My Thursday yoga class always begins with guided meditation. I find it difficult to let my thoughts roam. They tend to buzz around me like flies. Whatever I wrote that morning is usually dead centre in my brain. A character might be bouncing around in there, too, leaving an echo of unfulfilled emotion as they wait for me to write that scene. Crossing my legs hurts, and I am aware of it. My back is usually sore—which is why I’m sitting cross-legged on a Thursday morning.
More often than not, I am unable to shoo away these flies, these surface thoughts, and focus on the meditation. Though, the very act of trying might count. That’s an awareness of a sort, isn’t it?
Last week, we were asked:
If you plant your heart, what will grow?
Despite the fact my legs felt like hard, brittle pretzels, my thoughts immediately latched onto this suggestion. My heart went into an imaginary hole and was buried. Out of that little mound of dirt grew a tree. The tree was large and bore fruit of a very particular shape: red, rounded hearts resembling apples.
I thought to myself, gee, Kel, this is super original. You planted your heart and grew an apple tree. That has got to be the most simplistic and naïve answer to the question. Here you are, sitting with your hamstrings stretched to breaking point, twitching as your back spasms, and all you can imagine is an apple tree. And you call yourself a writer.
Disappointed, I examined my metaphor a little more closely—with the intent of making it deeper and more creative—and something interesting happened. I got it. The meaning of my tree became clear. Yes, it was a simple idea, but it was so very me. The apples on my tree were hearts, and I expected them to be picked. Taken away and used to nourish someone. I wanted to share my heart. Give it away. Distribute my care in the hope it would fill a need in someone else, make them feel nurtured.
I liked this idea. I still do. I don’t always feel like a good person, but I like to think I am there for my friends and family, for people I barely know, even if it is only to listen. To simply be there. That I imagined myself as this tree full of hearts I wanted to give away affirmed that for me.
When asked to expand our vision, imagine it encompassing the space outside ourselves, I pictured an orchard. With the first hazy stand of trees came another wisp of self-mockery. My orchard was very regular. The trees were in precise rows, each trunk equidistant from the others. The canopies intersected in a repeating pattern and each tree probably bore an equal number of fruit. I had produced a forest of manufactured trees.
Or had I?
No, I’d simply done what came naturally. I had organised my forest. I thrive on regularity and uninterrupted lines. To me, angles are restful. I cannot relax in a room where the curtains are half pulled, or a blind rests askew. If the remotes are not lined up on the coffee table, I will fidget until they’re in a neat row. I sit straight and I form a precise envelope with the bed covers every night. My pillow must be perpendicular to the angle of my neck.
Obviously I am insane, but besides that, I know that order pleases me and so I strive for it. As I get older, I cope better with disorder. Writing full time helps with that. I can’t keep a perfect house and meet an editorial deadline both.
Nature is chaotic, but there is a pleasing symmetry and order to the chaos. If you study an orchard, the trees might not be exactly six feet apart, but from a distance, their trunks form a regular line. Their branches intersect in a tangled canopy that appears to follow a pattern. Fruit has a near symmetry and so do leaves. Nature tries.
So, with a small mental shove, I let go of my forest and let it grow. It didn’t become completely chaotic, but the trunks thinned and fattened, stepped just out of line with their fellows. Intersecting limbs shifted a little so that some dipped lower and some wove higher. I managed to almost randomise the distribution of fruit.
My forest had never been fenced, so I didn’t have to open it. And I had never placed a limitation on size, so it extended for as far as those who needed my care—shelter and shade, the nurturing fruit—could have it.
It wasn’t until afterwards that I connected my meditation with a concept, a motif, that I have always liked: the tree of life. Rather than decide that my tree had been an entirely unoriginal construction, I embraced the meaning of what I had imagined, that connection with my fellow human beings, with my world, and the feeling that I wanted to share myself with both.
Next week I will probably fail to meditate properly, as is the norm for me. Or maybe I will simply revisit my tree, my forest. I have finally found a mental landscape that works for me, one I can return to when I need to quiet the noise inside. Who could blame me for wanting to return?
Featured image: The Tree of Life, 1905 by Gustav Klimt