that make you feel good, not in a quick-fix way, but in a long-term, this-experience-is-fertilizing-my-soul-kind-of-way.
Make a list of those things or situations that make you feel bad. Don't glaze over them. Spend some time wondering, "What is it about this particular exchange that de-centers me? That makes me uncomfortable?" "Is it me, my insecurities, or is this person projecting their issues on me?" Sometimes it's difficult to tell, but one of the traits of a true student of Life is the willingness to look at yourself as harshly as you sometimes look at others. I say harshly, but please add a good dose of lovingly in their as well. I always try to talk to myself in the way I talk to my son, or how my grandmother talks to me with a voice full of love and understanding. It is not until we can treat ourselves in this way that we can begin to treat each other in this way.
No matter where you, chances are, it's pretty difficult to find images that affirm (y)our beauty, that fertilize your soul. Just like I enjoy looking out my window at my plants, I enjoy looking out over the landscape of my life at those I hold dear to me: the array of flowering human beings who although not perfect (who is?) are committed to being better human beings and demand the same from me.
Sometimes what we see around us is not a reflection of (y)our soul. Not being able to see your Self, or recognize a part of your Self in the media or in your immediate surroundings is a subtle sort of abuse, a cultural amputation, a poisoning of your soil.
It is important that we recognize ourselves in the books we read, the magazines we peruse, the movies we watch. This is fertilizer.
A healthy dose of diverse representation is but one of the things our world needs.
The Remedy: Surround yourselves with images that remind you of who you are, who we are at our best. Include images that tap into the very best of our successes. And let every step we make be in Grace with a commitment to peace within and without. Smile, and watch your inner and outer flowers grow.
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