Of Bugs and Flowers


In a mews laneway near my home, a local artist has embellished a wall of wild flowers by attaching their botanical names in English and in Latin. I see this as an invitation to look closely at these airborne visitors, and to acknowledge that they have lineage and a cultural history.

When I came across the wall (which, until then, I had only seen as the boundary between one property and another), I recalled one early experience of being encouraged to look at the detail of things; to see what is hidden in plain sight. I was six years old and our neighbour was a lay preacher. I had no idea what that meant of course, but I was vaguely aware that this man was different from ‘us’. Ours was an atheist family. All I knew about atheism when I was six was that we didn’t go to church, but that we had a shelf of books about God.

One day, when my mother and the preacher were having a conversation in the garden, our neighbour produced a microscope from out of his pocket. Bending down to my height, he asked if I would like to look through the lense to see the details of a flower, a Sweet William, he called it. So many years have passed since then, but my memory of that moment is vivid. It is not the image of a flower-head that remains, but the delight at seeing the smallest insect I had ever seen crawling up the stem. I had been allowed a glimpse of life in miniature, and a first intimation of the complexity of eco-systems. Or, in the language of my six year old self, a story of bugs and flowers.

I often think of our old neighbour. Did he dream of converting hearts and minds? Did he hope that he might bring some light and colour into the stark dourness of Calvinism? I wish I could tell him that one small girl, who grew into spirituality of a liberating kind, will always regard the man with the microscope as a source of revelation.

Many theologians and philosophers have written about the importance of attending to the moment we are in, and the detail of each thing we encounter. This is central to the practice of meditation because, in truth, the present is our focus. Make of it what you will. Breathe it in. Listen to the sounds around you. Look at the contours of your world. Listen with care to its rhythm and its music. The poetry and drama of the present moment is your life. Live it now, as fully and compassionately as you are able.

Meditation on Wild Flowers

Return to your place of peace and rest there
Come fully into the space
Let time drop away
Relax into your own body
Forgive the painful parts
be grateful for the strength you have

Breathe in to the count of four
Hold for the count of four
breathe out at your ease
hold for the count of four

Repeat

Close your eyes and imagine the wild flower wall
its seeds were carried by the wind
until they found a home in a busy city

The wind has no will
seeds will go where they are blown

Have compassion for yourself
when you blow with the wind
Be grateful for the walls that have sheltered you
where…like wild flowers
you have put down roots

the natural world is not a thing apart from you
You are the natural world

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