the moment of blooming into surrender…

1-IMG_5581I want to draw your attention to ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’–the condition of being dangerously overwhelmed by beauty in either art or nature. The condition was first described in 1979 by the Italian psychiatrist, Gaziella Magherini, after studying more than 100 cases among visitors to the Uffizi in Florence. A concentration of particularly beautiful art can cause rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations. It’s named after the 19th century French author, Stendhal, who described the experience in his 1817 book, Rome, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. In my case, it happened when I first laid eyes on Monet’s panoramic water lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. At the time, I thought my breathless confusion and pounding heart was akin to the opera buff who jumps so far out of his seat that you can see the entire orchestra pit beneath his bottom. In other words, I figured it might be a form of self-applause for my own sensitivity. Apart from the excitement of finally seeing in the flesh what one has so often seen in books, I concluded there was more to the condition than I originally thought. Life is a passage through a museum of beauty. While the presence of art may be disarming, for artists and others the experience of the wonders of Nature may even rival other high exaltations. “As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.” (Stendhal, nom de plume of Marie-Henrie Beyle, 1817)…..Robert Genn

how wonderful to be awestruck and fundamentally changed by a mystical experience…..a profundity only imagined in a superficial world…..let us dive down in the loam to feel the depth of paradox, the kinship with roots and the heartbeat of flowers…..a truthful beauty only found in the many seasons of the soul….

Let me define a garden as the meeting of raw nature and the human imagination in which both seek the fulfillment of their beauty. Entering a garden is like passing through a mystical gate. Things are not the same on the other side, in the interior where nature has been arranged, whether formally or casually, to suggest to our senses and our subliminal imagination a midrealm somewhere between the conscious, known world of ordinary life and the less conscious, mystery world of the garden. In a garden the soul finds it s needed escape from life and its entry into a space where eternity is more evident than time and where the ritual arrangement of life is more important than the business of surviving and making progress. The garden is a proper place of the soul, where concerns of the soul for beauty, contemplation, quiet, and observance take complete precedence over the busier concerns of daily life. There you will likely see the butterfly, an ancient image of the soul, and the bee, representing the kind of work the soul does- unheroic, hidden, mysterious, and sweet. The garden reconciles human art and wild nature, hard work and deep pleasure, spiritual practice and the material world. It is a magical place because it is not divided. Gardens do not make these balances intellectually, but rather they take us in our senses into the liminality, a mundus imaginalis, a special place in the imagination that is neither wild nor cultivated, neither human nor otherworldly. This liminality, felt physically and emotionally as we walk in a garden, is analogous to temenos and it, too, is a rare gift to the soul, because liminality presents a window onto eternity and offers epiphanies and deep sensations of transport that are of greatest importance to the soul….Thomas Moore

where the stem meets sky….

How strange and mysterious

are the ways of God.

Not greening, not flowering

may be a path

to the center as well.

Acceptance of yourself as you are

and others as they are

is the true potting soil.

All growth starts there.

….Gunilla Norris

12 thoughts on “the moment of blooming into surrender…

  1. Hello Blue,

    Another thought-provoking post as always.

    But I will admit, I am always puzzled by these words and why they speak so much to some people –

    “Acceptance of yourself as you are
    and others as they are
    is the true potting soil.
    All growth starts there.”

    I think of myself as a learner, thinker, contemplative, and as growth-oriented. But self-acceptance has always been a puzzling phrase and a baffling idea. I literally have no idea what is meant by it and why it is championed and sought after so much.

    There are parts of myself I accept, and other parts I reject (or am working on outgrowing); parts that I like and that are good, parts that I like and that are not so good, parts that I don’t like and that are good, and parts that I don’t like and that are not good.

    And self-acceptance—especially the “acceptance” part—can be a rather nebulous word. Acceptance, meaning not wanting to change? Or acceptance, meaning the opposite of denying something?

    “If you begin to understand what you are, without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.” – J. Krishnamurti

    I understand the above quote. But I usually rephrase it “If you begin to understand what you are, without denying it or turning a blind eye to it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”

    Perhaps all of this is because I’ve operated for so long under the assumption that I am a work in progress, that we are all works in progress, that life is about change, and that change is certain but it’s growth that is optional after a certain point (meaning once we hit adulthood / our early twenties). The thing I’ve most accepted about myself and others—and most assumed about myself and others—is this capacity for growth and change. I view life as a balance between two competing processes—acceptance, in terms of not denying or turning a blind eye towards, and rejection, growth, and change, on the other hand.

    “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

    The question is what to let go of, if anything, and what, if anything, not to relinquish and to instead hold on to.

    That’s what needs to be discerned and balanced—self-discovery, on the one hand, and self-creation, on the other hand. A good part of the inner journey is discovering who I really am—my authentic self, that core of me that would (or ought to) exist irrespective of era and epoch and geography—whether I was living in Tibet or the wilds of Africa or 200 years ago in Europe or 2000 years ago in Greece or Rome, etc. this is difficult to know because a good part of it is determined / limited by what I think, what I read, what books and teachers I surround myself with (or am surrounded by).

    The other significant part of the inner journey is creating this person—this essential, authentic self—and making choices that will help manifest this person and make him a reality here and now, in this particular time and space in which I find myself living.

    But accepting myself as I am and as others are being the starting point of “all” growth is a baffling notion to me, and smacks of an overstatement of reality.

    In the course of my writing a few days ago, these words of Frankl came to mind—

    “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and what he should become, he helps make these potentialities come true.” – Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” pg. 116.

    To me, these words ring much truer and make much more sense. The potential and the actual, the essential and the peripheral /superfluous, being and becoming. For me, the biggest thing to accept about ourselves is, paradoxically, that we are unfinished products, works in progress, and that change and growth and ripening and deepening are all part of who we are and part of what we need to accept about ourselves.

    “In this world a man must either be anvil or hammer.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Either this world is trying to change, shape, mold, influence us, or we’re trying to stay the same and change, shape, influence, mold the world and those around us. It seems inescapable, unavoidable. Such is life. C’est la vie. It seems to come down again and again to this—knowing (as in discerning) what to change—ourselves or the world, or both, or neither.

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post, Blue.

    Kindest regards,

    John

    • I became aware of the deeper meaning of what ‘acceptance’ meant when I studied a concept called ‘radical self-acceptance.’ Your questioning is astute and grounded in an important word of caution. A fine line, if you will. These words below, I think, are powerful because of how they invite us to begin our journey. I think the cautionary note lies in the potential for a superficial ‘okness’ to supersede any true spiritual work. And indeed, this can be a type of new-age spiritual bypassing.
      “Acceptance of yourself as you are
      and others as they are
      is the true potting soil.
      All growth starts there.”
      This ‘radical self-acceptance’ can be vital to many because of how strong negative self-talk and the hold of our egos can be. It’s a spiral. Yes, acceptance is a nebulous word and no, I definitely do not think it means it’s an excuse to not change.
      ‘There are parts of myself I accept, and other parts I reject (or am working on outgrowing); parts that I like and that are good, parts that I like and that are not so good, parts that I don’t like and that are good, and parts that I don’t like and that are not good.’
      These are profound values and strong ideals, coming from a strong sense of self. But I think the idea of acceptance comes from a better term, ‘self-compassion,’ and can be helpful in preventing the downward spiral of judgment that plagues so many. I think when we can first come from a place of love for self and others, then we can make real change. I think from here we can get a clarity born of honesty. Yes, a fine line between blind, surface, (possibly narcissistic) love and true empathic compassion.
      For me, this beautiful prayer says it well,
      ‘God grant me the serenity
      to accept the things I cannot change;
      courage to change the things I can;
      and wisdom to know the difference.’
      I agree with you that Frankl’s words have a deeper clarity into what love is all about.
      Self-compassion. Then- Self-actualization.
      Thank you for this dialogue. I embrace the chance to go deeper into the essence of these readings and to explore this humanness.
      Blessings…..

      • Thank you, Blue, for the dialogue and the clarification.

        And I think self-compassion is a much better and clearer and less objectionable term than self-acceptance. That term would make a lot more sense in general.

        In my experience and from what I’ve observed, self-acceptance too often does lead to an “I don’t have to change, people need to accept me for who I am, I am wo/man hear me roar, living out loud” over-correction. Perhaps these people were bullied or had very critical and unkind and unloving parents, and perhaps they have amassed an inner dialogue full of inferiority, inadequacy, shame, negative self-talk, self-condemnation. And so perhaps a concept like self-acceptance comes along and speaks to them, resonates with them, makes them feel better.

        And that is good. Because it is unfair that they were bullied or spoken to so often in childhood and life in an unkind and harsh way and that they have internalized this negative chatter and have this dreary view of themselves.

        But, again, too often, I’ve seen self-acceptance become an excuse not to change and a way of not only spiritual bypassing, but of psychological bypassing. It becomes an anthem to some—I’m going to embrace and fiercely celebrate my emotional lability and instability and impulsivity all in the name of radically accepting my self.

        Also, so many people I’ve run across who advocate self-acceptance tend to be very un-accepting of others. (And it’s tempting here to want to note that their un-acceptance of others is their own alienated and projected rejection/un-acceptance of themselves. But to my mind, it’s more than that. In other words, it may be true sometimes, but at other times, it’s just fear and cowardice—fear of losing their grounding, fear of new and differing ideas and points of view, fear of becoming disoriented, attachment to self and to the known and to what is comfortable and familiar to the person.) They display that hypocrisy of craving self-acceptance and even demanding it in regards to themselves, but they are very quick to reject—and wall out—others. This is something I have seen (and experienced, as well as observed) again and again.

        Which is why self-compassion is a much better and clearer and less objectionable and less confusing terms. Acceptance is so easily confusable with stagnation, not changing, staying the same. Compassion—self-compassion—is a term, that to my mind, has none of those overtones and carries none of that baggage.

        And in my experience, many who advocate self-acceptance also tend to view peace in negative terms—as the absence of conflict and tension, rather than the presence of justness, agape, philia, real demonstrated interconnectedness–including actually facing (dealing with) their adversaries or with people who have differing opinions or points of view.

        So, yes, in my opinion, this—

        “Compassion for yourself as you are
        and towards others as they are
        is the true potting soil.
        All growth starts there.”

        would read much much better than this—

        “Acceptance of yourself as you are
        and others as they are
        is the true potting soil.
        All growth starts there.”

        But I would still object to the categorical—to the use of the word “all.”
        And in my experience, it can and does work both ways—actualizing oneself and developing one’s latent potentials and talents and clarifying one’s thinking (learning how to think more clearly, critically, discerningly) can lead to a real and perhaps even a deserved sense of self-compassion and self-appreciation. But it doesn’t necessarily require self-compassion or self-acceptance first or as a prerequisite.

        So I would rephrase Gunilla Norris’s words even more, to—

        “Compassion for yourself as you are
        and towards others as they are
        is good potting soil.
        Much growth can start from here.”

        (But of course, Norris is talking about something very radical—that a path where nothing greens or ripens or seems to grow, where nothing flowers, where there’s nothing garden-like or springlike—may still be a way to the center / a path that leads to God.)

        I don’t recall the Buddha speaking of self-acceptance. I see in his words much about accepting reality and the inevitables of life—death, pain, old age, sickness, dissatisfaction, that life is difficult. But I don’t see anything in his words about acceptance of one’s self. The self is fleeting, empty, changing, perhaps even ultimately illusory.

        But I do see much in his thinking and his words about compassion—compassion for oneself and others. And that makes a lot more sense to me—being compassionate, warm, open, friendly, self-extending, understanding, sympathetic. Not being unnecessarily harsh, unkind, mean, critical (in an unconstructive and untrue way). And not being quick to be these things (unless perhaps for greater reasons—justice, the potential widespread effects of one person’s thinking or actions on susceptible others). But I don’t get much from his (Buddha’s) thoughts about acceptance of self and others as they are. His words and thoughts seem to speak very clearly about the need to change—the need to change (and examine and become much more aware of) our patterns of thinking, the need to accept reality and the brute facts of life, the need to see through our own ego (house builder) and how we get attached (hooked) to ideas, concepts, thoughts patterns, emotions, fears, bodily sensations and experiences, et cetera, the need to examine and become more aware of our own reactions and underlying assumptions and biases. And he also spells out the need to change when he spells out the need for his followers live more ethically (The Noble Eightfold Path).

        To me, talk of self-acceptance—even the use of that term—suggests how much people have strayed from the original intent of the Buddha’s sutras and wisdom—or may be it has nothing to do with Buddhism at all—perhaps self-acceptance is part of an entirely new and emerging worldview that some are attempting to articulate and promote. But either way, the concept of “self-acceptance” seems questionable at best, and in its worst usage it seems harmful and self-indulgent, whereas “self-compassion” on the other hand, seems much more clearer and less objectionable. Self-compassion doesn’t have that underlying sense of “I don’t have to change; I’m perfect just as I am.” If self-acceptance is really about self-compassion and trimming the negative harsh inner self-talk, then in my opinion, it should always be spelled out in that way and in precisely those terms. After all, the darkness all around is deep.

        Blue, thank you very much for the response and the further food for thought. I appreciate this.

        Warmest regards as always,

        John

  2. Blue, surely Givenchy couldn’t design beauty such as that of a cherry blossom, nor could Halston bottle the scents of corriander and evergreen. Life (nature) is intoxicating in her simple graces. I long for a night soon when I can lie beneath the stars and listen to the songs of the universe. Such blessings we are given for nothing more than the taking. ~ Love to you, Bobbie

    • Such a subtle and enlivening wonderment…..makes me wish I could ‘slow down’ enough to become that engrossed and enmeshed with beauty…..we really experience only a small part of things…..may your senses be filled today…..blessings….

  3. Pingback: Being Who God Created You to Be: You Were Made to Last Forever | Ronnie Murrill

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