Recently I was co-facilitating a weekend retreat at Pendle Hill on the theme of The Undivided Life. My co-facilitator, Carol Kortsch had brought along a collection of natural materials from woods and garden—items that are beautiful even in the winter, simple, natural. Rocks. Branches. A turtle shell (her favorite). And a complex twist of roots and twigs bleached out into a single piece of driftwood. That was my favorite.
Carol invited us to notice which one item seemed most to represent or reflect where our lives are in this winter season. I was completely fascinated by the driftwood—all the complexity, the twists and turns, the pieces that start out going one way, and then end up going somewhere else. Or nowhere. At one point I said that from where I sat it looked like the story of my life. And that for someone looking at the driftwood from the other side of our circle, it might look entirely different—as would my life, to someone else. A tangle of complexity created by a growing thing, seeking light.
When Carol later invited us to take the item that had most spoken to us home with us, I claimed the twisted driftwood. For a few days it sat out in the yard. Then I moved it up on the deck and took several pictures of it. Yesterday it found its way to the coffee table in the living room. It is absolutely tangled and beautiful, but more importantly it is a wonderful reminder that things aren’t always straightforward and they aren’t always perfect. At least not the way we think of perfect. Not all projects work out. Not all days are a joy. Not all creative ventures are received with applause. Not all conversations result in greater understanding.
As I live with this driftwood, friends keep offering me perspectives and songs and quotes that point to its wisdom for me. One friend is meditating to the words of Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem.” The song too speaks to letting go of our search for perfection. And realizing the perfect that we have:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
A hospice nurse, my friend talks about the importance of reverence and celebrating the messiness of life. The driftwood is certainly reminiscent of that messiness.
Another friend e-mailed me a quote from Timothy Gallwey’s book The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey details how judgment gets in the way of our innate embodied wisdom about life and suggests ways to sidestep that judgment.
“Read this simple analogy and see if an alternative to the judging process doesn’t begin to emerge. When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”
So what do I take from these threads of wisdom that have been laid out in front of me?
• What is the unique essence of this living thing, this living moment, this dynamic? Like the rose, what is its essence, no matter what its stage of development?
• How does my definition of “perfect” stand in the way of seeing what is perfect in things as they are?
• Can I take something that seems “messy” and much less than “perfect” and by simply being with it, and being reverent about it, come to see what it holds of great value?
And finally, from my own poetry (The Leader’s Guide to Reflective Practice) comes this meditation:
The beauty of the broken
Of the broken
Why not so
With one another?