During my seeking years in my mid twenties I was constantly sniffing around for the book/teacher/video that would answer my unanswerable questions and set me free.
Questions like: what is real? Is life magic or not? Does anything actually matter? Do I have a purpose? If so, what the fuck is it? No matter how well my life story was going, these questions persisted.
Then an unexpectedly vivid answer arose one sunny afternoon as I strolled through a cemetery in Los Angeles.
At the time I was working for the American Film Market. Just behind the office building on Wilshire Blvd was a little cemetery where some of Hollywood’s greats were buried or laid to rest in mausoleum crypts. Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Natalie Wood, Jack Lemon, Mel Torme, Frank Zappa, Truman Capote, Merv Griffin…you get the idea.
On my lunch break I would usually go out to the cemetery because it had a nice amount of greenery for LA (and of course I was in very good company). On this day I had scheduled a phone session with a spiritual teacher named Mukti. As I strolled around the cemetery on my cell phone posing questions to her, I was most unsatisfied with her answers.
I wanted her to toss me a ball of light that would illuminate my world (or burn it to the ground if that’s what it took). Instead she kept saying “That’s just a thought… and that’s a thought too…” Over and over she pointed out my mechanism of thinking that contained no inherent truth. It was frustrating to say the least!
Giving up on my questions, I finally got quiet for a moment. Then these words arose in my mind: I am just the field these weeds grow in. I am just the field these weeds grow in. I am just the field these weeds grow in.
It was suddenly so obvious that everything I thought of as “me” was a weed or a flower, a tree or a bush that was growing on top of what I actually am.
It was so obvious that each of us is born and raised in a different social climate, exposed to different conditions, and different seeds have been strewn in each of our fields. Different things grow up inside and around us so we appear to be different. Just as a field in Japan displays different variations of flora than a field in Alaska or Cambodia or Brazil.
But none of those characteristics, none of those behaviors or preferences, not even our gifts or talents are essentially what we are. We are just the field. Which, if you really feel it, is wildly liberating.
You know what this means? None of your weeds are you. None of your lousy habits or shameful urges. None of your pains or fears. They grow in the field. They die in the field. They are not the field. So they cannot be you.
You know what else it means? None of your roses, peonies or tulips, not even that big old oak tree is you. You are not your kindness or your talents. Not your smarts nor your beauty. They have just grown in your field too.
And finally, you wanna know the really freaky thing about the field? It isn’t even a thing. It’s a no-thing. It’s empty space – space where something could happen and space that that something could also disappear into. Unlike the stuff that grows in it, that space was never born, and can’t ever die. It doesn’t play by those rules.
Coming to realize that I was just the field meant I didn’t have to take anything growing in it at all seriously anymore. And it also meant that it was possible to weed and plant as I wished. I could choose what to cultivate, and what to let whither away through lack of attention and care.
Thus marked the beginning of my new career as a gardener.
It always surprises my pants off to realize that having moments of insight like this doesn’t rocket me up to the heavens where I am incinerated in God’s flaming golden embrace. It does quite the opposite.
This insight instead planted me firmly on my two human feet and sent me marching back into the reality of what was growing out-of-control in my field. It was like the insight tossed me a machete, pointed me towards a particularly gnarly thicket and said may as well get to work, these briars aren’t going to uproot themselves.
Lovingly tending to what’s growing in your field is the joy of this life. Doing the hard work to uproot the creeping thistle. Planting the rare seed for some exotic flower you’ve never had in your field before. Going back to work on that creeping thistle. Climbing the oak tree to get a lay of the land. Handling the infestation. Pruning the roses. That’s the joy man.
This field is the realm of pure potential. Anything is possible here. Why don’t you climb to the top of your tallest tree right now and have a look… what would you like to tend to today?
*If you are curious, this is Mukti
**Thanks to the LACity.org website where I lifted this photo of the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary.