The holly bears a leaf as sharp as any thorn…
Inside even the spikiest exterior beats a vulnerable, tender heart.
On one of my recent walks I stopped to look at a holly tree. We all know what holly leaves look like. Dark green, glossy, tough, and very prickly! If you’ve ever gathered greenery in a wintery wood (or just carried it home from the garden centre!) to decorate your home for Christmas, or created your own holly wreath for the front door, you’ll know all about those spiky leaves!
But despite the familiar shape, they’re just as soft and vulnerable too. It’s only as they get older that they start to stiffen up. They get tougher and shinier and harder to penetrate, as if they were being coated with layer upon layer of varnish.
Come winter time, these young leaves will have donned their full armour and those spikes will have become sharp enough to draw blood from an unwary human hand.
And here’s an interesting fact. Did you know that the prickliest leaves are found on young holly trees, while the leaves of older trees are more likely to be smooth? Similarly, the leaves on the upper branches of a holly tree are also likely to be smooth rather than spiky.
Of course, it makes sense. The higher up the leaves, the less risk they face from hungry deer and other creatures. Meanwhile, the older the tree, the more established it is, meaning that it can afford to lose a few leaves or even branches without any long-term threat to its own survival. It can afford to be generous. But smooth or spiky, each of those glossy leaves holds, deep inside it, the memory of that tender green shoot reaching up towards the spring sunshine.
And I think that’s what caught my attention the other day on my walk. The sudden awareness of the intense vulnerability at the very heart of this most impenetrable of trees. It was as if the colour of the young holly leaves itself directed a beam of that warm spring sunlight right into that place in my own heart that has been waking up, gradually, moment by moment, day by day, year by year.
That tender, green space that exists in each of us, deep in our heart centre, that space that from the very beginning has held the promise of what we can become – of what we always have been – before the rigidity, the defensiveness, the fear that we have taken such care to gather along the way toughened up our exteriors so much that we lost sight of it.
But it still exists, deep inside each one of us. And we can reconnect to it whenever we choose to. Whenever we choose stillness over noise. Whenever we choose being over doing. Whenever we choose love over fear.
And the real beauty of all this is that whatever choice we made yesterday, this morning, five minutes ago… we can choose again.
And when we do reconnect with that space… what then?
Once again, we don’t need to DO anything. Just hold the awareness of that tenderness in your heart.
Tell it that you see it.
Tell it that you hear it.
Tell it that you love it.
And then listen, to see if it has anything to tell you.