I was walking through the cemetery on my way home from town when the most deliciously sweet scent wafted up my nostrils. I stopped by the big bush with bright yellow flowers and nuzzled in.
Later that day I called my dad, who, as well as being my dad, is also my personal plant encyclopedia, and asked him what it was. By my brief description, he identified it as a Yellow Azalea. I was in love.
I lingered a while, as if by breathing more of it in, I’d somehow be able to take the scent home with me.
Precisely eight days later, I was surprised to notice that the flowers were already past their best, several of the heads already turning brown. And just yesterday evening, on a sunset walk around the cemetery and a mere ten days since my previous observations, there was no yellow left to be seen, all the heads now drooped, crinkled and brown.
How long had it been in its full bloom before I’d first noticed? Not long, surely, since I pass by that way most days. And now here we were, just three weeks later and the show was over.
Whilst I stood over my beloved, a phrase came to mind – something a friend had shared with me months earlier. “Open palm”. We’d been talking about living life with an open palm and allowing things to come and go without resistance.
The Yellow Azalea seemed to me, in that moment, the perfect example of open-palmed living.
Nature’s way is movement. It is a coming and a going. An arising and a falling away. A blossoming and a hibernation. It is birth and death. It is a constant flow through spring, summer, autumn and winter.
The Yellow Azalea lives with an open palm and an open palm means letting come and letting go. Palm open and outstretched to life, the yellow flowers bloom effortlessly and beautifully in just the right time. They give what they are here to give, including the gift of their scent to passers-by like me and then, palm still open, the flowers are free to pass away without stress or fuss, making way for the next season of the plant’s cycle.
The plant doesn’t cling to its season of blooming, thinking that this season is better than the next. It simply allows the natural movement of life to keep flowing and in this state of non-resistance, everything is in harmony and in perfect peace.
As human beings, does so much of our suffering not come from living with a closed palm? Does our pain, frustration and aggravation not come from trying to hold onto things longer than they want to be held onto or trying to resist change?
We all have places where we live easily with an open palm and others area where, for one reason or another, our palms have become sticky with resistance and clinging. I notice this feeling when I look in the mirror some days now. The once perfectly springy, smooth skin of my face has scrunches and crinkles where before there were none. If I lie face down on my bed for any length of time, the indentations from the fabric of the pillow hang around for what seems like hours. I can feel the tension I have around my physical appearance and the desire for my skin to remain as it always was.
But that is not nature’s way. My skin will continue to change as does the skin of every other human being who walks this earth. It will crease and fold and speckle. If I resist the inevitable I will create a constant cycle of suffering for myself. One cares for things in the best way one can, of course, but taking care of is not the same as changing the nature of. But perhaps, instead of resistance and clinging, I can bring a little more presence to this experience of looking in the mirror, ease open my sticky palm and allow life to move more freely.
With an open palm there is no good or bad, there is only what is.
I started to get an image of myself in a field of tall grass, soft sunlight all around. I saw myself with an arm outstretched and my palm closed. And then, in a moment of release, the palm opens and a butterfly flutters out and into the sky. I carry this image with me and, when I notice that I’m living with my palm firmly closed, I take myself to that field in my mind’s eye and see if I can allow my palm to open and let the beauty out.
My invitation to you today would be simply to let this image of open and closed-palm living sink into your awareness. Perhaps, over the coming days or weeks or months, you’ll see something you didn’t see before; a sticky area that’s causing you pain and stress. And then maybe you can bring your own vision into your mind’s eye, whether in a field or elsewhere, open your palm and allow life to do its thing.
But remember, won’t you, open-palmed living doesn’t only mean letting things go, it also means letting things enter in. This is the natural flow of life. In and out. Giving and receiving. Letting come and letting go. No resistance, no problem.
Love and courage,