As you may know, people did not always think of the equinoxes and solstices and seasonal markers. That is, the summer solstice was midsummer, not the beginning of summer. This makes much more sense to me so I have adopted it. As far as I’m concerned summer began back in the first week of May as many plants come into bloom and the daylight really starts to feel longer. There are some other markers for the season and this past week one has appeared: strawberries at the farmer’s market. I am, as some of you certainly know, very particular about my food. I find that strawberries are often disappointing to me. I had them in Europe as a child and they were so sweet and so flavorful. I have not found a strawberry here in the US that compares, even the ones at the farmer’s market. They are okay, and certainly better than the overgrown watery ones you find at the supermarket but not really great for eating by the handful, the juice dripping down your chin. So I usually put them in things, in smoothies or in baked goods. This weekend I plan to make one of these. It sounds just right for a summer’s day. If you are not familiar with the Smitten Kitchen blog I highly recommend browsing through it. It is a wonderful resource and lots of fun to read. Then go cook something wonderful.
I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to compare… and then despair. Terrible. I know I shouldn’t do it. I’ve got no idea what that apparently successful and happy person’s life is really like. Or what they went through to get there or where they might be going. I’m comparing their outsides to my insides. Apples and oranges. And really, so what if they are happy and successful (and younger) than I am? It has absolutely nothing to do with me or what my life is. I know this is true but I still do it. So I’m grateful to Therese Borchard of the Beyond Blue blog for something she posted the other day. I am re-posting it here. If it speaks to you, maybe makes you cry just a little, pass it on.
The Fern and the Bamboo
One day I decided to quit…I quit my job, my relationship, my spirituality…. I wanted to quit my life. I went to the woods to have one last talk with God.
“God”, I said. “Can you give me one good reason not to quit?”
His answer surprised me.
“Look around”, He said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth. Its brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.
“In the second year the fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.
“In year three there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not quit. The same in year four.
“Then in the fifth year, a tiny sprout emerged from the earth.
Compared to the fern, it was seemingly small and insignificant.
But just six months later, the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.
It had spent the five years growing roots. Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.
“Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots? I would not quit on the bamboo. I will never quit on you.
“Don’t compare yourself to others.” He said. “The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern. Yet they both make the forest beautiful.
“Your time will come”, God said to me. “You will rise high.”
“How high should I rise?” I asked.
“How high will the bamboo rise?” He asked in return.
“As high as it can?” I questioned.
“Yes.” He said, “Give me glory by rising as high as you can.”
I left the forest, realizing that God will never give up on me. And He will never give up on you.
Never regret a day in your life.
Good days give you happiness; bad days give you experiences; both are essential to life.
I may be addicted to TED. I do not consider this a bad thing. On the contrary. I go to the site and sort in various ways until I find something I haven’t heard before that sounds interesting. Invariably it is just what I need to hear at that moment. Today I listened to two talks. They occurred at two different TED events but they are related.
First is this one. And then I listened to this one. Now I feel great. It’s not that I haven’t heard these ideas before but sometimes I need to hear the same thing several times, said in different ways by different people, before it really sinks in to my mind. As for applying the information, that is often an effort of will. Repeatedly. And again. But each time I do it, it becomes just a smidgen easier than the time before. One day, it might even be completely automatic (I can’t wait for that moment. Just thinking of it makes me feel beatific.) Listening to TED talks or reading books or getting out into the park helps a lot. My advice to you, seek out the positive. Actively look for good in events and people. Fill your perception with goodness and beauty every day.
I usually talk about plants and trees here but I also love to watch birds. Last spring I receive a wonderful gift in the form of a robin’s nest in the tree right outside my window. I got to watch the parents build a nest and sit on the eggs. Once they hatched I got to watch them get fed and grow. I did not get to see them take flight though. I could not sit and watch the nest all day. This year no one has built a nest in that tree but I still get to watch birds up close thanks to the people at the Cornell Ornithology Lab. They have a number of cameras set up in nests so you can observe the birds up close as they hatch and raise their young. It is invasive, I know, and I hope the birds do not mind being observed so closely by so many. It is a great privilege to have this intimate view of life. Go and watch for a bit then see how you feel. More relaxed? Less stressed? Benevolent toward the world? This is the power of getting back in touch with nature.
I used to be really certain about a lot of things. (That sound you hear are my long time friends and family sniggering.) More recently I have discovered that certainty is just too rigid. It’s true, having the sense that you really know something can be comforting. But it also means that you are closed to a whole range of possibilities. For example, I was quite certain that my body was like a machine, an organic engine. Food in the proper amounts and combinations along with some exercise and sleep were all that I needed to keep it going. Sickness came from the outside in the form of germs or toxins or injury. Avoid those and I would be good. (The sound you hear now is many generations of healers having a good laugh.)
Through observation and personal experience it has become very apparent that this is not the whole story. There is much more to us, to our bodies, than we are taught in basic biology class. What we think, how we feel, what we choose to dwell on, how we feel about our work, how we relate to others, and so on, all affect our health and well being. Our bodies, far from being just a bunch of moving parts, are filled with intelligence. Our cells are communicating with each other all the time. And then there’s the microbes that make up more of us than us.
All of this really blurs the lines. Where does my consciousness begin and end? Or does it? Is it only my brain that is doing the thinking or are the heart and the GI tract in on it too? How does faith affect my health? Can I think myself well? So many questions that arise and there are no definitive answers. Years ago I would have found that frustrating and anxiety inducing. These days I find it comforting. There is no one answer that we have to reach. Many paths are available, I just have to start down one of them. I won’t have to stay on it as all the paths criss cross each other. I can move to another if it seems better for me at the time. Ease and lightness are my watchwords now.
Kind of an oxymoron. We introverts do not join up so easily. But it seems we are finally getting our 15 minutes. There’s a whole bunch of books out there now that focus on introverts, including Quiet by Susan Cain. She’s also got a talk on TED. It turns out there are more of us out there than we knew. My hope is that all this attention and discussion will lead to greater understanding and greater tolerance for our differences.
I don’t know about you, but I have always felt a little bad that I am not good at small talk, that I can’t start up conversations and make friends easily. I find it all soooo draining. I avoid my building’s Holiday Party like the plague and duck out of various other events as soon as I possibly can. When someone addresses me on the subway I respond in mono-syllables. Can’t they see I’m trying to read my book?
But they don’t see. It’s rather like a slightly crooked picture on the wall or a typo in a page of text. To some of us it is just glaring. We must go over there and straighten it. Then there are others who don’t even see it. Really don’t see it. I do have a hard time imagining what that is like just as I have a hard time imagining what it must be like to adore chit chat and large crowds.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some wars in the past were started by an introvert and an extrovert being inadvertently insulted by each other. Seeing things from another’s point of view is an effort and a practice but one that I think is well worth doing. If we are to create a sustainable future for ourselves we are going to have to be creative and active. We will need all the different skills that are out there. We must value ourselves and each other, value our differences as much as our commonalities. My practice is to pay attention, try to determine how someone else sees things, how that person would like to be treated. Does she want me to talk to her, inquire into her day? Or does he want me to just say a quick hello and then leave him be? I’m not trying to change who I am, to become an extrovert around other extroverts, but I am trying to honor their needs. I have confidence that if we approach others in this way it will spread. Be the change that you want to see.
The most difficult thing about this time of year is how monochromatic it can seem. The trees are still pretty much bare and the ground is still covered in brown leaves. The starkness of winter has its own beauty but now that spring has come around I am impatient for more color. Fortunately, the universe provides.
Today is Candlemas, a.k.a. Imbolc (Imbolc actually starts at sunset on February 1). In days gone by (and in the modern pagan community) this day is considered the first day of spring. And really, it makes perfect sense. The days are noticeably longer and buds are appearing on trees and peeking out of the ground. Even though it may still be cold and snowy we can feel the promise of warmer days. In some places this is the time when preparation begins for the spring planting in March. We think that nature sleeps all winter but really it just slows down, building strength for the growing season. Now it’s starting to speed up, opening up and out.
Candlemas is celebrated with fire, lit candles and bonfires, to symbolize the growing light and give warmth and courage through the last cold days. It’s also a good time to clean and clear. I like to do a really thorough spring cleaning in February, washing floors and walls, moving the furniture to clean underneath, scouring the oven and giving everything a really good airing. It’s like a whole new beginning.
I admit, I was starting to think that this winter would go by without any snow at all. I know, it’s only mid-January but we’ve had so many days in the mid to upper 40’s that it just did not seem possible. This is how my park looked yesterday:
But this morning when I woke I heard the distinctive sound of shovel on sidewalk. I sat up in bed and sure enough it was snowing, really snowing. We’ve got an estimated 4.6 inches on the ground. I’m glad to see it though I know it will not stay. It’s supposed to hit 52 degrees on Tuesday. But until then, I will enjoy winter’s most beautiful gift.