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Sitting in Asters

Taking it easy

Recently I’ve been getting myself to take it easy in my garden chair. I gave myself permission to just sit. Not do anything, just enjoy being there.

I don’t do enough of that. I’m always on the go, pushing myself. I don’t rest enough, give myself time to settle down. It’s more necessary when I’m sick, but it works the other way, too: I noticed when I was on retreat, meditating several times a day, that I was healthier than usual.

This time I wasn’t trying to meditate, like Zen “just sitting,” which I tried to do during retreat, and failed miserably at. “Don’t try to think; don’t try not to think.” Hah! My mind went racing, without something to focus on. So this time, I focused on the physical sensations of being here, sitting in my garden. My breath. The warmth of the sun on my shoulders. The comfortable support of the Adirondack chair under my lower back. The sight of the garden in late fall.

Blue haze

There are a lot of asters surrounding the chair. They’re descended from a few plants I dug up from wild ones beside the road; I think they’re New Belgium Asters. Three, four feet tall, clouds of little flowers from white to medium blue-purple. In mid-September they were so romantic, a haze of blue all over the main garden in the back yard. And in the back corner, in the midst of them, my blue chair.

Sitting in the chair with the asters at their peak felt like sitting in some magical arbor. They hung over my shoulders and nodded in front of me, just barely leaving room for seeing the rest of the garden. Splendor like some fairy queen’s throne room.

Now they’re past their peak. The flowers are faded, some withered and some gray. Some stems hang low, dipping toward the ground. But sitting here now, I have still felt blessed by the presence they create. The magic is still here. No longer the magic of romance and prettiness, rather the magic of vitality. The plants are doing their thing: the leaves shining in the sunlight as they drink it in, storing energy in the roots for the winter coming so soon; the flowers making seeds. And bees! Hundreds of them, flitting around in complex dances that seem to counterpoint the energy of the plants sparkling in the sun.


For a moment I flash on the scene as the vast architecture of a miniature city, with the flying citizens bustling around on important business. It’s an inadequate metaphor, but my mind has grasped something essential about this little ecology. I feel honored to sit here in the middle, watching all this energy.

Normally I regard bees in my garden as fellow beings, treat them with respect and ask that they treat me with respect. I have business here, too. I have never been stung in my garden. Today I walked past many bees as I went to the chair, brushing aside the stalks of asters they were on and around, to get there. After drinking in the sensations for a while, and dozing for a while, I notice a bee on my right sleeve. Its antennae are perking back and forth, and it lifts its forelegs too, as it investigates my shirt.

“There’s nothing here for you,” I tell it, as often I do if they get closer than I like, to encourage them to move on. But this one is still curious. Bees eat human food, and are attracted to the sweet scents humans use. But I don’t think there’s any food on me, and I fanatically avoid scent, since it makes me sick.

When they get close

I could blow the bee off my arm, but I decide to just wait, and watch it. I don’t often get close enough to appreciate the delicate fuzz on a bee’s back, the glitter of its faceted wings. Eventually, however, fear surfaces in my mind. I know it’s important not to get hooked by the fear; if I do my pheromones will alarm it. But I can’t deny that part of me is afraid. I forget I could blow it away.

The best I can do is to keep in mind that fear isn’t the only thing my mind can do, to refuse to identify with the fear. I talk out loud to the bee, gently telling it my other thoughts, and then telling it that this is my space, and I wish it would move on. It does. I go back to drinking in the sun’s warmth, closing my eyes and breathing a sigh of relief. Another bee comes close enough to my face that the buzz is loud. This time, I can blow; I do it without thinking.

© Copyright 2000 Catherine Holmes Clark. Last updated 12 October 2000