Professional lesson from a flower.
Nowadays I live full time in New York City, but I used to have a place in upstate New York. It was an old farm with a one-hundred-year-old house that had a wrap-around porch and a true foundation. It also had 30 acres of fields that had turned into forest, with about 5 acres still clear around the house, making for a gracious-sized lawn. There were also the remnants of a farmhouse garden out the back that included enthusiastic blackberries that made a delicious cobbler in August.
Mostly I was there on the weekends even though the house was livable all year round. Someone, years ago, had planted a stand of day lilies out by the head of the driveway, at the turn-off from the road. Come summer, those lilies were the marker for the turn, saying welcome back! You made it out of the city! It was a lovely greeting heralding the end of the Friday night’s drive.
There was a flower garden and a sometime vegetable patch, and I took a stab at gardening, but I was not all that serious. We all have our weakness. My favorite part was deadheading the flowers, although watering them was a close second. For some reason it gave me palpable pleasure. There was something so satisfying in the sensation of the old flowerhead breaking away from the stem.
My current neighborhood is very green, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. A lovely park goes down to meet the confluence of the Hudson and East River extension. I take daily walks there.
And so it was that, come this summer, I noticed an explosion of day lilies in the neighborhood.
Seeing them brought back fond memories of the ‘farm’ and I found myself tending to the lilies, deadheading them every day. There are usually about 4 to 6 buds on each stalk in various stages of bloom, some peaking, some beginning to flourish, some fading, and some dried out and just hanging there. Altogether, they make a messy, though glorious flourish of color.
As before, I noticed there is a particular instant when you dead-head the lilies- if they are really ready to go, then all it takes is the lightest flicker of your finger to make it happen. Oddly that is what I used to find so satisfying. But sometimes the flower may look done when it is not- it just won’t let go until it is ready. You can’t force it.
As I became the unofficial neighborhood daylily dead-header, it got me to thinking.
As a professional body worker, I am trained in touch on many levels. Working with the flowers reminded me of my experience with massage, in that a muscle or tissue or stress in the subtle realm will not let go of its tension unless and until it is ready. You cannot and should not try to force it.
My first formal training was in Shiatsu school in Boston, and early in the first semester, we were surprised to be assigned not to massage, but to watch people; watch them walk, to go out to Copley square and just watch- to get a sense of peoples’ energy and where it flowed and where it didn’t; to listen to their step – how hard were they pounding the pavement? Were they going fast or slow? Were they aware or preoccupied? See the whole person. The gait was just part of their story. Watching them was a way to take in their whole energy.
Later this exercise of watching extended to other aspects of gathering information; it became part of learning how to listen: When a client was telling their story, listen to the quality of their voice and hear it. Listen, and try not to think while they were talking- a tall order because there were all kinds of information flooding towards you. But it was really about touch. All the 5 senses give information with their particular kind of touch. It’s just not all in the hands.
I realized, working with the daylilies, that here was my training, coming back full circle. I remembered my Shiatsu teacher in Boston, who said one day in class:
“If you want your Shiatsu to improve, clean your kitchen, and wash the floor on hands and knees.”
Odd advice, but not surprising – I got used to getting very ‘Zen’ advice which yielded understanding only with experience. I eventually understood that being in touch with the world has everything to do with the efficacy of being in touch with my client in massage treatment.
Courtesy of the lilies you could say I had an ‘Aha’ moment. It was the equivalent of Proust’s madeleine cookie. His connection to memory was brought on by tasting that cookie; for me, by touching a flower. With that simple sensation of the touch of my fingers on a daylily, I was taken back to the roots of my training- all in an instant.
I think I’m going to go clean my kitchen…