It must have been early autumn, because even in Southern California, the light was slanted in that particular autumn way. Maybe I’d taken the day off of work, or maybe it was a weekend.
I drove down from the mountains where I was living alone with my pup, and went to Home Depot. I bought two big green plastic adirondack chairs and some flowers; Arabian jasmine, and some of the fuzzy, colorful ones that look like little trees out of a Dr. Seuss book. I’m sure there were more, because I remember closing the back of my Subaru with a kind of pleased frustration: the boot would hardly close because there were so many green, living things crammed back there.
There is a way that a sunny day fills a car in Southern California when you drive with the windows down. And it’s specific to days which are not heavy with the heat, or biting with the strange alpine chill coming in from the east. It’s like a warm god of wind reaches down from the sky, curls its massive, benevolent fingers around your car and through your windows, and lifts you off and down the road to your destination. There is nothing like it, I think. This is what I felt that day driving back up into the mountains where I lived, to a tiny cabin with horrid flowered carpet.
I squatted down in dirt and rocks and potted my flowers. There must have been just the suggestion of a chill in the canyon, because the sun burned my shoulders, and I only remember that it felt like a relief. The potting soil was cool and dark fresh out of the bag, like Earth from much deeper down — older, perhaps. It’s hard for me to describe the bright and quiet joy I felt with my hands in that soil, though it’s likely some of you know it yourselves.
I thought about my mother and the garden of perennials she tended when I was maybe seven or eight years old — the wildness of so many kinds of flowers, and the cat that hunted for birds that flew in and out of tall Mexican primroses. It amazed me that the garden grew back with ferocity the next year, after looking for months like a pile of yellowed death and grass cuttings. I think that was the first time I understood that in nature, there are cycles. I memorized the word, perennial, and began asking, flower after flower, everywhere: “Is that a perennial?”
I carried my adirondack chairs, and then the flowers, up to the deck that sat off of my bedroom with the vaulted ceilings and skylights. I swept up the leaves that had fallen from the overhanging Black Oak east of the deck. I positioned the chairs just so — I wanted to make sure I could smell the jasmine when I sat in each of them. I thought better of putting the little Dr. Seuss flowers on the banister railing, given the raccoons that came most nights. And once it had all slid into place like a perfect Tetris moment, I sat down in the angled sunlight.
I watched a spider begin to spin a web. I talked on the phone with a friend in Portland. I curled my feet up under my legs and sat long and still until the sun set and the high altitude chill came. And then I sat a little bit longer, just to notice my skin tingling from the rapid change in temperature, and the way the light turned from yellow to green to blue.
• • •
I’ve been in a practice of cultivation — one might even say curating. It’s the process of putting everything in my life — including my thoughts, feelings and beliefs — under examination, turning them over in my hand, in my felt experience of them, and really asking if they fit (and honor) the Whole: my desired way of experiencing Life. Without much effort, I’ve managed to narrow my desires down to only a handful of things that, it turns out, are quite simple, but which in their simplicity, hold tremendous power.
Part of curating a life, though, inevitably finds me unable to keep everything. Some things just confuse the Whole, or upset the balance, or are superfluous.
And there are things, I’m finding, that have become so much a part of my inner architecture that removing them feels like taking out a load-bearing wall; I find myself feeling pretty sure the whole house is going to fall on my head. The result becomes something like being a reverse agoraphobic: not leaving the assumed safety of my “home,” not for fear of the outside world, but because I don’t want to return and find that everything — including myself — has been decimated.
But what I am sure of is this:
Life does not give us mirrors
— in the form of people, experiences and challenges —
that we aren’t ready for.
And in every moment, every mirror, there is always a choice: continue to let the patterns of Old dictate the new — or don’t. Surely, Life will always find another opportunity to present us with our Soul’s quest for growth. Really, it’s just a matter of Now or Later, and we get to decide.
Un-choosing a pattern can feel like walking off a cliff, and I don’t mean that poetically. I mean really: it can feel physically in the body like we are about to send ourselves, Thelma and Louise style, over a goddamned cliff. And because the very notion of breaking a pattern has to do with breaking, it can also feel like our bones are going to snap and our hearts are going to explode (not in the fun way that involves unicorns and sparkles).
It wouldn’t be safe to cut the legs off of a table we’ve been standing on our whole lives, so I can’t say I’m a believer in cold-turkeying old beliefs and patterns… but I am a believer in Feeling.
And I am, perhaps most importantly, a believer in Faith.
I recalled my day in the mountains potting flowers during a recent moment of curation, asking myself what it would be like to have what I want. What it would feel like? And I hadn’t planned it, but the question — and its answer — brought me to recall a day in which I felt exactly how I want to feel, and one that is aligned with one of my core values and priorities. And that, my friends, is simplicity.
What do we do when we want — really want — to leave our patterned lives? We risk discomfort, and get honest with ourselves about the fact that we are already uncomfortable in the patterned lives we’ve constructed. And sometimes, we have to walk off a cliff. But before we do (or maybe as we’re falling) we recognize that what we want already lives inside us, and:
It’s likely (probable, even) that at some point, we have FELT the way we want to FEEL when the answer to our question is “Yes”:
You can have that peace, that joy, that abundance and bliss.
But we have to say “yes” to IT: to the Peace, to the Joy, to the Abundance and Bliss. It’s the only way Life knows we’re serious. And it’s the only way Faith can catch us.
[My last view of my little cabin, way back when.]