Some months ago, I took over the care of an anthurium or flamingo flower, an exotic house plant which is a native of the tropical climates of South America. It came as a gift to my wife, but very soon, I took a liking to it.
I love its generous display of shiny, waxlike pointy leaves and the flowers, which consist of beautiful salmon pink bracts or blooms; and, sitting on top, a vertical spike of tiny flowers that begin with a whitish colour, but then slowly change to a pleasing limey green.
I also keep a small family of spider plants that all came from the very first plant we had which, for many years, held pride of place on a small table in the hall, by the front door. Spider plants are much less needy but, with just a little TLC are just as pleasing to the eye as the more exotic plants.
Right now, this flamingo flower has no companions. Trying to discover how to give it the care it needs: maintaining the right balance of warmth, moisture, feed and light is still a bit of a challenge, but I know from experience with the spider plants, that, in time, this knowledge will arise by simply taking a few moments to give the plant my undivided attention.
This, for me, is the secret of success with all the plants around the house. And, as I look, I usually say something to them, perhaps tell them how wonderful they are. They feed on that, as much as they do on the water and the light.
One is reminded of those immortal words of the poet:
‘What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare…
No time to stand at beauty’s glance…
The poem goes on, but these first few lines are its enduring message.
I do have a slight quibble with the poet’s use of the word ‘stare’. I prefer the word ‘gaze’. ‘Stare’ seems to suggest the presence of an observer, perhaps with some kind of agenda, some motive for staring. For me, with the gaze, there is just the looking; so when I gaze on a beautiful object, I lose all sense of being a person looking. All thinking seems to subside and there is just observation, and stillness. And if I stay with it, it seems as if the stillness within is reflected back by the object itself. I think it is at this still point that the beauty referred to in the poem begins to arise. But also, in some inscrutable way, this little ritual of gazing is a gift that can be bestowed on any plant in your care, or indeed, on any living thing.
I also keep a collection of beautiful objects in the study. After spending many years gazing upon these and other items, be it a precious stone, a piece of pottery or sculpture or just a simple pebble, I came to realise that beauty can never really be possessed. It has to be allowed to arise. If one tries to grasp it, it just slips through your fingers. It only seems to declare itself to a quiet mind, one untainted by past impressions or even the urge to know anything about what is seen. Knowledge and understanding can also emerge quite naturally from the the silence, if we let it.
All this is captured in these perceptive comments by the Irish writer John O’Donohue in his book ‘Divine Beauty’:
‘If we were able to live in a deeper state of awareness and wisdom, our days on earth would find a new frequency: spaces would open naturally for beauty to touch us, for we need beauty as deeply as we need love. If we can free ourselves from our robot-like habits of predictability, repetition and function, we can begin to walk differently on the earth.’