LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN
ALANDA GREENE witnesses a lot while working in her garden. This time it’s the ripening of blackberries that provide the lesson on patience and acceptance of the processes of Nature.
The blackberries are abundant this year and they’re ripe for picking. At least they appear to be. They challenge me more than any other berry in the garden, for where black and red currants, gooseberries, blueberries and raspberries reveal their ripeness with color, blackberries don’t. They are masterful at appearing ripe when they aren’t, their glossy black nubs fooling me over and over. My sense of sight is deceived and I must rely on touch – giving the berry a light tug such that if it comes free into my hand, it’s a yes, and if it doesn’t, it’s not ready.
Using my sense of sight with other berries, I can reach between stems and branches to pick ones that don’t deceive; I’m not disappointed. With a blackberry, I find too often that my effort to get to it has been for naught. My slight tug meets resistance.
I notice my impulse to pull it from the stem anyway, to give just a bit more force to my tug so it will release, even though I know it won’t be sweet and the taste will be undeveloped. But sometimes I’ve reached between a lot of branches for just that berry. I don’t want to have to come back to the same one tomorrow or maybe again the day after that. Over and over I keep finding berries that are not quite ready.
But I find impatience too, wanting what isn’t ready to be so, because I don’t want to have to do it again. The willingness to accept a situation that is given, not trying to force my will on the way things are: I value this, I aspire to this. At least I tell myself I do. But in just a simple task like picking blackberries, I meet displeasure with a thin coating of irritation to go along with it, because it’s not the way I want it to be.
“It is out of the dailiness of life that one is driven
into the deepest recesses of the self.”
But going into the deep recesses requires
a willingness to go there, to value it.
For certainly we live in a world that offers
a banquet of distractions from the exploration of inner learning.
I could pretend otherwise. No one but the blackberries and I would know. But these are the situations where what I believe about myself and what is revealed through my actions meet. If they don’t match, there’s something off. My actions tell the truth. Wasn’t it Goethe who said, “To know and not to do is not to know at all”? If I’m acting one way and telling myself I value something that doesn’t match, well, I guess that’s hypocrisy.
It’s good to look at it, good to name it. Not to indulge in self-condemnation about being a loser. But also not to ignore what blackberry-picking is teaching me. In this quiet context of garden work, I have the opportunity to catch thought patterns and habitual responses that I don’t notice in the busyness of daily life. Blackberries aren’t pointing any fingers of blame, but they are giving me an opportunity to learn.
Catching a pattern here in the garden allows me to recognize it when the same one turns up in more emotionally charged or busy situations. When I find myself irritated at the slowness of the driver ahead of me, or at the woman in the checkout line having a leisurely conversation about her kid’s preschool when I have a ferry to catch and am about to miss it. If I’ve already looked at my behavior in the gentle atmosphere of berries, I can more easily remember: “Hey, I know better choices of what to do with my thoughts. I know how to use my attention when waiting in line.”
The poet Stanley Kunitz once said, “It is out of the dailiness of life that one is driven into the deepest recesses of the self.” But going into the deep recesses requires a willingness to go there, to value it. For certainly we live in a world that offers a banquet of distractions from the exploration of inner learning.
The question “Why would you want to do this kind of self-reflection?” brings a flurry of voices internalized through the years from who knows where. “Yes, why spend your energy looking at your thoughts like this, questioning your motives, your actions? I mean it’s depressing. The more you look, the worse you get. Just get on with your life and do your best and don’t get pulled into this endless navel-gazing.”
Hearing these voices reveals the point. If I don’t do this work, don’t determine which voice, which desire, which concept or which attitude is pulling the strings of my choices, then I’m acting out those voices unconsciously, being pulled in a marionette kind of life. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” is often attributed to Socrates. For him, understanding motives and making choices based on conscious thought made life worthwhile. I can find these deeper learnings in the quiet of berry-picking.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” is often attributed to Socrates.
For him, understanding motives and making choices
based on conscious thought made life worthwhile.
I can find these deeper learnings in the quiet of berrypicking.
In Kundalini Yoga for the West: A Foundation for Character Building, Courage and Awareness, Swami Radha questions the aspirant: “What is the purpose of your life? What makes your life worth living?” These questions felt too huge right at the start, when I first met them as a much younger woman. But really, this examination is foundational for building a life of awareness, of meaning. It’s essential to examine deeply. Blackberries too encourage awareness, if I choose to observe and listen.
After all, what is this wanting to pick them before they’re ripe? Do I know better than the plant? Tugging at them, trying to force them when it’s not their time. Can I surrender to what is, without trying to force my will upon the conditions? I am being shown where I do not accept what is, but rather how I want it, the way I want it. I have all the right reasons. I’m a busy woman, lots to get done, value efficiency. But justification with words to make the world what I want it to be is a misuse of speech. Arranging my words to justify my actions and thoughts, to tell myself this approach is just fine, is an even greater misuse of speech.
So I come to the blackberries again, bucket hanging from my waist, with the intention to accept them as they are, letting go of ideas of how I want them to be. They are good teachers, like Swami Radha and Socrates, reminding me of my ideals and gently revealing how to align them with my actions.
Article by ALANDA GREENE
June 29, 2020
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