The calendar indicates today is “Palm Sunday.“ Being a religious holiday, I often wondered in my youth why it wasn’t called “Psalm Sunday” but as a gardener I’m just as happy to see green palms after a long, grey winter.
And while it’s (sadly) becoming increasingly unpopular and even dangerous to identify with any religious affiliation, I will say organized religion is not the source of my spirituality. Yes, I was baptized and confirmed a Christian, but I also practiced Buddhism in my teens, then investigated Catholicism, Judaism,Unity New ThoughtandA Course in Miraclesdoctrines. I have friends of all faiths and of no faith. I pass no judgment if someone chooses to be religious or not, or the path they have taken to their own spirituality. What I do have a problem with, though, are acts of cruelty, hate, torture or killing — evil, in the name of religion or God. So contrary and senseless to me.
Thankfully, I was not raised to believe in a condemning and punishing God but instead one as loving protector. Studying Taoism and working in nature have deepened my understanding of life and some of the religious teachings of my youth. To me, all of these sources are akin to tendrils of a plant, offering various meanings and interpretations of life, expanding with my maturity.
As a variety of flowers constitute my garden, and a variety of races and ethnicities constitute the world, I am open to a variety of religions in life. I do not believe that one religion has all the answers, or that only one particular religion has the only true God. I believe there are as many spiritual roads to God as there are in the names we choose to call Him or Her or whatever is meaningful to the particular person in that particular part of the world. Opening my mind opens my heart.
And so, today is“Psalm” Sunday for me — spiritual being synonymous with psalm, and psalm being a sacred song. I acknowledge this day not in blasphemy but in honor of the sacred songs each of us carries in our hearts. As a gardener, I view this day as the triumphant arrival of Spring, a fresh start after a long winter, the Pre-Easter beginning of infinite life, and with gratitude for the richness Mother Nature offers. I believe God is everywhere as in nature, but also in our hearts. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters — what is in our hearts?
I’ve just returned from a smooth jazz festival in Cancun. Based on the line-up, I knew the music would be excellent but I hadn’t counted on it raining every day. This could have ruined a beach vacation but instead restored my hope in humankind.
Moving the outdoor stage indoors due to the rain created extremely long delays. Attendees grew agitated standing in the hot, crowded lobby waiting for a show 2 hours past due. Several shrieking whistle calls and nearly universal “Shhh!” tried to temper angry shouts from the crowd blaring out explanation of the delay. Even after the update, offer of chairs and cold drinks, some stiffly crossed their arms while drilling holes into the doors with their glaring eyes.
And then something happened. Programmed music came on and a few started dancing. And then a few more. I could feel the shift. More and more people began dancing until most of the grumbling lobby turned into a dance floor of good vibes and smiles.
Watching the people transform an unpleasant situation into an uplifting one was magic before my eyes. (After that night, attendees danced to programmed music from any delay until show time.)
I think a lot of us learned from that experience — if the people come together and choose light, it will be light. Just ask, “Do I feel better complaining or does it make me feel more miserable? Does staying angry make me feel powerful, in control? Or do I feel better being part of the solution?”
A postscript…message received from a friend this evening…
Driving home on this rainy Saturday evening, the windshield wipers are paragraphs separating my thoughts. I’ve been hand-drumming for 3 hours in a drum circle at the local health food store. Some of the participants I’ve known for decades, others I met today.
The face of my friend flashes through my mind. We lunched earlier at a neighborhood deli whose house-made bread is better than anything in Manhattan for sure. I met Meg through hand drumming a decade ago. We smile, laugh, talk serious. We are not looking down at our phones because we intentionally have unsophisticated, un-smart phones. Just practical little devices for emergency. That makes sense to us. Neither of us wants to be tethered to technology. We talk dogs, travel, gardening. The wonder of a kindergartener seeing a real robin or eating a nasturtium.
“What does it taste like?” I am curious to know.
“A little peppery,” she says, and especially to a five-year old.
“I’ve always wanted to grow asparagus,” I tell her. “I put it in with rhubarb last year.” She nods, confirming my assumption that they are good companions. My friend teaches biology. I hope she can teach me about growing asparagus. “I didn’t know what to do with it at the end of last season…now I’ve got a 12” stalk like you see in the grocery store but next to it is a 4-5’ high, tree-like stalk but much thinner…” I show her with my hands. “It’s actually got several thin branches that also look like asparagus…”
“My friend Margaret grew asparagus. I can ask her,” she offers.
“Great! I’ll send you a photo to show her.”
“She doesn’t do e-mail so she would have to come to my house and look at my phone.”
If anyone can easily explain how to properly grow asparagus please contact me!
Hmmm. This is interesting I think. There are more people than the handful in my Social Media workshop and me who are intentionally not wired, or loosely.
My friend and I agree how much we love getting together for lunch or dinner, being in nature, the warmth of human communication. Her eyes twinkle when I share a bit of synchronicity with her. “Good thing you were aware, and paying attention to notice all those things,” she says. Good thing you weren’t looking down at your phone and I could see your smile I think.
“I notice and appreciate nature more and more each year. I’ve never considered myself very religious, but a spiritual person,” I tell her. “I’ve been reading more of the Tao and it speaks truth to me. Everywhere.” Her smile confirms we are on the same page. I like making eye contact and our welcome and parting hugs.
Swish-swish. Swish-swish. The parting conversation with another friend at the drum circle pops into my head. “I’m addicted to my phone,” he confesses then shows me a photo another drumming friend posted 17 minutes ago. I confide that I’ve signed-up for a Social Media workshop, that I’m hoping to find a balance so I can still function in a technological society but not become an addict.
“Did you see the 60 Minutessegment on technology intending to make you addicted to your phone?” I ask, feeling fear and audacity rising within me.
“Well, I don’t think they want you to be addicted,” he says. “Just use it a lot.”
I can’t imagine having to ask others to like me I think. It just sounds so, so unnatural. Either you like me or you don’t, but do you have to announce it to the world? Is privacy passé? Social media is the antithesis of my values. I’ve never wanted 1,000 friends. That sounds too exhausting. I like the quality ones I have and they know it. Solid, true friends sharing quality time together… Does the world need to know that? Swish-swish. Swish-swish. The wipers clear away the thoughts that have kept me true to my values but from going with the crowd and against my own grain.
Faces of people I’ve hand-drummed with over the years are a slide show in my mind. The deep connection we’ve developed through hand drumming is like the comfort of a best friend yet I may not know the person, their last name, career, education, socio-economic status, ethnicity, where they live, or any other defining label, and it doesn’t matter. We speak a universal language that has no words but is expressed from hands to hearts, through conga drums, djembes, doumbeks, bongos, or any other piece of percussion (we are not prejudice). Hand drumming is yin-yang conversing — talking and listening at the same time.
I’ve often described hand drumming as cooking a large vat of soup where everyone adds a little something different be it a vegetable, herb, color or spice, and soon the flavor deepens, the aroma permeates the air and it’s evolved into something so darn good that I wonder why people do recreational drugs when they can hand drum.
Swish-swish. Slowing rain reveals the lush green mountainside. Rounding the corner, I’m home now, welcomed by dogwoods brilliant as the full moon, and bursting pinks. I’m breathless from the splendor of spring. Can social media really do that for me?
These guys (or gals) don’t look alike but they respectfully share from the same feeder, while happily chirping away. People could learn a lot from them.
I learned a lot from Jamaicans when visiting their homeland. Most Americans warned me ahead of time to “not go off the resort premises,” but strolling down the beach while mesmerized by the turquoise sea drew my curiosity beyond the boundary line. Haphazard tin-roofed shacks from whatever washed ashore leaned every which way — a yin-yang contrast to the well-manicured all-inclusive that was my home for 7 days.
The Jamaican Patois (pronounced Patwa) beckoned me into the makeshift beach mall. My ear took some getting used to their creole language but I appreciated the creative twist on english. In and out, I scanned the line of booths sand to ceiling but most of the wares were tchotchkes made in China that I could purchase in my hometown dollar store. Still, each proprietor smiled widely while proclaiming, “Tank yuh. Tank you fi looking. Tank you fi di respect.”
Most Jamaicans live in poverty. Tourism, music or selling drugs sadly seem to be the major opportunities to increase their standard of living. I’ve had panhandlers in other countries follow me into the water ruining an afternoon swim, or camp out just beyond the garden patio, calling for me to buy their goods. (One couple from Manhattan quit their Grenada vacation early, stating, “The panhandling isn’t this bad at home. We came here to relax…”) But, Jamaica was different. The people spoke to my heart and I quickly understood a universal desire for respect.
“I love your food. The Jamaican Jerk is delicious…nothing like back home,” I shared with the merchants. “I’ve been listening to a lot of your music on MTV in my room. I never knew there are so many types of Reggae. Do you have Tanya Stephensor Beris Hammond? I’d love to take some CDs home,” I explained to the last few shopkeepers. (Yes, I’m of the generation that still listens to an armoire full of CDs. Just another segment of my staving off technology.)
Walking back to the resort, a young Jamaican boy ran down the hill toward me, waving his arms. “Yuh di lady looking fi music?” he asked, showing me a handful of CDs.
“Well, yes I am. What do you have there?” The jewel cases sported homemade labels depicting the very artists I inquired about. We exchanged smiles as I paid him then crossed the boundary line to the resort.
That night, I watched a Jamaican grandmother teach her granddaughter the art of basket weaving while a Rastafari man let me listen through his headphones to other Jamaican musicians I might like. The next day, the little boy made me nearly a dozen more CDs which I carefully wrapped in the intricately hand-woven two-toned basket for my travels home.
For me, the best souvenir is a meaningful piece of culture. The best vacation is connecting with natives of the homeland. I travel to experience diversity. Maybe that’s what the cardinals and chickadees do too.
It’s all a matter of respect.
Some less respectful tidbits about Jamaica…
Don’t refer to a Rastafari as a “rastafarian” as they connect “ians” and “isms” to oppression. Likewise, referring to their philosophy as a “religion” or “ism” is against their beliefs.
Dudus (Christopher Michael) Coke led the violent Shower Posse drug gang that exported marijuana and cocaine to the United States. In 1992 he took over his deceased father’s position as leader of the Tivoli Gardens community in West Kingston. Providing programs to help the poor community garnered him so much local support that Jamaican police could not enter this neighborhood without community consent.