Walking in the woods on a sunny and reasonably warm afternoon, my attention went upward to see the pine cone pictured here, suspended in mid air. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the fall to fertile soil was brought to a halt by small branches. How long would it hang there? Would it be able to drop its seeds into soil and release a sprout without having made it to the ground before winter froze its landing pad?
This simple observation inspired so many questions! The pine cone doesn’t have to wonder about what gift it offers to the world, that is built into its existence within the wildness of the non-human world. All it does is follow its own natural progression, constantly transforming. It appears, that it is only humans who question our purpose in life, our gift to share with the world, our reason for getting up in the morning and navigating the complexity of human society situated within a wild planet.
A friend of mine recently leaned over during a presentation we were attending, a retrospective of the pioneering woodworker Michael Coffey, and said, “there’s a difference between the folks who work with wood because they want to, and those who work with wood because they have to”. A chill ran up and down my spine! His words expressed my intuitive understanding of the need to find our gifts and to commit ourselves to honing them, to building our lives around them, and offering them to the world.
Recognizing our gifts is only part of the challenge, but certainly it is a formidable task. There are so many social forces that work against our drive to wholeness. Our society tells us to enter the world of adulthood we must give up childish things, such as fantasy, wondering, imagining unseen worlds, and relating to the environment through our hearts in lieu of our brains.
The immense pressure to conform to expectations, to adhere to rules, and to take responsibility for making a living economically pushes most of us to let go of the things that light us up. Some of us maintain a connection to these parts of ourselves through our hobbies, hoping for the day when we can let go of the drudgery we’ve created and devote ourselves full-time to creative expression, curious exploration, or wanderlust. If we are more closely in touch with our gifts we may nurture them through volunteering, deriving fulfillment in those activities, yet, still, reserving our place less inspiring waters to fulfill grownup expectations of success. We watch in wonder as others, those who simply cannot not follow their dreams, go off into the mystic.
Committing to our gift, crafting a life that revolves around our gift, is, and should be, a terrifying act, as it connects us directly with the profoundness of the purpose of our life. David Whyte punctuates the immensity of the task in his poem "All the True Vows", with this proclomation, “you must make a promise that will kill you to break”. This promise is to yourself, and the death is of your inner light.
It is ironic then, that one of the key elements of moving into our gifts, is to surrender to our own nature. We must realize that the gift is there, has always been there, waiting for the opportunity to grow and transform along with every other part of us. We become paralyzed in the face of surrender because we must confront the cost we have paid to follow a path of less-than-whole existence. Fear appears again. Our unhealthy relationship to fear, our internal patterns of avoiding it at all costs undermines our ability to learn and grow. We focus on the fear of what we might lose at the expense of what we will surely gain.
To surrender is to allow the fear to rise and then fall. We must recognize fear as a mirror into our hesitations, rationalizations, illumination of our betrayal of innocence. To surrender, is to allow ourselves to be guided by our natural wildness.