Monday, June 26, 2006

Sunflower meditation

For as long as I can remember, each Spring Abbot Eastley plants a row of giant sunflowers along the East Wall, and because the wall is perhaps six feet in height, the early growth misses the morning sun light, but at noon, the desert sun shines high about, the leaves finally catching sunlight and following their source of life until sunset in the west. This continues for a while, but the abbot's variety of sunflowers are some mysterious Russian giants that seem to sprout up to six feet in no time, then peek over the wall to catch even the early morning sunlight. One path beyond the East Wall is used by many of us for our early morning meditative walks, and it is always a joy when upon returning to the monastery we view the first yellow petals seemingly lining the top of the wall. Then each day the yellow fringe become a long row of half moons, then full moons, then in all their glory the sunflowers rise above the wall to greet us each morning. What a delight!

Several years ago someone came up with a sunflower challenge, and many of the brothers have taken up the challenge. So here and there are patches of giant sunflowers, each patch cared and nurtured by one of us seeking to grow either the tallest sunflower, or the one with the largest sunflower head (we measure diameter and circumference), the widest leaf, and even the one with the largest stalk. Of course the abbot defers from this competition, for his garden is not a competition or a challenge, it is a meditation and a food source. Years ago he hung several lithographs of van Gogh's sunflower paintings throughout the monastery, and those have been augmented with real sunflowers in vases placed here and there with some of the brothers even duplicating the sunflower arrangements as seen in the lithographs.

Bro. Juniper uses the fully mature sunflower, with its spirals of seeds, as meditative pieces, somewhat like walking a labyrinth, only using your eyes instead of your feet to make the spiral journey. I must admit, this meditative spiral spiritual journey is wonderful, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I use a large sunflower, one with a full fringe of yellow pedals still intact, then in the chapel or other room with subdued light, I tie a string around the stem of the sunflower, then hang it so that it is at eye level, usually close to a wall, so as to keep the sunflower from slowly spinning in circles. Once the sunflower is stilled, I seat myself so that my face is about arms length from the spiral of seeds, then after a silent prayer of thanksgiving, I begin my journey, my focus moves from seed to seed, following the spiral from outside, in. Moving around the circumference one seed at a time, then following the spiral in, again and again and again. Sometimes I will pray for those concerns on my heart, a new prayer for each arm of the spiral. Other times I will simply empty my mind and simply continue the journey with my sight, and when words do begin ping-ponging in my head, I'll simply observe them, then release them, and continue on my journey.

It was 109-degrees today with some thundershowers, but even so, growing sunflowers in the desert isn't natural. We all keep an eye on the abbot, especially in this summer heat when he insists on carrying a pail to water his sunflowers. Some of the brothers have invented various irrigation systems, actually quite primitive, such as digging shallow channels, covering them with boards, with sand atop. But the rain today did all the work for us. Oh, I should add, the abbot uses his sunflower seeds to feed his homing pigeons.


Moof said...

That was a beautiful post, and gave me a lot of food for thought. I envy the beautiful simplicity of your lives.

I think you have to have a great deal of peace inside to be able to do that sunflower meditation of yours ...

Stay cool, Brother, and please keep sharing yourself with us. Reading your posts is like a bit of a retreat ...

Gloria Jean said...

I enjoyed it too. I was mainly looking to find out what a person can to with all parts of a sunflower since I once read that the early American Indian people used all parts of the Sunflower both for food and other things. I'll keep looking I guess but thanks again for the nice moment you shared. Gloria Jean