Noticing the Gifts of Nature in Every Momentby Courage & Renewal Facilitator Megan LeBoutillier
This morning, while it was still cool and the humidity hadn’t settled in like a hot, wet dog, I went to the garden to pick flowers. Central Virginia in the summer can yield an explosion of growth. This year is especially lush as spring offered an abundance of rain. Wandering through the garden, I marveled at what nature sends forth, and, as always, I noticed the weeds. After cutting an armful of peonies, iris and rhododendron, I gathered my big weed bucket and hand tool while mentally delineating the area I would clear. I am a meticulous weeder and have had to limit my obsession of late so as not to cripple myself for several days. Two buckets-full have become my limit. One thing I love about weeding is that it brings my attention so close to the ground. There are few distractions and much to discover when one is focused close to the ground. I also like how slowly I move on my hands and knees.
I remember inviting a garden designer friend of mine to join a Courage to Teach spring retreat one year to take the group through the North Carolina Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill. When the group was assembled and introductions had been made, my friend, Rebecca, said she was going to take us through the garden, and then proceeded to take off down the path at a dead run. After a few minutes she returned to the stunned group to explain her illustration of how people often approach life, nature and a walk in the garden. She explained that her actual intention for the morning was to lead us slowly, inviting us to bring a sense of wonder and discovery.
So off we went, slowly turning up green and purple leaves to discover delicate white blossoms hidden underneath. She showed us hidden beauty that most of us would usually miss. She helped us see the secrets that nature hides in order to protect and asks us to discover. I have not been the same since she invited us into another way of being and seeing the natural world.What I noticed this morning as a slowly moved through part of my garden is that a Japanese maple has volunteered five new saplings and nestled them carefully within the periwinkle ground covering so that they are safe from the lawn mower. I noticed the tree peony has graced us with more blossom this year than in the eight years I’ve been watching. I noticed hummingbirds have found the feeder, and even though I didn’t see the birds, I heard their chirping and felt them whizzing past me. I noticed that the bear who came and stole the bird feeders last week managed not to step on some of my most favored plants on his way to the back porch. I noticed that I no longer feel the paralyzing anxiety I felt for a few years in one spot of the garden where I was bitten by a poisonous snake. I noticed the deer have begun their annual garden sampling. I smelled the fresh cut hay my neighbor put up late yesterday afternoon. I heard the familiar mechanical clacking of a machine I’ve always imagined to be an automatic milking machine from the dairy near by. As I began to feel stiffness in my lower back, my second bucket of weeds was full. I honored my commitment to not do too much, while making a mental note to try to carry the spirit of slowness and noticing on through my day.Formation work brings us to the awareness of how our inner work alters our outer work and how our outer work may alter our inner work. It is the process of creating a quiet, focused and disciplined space. It is about listening inward. It is about noticing. I think it is a lot like weeding. For those of us who garden, summer is a time for working and an opportunity for wonder. I find in the poet, Mary Oliver, a curiously observant fellow explorer.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver has a keen gift for observation and moving slowly. Her up-close and hands-on dance with a grasshopper is a rare contribution to the art of looking closely and being fully engaged. Together, Mary Oliver and the grasshopper are gazing around with their enormous and complicated eyes. Can you think of a time when you examined something carefully? Have you held something wild in the palm of your hand so gently that it would eat?
I am always moved by the line, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention… I wonder, is there a difference? Paying attention is not only perceiving the natural world, it is listening within, hearing and heeding the desires of your inner teacher, artist, gardener, magician. Paying attention is how we might begin to hear murmurings from deep within ourselves that could begin to answer the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I’d like to invite you into a summer garden. I’d like to invite you to sit down, or move very slowly. Imagine yourself idle and blessed like Mary Oliver. Let your senses open to the your experience. What do you notice? What is calling your attention and how? What are you trying not to notice?
How does the garden metaphorically represent some aspect of your personal or professional life? Is there new growth in you volunteering to grow somewhere safe? Are there new shoots growing in harm’s way? What is in your world that could mow you down? Are places in your garden getting bites taken out? Are there poisonous snakes lurking? Are the blossoms more magnificent this year than ever before? Are bears tromping through your garden? Are there flowers hidden low below leaves you never noticed or looked under before? Are you tempted to fill more than two buckets full of weeds and then not be able to move with ease? Is your inner work interfering with your outer work or is your outer work interfering with you inner work? How could the flow become more harmonious?
Summer is the season of fullness and much to notice. It is also hot, perhaps humid, and sometimes filled with violent storms. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, but I do know how to pay attention.