wrestling with angels

The refrigerator door is open, a small person stands in the mist emanating from its cool interior.

“Mama, I’m hungry!”   “Get out of there please, and wait a few minutes, I’m cooking!”

I’m two feet away, making dinner as fast as I can.  There are still a few miles of row to be hoed, but dinner is more important, and not early enough.

“Mama, can I fly from here?” (Here is four steps up the stairwell.)  “No, you can’t fly from there.”

“I can’t?”   “No, you can’t.  It’s too high.”   “It’s too high?” (Small voice lilts upward.)  “Yes.  Too high to fly.  Come lower and fly.”  (He “flies” from the first step, and returns to the fridge.)

“Mama, I’m hungry! I want fresh moolk!”  (Second voice comes in.) “What’s for dinner?  Ugh. Rice again.” 

At this point, I the tired Mama, abruptly evict all the hungry small people from the room until further notice.

On the last page of the three year old notes of my previous time with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I found this:

“The first casualty of anger, hatred, etc. (let’s include impatience right now) is oneself.”

I’m well reminded of that, here lately.

Patience is a virtuous quality, worthy of cultivating.  Impatience is a dreadful feeling.

Our little homestead is low down in a deep, steep hollow.  The sun rises late and sets early.  But since we are not in the depths of the creek bottom (thankfully), our soil is not sandy (mixed blessing there).  Our soil is, um, dense, and improving.  Every year it is a little nicer to work with, because we’re kind to it (mostly).  Besides numerous other techniques, we grow cover crops, mow them down, and turn them into the ground.  The ground loves it.

This time last year, we were already feeling the edge of the on-coming drought, laying drip tape, and pumping a lot of water.  This year is different in almost every way.  I’m grateful not to be droughty.  The rains have been like clockwork, and for the most part they haven’t been too violent and pounding, but we’re struggling with the virtue of patience.

waiting field

The soil is still too wet to work.  The thick roots of vetch, crimson clover, and rye are holding an amazing amount of moisture, and the moist soil is cool.  I have no doubt that a lot of our friends have planted sweet corn, but we haven’t, because we’re waiting for that big patch of mowed cover crop to dry and warm sufficiently to till.  Sigh.

If we didn’t plant cover crops, we could work the ground.  But if we didn’t plant cover crops, our ground would not be improving so well.

Sometimes it’s easier to be patient than others.  We’re expanding our seed saving operation this year.  We believe in saving seed, as much and as well as possible.  By downsizing our CSA, we can give better attention to those efforts.

What this means, right now, is several rows of last year’s crops still standing, taking up precious space in the Spring garden and complicating matters of tractor cultivation.  The kale and radish seeds will take quite awhile to fully ripen.  We’ll need some luck with dry spells so that the dry seed pods don’t spring open and re-plant themselves (if it’s very hot and dry), or rot on the stalk (if it’s very wet).  If all goes well and we harvest a nice crop of seeds, it will be another season before we know that the seed has not crossed with its wild or cultivated neighbor plants.  At least the flowers are lovely and the bees enjoy them.

radish flower

Last weekend in Louisville, I did not take any notes at the Dalai Lama’s talk.  I spent the first several minutes of the talk taking Levon to each stall of the women’s bathroom so he could inspect the fancy flush handles, wash his hands thoroughly, and look out the super-big windows of the YUM Stadium at the big trucks going by on the highway below.  Eventually, he fell asleep, and the talk was sweet, of course.


One point the Dalai Lama made that stuck with me and has been bouncing around the open spaces in my cranium ever since is that we humans are multi-layered beings.  Several other notable spiritual leaders who were in attendance (rabbis, monks, sufis, swamis, scientists) commented on this from the standpoint of their own traditions as well.  Each of us has a surface level self, and a deeper self.  The surface level self is generally more reactive, and less refined.  This is the part of us that gets tossed on the tumultuous waves of cyclic existence.  This part gets angry, impatient, distraught, and aggressive when things get rough, and alternately giddy and frivolous in high times.  The deeper level is more subtle, and the sage company on stage last Sunday all agreed that the deeper level is the place to get some work done.

Boy howdy, is it ever.

In the garden, this means that even though it is difficult to give space to these rows that sit there, a gamble with weather and genetics as to how they will turn out, our belief in the goodness of seed saving is strong enough, deep enough, to carry us through.

kale seed

As growers, it means that we take the long view.  We will choose to do the right thing for the land, even if it means a later season than we would like.  This is stewardship.  Not easy, but good.

At home, with my family and myself, working with that deeper level is a greater challenge, and an even greater relief.  When I dive into that quiet cave of my heart and look out at the world around me, reality pronounces itself.  The beauty and innocence of my children shines through, and I can see that no matter how it manifests towards the rest of my life, I am primarily impatient with myself.getaway

There are days when it feels like not enough is getting done, and whatever is getting done is not done well enough.  I want to do more, be better at whatever I am.  But spending my time being whipped around in those feelings, and spreading them out to my family, is all the more exhausting and painful.

From the inside, looking out, I can see myself with compassion, which in turn gives me the energy to attend to all my works, be it hoeing or homework, as much as can be done that day, with greater ease. It’s not a passive state.  Living deeper in my “heart cave” does not mean I that watch the world go by without a care, or that I never get tired and cranky, or that I let my kids run over me.  It just means that when I stop Levon from smashing Lulah with a fishing net, my heart is not angry.  I simply act for the sake of everyone’s well-being.

There’s no formula to get there.  It’s just remembering.  It feels like I’m going toward “the peace that passes understanding”, and closer to ananda – unending joy (go on, contemplate the meaning of that).  It feels like going home.


11 thoughts on “wrestling with angels

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