it feels that good

The rain clarifies things. Haze in the air dissipates. The dust rises, then gets pounded back into the ground. Seeds planted too shallow will rise to the surface, and those deep enough get brought into full contact with the moist soil. The mist rises, but it’s different from the heated haze before the rain.good sky

I am collecting my thoughts for a workshop I’m giving this weekend at the Crazy Owl Retreat, just downstream on Long Hungry Creek Farm. It’s been another busy week here and my thoughts keep falling into furrows of freshly turned ground. We had unexpected but delightful company, and they helped us do some big jobs that really needed doing, like mulching the tomatoes. My personal practices have been short and sweet. There hasn’t been time for reflection on much besides the garden and meals.

Times like this bring to mind one of the first of the Yoga Sutras that I learned. Chapter 2, Sadhanapada, translated by some as “Method” or “Practice”, is written for busy people, like most of us.

This is the practical stuff. The first sutra goes like this:

tapah svadhyaya isvarapranidhanani kriya yoga

Kriya translates as activity, or action.

Kriya Yoga is yoga for busy people. To be more precise – for people with busy minds. Personally, I find it hard to have much less than a busy mind when I’m involved in three small family businesses and spend the majority of my daylight hours in the company of an eight and three year old. Their thoughts alone, passing freely from their minds to the mouths, carry me swinging through the (mostly delightful) trees in the grand jungles of the Monkey Mind.lulah garden

But even outside of the chattering of children, most of us have a hard time keeping our minds still. Modern life is anything but contemplative. All that interesting deep philosophy is great, but to be honest, we don’t always have time to soak it in and digest it, and make it usable. Patanjali wrote Chapter 2 for us.

He describes three pillars of a personal yoga practice. As I’ve rolled them around in my head these sweaty, busy, past couple days, they’ve picked up some garden soil and sprouted some metaphors.

The first pillar is Tapas – this is heat, fervor, discipline, austerities, the hard work of repeated practice, and the purification that accompanies that work. In the modern Western yoga world, this usually refers to asana practice – physical work. In the garden, this is breaking ground, making beds, planting, tending, and especially weeding. As in, “Oh man, we’ve been doing some heavy tapas in the garden this week.”tapas

One thing that must needs be said about tapas is that it isn’t supposed to be easy. If I spend my yoga practice doing only the things that feel good to my body – what good is that really? People with flexible bodies may be able to do all the far out postures with ease, but that would be besides the point. It might feel good, but it will not necessarily lead the yoga practitioner to grow. Make no mistake – yoga is the organic garden of humanity – it’s about deep growing. This is not to say we should do practice that hurts us! It is just to say that doing what is good for us isn’t always the most fun, and that’s OK.

Svadhyaya is next – I was taught to view svadhyaya in terms of self-reflection. It refers to study. Studying books, studying with teachers, and mostly studying ourselves. Practically, this means that I reflect enough recognize if my practice isn’t serving my goals, and make adjustments. So, if you have knee injuries, or back pain, you will adapt your practice so that those conditions are at least not aggravated, and at best ameliorated. In the garden, svadhyaya happens when we get soil tests and balance our amendments, and when we read books and talk to each other and gain inspiration. But it is especially true that we are practicing svadhyaya when we are observant of the garden. There are no books that can teach as much as simple observation.rice seedlings

Isvara pranidhana – is the pillar with a gold lining. Isvara, as explained to me, is akin to the concept of one’s personal Lord and Savior. Pranidhana is one’s devoted and loving connection to that power. The Yoga Sutra is not a theological text, and Patanjali does not presume to tell us who our personal Lord is or should be. But by using this phrase, he suggests that devotion to a Higher Power is a piece of the action. Built into the text is the inference that this is a deeply personal connection, and that by surrendering into that, however it translates in your own experience, you will develop an attitude of acceptance and grow into a healthy detachment from the results of your practice. It won’t be just about you anymore. In Christian churches, the prayer is “Thy will be done.” Buddhist practitioners dedicate the merit of a practice to the “benefit of all beings.” Each of us is a vessel, a vehicle perhaps, and none of us exists in a vacuum. Whether we acknowledge it or not, what we do, what we practice, impacts our world. By taking responsibility for that larger relationship, we are strengthened, and hopefully, our impact can be magnified for the better.

clouds In the garden, this is the harvest. It’s the time when we take up the fruits of our labors and share them, with friends, family, or shareholders. The perfect watermelon will not stand in the field forever. Something will eat it. Maybe you. Maybe your customers. Maybe a deer, or maybe happy flies and worms as it slowly disintegrates, but it will be eaten. Hopefully, it will be enjoyed, and that enjoyment will radiate goodness into the summer air.

Tonight, the mists have risen into a light fog and the darkening air is cool after the soaking rain. I practice yoga because it feels like this for me. Like the settling of a rain on a dry garden after some long work, knowing we’ve done what we could, and received in return. I teach with the aspiration that others might experience that sensation as well. Because it feels that good to grow.planted

signs of intelligent life

Some thoughts don’t go away.  They just fly like a boomerang, over space and time, and return a little more ripe with experience.  The deep, humming green of this Spring has led me into contemplation of our human senses – mundane and profound, simple and complex, light and deep.  Come ride along with me, please.tomato flower

I went to college in Sarasota, Florida.  When I was there, in the nineties, it was a lovely mid-sized city.  I could get wherever I wanted to go on bicycle, and the Gulf beaches were just beautiful.  Our biology professor took us canoeing and wading out in the lakes and swamps, looking at native and invasive plants, not to mention some rather stunning alligators.

But it was hot.  Our small campus sat right on the Sarasota Bay, which was a fortunate location.  There was a breeze.  Venturing downtown during the hotter months was an exercise in melting, though.  Pavement shimmered with radiant heat.  It was miserable.

I remember thinking how strange it was that so many buildings in South Florida were kept freezing cold, when the outside weather was so hot.  We carried sweaters to class and to the library, in order to not catch a chill from the extreme transition.

After awhile, I developed a notion that the less people LIVE outside, the less liveable the outside becomes.  The more people stay inside and run the air conditioning full blast, the hotter the outside will be.  Same goes with stars.  In ages past, all people knew about the movement of the planets and placement of constellations through the seasons.  There were no lights at night, and no televisions or computers to take our attention in the evening.  The moon and stars were the brightest things around, the best entertainment and education to be had.  But not many people stay out to watch anymore, and, as if in response to the shrinking demand for their presence, there are fewer and fewer places where the night sky can be seen in its fullness.  As my friend Cher said lately, it’s not a simple equation, but there’s a correlation.ringneck 1Those sweaty, star-gazing revelations returned in a sort of a mental avalanche last week.  In the thick of hard work before what was predicted to be a violent thunderstorm, I was deeply engrossed with the signs of life all around the garden and the woods.  Then, there was some bad news about the melting polar ice caps, which set me in mind of the hot Florida pavement.  Then, I went to town and had trouble interacting with our fellow people-at-large because they tend to be connected at all times to a hand-held device without turning a head to the sky, to one another, to much of anything.  The icing on the proverbial cake was when Lulah and I read The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. I was tired beyond reason that night, but one chapter caught my mind and hasn’t let go.  Milo, the bored schoolboy who finds himself whisked into a strange allegorical land and a desperately impossible mission, stumbles into the city called “Reality.”  All he can see are crowds of people, cars and buses, rushing around as fast as they can, going about their very important business, in the middle of nowhere.  No streets.  No buildings to be seen.

“I don’t see any city,” said Milo very softly.

“Neither do they, ” Alec remarked sadly, “but it hardly matters, for they don’t miss it at all.”

It turns out that the inhabitants of Reality once lived in a stunning city with many inviting spaces, and they enjoyed them on the way about their lives.  But someone figured out that if you simply walked as fast as you could and looked at your shoes, you could arrive at your destination faster, so that’s what they all started doing, and then their whole city faded away around them, and they never even noticed.ringneck 2By not looking, we cease to see.  Then, the whole world suffers, but I believe the largest loss is ours, whether we know it or not.  I don’t fear for nature on our account, any more than I fear for the well-being of the stars.  I believe that this living world will right itself.  I do fear for us.  We have a lot to lose.

I can’t describe the songs that are created in my chest when I hear the morning bird songs, and watch the life of the garden emerging from the throes of winter.  There are countless moments that cause my heart to soar with appreciation, even when I’m tired and nothing else lines up right.  Appreciation somehow echoes.  Maybe because it’s a form of love, it feeds back on itself, and nourishes the giver as well as the receiver.  As I allow myself to appreciate whatever beauty I can see around me, I have energy to create more beauty.eggplantWe are not just occupants of this planet.  We are members of it, like the cells of our body are a part of us.  We are not separate, and will not ever be.  No other part of the world will ever believe us to be separate, except ourselves.toadI know that my family is exceedingly fortunate to live in a place with so much life all around us, and I’m grateful.  But you don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to feel yourself a part of Creation.  Even if it’s only a breeze, the smell of a random blossom, a glimpse of clear sky between tall buildings, the murmur of a fellow human being, or even your own heartbeat, it is a reminder of where you are and who you are within the magnificence of it all.

When you walk into your day, I hope you take it all in.  Even if it’s a bummer of a day, and you live on a crowded city street, let the life of it into your senses.  Try to love it even just a little, if only for being the place where you live.   Love may not be the entirety of the forces that make the world spin, but it sure makes the ride worthwhile.

I believe that love and appreciation are visible in human lives, and recognizable by all living things as a sign of harmony, as a sign of intelligent life.  thorn bird

 

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.

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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.

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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.

dalai_lama

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

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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.