An experience in radical gratitude

Wilting Flower

I waited, swinging back and forth between calmness and anxiety, watching the others jump down the rabbit hole and drift away. When it was time for me to drink, I swallowed it down all in one gulp.

The San Pedro potion was the foulest thing I’d ever tasted. The pungent brew – used for millennia as a medicine by the indigenous people of South America – stuck in my throat and nostrils. I already wanted to puke.

Once the medicine felt at least somewhat settled in my belly, I got up and walked around the garden. I could see the ancient Incan ruins high above me in the hills, silent and still. I had a sense that they were watching.

For hours, or for what seemed like hours, very little happened. I paced slowly around the garden under the hot mid-day sun in a near-trance. I’d get stuck on certain spots in the garden – a tree, a shady spot in the grass, a piece of art – sitting, watching, feeling around.

After a few hours, I walked around the house and to the front of the garden. Near the front gate, there was a small bird-bath-like structure – a large bowl of water perched a few feet above the ground on a stone column. I could sense the ruins above me still, now almost beginning to hum with energy, pulsing. I could feel the grass crawling up between my toes.

I looked down into the bowl. It was filled with crystals and stones of every different color – red, yellow, pink all flowing around one another in the ripples of the water. Floating on top were flower petals, some fresh, some rotting and festering away. The flowers seemed almost grotesque. The bowl’s contents were not traditionally beautiful. Everything was not perfectly in its right and proper place, deliberately arranged and curated. In fact, nothing was in its “right” place at all it seemed. If anything, it felt like chaos. A big mess that my mind couldn’t untangle. Layered above them was my own reflection looking back at itself.

In that moment, an intense overwhelm came over me. The messiness and chaos of the bowl had opened something up inside of me. The flower petals festering away atop the water reminded me of me, reminded me that I too will rot away, that I am rotting away right now, that my life is only one speck in time, always fleeting. But the stones reminded me that there is another part of me that is eternal, that is one with everything else, that can’t be disconnected or rot away. Permanence and impermanence wrapped themselves around one another.

In that moment, the jaw-dropping beauty, perfection, and imperfection of life filled my whole being. The feeling was pure gratitude. More than any other time in my life, I could feel that the experience of experiencing is a gift, the greatest gift possible. What I perceived as messiness and chaos were just the act of experiencing life in all its complexity, depth, and glory. All my attempts to manage and clean it up were not only futile, but keeping me from truly experiencing and appreciating.

My focus shifted to Sara, thousands of miles away. We had been dating two years. Thus far in life in my romantic relationships, my mind would often be consumed by what I was sacrificing: personal time, the ability to do what I want. I was a classic “commitaphobe.” I would dwell on her imperfections, our incompatibilities, my fear of losing myself.

But now, I could only feel the depth of how much I loved her and how much she brought to my life. I could feel what sadness would come up if she ever left me. I could see that our love was something deeply important to me, that all those other thoughts were simply my mind spinning some tale to keep me safe.

I could see, despite all the challenges and disappointments, what a blessing my life had become and always been.

Crouched down over the bowl of water, I began to sob.

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