the primrose of course;

primrosa vulgaris to be precise, the first flower, if like me you grew up on a small farm in south Sligo, sheltered from the Atlantic storms by our misnamed Ox Mountains. Misnamed because their true name is Sliabh Gamh, the mountain of the storms which, it is suggested was mistaken in the spoken language for Sliabh Dhamh – the mountain of the oxen.

Such are the side-roads begging to be explored.

The primrose is a native flower, flourishing in the ditches and woodlands of Ireland, waiting for a hint of spring to brighten the first days of February.

Today i planted up a few pots and window boxes with primroses purchased in the local garden shop – i may have gotten a small bit carried away, but it’s difficult to have too many primroses. My daughter announced her appreciation of the ‘lovely yellow flowers’ – “primroses”, i said, “they’re primroses, flowers i grew up with”. “Lovely”, she replied impressed neither with my knowledge or any lack in hers. “They’re a native Irish flower, they grew everywhere on the farm when i was small”, i expanded and the memories came flooding back. “When my grandad lived with us he spent a lot of his time in the fields and when he saw the first shoots of primroses he’d dig up a couple and plant them in jam jars and put them on the outside window sills – they’d be the first to flower”, i remembered out loud wondering where those memories had been buried for so long. “I didn’t know your grandad had lived with you”, replied the voice of the next generation, declining to get too excited about primroses blossoming in jam jars several decades ago..

Is that why you planted them”, she wanted to know and i explained that until we spoke i had no conscious memory of my grandfather’s efforts to encourage an early spring, but i believed that our actions, and mine in this case, are often influenced by subconscious memories – as if understanding ourselves and what we do and how we live our lives is not difficult enough without introducing subconscious influences and forgotten memories.

And of course, i’m rereading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth, create a better life’ in which he refers to the first flowerings which must have occurred on our planet as part of its evolution and the sea-change in life that such flowerings heralded. Tolle’s praises both the beauty of flowers and their ability to inspire us, “Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, how-ever briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature”, and,

“Without us fully realising it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred and ultimately formless within ourselves.”

Tolle believes that contemplating a flower allows us a “inner opening, however slight, into the realm of the spirit”, a form of meditation and he recounts the famous tale of the silent sermon given by the Buddha in which he lifted up a flower and gazed upon it. According to the story, only one of the monks present understood and after a few minutes he became enlightened and simply smiled and that form of enlightenment was passed down for several generations eventually becoming Zen Buddhism.

From primroses flowering in south Sligo ditches to Zen Buddhism in a few sentences – evidence of the interconnectedness of all.

The ephemeral nature of the flowers, they blossom and die so quickly, is part of the reason they provide a gateway for us to a greater understanding of life, of death and of their meaning.

In the circumstances, how could i not take a trip to the garden centre and come home with my arms full of primroses.

And, of course, the reason i’m rereading Tolle at the moment is that i’ve started attending a weekly meditation in our local church; my circle of searching has commenced again and i’m seeking a unified insight. Can i find a universal thread of truth from the spiritual leaders and writers?

We, the meditating quartet, repeat the mantra ‘Maranatha’ internally as we sit in silence in the church, seeking to know, to know a little deeper, and gaining much reward from even those few minutes. Maranatha can be interpreted as both a statement and a prayer;


Tolle sums it all up in one sentence, referring again to flowers, “Like all life-forms, they are, of course, temporary manifestations of the underlying one Life, one Consciousness.”

Perhaps we need no more than that but let us grant one of Ireland’s favourite poets, Patrick Kavanagh, his say and it will not surprise us to find that he wrote a poem called ‘Primrose’.

“Upon a bank I sat, a child made seer
Of one small primrose flowering in my mind.
Better than wealth it is, I said, to find
One small page of Truth’s manuscript made clear.
I looked at Christ transfigured without fear–
The light was very beautiful and kind,
And where the Holy Ghost in flame had signed
I read it through the lenses of a tear.
And then my sight grew dim, I could not see
The primrose that had lighted me to Heaven,
And there was but the shadow of a tree
Ghostly among the stars. The years that pass
Like tired soldiers nevermore have given
Moments to see wonders in the grass.

Not only are the flowers ephemeral but the insights they provide may prove to be so too and sadly, unlike our beloved primroses, who herald in each Spring, the insights may nevermore return.

Namaste my friends may you always be surrounded by flowers.

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