approaching mindfulness

Four summers ago a sunflower appeared where it shouldn’t have: between a crack of paving slab and some scabrous weed. 

My immediate response, at its first tender sighting, was to hack it down: a fairly mindless response, I know. 

Perhaps its fledgling presence affronted some sense of horticultural choreography playing itself out in my mind. Either way, its presence presented itself as a dilemma; a challenge to my preconceptions. So I did what I normally do when confronted with a dilemma. I went back to the kitchen and drank tea. Then I asked my significant other what to do with the virulent upstart. She told me – quite simply – that the sunflower was beautiful and that I needed to cultivate a different awareness of its presence.

I'm not sure if I succeeded in that, but I noticed that my hacking instinct had receded. So I left it.

A couple of days later we went on holiday and I forgot all about the sunflower that was growing through the crack of paving slab in the garden. But on returning, I was intrigued to rediscover it. There it was, still standing. In fact it was flourishing, some three times its original sighting height. A now proud, virulent spear of Mantis green.

That was when I started taking photographs of it, and found myself becoming curious about the different ways I could simply notice its subtle, nuanced, resilient growth. 

In fact, I became rather delighted by its presence and the feeling within me as I observed it become the focal point of the garden. 

During my son’s 3rd birthday party the children, unbidden, gravitated towards it as a place to ring- a- round.

Even the adults were inspired to come out to play.

It also came in handy for charting other significant milestones of development.

It was becoming part of the fabric of everyday life.

I was beginning to find that by simply documenting its slow growth, as it harboured itself in the warm shades of summer light, it was becoming an anchor for my own emerging – albeit inchoate – sense of mindful awareness. There seemed to be some embodiment of stillness here, some rooted patience; some sense of what is meant by the unfolding of present moments.

Then I noticed a botanic sidekick, emerging, just outside the sunflower’s protective shadow.

A small bedding plant in full bloom.

This new presence somehow guided me to a sense of myself as a child. 

To a sense of how vulnerable I was as a child.

Both sunflower and bedding plant were coming to represent the idea of how we are seeds sown – scattered haphazardly – between the cracks and scabrous weed.

Until, that is, we emerge into our own particular light.

I thought about how I too needed to be protected as a child but also of how my parents had experienced their own vulnerability; how they too had come from not the most auspicious of starts in life – not unlike the sunflower and the bedding plant.

I thought of how we are all – in our present moments – younger selves: innocent selves attempting to grow under a stern sun between the harsh spaces and the sometimes welcome – sometimes not so welcome – shades. I got this feeling of how we are all still connected to the self that sought and continues somehow in its seeking to be sought.

To be nurtured. Valued. Loved.

Perhaps it is only through the prolonged noticing of things that we germinate compassion towards ourselves before knowing how to extend it outwards to others. And that no matter what… you are still that child; you are still in the process of becoming. But in that process you are also – often times painfully – learning how to let go.

The sunflower and its sidekick did their best, regardless of their inauspicious start; regardless of their place in the prescribed order of things.The place where they grew had no effect on the vitality of their existence. All they needed was to be offered the active hope of being themselves. That seemed to me to be at the heart of this new sense of noticing: offering active hope; of allowing all things to be themselves.

And so, through the rains of summer, 

and the hints of early autumn’s ‘mellow fruitfulness’, 

the sunflower started to bloom.

Craning its neck toward to westward sun.

Slowly awakening…awakening slowly, out of its seemingly unwelcome home.

Until the storm came.

And my attention was diverted to other images of impermanence.

There was a sunflower. Then there was no sunflower.

Between existence and non-existence there is a place of exploration that offers itself in a series of unfurling present moments that are each a new beginning.

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make and end is to make a beginning….

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

TS Eliot – Little Gidding

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