Monday, May 2, 2016

It takes a garden

Happy belated May Day…although I still wake up every morning wondering, What season will it be today?  A lot of folks have asked if I’ve been doing much gardening this spring, and I reply that I spent a lot of hours in my yard last fall, so when warmer weather arrives (whenever that will be), all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the new growth.  Sure, I’ve cut my grass a couple of times and pulled dandelions out of the turf, but for the most part, it’s been wonderful to sit on the back porch or stroll through the north forty (a.k.a. my teeny tiny backyard), watching the perennials do their thing.
I’ve been gardening for the better part of twenty-five years, but to be honest, I’ve loved puttering around in flower beds since I was a kid.  My mom had a green thumb and while it took some time before I developed mine, I was no stranger to weeding, watering, and harvesting blossoms to bring into the house.  Once I bought my own home, it was hit or miss for a few years.  Then, once I started practicing yoga and began to innately experience the rhythm of the seasons, something primordial took over.
Last night I said to a friend, “The front yard is pretty eclectic, colorful, and lush, but it still has some structure because I want it to look well-manicured.  But the backyard…well, that I let grow a little wild.”
Joyce laughed.
“I suppose my gardens reflect who I am in more ways than one,” I continued.  “What I show to the world is pretty well put together, but what’s behind closed doors is still….”
“In process?”
“Yep,” I laughed.  “But in many ways I love that part just as much.” 

Even though I truly miss all of the friends I made Big Sur, I miss the work as well.  Imagine starting the day at sunrise, opening up the screen door of a little hut that sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean, feeling the ocean breeze on your face, breathing in the cool, salty sea air, and walking through a field of ruby, red strawberries all the while knowing you’re going to spend the entire day outside playing in the dirt.  Even though much of it was labor intensive and the garden crew was consistently changing hands as work scholars came and went, I loved it all:  the planting and harvesting, taking care of seedlings in the greenhouse, nurturing our passel of ornery chickens, and teaching new arrivals the joy of being immersed in a “slow food” environment. 
Now the only chicks who skitter around my yard are the kids who come over for yoga classes, but I still practice much of what I learned living on the edge of the earth in California. Before I moved to Big Sur, I had a string of accidents in which I fell down the stairs, fell out of a headstand onto a concrete floor (twice), tripped over a threshold, and tumbled into a ravine where I landed on a rock that was way bigger than a breadbasket.  The irony of being a yoga instructor and being way off balance is not lost on me, but I teach what I need to learn over and over again.  So it’s no surprise that after spending nearly a year tending the earth, I returned to Toledo much more grounded and stable.  Now I no longer trip and fall.  I can lift heavy weights at the gym with steadiness, if not yet with grace.   And I’m able to teach a wide variety of balancing poses and find some modicum of success in every class. 
Not that I push it anymore, for I’ve discovered over the years that our bodies are just like a garden.  Sometimes it takes a while for a seed to sprout, for a plant to mature, for an idea or a thought to properly propagate before I can enjoy a long-awaited harvest.  I’m often reminded that stability needs to be in place before flexibility can be truly developed or appreciated.  A plant can’t grow without strong roots and our body-mind-spirit connection can’t really awaken until we have our feet firmly rooted in a place that feels healthy and supportive, be it in our homes, work environment, or in our relationships.  Sometimes it can take years for any progress to be seen, but as Marie Forleo so brilliantly states:  All progress begins with a brave decision.
In the same way a seed needs to have the courage to split itself open in order to release its full potential, so do each one of us.  In order to grow, we often have to tear open those places that have remained rigidly in place due to fear, habit, or an unwillingness to let go.  Yet, in my experience, the incredible liberation and joy that follow the uncertainly is infinitely worth the turmoil.  After all, to be brave doesn’t mean we’re not afraid.  It simply means we allow our courage to walk hand in hand with our fear and lead the way forward. 
What better way to learn the ways of overcoming obstacles than to tend a garden?

I’m always amazed at the brilliance of nature to withstand even the coldest of winters and still bring forth lilac blossoms in the springtime. Just this morning on my way to teach, I noticed the Solomon Seal blooming in the south corner of my yard.  Wanting to get a closer look, I passed by the raised bed where I’ll soon plant chard and kale and cilantro.  There, tucked in neat rows of every hue of green I could image were tiny spinach and lettuce leaves, leftovers from last year’s harvest.  Here, there, and everywhere along the fence, tiny Morning Glories are sprouting up from the cool, moist Earth.  Even though it might seem like March in Toledo these days, my garden is still growing…slowly this year, but that’s the way I like it.
For anything worth having often takes a bit more time.
During the last few months I spent in Big Sur, my advisor’s daughter would walk through the garden on her way to breakfast.  I always kept a pair of scissors nearby, so whenever I saw Logan, I could clip a flower or two for her to take on the way.  Day by day, she asked me the names of each of the blossoms, quickly learning the difference between the lavender and dahlias, poppies and day lilies, jasmine and passion flowers. 
“Garden Katie!” Logan beamed when she arrived each morning.  “What flower can you teach me today?”
Although she couldn’t have known it back then, when I clipped each blossom, a memory often came back to me, something that each flower stirred up inside:  the regret I had felt when I planted the sunflowers the previous spring, the contentment I experienced while weeding the sedum, the overwhelming sorrow that came from tending the basil, the incomparable love I felt while pruning the rose bushes.  For Logan, the garden was a source of unique treasures to be discovered.  For me it was a channel through which I discovered the hidden treasures within myself that were revealed through tending a place that was both my sanctuary and my salvation. 
On the morning I left Esalen, I had breakfast with Logan and her parents.  The day previous I had arranged little bouquets of flowers in mugs and set them on the tables in the lodge.  Logan eagerly sat up in her chair and started pointing at each of them saying, “That’s a lily…that’s a eucalyptus…that’s a little lavender.”
“You know every single one,” I smiled.  “How about that?”

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe that’s true for it takes all kinds of people with different talents and abilities to nurture a little one into adulthood.  But it also takes a garden to remind us of where we came from, where we’ll return when this life is over.   We all start out as little seeds, then grow into sprouts.  Over time our lives come into full bloom.  Then, when one harvest is over, we can plant new seeds with the hope of a new one to come.
Over and over again, each one of us can become both the gardener and the growth, trusting the seasons of our lives to lead the way onward.

With adorable Logan, admiring a gorgeous Big Sur bouquet.