The mind is not a single, unified organ or force of volition. To borrow an analogy from another writer, the mind is more like a full, symphonic orchestra comprised of multiple sections, which exhibit varying degrees of musical prowess and strength, as well as varying degrees of ability in the area of how well they (may or may not) play together.
Thus, if someone’s professional day is spent assessing people, properties or otherwise judging and categorizing, it can prove difficult for that person to shift gears into the space of the mind that is capable of experiencing life without judgment and which is free to move into gratitude and expansive Being.
Describing an encounter in the Pacific Ocean, with a wild animal tangled in fishing line, a committed distance swimmer related how completely Still the ensnared creature became as she stopped her swim to approach and liberate the entangled animal.
When we learn to move on the Earth, as swimmers do, to the regular rhythm of our own life Force and breath, we bring ourselves in sync with the rhythm of the natural world, and we are able to approach those in need without fear. In turn, those in need are able to receive our assistance without struggle.
This is not a paternalistic model for human behavior in relationship to nature.
But, this is a call, a reminder, to stay close to our own inner Light and develop the regular rhythm of our own breathing–because we do not breathe alone; we either breathe in sync with the Life around us or we choose, in our flailing, to destroy the harmonious rhythm of the Kingdom of God.
Most people I know, who would like to garden but who do not or who would like to simplify their lives but do not, tell me that the idea of taking on such tasks seems daunting.
Truth be told, if anyone attempts to look at a large yard, with multiple garden beds, or a home of overstuffed cupboards, packed closets and bulging drawers, the perspective of affecting a beautiful, transformative change is overwhelming.
(Did you know most Americans wear only twenty percent of the clothing in their closets?)
Yet, dedicated gardeners, as well as those committed to simple living, have learned to approach each area as a discrete location of potential and extraordinary possibility. Then, with the laser like focus, granted to us through prayer or meditation, work is commenced in only one, specific location at a time.
Thus, planning, planting, weeding—and even winter, closet cleaning—are all completely doable. And, the results are always worth the effort.
Effort. The winter season begins to pick up speed. Somewhere in the space of sorting through the third closet and around the time of a top shelf, I begin thinking about spring and expanding my garden for the upcoming season.
As I approach giving away the fifth, large bag of extras, a local magazine features an article about a dedicated butterfly garden. What if I were to choose plants for this next season with, not only people in mind, but also the butterflies and birds?
Less stuff, more time to garden.
It is while there are a few, wild “everything” drawers in the kitchen yet to sort through that the sun turns its corner onto longer days. January is when committed gardeners feel the first desire to begin planning for spring.
“Yes,” I think to myself, “This year, there will be an expanded garden, one that honors more of Creation.”
In the space of my devotional practice, I place my concerns before the Light of God. A clear leading comes through, “Simplify.” In Quaker tradition, a leading is the nudge granted to us by the Spirit.
Considering this gentle command, I have to admit that, of late, caring for our household inventory has become less joyful and more of a chore. On some days, I feel like a warehouse queen rather than a spiritual being. Internally, I postulate that this overabundance of inventory is probably one of the reasons I have spent so much time in the garden over the summer. Even though I know logically that avoidance does not solve problems of excess.
As a life experience, sorting through items stored in a large closet is nothing like kneeling in a yielding, freshly turned plot of earth, where living plants will soon produce incredible rewards. After all, I have never seen a bucket list where the sorting through of one’s personal belongings is in the top ten.
Committed gardeners know that working in the soil, directly with the earth, is capable of warding off feelings of disconnectedness, as well as banishing a sense of the mundane. Overstuffed closets seem to produce the opposite emotional impressions. Yet, if the answer to my query is to simplify, then—for this winter season—closets, cabinets and drawers it is.
Approaching the process of going through our personal belongings, I decide to think of each area as I would one of my garden beds. What would I like to give to someone else, so that another person might benefit?
My heart reopens with the prospect of another and decidedly unique season of giving. I crave the experience of largesse.
So, I decide to envision each space in my home as a potentially empty piece of acreage—a garden bed, where I will be able “to cultivate” what I most desire. This approach to the work at hand prompts me to ask the question: What do I want to plant and grow in my interior, domestic life?
Sifting through the belongings in each area of our home, I feel a welling sense of joyful anticipation. The possibility of unbridled spiritual living is returning to my heart. With each donation and regifted item, given to a charitable organization, neighbor, friend or acquaintance, my heart experiences an expansion, spaciousness and a renewed lightness of Being.
Before approaching an area, I say a short prayer for guidance. With this prayer, decision making is decidedly easier. It is as if the items sort themselves.
Coming into late fall, I pause to look out of the large window in my bedroom, to ruminate on the work I have done in the various garden beds of our backyard. Over the past two weeks, I have been working to prepare all of the beds for the winter ahead.
The self-seeding, annual flowers have had their faded and dried blooms cut, broken open and scattered. Perennials are appropriately trimmed, thinned and otherwise rearranged. The vegetable beds are empty now, with the fruits of those plantings long since harvested. A handsome layer of nourishing and protective mulch covers everything. Everything (or “everyone” in my backyard world) is properly tucked in and cozily secured for the cold months ahead.
As I stand looking out of the window, I feel somehow unprepared for the upcoming season. To some extent, there is the sense that I have buried my heart, somewhere, in one of those garden beds.
Flowers and garden produce, I have come to learn, are some of the best ways through which I am able to relate to people—both friends and strangers. And, the zinnias, daisies, cox combs and other miscellaneous annuals I cultivate allow me—during the peak of season—to clip, arrange and give away two or more modest bouquets weekly.
In one of my kitchen cupboards, I even maintain a shelf of miniature, secondhand vases, uniquely designed, former juice bottles, as well as a selection of dark-green glassware for give-away purposes. Being able to deliver small bouquets to grateful neighbors, favorite baristas or local postal carriers is an even more joyful act than giving away an occasional tomato.
Nothing opens the heart like a bunch of well-presented flowers. Even the occasionally (initially) gruff, service workers visiting our neighborhood are happy to take a small vase home to a beloved partner. Homegrown, carefully arranged groups of confetti-colored blossoms are an instant, amazing pick-me-up. The flower-good feelings are not just an in-the-moment occurrence but can actually produce a radiating joy over the course of time.
Small kindnesses plant themselves in a person’s heart, becoming experiential touchstones, bearing fruit when a person revisits such a memory during times of emotional need—not to mention the good that it does for the heart of the person giving. And, when a person’s heart is touched in this way and reopens, the recipient’s initial, natural inclination—and the heart’s true desire—is to share and give liberally. Kindnesses begin to ripple.
Standing at the window, I consider these themes and the shift in season. Concerned that my heart will go into hibernation with the end of flower- and tomato-gifting season, I wonder to myself, “What is there left to give, with the garden beds put to rest for the next five months?”
Early one Sunday afternoon, on my way home from church, I stop by one of the local secondhand shops to see whether or not there is anything that “fits” on the deep, discount rack. Sunday is bargain day.
I developed the habit of shopping at secondhand stores years ago, at a time when my chemical sensitivities were so severe that they prevented me from shopping in normal retail locations. At that time, a trip to the mall was unthinkable for my body because the majority of retail locations pipe artificial fragrances into their facilities, through the ducts of their heating and cooling systems, thinking that they are creating a more pleasant shopping experience.
In addition to the scents piped into stores, there are also the chemical agents from new garments, treated with anti-fungals, flame-retardants, starches and fresh dyes, as well as the fumes from new plastics and packaging with which to contend. All of these factors combined can be a real problem for people with respiratory health issues or other sensitivities.
On this particular Sunday, while I am standing and sorting through items, I notice a woman across from me at the same, used-clothing rack. She is dressed very much as I am. I assume that she, too, must be fresh from church.
Gazing at me thoughtfully, she addresses me directly, “You know, you can really save a lot of money shopping here.” There is something hesitant about the way in which she opens the conversation—almost with an apology or embarrassment.
“Yes,” I respond quietly, nodding my head in agreement.
Then, she continues, “I am not used to seeing someone dressed quite so nicely across the rack from me.”
A kindness. I take a leap of faith in answering her, “I am also fresh from church.”
At this point in the conversation she describes some of the discomfort she feels about shopping in a thrift store and going to church in name-brand, gently used clothing. I describe for her something about the path that brought me to becoming a regular, secondhand-clothing shopper. We both agree that it is the most economical way to shop for name-brand clothing.
I continue the conversation, “We have found that we are able to tithe more because we choose to continue to shop in this way. Also, this particular store is run by a charitable organization. So, I think that it is a good thing to both donate and shop here. We are supporting a good cause. Not to mention that purchasing secondhand things is better for the environment.”
“Yes, I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective,” she admits. Her hesitancy is fading.
Then, I mention one of the ways in which we use our extra money to support others who are in greater need than ourselves.
“Yes. Yes, I could see that angle,” she says, considering what I have said. “Anyway, it was nice talking with you.”
There should be no shame attached to how we choose to economize and honor ourselves spiritually. Social norms often disregard the ways in which it is easiest for us to take care of ourselves, protect the environment and serve others, as we work to recognize our inherent Oneness.
Standing in the check-out line at the health-food store, I see a woman with three young sons immediately behind me. Her eyes are dry, rimmed in red. She appears to have been crying.
In that moment, my heart goes out to her. Then, on the next exhaling breath, I remind myself to mind my own business. Still, as a result of my expressed concern, clear reassurance comes through from the Light, “Do not be afraid. Everything is going to be alright.”
This is not my guidance, but the woman’s guidance. It is answering the question weighing heavily on her heart.
In a rather crusty, internal moment with Spirit, I respond silently, “Why don’t you tell her that—directly?”
Yet, I know that the “ears” of most people’s hearts are closed or so overly full of expectations, to-do lists, regrets, imagined scenarios or other day-to-day concerns that the very act of waiting on the leadings of the heart can prove to be excruciatingly difficult, let alone the act of actually receiving clear, timely and accurate guidance.
Moving ahead with the conclusion of my own business in the store, I pass through the exit to wait outside. The woman finishes her own transaction.
As I wait, I grapple with the idea of passing her guidance along. I consider the situation.
The woman is a stranger to me. I know nothing about her personal beliefs; thus, I have no idea how she might respond to the receipt of guidance. Then, there is the issue of vocabulary. Verbs and nouns. Do I use conservative Christian terminology, New-Age wording or something in between? She also has three small boys in tow. And, there is the ego factor. I do not enjoy the role of Oracle at Delphi/ Prophetic Minister, showing up abruptly to break into the timelines of people’s lives, as they walk, unsuspecting, the streets of twenty-first-century America. (The dynamic duo of ego and imagination are working harmoniously now.)
We are currently living in a profoundly Christian community, where many churches practice healings and most local people are open to leadings of the Spirit. I decide to wait.
I wait for the sake of those three young boys. The woman needs the reassurance of the guidance. Those children need a calm, centered mother. If I can assist with that, then, I wait.
As the woman exits the store, with everyone linked hand in hand, I step forward to say, “Excuse me, I believe I have a message for you: ‘Do not be afraid. Everything is going to be alright.'”
“Wow. Thank you for that,” the woman responds unexpectedly. The invisible weight of concern she has been carrying appears to lift.
I am done.
Moving across the parking lot, I unlock my vehicle to load my groceries.
Moral: Get quiet. Sing songs of praise or list gratitudes to clear the atmosphere around you. Open your heart. Listen.