An Eye for Difference

An Eye for Difference


As of July 1 we have been residents of our island property for two years. The original owners planted literally hundreds of species of trees, shrubs, plant cover, etc. It’s paradise. Sort of. You see, it’s taken me the full two years to be able to see through the tangle of growth into the original structure, the bones, of the garden. Everything had grown together into a tangled jumble. It was impossible, at first, to see that there was a rhododendron buried under the six foot ferns. I discovered a Japanese Maple hanging on for dear life under a mass of Oregon Grape. Different species of ivy had grown into the Periwinkle ground cover. It took no small amount of concentration and time to finally be able to distinguish the individual plants and in a sense what “wanted” to be seen and where.

In a certain kind of way, it’s all beautiful. But it wasn’t until I saw through the tangled mass and created space for an individual plant or tree to spread out in all its glory, that the Garden within the garden began to show itself. I admit, I was a bit merciless with the shears. But in fairness the Oregon Grape and I came to an agreement about where it was free to flourish ( and where it wasn’t!). It’s a beautiful thing to behold when a white dogwood is given space to breathe. You can almost see it come back to life and hear it saying “thank you”.

Psychotherapy is a lot like this kind of gardening. The underlying beauty of a person’s soul is sometimes buried under a tangled mess of other people’s expectations. It’s tricky to see the individual at first because s/he arrives all crowded out by the overgrowth of cultural norms, family rules, early trauma, inherited religious beliefs and all manner of unconscious fears. They have been choked out by the runaway ivy of other people’s desires for them. Then begins the slow and patient culling away of everything that is preventing this soul from being an individual, from having space to breathe, from standing out in all her glory.

One of the challenges is that we learn fairly early that “standing out”, “taking your space”, shining in all of our brightness is, strangely, discouraged. Especially, when the value of “equality” prevails. We’re all equal does not mean we’re all the same. We each have a genius that needs to be discovered, nurtured and expressed. This is going to make us different from our other siblings, for example. When the rose stands too close to the iris, neither is honoured. Families that manufacture false equality so that “nobody gets hurt” (and that includes narcissistic parents) produce blobs, not individuals. They are still individuals, still beautiful as such, but their true colours are not seen. One siblings runs into the other and said persons become just another shade of green. For a lifetime. And what’s messed up about this we internalize this value of sameness and get anxious at the prospect of standing out.

The Swiss psychologist, C.J. Jung called this culling and pruning “individuation”. You’ll need a sharp pair of pruning shears, and yes, at first it might seem merciless. Everything has got to go that is getting in the way of the person flourishing, and the danger is not usually that you’ll take off too much, but rather too little. Incidentally, the client, not the therapist is wielding the shears. The therapist is present as another pair of eyes and ears, working with the client until s/he can see through the tangle into the original Paradise of his or her soul.

That said, nothing is ever absolutely individual. Nothing in this universe is ever on its own. We are also communion events, just like a garden. There is a stunning Japanese Maple outside our dining room window. It is set against a grey wooden fence. To my eye, this Maple wouldn’t be itself without the fence—from which it stands out. It’s a Maple-Fence event. Actually, it’s a Maple-Fence-Bruce event. No, actually it’s a Maple-Fence-Bruce, Light event. Somebody stop me. But you get the point. In realizing our individuality, we simultaneously realize communion with All That Is. No separation anywhere. But difference, yes. Our shining lights up the whole universe because the whole universe is involved in our shining.

Here’s to your genius. Here’s to your differentness. Here’s to the paradise that is you. Who wouldn’t want to walk in the garden of delight that is your true presence? Grow, flower, shine, reach up and out. There’s lots of room for you. The world awaits.

Live Your Own Life Course

Bruce Sanguin Psychotherapist

Written by Bruce Sanguin

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