Two orchids were left for dead in my workplace. Rather than throwing them away I requested I had them on my desk, just to see if they could be revived, even though I knew nothing about orchids or indeed any plants at all.
If we are trying to cultivate our own minds, we must start somewhere. Though we may not know exactly what we are doing, nor even where to start, the first step is just becoming aware that work needs to be done.
Our discomforts, our worries, our challenges can often be the most prominent things our minds are preoccupied with, so we can start there. Our restlessness and relentless thoughts can be quite bewildering once we start to really listen to them. We might be filled with anxiety, preoccupied with past events or thoughts of what others are thinking about us. It’s not so useful to push these aside. We might be tempted to distract ourselves with activities that make us forget these feelings, and it might even help for a while. But these things have a remarkable way of cropping up again, only to make us spiral into a sea of self-doubt and confusion once again. But there is an alternative, one which requires us to develop a curious yet non-judgmental mind.
The orchids sat on my desk in silent respite for many months before any stir of new life appeared. Watering every so often and engaging them with daily quiet conversation and love, I hoped they still had the spark of life within them.
Meditation in the west has become synonymous with creating inner emptiness, silence, or ridding ourselves of “negative” feelings. It has been encouraged as a way to relax, as a way to escape.
Traditionally meditation has not been seen as passive activity, it’s not somewhere we can dip into the silence to free us from a difficult experience.
Meditation is a tool for transformation; it’s not an easy task to sit with yourself and confront the realities of your mind. What you find is likely to be disturbing and make you question the very foundation of who you are. Meditation is not for the faint-hearted. We learn that those deepest secrets, our shame and our darkest fears are all still lurking beneath the surface we try so hard not to disturb. Through meditation we can begin to confront each thought and feeling as they arise, acknowledging them for what they are without judgment and allow them to pass, as they will, without grasping on to them.
Taking time each day to simply be with those thoughts and feelings is time well spent, it begins to align us with the potential for change.
The tenderness it seemed, was paying off with my orchids. After a few months new shoots of stem began to rise from the base of the plants. The daily attention and work had been having an effect after all, though no visible signs had been showing until now.
With our meditation practice, to begin with it can seem like nothing is happening and that we aren’t progressing at all. Yet within us, all this silent and observant reflection is creating stronger roots and feeding us with the potential for new blossoms. Continuous practice- or the best that we can manage- focuses us and directs us on a path of intention. Perhaps the goal was a little foggy to begin with, but as we journey through the experience itself, meaning becomes more clear.
After months of nurture, a careful balance of food and attention, the orchids finally started to bloom. They had practiced their own patience and committed to their path of full realisation.
But just like the orchid, even when we reach our fullest potential and climb to the heights of enlightenment, we cannot sit back and just admire the beauty. The work must continue. We must always nurture the state of our mind through repeated practice. As it matures it may require a little less water, it may need a different kind of food.
We must be diligent to observe those changes and adapt our practice as we progress through the stages of development. We needn’t be harsh on ourselves nor too complacent, but find the right balance of what we need by growing to know our own mind.