Wednesday, April 25, 2012

(Excerpt from Mad Farmer in the City)
As  my first blow against it, I would not stay.
As my second, I learned to live without it.
As my third, I went back one day and saw
that my departure had left a little hole
where some of its strength was flowing out,
and I heard the earth singing beneath the street.
Singing quietly myself, I followed the song
among traffic.  Everywhere I went, singing,
following the song, the stones cracked,
and I heard it stronger.  - Wendell Berry

This is part of the reason I am here spending my days gardening.  I am learning to live without the city.  As much as I can at least.  The baby pears (see right) are singing loudly.  Some days I go into town and the singing is softer but I can still hear it.  I want to be where the music echos in my ears all day long.  I want to see the cycles.  The bees carrying pollen like little puff pants from blossom to blossom, and the blossoms turning to fruit and the fruit to food. And back to compost.

Saturday was one of the most beautiful days we have had in a while and I spent the bulk of it at the beach, along with everyone else in Marin it seems.  But it didn't bother me, how can I blame anyone for wanting to be out in the sun surrounded by natural beauty so breathtaking it feels like you are in a different dimension.  It was so warm I actually swam in the ocean, which as you may know, out here in the Pacific is usually way too cold.  I even saw a seal!

I spent the morning visiting the garden with eyes of motherly love.  I spend the week working, concentrating on very specific tasks and small patches of the land.  Saturday was a time to step back and see how everything was doing.  My heart swelled with pride.  Not in the work that I have done but pride to have the honor of working with this universe of living creatures.  I am fully aware that I am only a very small part in that world.  With summer approaching the energy seems to be mounting.  You can just feel the plants preparing to flower and bloom.  The roses have buds, the orchard has been flowering and will soon turn to baby fruit, the German irises are beginning to open.  And we little gardeners continue to strive unceasingly to prepare more beds for planting.  We pulled out about 20 boxes of dahlia tubers from the Cloud Hall basement to get them ready for their rebirth.  These tubers (different than bulbs like tulips or garlic) look like a bunch of potatoes, with eyes and everything.  They get pulled out of the ground at the end of the season, packed in straw and put in the basement for the winter.  When we pull them out, little shoots are popping out of the "eyes," we pull them apart (sort of like splitting cells) and we will replant them in many many beds.

Sunday was earth day.  We had a beautiful outdoor ceremony honoring the creatures we live with and those in despair.  Jiryu gave an amazing talk reminding us what to do in the face of earth's destruction.  Rather than go into specifics he reminded us that three buddhist insights can guide our way. 1) What we do matters, 2) (maybe more important) how we do it matters, and 3) exploring and knowing who we are is essential to do right by the first two insights.  So I will "continue to continue" in the words of Sara Davis.  Doing my part the best way I know how.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What's new in the garden?

(below is pink alstroemeria, lambs ear, and blue centaurea)
What’s new in the garden you ask? Well, the tulips are done. Tulips are grown from bulbs that are technically “perennial” or will theoretically grow again next year. But this is actually quite challenging when done outside of their native region and because we have limited bed space we take them all out so we can plant new flowers. So we are prepping many beds right now for new flowers. Prepping means turning over the cover crop with digging forks (kinda like pitchforks), adding amendments (remember that crazy recipe of bone, blood, feather, alfalfa and kelp?) and planting little flower seedlings. The garden is getting ready to bloom with the next flowers. Delphinium (see it on the right in the arrangement I made!), Columbine, irises, cosmos, and more! Stay tuned!

I took my first class today as part of the apprenticeship. It was a class on soil and only scratched the surface, pun intended. I learned a lot, so much I can’t even remember much...yet. I am only beginning to really appreciate the universe that goes on underneath our feet. The balance that nature seeks to find between its plants, animals and other elements. Perennials and their longstanding relationship with funghi, annuals (new each year) and their more short term relationship with bacteria. And all of this happens in the almost artificial world of agriculture. Agriculture, where we try to mimic and control natural cycles so we can eat. The farm manager sharing her knowledge with us about farming has a deep and core appreciation of what she is doing here. So deep that to her there is no difference between eating plants and animals. It’s all life. It’s all death. It can all be abused or tended to with the love that a mother shows to her baby. And today was only the first day. Check out AJ's description of day 1!

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The practice period ended and sesshin ended. Half of the residents that were at Green Gulch when I arrived have left. Let the change continue. It never stops.

Nowhere in the world can you be and avoid change. What is nice (and challenging) about living here at Green Gulch is that there are less places to hide when you want to avoid the difficulty of change. In fact, you are encouraged to face it, look at it and work on knocking out your usual defense mechanisms. You can’t go get drunk somewhere, you can’t go eat a bunch of pizza or ice cream (unless you keep a stash in the student freezer, and if it’s desperate someone always has sweets they’ll share), you can maybe watch some TV on your computer, you can’t really go shopping (you can do some internet shopping but that is anticlimactic as the goods will arrive after the moment has passed).

I met some wonderful people and they have gone. Now the garden apprenticeship has started and it’s like getting settled in all over again. A group of about 10 young new apprentices have arrived. All excited and fresh and trying to find their way. It is strange that I am a part of that group but we are not exactly starting in the same place since I have already been here two months (it feels like freaking forever!) or even ending in the same place. I feel more like I am settling in for a while, making this my home. I also need to be careful. It would be very easy to set myself apart as someone who knows things. To come off as someone “special.” That’s not always a good thing when trying to be part of a harmonious cohesive group. A very popular sentiment in Zen is “don’t set up standards of your own.” That blending in is a good thing. That’s a tough notion to embrace when we live in a world that rewards individuality and capitalism. The downside to those things is that usually they come at the expense of or on the back of someone else. The competition for fame and personal gain just seems to divide and we'll never survive that way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

How to “Say-Sheen” Silently

“Say only what is true and useful and timely. If any one of these criteria isn’t met, then silence is the wise form of speech. This is such a simple formula and easy to recall even in moments of strong emotion, but it is very hard to execute even under the best of conditions because the grasping mind corrupts speech faster than it does action.” - Phillip Moffitt

Green Gulch is now finishing day 5 of the sesshin (pronounced say-sheen). It just keeps getting quieter. All residents are invited to participate however they can and support those sitting as best as possible. This includes noble silence, or what is often referred to as functional speech. Speaking only when absolutely necessary. For those sitting 10 periods of meditation, that is not often. For those of us working jobs, there may be a bit more. But not much. With strong apprehension, I thought, “who will I talk to? how will we connect? what will we all do with ourselves?!!”

I bumped right into this form like hitting my head on a low door frame. In other words, surprised! I was amazed at how much emotion came up in response to this anticipation of silence I didn’t sign up for. It calls to that desire I often have to do the bare minimum. Like, “hey I am not in the sesshin, why do I have to follow these uncomfortable rules?” It also called strongly to my social fears. As one friend put it today, “without talking to others, how will I know I am ok?” I am reminded constantly how I depend on others for so much. For things I don’t think I already possess.

As the days passed I found myself snuggling into the silence like a warm blanket. It is so safe when you are silent. You have so much less opportunity to hurt people or yourself. Of course you can’t be silent all the time but it is an amazing practice to notice sound. As the tenzo (head of kitchen) said, use sound as a teaching tool. When you make sound and you notice it, you may realize that you are distracted and doing something without care.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What the heck is "sesshin"?

So this week, starting last Sunday, a 7-day sesshin is taking place at Green Gulch. It is the equivalent maybe, to going through the washing machine and being hung out to dry or Wikipedia says it translates to "touching the heart-mind." I really like that idea. Not only does it link the heart and mind close together but it implies that we have it and can connect with it and that it is important to try and see it. The general schedule is waking at the usual 4:30am time for zazen at 5am. Then those participating will sit about 10 periods of meditation between 5am and 9pm. There will be some rest times, 3 meals served oryoki-style in the zendo, a dharma talk given by the leader of the sesshin. Everyone is in silence for those 7 days, doesn't make eye contact, does not read or write, or even exercise. All with the intention of fostering self-examination and going inward and that to go inward one must quiet. And they do this every day for 7 days. Intense!

Now I am in a unique position because I am not "participating" in the sesshin. At some monasteries, like Tassajara, everyone who is there participates. I am not totally sure why they don't do that here but it is what it is. The challenge has been deciding what I want my week to look like. Because I am not in the sesshin I don't have to follow the same rules. Mostly I have to work in silence and not disturb the participants or do things in front of them they are not allowed to do (read, talk, eat a big bowl of ice cream, etc) so what I do otherwise is up to me. It's easier to be told what to do. So for this week it is all hands on deck in the kitchen so instead of being outside in the garden I am cooking for 50 people with a small crew of maybe 8 people. It is exhausting, in a different way than gardening. I have found that it actually feels like I am participating. My work feels a lot like zazen at times. Physically demanding, often due to staying in one position for a long time, no talking, trying to focus (today I cut my finger, yesterday I burned another) and paying attention to the same thoughts that come up all over my heart-mind. The kitchen crew eats together in silence. We attend the dharma talk. We feed the community and try to be encouraging in our presence.