Week 5: Looking At The Landscape of Our Soul
Landscapes, those we seek and those we plant, mirror an inner longing. The walled English Garden is planted and mindfully tended to with love. A bubbie once told me she often brought her grandson to such a garden. Under the shade of a gracious tree, they would read together. The garden’s nooks, paths and thoughtfully placed benches bring childhood fantasy to life. Perhaps a swing hung by rope from a strong oak tree, or a butterfly garden catches our fancy. Wisteria covered trellises, colorful flowers and wonderful climbing trees invite imagination and play. This is a seasonal garden where time stops. Its gentle sense of order makes us feel safe, inviting a return to innocence. We enter knowing we will have to venture out once again to the “real” world. Nevertheless, our inner child hopes that time will never come.
The prairie, now protected ground, grows with wild abandon. Even the slightest breeze creates waves of movement; the sound of grasses rustling in unison creates a soothing feeling of wholeness. Here, many different birds have adapted to life among the grasses and wildflowers. In the tallgrass prairies of North America, every niche can seem to be filled with birds. We arrive, binoculars in hand, prepared to sit patiently and quietly. Hoping to find a particular bird to add to our growing list of others we have already identified, we watch and wait. The sighting of even one bird is met with delight. Other times we leave disappointed, but determined to keep returning until it would grace us with an appearance, if only briefly.
When the weather changes, some birds remain; others fly south for the winter. Yet we continue to return to the prairie throughout the year, appreciating the seasonal changes of the landscape. The spring and summer give way to an equally captivating fall landscape that has dried in place. This transformation reveals an interesting array of textures, forms and hues. The milkweed pod, once green, pops open to reveal an abundance of soft white strands that the wind will carry to ensure reseeding for next year’s blossoming. This is where we learn to appreciate the seasons of our lives, to find beauty in what appears to be dry and withered. Here we celebrate the hope for the return of spring, even as we acknowledge we may not be here. We can still see the seeds of promise for another’s tomorrow.
Wherever we go, we discover natural and mindfully planted landscapes. Busy brains or tight schedules blind us to the insights they offer us into the inner “nof”- landscape – of our souls. This outer world exists at the mercy of wind, rain, and sun, unless we become its caretakers. Is this a metaphor for our emotional and spiritual state of being? Will we passively be acted upon, or will we assert what control we can by reconnecting with our rhythms, aspirations and sense of purpose? Noticing means we must stop and be fully awake. Opening ourselves without judgment, we can get in touch with our inner landscape.
As a birdwatcher peers through her binoculars, a soul-watcher examines the landscape of her heart. There, her inner “I” can notice deeply embodied stories and the feelings they evoke. Sometimes we return again and again to old stories; other times we become aware of stories being birthed. Curious, we trek through our inner landscape, noticing the array of emotional textures, forms and hues. What stories have dried in place? Which are products of imagination or remnants of childhood? Which serve as the soft pure strands that carry seeds for our new blossoming?
Teshuvah returns us to the landscapes of our lives. Those that have been neglected are overgrown or struggling to survive. Others have been watered with disappointment and loss, producing anger and fear. Keep looking and peel back the layers. Persist and you will discover the very Source of being. It is made of love, grace, generosity of spirit, kindness, compassion and truth. It, too, has seasons and changing landscapes. This is by design. Designated rhythms invite self-examination of how we feel about ourselves and how we engage with others and the world around us. What landscape have we nurtured or allowed to take root – one of cynicism, neglect and hostility? Of hope, loving-kindness and patience? Of arrogance, ingratitude and stinginess? Of humility, gratitude, and generosity?
This is the season for turning and returning. Now is the time for discerning between who we have become and who we might become. Connecting our inner child and our inner mensch helps us hold two truths – life is finite and every moment is precious. This is the human landscape.
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi
(c)Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi