Category: Sylvia Poareo

Nearly every day, my children hear me exclaim something like, “Look how beautiful this is! Look at the patterns!” as I chop vegetables or fruit.  To me, the every day eating and cooking we do is a form of art and experience of the sublime that nourishes the soul.  I am literally in awe at the complexity and intricate beauty of all plant life.  So it was not surprising, yet still poignant to me, when Manju sliced this orange and we saw hearts in it.

Yes, of course, on the farm the fruit (the produce, the soil, the people) is filled with LOVE.

I also love my dirty fingernails in this pic. This is my new normal. I have stopped apologizing for soil in my fingernails. Instead I think of the healthy microbes there hitching a ride from Lynn’s fab compost to my world, inoculating us.  (This also helps me, when my five year old refuses to wash the dirt out of his nails)

And here we are!  These sprouts unfolding beautifully into the unique bloom that they are meant to be. And the vegetables they are holding are amazing too 😉  I’m so proud and impressed at the way they have each made and are making this experience their own.

And as I look behind us and reflect on that this is just a half acre in the midst of an urban environment…I am hopeful for all of our future happiness together and wherever each of our roads lead us individually. I know that our time here will always be with us.

For me, the closer I feel to true joy and connection (within, with the plants, with others), the more palpable my YES is, the more all the other distractions fade away.  I resist less and smile wider.

 

I was surprised when we started at the farm how uncomfortable it was for me to squat and plant seedlings in the fields. So honestly, when I moved to the field team I was worried…but also ready for a challenge.  Recently, I have been very inspired by John Robbins’ book “Healthy at 100”  which challenges our limited views of aging and explores features of centenarian culture, including; plant centered (but not vegan) eating, exercise through lifestyle (i.e .farming and walking), community, rest, balance.  Before this, I was starting to consider myself ‘old’ at 42 and settle for limited physical ability. After reading the book, I am embracing an attitude of youthfulness and seeking every opportunity to incorporate exercise in my life.

So with that in mind, when Katie asked me to plant this entire seed tray of cilantro, although I freaked out a bit internally, I breathed into it. I should mention, I have an injured muscle behind my right knee that makes it even harder to squat/kneel. So I paced myself.  Usually, when we plant a bed, it is with a few of us and the many hands make light work.  But this time, it was just me. Though it really was a challenge, I felt proud of myself when I was finished, and relished another opportunity to grow out of patterns of ease and inactivity into purposeful, wholesome action.

You can’t get me to walk a treadmill or go for a run…but I will gladly rake, garden, shovel mulch…and now ‘plant seedlings.’  All of these forms of exercise that are connected to the earth, and include the sensual experience of the earth…hands in soil, woodsy scent of mulch, beauty of all plant and insect life, satisfaction of being part of the earth’s innate processes….are fun and therapeutic forms of exercise; my kind of bootcamp.

I’m hoping in time, to be able to squat like Manju and Chika 😉

This picture captures for me, the essence of my farm experience. Even though I tire of the suburban/urban landscape that I live in, as I walk around and capture with awe and stillness the many ways that spring is popping on the farm, I am overwhelmed by the energy and vibrance of beauty. And the power of what we focus on.

On Friday, Rishi gave a very thorough tour to visitors from South Central who were inspired by the farm.  And it reminded me of how important it is to keep planting the seeds of peace, magic and beauty, rather than focus on or fight “what’s wrong.”  Those seeds blossom, attract and inspire. Planting them feels like exactly the end of the system I want to be on.

The high vibration of these wild peas simply being their exquisite selves, effortlessly unfolding and shocking us with their riot of color, the wildly relentless and hardy weeds underneath…demonstrate the impulse for aliveness, nourishment and healing in us all.

This is why I connect gardening to healing and why my vision for our family and my work is to bring people into spaces like this…reconnecting to the deep longings and wisdom within us.

Like this below….people coming together over lovingly prepared food, feeling the warm, welcoming energy of community.  A return to the sense of kindred community I often hear people long for without naming…

Sitting with everyone, in my favorite kind of kitchen (where crumbs are just tossed back to the earth), over delicious and nourishing food, my understanding is visceral.

These are the pieces, the seeds coming together, showing me their interconnectedness…

Every day at the farm, we are being given the tools and the model for making our vision a reality..and we are immensely grateful.

 

 

This week my team switched to Field work and I am loving it. Manju is full of wisdom of the subtleties of plants and I am deeply enjoying learning alongside her.  Every day I am at the farm, there is something new to learn; this is what a carrot looks like when it’s ready, these are signs of cats, these are signs of gophers, these seeds did not do well, this is how plants grow in winter versus summer.  And I feel a surge of excitement in me.  I knew that gardening made my heart sing and now I am experiencing more confirmation that being this close and working collaboratively with the earth, in community, is an intense passion of mine and brings me deep JOY.

I have been working through my resistance to allowing myself to have a great time at the farm. Growing up as a foster child, then working as a social worker, and now as a holistic counselor supporting many people of color facing systematic oppression, I am intensely aware of the need and heartache in the world.  So much so, that sometimes it is hard for me to enjoy my wonderful life with my children and my deep happiness being at the farm.  As a child that was passed up repeatedly, I unconsciously made a commitment to not look away from the pain of the world…but I am gently reminding myself that embracing and living into my JOY always allows me to be a nourished, rejuvenated, solid vessel of love with my family and all who come my way for support.

The other day the director of Ability First came to pick up greens that the farm donates to their program. She shared with me that she and the children at the center make soups, salads and stir fry’s with the farm produce.  My heart felt full knowing that these children were getting the enjoyment AND nourishment of the farm’s bounty and all of the love, intention and growth that those plants facilitated.  To me nutrition is inextricably linked to spiritual and psychological health, so I was extremely happy to hear this.

For years, when I feel overwhelmed by the hard realities and wish I could ‘save the world,’ I always remember a quote by Mother Theresa; “We can do no great things in this world. Only small things with great love.”

The issues are so complex. There are no simple solutions. But as I follow my yeses (discussed in a previous blog) I am understanding more of what she meant by GREAT LOVE. As I learn and soak in the vibrant energy of the farm, working with beautiful, thoughtful people…my heart swells more and more each day.  And this fullness WIDENS my experience of LOVE within and without..it feels great as in bigger..and great as in GREAT!  I am so grateful to all who help hold and create this amazing experience. And I am trusting that this ever expanding heart is doing her small part.

(Rishi and us laughing about how ‘unnatural’ it is for him to be talking on his cell phone in this pic 🙂

 

Rishi’s lecture busting apart the false dichotomy of natural vs. unnatural and all of the dogmas that it spawns, was refreshing and a great reminder.  I certainly have a tendency to go there, simply because what is earth based, commonly called ‘natural’ resonates for me and in many cases for children, actually does facilitate noticeably better outcomes.  However, I’ve learned and am always relearning that dogmatic approaches aren’t helpful.

I remember when I was trying to not feed my children any GMO’s and I found myself getting angry at well meaning people who offered my children GMO food… Or angry at someone who offered me food in plastic and foam when I was trying to be zero waste…. this is a mix of the dogma which creates angst that Rishi was talking about and messy boundary setting. Even though I would sometimes lose my way in this…I ultimately would come back to my own recognition of the incongruence of this with my desire to be loving and peaceful in my choices.

For me it’s not about whether or not I say natural but what my intention is when I do (which I think is essentially Rishi’s point too).  Often in my work, I will talk about ‘who is running the show.’  If our wounded/ego/defense, what I call ‘teenager self,’ is doing the yoga, meditation, healthy eating or whatever, then we are prone to being dogmatic, narrow minded, pretentious, judgmental, because it is essentially a fearful, controlling energy and behavior (designed to protect us immaturely). If our higher self/loving adult self is running the show, we tend to be more open, curious, generous of spirit, and accepting of differences…seeing the bigger picture from a place of love and compassion, or at least glimpses of it (i.e. accepting creation/growth/birth AND death/destruction).  From the latter place, I can see the sweet intention of the person offering my children something and simply thank them.

It still is definitely a role of my loving self to set boundaries/limits on things that are not harmonious, as Rishi would say.  And to speak up and advocate for those for whom these choices are not theoretical.  But what his talk and literally every experience on the farm reminds me is that instead of focusing on what I don’t want or taking a major stance…a simpler way to create what I do want and reduce dogma and angst, is to focus on my “Yeses.”

I choose an interconnected web over weak systems.  I choose what feels deeply good. I choose my own happiness and liberation (even when I question it, or it feels uncomfortable).  I choose Sabi running around on the farm with glee, Maya expressing her leadership, Lucas getting to explore his physical strength.  Sabi saying yesterday “I can’t wait till we have our own farm!!” Laughing and chatting with all of the thoughtful, passionate and caring people at the farm.  All of the many possibilities we would never have known if I had not followed the longing of my heart singing YES!

Every step we have taken into this less traditional life that we enjoy, has been a path of Yeses that I could not have foreseen. And that is the seed I want to keep ‘watering’ with my attention and energy.

 

At the farm there is so much fresh air; yes, the literal air which is lovely and then there are the awesome people.  I so enjoy learning about every person that was drawn to Sarvodaya and find their thoughtfulness and insight so reFRESHing.  This makes sense of course, because my work for the last twenty years has consisted of listening to people’s stories, and I am always captivated.  Outside of counseling, my children will tell you that everywhere I go, I also “interview” people.

In fact, it is the primary way that I homeschool them; by modeling engagement and curiosity with the world and learning about our diverse population and how they live. (Ask them to tell you about when I interviewed the State Trooper who pulled us over one time!) At the farm, what feels like fresh air, is that I am talking with others who have contemplated many of the same things that I have and are taking action in their own ways, which I find both to be great company and inspiration. As well as, simply a DEEP breath, in a life that often gets full with motherhood, and to be honest, a bit suffocated in the OC.

While potting seedlings, planting seeds and mixing potting soil, Cindy, Cheryl and I covered a range of topics from veganism, cultural differences to raves. We all had different experiences and perspectives and great respect for each person’s uniqueness.  Their LA vibe is palpable and it reminds me of all there is to experience, including this opportunity to really learn, hands on, how to gently transplant baby beets and kale, into bigger homes, loosening the roots, making their transition easier…how to mix just the right ingredients into a fresh and better than what you’d ever find in a store potting mix…and how to smooth not pat the freshly mixed potting soil and gently lay the seeds in tiny depresses.. learning by doing…alive and sinking into my bones with the hopes of our future mini homestead feeling more doable…FRESH AIR.

Wednesday, Lynn gave a great talk on composting…and even though we actually had a compost workshop at my home with her before, where we made piles, it was a much needed review.  She gave a great off the cuff explanation with quick drawings of all of the invisible microbes that create and live in soil and how there are literally billions.  I sat there thinking, there you go, the most amazing homeschool biology class coupled with deep hands on experience. As usual I sat there with immense gratitude that we are having this experience…FRESH AIR.

With Valentine’s the day before, I also thought of how in year’s past I have arranged to have horse poop or mulch delivered on Valentine’s or my birthday, unconsciously honoring how much dirt and the process of death and rebirth really makes me happy.  I really love this shit. (is that okay to say here? pun intended :)) And thanks to Lynn, now I even know how to ensure decomposition smells like FRESH AIR!

 

 

Intro-  The long and personal version is here in an essay I wrote awhile back:  http://www.connectingwithin.com/reclaiming-wholeness-an-essay-on-my-personal-journey/

The short, is that I have been admiring the work of the The Growing Home/Club for many years now; always feeling that I had come home when with Manju, Rishi and family. For years, connection to them has sustained me in my gardening experiments at home (can you say mulch?). When they started the internship program, I was filled with longing to be there, but didn’t think I could because I homeschool. After a recent visit there, Manju said about Maya, “She’s ready for the internship program.”  I was thrilled to hear this and asked if we could do the internship as a family. For years, I have been integrating nature connection, gardening, and earth based/indigenous wisdom into my holistic counseling and family support practice..and I knew that being at the farm would only help to deepen all of these understandings.  As well as, help us as a family to really integrate the practical knowledge and experience we will need when we move to our own, much dreamed of, ‘little plot of land.’

 

In the first couple weeks, I have reflected that Manju and Rishi were so wise to split us up into groups so that the children could have some independence and make their own friendships. It has been so touching to me to see the way all of the adults are so respectful and kind as they interact with each one.  Sabriel was especially supported by Elinor who brought child sized gloves, tools, shovels and a wheelbarrow to the farm (lent from her Montessori school).  He has been so delighted to use all of these and is thriving with all of the warm attention and interest shown in him.

While a part of me, is partly always ‘on call’ as mama, I am actually feeling unexpectedly free at the farm because all of my children are so engrossed and busy, supported by mentors. I tear up and feel so touched every time I think about this; it feels like the village I have always wanted and wish that every child could experience. We were going to be traveling more this year, but slowed that down in order to participate in the internship. Still, when we are there I feel like I am worlds away from the status quo, busyness, competitiveness and madness of our culture. It is regenerative farming, and life. I know we are right where we need to be right now.

On a practical level, I am also learning so much. Having tried and only sporadically succeeded to grow my own seedlings, I am appreciating the systematic and informed approach to caring for seedlings that is done on the farm. A big ‘aha’ was that I need to use fish fertilizer because the seedlings go through the nutrients in the soil. I also see that I need a more organized set up and routine. I learn best by doing, so I am hoping these rhythms will be ingrained into me.

And then there are the perks of connecting with the interns and other ‘farmily!’  We spent a couple days at Elinor and Elizabeth’s school learning how to make our own sheaths for our pruners (which their amazing students taught us).  Everyone felt so proud of themselves! And Elinor has been teaching nutrition classes and preparing feasts that are supporting so much of our countercultural approach to food. These classes and conversations with Manju about cooking, are more of the tribe I have longed for; it is so nice not to be the only one saying these things anymore!