By Rebecca Winn
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“There is so much life in the garden. That is why I come. Life that is gentle, self-supporting, and beautiful. Continuous in its cycles, grounded, pure.”
When her husband asked for a divorce after twenty-five years of marriage, Rebecca Winn felt untethered physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The security she’d had in her marriage was suddenly replaced by an overwhelming sense of fear, hopelessness, and dread. She felt invisible and alone and was horrified to consider that her deepest longing — to know and be known by another person — might never be realized. But from this fear emerged a powerful desire to answer one of life’s most profound questions: How can we ever know another person if we do not truly know ourselves?
Facilitated in measures by a love affair with a younger man, dedicated study of Jungian psychology, and a deep dive into global spiritual practices, Winn transformed heartbreak into wholeness through communion with the divine in nature. By turning to her garden for guidance, sanctuary, and inspiration, and dialing closely into the flora and fauna around her, she ultimately discovered what is possible when we are willing look at our unvarnished selves with an open mind — and see others with an open heart.
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There is so much life in the garden. That is why I come. Life that is gentle, self-supporting, and beautiful. Continuous in its cycles, grounded, pure.
On this morning I had come into the garden to escape. The previous night was one of unprecedented upheaval in my marriage. A conflict out of nowhere, or so it seemed, though in retrospect, of course, that’s never true. Nevertheless, from my perspective last night, everything appeared to be fine, and then suddenly I was facing a full-on verbal confrontation for which I was totally unprepared.
Sitting safely in the cover of the very early morning mist, I was still in shock. What had just happened? What was going to happen now? I looked out into the gray-lit garden. For a moment, across the path, I noticed a sparkling spiderweb revealed by tiny droplets of moisture deposited by the mist, which was quietly moving on. It was there all along, but from where I was sitting it had been hidden from me. I had not moved, but as everything around me changed minutely with the shifting of the mist, it was revealed to me. A moment later it was gone again, the soft, moist suggestion of secret lines having quickly dried in the light and breeze. But I glimpsed it and felt drawn to it.
Connected by five anchors, breath-like in their fragility, the spider stretches her home boldly across a path from which it could easily be torn. She is quick with her work, as if she knows that forces beyond her control could change her life forever, or end it. Still, with a determination born of instinct, she carefully places the roots of her web and begins to weave her home.
The orb weaver’s web is made up of outward stretching lines emanating from a center point around which concentric circles are spun. These coaxial threads are made of a sticky filament to trap the spider’s prey. The straight lines are smooth, providing a foundation which allows the spider to move up and down her web without getting bound in it. Parents, spouses, children, jobs, and friends; these anchors provide the foundation around which we spin our ever-tighter lives. The safe lines. The ones we can freely move up and down. They are safe, but fragile. Very fragile. Inevitably, whether from pressure or aggression, one or more of the spider’s safe lines could break, leaving the remaining anchors to hold more weight than was entrusted to them. Unmoored now and unstable, the web sags, threatening the future of the spider. If she can re-anchor it in time, her security is ensured for a while, but if more than one anchor is lost, the task ahead will be daunting.
I am not sure how many of my safe lines snapped last night, but I feel a great urgency to try to reattach what I can. To try to preserve some semblance of safety for my home and family.
I tried to walk up to the spiderweb, searching for a clearer view, but found, as I approached, I couldn’t see it at all. It seemed to disappear into the shadows. I glanced around to see if I was obscuring my own light. Through the shifting morning mist, sometimes when I looked at the sunrays, I saw lines of light. Sometimes they were lines of shadow. The mist tumbled by through light, through shadow, and then it was gone. Standing just above the spot where I was sure her web had been, I was puzzled that I could not find it at all from this close position. Clarity came from a distance. I stepped back and it appeared. I stepped forward and it vanished. As I changed my perspective, the web appeared, then disappeared, then appeared again. Somehow, knowing it was there didn’t help me find it at all. I had to move away to regain the perspective I had lost. I needed to step back to understand what happened last night. I needed to gain perspective.
As I tried to center on this, my thoughts fell back to a few moments before, when I had wondered if I was obscuring my own light. In that moment, this question of simple physics began to spread wider and became abstract. I was obscuring my own light. I had been for years. I had done it thinking that I was doing what was best for my family, but in making the choice over and over again to hide my light, I had reduced myself to someone who was fearful and dependent. Someone who had traded independence for security provided by another to whom I had freely, though foolishly, given all my power. In doing what I thought would make me safe, I had in fact made myself vulnerable. Deeply, frighteningly vulnerable. My marriage was in danger, and I realized in a moment of crystal clarity that I needed to find out who I was, why this was happening, and what, if anything, I could do to save it.
The mist was moving on, and the sun peeked over the horizon behind me. As it rose, a long shadow stretched out before me. My Shadow. And I knew I had to walk into it.
Form and Formlessness
It is nice to be able to sit by running water. I feel far away. A floating sensation almost like an out-of-body experience I have felt ever since the conflict with my husband the other night. Maybe I’m still in shock. There is an element to this feeling of being only semiconscious of the present. Like being in deep thought on a long road trip, and suddenly realizing you’ve gone a hundred miles without noticing anything you’ve driven past. My attention is about 10 percent in the present while the remaining 90 percent is recycling scattered bits of what happened the other night, trying to piece them together, but nothing seems to fit.
The thick morning mist is beginning to envelop me, and the cover it provides is comforting. As the sunlight finds its way through the leaves, it gives streaked, dappled form to the shapeless fog, as if its rays are trying to contain the mist—give it some kind of parameters. But it shifts and rolls with the slightest breeze, refusing to be contained in any way. So it is with my thoughts…my life. Rolling, tumbling, reaching out like a modern dancer trying to grab on to an invisible…something, some fragment of understanding, only to have it disappear before I can get hold. If the light falls on me, will it give me form? Would I even want it to if it could? Here in this place of solitude and contemplation, I can be in the formlessness where I hope understanding resides, though I can’t seem to find it. Veiled in the soft mist, I can think. But thinking isn’t what I need right now. What I need is to feel. But I can’t feel anything. I’m numb. I think I want to be in the feelings, immersed in them, consumed by them, guided by them. But there I go again, thinking.
I’m grateful for the fog. It makes me invisible.
I can feel the mist in my nostrils as I inhale. It’s cool and damp and more tactile than air usually is. I take in the formlessness. I breathe it in. I let the formlessness expand in my lungs and fill me up; then I exhale and close my eyes. I envision the formlessness as it enters me, erasing all thoughts, all emotions, all sensation, making them invisible, like me. I visualize the formlessness. It moves from my lungs, deep into my core, through organs and body systems. It radiates out to my smallest extremities, wiping away the data, the attachments, the stories held within. I envision the formlessness being pulled around me, drawing power and momentum from the whole forest toward me, down through my head, in with my breath, seeping into every pore, until I do not exist at all. The formlessness fills me. It becomes me. It cracks me open to the void. Open, empty, sponged out. In the void, I am formless. In the void, there is no I am. There is no I. There is no…
A gust shifts the air. A streak of light breaks through. It’s early morning, but I’m drained and can’t resist, even though I want to stay here alone in the formlessness, invisible. Indifferent to my preferences, the light sits beside me, a wordless, well-meaning friend. We sit in silence for a while; then she whispers to me through the mist.
“Light and shadow are what we’re made of. Together they create form. Both are worthy. Both are needed. Both are welcome.”
I am Light. I am Shadow.
So is he.
Living in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
From the moment I moved into this house, I began to sequester. Partially by choice, and partially because our family moved north a few miles and crossed an emotional boundary that most people who lived in my old neighborhood considered too far to easily drive for a visit. That was a big change for me because our last house had been one block behind a popular Starbucks, so every few days, one friend or another would call and say, “Hey, I’m at the Starbucks and thought I’d drop by. You want anything?” I loved the spontaneity and the frequent surprise company, never knowing who might call or stop in for a visit.
The neighborhood where I was born is a small town within a big city, both literally and as a lived experience. A small, established, close-knit community in the center of Dallas, Texas, the Park Cities is made up of two small towns: Highland Park and University Park. Each town has its own mayor and its own city council, and they share an independent school district. Just like many small towns, there are people whose families have lived in the Park Cities for three or four generations, and they have no interest whatsoever in that, or anything else, changing. I myself am third generation. My son is fourth. Neighbors know each other, have block parties, and bring food when someone dies. A simple trip to the grocery store for milk and eggs can take more than an hour, depending on how much time is spent chatting with friends while there.
But as soon as I moved north of Interstate 635, people suddenly acted like they needed to update their passports just to come see me. Even my good friends. Even though it took only seven minutes on the North Tollway to get to my new house from my old neighborhood, and even though it could take up to twenty minutes to get across the old neighborhood to my house because I lived on the far eastern edge. But somehow the trek north was daunting enough to be a deal breaker for most people, most of the time.
At first it really hurt my feelings. A lot. In fact, it really hurt my feelings a lot for a long time. But then, I began to realize that my choice of neighborhood was no accident. I told myself, and those who asked, that I chose this house in this neighborhood because the property on which the house sat was a blank slate and a thrilling near half acre. A lot that size would have cost well into seven or even eight figures in the Park Cities, if half-acre lots even existed there, which mostly they do not. But something else was at work when I chose this house. Something deeper and much more important than my excitement about having a large garden to create from scratch.
The truth was, my marriage had continued to deteriorate since that first explosive night, and when I started looking for this house, I could tell at an unspoken level that Daniel didn’t really want to buy another house together. So he just let me do the research and all the legwork. When I found this house, he agreed to it, though he never really seemed very interested. We had been married almost twenty-four years and had bought quite a few houses together. We always bought fixer-uppers because we both enjoyed the process of restoring old homes. But this time, he was very hands-off. So I took the reins, found the house, oversaw the purchase, and managed the remodeling myself, all the while knowing we had big problems.
I had wanted to build a small wall around the front to create a courtyard entry, but with all the other work the house needed, we decided that little detail was too expensive, so when it was time to do the landscaping, I achieved the desired courtyard effect by encircling the front entry with a new variety of landscape roses that no one knew much about at the time, called Knockout roses. The label said they would grow to be three to four feet tall and equally wide, which would make a perfect green enclosure for the front patio. Even better than a wall, I decided, because the enclosure would be roses. In the years to come, Knockout roses would make horticultural history and become the most glorious and ubiquitous of landscape roses, but that’s another story. In this story, within a year of moving into this house, my husband told me he wanted a divorce, and shortly thereafter, he moved out.
The roses around my house were growing fast. By the end of the second year, they were already over five feet tall, and I had begun to joke that I lived in Sleeping Beauty’s castle. There were roses all the way around the courtyard and across the entire front of the house, turning the corner at the property’s edge, then continuing down the side of my lot to the street, and across the front at the curb. It was a lot of roses, but as I always say, “More, by definition, is more,” because where flowers are concerned, I don’t believe in too much of a good thing.
Almost twice as high and wide now as they were supposed to be at full maturity, the roses had grown together and it was impossible to see where one rosebush ended and the next began. It was a veritable Great Wall of Roses that had long since obscured the window boxes on the front of the house, and now they were even beginning to cover the windows. I told myself that I felt safer living alone in the house surrounded by my thorny guardians.
Whenever my husband would come over to collect his mail or get more clothes, he would comment that he was surprised I had let everything get so “overgrown.” I basically ignored him, chalking his comments up to yet another criticism that no longer mattered to me, and besides, I thought the roses were amazing. Yes, they had probably gotten too big for the location, and yes, I could have trimmed them, but they were massive rosebushes, and they were beautiful. Big, yes. Too big, maybe. But beautiful. And frankly, the more he would insinuate that I was doing it wrong by letting them get “overgrown,” the less likely I was to trim them. Passive-aggressive? Yep. On both our parts. But communication had always been our greatest failing.
At the same time, I felt an increasing need to further enclose my property, so I added a line of six-foot-tall, full-to-the-ground cherry laurels around the front perimeter. I wasn’t thinking too much about why I felt the need to do this, but when my neighbors across the street commented that they could never tell if I was home because of my “privacy landscaping,” I realized for the first time what I was doing. I was pulling in. I had planted a protective fortification around myself that was designed to keep everyone out because I wanted and needed to be alone. I wanted and needed time to figure out who I was, where my life had derailed, and what I was going to do next. The only way that felt safe was within the confines of this beautiful floral fortress. Like Sleeping Beauty, I had surrounded myself with a forest of thorns while my heart and psyche slept in a cocoon of process as I tried to make sense of my life.
Carl Jung defined our Shadow as those aspects within us we have subconsciously disowned. These aspects are personal qualities of which we are unaware, though the joke among my more conscious friends is that everyone else is acutely aware of our Shadow aspects, particularly our close friends and intimate partners. Ours, but not their own, of course, because this is the work we each must do. I believe it is our souls’ work to uncover our disowned aspects, both the glorious and the hideous. And then we must find a way to embrace and unify all aspects of ourselves, because this is the place where understanding, forgiveness, and true peace reside. Or so I hear. I personally have no direct experience of anything so profound, though I do aspire to it. This personal work is essential for us to grow, heal, and expand our consciousness, for the good of ourselves and each other. If we do not, we shall go on hurting others, hurting ourselves, allowing others to hurt us, and hurting the earth. I knew at an intuitive level that I had to enter into the darkness of this work. To do that, I needed to turn inward. So, in moments of grace, both great and small, my garden wrapped itself around me in a protective embrace as I embarked on this journey of self-discovery.
During this time, my son, Alexander, with whom I am very close, had been away at the University of Southern California, pursuing his dream of becoming a filmmaker. I was thrilled for him to have been accepted into the most prestigious film school in the world, but it was far away, and I missed him terribly. In an effort to try to stay connected to the life I knew, I had been back to visit friends in my old neighborhood many times, but in the first couple of years, only three of my closest friends had ever come to see me at my new house. For a while, after my husband moved out, I spent all my time just getting my head around coming home to an empty house and feeling into this new experience. My marriage was ending. My husband was gone, and my friends were drifting away as well.
Then one day, as the shifting reality of both my marriage and my friendships became clearer, I had an epiphany. I realized that nearly all of the people I spent time with were either the daughters of my mother’s friends, the wives of my husband’s friends, or the mothers of my son’s friends, some of whom I loved dearly. But how many of my friends had I actually chosen? And of those people I thought of as my friends, how many would I choose today?
Up until this point, everything felt as if it was happening to me—the separation in my marriage, the distance from my son, the lack of connection with my friends and their apparent indifference toward the preservation of our friendships. But what if, rather than continuing to make herculean efforts to preserve all these old connections, I decided to do a fruit basket turnover with all my relationships? What if I could actually choose, for once, the people with whom I wanted to spend my time? What would that even feel like? I had never done it before. Ever since my family moved to Europe when I was in first grade, causing me to change not only schools but countries every few years, I was always the new girl, never in one place long enough to forge lasting friendships, always feeling alone and isolated, always waiting to be chosen by someone who might notice me and reach out to this shy, foreign little girl and make her feel welcome and wanted. I never felt I had the time, the power, or even the right to choose my friends. I was always waiting to be chosen.
And here was that same shy, wounded little girl, sitting now on her sofa decades later, feeling yet again like the unchosen one. But what if I did something different this time? If I could actually choose my friends, what would they be like? Who would I choose to spend my time with if I could pick anyone out of the great well of potential people in the world?
I hardly knew where to begin.
Desperately Seeking Self
Have you ever used an old-fashioned pressure cooker? You can hardly find them to buy anymore. They’ve been replaced by safer, less intimidating, digital Instant Pots. But if you’ve ever seen a real pressure cooker in action, you know they are pretty memorable. I was afraid of them when I was a little girl, probably because my mother would always have my sister and me stand across the room when she was cooking with one. Mama’s pressure cooker was a large pot—probably eight to ten quarts—with a metal lid that somehow magically bent to fit inside the rim of the pot. It had a big, black, industrial latch she pushed down to lock the lid snugly into place. When she turned on the heat, pressure built up inside the tightly sealed pot, thus cooking the food much faster. There was a little relief valve on the lid of the pot with a weighted, free-floating metal pressure regulator that jiggled as the pressure rose inside, allowing a small, continuous amount of steam to release from the pot, to keep it from exploding. Yes, actually exploding. The greater the pressure inside the pot, the more the pressure regulator jiggled, sometimes ramping up to a rapid, loud clatter. You were never supposed to lift the pressure regulator off the steam vent or touch it at all, as accidental or intentional removal would allow hot steam to shoot out of the vent like an oil-rig blowout, and could be very dangerous.
The weeks between when Daniel told me he wanted a divorce and when he moved out, I felt like Mama’s pressure cooker. Pressure had been building up inside me for years without my acknowledgment, but now, with relief in sight, my little pressure regulator had passed jiggling and was starting to clatter. Dan and I had agreed he would stay in the house until our son came home for spring break, and we would tell him together about our decision to separate. We planned to tell him the day after he got home, but Daniel’s father died unexpectedly in a car accident that day. In an instant, all other plans were pushed aside, and we spent the week making arrangements and having his funeral. In the flurry and chaos, we ended up not telling Alex about our decision to separate until the day before he was going back to college. In hindsight, that was terribly unfair to him, but we were all so shocked and surprised by Grandpa’s death, the news of our separation was all but forgotten until the very last minute before he left.
As fate would have it, though, the timing was a blessing in a way. I was glad we never had to tell Dan’s father we were splitting up. He would not have taken it well. After having five sons that included two sets of twins, both he and Dan’s mother were thrilled when I came into the family and could be the daughter they had always wanted. His mother had passed away several years before, so Grandpa was the last remaining member of the older generation in either of our families. A dynamic, bombastic retired attorney, Grandpa would not only have objected to our decision, I am reasonably sure he would have tried to assert some kind of authority to stop it, which would not have been helpful. Terrible though Grandpa’s sudden death was, it made two bad situations a little better for Daniel, because we never had to tell his dad, and instead of having to rent a place, he just moved into his parents’ house, making it easier both to relocate and to deal with estate issues.
Somewhere along the line, a little over halfway into our marriage, Dan had gotten angry at me. Or more accurately, Dan had gotten angry. I’m not sure it was really at me. At least not at first. Just that fact alone was alarming and hard to grasp because he had always been such a convivial, easygoing guy. But there were problems at work. Specifically, a nightmare client who had already chewed through seven lawyers on the same case before she came to Dan, and who proceeded to make his life a living hell for a few years.
If we had started going to couple’s therapy at that time, things might have turned out differently. But we didn’t, and it didn’t. Instead, I began to withdraw while he got more angry, and the safest place for him to express that was at me. Since I knew what was going on in his life, I tried not to take it personally. I thought (and still think) that was the wise and loving thing to do, at least at first. What was not wise or loving (at least to myself) was that I never set any kind of boundary on the behavior. That’s on me. I guess I thought it would pass when he was able to get out from under that client. But as months turned into years, his frustration became stronger, and my ability to shake it off grew weaker, so I began to absorb the blame that was being cast my way. In time, his criticism became less localized and more all-encompassing. It had become a habit. I figured out far too late that in marriage, just as with gardens, a good plan is important, but over time, incremental maintenance is key.
As with many things in my life, I should have seen it coming when Daniel told me he wanted a divorce, but I didn’t. I always described him as the most honorable person I had ever met, and loyal to a fault. That “loyal to a fault” part showed up as a lifelong pattern of staying in friendships and professional relationships that were not healthy or equal to him. It was easy to see this frustrating flaw in him, but only now do I realize it was a pattern we shared. When Daniel was still practicing law, he had a secretary for years who was an active heroin addict. Uncertain of how to help and not wanting to interfere, he just kept her on as if nothing was wrong until the day she died of an overdose. Based on this and other less dramatic but equally obvious instances, it truly never occurred to me he would ever ask me for a divorce. So when he did, I was completely caught off guard. To be honest, a part of me was tremendously relieved. I wanted out, but by then I was so depressed, emotionally damaged, and crushingly disempowered, I don’t think I ever could have mustered the courage to leave.
Another part of me, a much bigger part, was terrified. I had worked as a fashion model when I was younger and taught at a couple of modeling and finishing schools while I was in college and for several years after graduation. I had also sold real estate early in our marriage. But I am a caregiver at heart, so when our son was born, there was nowhere I wanted to be but with him. I was incredibly lucky to be able to spend his childhood years as a stay-at-home mother, for which I was so grateful, and I loved every minute of it.
- "When women share the truth about life and loss, hearts can begin to heal and hope is restored. Readers will embrace that gift in Rebecca Winn's comforting and lovely memoir on beginning again."—Sarah Ban Breathnach,author of Simple Abundance: 365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life
- "Rebecca Winn's quiet reflections here remind us that the restorative powers of the natural world are elusive, enigmatic: so often, they take us far and away from ourselves, all the while rooting us firmly in who we are and where we are. Kudos to her for tracking these ambiguities with such grace and clarity."—Akiko Busch, author of How toDisappear
- "Rebecca Winn is an artist with words. Her book, One Hundred Daffodils, proves the underestimated power of beauty to heal our deepest wounds. Using her garden, nature, and a delightful smattering of wild creatures, she weaves her midlife catastrophe into a beautifully written story of raw vulnerability, courage, and transformation. I was totally captivated and entranced."—Arielle Ford, author of Turn Your Mate Into Your Soulmate
- "Intimate and wise . . . Readers enduring a rough patch in life will benefit from Winn's empathy and hard-won wisdom."—Publishers Weekly
- "A warm, lushly sensitive memoir . . . restorative."—MPR News
- "If you're dealing with heartache, Rebecca Winn knows how to ease the pain . . . If you're wondering what role you have in this world, Rebecca Winn can help you unearth it . . . If you're looking for wonder, oh my, Rebecca Winn knows where you need to immerse yourself."—fyi50+
- "Comforting."—Dallas Morning News
- "A botanical elixir for all of our aching hearts."—Superhero of Love Podcast
- On Sale
- Mar 24, 2020
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing