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Book Report: The Secret Garden

For whatever reason, I decided recently that I wanted to re-read a childhood favorite, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Another of her books, A Little Princess, was essentially the bible of my early reading years -- serious inspiration -- but when I saw an utterly charming edition of The Secret Garden on a recent bookstore visit (check it out via this weird Amazon Associates thing I'm trying out) ), I just had to buy it.

And read it in three days. Laughing, crying, delighted.

My reading list this year has been wandering all over the place. It's not really that surprising to me that after Dragon Tattoo, I turned for solace to a sweet childhood favorite. Seriously, there was too much murder, violence and torture in Dragon Tattoo, but I was too deep in to stop, even though I had to give up reading it at night because of its creepiness. But what's super-fabulous -- and this has happened before, more than once, maybe it's happened to you, too? -- is how The Secret Garden actually reinforces themes from other books I've been reading, particularly yoga texts by Swami Chidvilasananda, in a way I never could have imagined or anticipated.

The Secret Garden is fundamentally a story about awakening to shakti, about the delight of being alive, about the great joy of awakening to the pulse of life that flows through all of us, all creatures, and binds us together. Amazing! And first published in 1911.

A horrible unloved child, Mary Lennox, who "by the time she was six years old...was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is sent to live with her horribly unhappy uncle Archibald Craven on the moor in Yorkshire after her parents die in a cholera outbreak in India. She is a beastly girl, utterly ignored by her parents, accustomed to kicking and slapping her servants.

Without giving away the whole story (and really, I do recommend this book, so charming), Mary's hard little Grinchy heart begins to grow when she meets a robin. A robin! No wonder I loved this book when I was a kid. "It actually gave Mary a queer feeling in her heart, because he was so pretty and cheerful and seemed so like a person ... The robin hopped about, busily pecking the soil, and now and then stopped... Mary thought his black dewdrop eyes gazed at her with great curiosity. It really seemed as if he were finding out all about her. The queer feeling in her heart increased." There are many adventures: a delightful boy named Dickon who is an animal-charmer and has squirrels, a crow, a fox for companions; a spoiled, rude, crippled boy who is redeemed; a garden that they bring back to life -- over the course of which Mary loses her sourness, becomes happy, full, loving.

But the chief charm of this book for me is what the children refer to as Magic.

When Mary found this garden, it looked quite dead... Then something began pushing things out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren't there and another they were... I keep saying to myself, 'What is it? What is it?' It's something. It can't be nothing! I don't know its name, so I call it Magic. I have never seen the sun rise..., but from what they tell me I am sure that is Magic, too. Something pushes it up and draws it. Sometimes since I've been in the garden and looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden -- in all the places.
And of course, of course, this garden is within us, as well as without us.

And then this morning, in the new book I'm reading, The Yoga of Discipline by Swami Chidvilasananda: "At the heart of the universe, Gurumayi says, lies supreme bliss, and to live in the experience of this bliss is the highest expression of human nature." This bliss is the very Magic found in the garden, that "strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest." Sometimes it takes a robin to make us see it. Or a lovely story like Hodgson Burnett's.

Such a wonderful reminder, thanks to the former Mistress Mary Quite Contrary:

So long as Mistress Mary's mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow-faced, sickly, bored, and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, ... with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures,' there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired... Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.
May we all tend our roses, and fill our minds with robins and springtime. Truly we are surrounded by and made of Magic. How grateful I am to Frances Hodgson Burnett for the hours of childhood and recent joy she has given me, one hundred years after she published this story. Super big Magic!


Bees find us again

"That buzzing noise means something. You don't get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there's a buzzing-noise, somebody's making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you're a bee... And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey."
- Winnie the Pooh

Yesterday we had the good fortune, karma, luck, whatever you want to call it, to catch our THIRD swarm of bees. I have been thinking about this non-stop since 12:30 pm yesterday when Joe first noticed the distinctive buzzing-noise and tracked it to a redwood tree in our neighbor's yard. How is it that before we started beekeeping, each of us, Joe and I, had seen only one swarm of bees ever in our lives, but as soon as we started learning beekeeping, bought our own bees, not one, not two, but three swarms have landed practically in our laps?

From bird-watching, snorkeling and diving, I've learned that the more you look, the more you see. It's crazy and gratifying how as soon as you start noticing, there is so much to notice, so much more than you noticed before. It keeps expanding! And surely now, because we're attuned to bees in a way we never were before, we're more likely to notice. But three swarms? OK, it's true that there is a big hive two doors over from us, under someone's deck, the confirmed source of the first two swarms we caught last year, and most likely the source of yesterday's. And right now, April, is a very likely time of year for swarms. But really, why always come over toward our place? And why always swarm when people are coming over for meals?

The first swarm arrived in our apple tree on Mother's Day 2009; we had all of three weeks' experience under our belts and were just wrapping up brunch in the garden with friends. A week later, another swarm landed in a tree next door, and Joe, his humerus freshly broken and casted, worked with our neighbor Dave to capture them while his parents and I waited for him to come home so we could eat. This time, a year and a week after we started our beekeeping adventure, Joe noticed the swarm just I was starting preparations to host my parents for lunch. He threw down his hat and the weed-wacker, grabbed the swarm-catching necessaries and was off, 100% engaged in the task, delighted. It was, so he says, the easiest catch yet. We went back last night to pick up the hive box, drive them here and set them up in their permanent spot in the yard.

It's wonderful to have more bees. We lost two of our three hives over the winter, one colony was weak and starved after stronger bees robbed their food stores; the other lost their queen late, too late to make another and they eventually died, too, leaving behind a hive full of honey. Our only remaining hive until yesterday was the first swarm we caught, the Mother's Day bees, so wild and sturdy, such tough survivors. And now we're up to two again, more wild-caught bees, likely to survive and prosper.

Of course I know it's just a combination of circumstances -- the location of the mother-hive, the season, perhaps the breeze -- that has brought us three colonies of bees since last year. It's not a reward for good behavior, it's not karma, but damn, it sure feels like something more than just luck. We're listening for the buzzing-noise, so naturally we're going to hear it, but that doesn't explain the Why Us we feel every time the buzzing-noise shows up. I am fully aware that it's not personal (even though part of me wishes it were), that it's instead that somehow we've managed to create, just maybe, a deliciously intoxicating pollen- and nectar-rich oasis aromatic with bee-ness. Whatever the reason, every time has felt like a charm, like a privilege and delight. Keep coming over - we can't get enough!


My Yoga Year so far

Because I'm a geek with a notebook (see 2/21/10 post for TMI), I keep pretty good track of my practices, the who and what and how long, and of course take notes in class. Over a peaceful solo sushi lunch yesterday, I had the great pleasure of re-reading my scribbles since January 1. Amazing teachers and amazing lessons!

January, on into March:
Kicked off the year and turned up the tapasya with Laura Christensen on New Year's Day, poses in 20s and 10s to celebrate the new year + one-minute handstands. Over the next months, we worked our way through the Austerities, keeping the fire of intention alive and smokin'. Such good times: regular classes, start-up of Sunday morning advanced Rock Your Chit playtime on the mat, a tremendous three-hour shoulder workshop, a yoga benefit for Haiti. Wow, so glad to be a part of this kula: so much love and friendship and fun.

February: Spent a week at Immersion led by John Friend, followed by weekend workshops. That week blew my mind. Here are a couple of my favorite bits from the pages and pages of notes I took:

The dharma of embodied life includes becoming more cultivated and involved, more skilled at being a poet of life, this ever-unfolding game of expanding consciousness.
Every experience, including those practices that are challenging, can be used as a gateway. Challenges are opportunities for awakening. Use everything for awakening. Every moment is a gateway to the heart.
Literally, I came away from those 7 consecutive days of practice with John and with the expanded kula completely on Cloud 9, just so happy and aware of being in exactly the right place, right in the center, right where I belong. Aaaaaah.

Hit the road with Laura and other members of our home-kula, for a series of great workshops at Tahoe Yoga and Wellness Center in Truckee. In class we reviewed the austerities and started in on the malas. We stayed in the lovely home of our dear Diana, played in the snow, had some long, sweet practices in a gorgeous studio, made new friends, played ping pong, generally just reveled in beauty and love all weekend long. I spent most of that weekend in a state of utter delight, just so amazed at the bounty life brings. No malas on me!

April: On April 1st, Laura started her Shri Series, a 7-week course that dives deep into the Principles of Alignment. It's been my enormous pleasure to arrive early, open the room, set up the puja, greet and check in my fellow students. And we really are diving deep, going back to the basics, the fundamentals. All of which is making my practice so much more solid.

Also this month Darren Rhodes was in the Bay Area again, so for the third year in a row, I went to Yoga Kula in the Mission for a weekend and played with the big kids. This year's theme "Kali Kick-Asana" certainly kicked my asana. I loved being with the larger kula, having Trixie and Laura right next to me in class, and being blown away by the poses Sianna and Darren led us through. There's something so fun about just trying things, even crazy things like some of the toes curled-under poses we were asked to do, like we're on the playground daring each other to jump off the monkey bars, higher, higher, higher!

Outside of class it continues to be my concerted project to incorporate what I'm learning on the mat into the rest of where I spend my time, mostly into the office where I spent too many hours each week. The inspiration of these great teachers and friends and practices is with me throughout all of those long hours away, and really is changing how I move and talk and operate. At the same time, it's also true that the more yoga I do, the more commitment I bring to my practice, the more time with my friends doing what I love, the less I want to spend time doing what I precisely don't love -- all of which, if I remain aware, keeps that blaze of tapasya burning hot. It's a delightful unfolding, really, and so gratifying: the more I practice, the more practiced I become, the more skilled, the more devoted, all of that More squeezing out the other stuff, the stuff I'm not crazy about. So, big lesson for me: to change your life, just change your life. Like awakening, it doesn't have to come after a lifetime of sitting under a banyan tree. It comes at every moment, at any moment, when I just do what I love: plug in, delight, jump around.



We've been patiently waiting for flowers for months now. It's a funny thing putting seeds in the ground in the fall, watching foliage develop through the cold of winter, waiting, waiting for flowers. Now here they are! This particular poppy -- and we planted several varieties -- is a Peony Flowering Poppy, so very peony-like, its flowers really just as the seed packet describes: "huge glamorous poufs of softly ruffled petals." Huge and glamorous indeed!

We used to devote almost all of our garden space to edibles, and I'm so glad that we took a turn into flowers, growing pretty for pretty's sake.


Rogue Elephant

One of the things I most love about my walks in the woods across from my house, besides the abundance of the non-human, is the funny little traces other people leave behind. I rarely see people while I'm out, though I do see coyotes, rabbits, deer, squirrels, ravens, hawks, crows, banana slugs, newts, countless little brown birds. It's strange to me how much I appreciate it when I can tell that others have been on my same path, using it in their way, getting their fill, like me, of being outside. I read their signs, the cleared scotch broom, the downed-trees moved off the trail, and wonder about them, who they are, grateful.

But it's particularly wonderful when clever lovely people create little altars like the Ganesh that appeared a few years ago.

The first time I saw it, I was utterly delighted that someone had seen this as they passed this tangled oak root, had remembered to bring the marble for the eye, the Ganesh candle and the coins. Someone had stood there and thought about it and then come back and created this for others to see. At one point that same someone cleared the leaves directly in the front, and laid little stones to demark a path, a little run-way to the elephant's head.

I pass Ganesh several times a week, always greet it (Jai Jai!), replace the candle when it tumbles, appreciate how truly elephant-y that root is, its curling trunk, and thank the Someone who brought it to life for the rest of us.