168: Planting Seeds; Reflecting on Rocks — Buddhists and Catholics Converge

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     “Seeds and seedlings grow into forests step by step.
     “In this growing they have the capacity to support societies where every single person is honored. All you and I need to do is start planting the seeds. This is a small doing. One simple act followed by the next simple act, resting when we need to rest, admiring what we need to admire.
    “Seeds to gardens, gardens to forests, forests to seeds to gardens, in an exquisite dance.”

    from the Buddhist writer Geri Larkin’s new “Plant Seed, Pull Weed”

    That exquisite dance is going on everywhere in hopeful nooks, crannies and communities all around the world. For most of this week, we’ve been celebrating hopeful new insights into the natural world — but we don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is an exclusively Christian pilgrimage.

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    The popular Buddhist writer Geri Larkin is back in bookstores right now with a brand-new book, which she says may be her very last one, “Plant Seed, Pull Weed: Nurturing the Garden of Your Life.”
    You know what that means? Listen up, Geri Larkin fans! You know precisely what you have to do! Go out and buy this book for yourself, your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, your grandma and your grandchild! You do that and she’ll have to come back in another year or two and send us another packet of eye-opening wisdom like this new book.

    AND, TODAY, we’re also going to debut the third video produced with the IHM Sisters from their sturdy new booklet, “Nature Stations,” a prayerful guide to reflections in the natural world. We’ll show you that video and turn this into an interfaith reflection in just a moment.

    But, first, what readers love about Geri is her overflowing spiritual energy.
    I mean, get this: Her new book is about Zen and gardening. But it’s also about how vulnerable teen-aged girls can deal with the mean girls at school, how over-stressed sales people can deal with crabby customers — and how to cook up stir-fried dandelions after weeding your lawn!
    “I can’t believe how much stuff you packed into this book — I mean, recipes, too!” I told Geri when I reached her on the telephone.
    She laughed! “What I am trying to share is that life is everything! Life is, like, every aspect! Every part of your life counts, you know — your cooking, your having to deal with that nasty girl who, for most of us, now is 60 years old and she’s still driving you nuts! It’s all that stuff.
    “In any sincere spiritual practice, you have to deal with all of life — with everything.”
    She laughed again. Geri laughs a lot. “You know, David, the editor actually took a lot of stuff out of the book, saying I was all over the map. And I kept saying right back: ‘Hey, that’s the point! We have to be all over the map in our lives.'”

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    One goal of Zen is to be fully present in each moment. After spending time around Geri over many years, I can tell you this: Geri’s full presence spills over into an infectious — often funny — energy that enfolds everyone around her, even readers who get to meet her only through the pages of her books.

    Around the time her previous book, “The Chocolate Cake Sutra,” was published, I invited a group of high school students to spend time interviewing Geri for a documentary film on prayer and meditation. Geri was heading back to southeast Michigan for a few days from her new home in the Pacific Northwest, and I told the students that the cost of a seat with Geri was reading her book.
    If you know anything about the busy lives of teenagers, the idea of reading a book on Buddhism sounds like an impossible challenge. But, on the day of the interview, an eager little crowd of students pulled couches up around Geri’s own easy chair. They pulled out these beautifully well-thumbed copies of her book — their pages sprouting bookmarks, sticky notes and slips of paper with questions scribbled to ask Geri.
    That’s the best way I can convey the excitement of her spiritual voice. It can hook and hold a busy teenager — or a busy middle-aged writer like myself.

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    When I first reached Geri on the telephone to talk about “Plant Seed,” she started the conversation by eagerly sharing her impressions of the new movie, “Iron Man.” Then, when we got back to contemplating her new book, she warned me that her emotions for the natural world are at a fever pitch at the moment. She has just completed a 90-day retreat.
    “And, after this retreat, I’m filled with gratitude for everything in the world. I see a ladybug on a leaf — and I tear up right away. Everything is so sweet in life for me right now,” she said.
    Meeting someone like this, even across a long-distance telephone line from her home in Eugene, Oregon, is an electric experience.

    “Why do you insist on calling this your last book, Geri?” I asked her.
    “Oh, David, gosh, it’s because my own kids now are mating and starting to have babies and I want to start focusing on the babies, the children you know,” she said. “I’ve written enough for adults now. You know, there just aren’t enough good Zen books for babies! Have you ever looked for a good Zen picture book for babies?”
    “No, I guess I haven’t,” I said.
    “Well, I decided that I need to write some,” she said.
    (Note to our Readers: This is an excellent opportunity to click the “Comment” link at the end of today’s story — or Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm with any Zen children’s books you can recommend.)

    Oh, and by the way, Geri also recommends that you think about plowing up your front yard and planting a garden out there — complete with flowers and plants for food as well.

    “In this little place I have out here, now, I’m gardening all the time,” she said. “I’m determined to keep the crab grass away from my front yard, because I want to plant vegetables there. You know, I’m thinking now that for the most part those grassy yards need to be a thing of the past. It’s better to plant flowers and vegetables.”
    When she started talking about this, my mind immediately flashed to the recent news photographs of the Buddhist monks in Myanmar, who are responding to the devastating, deadly cyclone by heading out into the worst of it — with hand tools! They’ve started cutting up the fallen trees that are blocking roads, repairing things, rebuilding, replanting.
    In the spring, when even the hardest of our hearts can blossom, pluck up a copy of Geri’s new book and you’ll be smiling — and planning your next garden — from cover to cover.

    Now, we promised you a third video from the IHM Sisters.
    And, appropriately, today’s video is a contemplation of rocks — produced by ReadTheSpirit publisher with a gorgeous backdrop of flowering trees at the Sisters’ Motherhouse facility.
    Click on the Video screen below to watch the video. If there’s no video screen visible in your version of this story, then Visit YouTube directly to see the Sisters’ “Nature Stations” reflection on rocks.

    Let’s close today with a few more words from “Plant Seed, Pull Weed”:
    “In our gardens there will be constant weeds. Okay. In our heads there will be weeds, as well. Okay again. We pull them once, twice, ten thousand times — because we can. Because we must. Get out there and get dirty, my friend. Nothing matters more.
    “May you be fearless. May you make your life breathtakingly beautiful through your acts of generosity and compassion. May these same acts make the world a cleaner and safer place for the children of our children.
    “Small acts writ large change history.”

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