In the Garden
Today’s post is by Kathleen Moloney-Tarr
Lately my thoughts have turned to letting go and being afraid, the prompts for two spiritual journey writing groups. I struggle with these, not because I haven’t been afraid or haven’t let go but because each time I think of possible topics—traveling to Guinea to start a refuge school, starting my own business, taking my weavings to galleries, traveling abroad alone, being pregnant—there no energy rises around the fear I once had. When I consider our children going to college or my release of things I once loved like West African drumming or my professional work, I feel nothing. I can’t go there now. They just don’t resonate with me today. Or yesterday. Or the day before.
I snuggle into my favorite chair in my studio, looking out once again at the oak tree whose lavender bark I have memorized over thirty years or a dozen large hosta plants, all grandchildren of my neighbor’s one small gift. I recall yesterday, a day of sharing and listening as I sat four times with seekers of an intimate connection with Spirit. I heard affirming stories about being afraid of what might happen if a choice is or isn’t made or how hard it is to let go of old patterns of behavior, of what God is calling forth or how even though we want to let go, we hold on to that which has ended.
Now a black snake slithers across the moss outside the tall studio doors. I leave my chair and walk to him. Black snake always opens me to Spirit and transformation. Twenty years ago, as I nervously drove from my house to present a talk about my faith at church, I asked for a sign that all would be well. Immediately a black snake eased across the road in front of my car; I breathed easier. When my beloved cockatiel, Charlie, was buried beside Skip-the-lovebird in our back garden, a black snake circled the graves and the patio, as though honoring death and loss. His presence soothed me, affirmed the value of the cycles of life. Today as I consider fear and letting go, I lean into the extended meaning of this visitor.
He is the second one in two days. As I started to say, yesterday’s stories of being deeply led and affirmed in spite of the pain and suffering strengthened me.
During the last conversation, I spotted a medium sized box turtle strolling across the mulch just a foot from where Mr. Snake slithered today. We immediately walked out to experience the presence of this turtle, only the fourth seen in the garden in decades. The gold patterns on her back must be painted with real gold. Shimmering in the sun, the designs could be Egyptian or Greek. We are silent, witnessing this gift of nature, of Spirit. She draws herself under a hosta and waits for safety. We watch for a few minutes, then return to our chairs to complete our time together. When I am alone again, I go out, pick up Madame Turtle to talk with her, complimenting, wondering, thanking. When I release her, she moves steadily under a sweeping azalea as an afternoon shower cools the air.
Turtle is one of my totems. As a teenager I tended sixteen little turtles plucked from a nearby lake. Small, carved turtles rest on the shelf by my chair, on the edges of our sinks. During some of my darkest days when I could not think or sleep or pray, when I lived in blank nothingness without any images, yes, me the one for whom image matters so much, the first image that came was of a turtle without a shell buried in the mud on the side of a riverbank. That image offered wordless understanding of what was happening as I waited for healing and accepted the unknowing I was in.
I realize it is the turtle’s stillness, her steadiness that I wanted to write about when I sat down in this chair. And then Mr. Snake arrived and echoed the same qualities. Both have a cautious deliberation, a patience born of ancestral wisdom and experience. Each arrives quietly and without the fanfare I add to their presence here in my garden. I spend thirty minutes or so with each one. I wait for them to move as they wait for me to be still. It is a perfect pairing. I am struck by the similarity to a spiritual seeker and the Divine Mystery. I wait for movement, while my stillness is awaited by Spirit. I wait for some way to approach writing of my spiritual journey and yet stillness and silence are what bring the words forward. Fear and loss are significant in my life, yet today it is stillness and slow steady movement that capture me.