In early June my wife noticed a particularly vigorous shoot rising from an old compost pile beside our woodshed. The squash plant it eventually revealed itself to be has flourished joyfully, spreading in two directions, while the pitiful growths in one of our new raised beds refuse to be coaxed into thriving.
If life gives you lemons, you could make cleaning supplies, ant repellent, pickles, sore throat medicine, laundry whitener, stain remover, fruit preservative, copper cookware restorative, disinfectant — and if you insist, lemonade, too. The dead (cliche) comes to life when our attention lies elsewhere. Practice resurrection, and get used to it.
We hear a lot about growing where you’re planted, but what about everywhere else? The surprise that is our universe so often arrives with the unexpected, the new pattern, the shift, the change. Life does a one-off. It does what it is. (Isn’t that what you are, too — individual, unique, nothing else quite like you? The trouble comes when I or somebody else insists you should be like the rest of us. The universe never “conforms.” It’s simply itself. That’s our pattern too. We are where we come from.) We stand amazed at the burgeoning of vitality in places we doubted it could exist. If we have different plans, life may upset them. A young Christian couple I know, just married, decided they would leave conceiving a child “up to God.” A friend from their congregation remarked, with considerable glee, “They gave it to the Lord, and he gave it right back to them.” She got pregnant six weeks after the wedding.
In the mass of asphalt and concrete that is Route 91, like any superhighway, a few weeds have taken root on the meter-high divider between northbound and southbound lanes, a little way north of Hartford, Connecticut. They’re particularly visible because they happen to be growing just about at eye level as you drive by, and the highway department hasn’t yet set upon them with weedkiller. I give a silent cheer each time I pass, though I know my tax dollars support their eventual extinction. Still … Give them a few years and their roots will begin to split and break down the rigidity of man-made material into the beginnings of something more closely resembling soil. If there’s an “agenda” at work here, it isn’t always a “human” one, though humans are born into such a world, have grown and evolved within and through its shaping patterns, and have lived in it for millenia before they thought to try permanence on a scale the universe doesn’t really support.
Instead of worrying about “what the financial situation will support,” or what our many and often distinctly weird human institutions “demand,” why not ask what moves in harmony with the patterns of the universe? The main reason is we wouldn’t always like the answer. Sometimes we would. But we might find more balanced and sustainable ways of living that would approach “permanence,” which is just a weak version of natural equilibrium. Could we devise a “financial permaculture” that might not jolt us from crisis to crisis? Sure. Will we?
The Dao De Jing winks at us when it makes its observations:
Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents
confusion of the heart.
The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts
and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions
And strengthening bones.
If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever
people will not try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.
“Doing nothing” isn’t exactly what Daoism teaches; it’s more along the lines of “unforced action,” or “going with the flow”: wu-wei in Chinese. And can we expect people to succeed by weakening their ambitions? I don’t know; have we ever tried it? In all this there’s a wink and a smile, too. As if that wise voice is saying, “I don’t always mean this literally, of course, but you get the idea …” And who knows?! “Emptying hearts (in a good way) and stuffing bellies” might just pay off. Fill our stomachs, not our heads …
Or take this advice, surely perfect for our U.S. political season:
To talk little is natural.
High winds do not last all morning.
I’ll let Ursula Le Guin’s version of Chap. 27 have the final say here, a kind of diagnosis of how we’ve “gone astray,” that peculiar human thing we can do that the rest of the natural world doesn’t:
Good walkers leave no tracks.
Good talkers don’t stammer.
Good counters don’t use their fingers.
The best door is unlocked and unopened.
The best knot is not in a rope and can’t be untied.
So wise souls are good at caring for people,
never turning their back on anyone.
They’re good at looking after things,
never turning their back on anything.
There’s a light hidden here.
Good people teach people who aren’t good yet;
the less good are the makings of the good.
Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher or cherish a student
may be clever, but has gone astray.
There’s deep mystery here.
/|\ /|\ /|\
There are many free versions of the Dao De Jing online; the site from which I drew these few excerpts provides several reasonably reputable versions to sample. Sustained meditation on the text (get a couple of versions and let them talk across to each other) can ease stress and open up many doorways and paths. It’s one of my most beloved Druid written resources. Wikipedia’s entry for Tao Te Ching captures some of its qualities: “The written style is laconic … and encourages varied, even contradictory interpretations. The ideas are singular; the style poetic. The rhetorical style combines two major strategies: short, declarative statements and intentional contradictions. The first of these strategies creates memorable phrases, while the second forces us to create our own reconciliations of the supposed contradictions.” If you recall, resolution of supposed contradictions, or finding the tertiary that resolves the binary of “either-or,” is a technique and strategy of wisdom taught in several Druid paths.