Plant Communication

IMG_1004I have always been fascinated with the thought of plants communicating with each other and us. Thanks to quantum physics we have moved from a reductionist look at life to the reality of our interconnectedness with all living beings human and non human. There are three stories that have always touched me that demonstrate the communication of plants.

The first is one that happened back in the late 1990’s. It is about a young woman named Julia Butterfly Hill, who took up residence in a 1,500 year-old redwood tree for 738 days to protect it from Pacific Lumber Company. Pacific Lumber had been hired to down this entire grove of redwoods. Julia was supported by a group of activists who set up a pully system to send her food, etc., as she was able to send down waste. She affectionately named the tree Luna. Pacific Lumber Company tried all kinds of legal maneuvers to get her out of the tree. Finally out of frustration they decided to take all the trees around her and leave her and the tree. As soon as the chainsaws started, Julia said that Luna began emitting sap, not just a little, but amazing quantities pouring over her and her platform. Luna had not emitted any sap in the days of living in her shelter. Julia was convinced that Luna was crying for her partners in the grove. Was Luna crying? No one can know for sure. I choose to believe she was, as she began to witness the destruction of her family.

The second story comes out of the University of Arizona. Its science department was doing research on plant life in the desert. Again, this was the late 1990’s. What they found truly surprised them and started them on a completely new path of research. The Arizona desert is filled with wild pigs called Javalenas, or commonly known as Collard Peccary. They observed that as a Javalena was eating the berries from one shurb, the shrubs surrounding this one were being left alone by the other pigs. As they researched this phenomenon they discovered that the shrub being attacked sent out distress messages to the plants through its root system warning them of disaster. Receiving the message, the plants developed thorns preventing the pigs from eating their berries.

The last study study is the findings that trees talk to each other. Scientists have found they communicate via pheromones, hormone like compounds that are wafted on the breeze. When one tree is being attacked by insects, gypsy months, or beetles it sends out distress signals. The downward trees catch the drift, sensing those few molecules of alarm. This gives them time to manufacture defensive chemicals benefitting the entire grove.

Plant life survives through unity and communication, protecting each other from harm.  We humans do the same thing. It seems hard to believe at this time of deep divide. I

IMG_1012know that if I were stranded on the freeway a majority of those passing would stop and help. They wouldn’t ask my political allegiance. I write this post as a reminder to me, as well as others, that we do stick together in times of crisis. Our country seems so divided, flamed by hate-filled rhetoric, that it sometimes feels there is no hope. I return to the simple belief in kindness. I see it every day when I pay attention.

May we pay attention to acts of kindness we receive and give each day. This is our way of caring for each other, maintaining hope in a world that seems to have gone array. We need it more than ever at this time in history.

Transitions

IMG_1126Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. Rumi

What better time to write about transitions then when fall is slowly turning to winter. I’ve always used the seasons as a way to look at my own growth. In fall I love walking in the crisp air and seeing the vivid colors that tell me fall is in its prime. I watch the leaves let go and fall to the ground, and ask myself “What do I need to let go of.” I mourn the slow loss of my roses, dahlias, and other summer plants. I watch them die away, going dormant, preparing for the rest winter offers for renewal. I ask myself, “What is dying within me?” “What wants to be birthed?” These are questions of transition. Questions many of us ask, and often want quick answers.  I turn to Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote reminding me to be patient:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

It is often hard for me to “live the question.” I let the questions free float as I do walking meditations. I make space for the answers by slowing down and listening to what comes forth.

May you find the time to be patient and “Live the Questions” of your life.

 

Miracles

70404619_2413056612106815_8560608121511215104_n.jpgThere are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is to see everything as a miracle.     Albert Einstein

I have lived in both worlds. I now choose to see everything as a miracle. Living as though nothing is a miracle creates a darker world. I lived in a world of cynicism, distrust, anger that shaded my interactions and experiences. A wonderful definiIMG_1084tion of a cynic is “One who is a disenchanted idealist.” That was certainly me. Coming of age in the sixties I believed anything was possible. For a decade I thought we could change the world. Becoming a cynic protected me from the reality that change is slow and one step at a time.

Today I believe that everything is a miracle. I still have my moments of anger as I live in a world that is deeply divided and hate-filled. Instead of raging I feel deep sadness and know that this too shall pass. I know that my presence can make a difference through kindness, a smile, a word of encouragement. Bringing a smile to another’s face is a miracle. One step at a time is all we can do.

When I notice myself getting down, I walk outside and let nature renew me. How can I not see the miracles of a rose unfolding, or a flicker bathing itself in my bird bath? These are small everyday events and true miracles. Taking a hot shower each morning is a miracle. There are so many hands that help bring the hot water to my home. I know how blessed I am, as so many people in our world don’t have this luxury. Miracles are in front of us every day.

These are two of my favorite quotes that speak so simply to life as a miracle.  “If you are bored, you are not paying attention.” Fritz Perls, and “Stay close to anything that makes IMG_1122you feel alive.” Hafiz.

May you feel the aliveness of miracles throughout your day.

 

Be Astonished

Mary Oliver speaking at a gathering in San Francisco, told the audience, “I want to speak to the young people in the audience.” She said, “Pay Attention
Be Astonished
Tell Someone.”

These three instructions have stayed with me. Being astonished evokes a sense of awe within me as I am pulled out of myself and  feel connected to something greater. With the daily headlines shouting out climate destruction, mass shootings, and hate filled, divisive rhetoric, I find myself retreating to the beautiful seven miles of nature trails out my back gate. I am blessed to be so close to an old growth forest.

My garden is another refuge. Watching the flowers slowly opening to their amaIMG_1084zing beauty. Watching and listening to the various birds that grace my feeders brings me joy and peace. I often think of Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” where he says,  

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in this beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things

Research suggest that the sense of broader connectedness and purpose evoked by awe can help relieve negative moods and improve happiness. Evoking feelings of awe may be especially helpful when people are feeling bogged down and disconnected. Doctors are now prescribing walks in nature over medication. Abraham Heschel defines awe as a “Sense of transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine…..What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.” He further states, “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.”

My teacher and mentor Matthew Fox once said, “You must fall in love at least three times a day.” Yes!!! I practice falling in love, being astonished, with the beauty that surrounds me daily. It helps me move out of a sense of despair and into awe and wonder.

May you fall in love at least three times a day, and be astonished with the mystery of our universe.

 

 

Adapting to Rapid Change

In a world that changes overnight through technology and social media, it is hard to keep up with the changes let alone adapt so quickly. It seems a new world greets us each day with new information and new crises. How do we move through these changes? Often I find myself wanting to cocoon and binge watching Netflix. I want to zone out and not think of all that is happening around me. Probably healthy at times, but not as a regular diet.

I heard a wonderful TED talk by Natalie Fratto, Three ways to measure your adaptability and how to improve it. Although she focuses on the workplace, these three measures are easily transferred to our personal lives.  The sign below shows how the Fish and Wildlife services have adapted their signs to accommodate non-english speaking visitors to the Redwoods.

IMG_1064As you read through these three measures, ask yourself, “How do I react to change and its inevitability?”

  1.  WHAT IF—Ask yourself what if questions. Develop different scenarios for possible unexpected change. What if I am without electricity for three days?  What if I am stuck on the freeway with all lanes closed due to an accident? What if my child is sick at school and I can’t get away from work? Parents could make a game of what if’s with their children–creating all kinds of scenarios.
  2.  UNLEARN—An active unlearner seeks to challenge what he/she already knows. I continue to unlearn old beliefs and attitudes that keep me stuck in old ways of doing and seeing things. Unlearning creates a beginner’s mind-set–something we all need to return to if we are to navigate this changing world.
  3. EXPLORE—Infuse exploration in your life by being in a state of constant seeking. Let go of needing to know the answers and be willing to find new ways to experience life. As a left-hander, I am currently exploring using my right hand for many activities. I have not tried eating and writing yet, but I am brushing my teeth right-handed, watering the garden right-handed and other activities . It is difficult and frustrating and challenges my brain to be flexible.

All of these ideas help to exercise your adaptability muscle, something that is mandatory for our changing world. I hope you enjoy practicing some of the above measures.

Beauty

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All I need is beauty to keep my heart alive and all beauty needs is my attention.
Joyce Rupp

I have come to see beauty as one of my deepest spiritual practices. When I pay attention and see the beauty that surrounds me I am fully present to this amazing Universe. It took me a long time to recognize beauty as essential to my life. I was too busy working, doing, proving to stop and see what was right in front of me. Below are quotes from some of my favorite authors regarding beauty.redwoods 1unnamed.jpeg

Beauty awakens what is sleeping in our spirit. It relieves the reins of tiredness and stirs up what lays dormant in our over-emphasis on activity.   Joyce Rupp

The Earth is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the wonder of our gaze.    John O’Donohue

When we embrace beauty we come home to that part of our self that cries out for nurturance and renewal.  Joyce RuppIMG_0386.jpeg

Beauty is a central source of connection with the sacred.  Joyce RuppIMG_1075.jpeg

 

To cherish what is left of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope for survival.     Wendell Berry

 

 

I have learned after many years of activism that anger does not change anything.  It is when we love and care for something that we work toward saving it. May we teach our children and to love and nourish this beautiful home we’ve been given.

I hope some of these quotes speak to you. May you find beauty throughout each day.

My Garden as Mirror

Where flowers bloom, so does hope. Eleanor Roosevelt

My garden holds deep meaning for me, for it has evolved as I have evolved. She nurtures and heals me as I nurtIMG_1070ure and feed it. So it seems appropriate to honor my garden and share its beauty as another gift from nature.

When I moved to my home with my husband, the garden was already mature. It was filled with rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, peonies and many fruit trees. In the first fifteen years of my life in this home, the garden took care of itself. There was no time to spend doing the tasks necessary to maintain a garden. My husband and I were both workaholics who looked forwIMG_1069ard to time off so we could get away. The last thing we wanted to do with our limited time was care for a garden. What we didn’t hire to be done, didn’t get done.

The house had a large attached greenhouse, which was indicative of my lack of focus on gardening. It was a beautiful structure that was slowly falling apart with shattered and cracked glass falling through a disintegrating wooden frame. I was too busy to care for or use the greenhouse and so it languished as the garden languished. Much as my soul languished in these years.

When I divorced my husband, I began to attend to the exiled parts of me. Two years later, I began attending to the exiled parts of my garden. The first year I planted a rose garden. The next, I got into bulb gardening and began introducing daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and dahlias. Over the next few years I began to look forward to the colors spring would bring. Finally I refurbished the greenhouse with all new glass and paint. The garden sparkled. Was it the greenhouse? Was it the bulb garden that continually expanded? Or was I seeing through a different lens at the new palette I’d created? Probably some of each. The garden’s blossoming reflected the blossoming of my inner world.

When I stopped everything and embarked on a deep spiritual journey, my garden became my sanctuary. It became another metaphor for my life. Although gardens have been used as life’s metaphor for centuries, the cycles of my journey have matched the seasons of my garden. I have been nurtured and held by the life-and-death cycles of my garden. As new buds emerged, and flowers bloomed, I knew new stories were emerging within me. I watched the colorful, fragrant flowers complete their cycle and die. I honored the deaths and births within myself, knowing each death made room for the new.

 Not long after my divorce, my fruit trees died. Was it old age or lack of care? I was dying also, but did not know it at the time. My soul was shriveling. I now know I couldn’t live in the vast spiritual wasteland anymore. Similar to my apple and pear trees, I could no longer survive without some deep nurturing care for my soul. Today there are new fruit trees being nurtured by a fresh and alive soul. We have been partners and co-creators—my garden and me.

My garden returned me to my “Earth Mother” soul. I had lost her somewhere back in my twenties as I was striving for independence and success. Digging in the soil with bare hands I felt home again. I didn’t wear gloves because I wanted to feel the earth, to feel the bulbs, seeds, and starter plants I was planting. There was something so nurturing for me as I nourished and babied the new plants to maturity. I was reconnecting to myself, knowing something greater than me was guiding this journey.

Excerpt from my book: “Listening to My Life: My Journey  through  Fear to Trust”