Saturday, May 31, 2008

Weed Me, Seymour

I have a love/hate thing for gardening. My Dad was a very disciplined green-thumb, out there in the yard every day that it wasn't raining, doing one thing or another. As a kid, I used to be upset when he didn't want me playing in the yard and ruining his lawn and flower beds. Now, I understand. I think I spend 95% of my time weeding. This is what feels wrong to me. How am I supposed to enjoy gardening when all I do is weed? I just want to plant pretty things, not pull out ugly, difficult, sweaty, dirty things. But weeding is all I ever seem to do.

I admit, when we first acquired a house (and a yard), 25 years ago, I did not know what was a weed, and what wasn't. I had to bring my poor Dad over to instruct me, and I'm sure I forgot half of what he told me. So he ended up doing all of the weeding, while I watched from the livingroom window. He hated it. But every time he came over, he'd resolve himself to go out there and do it. I swear, if it weren't for my Dad doing that every three months or so, my weeds would have been taller than my house. I was a gardening failure.

When we moved into our second house, my Dad was smart enough not to offer his services. I don't blame him, we moved to a corner lot with a whole lot more lawn and garden. The people who lived here before us had a good thing going. It was well taken care of, and well-planned. But of course, not long after we moved in, it all went to pot.

I did my best, but I was a young mother and taking care of kids and getting a good night's sleep were far more important than house cleaning or gardening. I'm sure I killed a few more things that weren't meant to die, but I did get a little better over time. In fact, there came a time where I actually started planning my garden (poorly) and created a few flower beds, putting in flowers that couldn't tolerate the area I planted them in, or neglecting to water them after they were in.

You have to water those stupid little flowers or they die.

We put in a swing set in one corner of the back yard once. The kids played on it so much that the lawn beneath it became dirt. That corner never did get back to what it once was after that. Still, I would get myself all enthused to go out there every spring and start weeding. By the time I got all around to every flower bed, it was fall and I'd long since given up. What's the point? You just have to start all over again. All I did was weed.

Last spring, my husband resolved that we had to really make a project of the back yard and try to create a space so that we would actually want to spend time in it. So we hired a lovely English couple (you have to actually live in Victoria to get that THIS IS WHAT YOU DO IN VICTORIA), to come and take a look around our yard and give us some advice.

I have to say, I've never been more embarrassed. They took one look around the massive devastation that was our back yard and you could see their expression of horror. 'Ohmigod, what do we tell them?', I'm sure they were thinking. But they did their best to look beyond our pathetic yard space and gave us a list of things to get, a design to keep in mind, and lots of other pointers. 

My husband took copious notes. We resolved ourselves to take their advice and get started. It would take at least two years, they said. I'm sure they were being generous. We tried to put things in order...this is what you do first, this is what you do last. The more we educated ourselves, the more confident we became that we could actually do this. That area that became dirt because of the swing set, was replaced with a little patio and a gazebo. We took care of the lawn for the first time, re-seeded and weeded-and-feeded. We took every dandelion out by hand. We moved numerous big rocks, replanted this and that, disassembled the pathetic, collapsing wooden compost and bought another more efficient one.  We repainted the garage, and found ways to get rid of the bugs and ants that chewed the heck out of everything. We edged the lawn, we found plants and trees that would work in different areas, we created more shape, more colour.

Today, I actually finished weeding the back yard. It's the last day of May. In the late afternoon, I took a glass of wine with me and wandered out there and realized that we've actually accomplished in one year what we thought would take two. It's a work in progress, of course. No putting in plants and flowers and letting them take care of themselves! No letting it go to pot again. Then I walked around to the front yard.

Oh, sh*t, we have a front yard too. Sigh.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Man Created God - An Essay Of Sorts

[This blog entry may be offensive to any of you who are Christian or Muslim, or believers in a God in one form or another. I don't mean it to be so, of course. For me it's simply an exploration of my own spiritual journey. So readers beware :-)]

When human beings roamed the earth millions of years ago, they literally did not have the brain capacity to understand very much about their surroundings. Their survival instincts were the sole driving force of their short lives. Can you imagine hearing thunder for the first time and not knowing what it was or where it came from? It would be a pretty terrifying experience (it scares the heck out of me even when I DO know what it is!).

And how would a creature with such little information understand, for instance, the sun? Why is it here and where does it go at night?

Now I'm not a natural historian, but I can certainly understand how an early human with such limited knowledge might begin to think of and even to personify, all of those mighty forces around him. The Sun would be considered a very powerful being, it must have a reason for being here or going away. The Thunder would seem like a very angry sort of creature..maybe I do something to make it angry? How do I plead for the Rain to come and provide me with water when I need it? Is that even possible?

Humans then went from personifying the forces of nature, to believing that perhaps they could do something to please them (or piss them off!) as well. And out of this, kings and powerful leaders in earlier cultures made themselves middle-men between the gods and their subjects. Sacrifices and rituals were a way of exuding power over the people, and influence over the gods. We know that in some early societies, natural forces were indeed given identities and names and they were understood to be gods with great power. It does not seem so far-fetched to me to see that this is how our present-day ideas about one God grew.

It would take nothing but a leap of faith to determine that perhaps only one mighty power was in fact in charge of everything, the objects in the skies, the weather, the thunder, plants and animals, and ultimately, human beings. One force created all of this 'in the beginning' and is still there today, simply because we are.

Two million years ago, early humans had very small brains and over time, those brains grew in size, but not only in size, they also developed new "parts". The cerebral cortex is one of those newer parts. It is where we humans can, among other things, "pre-experience" something in order to decide if that's what we want to do. This is where memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness resides. It is known that teenagers have a period of very rapid growth of this area of the brain, and that in some it happens more quickly than others. Its development is associated with maturity, recognizing the consequences of our actions and being able to more carefully control our impulses.

Could it also be true that, as this part of the brain developed over hundreds of thousands of years, it was responsible for the original concept of gods and ultimately one God? At some point in our human history, we began to question where we came from, rather than only existing as impulsive, reactive and instinctually-driven creatures. Maybe the beginning of the belief in God was, in fact, a physiological event.

It was in a writing by a Buddhist monk where I first read the concept of man creating God. This, to me, was an amazing revelation. Why didn't I think of that before? Man created God, and then ultimately came to the conclusion that God had, in fact, created Man. Since then, I have explored my own ideas and theories and experiences of God, as well as those of others that I have read. I've looked back at my own personal spiritual history and development to try to better understand what brought me to the conclusions I made. And the more I think of it, the more I experience the way the world appears to work, the more I come to the same conclusion that the Buddhist monk did.

As I said, I have no intention of dispelling or undermining anyone's faith. Faith is a very personal experience and I am not trying to change anyone's idea of God, rather I'm only out to explore my own. Lately, I have been delighted to see the leaders of different religions in the world more open to spending time together and looking for the common-ness of their beliefs, and banding together to support certain human causes, rather than fighting about who is "right". This is the way it should be.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Happiness (And Being A Mother)

I have a surprising number of female friends who are not mothers. I've always thought this to be an odd thing, but maybe it's nothing more than circumstance. Being a mother is something I always knew I would be, and maybe my friends did too. But nothing seems to pre-determine how our lives turn out and, more often than not, our lives turn out to be pretty different from what we imagined. Of course, I had ideas about what being a mother would be like too; I knew how many children I wanted and what type, etc., how they would behave, what their lives would be like. And I have since learned that even when things appear to turn out the way you imagined they would, you get a few curve balls thrown at you anyway. Kids are who they are. Regardless of how blue in the face you get trying to tell them what they should do, they do what they will. If you ever want an exersize in how powerless you really are, have a couple of kids. I don't think I was the kind of kid my Dad wanted. First of all, he wanted a boy. I couldn't do much about that. Secondly, he wanted a quiet, studious kid who sat in a corner and read books. Now, I love books, but I certainly wasn't quiet and studious. I was creative, I liked having all of my friends in my yard, I liked putting on plays and having adventures. Much to my Dad's chagrin, I trampled all over his lawn and flower beds. I screamed and hollered. I wanted a guitar and dreamed of being a star. When I think about all of that, I realize that I couldn't possibly have expected my daughters to live up to my expectations either. I think I've learned that it's more important to see them for who they are rather than being disappointed in them for not being who I want them to be. Not that I'm disappointed or that I have had particularly great expectations. I never thought that I lived up to the "ideal" of mother. I'm pretty sure that has to do with the fact that I lost my mother when I was so young. I never had the chance to see her as human, to observe her imperfections and inadequacies...I was left with a very iconic image of her and I carried the notion with me that, as a mother, I should be the same. Instead I struggled through a long depression after having my first child, feeling like I wasn't good enough because I wasn't incredibly happy and satisfied after giving birth. I never had brothers or sisters while I was growing up so I didn't understand jealousies or sibling rivalry and felt I didn't handle that well either. Oddly enough, my Dad always expressed the fact that he never felt like he was a very good father, yet I think he was a wonderful example to me of a caring and giving parent. Recently I heard an aquaintance of mine say that she couldn't wait for her daughters to grow was more of a "I'm looking forward to when they get out of this young and difficult age", rather than a "I'm looking forward to who they're going to be." The fact is that every age has its struggles. I mean, we only have to look at our own lives to realize that there are good and bad times to every age. There is no "there". Which is, I think, the message that I really want to pass on to my daughters. It's about happiness. I know that when we're young, we get this idea in our heads that once we achieve this or that, we are going to be eternally happy. I hear them express that in various ways when it comes to relationships, achievements, personal goals, appearance...all of it. What I have learned through my own life is that expectation inevitably leads to disappointment. And there is no permanently achievable state of happiness. That sounds rather depressing, but really it isn't. When we cling, when we expect or look forward too much, we only create the potential for unhappiness. True happiness, it seems to me, is when we let go, and find peace and joy and acceptance of who we are and where we are right now. Goals are fleeting, ideas are fleeting, triumph and tragedy, circumstances, thoughts and feelings are fleeting. If you spend a little time just observing what goes through your mind, you realize that none of what goes on around you or inside of you is real or permanent. So if I could give a gift to my children, it would be the ability to focus in on the beauty of now. Because there will never be another now. Slow down, stop judging how the present should be, look around you and see how much you have. That is what you, my daughters, have taught me, and what I would like to return to you. And Happy Mother's Day to my mother who continues to inspire me, 36 years after we said goodbye. IJ