Sometimes you come to me Disguised as a friend, a stranger A student sometimes And, sitting low below me You ask me, ardently, to sing… Enamored by your asking, then Yet, slowly and hesitantly, like A hatchling tiptoeing to the edge of a cliff Warmed by the sun that also seems to be below I sing my blurry-eyed song Just a newborn, raw call across the immense valley That I don’t yet know how to cross… But you break into rapture You dance on the words And hold close my broken notes As if they were stars of the rarest sky And – as if they came from me – When, I know, it is all you… Even the wind Even the wings Even the valley Even the song. Tell me, my Master Isn’t this how you ease me Out of the frail safety of my nest? Don’t you make me a hawk And, you, the sky I pour myself into So I may learn from your open arms That joy has two sides: One, a giver, two, a receiver…? The world holds higher the giver The singer, the poet, the painter, but If there weren’t always the receptacle The unconditional, bottomless heart There would be no homecoming No tears of joy… Would there? And when our exchange is done for the night And sleep closes all outward doors I forget all this grand knowing, except: How much you love me That you meet me everywhere, inside everything. This is the gift you wanted me to find Hidden in your disguise Isn’t it?
Flowers are categorised as ‘soft’, not merely because of what they feel like in our hands but, perhaps, because they fall easily, they are crushed easily, they cease to be – easily. But is that a weakness? Or is it a mark of strength and wisdom? To flow with the flow of Nature without resistance. To waste no effort towards perfection. To celebrate the fullness of every stage, each season, every visitor. And it is to bow before this divine quality that Zen masters wrote haiku in praise of Sakura blossoms. But we assign value to things based on how long they can withstand the onslaught of life. Man, especially the gender specific man, is conditioned to want to be ‘solid like a rock’, as opposed to ‘gentle like a flower’. It conveys the faulty notion that one must, by any means, outlive all natural processes, however foolish the attempt might be, however insane that might drive you, however draining the effort might prove.
But, tell me, would it be too far out to say that anything solid is just a longer dying/transformation process? And that’s Nature too. But, look at how we judge and divide our own selves, as well as others, just as we do a hard thing and soft thing. The relegation of finer emotions, of senses beyond the fifth, of all things born of a childlike imagination, like flowers, to a doll’s house play, has been the mainstream culture world over. Approval/disapproval. Acceptance/denial. Feminine/Masculine. And, thus, the majority of us live half-lives, fighting against that which must just be offered at the altar of the moment, like a flower does.
It experiences itself for just a few days. Some have just the night. And all the undivided burst of colour, fragrance, nectar and beauty is lived and shared in just a handful of moments. This speaks to the truth that ‘life’ lies beyond time and age. You can take ninety years and still not have begun, or a day is enough.
This above thought is something of a flower too, which was pressed into my hands by one Liv Ilher, residing in far off Norway. She is a wife and a mother, a woman well into the profound winter of her age. But on one gift of an afternoon for me, she pulled out a book, prompted by the simplicity of ‘wanting to share’ that age confers, and shared with me her core – still vibrant as that of a flower. It was a book of botanical drawings and poetry.
We speak different languages, besides the fact that we were holed up in two different corners of the world. But we both felt a shift, as if something had opened: a closed bud touched by the hand of dawn. As her eyes lit up, my heart rose from its quarantine, and went into the fields with her to look at those flowers so beautifully painted, and the poems stirred by them. It is written by another gorgeous, well loved woman, Dagny Tande Lid, and is called, in translation:
“Oh no for a spring – Flowers in drawings and poems”
Dagny was a Norwegian painter, illustrator and poet, well acclaimed and well loved, as was plain in the eyes of Liv who kept turning the pages of the book to show me the artwork. This book is Dagny’s ode to the secret that flowers carry so openly. And so I found, much to my gratitude, that every drawing in this book was a pathway. Every poem was a hand offered. And every flower made into a ally. Tove Elise Ilher, Liv’s daughter and my co-passenger on this journey, translated some of the poems for me. Here is one where Dagny Tande Lid writes of her own heart as:
“I wake up happy every morning It sings in my mind… My heart’s forest is always spring green Like the light linden in my garden I know for sure that years have marked my face But my heart is a spring forest Where blue violets grow… I walk around heady with love at spring A corner of my heart Is still twenty years.“
(A Corner of My Heart)
Some might find this feminine, simplistic, even girly. But to be able to feel a constant ‘spring forest’ in one’s heart is to live unafraid, free of duality, full, here and now. Like a flower. Isn’t that the most powerful expression of Existence? And, yet, because it is so ephemeral, you cannot quite absorb the presence of a flower unless you are very present yourself. The weakness we perceive of a flower, is, in fact, our own weakness, our lack of attention. And yet, it is meant to elude the ordinary mind. How? One, flowers are so much a part of our everyday that they become obscure to our senses by being common. The mind always wants to travel to rare, out-of-ordinary-grasp-things. It wants adventure before it can accept rejoicing. But, obviously, there’s no sane reason to wait. And flowers are so right here. We, on the other hand, want no part in ‘right here’. We must strive, achieve, rise and charge forth like Don Quixote. Two, they bloom in such fantastic numbers, pulling not one stem but whole trees, entire fields, mountain sides and valleys into such an explosive gallery that the mind cannot consciously and reasonably absorb it. Existence has this disarming method. It leaves one feeling very ‘answered’ without there ever having been a properly formulated question. You don’t even know what you are looking at. Those who see through that only laugh, and are called gurus.
The thing is that, going by what flowers evoke in one’s heart, they are not meant to make hard sense. They are meant only to be, and inspire being, and love, love being the highest quality of being… I return to look at Liv who, from all her precious things collected over decades on this Earth, pulled out the one thing that had tangible meaning to her to show to a stranger. A thing that wouldn’t let her age and feel senile: It was her connection with blossoms, leaves and grass. And that’s what she passes on.
Nothing in the natural world is supposed to fit or fall into place. And though mathematics puts not just everything but every person in her place, there’s Pi that is going on endlessly, like a memory of a field of poppies at dawn. There’s zero that holds, like a rose, an eternity waiting within, as well as the void to dive into. No wonder, then, that poets and artists turn to flowers to illustrate all feelings between birth and death, and beyond. Because to one who has had enough of the world of man, the tiniest flower holds all the answers. As Tagny writes, so simply and directly:
“To the grass I can come It’s so good and comforting Amongst the light trees in the meadow I think grass and flowers are much more closer to me Than people’s strange hearts Because if I go to people with the pleasures I have They shrug And if I go to people with the sorrows of my heart They coldly let me know That everyone has enough of their own But if I go to the flowers They understand every word They look at me and smile They bend towards the soil To the grass I can go safely and find shelter And then, gently, it will cover me one day In my death’s peace And under this grass My heart will find rest.“
This book is a book of living well, in a relationship of awareness with flowers. The drawings and poems are etchings of a heart returning home to presence, wholeness and beauty. It makes me wonder if one mustn’t just look at flowers or arrange them, or offer them in love or worship – but kneel before them. Kneel before a single blossom, which, for no reason other than that of the dance of creation, blooms, gives, and dies, making plain the path that remains hidden to our conditioned eyes.