Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Nineteen

Day Nineteen

Unexpected Kindness and Goodwill

Amid the elbow-gouging frenzy of consumer madness, there are gleams and glimmers of something closer to the proper spirit of Christmas. Acts of kindness and courtesy shine out here and there, and lighten the days.

Look for them. Create them. Remark on them. Share them. These are the things that remind us of the core of this winter festival that predates the name it bears but which prefigure its arrival, for time is not truly linear and goodness transcends the limitations of our understanding of time and space.

What goes around, comes around ~ compost, Karma and kindness

Greenman by candlelight

What goes around, comes around ~ compost, Karma and kindness

One of the hardest things about moving house is leaving behind a garden you have nurtured and cherished. I used to be a gardener. I am still one inside, but after our last move, from one garden that was far too big (an acre, if you’re curious) to one that was far too small, I lost heart. I found I just couldn’t do it any more. The garden was tiny and the soil exhausted and slightly toxic from overuse in the past of both weed-killer and chemical fertilizers. Turn a spade and nothing wriggled. We tended it but for me it was without enthusiasm.

But diligently we filled our two remaining composters, with teabags, veg peelings and the like. Our garden in Kegworth, we’d had a row of six Daleks and when we left, I gave 4 of them away to a freecycler who also filled some sacks with the beautiful well-rotted compost those Daleks had contained. This year, the composter in use was a glorious mass of wriggly soil workers: hundreds upon hundreds of worms.

So of course, the move became more than speculation, became a reality and it dawned on me that for the umpteenth time, I’d be leaving behind perfect compost. We dug that batch into the veg patch. If nothing else we’d restored that small patch of earth to something like a fertile, healthy soil.

Moving house is up there in the top ten stresses. I’d fretted myself almost into a breakdown by the time moving day came, paralysed by sheer anxiety into a state resembling a rabbit in the headlights. No amount of reassurance made a difference. I’ve been ambivalent about this move for lots of reasons; I suspect some of it is based on deep distrust of the bureaucracy the church can be infamous for, and also because it meant that a certain level of independence would be lost. But sometimes you just have to go where the Wind blows you, and in the end, I let go and just allowed myself to be borne away on that Wind.

I’ve just about emerged from walls of boxes now. Apart from my study most of the boxes are unpacked and the house feels like home. It doesn’t quite smell like home yet but I am working on that. The acid test is when my mum arrives next week and walks in the front door and takes a big sniff. I’ll let you know what she says.

In the first few days, I worked solidly at unpacking but one evening my other half told me something that was a pleasant surprise. There’s an area behind the garage that’s what you might call a ‘service area’ with a compost bin and such like behind a trellis fence. It turns out that there’s a compost heap too. It’s about twelve feet long and about five deep, and 3 feet high. There must be a good metric tonne of well rotted compost here. I suspect that this is about the same as all the compost I’ve left behind in the last twenty years.

There are also a dozen or so apple trees. In the last gardens I have planted dozens of trees (literally) and I don’t think when it comes to apples, I’ve ever stayed long enough to ever taste a single one. We once grew asparagus from seed; by the time we left that garden, it was getting close to being ready to crop. We never got to eat any.

Many years ago, when we had our first garden, a friend asked me why I was bothering to plant things when we knew we’d only be there for three years. At the time I answered somewhat acerbically that what was the point in doing anything when we’re only on this planet for perhaps eighty or so years. The thing is, planting trees that one will never live to see in their prime is a selfless act. One is planting for a future generation, never for oneself. If no one did it, imagine the world in fifty years time.

So seeing both copious compost and abundant apples in my new garden was a reminder that sometimes things do catch up with us. The good we do, and the bad. When you sow kindness, it’s because it’s the right thing to do, and not because you hope that kindness will be repaid one day. It won’t be. Kindness is a gift, once given, and given with no thought of return, which benefits the receiver first. But the giver benefits too, from simply doing a kind thing. Yet at times I wonder if there is some rough balance that means you tend to get back what you have freely given. I don’t believe in the so-called Law of Attraction at all, yet I do believe in grace. You don’t have to deserve it, yet perhaps when we have chosen to do good and be kind, grace finds it easier to find us. Maybe you just notice it more.

I tend to (wrongly) associate the word Karma with the negative, of punishment rather than a redressing of balance, but the principle still seems to be there. The evil we do does come back to roost, in the end. Our problems come when we wish to see the evil of others catch them up when and where we can see if and feel that justice has been done. I’m guilty of this at times, of wanting those who have chosen to hurt me to get their come-uppance and for me to know about it. That’s something I have to let go of. It’s not up to me.

There’s lots of work to do, to make my new home more home-like and to nurture and cherish the new garden, and find a job and so on. But now I am here, I’ve generally slept better (that’s another post!) and feel better. I’ve begun to understand where some of the extreme anxiety had been coming from (again, another post). But the Wind has blown me here, and here I have landed. Time to see what else the Wind may bring.

To Lie or Not To Lie? The ethics and philosophy of lying

I don’t usually bother with quizzes but this one piqued my interest:

It’s from the Open University and very interesting. I’d be curious to hear which philosopher my readers most closely resembled: for the record, I came out as Aristotle.

Those who at this point launch into Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song have won my heart forever and a day… unless you are lucky enough to already have my heart,  in which case, sing it anyway!


Edit for those who are NOT familiar with the song, so that they may learn wisdom:

Being Queen is lonely


Being Queen is a lonely thing….

 I visited my bees on Sunday and they’re all doing well. I have currently three colonies: one hive that is quite populous, one that is less so and one that is tiny. The tiny one is one I created about three weeks ago when faced with the hard choice of what to do with a couple of queen cells that needed disposing of.

(A little bee background: bees basically consist of three kinds. Workers and queens are female and drones are male. Drones do nothing but wait around in the hope that a virgin queen will emerge somewhere in the vicinity and they can mate with her: it’s a great life while the sun shines. They get fed by workers, do no work and just buzz around all day waiting for their chance with a queen. Incidentally, they die straight after this. They die in the winter or the workers kill them off. But bees exist to make more bees(the honey is just their winter stores) and the problem from May onwards is swarms. You let your bees swarm and you lose half your colony. We lost half of ours because they waited till we went away on holiday and then buggered off. So one of the things you need to do to try and avoid swarming is to knock out queen cells. A queen cell is a long tube of beeswax, where the workers rear a single egg by feeding it with royal jelly until after 16 days a new queen emerges).

We found two queen cells when we opened the hive that day. One hatched in my hand and I accidentally dropped her; I have no idea where she went. The other felt warm and alive in my hand and I couldn’t bring myself to do what a seasoned bee-keeper would have done and thrown the queen cell away. I made a sudden instinctive decision and took two frames of brood and nurse bees to our spare hive and gently mashed the end of the queen cell onto a corner of it, shut the hive up and walked away. Bees will always rear brood and eggs and they will always minister to a queen so there was a good chance that I had started a new colony in doing so.

I felt a little odd about it because I had simply felt that what I held in my hand was what you might call, “a good ‘un”. I had no evidence or logic for this: just pure feeling. However, it appears I was right. The new queen had emerged, mated and begun laying when I came back a week later. For a few weeks she was the only one of our three queens who WAS laying. On Sunday, in my inspection, I actually spotted her, swift as a little greyhound and the frame was filled with eggs and brood. A real good ‘un. I am glad I obeyed that tingle in my hand and mind that said “Let her have a chance”. I suspect that over the next few years, she may more than pay me back.

But this evening I had been pondering over the model of the bees and it occurred to me that being queen is terribly lonely. Bees sense when a queen is failing and they “supersede”: that is, they rear a new queen and quietly let the old one go. Sometimes they kill her. Sometimes a bee keeper decides a queen is not what he wants and replaces her. Either she’s getting too old, or she’s not laying enough or the temperament of the colony isn’t right. Bye bye Queenie.

I could draw parallels with the book world (and they exist all right) but I won’t labour the point, because writers create stories(honey) and Queens lay eggs to make more bees. But what I really want you to understand is that those who are at the pinnacle of what they are or do are in a precarious place. They won’t be the best forever. They won’t be at the top forever. And coming down, they may meet those they may have climbed over to get to the top. 

So, let us be kind and gracious as we make our journey through the world; everyone we meet has private battles and sorrows of their own. Their life might look sweet and honey-scented from where we are but we don’t know what it cost them to get there, how hard they must work to stay there and how easy it is to lose.


The Hundredth Monkey

The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years. In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant. An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too. This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes. Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes — the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let’s further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes. THEN IT HAPPENED! By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough! But notice: A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea…Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes. Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind. Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people. But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone! From the book “The Hundredth Monkey” by Ken Keyes, Jr. The book is not copyrighted and the material may be reproduced in whole or in part. Read the whole book
The story of the 100th monkey has been bandied about and played with until some people have discredited it and discarded it. I don’t care if it’s true or not in the sense that it did or did not happen; it has become true in my head and my heart. I believe that when something reaches the event horizon, then it gets to that tipping point and then nothing can stop it.
I use the term Event horizon loosely; no one knows what’s at the other side of the black hole, after all. I believe that random acts of senseless kindness could change the world. I’ve been on the receiving end of them, of people doing wonderful things for me not because I deserve it but because they believe in me or because they happen to feel like it, or because it felt right at the time. J (see blogroll) did it for me when he helped me publish my book, using skills and courage I didn’t possess to get something rolling that otherwise would have remained a dream that died quietly in a corner somewhere. He did that for someone he hardly knew at the time.
I could also speak of the woman whose name I will never know now who sat with me during the dark hours of a hospital night after I tried to kill myself aged 19, who took the time to sit with me and listen and talk to me and change my mind and teach me that I had a chance to live, even though her life was far worse than mine and she had no hope of better. I never even knew her name but she saved my life and she was a STRANGER.
We are none of us meant to get through this life without kindness given and kindness received and the kindness of strangers is the purest there is, because it is given without thought of return. It’s given as a true gift of grace, with no ulterior motives.
But I am just one woman, with limited powers and energy and finance. What can i do? I can do the kindness of being a friend to those who need me and to strangers. I can take the time to be courteous, to give alms where I can. And when an opportunity come where I can let go of my own agendas and simply give to the world, I can trust that even my small efforts are not invisible in the grand scheme of things, that they will make a difference somwhere.
That woman in the hosptial will never know what a difference her kindness made to me in my dark time. I may never know what difference I may make to others. Neither are reasons for not doing it.
Myth or not, you might be the Hundredth Monkey. Go and make a difference