Mindful Gardening Workshops

As part of a new urban garden developed by PrinzessinnengartenBau at the Urania in Berlin, I recently offered a workshop in Mindful Gardening. For two hours some 20 participants meditated and mindfully cared for the garden while practicing such mental attitudes as non-judging, beginner’s mind, non-striving and, gratitude and patience. We spent about two hours together, much of the time in silence. We practiced returning our attention to our own body and connecting with the plants and animals in the garden. We felt welcomed by Mother Nature and generously supported by her solidity. Some participants expressed surprise and gratitude for the strong sense of community and bonding that is possible among a group of strangers after only a short practice session. On behalf of the Urania and all workshop participants I would like to say “Thank You” for making this workshop such a moving experience.

I will lead another mindful gardening workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 2PM im Parkplatzgarten am Gropius Bau. More details and the location are available here. The workshop will be conducted in German. Participation is free and everyone is welcome. No meditation experience is necessary.

Don’t Just Do Something…

“Don’t just do something, sit there,” people accustomed to meditation sometimes quip when confronted with a difficult situation. It means that instead of kicking into action at the first thought of trouble, we consider first taking a moment to sit and meditate. But isn’t that giving the situation time to deteriorate? For most problems, probably not.

By taking just 10 minutes in meditation you can significantly improve your chance of solving the problem by

  • not being completely taken over by your mind-made interpretation and allowing for alternative perspectives,
  • grounding yourself and allowing the anxiety of the moment to pass through,
  • connecting to that which is working well at the time
  • generating a feeling of joy,
  • bringing to mind your deeply-held values (thus calibrating yourself to act in accordance with them), and
  • preparing the stage for joyful, courageous and effective action to address the situation.

Remember that we are much better problem solvers when we are happy, optimistic and at ease. So next time you feel the urge to rush and do, consider heading for the cushion instead.

The Way Out is In

We say we want to live in a world of peace, kindness, love and sustainability. Gandhi reminds us to “be the change we want to see,” and his words intuitively make sense. But how can we be peace, kindness, love and sustainability? In my experience it helps to periodically withdraw from the noise of our technological civilization and to observe in quiet meditation my inner tension, anger, fear and lack of peace.

When I have gotten in touch with my inner state of being, I have reason to celebrate, even if I have observed a lot of pain. In meditation, I can hold and transform anger, sadness and fear without distracting myself with unneccessary and often unsustainable consumption, work or scheming. I can just be with the pain and know that it is not mine alone but that it has been transmitted to me for many generations. Gradually I become less afraid to touch my pain and thereby transform it, heal it. It can feel like a true liberation, a liberation to finally give myself the love and care I deserve and to love others as if for the first time.

You say you long to step into a world of peace, kindness, love and sustainability? The way out is in.

I Hear You

“To be loved means to be recognized as existing.” Thich Nhat Hanh

I spotted these two flyers posted to a fence around a large construction site in Berlin, Kreuzberg.

I was touched deeply by the messages “I hear you” and “I’ll help you.” Doesn’t it just feel wonderful when someone says these words to us in a moment of suffering?

May we remember that we can give the gift of listening to anyone almost any time and for free! And by listening with an open, nonjudgmental heart we are already helping. To improve our listening we can make it more intentional. We can ground ourselves by feeling the earth beneath our feet or the chair we are sitting on. We can breathe slowly in and out and follow our breathing as we deeply sense the unwavering support of our Mother Earth. And from this centeredness we can begin listening. Whatever is being said to us, we can now receive it with appreciation even if it includes words of criticism or accusation. While listening to someone share feelings of hurt or anger, we can practice staying grounded, present and connected to our compassionate heart. In this way we are bringing healing to the person or the situation.

What is more, we can give this gift to ourselves. We can learn to be present for ourselves and remind us that we are okay the way we are. The process is similar. We ground and center ourselves and turn our attention to our body sensations, which may include stress, anxiety and tension. The moment we tune into how our body is feeling we have already begun listening. We are saying “I hear you” and “I will help you” to our body. And we may soon feel a sense of relief. Similarly, we can tune into our emotions and embrace them, too, with our mindful and compassionate heart. We can attentively hold space for our hurt, worry, depression or anger and light up this space with the warm light of compassion. We can even make a promise to take good care of all our emotions.

The longer I live, the more I come to the realization that 99 percent of my suffering result not from things that happen to me but from a recurring and habitual state of disconnectedness from myself and others. To me, this realization holds a huge promise for a happier, healthier and less consumption-driven life. And it reminds me to pause, again and again, to practice “I hear you. I will help you.”

Thanks to the person who posted this teaching on a wall in Kreuzberg.

It’s All Here

“‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ because, if not at hand, it is nowhere.” (Wendell Berry*)

My farmer heart felt fuzzy warm last weekend when some 170 tractors of all shapes and sizes rolled through the streets of Berlin. They had come from across the region as part of a large-scale demonstration for a new, healthier agriculture. Framed by 35,000 people in attendance, these tractors — and the smiling, radiant faces behind their wheels — symbolized something that is rare and precious in any large city: a reminder that the gift of a satisfying, peaceful and rewarding life is a gift lovingly granted by Mother Earth.

From my perch atop the slow-moving trailer belonging to a national agricultural nonprofit, I had the opportunity to see hundreds of marchers and I was touched by the positive energy, the smiles, the strength and the courage written on their faces. It had been a while since I had been exposed to this energy and finding it right here in the city made this experience even more special.

A couple days later I am still feeling this energy inside of me, stirring me, talking to me and asserting itself once again as a guide. It is a familiar guide whose voice I have been hearing throughout my life and who really began talking to me twenty years ago when, together with my wife at the time, I built my first vegetable farm in West-Central Missouri, USA. It has spoken to me about what it means to be at home, not in a country or a culture but in my body which is inseparable from the whole of nature and the universe. To me, this experience of home is possible only in the present moment and though it is possible to access it right here in the city, it is much easier to do so when I’m in nature.

Over the years as a farmer, I have come to see nature as a special doorway to equanimity and peace. The stories she tells — of birth and death and rebirth, of the interconnected web of all things, of turning wastes into an abundant harvest — these are stories of a beautiful home, a safe and welcoming home where I can truly arrive and become everything I am capable of being. This home is always available inside of me. I am called to it each time the wind is brushing against my face, each time I feel the warm earth under my bare feet or rest my body against a tree after preparing the fields for planting. I am called to it when I feel exhausted from the to-do list and my mind turns farming (or whatever else I am doing) into a punishment, when I drift into wanting another life of different comforts and diversions which never seem to satisfy for very long. In these moments of joy and pain I am called home to discover the incomparable beauty of the present, to connect with all life around me and to touch peace.

I am very grateful to the organic and sustainable farmers who came to Berlin last weekend with smiles and confidence nourished by Mother Earth. They helped me remember my path toward inner peace and happiness. I would like to honor them and all the world’s farmers with a poem. I recorded this poem some years ago for a radio program in Kansas City, USA. I cannot recall the author’s name, so if you know it, please share it with me so that I can give her credit. And thanks for listening.

It’s All Here – read by Daniel Dermitzel — if you know the author’s name, please share.

(*) from “Wendell Berry on Climate Change: To Save the Future, Live in the Present” Yes! Magazine, March 23, 2015.