The impermanence of broccoli
ALANDA GREENE explores the nature of impermanence and permanence through observing the growth cycles and stages of existence of the humble broccoli.
LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN
I’m transplanting tiny broccoli seedlings, moving them from a densely planted row in a large tray to four-compartment seedling holders. They have paired heartshaped leaves, deep dusty green, with what is called ‘true’ leaves just beginning to emerge between these two. In the fourpack tray they will continue to grow until the outside temperature warms enough to set them in the garden.
No matter how many times I plant the tiny round black seeds, this small miracle excites me, to see them emerge as little knobs of green, then continue changing to the heartshaped leaf pairs, to become magnificent heads of beaded clusters that I will eat. When I miss getting the heads at their best form for cooking and freezing, they are left to metamorphose to stalks of delicate pale yellow flowers, enticing myriads of bees that hum in delight. Many of these I cut and toss over the fence for the deer that especially like these blooms. The blossoms left standing will continue to change until the tiny black bead-like seeds appear in what was the floret center. Like the bees and the deer, I delight too in this process, awed by it. I see how broccoli has so many ways of presenting itself in this world. Usually, the word conjures images of the bright green vegetable florets in a stir-fry, or crunchy nibbles on a veggie platter. Yet these small plants before me this day, with their tender heart-shaped leaves, are also broccoli. The new leaves to emerge will be broccoli. The head that swells later in summer is one more phase in a process of growth and change that is broccoli.
Broccoli stalks are strong and slow to decompose. But eventually, although they take longer to decompose than the leaves dug into the ground last autumn, they will disappear completely, chewed and digested by worms and beetles and bugs, reappearing as dirt, not recognizable at all. I ask myself whether this dirt is in fact a form of broccoli in the unseen. Although the dirt will not appear in a broccoli form, it will still provide the nutrients that allow the very small seeds to swell, grow and sprout delicate heart-shaped leaves. Without that soil, the seeds would not evolve in that process. So where indeed does broccoli end and soil begin? The swelled florets of broccoli that grace our plates and provide nutrients to our bodies are incorporated into that body. Am I broccoli in a human form? Part of the broccoli has become this body.
Observing this process, I cannot help but question how I see my own identity at any given time and that of other living things. My body, like that of broccoli, is in continual flux. My thoughts flit and move and travel, even with my best efforts to relax and bring them to stillness. My emotions are a flowing river of change. A photo on the wall of a six-year-old version of me bears a faint resemblance, if any, to the me of six decades later.
No matter how many times
I plant the tiny round black seeds,
this small miracle excites me,
to see them emerge as little knobs of green,
then continue changing to the heart-shaped leaf pairs,
to become magnificent heads
of beaded clusters that I will eat.
Who or where is the ‘real me’ in this journey from birth to death, and I ask what ‘real me’ exists? My body shares in an expanded cycle that I call growth and decay. The air I breathe contains water molecules that have cycled on the earth for millennia. What then of my mind? What of that sense of self that I carry of someone inside my body who is me, and is not the deer munching on broccoli florets at the bottom of the garden? Is this sense of identity an illusion? Is everything cycling in a ceaseless flow of change?
These questions carry a memory of teachings that speak of the illusory nature of existence. Constant change, they remind us, is the condition. Something exists in any given moment, but the form is not permanent; it is ceaselessly changing. The broccoli of yesterday’s transplant has already altered in appearance. Its nature is to grow, but its nature is just as much to decay when that phase of the cycle begins. And so it is with me.
Yet I know there is a consciousness that stays consistent in me, the broccoli, and other forms that guides this process of change. I also know I cannot limit that consciousness to any time or place or form. I am reminded of the ancient yogic teaching: I am not my body, I am not my mind, I am not my emotions, I am Light eternal.
In Hatha Yoga practice, I see my tendency to identify the pose as occurring at a certain point, thinking I am moving into the pose and then out of it, as if a certain position is the goal. But the whole process is a ‘pose’ and not some singular position to enter and leave and go on to attain the next one. The whole process is Yoga, aimed at bringing awareness fully to the moment. And then the next. A seamless flow. In that process of timeless ‘now’, I can sense the consciousness that does not change in the process of ceaseless change.
I understand better what many teachers have said – that all life is Yoga. I remember that I engage in a yogic practice in order to practice, so the insights will come into all that I do in all actions, in presence and awareness and in the now, in a ceaseless flow. In this way, remembrance and awareness of what endures and is not limited is strengthened.
In the garden, the petals are falling from the cherry tree, carried about the yard as if thick flakes of snow are falling. I remember experiencing this in Japan, where the popular cherry blossom viewing celebrates the moment of perfectly formed blossoms turning to petals dropping, acknowledging and honoring the flow of change in everything. Life is a series of causations. The poignancy of this transitoriness touches my heart. From the blossoms come the tiniest beginnings of fruit. Swelling, turning from green to red, digested in bellies or into the earth. From the seed hidden within the fruit is the potential for another tree, for blossoms and fruit and seeds.
Just the same teaching faces me in these small broccoli plants with their heart-shaped leaves and the hidden light that guides their transformation.
Last year’s broccoli has been digested into my body. Broccoli has transformed into human. This year’s broccoli will transform to many forms. I get glimpses into the nature of impermanence and of that oneness that does not change. I continue to transplant, part of the process of ceaseless change and remembrance.
Article by ALANDA GREENE
November 01, 2017
November 01, 2017
October 02, 2017