Witnessing

“But there is another kind of listening, a listening that we neglect at our own peril, that is not about getting some particular place, but simply about witnessing another human being. This kind of listening is long and open-ended. It’s patient. It’s curious. It’s not calculating. This kind of listening operates on only one level — the words coming out, the way they hit the ear, the shaping of a story, a sadness, a yearning, a wish.”

Courtney E. Martin, columnist for On Being

2015-03-16 one

The other day I had an intense and loving conversation with a friend. Her daughter has an eating disorder, her friend is very ill, someone else is going through difficult times, her neighbor has some mental health concerns that worry her, she herself has some auto immune issues, her body hurts……

I felt like if I spoke I would interrupt this flow of life she was trying to process. I really didn’t feel like I could offer very many words of advice, or comfort that would ease her hurt, so I listened. Just met her eyes and listened. She talked, and released, teared up, and regained composure. She talked more about how all these things happening to other people come creeping into her life and thoughts and prayers as worry and fear. She cried about the fear of the things happening to her. And I listened. She cried and struggled, but in a way it was like a beautiful song. A song of everything that makes us human.

When it was time to leave she hugged me tight “THANK YOU!!” she said, “for being here for me. For just listening.”

Then I came home and read an article on On Being With Krista Tippett, http://www.onbeing.org/about and thought, “Oh yes. This is it.”

Another kind of listening. Witnessing another human being. That’s what had transpired. What I had experienced with my friend were her words coming out shaping a story, sadness, yearnings, wishes. My witnessing her story by listening.

I wish we could do this more often. Not just with the people we love and care for, but also with the people we don’t know well, maybe shy away from, or fear. People who are not like us. People who have experiences we will never have. I wish we could witness their life story, their intrinsic value. Witness them as another human being.

I agree with the author that this other kind of listening can also happen when we are in positions where we can’t help but overhear the conversations of others…if we listen, we may hear their story. We may find ourselves witnessing their humanness, their tenderness or fragility. Their story. The person in the next booth at the diner. The person talking on the phone next to us in line. The two friends sharing coffee. The human interest stories on the news. The answer we get or maybe don’t get, when we ask, “How are you?”

At the end of the piece Courtney writes, “It’s an overlooked kind of love….and it doesn’t happen often enough.”

Can we offer this overlooked kind of love to others? Allowing “the shaping of a story, a sadness, a yearning, a wish” of another?

More than the general conversation we regularly have. More than the “Oh I know how you feel. That’s happened to ME!!” More than the “Hang in there, it will be ok.” More than offering suggestions and advice. More than answering our cell phone in the middle of someone’s sentence, waving our finger saying “Hold on just one minute.” More than what we usually do. Allowing it to be someone else’s story, experience, grief, joy. Allowing them to shape it, define it. Allowing it to be theirs. Witnessing the value and importance of this story for this person.

Do we? Do you?

Advertisements

Gardening

The heart is like a garden:
it can grow compassion or fear,
resentment or love.
What seeds will you plant there?
~Jack Kornfield

flower1a

It’s spring! More days of sun and warmth. Birds returning and filling the air with song. Tiny buds of color peeping through the slowly melting snow. Our hearts soar and we sigh a sigh of welcome and embrace a sense of rebirth after the cold and darkness of the winter months.

Some of us look forward to the piles of seed and nursery catalogs that begin to fill our mail boxes. Like young children in the days of department store catalogs looking longingly at the hundreds of pages of toys Santa might bring, we ponder growing zones, light requirements, water needs and more.

There are times in our lives when we may pause and think about how we are growing. Maybe even what we are growing.

If you were to go through a seed catalog of personal growth or transformation, or even conviction and purpose, what kind of seeds would you choose to plant and nurture? What sort of color and beauty would you bring into your life? Would you choose things that germinate quickly or would you be more patient? Are you looking for things that grow in full sunlight with ample watering, or plants that grow happily in shade and require less water? How much care will you provide?

Perhaps you are looking for seeds to produce food….or maybe just ornamental flowers. Annuals or perennials? Is it important that your plants and garden attract and support wildlife?

What about resistance? Resistance to insects, deer, disease, mildew, drought, heat? Things we might regard as nuisances.

Open your seed catalog and browse. What will you choose to grow?

There is a section for Personal growth:  Pink Patience (slow germination time), Tender Forgiveness, Joyful Laughter (quick sprouter), Purple Peace of Mind.

In the Reaching Out section there are seed packets for Endless Kindness, Hardy Uplifting, Tall Flowering Tolerance, Arching Acceptance, Continual Compassion (needs fertilizer) and Lavender Love (continuous blooming).

Under the category of Resilience we find Fragrant Flexibility, both the climbing and ground cover varieties, and Sunny Confidence in all shades of yellow and orange.

There may be too many choices in the Spirituality section, so go slowly, read the descriptions and plan accordingly. Favorites include: Prayerful Pansy, in all colors,  Divine Daisy, Passion Poppy, Reflective Fern, Believers Berries (good for some wildlife), Mindful Meadow Rue, Bee Balm Wisdom, Pious Iris, Sacred Cosmos, Hopeful Heliotrope (easy wilter, keep watered).

flower2a

There is another section on invasive and tenacious plants. Included are seed packets for Frozen Fear (spreads almost uncontrollably, so be careful where you plant it), in shades of purple.  Resentment Rose has as many colors as thorns. Angry Aubergine, makes a bitter parmesan. Hateful Horseradish is not for the full-hearted. These require certain types of soil and fertilizer to maintain healthy growth. Read labels carefully. Once these get a footing, they may be hard to thin or remove.

Really, the choices are endless. What do you pick? Perennials or annuals? Kindness and Love? Both? Flowers or bushes? Mindfulness or Passion? Flexibility and Acceptance? Drought resistant? Fear and Anger? Sunny or shady? Laughter or Patience?

If a friend or stranger were to come into your heart garden, what would they see? When you pick a bouquet for your home, what will it look like? When you create a nosegay for a friend, what it is the message it sends?

If you are a beginner and get frustrated with the results, no worries. It takes time to get the right mix for your garden. Remember:

“You’re frustrated because you keep waiting
for the blooming of flowers of which
you have yet to sow the seeds.”
~ Steve Maraboli

What seeds will you plant in your heart?

 

**both photographs by me

The Delectation of Childhood

Delectation: pleasure and delight.

I grew up with a small woods in my back yard. If you took a quick walk through these woods you might not notice much color. The blue of the sky above. The brown of the ground and tree trunks. The green of leaves and plants. But, when you were 6 and pretending to be a scout , moving slowly with deliberate steps so as to not make one sound, you paused automatically to look around. To listen. There wasn’t one shade of green but dozens: new green, dying green, bright green, dark green, leaf green, moss green, etc. The tree trunks were not brown. They were sable and black, taupe and gray. Ochre and ecru were colors I didn’t even know then. There was a hint of white or cream, and rust and doe brown and soil brown. Dry soil brown and damp soil brown. Little dollops of red from berries and the dots on mushrooms punctuated the greens and browns like exclamation points. The sky was blue, but the shades were infinite. The blue was different if you looked east or south. Even the brightness or drabness of the light in the woods was uncontrollable, unpredicatable. Some days brilliant sun rays jabbed at the ground. Other days it looked like a dull yellow veil had been draped over everything. Birds sang joy filled songs and cried out dire warnings. Chipmunks called to each other and repeated clicks and clucks in an endless alert to imminent danger. Leaves on trees danced and sang as the wind softly blew. Decaying leaves rustled as snakes slithered by.

treetops2

 (photo by me)

The side yard held a swamp. Here there were different colors and light. The sounds were muddled by peat moss and water. Insects chirped and twittered. With wings whirling and buzzing, they landed, kerplunk, on over sized swamp leaves. In the swamp the wetness galumphed and gurgled.  Summer heat felt different here. The swamp smelled of life that was both in fullness and in decay.

dragonfly2

 (Photo by me)

My sandbox didn’t interest me so I pulled wild plants up and planted them, turning the sandbox into a garden. Wild roses opened their pale pink petals that smelled like spice. Somehow wild forget-me-nots found the sand hospitable. Violets reappeared each spring. A scraggly maple sapling sent roots deep through the sand and gravel to find the nourishment it needed. I tried everything. The things that grew were incorrigible, totally disinterested in planting guide recommendations. (Now, I am not so lucky with my gardening!!)

These were my favorite places as a child. I saw, smelled, heard, tasted and felt things that mattered to me. Things that moved something deep inside of me. The comfort of Nature enveloped me and nurtured me. There was nothing ordinary or mundane in these environments. Everything was extraordinary and worthy of notice and appreciation, of understanding and protection.

In my woods there were five particular trees that formed an almost square.  I would, at age 6 or 7, traipse to the edge of the swamp and collect cattail leaves. Long, sharp, dark green sword shaped leaves and carry them to “my trees”. I would wander the woods collecting slender branches and sticks. Sometimes my dad would come out and help as I somehow tied or rested the branches around the perimeter of the five trees and bent the cattail leaves over them, making walls to what would become my “fort”. At least one of these trees was a pine tree. It’s broken and living branches provided the perfect spacing of  ladder rungs for me to climb and survey my surroundings, watching for friend or foe. Pine needles carpeted the floor. I can close my eyes and smell the pungent pine scent.

My dad showed me what the wintergreen plant looked like and how to chew the leaves for a refreshing uplift when the summer heat became tiring. I think perhaps that led me to discover identification books…for plants, trees, flowers, animals, mushroom, insects….whatever I could get my hands on. I don’t know how I came by these books: if we had them in the house (my memory is that we had a least a million books) or if somehow I asked for them.

I learned where the animals lived. Some underground, some in trees. After a rain or a light snow, using field guides, I learned how to identify their tracks….and discovered their trails to food and water sources.

I learned how to identify the swamp and forest plants. Marsh marigolds and stinky skunk cabbage. Spongy peat moss fascinated me with it’s drippiness and damp, musty scent. Forest moss was my favorite with its tiny forest of sporophytes holding up seed capsules. I wondered if fairies lived in these miniature forests.

Mushrooms seemed like cartoons. Someone was very careful in teaching me about mushrooms…I never touched or picked any. But I loved the frills and spots, the pores and the musty smell. Mysterious fairy rings would sometimes grow in our yard, supporting the notion that fairies lived in the moss forests.

I learned about popping jewel weed buds and that often it grew near poison ivy. Poison ivy just so happened to grow at the edge of the woods by my yard. I also discovered, much to my mother’s dismay, that I was not allergic to poison ivy….but she was. I learned why Milkweed was called Milkweed.

Yet, the most vivid memories are of finding Indian Pipes, Monotropa uniflora and Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Arisaema triphyllum. These two plants were not always easily found. Finding either one was like receiving a gift from the woods….something special.

The Indian Pipes were devoid of color, a ghostly, translucent white. Even with the gentle curve of it’s Shepard’s hook stalk , fragile bell shaped flower and delicate frills and ruffles, they looked sickly. They grew at the base of trees and lived symbiotically with the tree roots, feeding on a fungi that grew on them. They did not need sunlight. If you touched one it was possible to believe it would just dissolve into slime on your hand. Jack-in–the Pulpits were shy, hiding in darker corners behind tree trunks. The mysterious little Jack (spadix) was always hiding under cover of a slightly striped hood (spathe). In the fall “Jack” sent up a spike filled with plump red berries.

jack2

 (photo by me)

These two plants in particular represent childhood and the wonder of nature to me. They signify finding awe, miracles and mystery in nature. And as I grew older, they became increasingly more difficult to find and see….

When my kids were little I remember walking with them through a wildflower preserve here in town. The bulletin board at the entrance mentioned that Jack-in-the Pulpits were in bloom. A pang of excitement surged through me! I could show my young children these special little gifts from Nature, memories from my childhood. We walked and walked. I looked and looked. Nothing. I couldn’t find them. I felt heart broken. Disappointed. Worried…why couldn’t I find them? We left.

I returned. I couldn’t stand it. Where were they? Other people had seen them, why couldn’t I? I felt a little silly, but this was bothering me. I walked through the garden again, looking and looking. Nothing. Finally I stopped. Stopped moving. Stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Just like that 6 year old child pretending to be s a scout. I had the conscious thought that when I opened my eyes, everything would be special; miraculous…nothing would be mundane, ordinary or average. I would stop looking for something I thought was special and allow everything to be special. I open my eyes and walked. Seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing. Everything sang of beauty, wonder. And there, at the base of a slender tree was a Jack-in-the-pulpit. Right there next to the path.

When I allowed myself to see and experience everything as unique and wondrous, everything appeared….A reminder that everything is miraculous. A reminder to see things as such. Nothing is ordinary. It is all a miracle.

“There are only two ways to live your life. 
One is as though nothing is a miracle,
the other is as though everything is a miracle.”
-Albert Einstein

**Photographs by me.