Saturday, March 31, 2012


For the past few months, a solitary wildflower plant has rooted itself in the sand dune in front of our home. As if to spite the dogs that used it as a toilet, it thrived, producing petite lavender blossoms. And during the violent winter wind storms when the sand all around it eroded, it held its ground. I was not blessed with a green thumb, so this wildflower's flourishing has felt oddly personal. I have been cheering that plant on all winter, even saying hello to it on my way to the surf line for a walk.

But as I was making breakfast Monday morning, I noticed it was gone. A strange sense of panic set in. Where was it? Then I noticed the bulldozers scooping up the sand that the latest wind storm had tossed on the bike path and unloading it on the dunes nearby. The plant was gone. Buried or uprooted, I'm not sure which, but it was gone. And it has taken enormous self-control not to try to rescue it.

But this isn't about a plant. It's about an impulse. An impulse to run in and save.

Sculpture & photo by Julia Keagy
There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of going out to look for the plant or with trying to unbury it. After all, it was a human action that hid it away. I am not against helping another get through a rough patch, especially when help is situational. And I am ever so grateful for firefighters, paramedics and police officers who provide rescue in the direst situations. But I do have some very strong feelings about the word “rescue” when it is used to justify stepping in to resolve someone else's problems. Rescuing when it is associated with the words pity, worry and fear make me question the motivation behind the help.

There is something insidious about the idea of “saving” or being the “savior” for another. It implies that somehow we know the paths others need to take better than they do, assigning ourselves god-like qualities of omniscience. It is taking away the greatest power I believe we have as souls: free will. And I believe in free will. I believe we get to choose how we learn and when we want to grow. Do I really know where you are on your journey and what you need to manifest to help you evolve?

Maybe this stems from being fiercely independent about my growth as a soul. I do not like being told how to find my way or which way to go. Or maybe it is because I have spent a great deal of time with my hand in the cookie jar thinking that I have it all figured out for someone else. It is only recently that I am kicking the habit with any success. Thus my exercise of restraint with my friend, the wildflower plant.

When it comes to the people I care about, I have to work against my compulsion to rush in and save. The most effective counterbalance to this old habit has been developing neutrality--the ability to watch without judgment. "Hmmm...I wonder what change will come of this?" I ask myself. What growth, what evolution, what beautiful flowers will push through the sand and reach the sun?

And the more I practice this neutrality with another's pain, the more I am learning how to do it with my own. And that is a double win.

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