Permaculture and Enlightenment

I had an “aha” moment a couple of days ago while I was reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s book One Straw Revolution.  I had read the book once before but purely as a practical guide for learning the art of permaculture.  I didn’t realize the significance of Fukuoka’s transformative experience as he discovered how nature works together as a whole.  In my current reading of this classic permaculture journey, I’m realizing Masanobu Fukuoka’s experience and discoveries of the numinous are nearly identical to those of Eckhart Tolle.

Both Masanobu and Eckhart’s experiences encompass an element of mystery and difficulty in talking about that mystery, because human words are inadequate when describing the numinous.  Both experiences uncover the truth that human intelligence is not the crowning glory of earth’s history. In fact, both have discovered the opposite is true.  Both contend that the human mind is responsible for a great deal of destruction on the planet.  Eckhart Tolle speaks about how the human mind’s compulsive, repetitive thinking drags down the human soul and collectively the human consciousness.  I know this to be true of my own compulsive, repetitive thinking and I know that when I let go of that compulsive thinking, I experience peace and deep relief from the drudgery of the human mind. Masanobu concurrently speaks of how centuries of agricultural manipulation, emerging from so-called human intelligence, have resulted in depleting the earth’s soil of deep, miraculous life.

Masanobu Fukuoka’s book, this time around is fueling my understanding of human enlightenment. As with Eckhart’s teachings about ordinary life, Fukuoka’s experience was alive in his ordinary daily practices of drawing life from the soil on his farm.  Fukuoka drew life from the soil by allowing life to do it’s thing under the soil with no human interference.

I reviewed the two accounts of Masanobu’s and Eckhart’s enlightenment experiences. Eckhart was was born in post-WWII Germany and Masanobu was born in Japan in 1913. Both experiences occurred during the morning, after a night of deep depression. Here are excerpts from their books, The Power of Now and One-Straw Revloution.

Eckhart Tolle from The Power of Now

“I was awakened by the chirping of a bird outside the window. I had never heard such a sound before. My eyes were still closed, and I saw the image of a precious diamond. Yes, if a diamond could make a sound, this is what it would be like. I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, and empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all.

“That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born into this world.”

Masanobu Fukuoka from One Straw Revolution

“As the breeze blew up from below the bluff, the morning mist suddenly disappeared. Just at that moment a night heron appeared, gave a sharp cry, and flew away into the distance. I could hear the flapping of its wings. In an instance all my doubts and the gloomy mist of my confusion, everything upon which I had ordinarily relied was swept away with the wind. I felt that I understood just one thing. Without my thinking about them, words came from my mouth: ‘In this world there is nothing at all… ‘ I felt that I understood nothing.

“I could see that all the concepts to which I had been clinging, the very notion of existence itself, were empty fabrications. My spirit became light and clear. I was dancing wildly for joy. I could hear the small birds chirping in the trees, and see the distant waves glistening in the rising sun. I felt that this was truly heaven on earth. Everything that had possessed me, all the agonies, disappeared like dreams and illusions, and something one might call ‘true nature’ stood revealed.

“I think it could safely be said that from the experience of that morning, my life changed completely.”

Today’s Gift: A Walk through the Giants

Giant Twin Sequoias

We live half an hour from a giant Sequoia forest and today we took a walk through the giants, breathing their air, drinking in their beauty. Bayard suggested we make it a walking meditation and so we did. It is easy to experience a portal into Presence walking among the sacred ancients. Nearly one year ago, the forest was cloaked in smoke from a fire that took over two thousand giant Sequoias. These ancient trees are famous for withstanding fire, but the extreme heat and circumstances caused by climate change have brought unpredecented destruction to these magnificent trees. This is the only place on the planet where they live and I am grateful to have them so close to us.

Before the settlement of the New World, native tribes were able to protect these primordial treasures and the rest of the forests and wildlife of California by conducting annual prescribed burns. Because of indigenous stewardship, the forests were not in danger of complete destruction as they are today. Fire fighters today have learned from the wisdom of native methods of land care and are following their example of annual prescribed burns. It is too little too late, but we are hoping the Sequoias will remain among us for centuries to come. It is my prayer that greater numbers of people will rally to defend the Sequoias and all of nature in our fight against climate change.

Today’s Gift: Kindred Spirits

Anne of Green Gables:  “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Kindred spirits come into our lives as rare gifts. In March of 2020, we moved here to the Sierra foothills just as the pandemic was breaking out.  We wanted to try our hand at the art of permaculture gardening and we wanted to be close to the giant Sequoias. Our new home sits on three acres and we find ourselves surrounded by turkeys, deer, bobcats, a bear,  hills and trees and a lovely seasonal creek and neighbors who live in hidden pockets behind cattle fences.

An article in our local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, reported that native people in the area are trying to change the derogatory name of our town, Squaw Valley.  Local indigenous women are clearly telling us that the word “squaw” is deeply insulting to them and since this is the case, my husband and I are working to change the name.  When native women pass the many signs in town containing the word, “squaw” they are triggered to experience chronically hurtful emotions.  In conversation with several local people, we learned that compassion and respect for Native culture is a rarity here.  Since respect and compassion are high on my priority list for choosing friendships, it was feeling like we had moved to a friendless, compassion-free town.

Then we met three people at a town potluck who became the foundation for a community of kindred spirits.  We sat at the potluck with John Johnson, his wife Mary Layman and his mother, MaryLou, who is completely delightful.  John told us over dinner, that California has a terrible history of indigenous genocide.  Here in the valley, the Yokuts people were almost entirely wiped out to make way for settlers to buy property in the area.  By 1902, 99 percent of the Yokuts, the original inhabitants of our valley had been killed to make way for settlers to newly inhabit what had been their homeland for thousands of years. 

John connected us with Roman Rain Tree, a local native man who has been working diligently on behalf of native women to change the derogatory name of Squaw Valley. He has been raising awareness of the connection between the derogatory name and the ongoing tragedy of MMIW or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, an epidemic of unresolved violence experienced by native women and men across the nation. At the first meeting we had with Roman Rain Tree, we we also met Bob McCloskey and Linda Tubach. These two people live five minutes away from us and are becoming kindred spirits of the highest degree. I will write more about these two town treasures in a future post.

Today, we are celebrating our friendship with John’s family by having brunch and lovely conversation over sweet potato quiche.

Left to right are John Johnson, his daughter, Dani, his completely delightful mother MaryLou and my husband, Bayard.

Childhood Struggle: A Portal into Presence

My daughter, Karis has been teaching me to take care of my inner child, the one who existed when I was seven to ten years old.  During this stretch of time, I experienced what I am coming to realize was racism, although I want to be careful not to identify myself to myself as a victim of racism.  I just want to treat the knowledge as a tool to access the emotions of what Karis calls “little Junie,”  the child with whom I need to have healing conversations.

I grew up on an island off the coast of Maine, which was connected by a causeway to the mainland. The connecting causeway is inhabited by the Passmaquoddy people, who lived there for hundreds (actually thousands) of years before white people settled there. While I was experiencing a severe feeling of not belonging in my elementary school classrooms, the Passamaquoddy people were living with racism, which resulted in murder and extreme emotional injury. I will write about this in a separate post.

We moved to the island of Eastport just after I had turned seven years old.  During my first year I spent all of my recess time with two sisters who taught me how to ride my bike and provided friendship until they had to move away.  In the months before moving they were not allowed to play with me because their grandmother did not like Japanese people.  After they moved, it took four years for me to find other classmates who wanted to spend time with the odd-looking Asian kid, who had not grown up with everyone else on the island.

Today I see this season of my life as a great gift.  The loneliness I felt turned at times, into peaceful solitude, and helped me to not build an egoic self.  I certainly had an ego, like everyone else.  It just wasn’t stroked and developed.  By the time I got to college, I was hurting pretty badly from a sense of not belonging, but the pain produced the foundation for my understanding of what is considered zen emptiness, or the “fullness of life” Jesus talks about, which results from death of the Self.

Dolma Treasure

I woke up this morning feeling a trace of sadness over a family relationship.  Loss, according to Eckhart Tolle deepens our sense of Presence.  Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  I’m still learning what death to self means.  It is a mystery and a beautiful paradox.  I observed the feeling of sadness and walked across the floor with it into the kitchen.  The sadness dissipated and I began casting the soul’s images into the day.  I decided to harvest leaves from the vineyard and create dolma to add to todays meals.

Grape Leaves from our small vineyard
Grape leaves with fresh parsley, mint and basil from the garden
I blanched the leaves in boiling salt water for five to ten seconds then placed them immediately into ice water.

Ingredients

40 – 50 fresh grape leaves

1 1/2 cups of dry rice

12 oz ground meat (I used ground turkey)

1 yellow onion

1 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp cumin,

1/2 cup each fresh parsley, mint and dill (I don’t have dill in my garden, so I substituted basil.)

4 cups chicken broth

1 or 2 tomatoes sliced to put under the dolma while it cooks

Juice of 2 lemons

Since I was cooking for two, I cut the ingredients in half. After blanching the grape leaves, I filled several leaves with the meat, dry rice and herb mixture and cooked over medium heat, first for 30 minutes. Then, after pouring the juice of one lemon over the wraps I cooked them another 30 minutes. This is my first attempt at filling grape leaves to make dolma. I had a little too much meat filling left and wrapped up a couple of kale leaves just for fun. I used August leaves even though the best leaves for dolma are picked toward the end of spring and beginning of summer.

The taste verdict? I think next year I’ll harvest the leaves earlier. They were a little too leathery for me but Bayard polished off the entire bowl and said they were delicious. 🙂

Gift from the Depth: Peace Portal

““Emotions are the energy of the body responding to the activity of the mind.”  –  Eckhart Tolle

If this is true, and it sounds true, then the emotional tumult we put ourselves through is simply the response of our bodies to the activities of our minds. The Zen directive to stop thinking is our doorway to calming the daily emotions that regularly overwhelm us.  The first time I read this idea that we can “stop thinking” it made perfect sense to me. I read the idea in Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, and it rang true.  I had just come from a tumultuous experience which involved family members allowing deeply entrenched thoughts to muddy their experience of life.  In fact, I had grown up with a front row seat to bad thinking and I was ready to leave the show. I am aware that the “muddiness” of my growing-up family’s thinking was normal; that every family experiences this and every person is capable of awakening out of muddy thinking.  After considering the possibility that we can function without allowing our compulsive minds to “run the show” I began what has become a four-year experiment with the idea and it has changed my life.

The result of the experiment has been longer stretches of peaceful existence in the present Now and, quite honestly, bliss. I am well acquainted with states of bliss although admittedly I do fall back into periods of unrest.  The difference is that I can observe my periods of unrest and identify the source of the tumultuous emotions.  I am learning how to locate the sources and take “good care” of the emotions without condemning myself or others.  Once the emotions run their course, I’m learning to enter portals into the Present and continue in peace. 

Today’s Present: Ebullience

It helps to have a daily routine.

As I learn the truth, that the human mind is not the marvel of the universe that humans consider it to be, it is refreshing to tap into the universe’s other human resources, like love and laughter and kindness and compassion.  And tingly feet.  I’ve been learning that our bodies contain life.  We should be paying attention to the sensations in our body that both reflect our emotions, but also flow with life-giving ebullience.

Today’s gift is ebullience, which is defined: “The quality of being cheerful and energetic; full of exuberance.”  My days, when I park myself in Presence, contain the gift of ebullience.  It’s not something I necessarily reach by DOING  something or READING anything, although creating activities can certainly be accompanied by ebullience.  Meister Eckhart has said, “When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.”

And so, it is good to create daily routines.  To cast images of things to be accomplished, like creamy cauliflower alfredo and strong kale plants, and clean surfaces and walking into those images through the naked NOW.  The zen practice of “chopping wood, carrying water” carries in it a lilting beauty; the image of satisfying work and ebullience to accompany the work.  This is true meditation.

Today’s Gift: Sunflowers of Happiness

My daughter, Karis is visiting today and we are planning a writer’s retreat in a Sequoia forest. When she gets here, we’ll eat chicken teriyaki and assemble sushi bento boxes. Tomorrow, we’ll sit with notebooks and pens under the giant Sequoias and write and eat sushi and leftover chicken. I like to buy sunflowers for her visits because she calls them “Sunflowers of Happiness.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s not tomorrow yet. It’s today and it’s the present moment. I’m sitting here for the PRESENT.

Karis is our sunflower of happiness.