Growth does not come from fulfilling all your wishes or your immediate impulses. Growth comes from allowing your ego’s story to drop away.
This was my daily Ennegram email last Friday.
Reading that sentence, all bleary eyed on the sofa, coffee in one hand, iPhone in the other, all I could think was, damn.
I am an Enneagram Type 7 with a heavy 8 Wing. Which means, in summary that I both like to keep moving to The Next Great Thing and I like to be in charge of that moving. Very in charge. I see a new bright shiny idea or opportunity and I want hug it and squeeze and call it mine. Today. . Yesterday. Now.
So being told that growth does not come from grabbing each and every shiny thing that passes me by, well that cuts right to the heart of the thing doesn’t it?
Instead, it seems that growth comes from letting my ego’s story drop away. Double damn.
The story of my ego is two-fold – there is the outer story, the protective story, the story that insulates me from pain. And that story is this: That I am special. That I am a bright shiny special thing and aren’t you all lucky that I was born? This is the story that my ego tells me in order to protect me from the second story, the one buried deeper, closer to my heart. The story of that ego, the second ego is this: That I am anything but special. That I am less than special. That I am invisible, inconsequential, null.
Here is the thing that I know after 41 years on this planet: They are both true. And neither matter.
Which is why I have to let them drop away in order for growth to happen.
I have taken to herb gardening in my approaching middle age – specifically herb container gardening on our porch.
The other day in a spurt of inspiration I brought home little peat pots of lavender, oregano, basil, and dill.
Following the directions on the labels, I throughly soaked each peat pot (which are molded from biodegradable wood fiber and sphagnum peat moss,) in more water than I thought possible, until their coloring went from dusty gray to golden brown.
Next, I filled my containers with potting soil, and dug out little wells in which to place each plant.
Finally I tore off the bottom of each peat pot, now soft and pliable from the healthy soaking, and released each herb’s roots, in order that they could make themselves at home in the new soil, in order that they may thrive.
I think maybe letting my ego’s stories drop away looks a lot like the tearing of the peat pot, the ripping away of the safe, the dark, the bound, and the familiar container I surround myself with.
But ripping and tearing hurt – I know this because I gave birth to babies close enough to the edge of ten pounds that I claim that honor.
Yet, when I tore the bottom of those pots, those moulded and stiffly pressed pots, they gave way so easily, so effortlessly. The dirt, long packed in tight and closed off, spilling onto the ground below me without a care in the world.
It was the water that made this possible. The drenching of the pot until neither the plant, nor the earth around it, nor the vessel it rested in, could contain another drop, – that is what made the tearing so easy, the ripping so fluid.
So where does this soaking come for me? How am I to be drenched until neither my mind, nor my soul, nor my heart, can contain another drop? Until I am tender enough that all the layers of ego fall away?
Last week I began a practice of something called The Prayer of Holy Indifference. This practice, based on the prayer of Mary, and the writings by Ruth Haley Barton, to name a few sources, was wonderfully explained and explored by Aaron Niequist on The Practice Tribe podcast. This prayer, as modeled on the podcast, is the practice of intentional abandonment.
It is the abandonment of agenda, of foot-stomping-fit-throwing-I-want-what-I-want wilfulness, of plans, and intentions. It is exchanging expectations and certainty, for an arms-wide-open posture of cooperation with the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life.
It is another process of slowing down, and learning to discern between what is Good and what is Best.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think that God has one perfect outlined plan for my life any more than I believe in one perfect person to marry. Maybe I am just too pragmatic, but the universe seems both too daily and too eternal for that kind of certainty.
But I do believe in the work of the Trinity. I believe that Something happens when we cooperate with the Spirit of God moving in, and through, and around us. And that this cooperation, this entering-into, can result is the water on dry ground. It is the soaking-through with love and grace and courage, joy and hope, peace and kindness.
And that it is this Something that makes us tender, that makes us pliable, so pliable that the stories we tell ourselves about who we are or who we should be, can be ripped to shreds and fall away, allowing our true selves to be freed and untangled.
When I transplanted my herbs, I tore the bottoms of each peat pot, loosened the roots, then placed each plant carefully in its new home, deep inside the well I had prepared. Next, I gently covered the new plant with the prepared soil, patting the earth in around each little tender bush. When I had finished, the last step was to place the plants in full view of the sun, and give them another good soaking. As I emptied a full pitcher of water into the containers, I watched the dirt grow darker and darker, drinking in every drop I poured, sinking in around the new plants, the new life.
And I knew, staring at those little fledgling bunches of green, that if I wanted to enjoy basil on my pizzas and dill on my tilapia, I would have to return, again and again, to this same place. I would have to return to feel the soil, water the earth, pinch the leaves, and learn to read the signs of life and decline, learning how to cooperate with the growth of each plant.
In the same way I will, I suspect, for the rest of my life, this is how growth will come for me as well.
Not by fulfilling all my wishes, or jumping at The Next Great Thing, but instead by returning, time and time again, to practices like The Prayer of Holy Indifference.
I will have to choose over, and over, to cooperate with the Spirits movement – whatever that looks like, whether that reamins I Go or I Remain.
I will have to quiet my own chattering self – the voices that shout Be More Special and the voices that whisper You Will Never Be Enough – in order to hear God’s voice in the weeds.
I will have to drop all the things I hold so tightly to, all the things I am so sure will bring me happiness, in order that I can open my arms wide, turn my face towards the sun, and pray,“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)