How blessed am I to be sitting here in the shade of a grand old oak, next to a fairy house, in an exquisitely manicured garden on a scorching hot day. The honey bees are busily sampling the bright yellow flowers before me, shimmering ripples slide like skaters across the the lake just in the distance, and the grass beneath my feet glistens, still heavy with morning dew. Now, two geese float into view, their graceful necks curved and they peer downward, as if contemplating their own beautiful reflections in their watery mirror.
Only the sound of the gas-powered lawn mower distracts me from my enjoyment of this fantastically gorgeous and sacred place. The lawn mower operator glances in my direction, as if he has sensed my annoyance. Though he may feel badly about disrupting me, he also knows it is his job to mow this lawn today. What I'd like to tell him is that it is for me to let go of the noise and practice a deeper Stillness, to release the minor annoyances of daily living, and to free my spirit to dance, no matter what is happening around me. This Beauty play bespeaks volumes, evoking an inviting and engaging symphony, easily drowning out the drone of any mechanical equipment.
Now the lawn mower moves closer, to the grassy area where I am sitting. The mower regretfully informs me that he must mow this area. He says that I can stay if I like, but that it will be noisy. Ah, a further opportunity for my practice. Very well, I shall stay. But first, I jump off my bench to rescue broad leaf which has captured large drops of dew and lays glistening in the barest patch of sun on the lawn dappled with light and shadow. I will offer it to the dwellers of the fairy house after his mowing work is complete. It is too precious to be ground up for mulch. This is my good deed for the day, salvaging these few drops of precious water, and I sit back again to relax.
After he is done, I contemplate the freshly-shorn grass, now mowed short into wavy patterns that remind me of a toddler's first haircut; tufts of hair, impossibly unruly, sprouting out in all different directions. "We may have no choice but to be sheared," they seem to say, "but we refuse to be groomed." They remind me of an email I received earlier this morning. "You break the rules so beautifully!" my friend wrote. I had sent out an email newsletter with no less than 13 topics, despite the conventional wisdom that says no email campaign should contain more than 3-4 topics. I tried to distill down what I had to say, and nothing felt right. "That's just not me," I finally protested, and I put it all in. I felt vindicated when I received a few emails from friends who said they enjoyed the newsletter.
For too long, I have been chastising myself for failing to conform to all sorts of conventional wisdom. I "should" have a real job, one where I could apply the three degrees and countless hours of study I have completed. I "should" be more of strict disciplinarian with my kids; my approach is more "lazy" than laissez-faire, and they will never learn self-discipline. I "should" be on more of a strict writing schedule, committing myself to producing a set number of pages each day, as all of the "good" writers have done.
I look for the "shoulds" among these unruly tufts of grass, and I laugh. Not one of them is feeling guilty for spending this beautiful morning just lazing about. They are simply being who and as they are; this clump reaching for sunlight, and that one resting cooly in the shade. Not that they aren't doing their work. Their healthy green color evidence that they are busily taking up nutrients and waving the magic wand of photosynthesis, wielding a power that humans can only dream of harnessing: the conversion of sunlight energy into food. And yet they appear so still, teaching me further that much can be accomplished without the rushing and the scurrying. They are simply hanging out here in the lawn, allowing the work to be done.
A Monarch butterfly floats by, reminding me further of the sheer joy of being who and as you are. I wonder: does a butterfly wake up in the morning and shout, "OMG, I'm freaking beautiful!" Whereas it once was a caterpillar, slow and steady and snug to the ground, it now flies and flits through the air with such ease it appears, at moments, to defy the force of gravity. Does it shriek with joy in appreciation of its freedom, its transformation, its own beauty?
I do plenty of shrieking when I contemplate my own appearance, though, alas, it is generally not from the sheer joy of my experience. I am reminded of the story of why peacocks, for all their ridiculous and showy display of Beauty, communicate with such a cacauphonous screech. It is because, so the story goes, they have caught sight of their own incredibly ugly feet.
Poor peacock, his resplendent beauty forever behind him, his only sense of himself tied up in his ugly, gnarled and calloused feet. Poor Cheryl, always focused on the wrinkles and pudges, never seeing her own true Beauty. I imagine myself with a vividly colored plume of feathers behind me, and I smile. For all I know, I am ridiculously beautiful from the backside. Heaven knows I haven't had the courage to examine it in years!
Perhaps it is time to take a wider view of myself, raising my gaze up out of the depths of my indented forehead and cellulite. I am, after all, a a friend who enjoys a choclate chip cookie baked by her best friend, a mom who savors a candy given to her by her daughter, a wife who shares a glass of wine with her husband at the end of the day (and a martini on date night), and a woman who makes a fine all organic and Fair Trade mocha latte. I am also a person who exercises five days a week, who values the planet over a pedicure, who fixes herself an organic green smoothie for breakfast, and who gives of her time and talent in every way she knows how.
There. I said it. All those years of learning and practicing the "don't brag, don't stand out, be humble" mantras have been thrown out the window. I am so much more than my wrinkles and pudges, and I honor myself for taking my focus off my gnarls and onto my ridiculously showy peacock feathers. This magnificent garden makes no apology for its Beauty, and neither shall I.