When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
This will be my 20th season in my garden. I know that my back garden — where I grow my herbs, flowers, and vegetables — is easily 4-5 weeks earlier than the gardens of my friends’ in Potomac and Silver Spring and the outer suburbs. It is even almost that much earlier than my front garden. I have a brilliantly sunny, south-facing, protected back garden with a brick patio that is against an unpainted brick house and a densely shaded, north-facing front garden. Not only is the back garden sheltered from the wind by the house on one side and the fence on three sides, but the bricks retain enough heat to change the temperature by a a couple of degrees. I have a special micro-climate. My climbing rosebush (pictured in the header) is already in leaf.
What does this mean? While my friends in the suburbs or those with east/west facing houses are starting seedlings for kale and spinach indoors, I can put seeds into outdoor containers in the next week or two without compunction. The seedlings I would need to start (if I don’t instead choose to purchase them from the organic farmers at the market) are peppers and tomatoes for planting in mid-April. If I start with strong 8″-12″ plants in mid to late-April (depending on the 15-day forecast), I can have and have had for at least 10 of the past 20 years, cherry tomatoes in May and peppers in early June. My greens, obviously, bolt earlier. I’ve figured out that certain varieties of chard do better in these conditions, and that spinach and lettuce do better sheltered by the fence where they get afternoon shade, so that I can have them farther into the season.
This kind of knowing by combining general book and teaching knowledge with personal observation of my little space, is much like the yoga practice of svadyaya (self-knowledge), which is the fourth niyama of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Svadyaya is literally study of the self through the scriptures. Implicit in that is the guidance of a teacher or guru. Ultimately, though, self-knowledge or awareness must be experiential. We make the effort to study and we listen to our teacher, but then we practice. We soften and open to who we (or our garden) truly are — another way of practicing and experiencing the Anusara principle of opening to grace — and then in the context of the teachings, accept who we are. As gardeners, that means accepting what zone we are in, how much shade, water, space, and sun we have. As yogins, it means accepting our strengths and our limitations. We can shift our zone by treating certain plants as indoor/outdoor or as annuals rather than perennials; we can enhance our water flow by storing it in rain barrels, but that is merely expanding the edge rather than making a complete change. We can expand the edge of our practice, but still need to accept the bodies with which we were born.