by Jane Hirshfield
The woman who gave me the rosebush
“Cut it back hard.”
The stems resist.
Thorns and weedy twig-thickets
catch on jacket sleeve, on gloves.
Core-wood splinters green under the shears.
Impossible to believe
that so little left will lead to fragrance.
Still, my hands move quickly,
adding their signature branch by branch,
agreeing to loss.
From Given Sugar, Given Salt. HarperCollins, 2001.
I have often heard it said that the spiritual path is more about subtraction than addition, which is another way of saying that we each already have exactly what we need. It’s just a matter of pruning away the extra and unnecessary. Yet any time we attempt to let go of old habits so that we might grow, it can feel “impossible to believe” that the result will be something beautiful or that new growth will indeed come, when it is time. Always, it seems, “The stems resist.” When I watch my husband, a farmer, trimming away what he deems excess leaves and branches from our houseplants, I often ask: does the geranium or prayer plant really have to be so spare? But as his merciless “hands move quickly,” cutting away more than seems healthy for the plant, I have to trust not only in his expertise, but also in the will of things to go on living, “agreeing to loss,” as we all do, growing back stronger and fuller than we were before, not in spite of but because of the loss endured.