Listen to the MP3 version of this story here.
The Centipede and I
Keeping it from the Family
The Blossoming Self
Killing the Buddha
Are you a Buddhist?
Among Other Things
Confessions of a Buddhist Book Junkie
The Real End of Silence
I am semi-obsessed with blossoming, by which I mean self-blossoming, my own opening like a flower. I've never blossomed properly. There’s a potential within me that remains dormant, waiting for the right conditions -- a chance encounter, some act of courage, or as a last resort, lots of hard work.
By blossoming I don’t mean enlightenment, though perhaps that would be the ultimate blossoming. What I’m hoping for is something of beauty to spring forth from my own being. Giving birth, I imagine, is like this, or writing a concerto, or finally seeing the answer to the unsolved physics problem.
Maybe blossoming belongs to the young. I walk past girls-just-turned-women on the street. Even the ones who aren’t beautiful have a beauty about them. It’s the beauty of freshness -- the body’s splendid time. Nothing has yet withered.
But I’m middle-aged. If I blossomed as a young woman, it completely escaped me. I opened in some ways -- took certain risks, achieved some of what was expected -- yet I remained closed in so many ways. I'm wondering if it's too late to flower.
My obsession has made me look more closely at plants. This winter I received an amaryllis as a gift. It started out with just a small green shoot, less than half an inch, sticking out of the brown bulb. It was the darkest time of the year, so I put the pot in front of the brightest window, next to my green leather chair. In the evenings I sat and read beside the plant. When I looked up from my book or magazine, I studied the amaryllis carefully.
At first it did nothing. Then it seemed to grow a bit, though I wasn't sure if this was just wishful thinking on my part. Then the stalk started growing like crazy. Some mornings it was visibly taller than the night before.
After a couple of weeks, the bud at the top started to open. I thought it would blossom in a day or two. Instead the bud opened and two different pods started growing out in opposite directions. Each pod grew larger, into what looked like a veined green testicle. Days passed and there was still no sign of the red I was expecting. It seemed to be taking forever. I was afraid the top-heavy plant would topple over before it bloomed.
Then the pods began to split open and slowly one enormous red and cream-colored flower blossomed from each pod. Then a third pod emerged from the center of the shoot. It soon opened.
Of course, the amaryllis's huge beautiful blossoms didn’t last forever, or even until spring. The more I think about blossoming, the more I realize what a short-lived phenomenon it is. If I do finally blossom, then what? Will the rest of my life be one long denouement?
Perhaps I'm ambitious for the wrong thing -- for the showy flower, rather than slow steady growth or the more natural alternations of growth and stasis.
Maybe I should be happy just sitting in the green chair -- a glass of water to my lips and the warm sun touching the gray roots of my hair.