Thursday, March 22, 2012

Quickened with the Force of Love

Spring Equinox

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Happy Spring! I woke up this morning to an inch and a half of snow so it doesn't feel much like spring, but the days are getting longer and longer so it must be. In fact, the fruit trees are flowering like crazy and the wet snow last night caused a very pretty plum tree to fall across my apartment's driveway and a quite large alder fall in my dog walking park. When spring is defined as the season of growth
Waterfront Blossoms by Nick Nada
it doesn't matter what the weather is, those plum blossoms, the daffodils below them and the 7pm sunset are telling us that spring has sprung!

These last two days I have been listening to the wonderful interview Krista Tippet did with Iranian-American scholar and professor Fatemeh Keshavarz about the poetry of Rumi, the 13th century Persian sufi writer. It has been a wonderful way to celebrate the growing spring, even as I drive around in the rain and snow.
Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
            in the pomegranate flowers.

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.
From A Great Wagon
Rudolph Steiner wrote that the earth, like all sentient beings, has a soul and goes through cycles of inbreaths and outbreaths. He saw the summer as the peak of the earth's outbreath, when the soul of the planet is in communion with the cosmos. The winter, then is the peak of the earth's inbreath when the soul is completely within its own rocky body. Spring is the time of the outbreath, the release after a long winter and the time when the solid physical-ness of winter meets with the active ethereal-ness of summer. At the spring equinox these energies are balanced, the bodies of plants, animals and even people if they are in tune, move and spin in growth while still being well contained by their physicality. 

Kids Playing by YoAndMi
Rumi's poetry balances on and bridges the border between physicality and transcendent, as well. Many of is poems seem erotic, describing a beloved's body, scent or countenance. Like all the best poetry it is unclear who exactly the beloved being spoken of is, god or an earthly lover?  Keshavarz says that to Rumi these two kinds of loves, and all the other kinds of loves we experience, are places along the continuum of human experience. The goal, she says, is to purify the soul but that the rest of the human experience is not base or sinful. "Love, whether of this kind or that kind ultimately leads you to the same king," writes Rumi. We are here in a physical body so that it can help us along our path. Keshavarz quotes a famous Sufi tale in which a young man approaches a master over and over asking for teaching. The master refuses to teach the young man, asking "Have you ever fallen in love with a woman?" "No", the young man replies, "I am just 18 years old." The master answers simply, "Well, go try that first." The physical world is a tool of the soul on it's journey, a very important tool.
The world is a mountain
Whatever you say, good or bad, it will echo it back to you
Don't say I sang nicely and mountain echoed an ugly voice…
That is not possible

The human intellect is a place where hesitation and uncertainty take root
There is no way to overcome this hesitation…except by falling in love

To reach the sea and be happy with a jug water is a waste
The sea that has pearls…
And a hundred thousand other precious things.

Waterfall by rknickme
I know this, too, that our bodies and physicality are vital tools on our journeys as spiritual beings. And in the spring of the year it is time to relish in that physicality. Trees are bursting into blossom delighting our eyes, the wind carries scents in a way it hasn't in months delighting our noses and the sun shines in a way that delights our skin. Let us delight in all the other ways we can be in and of this muddy, rainy, snowy, deliciously beautiful place we call Earth. Let us be whirling dervishes like Rumi's followers - centered while moving, quickened with the force of love.

What does spring look like where you are? Flowers and sun or snow and mud? Have you ever read or heard any Rumi poems before? Which are your favorites? How do you celebrate the physicality of life? How do you stay centered while moving?

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Be sure to check out Krista Tippet's On Being for downloads of the radio interview, transcripts, recordings of the poems I quoted and more plus photos, reflections and so much more. And subscribe to On Being so we can talk about all the shows! Also, check out some other poems that I decided not to include, but are are too good to go without a mention. Rainer Maria Wilke's Widening Circles read by Joanna Macy on an older episode of On Being, and Robert Frost's A Prayer in Spring. It's almost National Poetry month, aren't you excited!

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Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox 2009: Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox 2010: Giving Thanks at the Equinox and Easter

Spring Equinox 2011: Spring Equinox (apparently I'm a creative namer of spring equinox posts...)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sap Moon

Full Fasting Moon

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I walked out of my house at 6:30 this morning and was greeted by the bright light of the rising old crescent moon. It was lovely, and a beautiful sight in the predawn hour, but it also reminded me just how late in writing this blog post I am.

This month is the Hunger Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar and the Sap Moon in Jessica Prentice's. It is the late winter moon where resources are scarce but the first joyful gift of spring - sugary sap from maple, birch and other trees - is starting to flow. Even in the harshest of climates, spring is starting to show itself. Heck, in milder climates like mine spring has sprung! I saw the first car-covered-in-fruit-tree-petals of the season yesterday and daffodils are popping up in many yards around town. We did have a freak snow storm earlier this week, but it melted into a warm, soggy rain by the end of the week.

The interlocking themes of the Sap Moon and the Fasting Moon have been fascinating me this month. One of the first connections that jumped to mind in thinking about these two moon themes is the connection between sugar consumption and poor health. It is getting clearer and clearer to both medical professionals and the general public that consuming too much sugar (and other refined carbohydrates) is really bad for your health. Dr. Joseph Mercola, the well known counter cultural medical doctor and businessman, recently wrote an article claiming sugar is the cause of everything from obesity and diabetes to high blood pressure, kidney disease and fatty liver disease.  Other researchers have evidence that sugar interferes with mineral and protein absorption, an acidic digestive tract, food allergies and distracted, hyper or anxious behavior. A classic favorite New York Times article from 2002, What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie by Gary Taubes, also puts forth the idea that it isn't fat that is making us sick and fat, but carbohydrates like sugar and white bread. Even if none of those fantastical claims are true, the uber-main stream USDA's My Plate campaign still count "reducing your kids' sweet treats" as one of their 10 tips for healthier eating (though there is almost nothing else worth commending about this plan. Ugh). The general consensus among thinking people is that the American habits of sugary foods and sugary drinks are not helping our chronic public and private health problems (check out this AWESOME infographic about sugary fruit drinks).

Mait J├╝riado
So, we can agree that we should be eating less sugar than we currently do. But sugar tastes so good. It reminds us of mother's milk, sweets we had as children and general lovely and happy feelings. They are an important part of our food rituals and traditions. As a blogger I love noted the other day, sweets make you smile. Imagine trying to have a sugar free Christmas (no cookies, or candycanes!) or birthday (no cake, ice cream or soda!). But to be skinny, cavity free and healthy it might be worth it.

We can look back into progressive tradition to find another group of people who abstained from sugar for a good reason. 19th century abolitionists in America and Britain launched strong and successful campaigns to convince people to refrain from sugar on the grounds that it was produced by slave labor. An anti sugar leaflet was published by a man named William Fox in 1791 and by the next year as many as 400,000 people claimed to be abstaining from slave grown sugar. In March of that year, a Quaker merchant from Suffolk named James Wright put out an advertisement informing his customers that he would no longer be selling sugar
 “…..Therefore being impressed (as I have said) with the Sufferings and Wrongs of that deeply injured People, and also with an Apprehension, that while I am a Dealer in that Article, which appears to be a principal Support of the Slave-Trade, I am encouraging Slavery; I take this Method of informing my Customers, that I mean to discontinue selling the Article of SUGAR, (when I have disposed of the Stock I have on hand) ‘till I can procure it through Channels less contaminated, more unconnected with Slavery, and less polluted with Human Blood…….”
Abolition Project
Those "channels less contaminated" included, for some people, the more expensive sugar produced by free laborers in India but for many it meant natural sugars like honey, sorghum and maple syrup. As early as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, abolitionists like Benjamin Rush along with some more early Quakers, were agitating for families to use maple syrup instead of slave produced West Indian sugar. Maple syrup, made by small farmers in New England and Canada, was free of these bloody associations with slavery and very patriotic. Maple syrup is still a valued food, known as an artisanal, local specialty and considered much more healthful than white sugar. A wonderful homeschooling family just did a whole unit on maple sugaring this winter and blogged about the whole, fascinating process. Go check out what they did and what they learned

Buying local sweetners instead of slave produced ones was a a matter of deep held principal for these abolitionists. They knew that all men are born of God and thus all men are entitled to the same respect, rights and love as all others. To be economically entangled with an industry that is so guilty of the disrespect of these rights and duties towards mankind was morally indefensible. Is it any more defensible today? There are still enslaved Africans producing our chocolate and many other goods are produced through the blood and sweat of economically indentured workers or grotesque and inhumane treatment of sentient beings. Still others come at the price of environmental degradation that most of us are appalled at. How can we spend our money on such dirty things?

Hadleygrass is asparagus
Then I am back to the perennial question of how do we idealistic liberals continue to live in this culture (rather than abandoning it for Utopian communes or private Edens) while still holding to our core beliefs and values? The beloved 18th century Quaker John Woolman, in his essay Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, placed his finger right on the crux of this issue: 
 "When self-love presides in our minds our opinions are biased in our own favour. In this condition, being concerned with a people so situated that they have no voice to plead their own cause, there’s danger of using ourselves to an undisturbed partiality till, by long custom, the mind becomes reconciled with it and the judgment itself infected. "
When we love ourselves more than we love God (God-in-others, God-in-nature, God-in-ourselves or any other kind of God we can think of) we find a way to justify our actions. We find a way to believe that it is all OK, we don't make a difference, it's not that big of a problem anyway. In December I addressed this very question and offered the idea of making connections with other people, other genuine, connected to God, honest to goodness people would help rebuild webs of community. Building or rebuilding the structures we want in the world are important, but the Fasting Moon this month points to the fact that we can reject that which we don't want, too. 

Sometimes, we just have to buck up and say no. It is important that people say no to slave grown sugar and chocolate, factory farmed meat, and destructive industries of all kinds. Sigh. That is just so hard, and I don't have much energy leftover right now for another hard challenge in my life. Part of Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail is knowing when to walk away from the tiger... knowing that you will return someday. 

What is your relationship with sugar? Do you watch how much you consume or do you pack in the sweets whenever possible? Are you worried about health implications or do you have other moral issues like the early abolitionists? Have you ever tapped maple trees or raised bees? How are you Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail this early spring? 

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Full Fasting Moon 2009: Full Moon in the Fasting Moon

Full Fasting Moon 2010: I didn't post a Full Fasting Moon post in 2010, but Spring is Springing is a New Fasting Moon post for that spring.

Full Fasting Moon 2011: Of Peacocks, Pride and Park Rangers