When the jasmine plant comes into bloom, first two or three tiny petals open, whispering the hint of what is to come. Soon another and another burst forth. Others die off, but the tempo increases until enough have bloomed that a symphony of scent reaches its climax.
Sometimes, whole climbing arms die off, leaving the plant looking a bit withered and worn, but a little water and warmth revitalize it.
Before long, the tempo increases and the plant comes back again into full bloom, delighting me with its sweet, faintly musky, sensuous and intoxicating scent.
It is a delicate scent, however, that dissipates quickly in the night breeze. Hopefully the trace left lingering invites me to seek more—to stop and sit awhile in the bounty, like a child with a pole at a great fishing hole, enjoying one of life’s prolific, if fleeting, offerings.
Enlivenment is like the night blooming jasmine.
When I became an empty nester, it was as if one entire arm of my inner jasmine bush withered and died. Being a mom lit me up. Sure, cooking and cleaning, dealing with tantrums and making sure they did their homework exhausted me, but I relished it. Every day offered a whiff of something precious—a moment to notice, a memory to cherish. When the kids were little we’d dive into spontaneous crafts together, make homemade pasta noodles, and grow vegetable soup. We’d read books, play games and laugh—a lot—well, almost as much as we cried, anyway, but even that was enlivening.
When the kids grew older we went on adventures: hiking and backpacking, rock hounding, swimming with dolphins . . .
For me, motherhood was naturally enlivening. Sure, there was a subtle underlying goal to help the kids grow confident enough to fly on their own from the nest, but it was never a goal I focused on. Never a goal I worried about. I didn’t set out with the intention to reach that goal as efficiently and quickly as possible. No. I caught the sweet scent of life in each moment on the breeze and happily lingered, like the child with a fishing pole, abuzz with contentment.
Of course, the kids did grow up and fly from the nest I built, and I—withered jasmine vine that I’d become—had to regroup. I had to find new enlivenment.
I set out with gusto. But without the kids’ blossoms lingering on the breeze enticing me to stop and play, to be content, I was left with only my adult conditioning, which seemed to alternate between running desperately toward society driven goals (make and spend lots of money) and collapsing into distraction (wine and movies.)
I thought I was doing right for myself, actively going after my new enlivenment—a loftier title, a sexier product, a bucket load of more money, the respect of my peers. I thought when I caught that golden ring, I’d be enlivened again. Someday.
Meanwhile more arms of my jasmine bush wilted and died.
It took a while to remember how to care for myself, how to offer my dry roots water and how to wrap myself up in my own warmth and inner encouragement.
Then the company I worked for went bankrupt and I lost my job. All the goals I’d been reaching for disappeared.
But in their absence, I remembered: enlivenment is not something you go after—something you can grab on to. It’s more delicate than that. It’s the faint scent on a light breeze that tickles something inside and makes you smile. It’s a field of yellow flowers, a rainbow, a moment with a friend, an afternoon in bed with your beloved. Enlivenment grows by paying attention to this moment. This one.
I got out a pen and paper and started writing personal essays again, capturing moments. I took myself out of the “to do” list arena—out of the “make a deadline” or “meet a goal” mindset—and back into something that encouraged me to slow down and pay attention—to mull things gently over in my mind. To let things be.
One day a little blossom burst forth tentatively telling me I was on the right path, so I joined a writing group. It made me happy to be compelled to write regularly for no reason at all. When the juices got flowing, I found it easy to start a cooking and storytelling blog. Another blossom opened. My world unfolded with potential writing fodder—so long as I paid attention to the nuances of each moment. How would I capture that mood? How would I describe that setting or that moment with the hummingbird?
By and by, my jasmine bush came into full bloom again.
Enlivenment, I saw, is not something to go after with gusto, but rather something present along the way—a mindful essence, a sweetness that emanates from within. It comes forth naturally when I stop and listen, when I play—and, for me, when I write.
Maybe writing holds this potential for you too.
If you find yourself withering on the vine, try this: get out a pen and paper and write. Write what is before you right now. Write about the thoughts and feelings swirling. Write about what it feels like to be withering. Then get quiet and write about what you love, what you notice lights you up, what brings you to your knees in a simple moment of awe. Write about what enlivens you.
Photo Credit: Marijke McCandless