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What Are You Cultivating?

My friend was telling a story to the kids at church (that’s what she does for work – cool, right?). It was a story about a boy who made a garden as his summer project. It was a wonderful story about all that was possible if you just pursue what makes you YOU, unique, special. And as with every garden story, it was also more.

agriculture-close-up-depth-of-field-767240In the garden we never question the need to take care. Initially it’s all about preparing the soil – and this ideally happens WAY ahead of time, something I struggle to remember both on the earth and in any endeavor. Next it’s about tending the soil AND protecting that emerging seedling. In my garden rabbits are usually the culprit and this stage – well, and for later summer seedlings, bugs.

As the plant grows there are a host of things that threaten the soil and the plant. Most of these need to be guarded against, spotted and removed, occasionally even eliminated (I confess I have been known to be merciless at times in the garden). If we get really good at this whole gardening thing, there is an additional category of things to do to encourage help in our garden – inviting beneficial bugs, making the area friendly for the right kinds of birds. Even experienced gardeners continually ask themselves what can help that garden flourish – what would bring it more nourishment? How can I prevent and stop weeds and pests from doing damage and inhibiting growth? We ask so many questions and make so many efforts.

What would it take to turn that lens on ourselves?

How do we prepare the soil for whatever we have to offer the world? What kind of nourishment will best serve us? How much water do we need? How much light and how much dark?

How do we protect tiny new shoots of growth and exploration? How do we keep them from being stomped on by careless acquaintances or by our own doubts and fears?

How do we keep a vigilant eye on creating the best possible conditions for growth while shaking off the pestering worries of how our growth will be received by others, master our resistance to our own change, prevent ourselves from self-sabotage and self-destruction?

Because that’s the work. We tend to think that whatever we do for a paycheck is our “work,” and I get that in our real-world economy, some attention needs to go toward that calculation, but our real work is in the garden. Our real work is tending the soil, having the patience for germination, protecting the seedling, nourishing the plant and being persistent enough to get to the day of harvest. In the garden we celebrate on harvest day – the day we finally get the bloom of the flower or the fruit from the tree or the bean from the bush. In our personal gardens, we can celebrate the whole process.

body-clouds-early-morning-823694We can celebrate what we learn about preparing the soil. We can pay keen attention to our bodies and how they feel. We can enjoy the pleasures of a good night sleep and a delicious and healthful meal. We can celebrate the emotional work we do to be ready to grow again. We can provide our bodies with experiences that make it feel well, whole, strong AND peaceful. We can congratulate ourselves as we enrich ourselves for new work. we can take pride in our capacity for self-care and refuse to allow it to be deemed “selfish” or vain.

adult-autumn-autumn-colors-1122280We can celebrate our growing ability to let the harsh words of others roll past us even in our most tender stages. We can acknowledge our increased capacity to spot and work through situations that we know will stop us short. We can appreciate the wisdom of the spirit that continues to grow even as we are uncertain that this is wise, good, or safe. We can give thanks for the ability to ask for help and the love embodied that brings us assistance.

female-girl-muscles-903590We can celebrate the ways in which our growing strength protects us from all manner of threats, the way we develop an ability to not be seduced by thoughts, plans, and actions of others that would take us off course. We can rejoice in the greater feeling of freedom that comes with each new shoot.

And when it is time to harvest, we can celebrate the miracle of everything we can create from this new vantage point, from this new perspective. And we can look behind us and see everything we were creating all along.

This is the work, and it is gut-wrenching and glorious and we are so blessed to have it. And let’s not forget what comes at the end of all of the work. It’s YOU, it’s what becomes possible if you can find the way to being exactly who you are and cultivating the part of you that can never be replicated. How are you tending your garden?

XO,

julia

Are You Skipping the Hard Parts?

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I have had a shaky relationship with the holidays in the past. This year, even as we approach the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death on December 23rd, has been fundamentally different.

In the past I resisted the hullabaloo of the holidays altogether – partly out of Grinchly attitudes and partly due to being a highly sensitive person in an increasingly loud and lit-up world. It turns out, now that I am reflecting on it, that my resistance to the Christmas hullaballoo (waiting to put the tree up, delaying Christmas music, holding off on the treats) was also a remnant of the Christianity of my childhood. Now, don’t get all skittish on me, this isn’t a piece about religion, so just hang in there. I’m going somewhere that applies to all of us, I promise.

In the Episcopal church of my childhood, the season of Advent was well-attended. Advent  is made up of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is seen as a time of preparation, of expectation. Most folks would assume that meant getting ready for Christmas, but Advent demands something deeper, as is reflected by the hymns that were saved specifically for this time of year. Advent is a time of quiet, of inward reflection, of questioning, of facing the dark (externally and internally), and of preparing for something new. This changes the whole Christmas and holiday scenario quite a bit.

Living ConsciouslyThese weeks before Christmas can be reserved by anyone of any faith tradition as an opportunity to engage in the deep inner-work of creating new life, because that’s what this holiday season is about. Christian or not, we can all appreciate the notion that there is a time for acknowledging what is past, releasing what is broken, asking ourselves what will be required of us next, and then consider the possibility for change. We can claim the time, space, and quiet to examine the life that IS and then consciously create something new.

The rush to the sparkly parts of the season push us past the dark work of the soul that can be so difficult but so transformative. The rush to the physical preparation for the season and the intensely over-scheduled calendars leave no time for examination, for contemplation, for internal preparation. It is all about the wrapping paper. Just as we rush to the celebrations of the season (and the retailers push the start date earlier and earlier), so too do we try to rush to the trappings/accessories/feelings of a better life without doing the personal and contemplative work that actually promotes the change that is available to all of us.

The Holiday Frenzy Hides an Opportunity for GrowthSometimes the need for change requires action, don’t misunderstand me. I have several digital feeds that keep me on top of political actions I should take without the benefit of deep and lasting contemplation. But the work of the soul, the work of creating an internal and external world that we want to live in, the work of recreating ourselves and our lives? THAT requires more than a cheerful song and a sugar cookie, and in our hustle bustle world, the opportunity for that kind of work must be created by individuals who desire it.

How do we create those opportunities? We say no. We say no to being totally overbooked. We say no to filling all of the space with music and decorations. We say no to filling every minute of our day with the physical preparations for the season and reserve some time for the quiet work of self-examination and the self-inquiry that creates the space to create new life.

I’ve already put my tree up, as it is perhaps my very favorite part of the holiday season. The beauty of it makes me catch my breath. And it makes an excellent companion as I sit, in the darkness of December, and turn my thoughts to what is to come.

xo,

j