Posted by: Banta | May 30, 2019

Curiosity 2.0

It came to me in the middle of the night. The why now? behind the insatiable curiosity that has gripped me for much of the past year. Buddha once observed that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The teacher who flipped the curiosity switch for me appeared in the body and spirit of my first grandchild, a remarkable star being with an old soul. H. isn’t yet three years old, but already she has wrought transformative change.

For starters, her center of gravity is much lower than mine. She lives close to the Earth, fully in her little body, all of her senses finely tuned, and leading with her heart. These are lessons worth remembering.

Making friends with her other-than-human kin comes naturally to her – an ant on a food mission across a leaf, newborn bunnies on a grassy knoll, acorn ‘caps’, wildflowers, butterflies, spiders in their webs, creek water spilling over rocks.

She points out the moon in the morning sky, talks to the otters at the nature center, worries over the chickens escaped from their coop at a nearby farm. Her curiosity is boundless, her empathy toward all beings brings me to tears.

The lessons fill our days to overflowing. Live in the present moment. Slow way down. Tune in to my senses. Notice the light, the breeze, the scent of garlic chives and wild rose, the tickle of a lady bug in my palm, the joy of rain puddles and homemade popsicles. Slow down even more and listen to the crows, the rustle of deer and bear in the woods, the hum of the bees.

Because of H. I am more embodied, more heart-centered, more vulnerable and empathic. She reminds me of so much that I had forgotten, about intuition and curiosity and pure joy. And her easy relationships with the plants and stones, the animals and birds, have triggered my own Sacred Remembering.

The ancient ones, our Ancestors, nurtured reverent relationships with all of life. Small children everywhere invite us to be curious, to reconnect, to Remember. Deep gratitude to H. for her patience with me and her willingness to keep the lessons coming.

 

 

 

Posted by: Banta | May 26, 2019

Saying Grace

Here in the mountains lettuce and spinach compete for space in the late spring garden. The strawberries are coming in, lavender is in bloom and the snow peas are ready to harvest.

strawberry-lavender

These are some of my other-than-human friends. Like us humans, they have consciousness. They communicate among themselves and with each other. When I am grounded and fully present, they also communicate with me.

I talk with them out loud. Not only do I talk to the food and herb plants in the garden, but I also chat with the oak and poplar trees, the water in the creek, the soil under my feet, the white pine beams that hold up my house, the bees and butterflies, the crows and the bears who occupy the land where I live – land of the Cherokee/Tsalagi and the Catawba.

And I listen, too. Before the harvest comes the conversation – and the consent. May I pick these strawberries, this lavender? May I collect this spinach and lettuce and arugula for supper? May I harvest these peas?  May I cut this lavender? I ask out loud and wait for a response.

If I had chickens, I’d be having the consent conversation with the hens, too. May I take your eggs for my omelet? May I kill you and eat you? The food plants are no less sentient than the chickens, and we pay respect to our plant and animal kin when we ask permission before we harvest, before we kill, before we eat. To do otherwise is to practice a level of two-legged human entitlement that I’m no longer comfortable with.

Saying grace before a meal looks different and takes a bit longer these days. While I still thank the Divine Creator and Mother Gaia for the bounty I’m about to receive, I also thank my plant and animal kin for their sacrifice. These plant and animal kin give their lives that I may live, that I may eat healthy food. Their death is essential to sustaining my own life.

When we come back into respectful relationship with our other-than-human kin, we acknowledge our place in the web of all life. We remember our vulnerability,  our interdependence. We take up less space, which is a good thing. We ask permission, show respect, give thanks.

How does this land with you? Are these ideas new and strange? Feel free to share your comments here! Let’s continue the conversation.

 

Posted by: Banta | May 15, 2019

Grasshoppers Are People Too

No regrets about how long it’s been since the last blog post. I’ve been incubating, gestating, evolving. All the things. That said, there is something I need to get off my chest. I have a confession to make about my past relationship with grasshoppers.

I don’t mean the small fragile ones, the little green leapers that jump when you brush by a leaf. No, I’m talking about the giant yellow and black ones, big as a child’s foot and virtually indestructible. Trust me, I tried for years.

The Eastern Lubber grasshoppers emerged like a plague every spring, their small black young blanketing large swaths of my Florida garden. Left to mature to adulthood, they ate everything in sight: irises and amaryllis, peas, lettuce, kale, beans, cabbage, including in their diet more than 100 species of vegetables and flowers. Toxic to birds, and having no other predators, the lubbers multiplied like crazy and could decimate an entire season’s harvest overnight.

close up photo of grasshopper

Back in those days I waged war on them – a decade long effort to wipe them out. It was nothing short of grasshopper genocide. What the actual f*ck?  I saw them as trespassers, when I was the one who had invaded their territory. I feared their size, got angry at their resistance. Surely they were lesser creatures and I was entitled to dominion over them. Surely they deserved to die. I tried everything in the colonizer playbook. I dropped them into soapy water, crushed them underfoot, threw them off the dock and hoped they’d drown. They never did.

Instead, they returned, year after year, until I could learn what they had to teach me.

Today I bow in apology to the Grasshopper people. I own my colonizer behavior, my arrogant disregard for the generations of Eastern Lubbers I tried to eliminate. I honor their lives, their spirits, their personhood, their ancestors. May we coexist in peace, and may I continue to acknowledge and repair the wounds of the past in which I (and my own ancestors) participated.

 

Posted by: Banta | September 16, 2016

The place we call ‘away’

20160915_122715

After multiple attempts to recycle leftover construction materials, we bit the bullet and took a truckload to the landfill—located nine miles north of downtown Asheville in the scenic community of Alexander, NC. If you’ve never visited a landfill, put it on your bucket list. In our throwaway culture, nothing screams “There’s-no-such-place-as-away!” quite like acres upon acres of trash—the detritus of our wasteful lives.

The winding road to the Buncombe County landfill meanders along the French Broad River, a favorite playground for kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts. We nearly missed the landfill turnoff because the elaborate stone pillars flanking the drive look more like the entrance to a pricey gated community than a county dump. Shade trees line the access road and purple martin birdhouses dot the grassy hillsides, adding to the illusion of a sprawling estate.

We weighed in and followed directions to the top of the hill. Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, long-range vistas capture our attention every day. But we did not expect the stunning 360-degree mountain view that greeted us at the crest of the landfill. Against a backdrop of piled-high trash, the beauty of the view felt cruelly out of place. We unloaded quickly, bracing against the stench of decay and wary of a suspicious squishiness underfoot.

20160915_122540       20160915_122535

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surely, this is the Wasteland of which T.S. Eliot spoke: “I think we are in rats’ alley / Where the dead men lost their bones.”

Owned by the County Department of Solid Waste and opened in 1997, this particular landfill spans 128 acres and accepts more than 170,000 tons of solid waste per year. That’s a whole lotta trash. When the property reaches its ‘design capacity’ of 3.6 million tons, projected in 2020, this landfill will close and another will take its place. But where? We are fast running out of space.

A recent news report cited remediation plans to clean up a former Buncombe County landfill in Fairview, NC. Closed in 1976, forty years ago, the site continues to raise concern about contaminated water and soil. Four decades later.

Here’s the thing. Trash lasts so much longer than we think. Roughly speaking, a landfill is a depression in the earth that is lined with clay and thick plastic, rather like a large bathtub. (For scientific details on landfill construction, see http://www.ejnet.org/landfills/) Modern landfills try to control for off-gassing and liquid seepage, but leaks do happen. Soil and groundwater suffer as a result. Think about the French Broad River less than a mile away.

Our sobering field trip to the landfill underscored the worthy mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Those items we ‘forget’ to recycle take decades, even millennia, to break down in a landfill. A glass bottle? Maybe a million years. Those plastic bags? Perhaps 500+ years. Plastic soda bottles? About 500 years. Aluminum cans? Eighty to 200 years.

The EPA estimates that the bulk of our household garbage could be recycled or composted—paper, yard waste, plastics, food waste. Even hard-to-dispose-of paints and varnishes, old batteries and electronics have designated recycle days at the landfill and other local drop-off sites.

Simple choices make a difference—buy in bulk (no plastic packaging), go paperless, say ‘no’ to bottled water, opt for cloth napkins and diapers. If the kitchen trash can, or the bin behind the house were the last resort, rather than the mindless first choice, how might our consumer habits change? With a little time and effort, and some focused intention, we commit to recycle more and consume less. Won’t you join us?

Posted by: Banta | July 1, 2016

Chasing summer, finding ‘enough’

(The following essay by Banta Whitner appears in Plough to Pantry / Summer 2016)

Midsummer dazzles the senses—the smell of trees after rain, a mountain stream on a hot day, the drone of bees in the garden, the sweetness of plump blueberries, the riot of color in a high wildflower meadow. Nature draws us outdoors—to picnic on the balds, hike the Blue Ridge, sample local ice cream and beer, tend the garden, and shop the tailgate markets.

At the peak of the season’s bounty, the farmers’ markets and our own harvest baskets overflow with more than we can possibly eat fresh. A sense of urgency bubbles up—to preserve and can, freeze, dry and pickle enough of this abundance to tide us over the winter months when the fields lie fallow. But what is ‘enough?’ A full pantry? A crowded root cellar?

The measure of enough depends on the lens through which we look at the world. Through the lens of scarcity, there is never enough. Anxious worry and fear huddle together in a half full cupboard, bemoaning the need for ‘more.’ Through the lens of abundance, on the other hand, gratitude appreciates what we already have. “Abundance is not something we acquire,” wrote philosopher and self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer. “It’s something we tune into.”

dreamstimemedium_6450651

In this third half of life, I tune in to abundance with every cell in my body. On our small homestead, the garden has grown beyond my capacity to keep up with its demands. My own greedy fault, really. Insisting on another bramble there, a few more squash seeds at the edge of the woods, herbs multiplying in the perennial bed, a couple (okay, actually six) extra tomato plants as a hedge against the blight.

Every day I learn more about sharing the garden with the critters that gnaw the tomatoes and snap off the bean seedlings. I notice the weather signs and gauge what the plants need. In turn, I listen to what my body and spirit need—hands in the soil, a walk by the creek, a good book on the deck. Every day I tune in more closely to the abundance of what is right here, right now.

Even in challenging times, it is possible to find enough. Enough light to see the next step on the path. Enough lung capacity to draw the next breath. Enough love to counter the waves of hate in the news. A few seeds to grow a bit of food, strains of live music from the pub down the valley. The trick is staying present, and finding ways to be grateful.

This summer I will put up jams and salsa, dry herbs and tomatoes, freeze berries and beans. Come September, the pantry will bulge with mason jars and garlic braids. But the pantry cannot measure ‘enough.’ Only the gratitude we express with each breath can do that.

(Plough to Pantry is a quarterly farm-to-table magazine with distribution across western North Carolina, parts of east Tennessee and the South Carolina foothills. If you’d like to subscribe, visit http://www.ploughtopantry.com)

Posted by: Banta | April 28, 2016

Uncle Billy’s Garden

(The following story by Banta Whitner appeared in Plough to Pantry | Spring 2016)

Freshly plowed fields dot the hills where I live, each one a blank canvas awaiting the artist’s vision. Every spring, without fail, farmers and gardeners step beyond the newsfeed of the day to tend their soil. They turn “swords into ploughshares,” and plant seeds for a new harvest. This is our common ground.

Long before I learned to read and write, I was digging in the dirt. My great uncle Billy introduced me to organic gardening the summer before I started kindergarten. He and my great-grandmother lived on the outskirts of Cashiers, NC, where I spent golden nuggets of summer as a child.

One morning after breakfast, Uncle Billy handed me a basket. “Blueberry pickin’ time,” was all he said. I hung back at first, wary of this grumpy old man with his big booming voice. I had no idea he was an operatic baritone or coached opera divas in Manhattan. At five, the promise of a pie won me over.

He took to whistling as we headed down the stone steps to the garden. His gruff exterior melted away, replaced by a childlike joy I understood. At the rustic gate he stopped and spread his arms wide, “Here we are.” Even then I sensed we were about to enter sacred space.

Tucked into the hillside, invisible from the house above, his garden spilled out in every direction. Besides plump blueberries, Uncle Billy grew rhubarb and asparagus, purple eggplants, sweet onions and peppers, strawberries, and heirloom tomatoes. Herbs tangled among the vegetables—sage and dill, parsley and basil, rosemary and creeping thyme. To keep out hungry rabbits, chicken wire surrounded the tiers of greens—endive, spinach and kale, and more varieties of lettuce than I’d ever seen.

We filled the berry basket in no time, but my five-year old self had discovered a lifetime happy place. With grudging good humor, Uncle Billy nurtured the clumsy zeal I brought to his well-tended garden. He treated me like a grownup and shared what he knew.

That summer we sowed crookneck squash and field peas, pulled weeds and picked hornworms off tomato plants. I can still smell the rich loamy dirt, composted with eggshells and banana peels and cow manure, and I can hear the drone of Uncle Billy’s bees.

That grumpy old opera singer, a WWI veteran and closeted gay man, taught me how to listen to the land and coax food from earth. He taught me that healthy soil grows healthy plants, and that making good soil requires patience and huge amounts of compost.

More than that, he taught me that making a healthy human, a good idea, a sustainable relationship—all take time and lots of compost, too. Toss together the discarded scraps, shredded pages, broken hearts, the missteps, snippets of memory and sleepless nights. Let the ingredients heat up in a messy pile. Provide ample water and sunshine. Stir occasionally. With enough patience, new growth will take root and rise up from the compost. Every single time.

Shed drawing by Stephanie SippIllustration courtesy of Stephanie Sipp

Posted by: Banta | March 4, 2016

If not now, tell me when

merrideelamantia fabric art

If you like Carrie Newcomer’s music, you know that her story-songs speak straight to the heart. On Being’s Krista Tippett says, “They get at the raw and redemptive edges of human reality.” In all her work, Newcomer explores those places where the sacred meets the ordinary—a light in the window on a dark night, an empty chair, a laborer’s rough hands.

With each image from the commons, Newcomer reminds us that a simple shift in perspective transforms the most ordinary moments into something holy. The truth is, the holy is there all along, just waiting for us to notice. When we slow down and pay attention, the holy shines through. But in our multi-tasking distraction, our rush to the next thing, we too often miss it.

Holy is the place I stand

To give whatever small good I can

The empty page, the open book

Redemption everywhere I look

Unknowingly we slow our pace

In the shade of unexpected grace

With grateful smiles and sad lament

As holy as the day is spent

(from Holy As A Day Is Spent, words and music by Carrie Newcomer)

She also writes about hope—“the kind of hope that’s faithful, that kind that Niebuhr talked about: ‘anything worth doing will probably not be achieved in one lifetime. So we are saved by hope.’ And that’s a harder kind of hope to live with, because it’s easier to be cynical. I mean, when you’re cynical, you’re never disappointed,” she says. Newcomer reminds us that our task is to get every morning and work for good, practice peace all over again, even if what we hope for cannot happen in our lifetime.

Not long ago I had the pleasure of sitting close to the stage at a Carrie Newcomer concert. While this singer-songwriter-poet makes light of her reputation as a “Quaker celebrity,” she is indeed a strong voice for progressive spirituality, social justice and interfaith dialogue. She has collaborated and performed with a number of well-known authors, artists, scientists and progressive theologians—Parker Palmer, Barbara Kingsolver, Marcus Borg, Mary Chapin Carpenter and neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, to name but a few.

Once referred to as a prairie mystic, Newcomer was born and raised in southern Indiana. She traces her Quaker faith to a service semester in Costa Rica during college. There she had her first encounter with an unprogrammed Quaker group. Based on the idea of “expectant waiting,” members sit in silence until someone has a message they wish to share with the group. There is no prearranged liturgy of prayers or readings.

Newcomer felt at home in the silence. Of her lyrics and poems she says, “My best language has always come out of the silence,” and “…my best prayers are songs.” For her, music itself is a spiritual practice because, as she explains, “You have to be present, you have to show up to your life.” You have to remain curious, to live your questions.

One particular song echoes in my head, a mantra worth repeating. Listen and see if you agree.

 

Posted by: Banta | February 12, 2016

Plan B for Valentine’s Day

Wholehearted living

Every Valentine’s Day when my daughter was little, I cut out hundreds of red and pink and white hearts in all different sizes, stuffed them into an envelope and wrote on the outside flap, “Open with care and shake out the contents over your head.” We called it Valentine rain. The tradition caught on and lasted for years.

At five, she giggled and squealed with delight. By fourteen, she thought it lame. As a college student in western Massachusetts, where February is the bleakest month, she welcomed the Valentine rain as a reminder of home and her parents’ love.

Valentine rain

Like it or not, February 14th rains down hearts on all of us, regardless of our relationship status. The single, the lonely, the broken-hearted, the grieving—all stand in the path of the Hallmark storm. The pervasive emphasis on romance—candlelight and flowers and dinners for two—excludes those who by choice or circumstance are not part of a couple.

Whether you are partnered or single, I offer this Plan B. For every paper heart you see, remember to open your own. Take a moment to touch in with the soft spots there, honor your vulnerability and remember your innate worthiness.

In her popular book Daring Greatly, change agent Brene՛ Brown describes what it looks like to live a whole-hearted life:

“Whole-hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.’”

Loving myself and others with my whole heart requires the courage to be vulnerable. When I allow you to see me as I really am, warts and all, I drop the protective shell around me that has prevented us from connecting with one another in a genuine way.

On the other hand, as long as I hide my real self, I remain stuck in a place of shame and fear. The stuck place tells me that I am unworthy, not enough. Fill in the blanks for yourself: Not smart enough, thin enough, lovable enough, successful enough. The not enough feeling cloaks me in shame, and fills me with fear that you will see my unworthiness—that all my imperfections and flaws will be exposed.

To ward off the shame-fear-unworthiness narrative, we often deflect blame onto others. We get all puffed up with righteous indignation, so certain we are of being right. If I am uncomfortable, surely someone else is to blame.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron puts it this way: “Blaming is a way to protect our hearts, to try to protect what is soft and open and tender in ourselves. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.” (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

Chodron says that having compassion for others begins with compassion toward oneself. We must touch the soft places in our hearts—all the unwanted parts of ourselves, the myriad imperfections we would rather hide. With an open heart, we must sit in that discomfort and not run away.

Whole-hearted living begins here. Touch the soft places in your heart and your protective armor starts to fall away. You open to deeper connections with others. And it is those connections that give meaning and purpose to our lives, that teach us gratitude and joy and resilience.

Plan B. Open your heart. Let go of the need to be right or certain. Have the courage to be uncomfortable as long as it takes. Allow for vulnerability. You are worthy of love and belonging.

Posted by: Banta | February 3, 2016

Memory makes mistakes

what's your story

My great-grandmother Bella knew how to embellish a story. She liked to tell about the day she painted her baby brother bright green. The way she remembered it, she was a bossy nine-year old, and little Riggs was five at the time. I was sure she was making the whole thing up.

“No, baby, I’m telling it straight like it happened. I see it so clear in my mind’s eye. Riggs was too big for his britches. He was sassy and wouldn’t mind me when I had to babysit him. One Saturday I got him real good. Told him how proud Mama and Daddy would be to see him painted the same color as the lawn chairs. Told him he would be their favorite yard art. He fetched the paint and brushes himself. I couldn’t let him down. So I painted him, short pants and all, from the bottoms of his chubby feet to the top hairs of his blond head. I left little white circles around his eyes and one around his mouth, and room to breathe through his nose. He was a masterpiece to behold.” She sighed with pleasure at the memory.

“Course I got the whippin’ of my life when Mama and Daddy got home. Sent to my room without supper. And Mama had to bathe Riggs in turpentine and tomato juice twice a day for a week to get the green tint off his skin. Riggs hated baths. He squirmed and cried like a stuck pig through it all. Served him right. Pesky brat.”

“C’mon, Bella, you didn’t really paint your brother green, did you? He’d have smothered to death or something.”

Bella shrugged off my challenge. “Believe what you like,” she sniffed, “I know what I know.”

Memory makes mistakes. We humans rarely recall events in their entirety. More often, we file them in multiple compartments—the visual in one box, the sensory in another, the tactile in another, and so on. Our memory retrieval is partial and inexact.

Siblings, friends, coworkers, experience the same event and recall it differently. Or not at all. We minimize or we embellish, based on our emotional wiring, our roots, our wounds, our capacity for what AA calls a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory.’ Every time we remember an event, we reconstruct it just a little differently.

Why does this matter? Because we create the narrative of our lives with the building blocks of memory. We humans need a story line. We depend on autobiography to remind us who we are. Yet that very narrative also holds us hostage. It contains the potential for self-harm as well as growth. How we interpret the memories of our past—the elements of our story line—makes all the difference.

Change the story, change your life. Is it really as simple as that? Yes, both as simple and as complicated. Stuff happens to us, joyful stuff, painful and traumatic stuff. We make faulty interpretations of events. We “misremember” bits and pieces, hold on to some of the bits, let go of others. We file, lose, delete, retrieve, reconstitute—in waking hours and in our dreams. Find the thread and follow the story line. Where does it take you?

Think about a story you believe about yourself. How does it serve you? If you told this bedtime story to your child self, would you want to hear it again? Would it give you nightmares? Or would you go to sleep with a smile on your face, feeling safe and loved?

You can change the story line any time you want. With mindful intention, you can live into a new narrative that serves and promotes your greatest good, rather than one that perpetuates old hurts and fears. Philosopher-teacher Wayne Dyer liked to compare a person’s past to the wake behind a boat. Depending on the size and speed of the boat, the wake can be gentle or turbulent, but it has absolutely nothing to do with driving the boat forward. The wake is what the boat leaves behind. Dyer advocated we think of our past as the wake behind the boat, and let it go.

By loosening the attachment to our personal history—that story line that holds us hostage—we give ourselves the freedom to choose a new and more positive story, one that propels us forward rather than keeping us stuck in old patterns. The point is, we get to choose.

 

 

 

Posted by: Banta | January 24, 2016

The art of surrender

Surrender 5

Surrender was never my strong suit. If you are someone who makes long-range plans, or keeps a detailed to-do list, or chafes at travel delays, then we speak the same language. You know what it’s like to get so attached to a certain outcome that you tie yourself in knots to predict and prevent all the pesky what-ifs that might capsize that boat.

But life unfolds true to her own plan, not ours. Trying to control the flow simply guarantees frustration. Somewhere along the way, we forfeit our happiness and put our relationships at risk. And by clinging to that illusion of control, we also miss the extraordinary gifts of the present moment.

The need to control is rooted in fear. When we let fear and anxiety run the show, they bully us into thinking we have to be in control all the time. They convince us that dire things will happen if we let go of the reins. Turns out, they have it dead wrong.

Fear and anxious worry beget more fear and worry, not less. They bury us in the what-ifs and steal our energy. They seduce us into thinking they’ll protect us from harm, but that’s a lie. Fear and worry never kept anyone safe. And when fear manages our choices and decisions, we often veer way off course.

In certain contexts—like war, sports, and politics—surrender connotes a white-flag retreat, a giving up or giving in, a backing down or crumbling under pressure. We grew up with the old adage that “quitters never win and winners never quit.” When that rule bleeds into our personal and inner lives, we turn everything into a struggle. But away from the battlefield and the ball game, the campaign trail and the boardroom, we can opt out of that relentless win-lose-draw mentality.

Even in difficult circumstances, we always get to choose our response. Always.

According to psychologist/author Amy Johnson, “Surrender literally means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality.”

Some faith traditions call this spiritual surrender—to completely accept what is, and have faith that all is well, even without one’s individual input. Lest this sound too passive, be assured this kind of surrender is not about inaction. Rather, it’s about what Buddhists call “compassionate action”—the practice of active compassion toward self and others.

I like to think of surrender as a threshold, a path of less insisting and more allowing, less holding on and more letting go. Instead of pushing back, imagine how it would feel to soften your resistance—to a change in plans, or something new on the horizon. The art of surrender, in this scenario, invites us to melt into the present moment. When we surrender ego and will, and get out of our own way, we yield to the fullness of now.

Older Posts »

Categories

%d bloggers like this: