Living into the Answers

I had breakfast with my shadow

we had quite the discussion

can you fall in love with the things you only know

the things that you may never touch

-Cloud Cult

 

Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

 

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I love that quote by Rilke. It has resonated with me ever since I first came across it. I love the phrase “…all that is unsolved in your heart…”. There is much that is unsolved in my heart, especially now, when so many parts of my life are in transition. The ground is shifting beneath my feet, both in my inner and outer landscapes. Some changes I anticipated, and some I did not. I have thoughts that I never imagined would come and lodge in my mind. Questions for which I have no neat answers. I ask myself how I am to find clarity amidst all this change. Sometimes it’s like learning the steps to a dance I never wanted to do. I stumble and falter and feel clumsy and uncertain. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard.

Rilke says we should not seek the answers, that we need to live the questions. What a liberating thought. To settle into the complexity and nuance of my questions, to lean into the ambiguity and even to welcome the confusion. This means growing a capacity to tolerate discomfort. It’s challenging to be present to the feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, to acknowledge them as valuable and important information. But I am learning to do just that. To sit with the not knowing and the anxiety that it brings. And I am finding that in acknowledging these difficult parts of myself, befriending them, I am discovering new strength and appreciation for the many gifts of each day. Leaning into sadness, anger and fear has opened me more deeply to experiences of joy, hope and delight. It’s such a paradox, and so unexpected.

“…can you fall in love with the things you only know, the things that you may never touch…” I know that my life is good; I know that in all things I am growing and learning and becoming. I know that God is in everything, every day, every struggle and joy. I can’t always touch these things. Sometimes they feel very far away and out of reach. But I think I am, as Rilke says, living into the answers. And for now, that is enough.

 

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The Gift of Trees

The Gift

 

It had rotted away

the piece of tree with the circle of an old cable reel on top

the reel end tipping now, the pots sliding back towards the wall

I took them all off, laid them on the ground

and bent to lift the stump, carry it to the bin

it crumbled in my arms, the bark peeling away in curved fragments

the inside was a dark, rich loam

I held fistfuls of it to my face and breathed its earthy scent

feeling joy rise up in me

gratitude for this gift of the tree’s last dying

I scattered it in a bed of periwinkle

and blessed it with a prayer of thanks

for the life it will bring

 

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Some mornings I sit on a bench in my garden, and I look up at the sky. When we moved into our house, almost fourteen years ago, the trees were small and barely wall height. Now they tower over me. As I write I can hear them whispering in the wind, see them swaying lightly. It is one of my favourite sounds, the wind in the trees. I sense the voice of God in the music of leaves. As I sit in the presence of my trees, I feel watched over, witnessed, held.

Sometimes I wake feeling fragile and full of fears I cannot quite name. I go into the garden and do the work of caring for it. I snip off dead blooms and cut back the Wormwood, scattering it in the beds to ward off bugs. It is a beautiful plant, with its soft feathery leaves and comforting scent. I untangle the Black-eyed Susan from the lavender and tuck its wayward strands into the pyramid of sticks I have put around its stem. By spring it will be a wild profusion of yellow and green. I pick tomatoes and peppers. I gather gooseberries and try not to eat all of them before I go back inside. I never tire of the delicate filigree of the bells that hold them, the papery sound as I peel them back and pop the berry into my mouth. I dig my hands into the soil and plant new things, flowers and herbs and fragrant shrubs whose aroma hangs in the air on hot summer mornings. I harvest thick black compost and marvel at the transformation of scraps and leaves into something so rich and life-giving.

There have been days when my back ached and my hands were sore from this work of tending to the garden. When I could not get all the dirt out from under my fingernails or the creases of my hands. At the end of those days, I have stood watering newly homed seedlings and watched rainbows dance in the arc of the droplets. I have gone out in the rain, and breathed in the smell of soil and plants soaked with it. I have been settled and soothed by the presence of my trees and comforted in the memory of my grandmother, evoked in the scent of Sweet Alyssum.

There are so many gifts to name and acknowledge. For me, the work of caring for a garden, is in so many ways an act of renewal. As I tend to the flowers, I am tending to myself, reminding myself of the goodness of life. The world is so beautiful, stubbornly so. In spite of the brokenness, it is still good.