“Cultivating beauty, cultivating love”

From Charlie’s book Pure Heart Simple Mind – Wisdom stories from a life in Japan

Living in Japan, I’m amazed by the bonsai displays of local people who keep their collections as a hobby. One of my favorites is a treasure trove of about one hundred chrysanthemums sitting in the yard of an elderly gentleman. Some of the plants stand close to five feet tall and have one massive bloom each. Other varieties are short and dense, and have been shaped to look like colorful clouds.

Over the past few years, I had strolled by my neighbor’s garden on many occasions, and yet in all that time, he had never once looked up from his plants, so intent was he on his work.

While out for a stroll one day, I noticed the flowers looking more robust than ever. My neighbor was bent over inspecting the leaves of a large, blooming chrysanthemum, and I decided to finally strike up a conversation.

“Hello!” I called out. “Your chrysanthemums look lovely this season!”

The old man straightened up quickly, looking to see who was calling out to him. Soon we were talking as if we were old friends.

Mr. Suzuki said he was 81 years old and had been tending his flowers for thirty-five years. I asked him what motivated him to take on such an ambitious project. He told me he started shortly after his son was killed in an auto accident.

“The beauty of the flowers,” he said, “reminded me of the warmth of my son’s smile. By tending the flowers, I felt I was continuing to cultivate the love I felt for him.”

I was deeply touched by his words and stood there in silence, not knowing what to say.

“You see,” he continued after a while, “the flowers helped me appreciate that even though I was feeling very sad, there was still great beauty in the world. By recognizing and responding to that beauty, I was keeping my heart open to life.

“Now I realize that life has much to offer me, both good and bad. My flowers taught me that it’s important to balance my sorrow by cultivating my joy. Without my flowers, I would have lost the sense that there is beauty in the world. In trimming my plants, I play a small role in helping life express its beauty.”

Sensing our time together was complete for today, I bowed and offered my thanks.

As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that by nurturing our relationships we nurture ourselves. By cultivating the beauty we see in others, we also cultivate love. In this case, the beauty and love Suzuki-san had been cultivating in his flowers for so many years was reaching out and touching the hearts of his neighbors.

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