Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harvest Ritual

Where have I been? Scrambling to finish what I started. I'll spare you the distraction that kept me from blogging (20 page papers etc.) But I wanted to give one last send off for this blog. For my last class I lead a harvest ceremony with my fellow students. I wrote an invocation that took inspiration from Christianity, Buddhism and Paganism.
The students stood in a circle and faced in each direction according the invocation given. At each invocation a food item was passed around. Each item had a different symbol. Whatever we ate we saved a little and gave it back to the earth. Below is the invocation.
Thank you everyone who read my blog and gave me feedback. I hope to be back again in a few more quarters when I pursue more of my interest.

East: The gifts we have received from the bounty of the earth give us reason to be thankful.

In this bread, we are thankful for the abundance of the earth. Grain that was once green, dies and can be transformed into bread and sustains us throughout the winter. May we be nourished that we may nourish life.
When we eat this bread may we remember that we eat the body of the earth, we eat the fire of the sun, the water in the rain and the life in the air.

South: The gifts we have received from the bounty of the earth give us reason to be thankful.

In this honey we are thankful for the work of the bees and all other animals whose life and labour gives us blessing. We bless them in return. In the bees may we see the beauty and possibilities of working in community. May we learn from their example.
When we eat this honey may we taste in it's sweetness the body of the earth from which sprung the flowers whose nectar is the source of this gift. May we taste the sun to which the flowers turned, the rain which filled it with life and the wind which carries it's scent.

West: The gifts we have received from the bounty of the earth give us reason to be thankful.

In this fruit we are thankful for the diversity of life that springs from the body of the earth. In every organism that has been, is and will be we see the face of the divine which is always present.
When we eat this fruit may we remember the mystery that binds together the seen and unseen things of this universe. Though we know the power of the elements: earth, fire, water and air that bring about this fruit's existence, behind all these lies a mystery that we may never know.

North: The gifts we have received from the bounty of the earth give us reason to be thankful.

In the sage, we are thankful for healing power that lies within the earth's bounty. Among her gifts there is medicine for our hearts, minds and spirit.
With this sage we also ask to receive wisdom, wisdom that pervades time, wisdom that will help us choose to act for the benefit of multiple generations.
May we seek this wisdom not only from within but also without- learning from the elements that have been here since the beginning.

Centre: The gifts we have received from the bounty of the earth give us reason to be thankful.

In this wine, we are thankful for the brothers and sisters whose labour create this gift. May we remember the community on whom we depend for our sustenance.
In this wine, may we remember in equal weight the life and death that is inherent in the creation of food.
In the works of the elements and the cycles of the earth, may we see that death and life truley have no separation but are both expressions of the nature and mystery of this world. May we remember, as we drink this wine and eat this food, that we eat from the body of the earth, which is our body. May we remember that when we eat, we eat our own life and our own death.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Abandon Any Hope of Fruit

The inspiration behind this weeks' post comes not from any of my garden books, but actually from a little buddhist nun named Pema Chodron, who changed my life with her simple and light hearted teachings on compassion.
In her book, “Start Where You Are,” Pema addresses the buddhist teaching slogan: “Abandon any hope of fruition.” The gist of the slogan is if you have hope that you will master your bad habits and overcome your insecurities, you never will reach goals. For in looking to the future, you are no longer accepting the preset, and as long as you don't accept yourself as you are in this moment you will never gain the compassion to truly grow. I'm a very goal oriented person and so this is a radical concept for me. If everything is alright in this moment, than what do I have to work for? What do I do with myself?
She goes on to say that one can learn to see our buddha nature, our awakened nature, in everything that we do even the negative stuff. When you are moody you are “moody buddha,” when you are on top of the world you are “on the top of the world buddha, or when you are berating yourself for making that mistake for the 6000th time you are “making that mistake for the 6000th time buddha.”

So what does this have to do with gardening? Gardening with a sacred intention is accepting your garden exactly how it is in this moment. Much of the destructive behaviour we enact on the earth is because we refuse to accept her and her gifts as they are in this moment. We always want something more and something better, and we just create more problems.
Just as we could identify our own buddhas, we could do the same for the garden. When a squirrel keeps eating your strawberries and leaving you none, it's “feeding the squirrels and not me buddha.” When aphids will not leave alone my cabbage no matter what I do, it's “aphids going to town on my cabbage buddha.” Or when a fungus kills off all my tomatoes, it's “tomato fungus is alive and well buddha.”

For people who are waiting for their next meal from their farm or garden, this must sound like elitist and idealistic bull. If a fungus just killed off the crop that was going to feed your family or community, seeing the buddha in that situation is near impossible. I'm not going to pretend that I know an answer to that situation. Only that if as a community, local or global, we were able to practice this level of acceptance, perhaps there would be less people in the world faced with such devastation. Perhaps, we could attend to the present needs of our community, than be distracted by our constant thriving for the future. Is this idealistic bull? I don't know. What do you think?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Animated Water

It has finally rained. After about three months of record dryness, wet stuff fell from the sky. Just as the sun seems to spur joyful growth from the plants, rain has a similar effect. After the rains my stunted sage plant gleefully put on new growth. My squash is now over 6 feet long.

Water is the life blood of the garden. It brings to life not only the plants but the millions of microbes and insect life in the soil. How the water falls and flows through the soil is of maximum importance to a healthy garden. One of my garden mentors taught me that the only way to know how to properly wet my garden is to get wet with it. During a rain there is a lot to learn by standing in it, watching how it falls, where the rivulets of water snake along the ground, where it pools and where it is sucked into the soil.

However in a food garden, rain is not always enough and irrigation becomes necessary. Yet the state of our water system is dire. Not only do we waste a shameful amount of water, but we poison it as well. There are predictions that our oil wars will soon turn to water wars. Even here in the Northwest where our water is allegedly the cleanest in the country, it is processed with chemicals and “enriched” with fluoride. Our ground water and sewage systems are overwhelmed with pesticides, cleaners, petroleum products and pharmaceuticals. Overcome with toxins and pollutants, filtered of it's natural minerals and beneficial bacterial, our water has, as scientist Joan S. Davis would put it, lost it's wisdom. We drink this water and we eat it through our food.

Much of what I am learning in this study is how to garden with a sacred intention. Whether it be weeding, interacting with pests or watering, focusing with an good intention can elevate the self and the act, imbibing it with creative energy. However I hear rumors that this intention has a healing capacity. Masaru Emoto is somewhat infamously known for his work with water crystals. In one experiment Emoto exposed water to degrading or affirming words, froze the water and took microscopic photographs of the crystals that form as it freezes. The photographs Emoto produced are said to show that degrading words causes disconnected and malformed crystals, and affirming words created beautiful and intricate crystals.

Sandra Ingerman has done similar experiments to detoxify water calling the process transmutation. For the experiment a group is gathered in a ceremonial meditation with a focus on healing an intentionally toxified receptacle of water. Ingerman would test the pH of the water before and after meditation, and found that post meditation the water indicated lower levels of toxicity.

Naturally, the scientific community has issue with these experiments, and I'll admit, I'm skeptical. However, I can't deny that it makes sense. I know from experience that a positive and generous intention can have a great affect on my interaction with animals and other humans. But these physical life forms are a combination of a variety of elements, water making up more than half. 'Life is animated water' is a famous quote by scientist Vladimir Vernansky.

Why limit the healing capacity of our intentions to animate beings? And really what does it hurt to meditate while I water my garden on the life giving capacity of water, thanking the water for it's gift, and praying that the water can somehow overcome the abuse we've put it through. Regardless of whether or not it does any healing to the water, I believe it will do healing to me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Busy, busy, bee and Gardening with all Beings

Partially because summer has got me running and partially because I couldn't write it any better than how it has already been written, my post today will mostly be made up of snippets from Wendy Johnson's book, “Gardening at the Dragon's Gate.” Lay Zen teacher Wendy Johnson was the head gardener for twenty five years at Green Gulch garden, a branch of the San Francisco Zen Center. In her decades of experience, gardening has been a primary outlet for her Zen practice.
I admit, I sought after her book with one question in mind, which lead me to skip the first five chapters and go straight to “Chapter 6: Gardening with all Beings,” it's sub-title could be essentially “Zen Pest Management.” I wondered how would someone who dedicated their life to awareness, openness and non-violence approach the pest issue? Like most, when a squirrel insists on eating more of my strawberries then me, I am inclined to find a way to get rid of him. But I know approaching pest problems, like approaching many problems, with single-mindedness and without curiosity will do little to solve it. I have become curious how one could turn a pest from a loathed enemy to at least a relationship of mutual respect. Here I turn to Ms. Johnson:

“Has Zen practice helped me be more peaceful and closely hitched to the vast mind of this pestiferous universe? Hardly. Zen practice deepens my appreciation of paradox and relationship, especially with regard to pests and problems. In the garden Zen practice helps me hold still and look at what is right in front me without turning away. And then it helps me to look again [...] In the safe shelter of the meditation hall I even occasionally see myself as a kind of pest: I plague raccoons and deer, pursue spit bugs and flea beetles, and I plot their demise. I, too, am a kind of invasive creature, an “exotic” in California. Hailing from New England, I have replaced pristine native bogs of wild horsetail and stands of California nettles with row after row of introduced red Russian kale and clove scented stock flowers from Southern Europe.

[...] Unwanted creatures are forever arriving at the garden gate and requiring response. In order to respond to an importuning visitor you must first get out of the way and drop your notions of what your garden is[...] Pledging and promising to meet your garden and all visitors is core to every gardener's life.

[...]In responding to pests and disease in your garden, keep in mind the basic teaching of the Buddha that everything changes all the time, combining that with a reminder from the modern naturalist and conservationist John Muir that everything in the universe is hitched to everything else. Follow your affection as you garden and when you meet a pest, eye to complex eye, or shoulder to thorax, consider that this very spit bug doing the backstroke through a froth of expectorated foam may have been you mother lifetimes ago, or from a more rationalist perspective, is your cousin and you share a common parentage. Fold yourself in with the lot of all the shady and noble pests and guests that also love your healthy and diverse garden. Join the party. Your very life and good fortune as a gardener depend on this integrated relationship and on giving up a measure of control in favor of responding to your garden with a playful, observant and wide, pest-integrating mind.”
(Excerpt from Gardening at the Dragon's Gate p. 206- 21, Wendy Johnson).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

Though this summer, as I am told, is uncharacteristically sunny for Seattle, there have been some gray days. After a day or two of the sun hiding behind clouds, it's so dramatic to see how the plants respond when it is shining brightly again. It's as if someone injected them with life power. Leaves are bigger, greener and reaching higher. It seems as if they are trying to prove themselves, “Look, look what I can do!”

Different cultures through history have worshiped the power of the sun or at least celebrated it's movement throughout the year. Equinox and solstice have had powerful meanings across the world, marking the passing of the seasons, something greatly lost in our culture. Since we have been able to remove ourselves from the seasonal rhythms, working and eating the same in winter as we do in summer, the seasonal landmarks have lost their importance.

May Day, the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, is often a fertility celebration (i.e. maidens dancing around the May “pole”) in the hopes a full summer bounty. For Beltane, the Celtic May celebration, great fires were built to purify the people, animals and the land. Especially in Eastern Europe, large bonfires were also apart of their summer solstice celebrations. As well as bringing the sun's fire to earth, it was also to ward off any wandering spirits that may damage the coming harvest.

Maureen Gilmer, a horticulturist writing in the Seattle Times, noted that that for the ancients “[p]lants harvested on this day were believed to be imbued with all sorts of special powers. Healers believed that herbs cut on this date would be better able to cure the sick.”
Gilmer wrote that this is likely true as prior to the solstice, many plants concentrate on making roots, shoots and leaves, but afterward with the days getting shorter, they will focus on reproductive growth. The medicinal oils present in certain herbs are more concentrated on solstice has they haven't yet been expended into reproduction.

Reading Rudolph Steiner's lectures on Nature Spirits, he tells how the sun (along with other elements of the sky) send the secrets of the universe into plants and the plants channel those secrets into their roots where root spirits (characterized as Gnomes) gather the secrets and then spread them through the underground as they travel.

When we eat food we eat the elements that brought it to life. The energy of the sun's firelight fuels photosynthesis and the growth of the plant. We eat the plant's response to the Sun's gift. I was taught to say thanks to God whenever I ate a meal, something I do not do enough anymore. Though when I do, I repeat a Buddhist prayer taught to me by a friend I met in Hawaii, “Earth, fire, water, air and space combine to make this food. Numberless beings gave their life and labour that I may eat. May I be nourished, that I may nourish life.”

Monday, July 27, 2009

Holy Ground

I am tempted in every blog entry to formulate some kind of spiritual gardening doctrine and declare it like the sermon on the mount. But the fact is, as you will see below, much of what I'm learning are snippets, little bits of truth here and there that don't have a collective form that I can present to you. Walk with me, like in a garden and take in the beauty and variety that can be found.

My initial spiritual experiences with soil was through the Christian creation story- “...the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life...” (Genesis 2:7). The existential Ecclesiastes also refers back to man's beginning in the famous “dust to dust” verse: “...'As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of animal goes down into earth?'” ( Ecc. 3:18-21)
(Side note: In an effort not to pull a verse out it's context as is so often done with the bible, I intentionally included the whole paragraph and was surprised by what else was said in the verse. I have no memory of these parts, though I've read this book countless times.)

Sitting next to my garden, I was ruminating on the chalice symbol representing the womb of the Mother Goddess. It suddenly became very apparent to me that soil in which the plants sat was the body of the Earth. She lay on her back, the shape of the garden her belly, the soil her flesh, the organisms her cells, and the water saturated in it her blood.

I have been reading about nature spirits and their different manifestations, trying to understand their role in the food garden. In my ancestral tradition, Gaels and Celts, the nature spirit were held in great reverence. Gnomes are known as the personification of the soil spirits, the beings that aid plants in their birth and growth. Last week I spoke to a clairvoyant who explained to me that nature spirits are like nitrogen fixers, except that they fix energy. As he explained it the nature spirits' role is to take the world's energy and fix it in a way the plant can use. When I speak to my plants, sending it generous and loving energy, it is the nature spirits who take this energy and feed it to the plant.

I've known people who are quite offended when one refers to soil as “dirt.” To them, dirt is well, a dirty word. It implies that soil is worthless and lifeless which couldn't be further from the truth. For these people (and I think I'm one of them) soil is a miracle. It is miraculous how unclean and unwanted things like shit and rotting matter, can be turned into something that gives so much life. For us, soil makes every inch of the earth holy ground.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Soul of the World

Over the course of the last few months I've come across the term, Anima Mundi, latin for World Soul. It peaked my curiosity and I decided to do a little research. Anima Mundi's meaning is very literal- this world, actually this universe, has a soul. It was first directly mentioned by Plato in his writing, Timeaus. Marcus Aurelius also spoke about it beautifully in his Meditations: Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; ... and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things that exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the structure of the web.”

It seems the Anima Mundi is just one way of identifying an all-encompassing non-material form. The concept of the Anima Mundi seems very similar to pagan beliefs of the Great Mother, the Spirit of Creation, or the Divine feminine counterpart. There are theistic faiths that believe the universe is synonymous with an immanent God (pantheism, pan=all and theo=god). Some traditions of Christianity have been pantheistic. Panpsychistic beliefs contend that the whole universe possesses a mind or consciousness. Animism, common among folk faiths, is the belief that every thing in the universe possesses a soul.

A Sufi teacher, Llywellan Vaughn-Lee, explains that the Anima Mundi is the Macrocosm of the Universe and the Individual is the Microcosm. The spark of life and light in the Anima Mundi, is also the spark in us and in all things. He teaches that when the individual nourishes it's own soul, it also nourishes the World Soul.

I believe in the Anima Mundi. Whether it is God, the Divine Mother, or a Collective Consciousness, it doesn't really matter to me. What matters to me is that there is something that contains everything. A whole, more than the sum of its parts. I don't believe that anything, anything at all in this world is isolated from anything else. Everything is part of a great whole.

What disturbs me is that for quite sometime we humans (especially us Western ones) are trying very hard to prove that we are isolated. We do not tolerate being subject to the consequences of someone else's actions. We've built physical, mental and spiritual barriers around us everywhere we go to prove that we are invulnerable and not responsible for anything other than our individual selves.

This is why I love food. Not only is it pleasurable and satisfying, but it is a consta
nt reminder that we are connected. And we can't run away from it, we have to eat! I believe, now more than ever, gardening and eating are healing acts because they can bring us back, over and over to the basic truth that we are part of the universal family. And when you choose to be open to this truth, you can no longer look at a carrot and just see a carrot. You see the hands that planted it. The soil and microbes that nourished it. The sun and rain that nurtured it. And then if you really look, in the carrot you can see yourself. It's the spark. The same spark in everything. The spark of the World Soul.