Local Action “True Grit”: How we and the GANG have begun to transform a seemingly destructive situation
Hold on to your horses. This is an epic post, divided into parts, each with lots of photos that you can scan through quickly just to give the flavor.
1. The cut in the wall
2. The Ceremony
3. The Blows
First, here’s some “before” pictures of the SW corner of the garden, containing a cob oven and ferrocement wall, all of which was constructed by volunteers over hundreds of hours.
The situation had been brewing for five months. See this and this for details. For the first three months I had been locked in an internal battle, trying to not only make sense of what was going on, but to come to terms with it and find a way through. At some point, it occurred to me that this situation was the most challenging I had ever encountered, in the sense that I had to integrate more dimensions than ever before in order to discover a way to creatively respond. I had to integrate 1) the neighbor who opposed the educational — and, it appeared to me, the community — function of the GANG garden, 2) the city Planning Department who had responded to her call and was making certain demands, some of which I preceived as a threat to the multi-purpose of the garden, 3) the near and far Green Acres neighborhood, with whom I have been working to help seed an authentic village culture for the past seven years, 4) the new and still very tender and rawecovillage hub of which I am a cofounder, 5) the Council of Neighborhood Associations, to which I belong, Transition Bloomington, of which I am one of the original organizers — and on and on, in widening circles of influence.
But beyond and within all these concentric zones, was what I call zone zero zero, the center of the self, which dissolves into no-self, Presence. Zone zero zero as the infinity that opens and enfolds in the embrace of the the Love that fuels the universe. And, right next to this sacred center, right on the other side of it, or at its edge, was/is my persona, or personality, the evolving form I have been conditioned into for this lifetime. And this form or persona is fiery, combative, arrogant, righteous, determined, like a combination of bulldog and banty rooster — all qualities that I like to see in my “opponent,” the neighbor who has been “giving me so much trouble.” My perception of her persona was and is my perfect mirror, the projection of all that I dislike about myself. (So perfect, an “opponent” who actually shows up! How else am I going to learn about my own shadow without an honorable opponent to illuminate it for me?) So, beyond any of these other zones of integration, I had to integrate this cocky persona into the higher self of detachment and compassion, that which sees the entire human drama as merely one more play of illusion within this three-dimension stage that we have all chosen to walk together.
So that’s the internal scene. In the external, the GANG garden is, and is viewed as, one possible alternative private/public template for the future as we learn how to relocalize our lives and, in particular, grow our own food, in a downshifting culture that will more and more need to be fueled by cooperation and sharing rather than competition and greed.
For more of the details, see this and this, the two emails I sent out to announce the Ceremony of Impermanence that would precede the destruction of our lovingly constructed cob oven at the SW corner of the GANG garden.
The Cut in the Wall
The city requires that we remove not only the cob oven, but the wall behind it, due to a law which outlaws “structures” 25 feet from any intersection (a law that is only enforced when brought to the city’s attention). So, we had to figure out how to remove that wall. Were we going to trash it? And if so, how? Or were we going to move it to another location, if so how and why, and where would a 20-foot long, right-angled, six foot high ferrocement wall fit? We thought about various places in the garden, but nothing seemed appropriate. It was just too damn big! Finally we decided to place it inside a copse of little trees in my back yard, clearing out a space to do so, turning the area in front of it into a hidden meditation spot.
Here we are, on the day of the Ceremony, traipsing to take a look at the newly cleared sanctuary for the wall.
Given the space available, we decided to cut about a five feet off one side of the wall to make it fit. My son Colin and Jim, the permaculture student that has been staying with me cleared the space. A few days before the Ceremony they made the cut, using a grinder purchased for the occasion. Here’s the process.
First, Colin measured the point in the wall where they would make the cut.
The Ceremony of Impermanence
November 20, the long-awaited day for the Ceremony of Impermanence and destruction of wall and cob oven dawned warm, grey and rainy. Oops! Can’t use power tools in the rain. We’d have to postpone removing the wall, and concentrate on the Ceremony and cob oven. Okay. C’est la vie.
About 18 people straggled in throughout the morning and early afternoon, despite the rain. And we all agreed that the rain was perfect for the occasion. The sky was weeping, as these three drops on the pear tree attest.
We gathered beforehand in my house and I told them what would happen during the ceremony. First, I’d talk about the whole situation, and its history, why we had to remove the cob oven and wall, what they meant to us, and my own process of trying to come to terms with it, by utilizing ceremony to transform something terrible into the first step for renewal in the spring. Next, I would invite others to say whatever was in their hearts as well.
Then Anna Maria, another permaculture student who had been staying with me on weekends during the two month local permaculture weekend course, would read from the Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Fall River Press, 2002), an appropriate verse for this ceremony. She chose verse #22, “Celebrating Paradox:”
No-thing remains itself.
Each prepares the path to its opposite.
To be ready for wholeness, first be fragmented.
To be ready for rightness, first be wronged.
To be ready for fullness, first be empty.
To be ready for renewal, first fail.
To be ready for doubt, first be certain . . .
Verily, fragmentation prepares the path to wholeness,
the mother of all origins and realizations.
At this point, we would each take the little slips of paper on which we had written something from our lives that they were willing to give up and put it in the cob oven for one last tiny firing, as a symbol of the impermanence of all forms. So hard to give up what feels safe, secure, comfortable, what we love!
And so on.
Anna Maria read verse 22 . . . Here are a few more lines from that beautiful translation:
Because the wise observe the world
through the Great Integrity,
they know they are not knowledgeable.
Because they do not perceive
only through their perceptions,
they do not judge this right and that wrong. . .
Then, we fired ‘er up one last time, letting go of our personal attachments.
At this point something very funny happened. Anna Maria’s piece of paper had trouble burning. She started laughing. She was asking herself to finally let go of her mother, who died sixteen years ago! Our mood began to lighten as we watched that damn little piece of paper finally catch fire.
By the time we came to the finale of the ceremony, echoing the wonders of Celebrating Paradox with the song “We Shall Overcome” we had changed the lyrics to —
We are right and wrong. We are right and wrong. Right and wrong make us strong!
Oh deep in our hearts, we do realize
That right and wrong make us strong. . .
— and were in a trance of hilarity, ready for anything, even destruction.
As the “leader,” I had the dubious honor of taking the first whack, which I did sort of gingerly . . .
We all expected the wall to break up into fragments. Instead it disintegrated into the “true grit” of sand, clay and straw of which it was composed.
We decided to create a wheel barrel brigade, and shovel the gritty remains of the cob oven onto the garden beds. It felt good to return the oven to the earth of which it was made.
Okay, done! Time to eat. The process took longer than expected. We were kind of glad the rain had stopped us from doing the wall on the same day. Colin plans to round up a bunch of strapping male undergraduate students who live nearby after Thanksgiving vacation to manhandle the wall into its new location. He figures it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
Here we are, in my house, hanging out with quiche, fruit, bread, and other sundries.
In one of my emails sent to announce the day’s events, I mentioned that for anyone who is interested, we would have a “metaphysical discussion” of the deeper meaning of the Ceremony of Impermanence after lunch. This we did, utilizing Anna Maria’s 20 years as a traditional Feng Shui practitioner . . .
A bunch of us pored over the map of Green Acres, and the GANG garden’s location within it, to understand, through the symbolic language of Feng Shui, on an impersonal level, why this destruction/renewal process had been necessary.
After this, I told the group a story of what I had discovered upon awakening that very morning. . .
I had wondered why this whole five months process had felt so important, and so difficult, and all of a sudden it had occurred to me that it was a “replay,” though with new characters and plot, understanding and outcome, of a drama that I had been involved in nearly 40 years earlier, during which I had been scapegoated and fired from my job as a teacher at the experimental New College of California for “being too experimental.” It was only years later that I recognized the entire process had originated in my arrogance (that persona again!). Now this time, many decades later, I had attracted another opportunity to deal with a multidimensional situation that required great discernment in order to thread my way through and shift it from destruction to transformation.
And, I concluded, I checked it with the symbolic language of astrology and discovered this: the chief fuel that I am burning in this lifetime is a 90° frictional square between Venus (personal love, desire) and Neptune (impersonal love, compassion). When the New College fiasco happened, in 1974, the slow-moving planet Pluto, agent of death and rebirth, had conjuncted my Neptune. Now, during this time when my soul had constellated parallel situation as part of the lesson plan for this lifetime, Pluto had moved 90 degrees, to conjunct Venus!
Voila! Out of destruction, resurrection. Out of confusion, clarity. Out of pain, joy.
That evening, I was lying on the couch when Zilia (Vera’s daughter) called. Said she was standing in front of the IU auditorium, and there was a guy there who was selling his $85 ticket for $65. Would I like to get it for the sold-out Paul Simon concert. Yes. I would!
The evening began with an old favorite, “Days and Miracle and Wonders,” truly a harbinger of these days when we are learning to Occupy our hearts and celebrate paradox. And near the end of the concert, his song “Love is Eternal Sacred Light,” its refrain:
Love is eternal sacred light
Free from the shackles of time
Evil is darkness, sight without sight
A demon that feeds all the mind
Love is eternal sacred light
Love is eternal sacred light
Love is eternal sacred light
Here’s my view, from the back of the orchestra.