A few years ago whilst I was in Scotland visiting a museum, a particular exhibit caught my eye. Displayed were beautiful tulips of various colors, bright and luminous. The artist had added paint in drips and splashes, emphasizing the colors, lines and beauty of the flowers. But what was most interesting to me was the state of the flowers. They were dying, at various rates, some with a little more brown edges than others. I was struck by their beauty, in these varying states of aliveness and decay.
A few years later, a lecture in a course I was participating in presented a perspective on living & dying. And the image that the teacher used was of a dying flower.
Up until that moment, I had not really considered the opportunity that was being presented in observing the death of the flower. I had really only been focused on the aliveness and freshness that it offered. I had not considered the moment by moment deaths that were occurring as the petals continued to decay, the component parts of the flower decomposing.
As much as I love having the beauty of fresh cut flowers in my home, I also see it as part of my practice of recognizing the impermanence of all things. One moment there is a freshness and aliveness, the flower full and vibrant. Another moment the vitality has begun to fade and there is a slight wilt to a few petals. At some point, I notice the flowers have started to brown at the edges. Eventually the soft petals have slumped toward the center, shriveling and drying. I touch the flower and it feels very fragile, as if it might disintegrate instantly if I apply too much pressure.
It’s natural to think of these cycles as linear, but really they are occurring simultaneously. The cells of the human body are constantly dying and renewing themselves. But the “I” that we are typically unaware of, the true Self, doesn’t dissolve. We remain connected to the embodied life participating in this cycle of birth, living, dying, and death.
As I was writing this reflection, I realized that for a woman, the menstrual cycle offers a much more tangible experience of witnessing and participating in this birth-living-dying-death cycle, impermanence.
In that moment, the understanding I had was that the menstrual pain I experienced was symbolizing an attempt to hold on, to a false self that no longer existed. I was being called by the real Self to witness this attachment and misperception and really to allow for a new self to emerge. And not just emerge once, but moment to moment.
The flower offers for me a close enough metaphor of witnessing this cycle of impermanence. Spending time in nature across all the seasons offers this reflection too. I love to find a plant or flower particularly in winter that is holding the potential in seed form all of these states.
As I reflect on the ease with which nature moves in and out of these cycles, I look to embody this in myself.
Growing and changing with the seasons.