When I spoke with my father yesterday morning, Memorial Day, he mentioned remembering his father and Aunt Clara planting geraniums in pots at the cemetery on Memorial Day. Now did he say red geraniums or am I just filling in that detail? His memory made me think about pots at my parents' home planted with red and white geraniums. The front door was painted red, and my mother believed in Color Coordination. From that memory I jumped to a memory of a man who owns a small and delectable nursery. I recall his condemnation of geraniums, calling them "ordinary" and "Midwestern" and "unimaginative."
That memory led me to a blustery, beyond cold evening in his home in which several gathered to read to each other from favorite books about gardening. How I happened to be there or what I or anyone else read, I don't quite recall, but I remember the evening's enveloping English coziness. I lingered in that memory for awhile, and then I meandered to our gardens at Sweetwater Farm where we didn't have any geraniums, but where the Head Gardener, husband Bruce, had open-ended space to indulge in his gardening fantasies, even if he didn't have open-ended time. He did have, however, his Undergardener, me, who weeded and followed instructions and rejoiced in his vision and hard work.
I could stay in those memories for a long time following the garden paths, feeling such gratitude for those years of privileged creativity. At the same time, I recognized it would be easy especially on a grey day like yesterday to feel loss, to detour into what I miss, but I decided, quite intentionally, to set those thoughts aside and instead return to the present.
Bruce has planted geraniums, red geraniums, in the window boxes on the garage. And we even have a red door. I love the happy old-fashioned way they look, and I don't care if they are "unimaginative" or "ordinary." They remind me of a set of dishes I collected when we lived at Sweetwater Farm--a red geranium design. Whoops--there is another memory. This could go on and on, for that is what memories do.
Memories lead us on meandering paths, similar to walking a labyrinth. One turn leads to another. One more time around and still there is more pathway ahead. How easily, however, a labyrinth, which has one way in and then you follow the path in reverse to where you started, can become a maze in which you can lose your way and still not find your way out even after many tries. Sometimes being lost in memories confines us, reinforcing what actually needs to forgotten and released.
Recently, I came across a book that invites meandering, Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by the poet David Whyte. Here's what he says about memory.
Memory is not just a then, recalled in a now, the past
is never just the past, memory is a pulse, passing through
all created life, a waveform, a then continually becoming
other thens, all the while creating a continual but
almost untouchable now. …
We can be overwhelmed, traumatized, made smaller
by the tide that brought us here, we can even be
drowned and disappeared by memory; or we can spin
a cocoon of insulation to protect ourselves and bob
along passively in the wake of what we think has
occurred, but we also have other more engaging
possibilities; memory in a sense, is the very essence
of the conversation we hold as individual human
beings. A full inhabitation of memory makes human
beings conscious, a living connection between what
has been, what is and what is about to be. Memory
is the living link to personal freedom. pp. 143-145
All that from red geraniums? Yes.
Memories as Spiritual Practice--Lectio Divina
Spending time in memory can become a spiritual practice when it leads us to deeper awareness of our own essence and our connection to something greater than ourselves. Perhaps you have heard of the spiritual practice, lectio divina, which is a contemplative way to read scripture, but I think it can be applied to memories that arise in us, as well.
I am grateful to Christine Valters Paintner's new book The Soul of A Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within, for introducing new language for the lectio divina steps. (pp. 23-24). Why not approach memories as an exercise in lectio divina?
First Movement--Lectio: Settling and Shimmering. When you feel a memory arise within you, give yourself time and space to settle into it and become present. What image or words are shimmering for you? Walk around that image, getting a good look. Listen carefully to the words that may be part of the memory.
Second Movement--Meditatio: Savoring and Stirring. Look again, feel again the memory and let imagination fill it. Are there smells, sounds, tastes, touches, sights within this memory that invite you? Be with them and allow the memory to grow and expand.
Third Movement--Oratio: Summoning and Serving. Revisit the memory again and ask yourself why is this memory rising within me now? Where is it leading me?
Fourth Movement--Contemplatio: Slowing and Stilling. Know that this time of memory is also a time with God, the Sacred, the Divine. Allow yourself to be, with no need to understand or resolve. Just be.
My lectio divina red geranium time led me to gratitude for the many gardens I have known: big and small, ones I have visited and ones at our own homes, friends' gardens, public gardens, gardens only seen in books and magazines. My heart opened to all the beauty in the world, beauty we participate in creating and beauty we are asked to nurture.
I invite you to open to your memories and explore them using the spiritual practice of lectio divina. Consider journaling about your experience. I would love to know what you discover.
David Whyte here.
Christine Valters Painter here.