Gladioli Darshan


40c8bbc9aba70e3519038460a842fc22I can’t stop staring at the gladiolas on our coffee table. As the world news screams of firing squads, floods, and earthquakes, this wordless darshan makes me calm. Flowers the deep red of healthy blood, against the green of the stem, the orange of the vase, and the soft light of the forest just beyond the glass walls of our living room.

It’s perfect. And yet it’s all dying. I’m witnessing the cycle of life unfold before my eyes. Birth, to full development, to decay.

In the midst of so much chaos the gladiolas speak to me of an order beyond my comprehension. A mystery for which I feel a deep and abiding trust even as my mind protests the details sometimes (often!).

It’s been an eventful last couple of weeks, both out there and in here. A lot has gone wrong, and a lot has gone right.

The seemingly immovable Himalayas buckled and much of Nepal came crashing down. After a visit with me, my Dad & his partner Pam got stuck in torrential rain and flash-flooding on their way home, roads closed or blocked for miles around. It took them 8, instead of about 3.5hrs to get home. Before that my partner David got hit in the face by a longboard while out surfing, ending up in Emergency getting two gashes on his nose ‘superglued’ back together. And before that, I crashed my car.

As a seeker of truth and a lover of learning, with a little bit of Catholic guilt thrown in for good measure, I’m always trying to understand why things happen. Because to a certain degree I guess I still see these ‘bad’ things as a kind of punishment. They must be, right? If all is a consequence of previous action, then one bad turn must deserve another? What have I done to create this?

But sometimes the reasons for things are obvious, and sometimes they are not.

Buddha (apparently) once said something like this: never try to understand the intricacies of karma. That quote stayed with me, because I think it’s very wise. We might think that this is because of that, or that because of this, or that bad things are bad, and good things are good, when in actual fact life is more complex, and more interesting than that.

We can see these little tests as a kind of blessing, and an excellent gauge of how well our spiritual practices are actually working. They show us how good we’ve got at letting go… or not.

Within every challenge, every obstacle, lies the potential for both insight and basic human kindness. Vulnerability is a beautiful thing. When my David was feeling all a bit grumpy about his soon-to-be-scarred shnoz and diminishing handsomeness, it was a lovely chance to affirm that I love him scars and all. It was a reminder to us both that, as vain as we are, it’s not about the packaging.

I’d also been feeling a certain disconnection from events in Nepal (and elsewhere in the world), and yes, again, almost a little guilt about all that I do have. But when it was my Dad out there in that storm, and there was very little I could do to help except follow the weather news and keep him up-to-date, I could empathise (although it’s no comparison) with all my brothers and sisters out there, all over the world, at the absolute whim of nature when She roars.

Adversity so often brings out our best – we band together, we put things in perspective, we let go of the less important, and we dig a bit deeper to see what more we’ve got.

So I’d prefer, as the Taoists do, to view all these opposites – pleasure & pain, gain & loss, good & bad, birth and death, as co-existent rather than opposite. Like the yin-yang sign, each one contains a little bit of the other, at all times.

In the deepest of grief is a little of the sweetness that presence brings, and gratitude for what we’ve had, or what we’ve still got. Love is always tinged with a little of the fear of loss. Birth contains within it the promise of death, and death the hope of new life.

I remember a conversation I had with my friend Edo, where we realised that to have absolute and total faith in the guru, in the process, in Love, in Life, would be to never again worry, about anything. Whether or not things made sense to us in the moment wouldn’t matter one bit, we would just trust that things were unfolding as they should.

While easier said than done, it’s a thought that brings peace. It’s an aspiration. This kind of trust recognises that life by its very nature is a dance of opposing or interrelated forces, where things break apart and come together, over and over again.

The wheels keep spinning, and the waves keep rolling in and out. Sound punctuates the silences, and the silences give birth to sound. With quiet determination a sprout breaks through the shackles of its seed coat, gladioli spiral their way to the light. As much as the will to live unites us all, so too does the inevitability of death.

Our challenge, I suspect, is to ride the waves as graciously as we can, with an open heart and a sense of humour, and devotion to the extraordinary Love that makes it all possible.

I bow to the One who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master game.
To play it is pure delight,
To honour is true devotion.     ~ from the poem ‘Unconditional’ by Jennifer Welwood

Om Namo Narayani!