The Blossom That Can Be Named

Spring unfolds in different ways depending on your clime. Or it unfolds in a similar way at a different time. And so the crocuses that are suddenly here today perhaps appeared in your yard yesterday, or perhaps they will tomorrow. Such is the beauty of spring – appearing in her own time, much like last year, but always new.

A friend posted on social media that the Siberian Squill was blooming in his yard, and then he enquired as to what was coming up in ours. I’m glad he included a photograph, because otherwise I’d not have known what he was talking about. Yes, I’ve seen it before, and it is coming up in our neighborhood. It’s lush and grassy, with delicate blue blossoms. It seems to grow up in the middle of people’s lawns, so I suspect it gets mowed over as soon as it’s time for that to happen. But by then the deed is done as far as nature is concerned. The seed is sown, the bulb nourished, and life will begin anew to signal the arrival of a spring beyond this one.

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Siberian Squill beginning to bounce back from a strong spring downpour

 

I secretly envy those who can name an abundance of the plants with which they live. It speaks to me of a familiarity with the natural world that I admire. When one knows the name of a plant, one often knows a great deal more: when and where they are likely to be found, how they propagate, what fauna they attract, and what they might be useful for – whether it be a side dish or as a medicinal.

Older women seem to be especially good at this, but nature writers elevate it to an art form. Good nature writing weaves plant names into and throughout a seemingly effortless narrative encompassing attribute and taxonomy, life cycle and symbiosis, the manner in which the plant has changed the human landscape, and the manner in which the human changes the landscape of the plant.

But as much as I value all that names have to offer, I understand the danger they pose as well. Names convey the illusion that something is known, when in fact our knowledge, no matter how deep and wide it might appear, barely scratches the surface of ultimate reality. Names can also stand in the way of truer knowledge by separating and demarcating one “thing” from another “thing” when the two are in reality inextricable one from the other.

“The Tao that cam be named is not the true Tao.” So begins one translation of the Tao Te Ching.

“The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.” So begins one translation of the Tao Te Ching. And from that first sentence on we understand the provisional nature of the truth contained within its pages. The Tao Te Ching invites us to use its words as bootstraps with which to pull ourselves up to a better vantage point, or to lower ourselves deeper and deeper into more Truthful understanding. But don’t believe for even one moment that because you understand the words contained therein that you somehow know all that can be known. For words are merely fingers pointing at the moon.

Siberian Squill is not really Siberian at all. Native to parts of Russia and Turkey, it was brought to this continent as an ornamental, later to be deemed an invasive species. Different understandings of a larger reality yield different understandings of particularity. A name turns into knowledge which spawns a judgement and precipitates an action. And so a plant that was “just” a beautiful spring blossom to me yesterday – unnamed but not entirely unknown – becomes today a being with a history straddling continents and spanning epochs. And where once it was spring itself, with seamless belonging and natural existence, now it is a visitor that perhaps has overstayed its welcome and perhaps become a bit too comfortable. Siberian Squill, shall I call you by your name? Will that help me better live? And how about you? Or perhaps I should forget that your name ever dribbled from my lips. Perhaps I should forevermore consider you just another beautiful spring blossom. How best shall you be known?

 

Copyright 2020 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.

A Mindful March

February is the longest month, regardless of the number of days it might contain. By February, winter has gone on long enough, darkness has held sway long enough, and our forced hiatus from so much of what we love has lasted long enough. Oh sure, winter has its share of boisterous holidays, gorgeous snowfalls, and welcome solitude. By February, though, I’m more than ready for a change.

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By February, many of the good dietary habits that were so much easier to maintain in warmer months have fallen by the wayside. My recurring “winter hunger” took hold of me sometime in mid-January, and within a couple of ravenous weeks the likelihood that I’d choose the healthy option had almost become nil. Yes, and the cumulative effect of daylight savings time having robbed me of my evening run has begun to feel oppressive. My energy level has plummeted, and a certain inertia has set in. It’s become so much easier to let a stack of clothing build up atop the dresser, or a pile of papers on the desk, or a list of undone tasks within the mind.

Rather than being failure, awareness of our distraction is very much a success.

Perhaps a perfect practitioner of mindfulness can roll with this contraction of daylight, this subsidence of energy levels, and this darkening mood to just as consistently find joy within these cold gray days as any other. After all, happiness is really just a matter of keeping our desires and expectations in accord with what reality allows. I have to admit, though, that all too often I have early autumn expectations for these dreary winter days. It’s high time, then, that I embrace a mindful March!

Mindfulness involves the intention to be fully present for what is. It involves giving full attention to every moment of our lives. But if full attention is our goal, it would seem that the failure of distraction would be lurking around every corner! Rather than being failure, though, awareness of our distraction is very much a success. Paradoxically, when we become aware of our struggle with the circumstances of life – when we see clearly that our expectations are not in accord with what is in this present moment – then we’re better positioned to accept the reality that exists. And when we simply accept the reality of this moment it becomes easier to see the beauty that is always here to be experienced – in the most ordinary of circumstances, and in the most difficult ones as well.

So, I hereby declare these next thirty-one days to be Mindful March! In recognition that my mindfulness practice is imperfect and in need of rejuvenation, I will take this month to increase my awareness of how my own unskillful thought processes keep me from fully appreciating every moment that I’m alive. Instead of bringing a September frame of mind to a February reality, I’ll bring a March frame of mind to a March reality. I’ll bring a this-moment frame of mind to a this-moment reality. Certainly I won’t do it perfectly. I’ll surely falter along the way. And when I do I’ll make awareness of that very imperfection part of the perfection of what is.

 

Copyright 2020 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.