The Scent Of Daffodils
The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. St. John of the Cross
One autumn I bought two large bags of daffodils. I planted them at the beginning of December, which is late in the year to plant bulbs. Most of them I put in the garden but some I placed in two long deep trays and in February I brought these inside. I was hoping the warmth of the kitchen would bring them out early. Soon daffodil shoots were racing upwards, sharp like green spears. Such powerful thrusting, such thirst for life! And so many of them! A glorious display was surely in the making.
And yet, even before their buds had appeared I was fearing their demise, afraid they would be gone before I had really taken them in. I wanted to slow down their growth, mentally photographing them so that I might always see them. Conscious of time passing I was not heeding Blake
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Suddenly buds were appearing. Then buds were opening. I welcomed their explosion into my life. I moved a tray to the living room and placed it on the low chest of drawers that stands in front of the huge gilt-edged mirror on the wall. So many buds were now opening each day I could barely keep pace! Reflected in the mirror, fifty flowers were now a hundred - luscious green leaves and bold yellow blossoms reaching out in every direction, uninhibited, shouting their existence, a wild party in full swing. Intoxicating scent filled the room.
One afternoon I was admiring their beauty when I became more conscious of my desire to possess them. Gazing at their open innocent faces and breathing in their strong perfume, I just couldn’t get enough. Greedy, I didn’t even want to look away in case I missed something! My eyes wanted to drink them in and in, my nose wanted to smell their scent over and over. And even though their buds had only just opened I was dreading the moment I would notice the flowers fading. I kept checking for the first signs of jaded petals, of precious freshness passing. Aware of their short lives I found myself wishing for eternal spring. My heart ached, conscious of the fleeting nature of life.
The next morning, lying in the bath, I was thinking about how possessive I felt towards those daffodils. I wanted them to stay there, in full bloom, forever. I wanted to have them, own them, control them, preserve them in amber!
Then an obvious, perennial truth came home to me again. Really I can possess nothing. Everything comes and goes, slipping like sand through my fingers, vanishing like smoke in the wind. These flowers are independent of me. They have their own life. I don’t own them and can never own them. I water them and provide them with light and soil, but I lack the power to make them stay. I can only witness their momentary beauty. Then they are gone.
Yet this wasn’t the whole story. Something else stirred in me. Alongside my feelings of powerlessness and - well, my fear of death - I experienced the presence of a mystery that survives the passing of things. I awoke to my innermost being. Just when I am struggling, hoping against hope that I can hold on to something precious, I stumble again upon that which I can never lose. I stumble upon that which I am, the one thing I do possess. It may sound strange to say I possess this - this which is indefinable, ungraspable, belonging to no one, dissolving all me-ness. Do I possess it or does it possess me? I don’t know. Yet today I feel it is mine. Mine because I am it, through and through. Nothing can ever separate me from this.
And so I am this emptiness - the bare, plain, scentless void.
And yet, how lovely. Today the void that I am smells of fresh daffodils!
"Where I’m coming from is upstream of life. It is the source of life, yes, but it is not alive. From Here I look out upon a snail or the daffodil there, let alone you, and, my God, I discover life." (Face to No-Face
, Douglas Harding, edited by David Lang.)
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