Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Solstice, Dancing Devas, Celebrating Crones

Pat, Julie, Aviva

Here is a quote from a statement from the Overlighting Deva of Perelandra about the meaning of the solstice: The recognition of the nature cycle within the framework of the equinox and solstice rhythm is a perfect example of the fusion of action and awareness. In this particular case, we have two levels of the example. First, there is the recognition of the special dynamic energy activated and released during these four days that is directly linked to the annual natural progression of the planet. Second, by taking a moment out to stand back from the day-to-day process and consciously acknowledge the specific stages of that process, one is able to re-infuse his commitment to the process itself. Tuesday, June 21, at exactly 10:16 CST, I was joined by two friends, Aviva and Julie, to celebrate the Summer Solstice. We gathered with our ceremonial objects under the main oak tree that has declared itself the center of the property.
Each of us was struck by how we had been either rushed, tired, or too busy that morning and yet each one showed up, as we had promised to do a few weeks earlier, to mark this auspicious time. We lit a candle, said blessings, gave thanks, and stated our intentions. 
My learning that arrived earlier that morning in meditation was to include both bread and wine in our ceremony, which we did. These two substances are a good example of human/nature co-creation, which is why they hold such meaning in so many religious traditions. While grapes and wheat are wonderful substances, bread and wine are considered more pleasing to the Divine because they show humanity's creative contribution. 
This year my solstice learning has been all about what co-creation really means. It means taking an active role in what life looks like. It means having a strong, clear, specific intention and then allowing nature to decide the form, i.e., what it looks like. It means giving up the child-parent dynamic with the Divine and no longer saying 'whatever' in the form of "Your will be done"  but actively knowing and owning consciously what we intend to call into being. Aviva is currently doing this as she calls "Creative Passage" the next unfolding of her wonderful work into being. 
An active partnership with nature is very different from a romantic "Trees are good, machines are evil" stance that denigrates humans as if we were somehow not part of nature. There is nothing that is not nature. My cell phone is nature and partakes of a unique combination of the elements in the form it holds. It was on our altar space, not so I could take a call, but to let us know exactly the moment of the solstice to light our candle, to take pictures to commemorate our event, and to give thanks for the genius of this device that does so many magical functions to enhance life.
Lilith Plaque
Did I mention that men were driving a tractor, moving rocks around and re-contouring the landscape a few feet away? Nava and Angel were at work carrying out and amplifying changes the landscape has been making to herself. At another time we might have sought a quieter place for our ritual, feeling the work and workers as an intrusion. From where we sit today, all of us are in service to Nature in different ways, one not more elevated than the other.CSA and went inside and chopped it up for lunch, along with cabbage soup and potatoes, hummus and bread.
As often happens after a conscious interaction with the land and the devas, a sign appears in some sort of natural expression of delight. Later that evening while out for a walk, I saw the most beautiful clouds, that looked for all the world like devas, dancing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some Thoughts About Story

Sow thistle detail
"Sounds like a Disney movie." After hearing that several times from different people when I describe the reality I am currently living  in Ojai I felt compelled to reflect on where our stories come from. My reality includes spending a lot of time sitting outside  observing and having pretty close encounters with a variety of growing things and creatures, large and small, who hang around long enough and come close enough to make eye contact or otherwise engage me in what feels like a pretty direct way.  Today I spent several hours with a plant called Sow thistle which looks like a very attenuated Dandelion. In fact that's what I thought it was until this guy from the Dept. of Agriculture who is monitoring insect traps on our property stopped by and I asked him to look at the insect life on the the not-Dandelion. He told me the name and described that this plant is actually a thistle and currently it is swarming with aphids and ants and some lady bugs. That much I knew. And I mean swarming, plague-like levels of insects that, so close to Passover, could be seen as implying something not too wonderful. Ag Guy asked cautiously if I was spraying and I said no, I am observing. He seemed relieved.
A different story about the plant is: "Hosting a large population of insects which in turn are nourishing beneficial insects such as ladybugs and giving this necessary cycle a place to occur so it doesn't happen on the nearby artichoke plant." That would be the permaculture story in which there is some concession to "Nature" knowing what "She" is doing, however it also implies that, since I can tell that story, that I know what I am doing. I love listening to people who can tell those kinds of stories and I know that many such storytellers have the firsthand experience of watching and learning to know what they know. Many also have degrees in enthobotany or entomology or another scientific discipline. Part of my task currently is learning that I will not be one of those people, no matter how much time I spend observing, and that is okay. I will learn some of this kind of stuff but it isn't my primary focus. My primary job has to do with making a story bridge from this kind of information to other people, the kind who are genuinely terrified of plagues and are happy to spray whatever they're told to spray to ensure no plague will get them or their tomatoes. On behalf of that constituency and on behalf of Nature, I am doing the work of watching lots of insects and feeling the anxiety and doing nothing but watching and talking to the devas of the plants and insects. I believe my job is to be a bridge between Disney and Science but also between Disney and the war mentality about stuff that grows, flys, and otherwise shares the planet with us.
Cocreated Dress for Cinderella
By the way, Disney didn't do a such a bad job. The mice and birds helped Cinderella create her gown. The problem is that this is considered make-believe, or the 'magic of childhood.' The expression of the metaphor definitely needs updating. That is what I consider my work. I have signed on to co-create with Nature. And I subscribe to the story that Nature is everything in form, not just the plants and insects and animals. Part of my challenge is learning to embody the balance of this work, the imaginative and the actual. I do not believe this is "spiritual" work in the sense of something that you meditate about and things magically align. I experience it as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual work that grounds and balances me in reality, which has of course, many levels and facets.
What I know about story is that  we live the story that we find most meaningful and contains as much love, beauty, humor and truth as we can bear. If we don't think we deserve much, the stories we tell are dark and not generous. More on stories next time...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Listening to the Things Themselves

no egret so consolation prize picture
I was writing an email to my son-in-law, Jeff, this morning when a beautiful white egret landed in front of the house. I grabbed my camera and went outside. I'd forgotten to change the battery which was low so went back and got my cell. I tried to get closer and the bird walked a few steps toward the garden and lifted off over the roof of my neighbor's house. The transition from email to the egret was  abrupt. I was in info-connect mode and stayed there. I pulled down my Ted Andrews book, Animal Speak. The egret is not found there. The egret itself was right here. Next time I will just sit down and welcome the bird. I am able to do this when I am connected in the garden and the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies come by. Coyotes, gophers and lizards hang here and make eye contact when I'm in a relaxed and open mode. But I miss my peeps too. I love my family and friends and while I am so deeply grateful for this generous time to connect with the nature spirits of plants and animals here in Ojai, I am so looking forward to coming to Oak Park on Friday spending ten days with those I love. The Overlighting Devas have shared with Machaelle Wright that we will be coming to a time when we will be able to connect with people directly from any geographic place. Technology like Skype and face time are preparing us to make that imaginative leap. In the meantime, I hold the tension of the incredible present moment of life that keeps opening to me and the near future of a transition in a few days via all our current clunky means, car, van, airplane, to another place. The other transition I am making is from the need to verify with printed matter the direct experience of life itself. I love books, I love words and I am coming to love deeply the language of what shows up every minute in front of me. As I trust it more and share it with others, I come to trust it more as well. When I am in that place, I know without a doubt that we are deeply loved.
Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Franz Kafka

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Coming Home

 I've been lurching awkwardly toward this "co-creative partnership with Nature" since we moved in to our Ojai house with greater and lesser success.  In 2008 Larry Santoyo, my permaculture teacher, conducted one of his famous "Swan Song for the Lawn" workshops here and we mulched over the grass, build three spirals and planted a variety of herbs. Working with the garden in the front of the house has become more amazing since I began following the Perelandra methods in the last few months. To begin today I opened a coning with Pan, the Deva of the spiral gardens, and my higher self. As I began to work I was being swarmed with tiny black bugs, buzzing around my head and biting my bare arms. Once they got my attention I realized I was definitely disrupting the insects in the gardens. I invited the insect Deva to join the coning, apologized for disrupting their habitat and asked that the disruption be as minimal as possible. Yes, the swarming and biting stopped.
This winter we removed some juniper that had been edging that area and slowly, through intention to hear from Nature and witnessing, I've been directed to do some work arranging more rocks in curved and circular patterns. Once the junipers came out, many more large rocks became visible which form larger spiral patterns on their own. Today I was directed to mulch over the bare areas after a month or more of watching dandelions sprout up. I don't know why today was the day, I just heard it clearly. I'd like to think its because the dandelions are through fixing nitrogen in the soil, but honestly, I have no idea and trusted that.
Our source for cardboard,  our trusty sheet mulch, the solar panel company, has dried up.
I got that I should use old fabric. I had some old curtains, throw rugs and t-shirts that became the sheet mulch and weed barrier before adding six or so inches of wood chips. I recently learned from a colleague and friend, Janis Timm-Bottos,  who had set up an art studio in the middle of a thrift store in Canada that we  should all feel a bit less righteous about giving our clothing discards to second hand stores. It seems that the glut of fabric waste is so enormous that 3,000 dumpster loads of fabric goes into the landfill each year just in her  town of West Kootenay, British Columbia, with a population of less than 40,000 people. The fact is, there is so much to choose from in thrift stores that no one buys stuff with stains or tears so the thrift stores have to pay to take it to the dump.
The idea of using worn out clothes as the mulch/weed barrier was appealing but I did muscle test to be sure I wasn't just enchanting myself with a good story. The t-shirts I inherited from my daughter from her high school days have gotten even a little too filthy to wear to the farm so here was a way to give them one last job and weave some memories (dance committees, yearbook, softball) into the garden. The curtains were really like free landscape cloth, sheers that had stood the test of time in California sunlight. I harvested the drapery pins to recycle and felt like I was veiling a bride as I arranged the fabric cutting spaces to fit over the rocks. The fabric was even easier to work with than the cardboard. It tucks in well at the sidewalk edge using a plaster knife.
I still find myself resisting the work of the garden a bit,  as if thinking about it is enough. I am so much more comfortable reading and writing, making art and staying in the mind. Yet I know that action, to do the physical labor, is necessary to come into embodiment of these new ideas. Today I paid careful attention as I came up with excuses to stop working and finish up later, after the sun goes down, etc. I used muscle testing to test and each time got that I should keep going and do the work. I was reminded of a conversation with my daughter, Adina, about how easing into a stretch in yoga often triggers the mind to say "Stop, get up, this is too hard, you might have some email.." So I stayed with it and happily finished an area of about 6'X25' and it looks really nice, edged in rocks. My body feels a little stiff but I also felt myself gain in accepting the gifts offered by nature: the deeply grounding sense of being at home.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What I Learned from Nature about Hazardous Waste

I have been spending a lot of time studying the work of Machaelle Wright, founder and director of the Perelandra Garden and Research Center in Warrenton, VA. Machaelle teaches that working in partnership with nature isn't simply a poetic metaphor but rather a commitment to a more conscious way of life. You can check it out at her website and through her books and articles. A brief definition of one key term: nature is the conscious reality that supplies order, organization and life vitality to EVERYTHING. It is an intelligence the vastness of which we can barely conceive. When we commit to co-create with nature (not simply use nature as a store we take whatever we want from without paying) we can supply the intention and in turn, nature  determines the best form to manifest that intention. This is true regardless of whether our intention has to do with a garden, a business, a home or a relationship. All of these are forms. Nature will not override any form-specific intentions we make. As someone who has studied, taught and worked with intention for many years, Machaelle's work has expanded my understanding a thousand fold.
This weekend I was gathering lots of stuff that comes under the general heading of 'hazardous waste' to bring to a collection event held by Ventura county. Items that could be brought included: old paint, solvents, household cleaners, pool chemicals, motor oil, medications, as well as electronic waste like old TVs, computers, cell phones, florescent tubes, microwave ovens. All sorts of stuff that doesn't break down in landfills, can harm us, our kids and pets and lies moldering in garages or basements or is guiltily put in the trash when we think no one is looking. As I gathered the stuff in boxes to put in my car, I remembered something Machaelle said somewhere in one of her books. She points out that everything that is created is made from the same elements listed on that good old Periodic Table we all learned in high school. Most of the stuff I was filling my boxes with was composed of highly complex amalgams of many of those elements arranged in very long formulas, like the polymers that make up plastic. She wryly point out that had nature been consulted about the creation of say, plastic, nature might have raised a few issues with the scientist, like "Say, what do you think about allowing this stuff to break down into its' constituent parts once you're done with it?" But, that was not part of the intention, which was probably focused more on creating attributes like lightness, durability and cheapness, for which nature supplied many great forms as requested. Plastic is amazing. It also has unintended consequences that were inevitable because our human understanding of form is not as great at nature's understanding of form.
I have taught people for years to make their intention for what they wish to receive from the Creative Source and then to release that intention and not be attached to the form it may show up in. I am learning how much more powerful this concept is than I ever imagined. As I packed the boxes my head and entire left side began to ache. At first I chalked that up to the toxicity of much of what I was handling, even though most of it was in closed containers. However, when I checked in with nature as it resided in those substances, they were telling me something else. Each substance or object was still composed of those elements on the periodic chart. I took the opportunity to sit quietly with the boxes and thank all of the elements for combining into form as requested to serve the needs of humanity. I apologized for our ignorance in not asking for nature's help in designing objects and substances that would work for the highest good. I recognized how a dualistic consciousness that imagines it's okay for someone else to take the risk inherent in manufacturing as well as disposing of the waste so I can have a clean house or a computer is wrong and actually violates the laws of nature which say that the divine is in everyone and we can live as if the God in all life mattered (the title of one of Machaelle's books). If we partner with nature and ask that whatever we invent, create, desire have the highest good for all as a key part of our intention, nature will oblige or direct us to where our intention may be in conflict with this higher order of consciousness.
This is not an exercise in blame, the 1935 slogan "Better Living Through Chemistry" was an earnest and optimistic one and I honor the scientists who gave it their all. We are awakening to a a new metaphor, nature is not a 'resource', not an adversary, not an avenging parent but rather a willing, beautiful and brilliant partner in co-creating a world we can ALL live and thrive in, nature included.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Our Practically Free Three Bin Compost System

One of our first projects this season was to replace our brown plastic composter with a more workable system. After lots of reading and research I decided on a system that uses recycled wood pallets. I needed seven and one had been left here after the kitchen construction. I asked Steve Sprinkel, intrepid Farmer of Farmer & the Cook fame where I might get some and he said "Out back of the store." With the help of another farm friend, Jon Wilk, we loaded the needed six pallets into our trunk. The roll of wire to put the bins together cost around $3.00. Once John (Allen) recovered from the flu he brought from Chicago, we got to work. In less than one hour we had our system built.
Then today we shoveled out the mess in the plastic composter, a mix of dried out stuff, matted grass clippings and petrified veggie scraps and wet it down and added some alfalfa meal to get the process started. The new system makes it easy to turn the pile and the larger size means we can compost more of the yard waste as well as kitchen scraps and newspapers. The bins are discreetly hidden from view of the house by some large bushes but maybe we'll paint them in fun stripes one of these days.  The old plastic bin will hold the "browns" to add to the mix when we dump kitchen waste. The system is also positioned close to the raised beds and the outdoor sink so we can easily dump carrot tops and other things before we take produce into the house. One tip: wear gardening gloves, the pallets are very splintery wood!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Earth, Art, and Therapy or Was it Just a Parade?

The last few weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. The high point was definitely the Ojai Fourth of July parade. I dropped the pebble of the idea one morning at the farm a few months back. What about a float for the Farmer and the Cook? Turns out Steve had never participated in the parade when tends toward the highly traditional and patriotic in the best small town way. Lots of equestrians, cheerleaders, cub scouts, civic groups and churches. We'd sat through it a few times over our summers here. The locals put out chairs along Main Street to claim their viewing space up to a week ahead, which speaks to local pride, not boredom, since there are tons of things to do here.
Johanna   was my partner in organizing this feat, since before this parade gambit I was never sure exactly how to read Steve on such things. Would this insult his semi-hippie soul? Be too silly for his elder organic statesmanlike role in the general community? Take too much time from surfing? Johanna broached the question to him AND agreed to be our "Parade Marshall" in the four double-sided pages of paperwork we had to fill out to be in the parade. Steve coughed up the $35 fee to be a "commercial/auto" entry, borrowed a hay wagon and got Greg to wire the truck for sound. Then the fun really began.
This parade prep business was the most fun I'd ever had, beginning with the giant paper mache heirloom tomato.
Everyone picked their totem and created their costume. I was delighted to provide studio space for what turned out to be a rollicking good time of creating fun and beauty out of nothing.
Steve transformed himself into "King Karat," (the carrot is the 'gold standard' of the organic farmer, Steve tells us often) Olivia (the inspired cook of the Farmer and the Cook) felt called by the spirit of Breakfast Radish. We had butterflies galore, including the Momma Butterfly, Nora, and Strawberry Jon, her consort. Several peppers, farmers, a flower and Bridget of Broccoli fame. We had signs and music, a re-write of "Woodstock" by our own band, Tofu Fighters. We regaled the delighted spectators  from speakers mounted on a hay wagon pulled by the farm truck driven by Michael, John's brother and his wife, Cindy (smiling in the truck cab picture). I made a lettuce hat, homage to the sparkly, leafy stuff, which though in abundance at the time, is far from my favorite vegetable. I wore an apron, my nod to balance, I like to embrace both farming and cooking, after all.
This week I am preparing for an upcoming gig teaching a class called "Earth, Art and Therapy" when I re-read this in my notes: "One of my earliest memories was sitting in my backyard while my mom gardened, looking at the lettuce growing along the fence and wondering why it was all floppy and not  in a tight round ball like the stuff from the grocery store. As a three year old, I imagined someone at the store rolled it into a ball and wrapped it in cellophane." Who knew about varieties?
Over the past few years my mother's spirit has been urging me to remember her as a gardener and lover of all things growing instead of as a sick person suffering from cancer. The image of her gaunt and pale with a scarf tied over her chemo ravaged head has had a lot of staying power in me. It is equally true, though, that she grew flowers and vegetables all summer long and had pots full of cactus and rubber plants indoors. She has been telling me for many years to focus on the beauty, the pleasure and the fun of life, not to avoid the pain, just notice it, hear what it has to say,  then make the course correction it is inevitably suggesting and focus on the light and the love that always flows once the needed change is made. Her illness was just one detail of who she was, not the most significant one. Everyone, but especially the women, who incarnate and suffer with such illnesses are bringing us a message of the need for a change. Let's listen up more closely so we can get that flow of love and joy that's right behind the change.
So here's what she's saying today: She and most women were gardening in the 1950's when I grew up. Sure, they also dabbled in T.V. dinners and other food fads that eroded our health and our families, everybody was curious about something new. But in the big picture, the gap from then to now is a short one. It's a very short time in which to make the course correction back to local, fresh and now consciously organic food. Celebrate that! People didn't always eat junk food, it's a blip on the evolutionary screen and we are correcting it all around the world. When we represent for what we love, it touches the love inside of others and activates it. Works way better than scare tactics to create change.
I credit my son-in-law Jeff with a quote that really woke me up: "If you want to save the world, throw a better party!" And by better, I mean fun, fresh, local and pretty darn silly. Oh, and did I mention our float won first prize in our category? We're already planning an even better party for next year and everybody is invited. Our complete photo albums from the parade are online. Thanks, Mom!