Garden Epiphanies: Work Happens Here

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When I tell people I’m trying to become a gardener, I hope they imagine the kinds of scenes I follow on Instagram. Bright nasturstiums spilling over new cedar boxes, beautifully trellised beans, fat red tomatoes.

What’s really happening, especially since we don’t have a garden shed or greenhouse, is that there is %$#! everywhere. Hose snaked across the grass, half-finished bags of soil and vermiculite now getting a little waterlogged, split cherry tomatoes on the ground, stacks of pots multiplying and teetering.

When my kids were little and it seemed like all I did was sweep the floor, I put a reminder on my bulletin board: See my world and messy house through eyes of love. I wanted to remember that messiness was a sign of life, a sign that people were eating, drinking, sleeping, creating, snuggling, living, working.

The trend in my cooking magazines and social media feeds is to organize the crap out of everything—have deep drawers that hold every implement, have matching and labeled canisters, and definitely do not leave the juicer sitting out on the counter. I suppose my garden is going the way of my kitchen, and they both shout, “Work happens here!”

And all those years sweeping cheerios off the floor taught me to love it.

Garden Epiphanies: Growth Doesn't Have to be Hard

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I had a vegetable garden this summer.

It was the last step of many. First, fence the yard so the deer don’t get in (5 years ago.) Take out three topped, dying trees and their roots to let the sunlight in (last summer.) Tear down the old rotting deck and replace it with a new one (this spring.) Of course Yancey did all these things while I supplied impatience and sandwiches. And finally, after eight years in our Bellingham house, there’s an L-shaped raised bed in one corner of the yard and the failures, successes, and epiphanies have begun.

We are definitely not saving money in groceries! I shudder to think what the little pile of cherry tomatoes on my counter cost us—the lumber, soil, seeds that didn’t work, then starts, and the mental bandwidth to water every day and get the neighbor to do it while we’re gone. News flash—this does not pencil out!

But the epiphanies have been coming, fast and furious. Gardening metaphors aren’t hard to find, but it’s a whole different thing to see it all for myself. I’ve been composing a series of posts in my head, and this is the first.

Growth Doesn’t have to be Hard

I started squash from seed in little trays, and made the mistake of planting everything that germinated. You can bet that went into my little learning notebook, maybe with some expletives—”Plant less squash next year!” I tried to harvest them when they were little, but if I went away for the weekend or turned my head for more than 60 seconds, they did their thing.

The wonderful a-ha from the whole fiasco is that growth doesn’t have to be painful or hard. Sure, sometimes it is. Sometimes we use metaphors like climbing mountains or, if we’re really down, the story of Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll down again. All that is true, but sometimes, things just grow. Women have surprise babies. We puzzle on a problem and wake up the next morning having solved it in our sleep. We put off going to therapy with our mother for 10 years but, when the conditions are right and we finally say “yes,” it only takes one session.

I tend to be someone who repeats things like, “Well, you have to put in the work.” Okay, fine. But there are also miracles. Miracles like zucchini growing in the night, effortlessly becoming itself, taking the smallest bit of rich soil and spilling its star-shaped leaves all over the brown summer grass, making our earnest efforts seem silly. May it be so for you.

Corn and Radish Salsa

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…and some other things, of course! If you just want the “recipe,” it’s something like:

Saute a bag of Trader Joe’s fire-roasted corn kernels in a little bit olive oil and salt. (Or other frozen corn.) Scrape the warm kernels into a bowl and add a pint of quartered cherry tomatoes, one seeded, finely diced jalapeno, 1/4 of a finely chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, a handful of fresh radishes, halved and thinly sliced, juice of one lime (or more to taste) and plenty of kosher salt. Enjoy over roasted meats, in burrito bowls, with chips, over eggs. We’ve had this twice this week thanks to the amazingly beautiful radishes coming in our produce box.

Recently, I listened again to Sylvia Boorstein’s On Being interview which has continued to have a profound impact on me since it aired the first time several years ago. In talking about discovering Buddhist practice, Sylvia says,

“I thought about becoming enlightened and that, if I practice meditation enough, that the challenges of life and the pain and the disappointments of it would just — I would sail over them with great equanimity…But the truth is that we are connected with empathic bonds of tremendous energy. I wouldn’t want it otherwise. I don’t want to sail above my emotional life. I don’t want to complicate my emotions with worse complications by struggling with what I can’t change or by reacting without thinking things through. In the beginning, I think I had a more lofty idea of what would happen if I practiced a lot, become a lot more pedestrian. I’d like to live kindly with a good heart because I’ll be the happiest that way…Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.

I love this so much. Not taking the spiritual bypass, not sitting on our meditation cushions while we manage to avoid the everyday tasks and relationships that need the most attention in our lives.

Last night, by some miracle, I really did make this radish salsa “in a sweet way.” With the dog at my feet (I’m going to trip over him and break my ankle someday), Loretta hovering and asking, “What’s for dinner?”, Wyatt kissing me on his way to basketball practice, Yancey fiddling with his Goodwill stereo in the garage. The okayness of life settled over me and I could say again, with Julian of Norwich, “All is well and shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Acceleration of Calling

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I woke up early this morning.

I could go back to sleep, open my NYT app, or take a walk. I’m trying to read less news, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fall back asleep. So I leashed Padre up and downloaded this podcast, which turned out to be the best 20 minutes of my week so far.

Michael Meade says,

When things get really rough, there’s an acceleration of calling. Calling is that thing that is secretly trying to awaken each one of us to what we came to life to do…There are only two philosophies about the human soul. Either it’s empty and it gets filled with what happens around you or it’s seated, aimed, and purposeful…The calling is calling to the thing that’s hidden in the soul. I call it the genius. This means “The spirit that’s already there.” We came here to give our gifts, and it becomes more important to do so when the world has gone wrong.

Calling isn’t what we do for a living. Michael is not talking about seeing a career counselor to change jobs (though do that if you’re stagnant or under-utilized). He’s not talking about taking Srengthsfinders or going to a conference for mamapreneurs (though do that if it enlivens your soul).

He’s talking about “calling to the thing that’s hidden in the soul…the spirit that’s already there.” Bill Plotkin says our psychological suffering comes from noble souls that know they haven’t reached their full potential. There is something in us that knows we’re meant for more—something calling out to us, sometimes barely discernible, reminding us that we’re connected to the stars and the earth, that the spark of the Divine hasn’t gone out.

There are strong forces that keep us from dropping into our True Selves—old stories, fear of losing the things that we think make us who we are, the siren calls of power, materialism, image. But, Meade says, we can’t afford to forget who we really are—“We came here to give our gifts, and it becomes more important to do so when the world has gone wrong.”

What’s heartening to me lately is that there are so many wise guides if we say “yes” to the acceleration of our calling. You don’t have to go the library and ask to see something on microfiche. You don’t have to pay $5000 to go on a yoga retreat or go on a raw vegan diet. If you begin with willingness, there are clues everywhere.

Because I get so caught up in my Little Self, I need reminders of my calling. These come in the form of spirituality books, time in nature, Tarot and oracle decks, prayer books, poetry, silence, candles, plants, service, solo time away from home, spiritual friendship, exercise, eating healthy food, and a severe limiting of notifications on my electronic devices. A few things that have accelerated my calling lately:

Peace and momentum to you on your journey of calling—I’m with you!

P.S. Photo from Easter Sunrise service on the shores of Lake Whatcom with my church. Though I continue to struggle with my place in a community of faith, I’m frequently enfolded into love anyway, despite all my misgivings or boredom or resistance. It’s good to be together.

Being with Mirabai

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Got home last night from a retreat with Mirabai Starr at Turtle Haven, and it’s going to take me awhile to get over it. In the best way.

I’ve been around enough authors and teachers in my life to be a little bit wary going into these kinds of things. Some people know how to transmit love and wisdom on the page, but they’re not great at it IRL. (“In real life,” for those of you without teenagers.) Some people can pontificate about living with integrity and joy, but they don’t embody it. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have much patience for that. I want the real deal—I want the “suchness” and “thingness,” I want the incarnation, not just the incantation.

Mirabai led us there, into the arms of the Divine Mother, into the dancing circle of the Mystery. She gave us the freedom to “come out as interspiritual,” and it turns out that’s what I’ve been dying and trying to do for the last 10 years. The metaphor I’ve been operating from for a long time goes something like this: If we need water to stay alive, wouldn’t it make sense that there are drinking fountains, streams, aquifers, everywhere? Why would a loving Creator design things in such a way that a seeker needed to cover several continents or centuries in order to get a cup of cool water? If God is Love (which I fervently believe and experience), wouldn’t She pour out her love, indiscriminately, through and over every religious tradition? Through and over every non-religious person and space, free for the taking or leaving? Yes, and yes.

I’m devouring Mirabai’s new book Wild Mercy, and I recommend it for all my fellow seekers. At the end of our retreat, as we shared our closing reflections, I said, “I feel like every pore in my body is open, soaking up love.”

We had some writing prompts throughout the weekend, and it was actually the first time I’d written a poem in a long, long time. I’ve been a little clogged, and it turns out that someone giving me something to go on and a quiet 10 minutes is all I needed for the juice to start flowing again. Here’s the poem I wrote from the prompt, “Write to the great mother.”

Saint Sarah in Ecstasy

Great Mother, Light of Nations, Healer of Wounds,
Lover of my Soul and of all
my ten fingers and ten toes,
you hear me always, though
I’ve forgotten your names.

In the halls of power, in the races
to the top, in the smackdowns,
in the Twitterverse,

you are the Multiverse.

In the anthills, the mitochondria,
in the cells dying and multiplying
in our bodies every second,

you are the life, the life
becoming more life.

In our earnestness, our serious
business, our calculations
and actuarial tables,

you are the mirth,
the belly-shaking laugh.

In the bottomless night
when every fear, nameless or named,
crawls into our beds,

you are the crooner, the soother,
the lullaby-singer.

In the kitchen, the kettle singing,
the vegetables roasting, dog and children
underfoot,

you are the spoonful of pure flavor,
and we can’t help but close our eyes
when we taste you.

Beginning Again

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My friend Janel and I met for our “writing group” this morning.

This sacred, monthly ritual consists of taking up a table at Camber for at least two hours, talking about everything but writing, and then making rushed, earnest promises to one another in the last five minutes about all the writing we are going to do before we’re together again.

We usually begin by talking about favorite pens and journals. In case you’re pining for the details, my favorite pen is the PaperMate InkJoy gel, and hers is the Office Max version of the flair pen. And we’re both using (cheap) bullet journals in a much sloppier way than the Instagram feeds we follow. And she turned me onto using big post-its for my to-do list in the front of my journal. After 44 years of life, it’s satisfying to figure some of these things out.

I promised to start blogging again, and here I am! Yet another example of how writing group is actually working even though we are (blessedly) not hardcore about it. The two of us are hardcore about plenty of things—being present to our children, working hard at our jobs, trying to deepen our marriages and eat less french fries. It’s nice to drop into this gracious space with one another.

Writing here again underlines a core conviction of mine: We are meant to be creators, not just consumers! I’ve had so many clients in my office lately who are drowning in notifications, buried under banal input, trying to hear themselves again. We all need some kind of place to make something.

I’ve adopted Emily’s instructions to herself. When she feels anxious, lonely, or out-of-sorts, she reminds herself of three “M’s”: Make, Move, Meditate. These have been really helpful to me lately. The “make” might be starting dinner prep or pinching dead leaves off a houseplant. The “move” might be vacuuming or one minute of stretching. The “meditate” might be one 9-second breath, reminding me to be in my body. They all serve to keep me from energetically “scrolling,” mindlessly ingesting what other people are saying or passively watching what’s going on around me. More than ever, the world needs us to be present to ourselves so we can be present to the world.

I am prone to an all-or-nothing orientation when it comes to writing, moving my body, or praying and meditating. If I can’t completely knock it out of the park, I just don’t start. This little blog entry today lets me begin again, lets me treat this day and this moment like the practice it is.