David Rynick, abbot of the Boundless Way Zen Temple in Worcester, Massachusetts, has written a book, This Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons, which is available from Wisdom Publications. We’re happy to share some excerpts with our readers — you can read another one, “Familiar Suspicion,” here.
“Spiraling Toward God — A Story in Two Parts”
Yesterday I made my daily pilgrimage to the morning glory seedlings in the planters under the bare pergola on the access ramp. A week and a half ago, I carefully ran ten lines of brown twine from a horizontal wire near the planters to the top of the pergola. My plan was that each of the ten morning glory plants would climb up one of the strings.
The seedlings have been getting nearly big enough to train onto these strings.
The taller ones, I lean over toward the appropriate string — like bringing a newborn to her mother’s breast. You can’t really “teach” a baby to suck on the breast but you can awaken their inborn knowing. The infants without this sucking knowledge inscribed in their DNA did not survive to pass on their genes. So I have been bringing the sprouting runners over to touch the string — hoping they will get the idea—hoping the touch of the string—like how gentle rubbing of the baby’s cheek makes her turn her head and “look for” the breast.
Most days, when I have gone back to check, the plants have righted themselves — spurning the string support for the free-form vertical. But yesterday, two of them finally got the idea. They had each made one spiral trip around the string and were headed for the top. I was unreasonably proud and delighted to see the results of my careful planning and coaxing. And I was amazed by the intelligence of these plants.
How was this rising wisdom contained in the small round seed I planted in damp soil a month ago? I suppose the leaves themselves are miracle enough — but this capacity to sense the string and to begin the climb is a dumb intelligence beyond understanding.
I went out again this morning to look.
Now there are three beginning the climb and two have made several trips around—are now spiraling upward. And I pray that our lives too may be spiraling upward in ways beyond our knowing. Is there a string that is set for each of us that runs toward God, toward the source of our lives?
I suspect that the aliveness of our lives is the string.
We can’t really “know” what the string is — just like I don’t think the morning glory has any conception of “string” or “pergola” or “David is such a clever gardener.” But the growing tip of the plant knows enough to curl around whatever it meets.
I pray that I have the same cellular intelligence and can respond appropriately when the universe gently rubs my cheek so that I can turn toward what nourishes me.
The morning glories have now climbed from the shallow rectangular boxes to the top of the pergola.
Reaching the summit, they keep on climbing.
Failing to find support other than each other, the tendrils fall in graceful arcs back to their original rising string and climb once again. The neat preliminary geometry of my ten strings has been wonderfully overgrown with the green energy of twisting and climbing.
It turns out that along with rising up toward the sun, the morning glories also know how to circumambulate.
There must be some biological message that happens on contact — the cells that are touched by the string begin to grow more slowly or the cells on the other side to grow more quickly. This seemingly small wisdom allows the morning glories to enlist whatever is at hand to support their upward mission of sun gathering.
I imagine the ten small round black seeds I started with are quite proud of themselves. With no legs or hands, no prefrontal cortex or apparent income stream, they have accomplished amazing things.
First was enlisting the commercial grower to tend, select, and package them.
Then they dreamed themselves into my head to convince me buy the package (it was their alluring blue photo on the front that made me do it) then to tenderly put them in little wet homes of dirt to allow them to sprout.
Then was the building of the handicap access ramp and the pergola (which of course had to start long before.)
And finally transplanting them to the flower boxes and the stringing of the twine supports — carefully secured near the sprouts and to the top of the pergola that allowed them to rise and turn.
I like the tangled mass of green with tendrils flaying out like unruly wisps of hair.
And I’m still waiting to see the deep blue morning glory blossoms that are planted in my mind.