Trillium, Sweet Air, & Mothering
Even though Mother’s Day is in the early summer, mother is characterized by the season of the Earth Element of late summer. Nourishment and harvest, more than any other words, speak of her, our mother earth, who is like a mother. She provides us with all the nourishment we need to live through the year. When the cold sets in during the winter months we have all the memories and fruits of a wonderful summer. We feed our minds and spirits from these memories and savor the tastes and flavors of the harvest. We are given everything we need to feed us in body, mind and spirit from our physical mother and she gives her love unconditionally to the child. This maternal love is the foundation of a secure and nourished spirit. When we have a good mother, we will always have a home around us and within us.
—Paraphrased from J. R. Worsley’s Classical Five-Element Acupuncture, Vol. III, The five Elements and the Officials.
This late afternoon walk, the first of its kind in several weeks since I've been gone, aligned my heart and mind with home again. Trillium, or locally called Sego Lily, is blooming on the hillside just past my home. Its three-pointed petal reminds me of the Goddess triad, the mother, maiden and crone. She stirred the muse in me today: a much-desired outcome on Mother’s Day. All day while doing chores and catching up, including a phone call with my daughter and cooking, I imagined writing something, perhaps about my own mom.
Trillium rises from the dry, deserty ground on a single stem from a fatty, potato-like bulb, producing simple and pure beauty. The flower can lay dormant for years until conditions are just right, so I feel trice-blessed today. This high desert lily “first appears when young golden eagles are feathering and their parents are busy hunting rodents, and prairie falcons are fledging”, say the Craigheads, old friends of mine and authors of A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers!
The bulb was eaten by the natives here just as we would eat an Irish potato. An old childhood memory arises of my mom standing over us kids waiting to kerplunk a second glop of potatoes onto our plate. “Eat up”, she would say, “the children in Africa are starving”. I never quite understood this logic, but it was her logic and her way of assuring our nourishment, just like a good mother would. Her goal in life seemed to be to feed the world and end starvation.
The warm air is thick with milky sweetness. Mother's milk. As I exert a strong stride to exercise my tired body, Chokecherry blossoms prolifically line this roadway. She's in full bloom, “when young prairie falcons are about to fledge and the young ravens are on the wing”. Best picked in late summer when the cherry is fully ripe and sweet, otherwise, you’ll get a pucker mouth the likes of my mother’s Chokecherry syrup. I swear mom picked them before the falcons were fledging! They are astringent if not ripe and cause terrible faces! I make jelly from these little roadside delicacies in late summer: picking, cleaning, cooking, and squishing out the hard stone-like seed. I just had some on toast this morning and thought again of mom and laughed at the memory of our puckered pusses.
There's an irony, a bit of a twist of fate in all of this about my mother. She died last December at 82 from starvation. With a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s she systematically lost her memory, including how, when, where and what to eat and how to swallow. She lost what she had lived for: feeding, nourishing, nurturing and providing a sense of security, having everything needed for life. It was a natural death we say, even peaceful, as she whispered to my middle brother, “I love you”, in the moment before she took her last breath. Oh, how I would love to have heard that, too. I’m grateful he was the recipient of her love in that fine moment. Love was all that was left of mom. The lily symbolizes her purity and that her soul has returned to a peaceful state of innocence.
In the early stages of mother’s Alzheimer’s she would eat a meal and then prepare dinner again, to eat again and sometimes again or ask after eating, “What should we have for dinner?” Her brain’s hunger and satiation signal just wore out. Mother’s imbalance and death was a deficiency of her Earth Element. She is, as we all are, an expression of the macrocosm.
I see her earth deficiency as a microcosm of the macrocosm of how we live today. We kill the ground we stand on with artificial fertilizers, chemicals, genetic modification, pesticides, on and on. I’m lucky to live on a more virgin, unadulterated land, where Trillium and Chokecherries blossom freely, but this is not true for most people on the planet. I inherited my sensitivity and sensibility about earth from my mother.
Deadly poisons are common in warfare (along with other destructive tactics) now more than ever before in the history of humanity. People fight for land and resources and wage war on the other-than-human people, too, like the insects, weeds and plants, animals, weather, the sea, the hard earth to get to the precious minerals, breaking the rocks and polluting the waterways. Mother, earth and mom give their life unselfishly, unconditionally, for that which is taken greedily.
We have become too clever and too greedy, using our minds for gain and profit. Perhaps losing one's mind is a response to forgetting how to live from one’s heart? For what is taken with greediness is paid for by loss of something else. Is it not?
It is said in my tradition that our mind is the gift we received upon creation; not hoofs or fur or claws or talons. No, we got a mind, for the sole (soul) purpose of giving gratitude, to be able to say “thank you” for everything created under the sun. We have fallen asleep to this role of the mind, as a gift for human beings. We have fallen into forgetfulness, slowly regressing into child-like states.
One who lives from the heart would not take from the earth, be greedy, wage war against her and her people. The elders of other cultures would say that is not the way to balance and harmony on earth. A culture of greed is unsustainable. Something, someone, has to “give”.
Could it be that the mind has become the modern offering which brings balance to Mother Earth? Could this Alzheimer’s disease be a natural response of our times to maintain the world’s equilibrium? All life seeks homeostasis through the act of reciprocity: one thing given, one thing taken. This is a law of nature, an intrinsically natural course of action for balancing the world.
Since 2001 fear has grown in our country to amass a war machine unlike any other in history, like nothing a human being really could imagine. Woman, the container for life, is being squeezed out of this militarized mechanized world. Isolation is killing people. As humans retreat into themselves, the mind becomes the sacrifice in order to cope with the bleak destruction of our Mother Earth.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth most common cause of death in the United States with a 123% increase since 2000. Every 65 seconds a person is diagnosed with the disease, with one in ten people aged 65 and older (ten percent of the population) having this form of dementia. Almost two-thirds of these people are women!
Might we never really reach adulthood, or become an elder in these days that we are living?
Now is the time to call ourselves back and recollect our souls to remember what it means to be a human being. The change needed is simply to live from the heart. There are many ways to kiss the earth and only one simple way to give gratitude. By using our minds to say “Thank you” we could recover from the chronic disease of destruction and rebalance that which is disturbed in the field of reciprocity and disrupted in the natural cycle of life.
At 62 now, I sometimes wonder if Alzeimer's could be my same fate. Yet, I have chosen a life-long path of learning and gratitude, healing and reclaiming Mother Earth as my mother, with hope and prayer that Her fragmented, shattered and scattered Self will heal, and Her people will see the truth and remember why they have been given a mind, to give Her gratitude.
The Sego Lilies and the Chokecherry blossoms remind me of what my mother stood for: life in balance. Plenty of food, nourishment and a deep sense of well-being and security. They also remind me of hope for the future, food in the pantry, and love in our hearts. The Great Goddess is alive and well, and life doesn’t have to be astringent if we just allow ourselves to smell the sweet air and let the cherries ripen, and we become wise elders.