Monday, November 16, 2009


Fix your thought closely on what is being said,
and let your mind enter fully into what is being done,
and into what is doing it.
-Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD)
#31, Book Seven, Meditations

A day after returning home from the UK late last month I crested the ridgeline west of Petaluma and was greeted by a carpet of verdant grass miles wide and deep spreading across Two Rock Valley. The week prior, before leaving on the trip, the same grass was dull brown. A couple of early fall storms had dropped enough rain to remind our little town and the adjoining valley that something is always just below the surface waiting to grow. Looking down at the rich expanse I wondered if this was the kind of green that L. Frank Baum imagined when he wrote of Oz?

It is November. We are enjoying warm autumn days here in Northern California, though gray days are not far off. The trees speak, "Change is constant." Outside the window at Peet's Coffee, where I sit writing, they stand as silent torches, red and orange flames silhouetted against a crisp blue sky. Soon colors will fall. The sky will cloud over and yield to shade and shadows. But the already green grasses over the ridgeline will continue to brighten, urging us to be patient. Another cycle of growth will happen. Days will lengthen. Buds will swell. Boughs will fill. The air will bustle and buzz.

Night before last a few friends and I gathered for dinner. Our upbringings are widely diverse. We share a broad swath of professions: CPA, green building expert, master somatic body worker, senior business exec, and others. As our evening unfolded the conversation turned to genetic engineering of seed, and the far reaching impact (real and potential) this can have on food, corporate governance, legal systems (local to global), life forms, and human beings yet to be born here and abroad. It was lively talk. Two are particularly schooled on the subject. They had a lot to say. I spent a fair amount of time listening. As I did, my thoughts drifted to seeds of a different nature.

I. Fertile Fields

My mentor of years past (1975-1983) described the mind as a fertile field. His major message was that the seeds (thoughts) which you plant in this field (mind) will grow. He didn't say they might grow. He said they will grow. An understanding of this, he admonished, was fundamental to success. One should be conscious of what was being planted, stand guard over his or her field, and be vigilant about what might blow in.

One may have argued, "Not everything grows." But consider: maybe they (thought seeds) always do grow, just not in an abundance that might be noticed. Or, maybe these seeds take longer than realized to germinate. It may take some patience to actualize. And because of the length of time the seed requires, it's possible to forget that the planting occurred. Months or years later one wakes to a surprise, which really shouldn't be a surprise.

On the subject of accountability he would say that people ought periodically weed their mental gardens just as they would a back yard garden; getting down to the roots lest the weeds take over or return. He strongly referenced the affect that emotion has on result. "Emotion," he would say, "is the catalyst, the fuel that causes an idea to become reality!" This message encourages honest fun, playfulness, positive tone, rhythm, song, dance as part of the constructive creative process. Conversely it warns against wallowing in cesspools of negative feelings, anger and pity pots. Stink'n think'n, no matter how rightly justified, produces poor outcomes at best, and destructive outcomes at worst.

II. Granddad and Ray.

Ray, Arizona is a town that isn't anymore. Not just a ghost town. Ghost towns have structures, paths and streets, shutters flapping on hot afternoons or during winter deluges. Wiped off the earth by an ever-expanding copper mine, Ray became a non-town in the 1960's and is now only a memory. It exists simply in thought. Yet, in thought it impacts the lives of those of us who were born or once lived there.

Bud Ming was the town's old man. He wore broad brim hat and old jeans and a long sleeve shirt, even on days when temperatures soared above 100 degrees. A slim and fit man into his later years, he repaired his own boots. I never saw him drive a car, let alone ride in one. Unless he was walking aside his horse, he was on it. He lived with ritual. It would not have been uncommon, were a crow to fly above his head, to see him dismount and walk a circle around his horse before getting back on and continuing his ride. He carried with him a small leather bag filled with polished stones.

Apparently he didn't care if others thought his rituals were strange. They kept him of right mind. Others opinions (thoughts) were not his to be owned. I never heard him raise his voice at anyone. I never saw him cross. A quiet sort, he had the respect of the entire town. Everyone knew him by one name: Granddad. He had many practices. One was about sharing. Another had to do with his line shacks.

Sharing. The kids in town loved the polished stones that Granddad carried. Every now and then he'd stop a small boy walking on the street or standing behind a fence and give him a few stones from the leather bag. With the giving, though, always came a lesson. "Here you go kid," he'd say, "have a couple of these treasures. Some for you; some for your sister." Then he'd look the lad straight in the eye and offer, "Make sure you always share with other people the good stuff that's given to you in life."

Line shacks. These revealed a secret that an outsider to the town may never have guessed, and lessons on responsibility that he taught the youth. The secret? This man of simple attire, odd rituals and a loathing for automobiles was one of the wealthiest landowners in the region. His ranch stretched up a valley north of town. His expansive properties had line shacks, little one-room structures, spaced from here to there in the desert, giving him refuge from the hot summer sun when he needed to mend fence and attend to his cattle. Any of the town's youth were welcome to use a line shack.

If you were a kid hunting or fishing or taking a hike, you were always welcome to stop and rest and get out of the sun or rain. The rule: always leave the place a little cleaner than how you found it. It wasn't a "written down" rule. It was a "remember this" rule. Something you had to keep in mind. A rule that was nothing more than an idea, a thought.
If a particular kid used a line shack and didn't abide by Granddad's rule, didn't make the place a bit better, Granddad somehow would find out, and that kid would be forbidden to use the shack again until he or she made things right. The lessons? Be responsible with your attitude and action. Both affect others and yourself. Both will be revealed. Someone always finds out what you're thinking and how you're acting. Your reputation rests on this. Your reputation is probably the most important thing you own. Once seeded it forms a destiny.

III. A Surprise Interruption (right on schedule?)

I'm at Peet's Coffee writing these words and sitting in the same spot I occupied last month for a similar task. Outside the window across Petaluma Boulevard the trees stand as torches, red and orange a against crystal blue sky. The cars rush past carrying people who are going somewhere. Each has something on his or her mind - a hope, a fear, a goal, a somewhere to go, a something to do, an idle thought. It's been a warm Autumn morning spent reminiscing of Ray, Granddad, my long ago mentor, and friends who recently shared dinner and lively conversations.

I look up from my work. An acquaintance walks through the door. She comes over and says hello. Odd coincidence, I think, because a similar scene occurred last month when her employer, Richard, walked through the very same door, this before I left for the UK. The now green grasses in Two Rock Valley were brown on that day. Then, Richard and I chatted as I was finishing last month's, October Potpourri. Today, Karen Short stands in the same spot where he stood. Go figure!

"What'cha doing?", she asks.
"Writing," I say.
"What about?"
I begin to explain.
She offers, "Ah, an important message, like what Richard asked in his writing this month, 'What are the stones that we are laying that form our reputation?'"

"What reputation would you like have?" I ask.
Karen replies immediately, "I'd like to be known for what Steven Covey wrote about -
To Live. To Love. To Leave a Legacy."
"Can I quote you?"
"Sure!", she answers.

IV. Questions.

What seeds are in your mental bag -- or baggage? What reputation, what reality, what result, what outcome, what news is here or on the way because of the seeds of thought you have planted and are planting? If you want something different than what you have, what seed needs to be planted today? Will you plant that seed or just let something blow in? As they are planted what actions need to be taken? How patient and vigilant will you be? What practices will you engage in to nurture and guard and weed your garden?

In the city called Wait,
also known as the airport,
you might think about your life -
there is not much else to do.
For one thing,
there is too much luggage,
and you're truly lugging it -
you and, it seems, everyone.

What is it, that you need so badly?
Think about this.

-Mary Oliver (Logan International)

© Lance Giroux, October 2009

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