Thursday, April 29, 2010

Its poem in your pocket day

Calloo! Callay!

From the Academy of American Poets Website:

"The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends (on April 29th)."

There are links on the site to local events celebrating the day.

Like all of us I have friends who will get funny little smiles on their faces and devilish glints in their eyes at the phrase "poem in your pocket"... but I don't care.

Since I'm such an exuberant poem sharer, maybe I'll fish out my old cargo pants today.

I just received this poem in a birthday card from a dear friend. (Thanks Gayla!) So this is one of the poems in my pocket.  Its by none other than the always gorgeous Hafiz.

Come, let's scatter roses and pour wine in the glass; 
we'll shatter heaven's roof and lay a new foundation.
If sorrow raises armies to shed the blood of lovers, 
I'll join with the wine bearer so we can overthrow them. 
With a sweet string at hand, play a sweet song, my friend, 
so we can clap and sing a song and lose our heads in dancing.

What's the poem in your pocket today? It'll make my day if you share it here in the comments.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Learning to Give from the Overflow, not from the Well

There is a wise Sufi saying, 'Give from your overflow, not from your well.'  I interpret this as meaning give from a place of love, joy, and abundance, not suffering and self-deprivation.

Today in New York City its a rainy Moonday, which feels good.  Its like a snow day for gardeners.  I'm taking some time for myself after spending a large portion of the last two weeks working on a massive volunteer project.  I'm the director of a kid's community garden on the Lower East Side called the Children's Magical Garden.**

 Kids love worms. They get super excited whenever they find one.

Kids, teachers from the School for Global Leaders across the street from the garden, parents, other garden members and I have been putting in a rain garden, a small native wetlands that soaks up the water in the garden's lowest point.  When the plants have grown up some, it will not only look like a wild, beautiful place, but will also create habitat for more song birds, humming birds, bees, dragonflies, and butterflies... increasing the wildness in the city by just a little bit, and providing an amazing outdoor classroom for kids and adults alike. 

All of this warms the cockles of my heart and so I haven't minded all the hard work, even though it has involved digging three feet down into ground consisting of broken brick, brick dust, rusted metal and the like.

My hands look, to quote a literary friend, "very Pearl S. Buck" with the ground-in dirt (even after scrubbing) giving them a mottled appearance.  On the upside, I can feel my hands getting stronger and think I would do alright in an arm wrestling contest.

This community garden is one of my greatest spiritual teachers.  Sometimes its lessons have been frikkin hard. 

Its a large unpaid undertaking and has the potential to suck up all available time-- very dangerous for an entrepreneur and writer with a penchant for procrastination.  There have also been so many seemingly hostile elements to overcome such as--
  • Toxic soil. (Most NYC soil is poisoned with lead from paint and must be painstakingly amended or replaced with new, healthy compost.) 
  • Endless rubble.  (The garden was build on the foundation of a burned down building and has been sinking into that crushed foundation over the years.)
  • Ignorance.  (Very few people have any gardening experience, and therefore greatly underestimate the challenges the space provides.  They think it is simply a matter of planting flowers and watching them grow.) 
  • Personal conflict/ toxic relationships.  Toxic environments produce toxic relationships.  It has been challenging to say the least to work through personal difficulties with other gardeners.  In the end, however, it has also been deeply rewarding and transformational to all involved.  These transformed relationships have made this next, more productive phase of work/play possible after years of two steps forward, one step back.
What I have strongly come to believe is that service, to be truly effective, must involve the concept of what my Dancemeditation teacher Dunya calls dynamic reciprocity.   This means that the work actually feeds you.  The work leaves you feeling joyful, inspired, re-energized, more creative, more full of juice for your own projects.

Forget selflessness.  For most of us, its a trap.

Dynamic reciprocity goes beyond feeling good because you are "making a difference".  That attitude of self-righteousness has the potential to slide into its own flip-side, an attitude I've felt many a time... martyrdom.  "I'm spending all this time and not getting paid.  My work isn't appreciated, and yet its now somehow just 'expected' of me by the community.  The garden doesn't look beautiful yet and so people don't see all the hard work I've put in..." blah blah blah.

Then there is "Oh my gosh!  Look at me with my big ego wanting credit!  I'm not selfless enough!  This is about the earth, the children..." blah blah blah martyrdom.

I decided that this year I was going to pull self-righeousness and martyrdom out by the roots and compost them.  I've been planting joy and contentment in their place.

I've made it a point to focus on activites I adore such as mentoring a small group of local kids I've known for years who are committed to the garden and to listening/working with the earth.  I'm learning to better delegate the tasks that I dislike, such as contacting the parks department. (I actually much prefer removing rubble by hand than organizing on the phone.)

I have also reminded myself that it is because of this project that I was sponsored by the community to go to school to become a permaculture designer, something that has dramatically increased my happienss.

The past two weeks I haven't had as much time to write, but all of the additional physical activity has magically worked out all kinds of kinks in the third draft of my play and first draft of my novel.  My third eye feels very open, and I feel tremendously grounded and focused in my herbal consultations after working so intensely with the earth.  Dynamic reciprocity is happening, and its truly awesome.

For this Moonday, I would as always love it if you have art/poetry etc. to share in the comments, and am also interested in where you have found dynamic reciprocity or rooted out self-righteousness/martyrdom in your own life...

**Children's Magical Garden website still under construction.  Find lots of pictures of the garden on the facebook group, Children's Magical Garden Community and Supporters

Thanks to friend, fellow Dancemeditator, and novelist Karleen Koen who first introduced me to the phrase 'give from your overflow, not from your well'. I've been pondering it ever since.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rainbow Jelly in an Underwater Passageway (a five-year-old named this blog post)

Moonday.  Waning crescent.  Dark spring moon just before Wednesday's new moon.   A subtle time.   So many changes on the earth.

Last year in April, National Poetry Month in the US, I took the 30 poems in 30 days challenge.  I posted them on facebook-- which felt both bold and terrifying, but I knew that if I didn't post them I wouldn't write them.  Some days the poems stuck in my throat and twisted out of me, and other days they flowed.

After it was over I felt restored.  I hadn't written poetry regularly in over ten years.  I'd gotten my poetry mojo back. 

But after the month of forced poetry I disappointed myself.  I didn't keep it up the way I'd wanted to.  I punished myself for needing that outside influence, the uncritical cheering voices of friends.  Real writers don't need that.

Of course I know that's nonsense.  Any artistic or creative enterprise requires a dialogue with an inner five-year-old, and that five-year-old needs a big cheering committee sometimes, especially when she's been living inside of a small box for too long.

Now the poetry is taking over again anyway, because who can stop from writing poetry surrounded by all these blossoms?

So I'll start the 30-in-30 challenge today, just before the new moon, and continue every day through the next new moon.  Along the way I'll find ways to cheer for the five-year-old, and (with luck) keep it up this time after the 30 days are over.  Will report back on the progress.

It isn't too late to join me.  Never too late, actually.

Here is today's poem:

violet flower
stalk water-green,
translucent cells
rising in tiny spring spirals

deep purple petals
unfolding like a fan
in the hand of a flamenco dancer

inward wrist circling outward
down circling up
meeting the sun
for a half-life
of pure delight

In the comments I'd love it if you'd leave your own poem of course, and/or an answer to this question:

What or who encourages your inner five-year-old to be creative? 

Monday, April 5, 2010

On breaking unwritten rules

Happy Moonday.  Its a waning gibbous-- three weeks give or take before May's full flower moon and an excellent time for spring cleaning and the release of worn-out habits before the new moon.

I've never been one to obey a rule or code if it strikes me as nonsensical or unfair.  One that I simply can't abide is the unwritten rule that a woman should not be alone in city parks after dark.  If 'bad things' happen, well, what was she thinking?  As an intrepid city herbalist I find myself alone at night in city parks with some frequency.  I do usually bring my dogs.

Sunset.  I'm on my hands and knees on the ground in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, gathering a wild, abundant medicinal plant called cleavers, Galium aparine.   I'm determined to gather enough to make a quart of tincture (a lot) because this is the lushest, largest patch of cleavers I've ever seen, and its a plant that I need for my own healing.  I've been searching the park for  hours, and have finally found it.  But its getting late. The sun goes down.

When I make herbal medicine I thank every plant as I harvest, and I chant or sing as I go.  On this, the first almost warm spring night, I'm chanting Ya-Hadi, a Sufi chant, ya (invocation) Hadi (the Guide or Guidance).

Even though its a dark moon and I'm harvesting by thin orange lamp light, I can make out the cleavers easily by their distinctive shape like successive Doctor Seuss umbrellas on a chain and the way they cleave to my fingers, as their name implies. Their stalks are rough like cat tongues.

I've long known about cleavers' reputation for soothing swollen lymph, and have taken it for this myself, but beyond that our relationship has been somewhat superficial until now.

As I'm harvesting, I'm intently 'listening' for what the plant has to say about itself.  It gives itself up so easily.  I feel that this is an excellent herb both for physical and emotional flexibility.  (Its used to treat arthritis, as it turns out.)

I've almost gathered enough when the tall dead mugwort stalks I'm sitting under start to snap and I turn  to see a large man looming over me.  I let out the deep growling warrior's bellow my father taught me.  The man jumps back.

He is not a threat, at least not to me in this moment.

I say, 'I'm sorry I shouted, but you know, you startled me.'

He replies, 'That scream... I know you are a macho girl.  You have machisimo.

'Yes,' I reply.

'You are very lonely?' he asks.

Its important that the plants have good energy around them at all times when I'm gathering and making medicine, so after letting him know that no, I'm not lonely, not at all, I tell him what I'm doing, show him the cleavers, and explain some of their medicine.

'It give me energy?' I say it will.  'Delicious?' I tell him no.  Its bitter.  Good for the liver, like all bitter herbs.  He tries it anyway, and says nothing.

I turn away from him and continue to chant and gather.  He stands and watches me.

After about ten minutes I've gathered enough.  Earlier I had collected a small bag of silvery green spring mugwort tops for tea and wild dandelion greens for salad.  I can't find the brown paper bag in the dark.  I ask if the man will help me to look for it.   We find the bag. I thank him and say goodbye.

'Be safe!' he says.

'You too!' I reply. 

Cleavers definitely helps increase emotional flexibility.   (And next time I'll bring my dogs.  I'm happy to talk to curious onlookers, but don't want them sneaking up on me when I'm deep in a plant conversation.)

What is an 'unwritten rule' you sometimes (or often) break?

As its Moonday, I'd also love it if you would post poems or art of any kind in the comments.