I feel quite blessed and content in my life but know that through inevitable difficulty (loss of loved ones, or simply through the process of aging for examples), I will experience the pain involved in living. What I have also discovered is that life, when truly lived is full of impossible tasks.
I make sure to walk the labyrinth-spiral in our prairie every day at sunrise the week up to my birthday. My fifty-fourth birthday was this past August 16th. I take the time to consider my past year and what my intentions are for the new one. The prairie offered up encounters of crows, red-tail hawk, Tiger-Swallow Tail and all the beauty of what has come to blossom: Prairie Doc, Black-eyed Susan’s, Blue Stem grass, Queens Ann’s Lace and Cone Flowers. Bees covered the Bee Balm as to be expected and spider webs made labyrinths in the sky as they swung between grasses and flowers. Often I stopped on my walk to look at a dewdrop that clung to a purple Cone or at the sun rising through the spider’s web. Each walk strengthened me as well as reminded me of the miracle of life.
But even amidst such beauty and miracles difficulty can find its way to disrupt and disturb. A disruption in our Prairie is the invasive and abundant Golden Rod. A few might be enjoyed but they tend to take over and smother out other plants. And we are not talking about a few Goldenrods but an invasion of yellow. I saw several Prairie Doc’s being smothered out by a surrounding camp of Goldenrods. This was the first year the Doc’s gave forth their flower, after a good five years following their seeding. I didn’t want them defeated and so began to pull at a few Golden Rods on one of my walks, pulling them out by stem and root.
“Okay,” I thought, “I can do this.”
But then I looked up and saw the plenty of Goldenrod spreading and flowering over the several acres of prairie. This was an impossible task. But something called me to just keep pulling until I created space around this particular Prairie Doc. More revealed itself to me and to the light as I cleared the area – a hidden Cone Flower and some plant I will need to look up in the book.
Then I would peer up again and see the mass of Goldenrod everywhere and feel once again the impossibility of this task. Am I a fool? Then I would see another prairie plant struggling for light through the mass of Goldenrod and I would begin to pull bringing up stem and root.
I spent much of my birthday pulling and clearing. Even at the end of the day, it seemed I hardly put a dent into the impossible task of ridding the prairie of Goldenrod. But then, I could see more evidence of my effort, another prairie plant getting light.
Something kept calling me that day to just clear one more space, to give more room to one more Cone Flower or Prairie Doc. I chose to focus on the smaller task of one patch at a time and discovered an entire new world within this spiral I have walked since its conception in 2001. Each time I would take to clearing a space, I found myself going deeper into the more hidden world of the prairie. I saw life (and death) beyond the path and under the leaves and flowers that more readily displayed them selves to the observer. I discovered a layer to the underworld of the prairie, which was made up of dried stems and flowers from several years of growth. They too were competing with the diversity of the prairie. In this case the dead plants were stifling the living.
Looking out, the larger task could discourage me into passiveness and defeat. How true I find this to be when trying to live by spiritual principles (or attempting to obtain enlightenment), or the hope of ending war or world hunger. Even such tasks as marriage, raising children, attending to our vocations can all be daunting when trying to take in all that is asked of us, particularly when within these commitments arise difficulty. So both the greatness of the task (a happy marriage, enlightenment) can seem impossible but then too difficulties arise within these obligations.
Then I recalled something one of my teacher’s once said to me, “When there is difficulty we are either part of the problem or solution.”
I decided to be part of the solution when it came to restoring the prairie. I too can decide day to day to deal with all (internal and external) hindrances in the same way: choose to be part of the solution. There really is no third alternative. To give up, walk away, to be in denial, or to discount means to relinquish ourselves to the problem and to be in agreement with the problem. I may just be able to create a little space, a little world peace, but knowing that I am contributing to the solution and not adding to the problem is a great relief to me. And we can keep it simple. No need to join the Peace Corps; just be kind when your stuck in traffic, love the one your with, or be patient to the tired grocery clerk who messed up your bill.
As far as the prairie goes, there is no one single happy ending followed by credits. The story goes on and on. I will need to continue to pull out one plant at a time. And each year there will be more Goldenrod trying to dominate the prairie. But if my aspiration remains strong – - -to be part of the solution, (in this case to make space for all that wants to seed, grow and bloom in this prairie,) I will continue to experience many small (but worthwhile) successes.
At dusk on my birthday I asked my husband (a wildlife biologist), “Is it worth it?” I wondered whether from his point of view if this pulling one Golden Rod at a time was sensible.
He reassured me that even world peace is possible one patch of Goldenrod at a time. “Besides we can help the prairie rejuvenate further through a Fall burn,” he said. As it turns out native plants are “fire dependent.” So, to burn the prairie will help bring forth its diversity and not let one plant dominate (in this case Golden Rod). And the burn will eliminate the competing dead undergrowth. As it turns out Goldenrod is not as fire dependent. So along with the pulling out the Goldenrod and burning the prairie this Fall more of the Prairie’s naturally diverse beauty will be revealed.
Sometimes we do have to set our lives on fire to reveal our true nature.
In one of his essays Leopold bemoans the loss of his favorite compass plant (another species in the genus Silphium, like Prairie Doc) when it got mowed down and destroyed by a cemetery maintenance crew (who likely were not aware of what they were doing)….
“What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.”
This quote (one of my husband’s favorites) is obviously about loss in the name of “progress”… and a good motivation for me to keep pulling.
“Whichever step of the staircase you enter upon, the journey will, in its own way and own time, lead you to all the other steps. The only requirement is that you put one foot in front of the other-one thought moment of interest and effort after another. That is all teachers really require of their students. They have trust that teachings will unfold their results naturally, if the students will only grasp the opportunity.” David Pratt. 2003. Steps on the Path to Enlightenment. Boston: Wisdom Publication
“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.” -Jiddu Krishnamurti