cactus heartWhile hiking one day, I came across three hearts, a trio of metaphorical messages courtesy of Mother Nature. The first, above, belongs to a prickly pear cactus. As I walked the dusty red trail, I thought of all the ways we keep our hearts prickly, guarding our inner sweetness with spikes of indifference, fear, resentment. “Stay away!” they warn. “Don’t come too close!” These spiny maneuvers not only keep others from getting too close, but even worse, alienate us from our own heart. Keeping at arm’s length our innermost dreams, feelings, truths and even anxieties robs us of  discovering who we really are, what we actually need, what and whom we might devote our lives to. Stay open, this cacti reminded me. Risk your beautiful heart for that is the only way to live fully, richly, gloriously.

Mother Nature wasn’t done with me yet.  Next heart along the path was a spider web, woven into a stump of a tree. Unbelievable, right?  This gossamer messenger got me thinking about folks who snare us — web hearthearts, schedules, family time — with agendas of their own. Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly, began the parable cautioning us to guard against two-legged arachnids who use flattery, persuasion, and unsettling kindness to bend us to their needs. Before we know it, we are bound with silken threads, drained of energy and feeling like little more than a husk. Tread wisely, cautioned this fragile heart. Advance carefully. Hold your ground.

Three’s the charm, goes the old saying. The day wasn’t done with me before offering up one last message, courtesy of some lichen on a tree. I remembered from grammar school about the symbiotic relationship lichen shares with its host tree. Look closely for two types of lichen:lichen heart the pale green heart and the rusty yellow above and below the heart. Lichen can be found in all climates from desert to ice lands to forests. Fragile, ancient, pervasive, they are also environmental bell weathers, the plant world’s equivalent to the canary in the coal mine. Pristine air, lots of lichen; lots of pollution, no lichen. So as I reached the end of the trail, what was this pale green lichen heart trying to tell me?    Plant yourself where breathing comes easily, it whispered. Engage in healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. Be as ready to give as you are to receive. If you’re feeling choked, take flight, and return to instruction number one.

So how’s your heart beating today? Cactus? Web? Lichen? Who knows why those three hearts were put upon my path, but I love the magic that brought them my way. Hope you do too.