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Nourishing the Yin With Sugar and Greens

by Kaia Maeve Tingley 11 months ago in garden · updated 10 months ago
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Instilling value back where it has been lost.

video by author. Yep, we really make this stuff. @muse.of.creativity & @themoderntemple on Instagram to see more.

I've found the kind of happiness in my garden that really sinks in.

It gets in all the way to my bones.

My happiness thrives when it gets planted in the cyclical soil of reality. Not so much when I chase the figment of happiness born of an endless climb up the mountain of more. I cleave now to happiness that has learned a calmer embrace of death and other inevitabilities.

It’s the kind of happiness that acts like ballast in my boat as I ride through the storms of life. Happiness I can count on because it comes from a source so big my mind can’t even encompass it. Happiness that grounds me and keeps me calm.

Nature gives me my belief system.

Don't laugh. I can prove it exists.

***

I love to be in our garden. It exists entirely without artifice. I almost forget myself in the symphony of plants, bugs, and dirt. There is peace in knowing no one cares what I look like when I'm gardening, though the happiness I find here always makes me feel beautiful.

There’s never a cry to slow the ripening fruit. There’s no self-doubt among the cucumbers or zucchini about which is the largest. No tomato too plump. No peppers too twisty. All things ripen in their time, and the eating of fruit and composting of rinds are honored parts of the greater cycle.

We know ripe fruit should be honored, consumed, and savored, ideally in awakened pleasure. All phases of being can be celebrated in the garden. Even dying.

Careful pruning is given to our beloved plants as a gift of love. I murmur love to each basil flower I pick to keep the leaves growing.

The visceral value of giving care is revealed not only in the health and bounty of my harvest but also in the priceless peace of many quiet mornings spent with a cup of tea, my feet in the moist dirt. I like to watch and look to see what's changed since the day before.

They have words for this feeling in languages other than English. Down here in Texas, I keep listening for the right word to describe it, but I haven’t found it yet. Maybe there’s a word, like y’all, big enough to encompass everything? Maybe there isn't?

When I watch long enough, the cycle of seed to sprout to flower to fruit is always and inevitably followed by a fading, falling, wilting, rotting return back into soil again...full circle. It never fails, and in this, there is a lesson. In the garden, death is impossible to ignore. Over time I've worked to make friends with the whole cycle of being.

My goal? Continuously improving alignment with the full cycle of life. So that when my own time comes, I won't be so afraid.

Sometimes I practice embracing discomfort by mindfully choosing not to scratch the bug bites on my feet.

Sometimes I just scratch the damn things.

Bone Deep

One quiet rule underlying the current human insanity on our planet says, “science and progress are the only ways by which we must define the human journey.“

It seems subtle.

Unremarkable.

But the equally potent feminine magics of intuition, childbirth, and creative congress with nature are often left out of the zeitgeist. These stories about what is and isn’t important underlie every crumb of culture and society we co-create together here on this planet - they matter.

A lot.

I love science, don’t get me wrong. But the way in which we use and abuse science in the name of progress as our manifest destiny is arrogant and wrong. We’ve got a bad case of hubris. Species-wide. We can remember all we have gained from science, if only we’re willing to admit that maybe, just maybe our drive for progress should not always be in charge.

Maybe there’s a better balance.

Science and progress should not be sacrificed as strawmen of “toxic masculinity” to be taken down in the name of the divine feminine. Rather they are divine aspects of metal and air, representations of the healthy masculine. We need science and progress! They counterbalance the feminine aspects of soil, water, and fire.

If only the masculine approach can be mitigated to become more aware of its conditioned urge to conquer and dominate! And the feminine feel more empowered to speak up.

I’d say the silent settings of society are due for a reset.

We need to rethink what progress really is.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, science and progress would be considered yang. Silence, rest and darkness are yin. So what happens when we are systemically yin-deficient, as we are in a world that prioritizes science and progress so heavily?

Conceptually yin is rest, slowness, the feminine, quiet, heavy. Conceptually yang is moving, active, buoyant, rising, masculine, forceful, light. Most women have depleted their yin and associated body fluids by working too hard, sleeping too little, and doing too much in a day. We use caffeine and nervous energy to accomplish our long to-do lists and have a tendency to get sick on vacations when our bodies slow down for a full day. - Window of Heaven Acupuncture

The craft of gardening and a good dose of feminine energy are the tools I use to slow down. To replenish my yin. To work to heal myself, our soil, and, by fractal intent, the whole planet.

Gardening helps me write my own story instead of inheriting the one the culture teaches me. By reconnecting with nature via the soil, and by embracing death via the regenerative practices of fermentation, I am not only creating my own happiness, but at the same time fomenting this evolutionary revolution that is upon us.

I hope I might inspire you to join me, if I’m honest.

So let me tell you more about what I’ve learned about dirt, happiness, death, microbes, and the embrace of my fertile and creative womanhood. Let me show you where I found the missing yin.

It all starts with just a few snips of my trusty scissors.

Life and Death Dance for Anyone Watching

I choose to watch.

Networked connections form from little seeds, their plant roots paired with mycorrhizal fungi in healthy soil. This partnership is a kind of coordinated underground intelligence. These connections effectively source nutrients to the plants better and more reliably than any modern global supply chain, provided the nutrients haven’t been extracted from the soil and all the microbes and fungi tilled and killed. Plants that grew last year and dropped seeds sprout new volunteers in this year's garden. I deadhead the rosebush to encourage more blooms.

All of it moves in cycles. Birth, life, death, decomposition. My missing yin is replenished from being silent and patient. From quietly waiting and trusting in the force of life to make movement happen.

The creative force, also known as eros, is simply amazing to behold. And the lessons from the garden are fractal. Time spent in the garden brings my attention to something important. A thing the mainstream world works hard to avoid, ignore, cover-up, or even overcome.

Death is the great recycler of life. And unlike with the blue recycle bin, it is not an optional process. Plants don’t do botox. They never try to live forever, but accept their fate with grace. Or at least, without complaint.

Death comes for us all in the end. I enjoy pondering the fact that every single being will eventually die, decay, and crumble. And without this process, there would eventually be no more new life. This makes me a great party guest, for the record.

Not many folks really get excited about it all except the mycologists and fungi nerds, but I really think we might want to collectively revisit the possibility. Because death is really important. And death makes space for new things to be born. It’s really not something we can run away from. And it’s kinda dumb to try.

Maybe all death needs is some rebranding? It looks like the next few decades are going to bring it. We don’t really have many other choices.

Unless you plan on hopping on a spaceship with Mr. Musk?

Harnessing Death to Feed Life

One of the coolest things my lovely husband came across recently on his endless quest to feed and build the soil is a way to create our own custom, organic, local plant and soil nutrients. It involves a simple fermentation of plant material to extract their nutrients.

The resulting brew is called FPJ - fermented plant juice.

Mmm sounds sexy, right?

FPJ is used in solutions for seed and soil treatments, and plant nutrition. It consists of the young shoots of vigorously growing plants that are allowed to ferment for approximately 7 days with the aid of brown sugar. The brown sugar draws the juices out of the plant material via osmosis and also serves as a food source for the microbes carrying out the fermentation process. The weak alcohol produced during fermentation extracts chlorophyll (soluble in ethanol) and other plant components. It is non-toxic and edible. - Hawaiian Farming Guide

In a world based on science and progress, death is usually something we avoid thinking about. If science and progress save lives, then death is positioned as “the enemy.” But by honoring it, embracing it, and thereby viscerally participating in the cyclical nature of life and death, we can begin to find clues back toward better health for everyone on this planet.

How?

By leveraging scientific systems thinking and a few million powerful little microbes of decomposition, and by understanding the basic ecological structure of the land we steward, it becomes much easier to simultaneously take care of both ourselves and nature. And by honoring the processes of decomposition and decay as a way to create the new, we are reintroducing the concept of healthy yin back into the bigger picture.

This process is far more cost-effective than buying organic amendments. And just like our homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than store-bought, I'm thinking our homemade FPJ probably does too. At least to the microbes

So if your happiness also happens to be about alignment with nature and DIYing life, then grab your scissors and a clean jar.

How to make FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice)

1. First, take a sharp clean pair of scissors and snip your plant of choice into a large clean container. I use my old 5-quart sauerkraut crock to catch the cuttings.

2. Fill the container up with a few inches of cut plant material.

3. Then add brown sugar to the container. Use enough to fully coat the plants with sugar to start. Make sure your hands are relatively clean, then mix the sugar and plant material thoroughly until each cut leaf surface is coated with sugar.

4. Press the mix down to the bottom of the container. Coat the top with another thin layer of brown sugar.

5. Carefully clean any stickiness from the outside and bottom of the container, then cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth and fasten with rubber bands.

6. Let it sit and soak. It will eventually separate into layers and you should see some bubbling and movement.

7. When it feels done (i need more about this) carefully strain out all the plant material, reserving the liquid. Bottle the liquid and use it as a concentrate to be added to water.

For the record - there are some excellent videos already up on YouTube that go into detail about the process. No need to reinvent the wheel.

What Happens When It’s Death’s Turn to Lead?

As Stephen Jenkinson says, we live in this death-phobic culture. This is part of the imbalance of yin and yang we see all around us. This contextually makes an appreciation of death and dying seem weird and creepy. But from my garden, I know better. The natural intelligence of mycelium, fungus and microbes is there to help us. And we don’t have to do anything except stop killing it all.

How much lower can the bar get?

Cutting up plant matter and gratefully harvesting its nutrients with the help of fermentation makes me feel primal and brave. By choosing to extract my own natural fertilizers instead of buying the manufactured synthetic chemical versions, I’m choosing to rebel against the broken system.

I feel like I’m fixing something. On a tiny level at least.

With a simple snip of my reliable scissors, a bag full of brown sugar, some effort and some time, the way out of the consumerist rat race trap beckons to me. Everything is connected and life is sacred. We have the power to create something new and better.

Women and dirt have a kinship of sorts. It comes from being the ground from which new life emerges.

And then there are the cravings. Oh, la! A woman may crave to be near water, or be belly down, her face in the earth, smelling the wild smell. She might have to drive into the wind. She may have to plant something, pull things out of the ground or put them into the ground. She may have to knead and bake, rapt in dough up to her elbows. She may have to trek into the hills, leaping from rock to rock trying out her voice against the mountain. She may need hours of starry nights where the stars are like face powder spilt on a black marble floor. She may feel she will die if she doesn’t dance naked in a thunderstorm, sit in perfect silence, return home ink-stained, paint-stained, tear-stained, moon-stained.

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Death is simply a gift of raw materials and potential passed on to the next round of life.

And it’s only through an embrace of death that we find an escape from the prison of fear that keeps us living small and trying to stay safe.

In my own world, I still struggle to embrace death. I won’t lie. I watch my elders getting older and I know that in time, all of our times will come. Since I know the idea of control in life is just an illusion, I’m working to make peace with the fact that I”m on this ride, as Bill Hicks puts it, and I’m going to go round and round under the brightly colored lights for a while. And that I can choose to remember, that this all really just is, a ride.

Why not enjoy it?

© Kaia Tingley 2021

garden

About the author

Kaia Maeve Tingley

Kaia Tingley is a writer, artist, podcaster, digital strategy nerd, and sometimes hot-tempered supernova with a wild, free soul.

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