What do you want? What do you need? Do you confuse the two?
Yesterday my wife and I spent a few wandering hours in the arboretum at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA (http://longwoodgardens.org). When you first enter the arboretum after a very cold and windy walk from the entry building you are literally smashed in the face with warm humid air that smells like spring rain. In the midst of winter cold and dry and the feeling of a stinging face you feel spectacularly awake and back “in the moment.” And there before you is this view:
I think visiting an arboretum in winter is a great antidepressant. I felt like I was absorbing energy; it was like the chlorophyll in the plants had mercy on me and shared a bit of their abundance! There’s a children’s garden there that’s a delight, and a vast collection of orchids. And among all of the ornamental and somewhat exotic plants, there’s a section with garden plants! What a delight it was to see tomatoes growing again, and to rub our hands on the various herbs (especially the rosemary) and get that delicious smell into our senses.
But I think the best part of the visit happened after we had been strolling about for two hours and sat down in the main atrium. Here’s the picture I took from my seat:
I couldn’t help but notice how little the plants needed. Sunlight, water, soil; the right climate. That’s all, that’s everything. The plants are present, asking for nothing but what they need, not really asking of course. The “asking” is in our imagination, a way to give a bit of our own mindedness to the plants. The plants grow and become what they are meant to become, and have no desire, no “wanting.” They are content, again allowing for an injection of a human quality, to simply be, and be themselves as fully as their environment allows. I think the Catholic monk/poet Thomas Merton captured this quality when he described the ancient carvings of the Buddha and his followers at Polonnaruwa in Ceylon. Merton wrote about “…the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but (the peace) that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything.”
These plants, this arboretum, “knows” what it needs, and is perfect as a result. It is only us, the spectator, who imagines that “it” wants anything else. Of course “it” is not what the plants want, but rather our own desire to make the world in our own image and likeness, a heresy in any religion.
Do you know what you need? Do you know what you want? Do you know the difference? If you do, then you know peace. If you know this peace, then you are mindful, filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, rejecting nothing, not trying to discredit anyone or anything.
The quote from Thomas Merton can be found on page 233 of “The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton,” published by New Directions. Here’s a photo of one of those extraordinary figures that he described: