Being with Flowers
A sculptor of floral art reflects on his spiritual practice.
Alfie and Rufus (detail) by Este MacLeod
When I first began my career in floral design, I was an apprentice at My Son the Florist, in Los Angeles in the 1990s. My job was to prepare the flowers for the designers and clean up after them when they were finished. I would often hear them say, “Let’s use roses in that arrangement,” or “Let’s use orchids in that centerpiece,” and so on. The word use never sat well with me, and I decided early on that when I opened my own establishment, I would say, “Let’s work with roses in that arrangement” and “Let’s work with orchids in that centerpiece.” With our words we establish relationships. So let’s work with flowers, not use them.
The first time I taught my workshop, “Being with Flowers: Floral Art as Spiritual Practice,” I had a student who had been a florist for many years. She told me that she felt like she had an entirely new job because she had made that simple change in her vocabulary. If you don’t like the verb work, how about play? Find a word that is comfortable for you—anything but use. It is the intention behind the things we do that really makes the difference, so let’s start with the intention to co-create with the flowers.
Flowers can certainly brighten a room or bring life to a forgotten corner in your home. But how often do you deeply see a flower? Do you have a favorite flower? I am often asked this. The real answer is this: whatever flower I happen to be holding at the moment. I truly love all flowers equally, just as flowers love all of us equally. If a daffodil were sitting in front of someone you thought of as abhorrent, that flower would give off its radiance, fragrance, and visual beauty for that person just as much as it would for someone you admire. There is a true equanimity in the offering of love that comes from flowers.
One morning, I noticed a woman out in her garden. I remember being confused because it looked like my scary grandmother Muh, but her expression was so very different than the scowl I was used to seeing. She had a calm smile on her face, and there were butterflies flying around her almost like they wanted to land. She was watering her garden with a wand, and the plants—a wide array of hostas, and brightly colored zinnias in the sunnier areas—seemed to lean into her as she passed. Who is this sweet lady? I thought. I went outside and quietly followed her around. I was especially astounded when she saw me and smiled as a butterfly landed on her shoulder. Watching my often-scary grandmother transform into this goddess in her garden caused me to look at what it was she was doing that had created such a difference in her demeanor. It was in that moment that I first really noticed the flowers. They seemed, to my eight-year-old, very imaginative eyes, to literally be smiling at her as she passed.
Try This Walking Meditation
For this meditation, you will need a pair of sharp clippers or pruners and a five-gallon bucket filled about 5 inches deep with the freshest water possible. Start outside in a place where you can walk safely. Take 10 mindful breaths to fully arrive at a place of presence before you take the first step. After about 20 steps, stop and take in the view. Check in with your senses. Breathe. You are alive! Look around. Is there anything that you may never have noticed before? Something that could be worked into your creation?
Begin slowly walking again, stopping about every 20 steps for a short check-in and reassessment of your surroundings. Gather slowly. Each time you cut a flower, say, “Thank you, earth.”
You may want to walk for a full minute, but take time to periodically check in. If you feel your mind wandering away from the task at hand, take 10 more deep breaths and reset. When you feel as though you are really present, you may stretch out the frequency of your resting stops.
Always ask permission when you wish to create with flowers growing in someone’s yard. This is a great way to meet your neighbors. It is also nice to gift them with a creation including some of their flowers.
A fun way to complete this meditation is with at least one flower friend, in silence. One person will carry the bell of mindfulness (any small bell with a pleasant sound will do) and will ring it to stop, and then ring it again when it is time to continue. This is especially nice to do with a group of flower friends, but all must remain silent the whole time.
Adapted from Being with Flowers: Floral Art as Spiritual Practice by Anthony Ward, published by Quarry Books.