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Imperfectly Perfect:
Letters from Espanola





I do not have any children of my own.

So it is no surprise that I pour all of my mothering instincts into my garden. In my eyes, every single plant has its own personality. I try to understand what they each need to survive.

Sometimes, they surprise me with the way they grow and bloom. Sometimes, they up and die on me, which leaves me feeling disappointed and wondering what I could have done better.

But mostly they teach me about the cycle of life.

About beauty, strength and harmony.

The Hopi Pink corn that sprouted in May has been enduring the New Mexico summer. Scorching hot one day. Temperatures dropping at night. Whipping winds. Soot from near-by wild fires. I have watched them grow. Leaves getting bent and torn. Some leaves dying. But growing nonetheless.

Driving down the street last week, I saw a yard with corn that was over five feet tall, lush and dark green. By contrast, my little corn-field has plants that range from one to three feet tall.

I started to feel a sense of despair. There were not enough nutrients in the soil. The plants were too small.

Somehow, it seemed, we were failing.

This is the pain of life that no one trains you for, as a child. Promises, hopes, possibilities - the mind loves to explore those horizons. But then, eventually, you have to put your shovel in the soil, dig a hole and try something.

Inevitably, no matter what you do, the results will never match your expectations.

I really believe this game of the mind is the reason that the sages developed meditation to begin with. Not to make us holy. Not to find God. But to just keep us sane. Because the images that the mind conjures, both positive and negative, will never match what actually happens.

Nothing I think will ever come true. Life unfolds by its own rules. Sometimes more amazing than anything I could believe. Sometimes more tragic than the heart can bear.

We put energy into today, with the prayer that it will lead to something wonderful tomorrow. Yet, there is never a guarantee that the effort will bear fruit. The results, ultimately, are not under our control.

Life requires a balanced mind, a tame mind, a patient mind. A mind that can put aside its dreams and make peace with reality.

Last Friday, after getting some news that did not exactly make my day, I wandered out to my little corn patch and began tending the plants.

Much to my surprise, I observed that a few of the corn plants were starting to tassel. This is the stage where the pollen to create the seeds begins to form. I could hardly believe my eyes. Sweet corn has to grow tall, and put out twenty or more leaves, before tasseling. But this Hopi Pink corn started to tassel after forming only ten leaves.

It is a desert corn. It is bred to not need so many resources. As I counted the number of leaves on the plants that were tasseling, I thought to myself, "This is the Guru's corn. One leaf for each Guru, and the tassel for the Guru Granth Sahib."

The three feet tall plants were tasseling. The one foot tall plants were tasseling, And suddenly, my day got brighter. These tenacious, wind-whipped, sun-burned, corn plants were not going down without a fight. Despite the harsh conditions and the lack of knowhow on my part, they had decided to begin their reproductive cycle, anyway.

It is still a complete mystery whether this will result in any seeds. But, at least it is a step in the right direction.

A couple of days later, I took some photos of the plants, and the cornfield, and shared them on my Facebook page. As I was looking at the pictures, it struck me that this is how life actually works. You plan, you think, you imagine. And then you TRY something.

You invest yourself in something. And it is what it is. I cannot tell you if I have done a good job or a bad job. I can only report that I have done the best job I can. The cornfield would still be the most perfect image in my thoughts if I had done absolutely nothing.

By doing something, it is the most perfectly imperfect reality.

There is a joy in that.

A satisfaction. A grace. Because to take the risk and try, regardless of the outcome, is what makes life LIFE. There is no such thing as "doing it right." There is only doing it.

Whether or not the corn succeeds in its life cycle remains to be seen. But I am fiercely grateful that these rare seeds came into my life and they have been given a chance. I would rather see one foot corn plants starting to tassel in a desert garden, than a handful of seeds filled with promise sitting in a jar on the shelf.

The mind is made to see the possibilities. But seeing the possibilities only gives us inspiration.

At some point, we need to set aside the hope, get down to the work, and trust in that imperfectly perfect outcome.


July 18, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Shabad Simran Singh (Butler, Pennsylvania, USA), July 18, 2013, 11:13 AM.

Ek Ong Kaar - Just as one should separate yoga from paying the bills, perhaps one should separate gardening from feeding one's self. This is a beautiful article, and you are speaking from your heart. Seven years ago, a co-worker told me a story about an uncle who came over to US from Poland. He brought with him, among other things, seeds from "the best tomatoes in the history of the world". Mark gave me some of the seeds. Perhaps 12 or 15 in number. I found them in June, while planting some aloe seeds. I planted the tomato seeds in the same planting container. Four of the tomato seeds sprouted. I did the best I could, but only one remains. It looks healthy and happy. This is an ongoing story, too ... like life. Thank you for being here and sharing with us. Sat Nam!

2: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), July 18, 2013, 10:28 PM.

Thank you for writing. Gardeners meditate so well.

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Letters from Espanola"

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