When I ventured out into the streets yesterday morning to get some air, greet some neighbors, and get some fresh vegetables if possible, I saw that a very large branch had come off of a cherry tree a block from my house. I have lived in my house long enough to have watched the tree grow from a three-foot sapling to a tree that has swollen past the confines of its row house corner yard. The branch that broke off in the snow was four or five times the size of the sapling when it was first planted. I spent an hour walking and then made sure I went back to the tree. It was starting to bud. It was warm last month, and it’s getting lighter every day. I don’t have high confidence that the buds were far enough along to force blossoms. I thought I’d give it a try. Whether I see blossoms early or not, I can use the branches to stake young herbs in another 7-10 weeks.
A rather conservative co-worker, who was one of the people who would have to go grocery shopping last night lest the family be without perishable food for a few days, was talking to me about the impending snowstorm (including me advising him of the one forecast for next Tuesday/Wednesday). “It shows,” he said, “how easily our infrastructure and food supply can be disrupted.” I gave it a little pause, and then replied, “this is why I talk about gardening in our own yards and switching away from agribusiness to a more sustainable and self-sustaining way of living and seek to shift myself, though it is difficult.” He said, “hmmm,” letting the idea stick in his mind, but not wanting to carry the discussion further. I know him well enough to have dropped it for the time, but also know he will think about it and perhaps over the years, for his beloved daughters or out of perceived necessity, start making small shifts.
In yoga practice, the concept of suddha vidya — illuminative wisdom — is both revealed and practiced. When we start practicing or even before, we may have occasional and early insights into fundamental truths of being, but without steady practice and contemplation they will be fleeting and not shift our way of living. If we practice and study continuously, though, our insight will become steadier, more consistent, and will start to illuminate all states of our being on and off the mat. The more I practice, the more it is illuminated for me the connection of all beings and my need to live in a way that is more open, tolerant, loving, and aligned with the complex web of our interconnection. My co-worker’s insight might not have been “yoga,” but it was indeed a moment of illuminative wisdom in its recognition of a misalignment of society that tears at the fabric of our being.
I walked into the dining room yesterday and caught a hint of an exquisitely sweet fragrance. I knew the paperwhite bulb I was forcing was only in bud. What was it? I went to look and saw that there was a single blossom on the nightblooming jasmine. Inside, in winter, the single bloom emitted as much apparent fragrance as dozens outside. I have had this plant for 12-13 years, since it was in a three inch growers’ pot. The last time I repotted it was several years ago, but I faithfully bring it inside and out every winter/summer cycle, and feed and water it plentifully. In response, it keeps getting fuller and offering blooms. When it is outside, it can have dozens of blooms at once. Sometimes I harvest the buds before they open and use them to scent green tea. When I find open blossoms in the morning, I harvest them by the handful and put them on my alter or in the bedroom, where they will provide scent for a day or two. Outside in the summer, while profuse, the blooms last only a single night. Inside in winter (with an average 24-hour a day temperature of 61-62F), the blooms, though coming more occasionally and only a couple at a time, can last for three or four days.
I think the blossoms of yoga and meditation sadhana (practice) are not dissimilar to the way this plant blooms. With steady care, they will always bloom, though sometimes more than others, sometimes with a different character, and sometimes with just growing periods with no apparent blossoms. Sometimes, there will be a wild profusion of vision and offering, but those tend to be fleeting. The memory of the intoxicating perfume, though, keeps us tending the practice, knowing it will come again. During the time between the wilder experiences, the nectar still comes, and though in less dramatic ways, perhaps all the sweeter for coming in a time wh
en we are just practicing and tending and not expecting any great revelation.
My body does not respond well to cold. I’ve learned how to dress and to hold my body, so that I do not get stiff and paralyzed by the cold, but I am more easeful with heat. Still, there is a big upside to the continuing unseasonably cold winter: I won’t have aphids on my roses in February. It should also push back the mosquito season. That is a very good thing.
I am working from home today. I looked out of my window and saw a flurry of birds going from one roof to another. There were the usual starlings, but among them were five robin redbreasts. They definitely do not belong here this time of year. Instead of getting the usual song in my heart from the first sighting of the robin redbreast of spring, I am filled with concern. What are they doing here? Will they survive? How can they get worms out of the frozen ground? Have they been confused by the warming pattern over the last several years?
I know that the robins are out of place here this time of year from a combination of learning and observing over the years what is supposed to be their season in this part of the world. So too with many things that at one time a place, a practice, a relationship will serve and another will take us away from what is optimal. As with yoga practice, we learn for ourselves and what is around us, what is optimal when and where, by a combination of study and practice.
There were also a few gulls. We see those around town sometimes because of the tidal basin, but not usually here in my back alley. Is there some kind of special bird conference going on that I was privileged to witness?
By order, I mean how things are arranged in space or time. Even chaos theory presumes order in that sense. On and off the mat, there is a certain order to things that is optimal. We do not plant seeds and then till the soil. Or think of the difference between peeling and chopping vegetables and then cooking them or cooking them and then peeling and chopping them. One or the other is not necessarily wrong if you do not have a specific dish in mind, but which you choose will dictate the results. Once you have gotten started in the sequence, though, the path shifts and is partly set. To reach an exquisite rather than a disgusting result, the next steps are ordered by the initial choice.
If only one musician is playing a single note, then there is no possibility of discordance. Add more musicians and more notes and who plays what notes when can mean cacophony, a catchy tune, or an extraordinary and ecstatic work of art. None of us are alone and none of us are playing just a single note, so in the great fabric of our being, it is best to understand how to make music.
Sequencing on the mat is more subtle than what poses should be done in what order in a particular practice to emphasize backbends v. forward bends and twists to be able to do the strongest poses with the least possibility of injury, as important as that is. The order in which we apply the Anusara principles not only aligns the physical body, but brings symmetry to the physical and energetic bodies, helping us to feel more in harmony in everything we do on and off the mat. I am, in this, a decent musician and not Bach, but the more I pay attention to the optimal sequence of things (keeping in mind that over most things we have no control as to when, whether, and how they happen) and the more I learn and appreciate the exquisiteness of order, the more I feel, understand, and experience the subtleties and joys of harmony.
This morning I misted the orchids. None are blooming right now, but an orange catteleya I received as a gift several years ago is budding, as is my favorite epidendrum, which offers up a host of delicate, greenish, spidery blooms every February. It brightens my day to spend a little time tending the house plants when it is most wintry outside.
I rinsed sprouts. I have both bean sprouts and a salad mixture going. I started new batches of sprouts as soon as I returned from NYC. I was grateful for the offerings at the grocery store, but pine for at least a little something truly fresh. I’d had a little chard, parsley, and chives that made it through the snow storm. Much to my surprise, I even managed to salvage enough from the garden to include in an omelet after the ice storm the other morning, but the day-time subfreezing temperatures and icy winds have finished off the outdoor garden until March. I think I am going to get some burlap and start some micro-greens in addition to salad and bean sprouts.
As you can see from the photo, this tender arugula was not likely to make it through the night (temperatures forecast to be in the mid-20s). It is a cause for great celebration that it made it through last weekend’s snow storm, several nights below freezing, and provided a little spice to my salads for a couple of months. It lasts this long because I over plant, first eat the greens as I thin them, then pick them by the leaf rather than by the root to encourage the plants to grow more vigorously, and finally start pulling them up by the handful when the danger of hard frost calls for the inevitable demise. Tonight, I cut everything in the pot down to about a 1/2 inch. It is possible, though not likely based on the current forecast of a cooler than normal winter, that if we got a couple of warm weeks in late January or early February that it would come back.
I am celebrating what I have grown in this tiny space and the exquisite delight of eating greens from right outside my door this late into the year. I am sad that the outdoor gardening season is just about over; I will miss it. If I had more space or a firmer intention (maybe the latter will come in another year or two), I could build a cold frame or go for plastic tunnels. In my little micro-climate, that would probably get me through the winter. I rather like, though, a space of time with no obligation to the outdoor garden. A time to dream rather than work. I know what a luxury it is to be able to rest in such a way and still have bountiful food.
Jane asks in response to my pictures of the tropicals indoors, “[w]hat, if anything, do you do to avoid bringing unwanted outdoor things in with the plants?” I assume she means bugs of various kinds, though it could also mean weeds, or, quite frankly, baby rodents in my garden location. What works best for me is taking the time to properly tend the plants right before I bring them inside. I do not repot the orchids that are spiking or in bloom, but I do take ones that are struggling or ones which have only had new green growth for the year out of the pots, change or at least rearrange the potting medium, and snip off dead roots, branches, leaves, etc. I brush off the outsides of the pots. After I have done that, I give them a good watering with the hose, letting the excess water run off before bringing the plants inside. A moth or two always comes inside, a few ants, maybe a couple of flies and mosquitoes, but I think it is worth it.
The answer for me then is two-fold, as it would be with any “unwanted things” in life. I try to take appropriate, healthful efforts to purify and fortify so that the wanted things outshine the unwanted things and the unwanted are released. As that is a challenging process, I also have expanded my tolerance, by recognizing them as part of the whole, for the things I don’t want that come with those things that I do want . It’s these two practices together that have made it easier for me to appreciate and have beauty in my life.