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.


so much

It’s that time of year.  The heat is on, the rain seems to be slowing in pace and intensity.  We may soon be able to churn up those great thick cover crop roots, and if the soil won’t dry enough in time, we’ll just plant right into them.  It’s time to mow, and turn ground, plant, weed, wash, hoe, mow again, feed chicks, feed people, wash dishes, pull more weeds, plant more seeds, and mow some more.  It’s the rush.  There’s so much to do and think.


If we thought we were busy before, we were wrong.  We’re really busy now, and humbled to know that we could be busier still.  We could be hotter, colder, richer, poorer, healthier, or punier than we are.  We are humbled, grateful, and busy.

Nevertheless, this weekend, we’re taking a day away.  We bought the tickets back in January, feeling relaxed with the winter schedule.  We thought, “yes, of course we can do that – we’re reasonable people who can take time for ourselves to have a family outing and do things that are important to us AWAY from the garden, even in MAY.”  We’ll stand by those words now, but it’s a good thing we got the tickets early.  If we had choose to buy tickets this week, we probably wouldn’t.  All four of us have seats at the Dalai Lama’s public address in Louisville.

We have two baby turkeys and another broody turkey hen who need daily tending.  There are still seedlings kicking around in the too hot greenhouse.  There are weeds taking up too much space in the onion bed, more weeds that we can’t see sprouting underground, and the corn hasn’t been planted yet.  I need to drum up business for my yoga classes, make an outline for a talk I’m giving soon, and round up a couple more veggie shares.


How on earth can I think about the Dalai Lama right now?

As soon I the thought enters my mind I know that right now is exactly the right time to think about the Dalai Lama, and spend the day traveling to hear him speak.

If you don’t know much about the Dalai Lama, I recommend you learn more.  No matter what religious or non-religious affiliation you claim, he has something for you.  He’s a person with a special message for humanity, at large – all of us.


I had the opportunity to hear him speak three years ago.  It was crazy busy here but the ticket was available and Paul knew it was a great Mother’s Day gift ever.  I was pregnant with Levon, and Lulah was big enough to stay home and hold down the fort with Paul.  I loved every minute of it and took notes.

Since Levon will be in my lap, I doubt I’ll do so good with note taking this time.

There are millions of Tibetan people still residing in Tibet who still regard His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) as their temporal and spiritual leader.  Even though it is a criminal offense, many continue to carry his photo.  Their dedication is heartfelt and unflagging.  I met many such people in my travels, and was moved by their faith and basic goodness in the face of adversity (the beautiful Roof of the World is in pretty rough shape).  It was a wonder to me, as I sat in the auditorium at Bloomington three years ago, that I would have the opportunity to hear their leader in person, and they probably wouldn’t.  I quietly dedicated that time to them.

It’s a conundrum of sorts.  Had there been no Cultural Revolution in China, resulting in the absorption of Tibet (now the Tibetan Autonomous Region) in to the People’s Republic of China, HHDL would most likely still be holding court in Lhasa, the old capital of Tibet.  However, due to the Chinese takeover, this amazing leader and a flood of his people, have come out into the world, into exile, and into public consciousness.  The message they carry is powerful.

Here’s the gist: Attention Love and Compassion.  Really.  That’s it.  It’s as simple as a baby’s smile, and more powerful than money and firearms.

I need every reminder I can get.

From my notes three years ago:

“All of us humans are basically the same.  We have the same potential for good-ness and bad-ness.  We all have special capacities for intelligence, vision, and memory, and what we all want is to have a happy life. ”

” All human activities of science, technology, government, money, etc. can be used for the benefit of all beings IF a strong moral ethic is first in place and strongly upheld.”

“To gain full knowledge of reality our mind must be calm.  Then, we can make a realistic approach to our goals.”

What does this have to do with transplanting lettuce, turkey chicks, or corn?

So much.  If my attention is whiz banging around, and I am jumping from one chore to the next with frenzied, harried intensity and exhaustion (it’s not hard to do things this way), then ultimately, what am I accomplishing?  Focusing my attention with care, doing each task effectively, will create a much healthier and more satisfying effect, in the garden, in my family, in business and life in general.  Focusing that way is a challenge in and of itself, AND focused attention by itself is no great boon.  Without love and compassion, a life of great focused attention can still be pretty unhappy.

“For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope, and Love, but the Greatest of these is Love.”

First Corinthians 13:13


So, with Love and Compassion, to ourselves and emanating out from us, our works (there will always be work) bear greater fruit than just heads of lettuce, eggs, or great watermelons.  With love, compassion, and focused attention, our children do more than make good grades and behave well.  They thrive and grow into people who improve the world around them with their presence.  Our neighborhoods become communities where people trust and respect one another.  Our faiths and philosophies become intelligent, real, working aspects of our lives.

When we have so much to do, we can do our work with so much loving attention.

So much the better.