Cherry stones and the soul’s life

I am a gardener, I think a lot about seeds, about plants, and that makes me think about the soul and its life too. Seeds, a cheery stone for instance, contains everything that is needed for the plant to come into life. There is an embryo root that longs to grow down into the moist, sweet smelling soil, and there is an embryo shoot that longs to grow up towards the light and the greening of the sun. We are like this. We long for light, sun air, to grow into ourselves, and we also long for the dark earth – need this to feed and anchor us in the world.

But think for a moment about a cherry stone. On the one hand, it contains everything that is needed for growth and yet it is also a parched place, a desert. A plant is full of water, perhaps 80-90% water, but the seed contains little. A seed can remain like this for many months or years, or centuries even, before the right conditions prevail and it can germinate. This dormancy is necessary, protective, preventing the seed from exposure when the conditions are adverse. Our souls can also lie dormant, locked in a place of great need, dry and lonely, and it can be a long wait until the moment is right for germination.

With seeds, the hard outer skin (the testa) has to be weakened, damaged even by periods of intense cold or by passing through the gut of an animal or bird, or be scorched by fire, and only then can moisture start to seep in and awaken the embryo. And we may have to undergo intense experiences, deprivations and sufferings, until we are weakened or opened, and then like a cherry stone that is cracked, the longed for moisture can enter. The Sufis talk of increasing our need. Our craving has to be immense, great enough that we cry out like a baby and call forth ‘milk’ from heaven. Illness calling forth the doctor, says Rumi.

So seed and soul contain all that is needed for growth to occur, but this process is no certain matter. A seed might be planted too deep and exhaust its food supplies before it can break the earth’s surface and generate its own food. So with the soul; there is no certitude, there is risk and effort, we often don’t know how far we will need to travel or in what direction. The only thing that often make us take that journey out of the cherry stone is the terrible desert within, our painful and insistent need, and perhaps also the distant memory of what awaits us – pink cherry blossom against a blue sky.

Rebecca Hubbard – Spring 2008

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