How does my garden grow?

February 26, 2012

Mother Nature is a gentle teacher

I have acquired what I think of as wisdom by observing and thinking about nature, including my co-evolution with my garden.

I grow a lot of native grasses and wildflowers from seed. Each year, some plants take over more ground and some recede. I can choose to intervene and change the mix more to my liking, or I can let nature take its course, que sera sera. I have an overall plan for my garden, but within certain boundaries, serendipity plays a big part.

I like it that way. For one thing, it is a lot easier to work with nature than against it. In the end, nature usually seems to win, but not always. For instance, by relentless pulling of  a certain invasive weed, I succeeded after a number of years of ridding my property of that particular intruder. More often, though, I allow desirable plants to expand their turf if they are prospering, and I simply observe the effects as the mix of grasses and wildflowers changes each year, a garden kaleidoscope. But it is totally within my purview to give a favorite an assist, like when I moved some black-eyed susans so the summer phlox could spread its wings.

Plants that make me happy one year because they have spread quickly become a nuisance in following years when they become overgrown and must be divided and moved.

I learn a lot about evolution, and about life, working in my garden. I have learned that evolution is an iterative process, and that it is not possible to reach your goal all at once, but only through a series of small steps. Moreover, fixed goals are hard to reach in an ever-changing environment. Nature can seem to conspire against you, but sometimes in the end, the results are even better than you could have imagined.

Some of the iteration is between my garden and me. I know a little more each year because of what happened the previous year.  I know which plants flourished and floundered, and sometimes I’ve figured out why. I have a better idea how much sun and shade each spot gets at different times of the day and as the seasons proceed, an important factor that is constantly changing as leaves come and go and the trees grow.

I give unknown plants a chance to show their stuff before yanking. I admit that this policy has sometimes had undesirable results, such as colonies of weeds that must be purged. But the prettiest thing blooming in my yard right now is a wild arugula, returned to its natural state from the hybridized plant I grew in my yard last year.

Vibrant and full of promise in May, overgrown and stressed by the August heat, refreshed with late bloomers and a little pruning in the cool of fall, structural and quiet in the winter, a garden is a cyclical thing. It refreshes me to participate in this natural cycle.

And, as with our spiritual selves, nothing degenerates more quickly than a garden that is left untended.


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The spirit within you

February 16, 2012


I forwarded this blog post to my children, suggesting that they cultivate their intuition because it is God within them. By quoting this post in my own blog, I forward this important message to my readers as well. Credit goes to fellow blogger Yogaleigh whose blog is listed in my blogroll as Journey to Higher Consciousness. Enjoy:

When I decided to try yoga in 1986 I was living in Chicago. Although there were a number of studios there wasn’t the plethora that now exists and I quickly realized that the long travel times to many studios would lead to skipping lots of classes. As soon as I decided I wanted to find someplace closer I parked across the alley from my apartment building and when I stepped up on the curb I found myself starting at a sign on the door in front of me: “Hatha Yoga, Tuesdays 6:30 p.m.”

Well, that was close enough! I didn’t know enough about yoga to know that there are different styles (less then than now) or how to distinguish whether one might suit me more than another and it didn’t occur to me to research the teacher (for you young ones, I couldn’t have googled it, most people didn’t even have a computer then and the internet barely existed).  It just felt right and I showed up the next Tuesday and began my love affair with yoga.

The teacher was Bill Hunt, who’d practiced for about a dozen years at the time and taught on the side from another job. He was studying with Goswami Kriyananda (Temple of Kriya Yoga) and became a swami while I studied with him.  I’ve taken other classes—including a then-famous Yoga Journal teacher (my least favorite ever)–and followed various TV teachers like Lilias and picked up many tapes and DVDs. Bill Hunt has remained the best yoga teacher I ever encountered.

I attended his classes faithfully for five years, even twice a week whenever he offered a second class, including through the nine months of teacher training at the Temple of Kriya Yoga (he taught some of that too).  If I hadn’t moved away I’d still be taking his classes. Bill is now the director of Oak Park Yoga in Oak Park, IL.

I feel the universe sent me the perfect teacher at the perfect time and place and it changed my life.  My instinct, when I saw that sign on the door was that I’d found the right class.  If I’d second-guessed myself and searched for more classes or hesitated I might have turned off to yoga or have never started.  When instinct and all the elements come together, magic happens if you pay attention and say yes.

 

The World on Pause

February 2, 2012

The year is 2012. Lots of people worldwide are more or less aware that something significant is supposed to happen this year. The Mayan calendar …yada yada yada. Many think it is probably a bunch of wacko nonsense. But the world scene is nonetheless both unsettled and unsettling.

America and the rest of the West are certainly cowed, weakened by the financial debacle of 2008 and unable so far to recover. American politics is a farce, and the European Union plays hot potato with debt crises. In the East, the China tiger has been temporarily tamed by a lull in demand for its products, and Japan still reels from tsunami and nuclear fallout.

Have you noticed? The news scene seems kind of quiet to me. No recent uprisings, wars are winding down. The biggest recent disaster  is a cruise ship foundering and lying on its side in shallow water. Metaphorically, that image seems appropriate for this moment, a bloated luxury mega-machine, undone by the hubris of its captain, lying helplessly on its side, threatening the environment.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in college is that socio-economic events are propelled through time by a pendulum-like momentum. Newton’s third law–for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction–applies to human behavior as well. As political and economic behavior reaches an extreme in one direction, forces come into play that begin to shift the momentum in the opposite direction. Thus, the conservatism that began in the 80s and seems to be reaching it most extreme at the present time, is a reaction to the extreme liberalism of the 60s and 70s.

When a pendulum is at its apogee, or farthest point from the center, it holds the greatest potential energy for change. Is there a momentary hesitation at the apogee, before the pendulum begins to move in the opposite direction? Because that’s the way the lull in world news strikes me–that we are in a momentary pause before socioeconomic energy begins its inevitable retreat from the extreme, and swings through the middle before, sadly, moving toward extremism in the opposite direction.

Don’t be surprised that the laws of physics–the laws of nature–apply to human behavior as well. Mankind is most definitely a biological creature, despite all the technological advances that often obscure this important fact.

Also take note that the apogee is a moment for optimism, as the potential for change is at its maximum. The nature of socio-economic change is determined by people, by us.

As the great ship lies on its side–an image that I find very compelling–people worry about environmental damage from fuel spilling from its tanks into a pristine and vulnerable eco-system. I am an avid environmentalist myself.  But I have heard learned nature lovers point out that our worry about the planet is in some ways myopic.  The planet will be fine, they point out, as it has immense powers with which to take care of itself.

People, on the other hand, are not so invulnerable. We need to worry about and take care of people. And at this moment of apogee, we have the greatest possible potential to direct our energies toward doing just that.

This blog post is excerpted from the column “Otherwise Occupied: What Price Revolution” by Hal Crowther in the November 30, 2011 issue of The Independent, a weekly newspaper in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Triangle area of North Carolina. Crowther is singing off my hymn sheet, so I happily hand him the microphone:

Every time a citizen with good intentions provokes a police-state reaction from the local authorities, the angels smile and society moves one millimeter closer to salvation… in liberal, affable Chapel Hill,, a reporter with a camera recorded steroidal officers in full SWAT-team battle gear, pistols and assault rifles at the ready, charging an unarmed encampment of self-described anarchists who had “liberated” a vacant building. A few seconds later the reporter was arrested, handcuffed and forced to lie facedown on the pavement with the unfortunate anarchists, who had neither resisted nor threatened any crime greater than trespassing. Amazed bystanders chanted “Shame! Shame!”

Shame, indeed. Attempts by the police chief and the mayor to defend this preposterous cinematic overkill only added to the embarrassment. They claim that the assault rifles were not aimed at the protesters, but the photograph is there for everyone to see that they’re lying.

…The liberators of the derelict auto dealership in Chapel Hill were acting independently of the local “Occupy” encampment… But the Occupiers, whose critique of America emphasizes its mindless materialism, are no doubt delighted to point out what a sleepy Southern town full of Ph.D.s will do to protect abandoned property. …

Idiot force has been deployed against Occupy at dozens of its tent cities, although assault rifles have yet to appear anywhere other than Chapel Hill. Every image of belligerent overreaction to a nonviolent protest—diligently videotaped, instantly online—is a victory for this promising experiment in civil disobedience, which in the digital age commands an audience inconceivable to Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.

But those great martyrs of nonviolence, who succeeded in spite of the violence they failed to survive, laid down the rules of this game. It’s about self-control: You conquer by conquering yourself. Your enemy is exposed, isolated and in the end defeated by his brutality and lack of restraint.

… You make a stern, life-altering commitment when you take your grievances to the street…It’s cold, dangerous and not always rewarding…My generation, the one that marched against segregation and the war in Vietnam, can point to major achievements and major disappointments. On our worst days we feel that we, as a generation, are a major disappointment. …how did the egalitarian dreams of the ’60s decay into the grim corporate feudalism that Occupy Wall Street so quixotically confronts? At what point, exactly, was it clear that greed had trumped altruism and cash had devoured representative democracy?

If this is a revolution we’re watching, perhaps it’s not so much class warfare as generational warfare. The most deluded members of my generation join the mock-revolution they call the tea party, funded by fascist billionaires, scripted by the usual talk-radio gargoyles and apparently so stunted by the brain plaque of advancing age that it imagines the government is its archenemy, to the great amusement of the corporate leviathans who operate that government like a hand puppet.

This cruel farce draws most of its recruits from my own demographic group, and I’m ashamed. Who knows why expired testosterone leads to big guns, silly hats and prayer breakfasts? …The truth, in spite of all the graybeards who keep running for president, is that our time is over…

It’s up to them now, the green, clean, unexpected revolutionaries one Manhattan office worker called “those terrific kids in the park.” It’s up to you, whoever you are, and encouraging polls indicate that most Americans don’t buy the predictable smears from the right-wing coven, the ones that dismiss you as spoiled children of privilege who would rather demonstrate than work. …

My sympathies are obvious. What you in the tents can accomplish remains to be seen. But what I think I see, through the media fog of polarized America, is the return of the full-fledged idealists …who seemed to go underground around 1980, possibly because the mass media abandoned them during the mudslide of self-celebration that began with Reaganism and culminated in Facebook.

I say God bless them, and God will if he still has any investment in the United States of America. … The good news is that “the kids” are right on target. Their diagnosis is bull’s-eye correct, and the patient is critical. For this country to survive, it must find saner ways to pursue and multiply wealth, and find them quickly. The cannibal capitalism that produced a Goldman Sachs and a Bernie Madoff is subhuman and obscene. …

…. The Industrial Revolution fueled the metamorphosis of capitalism into a ravenous monster that devoured resources, landscapes and human beings on a scale no wars or natural disasters had ever approached. The wealth generated by this devastation created colossal corporations and financial operations far more powerful than elected governments; long ago the individuals who controlled these giants learned that it was cost-effective to buy up the politicians and turn governments into virtual subsidiaries. …

Investment banks and hedge funds were designed as perfect engines for multiplying the assets of the affluent. The Wall Street elite of the 20th century—Masters of the Universe, Tom Wolfe called them—flew so far above the laws of the land that they began to imagine themselves exempt from all laws, including economics, physics and averages. This magical thinking came to a head with a wave of death-defying speculation in mortgage-backed securities, and quite suddenly, in 2008, the walls came tumbling down, exposing a phantom economy based on nothing but arrogance and sleight of hand.

… Instead of a stable economy and an affluent society we confronted a hemorrhaging scandal, a crime accurately portrayed as the looting of America. We woke up from our consumer coma to discover that the bastards had stolen everything. You’ve seen the numbers: The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, the super-rich targeted by OWS, emerged from this shattered, looted economy with a net worth greater than the “bottom” 90 percent.

In the past 30 years they’ve nearly tripled their after-tax income—275 percent—while the poorest fifth gained a virtually stagnant 18 percent. Economist Paul Krugman emphasizes that it’s the one-tenth of 1 percent, the fabulously rich one-thousandth, who account for a lion’s share of the 1 percent’s gains. These high lords of lucre have increased their income 400 percent since 1979.

Meanwhile,…a full one-third,100 million—live in poverty or what The New York Times calls “the fretful zone just above it.” One in 15, the largest percentage since the Great Depression, falls 50 percent below the poverty line, with an annual individual income of less than $6,000…Meanwhile, …Wall Street banks on taxpayer life support continued to pay out billions in bonuses, monstrously inflated CEO salaries showed no signs of shrinking and the Republican Party campaigned for more of the bloody same, and a stronger dose of it: no taxes, no regulations, no unions…

A slate of demands from Occupy Chicago struck me as savvy and dead-on: repeal tax cuts and close loopholes for the rich, prosecute the Wall Street felons of 2008, separate commercial lending from investment banking, rein in lobbyists, eliminate corporate personhood and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010.

This last demand is perhaps the most critical. The decision that defined campaign contributions as free speech, delivered by the court’s 5-4 Republican majority, removed the last legal obstacles to a wallet-based political system that leaves the 1 percent, or one-hundredth of 1 percent, in unchallenged control of our fortunes and our public lives. It opened the floodgates for a multibillion-dollar campaign to defeat President Obama, and any candidates who might resist corporate feudalism, in 2012.

In the words of the late Molly Ivins, “We either get the money out of politics or we lose the democracy.”

There’s a grave possibility that it has already been lost. But those “terrific kids” in the tents… seem to be the only Americans who are dead sure what’s at stake. “I want us to be the country’s moral touchstone, its unofficial conscience…” said one rebel named Katie…

(Katie) and her friends may be the last, best hope, if hope there is. Join them if you’re young and tough enough, send them money if you can still afford it, but for God’s sake listen to them. Their voices represent either America waking up at last, or its final, futile protests about to be smothered by dumb money and dumb force. Will you sit on the sidelines and watch?

Occupy Madison Avenue

November 11, 2011

As Luke and Mark say in the Bible “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In a culture with an economy comprised 70% of consumer spending, how and where we choose to spend our dollars is often more important than how we vote. So I was pleased to run across this article today in the New York Times pointing out that shoppers are pushing back against the latest ploy by big retailers to grasp for Black Friday sales. Power shoppers who go after the post-Thanksgiving sales have said “Enough” to retailers who have moved store opening times to midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving night and are starting to boycott the Black Friday frenzy. The marketers have finally trespassed too far into personal lives, as the earlier start times interfere with the Thanksgiving celebrations of both shoppers and employees.

The “rituals” that Black Friday shoppers say they have come to enjoy appall me. But I realize the many of these bargain-hunters are people (the 99%) doing their best  to meet absurd cultural expectations for making Christmas “merry” with their limited personal resources. Finally, as individuals, the boycotters are throwing off these cultural shackles and voicing their opinions with their credit cards.

In the article a Target spokesperson refers to shoppers as “guests”, a euphemism I find particularly insulting. How many of us would invite guests to our homes for an event that starts in the middle of the night after an already exhausting Thanksgiving Day? Recently, however, I heard an NPR commentator describe most American interactions as “mutual exploitations.” And David Brooks described Americans in yesterday’s editorial as “a democratic, egalitarian people who spend our days desperately trying to climb over each other.”

We don’t have to be that kind of people, however, if we choose not to. Each of us simply must raise our individual consciousness and realize in how many ways the big institutional powers in our society have usurped both our goodness and our individuality.

For the record, today (11/11/11) is viewed by some New Agers as “a gateway to a higher opening of consciousness on the planet.” Let’s hope so.


You read it here first

October 25, 2011

Yes, I am being shameless. But when no one else does, you must toot your own horn.

David Brooks, N.Y. Times editorial columnist, is perhaps the most insightful journalist currently writing about the American and world scenes. In today’s editorial, he argues that if Americans are to regain trust in government, the debate should refocus on concrete choices facing the nation, and steer away from ideology:

Obama would be wiser to champion a Grand Bargain strategy. Use the Congressional deficit supercommittee to embrace the sort of new social contract we’ve been circling around for the past few years: simpler taxes, reformed entitlements, more money for human capital, growth and innovation.

Don’t just whisper Grand Bargain in back rooms with John Boehner. Make it explicit. Take it to the country. Lower the ideological atmosphere and get everybody thinking concretely about the real choices facing the nation.

If you don’t trust voters to be serious, they won’t trust you.

In my June 5, 2011 post I wrote: Ideology doesn’t solve problems. Only real, tangible, on-the-ground, practical, pragmatic, nitty-gritty hard work solves problems. Let’s stop arguing about theories and face the facts. It’s time to get real.

Remember, you read it here first.

Finally. The people are speaking out about corruption and abuse of power.  The “Occupy” movement is here.

To learn more about Occupy and to see how technology is facilitating this movement, check out the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together web sites.

In my “Time for a paradigm shift” post, I commented that individuals “must find a way to act that will change the course of our nation.” I hope that the Occupy movement is the beginning of that change.

To people who remember the protest movements of the ’60s and ’70s, Occupy may look familiar. A columnist in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Daily Tar Heel believes that is a misperception:

These “occupiers” are making a fundamentally different and more profound statement than has popularly been reported.

It is direct democracy. It is a new vision of change. It is community values in action.

It is also no wonder the media has had a hard time making sense of it. The “occupation” isn’t what we’re used to seeing. It doesn’t lend itself to the familiar narrative arc of a protest: “You meet these demands, and then we’ll go home.” Instead the occupiers are protesting our economic system by offering a direct alternative, by actively living out values of trust and representation and interdependence — values that the surrounding financial institutions obscure and repress.

Tea Partiers should take heart and journalists who don’t get what is going on should take note. The movement is not necessarily asking government to step in to solve all our problems. The corruption of government by monied interest groups is well understood to be part of the problem.

Instead, the movement is about “actively living out” what young people see as “new” values, and what older people should recognize is a return to individual responsibility, compromise, and consensus-building. The movement is promoting cultural change by acting it out in their people’s assemblies. Younger activists may not realize that the culture of greed and self-indulgence that became acceptable in the ’80s is very different from American mores of the preceding five decades.

Rapid technological change, government corruption, and consumer economy ethics are world-wide phenomena that have led to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny elite. So the Occupy movement is part of a global movement that includes the Arab Spring and activism across Europe earlier this year.  American young people (are) collaborating with young people around the world to invent a future that embraces a common good.” 

Just when mainstream American politics seems to many to have reached new depths, the pendulum of history has begun its inevitable swing back from right-wing extremism. But the arc of history is more than the simple back-and-forth movement of a pendulum. The shape of history’s movement is a spiral, ever pushing its way upward toward a higher plane of consciousness.

The spiral is repeatedly expressed both in nature and in the religious symbolism of many cultures from ancient to present times. To understand history’s spiral-shaped trajectory is to glimpse the divine. To trust that the unseen future will be better than the past is to have faith.


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