Agents of change
LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN
ALANDA GREENE explores the topic of perception. Her experience of picking raspberries in the garden becomes the catalyst for understanding the importance of looking at life and situations from many different angles.
I pick thoroughly and am convinced that every ripe raspberry, with the tug of thumb and finger, has slid from its cream-colored conical core. Then I kneel, lean down and look up at the low branches to see if any remain. It is not one or two ripe berries now before me – it is dozens. Again, I pick all I see, drop them in the container hanging from a belt at my waist and move on. While plucking from the other side of the row, I look through the sundappled leaves and see an abundance of ripe berries hanging where I had just picked everything in sight. “Did these ripen in the time it took me to walk to the other side of the row?” I ask myself, knowing full well it is an impossibility, yet feeling it is the only logical explanation. Because I really checked carefully and thoroughly and there were no ready berries in sight a few minutes earlier in that very place.
A squirmy feeling lurks in the back of my mind, hidden like the raspberries have been. Eventually, as I wait, it reveals itself; it’s a reminder that changing my angle of vision can expose what has previously been entirely hidden. It’s a reminder that from a certain perspective, I see something clearly (In this case that there are no ripe raspberries). The certainty of it is reassuring. This is the way it is, the way things are. I can trust what I see, what I have experienced and what I know.
Then my perspective changes and voila! I perceive differently. Things are not what they appeared to be just moments earlier. My reassurance in the certainty of what I know evaporates.
Eventually, as I wait, it reveals itself; it’s a reminder
that changing my angle of vision can expose
what has previously been entirely hidden.
It’s a reminder that from a certain perspective,
I see something clearly.
I am reminded of a situation several years ago when I was teaching at the local school. Close to the school is a small church and the current pastor was perceived to be a difficult man by many of us. He complained regularly about the teaching at the school – both what was taught and how. He complained about teachers who did Yoga and therefore didn’t belong in a public school system, because they were engaging in what he called the devil’s work. What particularly vexed me was his regular shooting of the local, wild coyotes wherever he found them, whether they loped across a meadow or walked over a frozen lake. It was this behavior that aroused my considerable antipathy towards him, but it bothered me to feel it with the intensity I did.
Then a friend told me a story about this man’s life, about something that happened when he was five years old. My perception changed dramatically. I still felt revulsion for what to me were his unnecessary and cruel actions, but my dislike for him personally changed. The adage of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ comes to mind, though at that time I confess I did not feel love for this man. My appreciation and love for the local coyotes had me feeling disgust for what he was doing. Still, because I learned about his life, I was able to feel compassion for the young boy he had been and what had happened to him. Such trauma at a young age would considerably impact any person’s life. It was a step forward. It happened because something changed my perspective.
The Dalai Lama is credited with saying, “Every change of mind begins with a change of heart.” I see that a change of heart happens, or can happen, when I am willing to adjust my stance, the way I think it all is and should be. Raspberries that reveal themselves where I was convinced they couldn’t possibly be, because I had checked so carefully, is the metaphoric version of a change of heart – a change of vision. My antipathy towards the man who was senselessly killing coyotes was softened because my heart was touched. Like the raspberries that teach me each year, there is a continual unfolding of learning and expansion. The certainty of my views on everything from finding all the ripe berries to what it means to be spiritual continues to be adjusted.
When Swami Radha studied in India with her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, he instructed her to find the hidden meaning in the Yogasanas.
Being young, my experience was also young.
My ideas and concepts needed to be updated,
to expand and adjust in order to understand in new ways.
My resistance and determination to cling
to what I thought I knew created a barrier
that took considerable force to remove.
She asked for further explanation and he guided her to begin by exploring the headstand to find out what happens when your world is turned upside down. With this beginning she delved into meanings hidden in the poses. From the headstand, she learned that voluntarily turning cherished concepts and beliefs on their head was a path to independence. Choosing to explore the challenges and criticisms that come from both the external and internal world prepares the mind for meeting them with equanimity in situations not voluntarily chosen. Cherished ideas can have another perspective; we can expand the beliefs and concepts that hold us bound.
Seeing from different angles is the antidote to right/wrong polarized thinking, to fundamentalism in its many forms. When I was young, I had so many ideas about spirituality, concepts about what it meant to lead a spiritual life, what it looked like, what the yogic teachings meant. Being young, my experience was also young. My ideas and concepts needed to be updated, to expand and adjust in order to understand in new ways. My resistance and determination to cling to what I thought I knew created a barrier that took considerable force to remove. Fortunately, my teachers weren’t interested in my concepts about a spiritual life. They were interested, in the spirit of true friendship, in guiding me to discover, embody and live a genuine spiritual life.
The 15th century mystic poet Kabir wrote,
“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty …
looking everywhere for water.” It reminds me too that
the Divine, Creator, God, Light is everywhere in everything.
This process didn’t (and still doesn’t) always feel comfortable. It is easier, however, when I willingly explore different perspectives and possibilities rather than having the events of life force them upon me. The fact that raspberries are often found when I get down on my knees to investigate has not been lost on me. Humility is a quality that softens the edges of my concepts, that allows understanding to be absorbed more easily. Surprise at discovering what I hadn’t previously seen or understood continues to occur, which in itself is surprising, since I keep thinking that by now this lesson surely must have been learned. But this kind of learning isn’t like memorizing a list of facts or names or numbers. Rather than thinking I’ve finally landed at the definitive view, I’m learning to be pleased to find a concept adjusted by a different perspective. The ultimate definitive view isn’t defined at all. It belongs to a complete sphere of perception.
From many seasons of picking, finding berries at places not easily seen, I notice also I’ve begun to search in the hard-to-see places, underneath a cluster of leaves or behind a group of stalks. At times, I have resorted to crawling along the row on hands and knees, slithering under branches to look up. Then I find I’ve overlooked the berries right in front of me, easily accessible.
It reminds me that what I am seeking might be right before me. The Quran records that Allah is “closer to you than your jugular vein,” while the 15th century mystic poet Kabir wrote, “I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty … looking everywhere for water.” It reminds me too that the Divine, Creator, God, Light is everywhere in everything. The raspberries seem to hide, but it is my awareness that is the culprit, my preconceptions and expectations. It could be said I’m hiding from them.
In a Yoga class of many years ago, we were asked to reflect on times and situations where the presence of the Divine had been working in our lives. I found it impossible to name a particular incident over another, because I could see that there could be no time or place in my life where the Divine had not been present. If I said the Divine was present in one moment, it suggested not present in another. However, where I recognized in the moment the presence of the Divine was something different. For although I understand, in a deep and palpable way, the permeation of the Divine in everything, I often forget and act like I don’t know this. From a song the words “At times you seem to hide from me; perhaps I hide from you” capture the insight. And raspberries continue to remind me, as the process of forget/remember continues. Hidden and revealed, they wait to be recognized, to be perceived.
Article by ALANDA GREENE