While attending the annual Harvard Arnold Arboretum "Lilac Sunday" celebration this May, I was in awe at how many hundreds of pictures were being snapped while visitors commented on which bush, or which specific blossom, or which scented flower they loved best.
I found myself also picking and choosing, as though nature had done a better job with some of her creations than with others. It was like a festival of gathering and scattering of appreciation according to our rules about what's worthy of our human attention.
In the middle of my own boisterous romp and snapping of pictures, with self-proclaimed authority about lilac beauty, it occurred to me that I was only appreciating a small part of the whole. I wasn't giving any thought to the magnificence and beauty of the bush in its entirety.
What about the leaves and the branches and the trunk, and the roots that I cannot see? What about the blossoms that are dying, and the yellowing leafs, are they not all worthy of the same appreciation that I was feeling for the flowers? Let me not forget the single seed, that vital aspect of the bushes' origin that led to its ultimate complexity and sophistication.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, "The earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God." I began wondering, "Can I walk through the entire arboretum and learn to appreciate every earthly thing in all of its multiplicity of forms -- things born and unborn, all that has died and all that is living -- like it's afire with God?"
Is the silkworm on a leaf to be less appreciated than a silk moth on the wing? Are the weeds, the earthworms, and even the decaying squirrel worthy of appreciation for the part they play and the lessons they offer?
What about the moon? Is it to be less appreciated than the sun? Or the Miller's River that runs through the small town of Athol in which I was born - does it offer less value than the Atlantic Ocean into which it feeds? Are they not all invaluable parts of the universal whole, overflowing with milk and honey?
As I ruled my heart with this kind of meditation, it was easy for me to unconditionally appreciate every aspect of the Lilac Sunday Celebration. This year I wasn't rubbing my eyes from the pollen, but I was rubbing them so that I could see what I'd been missing.
The more I learned to appreciate everything in the arboretum, without dismembering parts of the whole -- ranking some parts high and some parts low -- the more joyously alive I felt. Everything became enticing.
What's really great about appreciation is that there's no limit. It doesn't bloom for a moment and then wither like a delicate flower. Furthermore, it costs nothing. It's not something we purchase or sell, lend or borrow. It's either given freely and received openly or missed entirely.
If there's a secret to learning how to appreciate more, it's understanding that everything is an integral, vital and valuable parts of "all of it." That includes every human being too -- including YOU.
If a person harbors any self-condemnation or self-prejudice in his mind and heart, it veils his view of everything he sees. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lift that veil from your view, and the rewards are beyond measure.
- Step 1: Seek appreciation until you become aware of the fact that even YOU are a uniquely perfect part of this perfect universe. If you weren't vital to being here, you wouldn't be here.
- Step 2: Make it a point to revalue anything that you are condemning so you can appreciate what you aren't noticing. When you make this a habit, you can't help but revalue yourself in self-condemning moments. There is absolutely nothing to fear when you dare to love and appreciate yourself completely.
- Step 3: Learn to be patient and accept what you mock or scorn. Walk through your day with ever-wakeful eyes so that what you scorn may help you learn what there is to appreciate. As you experience success with this step, you become aware of the fruitful mysteries of duality.
- Step 4: Seek not a reward for appreciating life except the joyous state that comes with appreciation. In that joyous state, many of the challenges that you considered irritating stumbling blocks transform magically into wonderful stepping-stones.
The passage from depreciation to appreciation is not across a large chasm. It simply requires that you extend your feelers by assuming there's something of benefit that you're missing. When you assume the spirit of accepting the benefit, you shed your old, tight skin and are open to receiving its blessing.
With appreciation learned, you've claimed your position as a sweetheart of a universe that guides and coddles you with comforts and kindnesses beyond your expectations. And because you no longer bite the hand that coddles you -- your cup runneth over with unexpected experiences that are good and beautiful. That's just the way it is.
International Bestselling book author, Rob White, offers other inspiring short stories that reveal ordinary gurus who come to you to prove there's no such thing as a final failure unless you say so in his book And Then I Met Margaret.