Depressing, isn’t it?
It’s taken me God knows how many lifetimes to finally realize it’s true: That no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, no matter how badly I want out of this funk or this hell or this circumstance, I can never find my way out of the pain or confusion or difficulty — at least not in any lasting way.
Neither can you, of course. If you’ve ever had the sense that everything you do is futile, then — how do I put this? — well, you’re kind of right. (Not completely right, mind you. Just kind of.)
And that’s the bad news: that no matter how hard we try, we can never actually find our way out.
The good news?
We don’t have to. We’ve never had to.
. . .
Seven years ago, I was a shell of a person cooped up in a cubicle, dreaming of ways to escape. I longed to find work — and a life! — more aligned with my passions. But no matter how I tried, at the time I had no idea how to find my way out.
Three years ago, I was desperately wondering where “home” was and where I belonged on this planet. For years, I’d lived with the nagging sense that the city I’d grown up in wasn’t the place I actually belonged. I felt strongly called to be somewhere else — but where? Why did it feel so impossible to pinpoint the destination my soul knew so well?
A year and a half ago, I felt lonely, misunderstood, and separate from the sense of connection and community I longed for. Of course, no matter how hard I tried to claw for solutions or go out of my way to meet new people, the sense of deep community I longed for seemed to elude me.
It’s not that things never fell into place, mind you — eventually, they did. Every single one of them.
It’s just that — well, I didn’t do it. I didn’t find my way out.
In one million years, my Starbucks guzzling, Coach purse carrying, basic AF 2011 self never could’ve devised a plan that would’ve led me here, to the life I’m living today. I never could have known that I belonged in this sweet little pink and purple house in Portland, Oregon, with a hammock swinging on the front porch, a lush grapevine spreading its way slowly across the back patio, and a creeping vine of breathtaking passionflowers blooming outside my bedroom window.
I can remember years ago poking fun at this city, commenting to my ex-boyfriend that “The people here are just… so… Portland!” I turned my nose up at the rainy weather, certain that I could never see myself here.
Now, to my surprise and delight, I can’t see myself anywhere else.
I never could have imagined that I’d one day be able to make a living writing books and creating online marketing plans for out-of-the-box companies, or that my not-into-pot self would one day find incredible passion working in the legal cannabis industry (which is what I did for over a year, btw, but that’s a story for another time ;-)).
And I certainly couldn’t have devised in advance how, when and where I’d meet my tribe of Portland soul sisters, a compassionate and wise group of women with whom I would experience a deeper sense of connection, belonging, community and growth than I’ve ever known before.
Years ago, I couldn’t have dreamt up any of this if I tried! I couldn’t have “manifested” any of this or found my way out, because the way out — this beautiful, strange and crazy life I’m living today — was inconceivable at the time.
I didn’t do it.
But I didn’t just sit back on my couch, hope for the best and eat enough Cheetos to feed a small family, either.
So if I didn’t do it — but if I didn’t do nothing, either — then how did it all happen, anyway?
Mostly, I think, it’s because I learned to become a gardener.
What Gardening Taught Me About Finding My Way In Life
I’ve never really been a big TV watcher, but I remember years ago always hearing about that show called “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”
Do you remember that show? Maybe you’ve watched it.
Anyway, today we’re going to find out if you’re smarter than a fifth grader. Or a first grader. Or heck, even a preschooler could probably answer this question right.
Are you ready for it? Ok, here it is:
Can a gardener ever actually grow a plant? In other words, can she make her garden grow?
Well? Can she?
Martin Laird, author of Into The Silent Land, wrote the following:
“…a gardener does not actually grow plants. A gardener practices certain gardening skills that facilitate growth that is beyond the gardener’s direct control.”
And so it is with life. If life were a flower garden, we’d be the gardeners. No matter how much we try — no matter what we do — ultimately, we can never make a flower grow or force it to sprout and blossom.
We can water our little plot of land as much as we’d like. We can pull weeds, fertilize the soil, and prune and poke and plow until we’re blue in the face. Our actions are by no means inconsequential — they’re important, and often necessary, in order to generate the desired outcome — still, we simply cannot make our garden grow. No matter how we try, we cannot force a breakthrough. We cannot force a sense of clarity or enlightenment or happiness.
It’s kind of like meditation, which is actually what Laird was referring to in the passage above.
We can meditate until we’re blue in the face. Sitting down, getting still, and opening ourselves to the present moment are important actions to take, no doubt. Yet no matter how long we sit there with our legs crossed, following our breath, we cannot force an experience of bliss or connection or enlightenment or whatever it is that we think we are searching for.
All we can do — all we must do! — is continue to sit on a regular basis. As we continue nurturing our meditation practice, we’re practicing our gardening skills. Over time, with regular gardening — and when the time and the season is just right — the garden is likely to sprout and grow.
Not because we did it, mind you.
Rather, it will have sprouted as the result of our ability to consistently create the facilitative conditions necessary for growth — while simultaneously trusting in and allowing Life to take care of the rest.
It is in this tender place of nurturing the process without attaching to results — of knowing that we don’t have to (and in fact, can’t!) make it happen all on our own — where the true magic lies.
The Mysterious Garden of Life
The thing about life, of course, is that it’s an incredibly mysterious flower garden.
We don’t really know in advance which flowers will grow and which will fail to take form. We don’t know exactly when it’ll happen or how long the process will take. We don’t know if we’ll end up with a daisy, a rose, or something else altogether.
(Shoutout to Hanson, btw — my childhood crushes — who once famously sang “Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose/You can plant any one of those/Keep planting to find out which one grows/It’s a secret no one knows…”😂😂😂!)
Sure, we can plant certain seeds or hold specific intentions for our garden. Of course we hold a level of influence over it, but we cannot directly control the way in which it will ultimately grow. (After all, have any of our lives turned out exactly how we thought they would? Anybody? Raise your hands?! Nope. I didn’t think so.)
But here’s the deal.
Regardless of whether our garden turns out the way we hoped it would or whether we ultimately get what we thought we wanted — and even when some flowers die that we’d hoped would bloom, or when our little plot of land has completely frozen over in the dead of winter — we can look at the garden and know one thing for sure: That even in the midst of the chaos and destruction and unpredictability, that magical life force that turns seed to seedling, seedling to bud, bud to blossom, and that lives and breathes within every molecule of the universe can never leave. It is always present, running through it all, orchestrating that beautiful and incomprehensible process of growth.
Maybe in this lifetime, we could learn to trust that a little. To let go of our controlling, deranged notions of how our garden “should” look and to trust that at the right time, the perfect seeds will grow — even if it doesn’t end up happening in the way we thought we wanted it to.
Maybe we could learn to trust that the same great force of life that animates every creature and runs through every plant and every atom in the universe lives within us too, making our heart beat, our lungs breathe in the sweet air, and our fingernails grow.
Just as this force is what makes the flower bloom, it is also what allows our lives to bloom, if only we can open enough to let it work its way in.
We are a part of nature, after all.
Perhaps that’s why some of the best metaphors for life are mirrors of nature. Like this one:
“Go down to where the river is flowing.
Let go of all the outer concerns
and busyness —
Go down to the banks of the river of your own life.
The river will carry us toward our own destiny.
The river will find the way.
We don’t have to figure it all out.”
– Kathleen Mary Depro
Or this one:
“Let the world come to you. The sun comes to the flowers. The rain comes. The sun touches, caresses the flower
and in the warmth of the sun’s love, the flower opens…
and so the spirit enters us.”
– Kathleen Mary Depro
Or this one:
“As the traveler who has lost his way throws his reins on his horse’s neck, and trusts to the instinct of the animal to find his road, so we must do with the divine animal who carries us through this world.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rivers, flowers, animals — we’re all really talking about the same thing.
If we can learn to trust this force to govern not only our bodies and the natural world, but every circumstance of our lives, then perhaps our lives will unfold just as nature’s perfection does: Wildly, patiently, beautifully.
. . .
Today, I see my life as a beautiful and mysterious garden.
Many parts of my life, like my sense of home and community, have bloomed gorgeously in ways far beyond my wildest imagination.
Still others — old relationships and dreams that I desperately hoped would grow and blossom — have died, making room for a beautiful array of new life that is fuller and richer precisely because of the rich compost that these pieces of my life have left behind. After all, it is the decomposition of the old that has the power to feed and nurture the new — and that’s true both in nature and in life.
Many more pieces of my life, of course, are still in that mysterious phase of not knowing when and how they’ll unfold.
The most beautiful part of it all?
More and more, I am learning to surrender the details of my life to that great force of love. Not to strive. Not to force. Not to pretend that I’m the one who makes the garden grow, or even the one who ultimately knows exactly how my garden is supposed to end up. (Sometimes life can surprise you, after all. Portland? Cannabis? Whaat?? Seriously?!!)
. . .
How about you?
What is it that you’re trying to make grow in your life right now?
Where might you be grasping and straining, trying to figure out a solution that the mind can’t (and wasn’t designed to!) grasp?
Where are you trying to do nature’s job for it instead of softening into the process and, as Maya Angelou would say, learning to “Trust life a little bit”?
If you’re trying really hard right now to get somewhere or to run away from or toward something, stop for a minute. Pause. Take a deep breath.
Let your burden slide off your shoulders — that burden of “I need to do it all alone” or “I need to figure it all out” or “Everything is up to me.”
Stop beating yourself up for not “getting there” yet, for not being able to figure it out, for not being able to crawl out of the despair or the difficulty.
Remember: Even the most skillful gardener in the world cannot make a flower grow. You cannot make a flower grow. In fact, trying to make a flower grow is the path to misery!
Instead, learn to sit with the flowing river.
Watch as the flower blooms.
Feel how effortlessly your heart beats — day after day after day, all without the mind’s intervention.
Let yourself learn what it feels like to garden for the pure joy of it, without the need for a certain timeline or result.
Trust that if you can soften and surrender into that great force of life, your garden will bloom in the most beautiful and necessary ways, far beyond the comprehension of the mind.
Know that your mind can’t show you the way, because it doesn’t know the way. Your small self can’t show you the way, because it doesn’t know the way.
Only that magical force of life knows the way.
Just like a seed germinating beneath the soil, our lives will bloom in perfect ways if only we can offer it all over to that great force of love and stop the exhausting job of trying to do it all ourselves.
p.s. Here’s a little song for you that has helped me through a lot of rough times. Hope you like it as much as I do! :-).
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[Image credit: .bravelittlebird]