Universal Rules: Stop to Notice the Violets at Your Feet.
This expression comes from a story I wrote and included in my first book, Stories from the Sea of Life. Here’s the story:
In 1992, we bought our dog. (Her name, by the way, is Nishka. Her name is short for "Nishkamakarma," which is Hindu for, "Do your duty, with faith in God, without attachment to the result of your action." I have a poster of this word hanging in my office.) But I digress. Nishka spent the Winter of '92 doing what dogs in Canada do. She pooped on the snow. It melted in and got covered over with more snow. Come Spring, I went out to our backyard in my duck boots, with shovel in hand. I wandered around, and was amazed at the twigs, branches, paper, wrappers and poop that seemed to be everywhere. In fact, I calculated that our four-month winters are composed of 120 days. That means between 120 and 240 piles of poop. What a concept. But while thinking of this, I was looking around. As I looked closer, poking out of the grass was a riot of little, purple violets. I was transfixed, even as I picked up the poop.
Life may provide us with poop to shovel, but if we choose to look around, there is also beauty, order and wonder all around. As any farmer will tell you, what's poop to one person is fertilizer to another.
I’m thinking about how often clients sigh and tell me about how hard their lives are -- and describe, longingly, how things are going to get better "some day." Their lives are lived in the future. Happiness is something that one never seems to "catch."
What's funny about all of this is that, as we at The Phoenix Centre continually insist, there is nothing "real" about any of the stories we tell ourselves, including present or future happiness stories. It's just a drama we invent. And if this is so, and I think it is, the solution is simple: I need to begin to notice the violets at my feet.
I gained a new client a couple of weeks ago. He's 58 and says he's never been happy. I sent him home with an assignment to simply open his eyes on the drive home, then go really listen to some music. The following week he came in and had a really confused look on his face. He hadn't had a huge epiphany; he had, however, noticed a sunset, really heard a few conversations and lost himself in "Phantom of the Opera." Mystified, he asked what had happened.
I joked, "You've entered the Twilight Zone." Then, "What happened was that you simply noticed what was there all along."
Notice that I am not saying that all of his problems, dramas and existential reality ceased to exist. All of that is there too, in living colour. It's the dog poop in the above story. The essential and often missing fact is that the poop is not the whole story, nor even an interesting part of the whole story. It's the background noise.
We are, in other words, essentially, what we focus on. I can condition myself to miss the moment by focusing on the past or the future and thereby scare myself. At that same "fearful moment," on a parallel course, there is stunning beauty and a grace filled universe.
A dear friend recently asked me what I do when "sitting" with dying people. I suggested she read Ram Dass' Compassion in Action & How Can I Help? Then, I described what I call simply sitting. Even the concept is simple. I sit and I breathe and I make physical contact. I talk, but only a little. Mostly, I just hang out and see the bigger picture.
When my mom was dying, there was an opportunity to do this. She had her last stroke on a Friday, and she died early Sunday. On the Friday she was semi-conscious, and I could sit on the bed and stroke her head and kiss her and tell her that I loved her, that it was OK, that she could let go - that we'd miss her, and that we'd be OK. As I did, I watched her relax, and then sink into a coma. I sat with her and repeated the words the next day, and made contact and breathed, and blessed her and her life. Her death, as they say, was "uneventful." No drama, just a passing and a flowing away. While I grieved and still miss her, the essential beauty and calmness of that final sharing was the result of letting go of her – simply sitting – and avoiding clinging and "awfulizing."
Letting go of past and future dramas allows us to be in the moment and fully present, and in this, no matter what the circumstance, to see the violets. There is great beauty in birth, life and death – in all of life, in other words.
Breathe, my friends, and open your eyes and ears and, for a while, close your mouth. See with the expectation of truly seeing what you've been missing. Do not deny the existence of "poop," (Into the Centre ain't New Age crap, after all J ) but rather accept its presence and "reality" nearby. Shovel it, clean it up, but don't cling.
If you breathe and "truly see," I guarantee you will be flooded with sunsets, with he words and presence of others, and hear music beyond belief.
As you "just sit."