Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Garden Right Now

The thornless blackberry that Ruth gave me last year, which produced nothing but two angry shrivelled little poor excuses for fruit, has benefited from benign neglect. It’s all over the fence like a rash, and covered with luscious sturdy fat pink flowers. I’m already lusting for the berries, hoping at least some of them will ripen before I leave for the US in August.

The loganberry is more likely to yield some fruit by the end of July. The fragile simple white flowers have been opening for several weeks, and although the flowers are still coming, there is quite a quantity of hard green fruit growing day by day. The bees are at it bigtime. Today I waited until one had finished grazing the branches that overhang the path to the compost bin, rather than pushing past – I didn’t want to get stung, but more so, since finding out a bit about their ways, I have some respect for how hard they have to work nowadays to find forage, and want to be a good hostess.

I do as much of my reading and writing as possible outdoors on the bench, surrounded by the aquilegia, which are just going over, and the wineberries, who are still holding their buds tightly closed. The bees love the aquilegia, and the graze the dusty mauve bells, inches away from my face. Some of them are fascinated with the baroque curleques at the base of the petals, crawling around the outside of the flowers, while others do the inside job. Whatever they are doing, it certainly works for the aquilegia, which sow themselves everywhere with prolific abandon.

The recent rain has brought the artichokes back to life. They nearly succumbed to the winter snow; in March I dug up the slimy little heaps of rotten grey leaves that were left and moved them to better soil in a corner where they can catch the morning sun, sitting alongside the mass of crispy brown twigs that was once the thyme: two invalids in a sanitorium. Both the thyme and the artichokes are green again, not putting on much growth, but allowed, if you please, to catch their breath after a near-death experience.

The rocket is almost invisible under the self-sown marigolds, but both seem to be treating their coexistence as a friendly competition to see which can grow the most lush. I pull out a few marigolds every day, just to find the rocket, which is worthwhile doing, as it is sweet and peppery and everything rocket should be. And today I baked bread with a big handful of marigold petals in it.

What is this fascination with the garden? It’s like putting a frame around Life, or an attempt to consciously participate in this miracle that happens every moment, all around us, all by itself. Of course we are participating in it all the time, we can do nothing else, but somehow gardening turns it into a meditation on that sacrament.

Friday, April 27, 2007


It’s only in the latter half of my life, in fact only in the last decade, that the denouements of things have started appearing on the radar of my consciousness. Before now, things ended, of course, but I usually didn’t see it coming, or if I did, my instinct was often to duck for cover as things fell apart. Now I aim for graceful endings, soft landings, an appreciation and enjoyment of the slowing, the descent, the closing: the ripening of things that have come to fruition, and their eventual and inevitable decay.

Not everything does come to fruition, of course – there are still false starts and abortive attempts at flight; but I seem to have a better sense now of when to bail out, before the faltering contraption has flown too high or gone into a vicious tailspin.

But I’m thinking here, not of the things that end in disaster, but of those that live out their natural lives – including our own lives, if we are fortunate. Apart from consulting an oracle such as the I Ching, how DO we know when the Dao of a project, or a relationship, or a phase of our life, is drawing in?

This all reminds me of my old border collie, Hermine, who lived her entire life in the fast lane, chasing both cars and sheep, rounding up the family (her concept of family was generously inclusive), and noisily warning away intruders, which to her mind included anyone who walked down our road. She was twelve when my friend Jill, the veterinary acupuncturist, diagnosed heart failure. Hermine was definitely a Type A personality.

With the help of some expensive pharmaceuticals, she lived for another two years, during which time she demonstrated the art of taking one’s leave of life consciously, gracefully, and with great style. While I wouldn’t presume to claim to know what went on in her doggy mind, it was obvious to me that she was (a) completing unfinished business, and (b) making a gradual transition into the Other World. For example, two activities in which she had never indulged while in her prime – swimming and sex – were both accomplished in her last few months, the latter involving the shameless seduction of an 11-month-old terrier.

But she also became dreamy, wandering out into the garden at midnight and gazing at the stars. It sure looked to me like she was hauling in her anchor on this life, and setting her sails for a night journey. She gave no indication of being in the least perturbed by the prospect.

Part of the ability to sense closings must involve a willingness to experience them. It seems to be a natural human tendency to favour the yang over the yin. We place greater value on beginnings than on endings, which isn’t surprising. In the Chinese wu xing (five phase) system, the Wood phase equates to Spring, the beginning of the year, full of hope; its associated emotion is Anger, or perhaps more properly Assertiveness – the burst of energy it takes to overcome obstacles, including inertia. The Fire phase, which is evident in the Summer and the flourishing of things, is associated with the emotion of Joy. But the Metal phase, embodied in the Autumn, when life draws in, and those parts which are not essential to the continuation of life decay, is associated with a sense of loss, and the emotion of Sadness.

Who amongst us wouldn’t prefer the experience of Joy to that of Sadness?

But there is a difference between the kind of Sadness that nourishes our souls, and the pain of Grief.

In the wu xing model, the spiritual quality that is developed in the Metal phase is a deepening of appreciation for that which has been (and can be) lost, and an enhanced awareness of the transience – and thus the preciousness – of all life.

That awareness is one aspect of Autumn's bounty, a nourishment of the soul.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Saving the World

Garden news: I’m nearly done digging over the garden and laying paths. The two photos above show how it looked exactly a year ago -- viewed through the back door-- and how it looked as of today. Taking out the privet hedge was quite an experience.

I’m trying to get the digging done before my trip to Southeast Asia in December; when I get back the ground may well be frozen, and I’m basically a fair weather gardener.

Last week I was interviewed by a bright young woman who is doing a Photography degree. As her coursework, she is interviewing and photographing women who have chosen an alternative lifestyle – in my case, she was interested in the fact that I was involved, for fifteen years of my misspent youth, in a religious cult.

Such cults appeal to two kinds of people: those who are in it for what they can gain personally, and those who are in it to ‘save the world’. I fell into the latter category.

It takes a certain amount of strength of character to hold the tension between ‘thinking globally’ and ‘acting locally’. Those who can’t hold that tension either give up and lead cynical or small blinkered lives (thinking locally), or they get inflated ideas about saving the world (acting globally).

I believe that it is a mark of a mature spirituality to know that none of us – individually or even collectively – can ‘save’ the world, but nevertheless to keep on keeping on, staying engaged with our responsibility to humanity and all living things, including the Earth itself. Some of us express that responsibility as activists, some as artists, some as healers (of all persuasions), most as ordinary extraordinary folk doing ordinary work, more or less involved with our (biological or adopted) families, keeping the world going, doing the best we can.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Time, Space and the Dao

I’m currently doing an informal peer review of a book entitled ‘Time, Space and the Dao’, written by my friend and colleague Roisin Golding. It’s a scrupulously well-researched explication of the astronomy and calendrical systems behind the ‘Stems and Branches’ approach to acupuncture.

It also contains some fascinating facts of general interest. Did you know that…

In the northern hemisphere the waxing moon is a right crescent and the waning moon a left crescent, and in the southern hemisphere it’s the other way around. At the equator the two points of the crescent moon face upwards, whether waxing or waning.

The length of time between the autumn equinox and spring equinox (presumably in the Northern Hemisphere) is 179 days, whereas the length of time between the spring equinox and autumn equinox is 186 days. This is because the earth moves more slowly during the summer months when it is further from the Sun (aphelion approx 4th July).

Cool, huh?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sex is a health issue

Sex has been a repeating theme this past week.

Last week I witnessed a remarkable recovery in a friend who has suffered from long-term chronic illness. The change in this person’s energy is profound. What had brought about this shift? A new relationship.

Now we all know (or should know) that falling in love can be powerful medicine. But what was remarkable about this one is that she’s not in love. She likes her new lover tremendously, and is hopeful that the relationship will develop and deepen, but she’s not riding on a limerant euphoria.

She’s simply having good sex. And it has turned her whole energetic configuration around toward a far healthier pattern.

Around the same time, my son called my attention to an article on the University of Singapore students’ website. It was written by a student, Dennis Nilsson, in response to a government campaign, purportedly aimed at reducing the risk of AIDS amongst students, but which comes across as an attempt to persuade them that sex is dangerous and degrading, and that abstinence is the only way to avoid disfiguring and deadly disease. Dennis quite sensibly points out that a scare campaign does little to educate people about safe sex. You can view the article here:

I reckoned this campaign would do little more than lose the government any credibility it may have with students.

Synchronicity or what, but two days ago my favourite astrologer, Eric Francis, published a punchy – and relevant – article, which you can find on his website, entitled “No Sex till your Saturn Return!”.

He writes that the US government has been running a similar campaign on American students for 25 years, since the early days of the Reagan administration. Not only that – the states may apply to the Federal government for grants to teach abstinence! These programs teach that abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. They give no instruction on contraception or safe sex. What is astounding is that all but four of the fifty American states have taken the bait.

But wait for it – it gets worse. This week, USA Today reported that new federal guidelines encourage the federal money to be used to persuade unmarried adults up to the age of 29 that they should not engage in sexual activity.

Eric goes on to say:

We may question why it's national policy under conservative administrations to indoctrinate people into not having sex, and why hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on this while people go hungry and homeless. We may observe that the most important social policy at the moment is fear. Whether it's being freaked out about shampoo on airplanes or by the possibility of someone blowing up your local Super K-Mart because they resent our awesome way of life, fear is all the rage. But so far no commentator that I have seen has made the connection between fear as a way of life (and politics as usual), and a publicly-funded policy of sexual repression.

But someone named Wilhelm Reich did, more than half a century ago. Reich, a medical doctor and psychoanalyst, was Sigmund Freud's favorite student until the two parted ways [that's a story worth telling, but not today]. He was a practicing psychiatrist and writer through the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s. He noted that the Nazis placed sexual purism high on their list of social agendas, essentially spreading fear on the emotional level, weakening the integrity of personal relationships in the process.

In his 1942 book, The Function of the Orgasm, Reich commented on the relationship between repression and fear: "It became increasingly clear that the overburdening of the vasovegetative system with undischarged sexual energy is the fundamental mechanism of anxiety, and thus, of neurosis. Each new case amplified earlier observations." In other words, the more orgasm is suppressed, the more scared people are, and then the easier they are to manipulate with that fear.

He observed, as well, that repressed sexual energy creates the effect of a deep mystical longing in people, such as a yearning for cosmic answers to their problems, rather than taking personal responsibility and making adult decisions. This mystical longing can be harvested by those with political agendas, and was answered in the person of Hitler, who portrayed himself like the god-emperors of old. His power was fuelled by the increasing anxiety, terror, and oppression of the Nazi regime, all of which were intermingled with a climate of sexual moralism. Remember that in Nazi Germany, homosexuals and prostitutes were among the specifically targeted groups, and part of the ethnic cleansing program held that only pure Nazis could have children.

In the United States, this type of social policy is currently being effected through mingling religion and politics. The neo-conservative government in the United States is supported by a vast network of churches that essentially function as Republican clubhouses, and which push an agenda of supposedly Christian moral values. These involve foisting severe anti-gay and pro-marriage agendas on their constituents, including movements to ban gay marriage by state constitutional amendments. The only reason it does not seem outrageous is because we've grown accustomed to insanity….

Consider this. In neocon terms, you may have a serious problem even if you're just attracted to someone of the opposite sex. In 2005, something called The Institute for American Values published a report called The Future of Family Law. In part, the report concluded: "As an institution, conjugal marriage addresses the social problem that men and women are sexually attracted to each other and that, without any outside guidance or social norms, these intense attractions can cause immense personal and social damage."

When I read this, I was so gobsmacked that I emailed it to my son in Singapore – whereupon he emailed back that the Singapore government are threatening legal action over Dennis’ article, and are requiring him to post an apology and a statement of the official government position.

I find this all deeply worrying.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Big-eyed weaving of enthusiasm

Oh dear, I’m a very bad blogger. Nearly six weeks since the last entry. I seem to need some kind of external stimulus to get me going again – this time it was Joel Biroco’s kind mention of my blog in his link to my website.

It’s funny, that. I mean, one of my deeply held beliefs is that the world mirrors us back to ourselves. Often, I find myself speaking in an impassioned way to clients, and some hours (or days) later, realize that what I said applies equally to myself. A few days ago, I was doing an I Ching reading for a lovely man in New York; one of his lines was 16/3, part of which reads “Looking out for enthusiasm” – Wu’s translation is “Eyes wide in astonishment at pleasure”; LiSe Heyboer’s is “Big-eyed weaving of enthusiasm”, which is itself a delightful combination of words.

One of the meanings I attach to this line is an enthusiasm or delight that needs to be externally sourced. It should be a yang line, but it’s yin – it can’t initiate, only respond. Now there’s nothing wrong with responding to the world with delight – but so often I inhabit a space in which I need a gentle nudge to get moving. After so many years of being this way, I’ve come to accept that it’s a pretty fundamental aspect of my nature – and that my best option is to choose wisely who and what I respond to.

Anyway, just a word from the brilliant Biroco got me up off my derriere - or rather on it, in front of the computer. It’s not that I haven’t been writing – just not blogstuff.

Changing the subject entirely…For all fans of fado, Mariza is appearing at the Royal Albert Hall on 22nd November. I'll be there for sure. I first saw Mariza several years ago at WOMAD, which was her first UK appearance – then again last year at the Brighton Dome, when she received so many frenzied standing ovations she ran out of encore material, and sang ‘Summertime’.

Garden news: the Jerusalem artichokes are in bloom – small buttery sunflowers, twelve feet high. The garden is full of frogs, shining and shy, invisible until they move. One visited my clinic room last night.

I’m debating whether to dig up the salsify or leave it until Spring. My gardening bible, “The Culture of Vegetables and Flowers from Seeds and Roots” (1899) by Sutton and Sons (presumably of Sutton’s Seeds fame), gives detailed instructions about sowing them in “a deep sandy soil with a coat of manure put in the bottom of the trench…but there should be no recent manure within fifteen inches of the surface”… It goes on to say that “If carelessly grown, they become forked and fibrous, and are much wasted in the cooking.”

I regret to report that I consulted Suttons too late, and my salsify was indeed carelessly grown. It is a new (to me) garden, and for at least a hundred years has been covered in a sad stunted lawn littered with celandine. I’m gradually digging up the grass and creating vegetable/fruit/flower beds – muddy and satisfying work. The salsify is growing in the first bit that was dug up – the topsoil was only three inches deep, the rest is stony clay – and though I dug down at least a foot and filled the trench with good soil, it’s hardly sandy, and the requisite segregation of manure did not occur.

So perhaps it would be better to leave the salsify in its place until the Spring, when, according to Sutton and Sons, it will produce Chards: “These are the flowering-shoots which rise green and tender, and must be cut when not more than five or six inches long. They are dressed and served in the same way as Asparagus”.

O that we may all rise green and tender in the Spring…even if we were carelessly grown.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bouncing back

Well, I no sooner got my blog set up than I was caught between the Scylla of a long Qi-zapping illness and the Charybdis of a knotty bit of work that used up whatever Qi was left. Result: blog and several other things were neglected.

Am bouncing back now.

Here’s something I found on Denis Mair’s fabulous website, ‘Oyster Bay Journals’ – hope you don’t mind me quoting it here, Denis. I found it magically inspiring; it jumped across a gap to get me blogging again:

Here's my take on God. When we poor, mortal, limited beings reach beyond ourselves to help or connect with another, that's when we prove what we are. Spirit realizes itself best of all by jumping across gaps. It leaps across gaps of time; it leaps across gaps of space and of isolated individuality. When we show love (the kind that fosters others in their essence), our limited selves begin to tap an infinite reservoir. Each one of these acts of reaching makes a spark of light. As far as I can see, the body of God is made up of such shimmering tissues. Looking closer at these tissues, we see a multitude of those sparks going off here and there, like a star-field of fireflies. The sparks elicit each other, like cells supporting each other within that body. Right now this body is trying to heal itself because there are some places where the sparks cannot easily go off, where the physiology of love and light is being blocked by narrow, grudgeful human purposes. I don't claim to know about the mind of God, but I am interested in the workings of what I see as his body-in-this-world, as best I conceive it.

My garden, for anyone interested, is still churning out the veg. Amazing what comes out of the four square metres that are under cultivation this year, both in quantity and quality. See photo of huge knobbly yellow courgettes. They taste good, too.

More soon...