Willow Tree Talk

Willow water

“I visit the willow tree because she listens. Silence. Breath. Leaves.”

By Lakshmi Jagannathan

Sunlight filters through the branches casting shadows on the water.  A gentle breeze ripples the reflection.  Long thin branches, bend low — heavy with bright green leaves. The ground is dry and rocky, the leaves wilting in the heat.

Suddenly, the skies part and rain comes in sheets blanketing brown hills as if Gods and Goddesses from Oregon have traveled South. The Guadalupe River almost floods its banks. The tree becomes a stranger – unreachable. I have mixed feelings about nature’s bounty.  Is this the ending of a relationship?

Willow sapling

The waters eventually recede and wildflowers cascade extravagantly down the slopes. I find a broken branch lying on the ground. I take it home and plunge it in water. Willow will root so easily that you can even use water steeped in it to root rose cuttings. Nothing mystical about that – just the effect of plant hormones.

Speak less, listen more.

I visit the willow tree because she listens. Silence. Breath. Leaves. The flutter of a duck’s wings as it lands on the water.

The world is a mirror.

“Ginny!” said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted (In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling). “Haven’t I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain!”

WillowTreeDrought

Some people say the reality you see outside is a projection of your thoughts. You attract who you are.  Hard as it might be, we must take ownership for what is. We rant and rave at misogyny and bigotry while we actively participate it in it. As we have seen from many recent news stories, it’s obvious that the objectification of women is alive and well in the workplace.

And Racism was creeping and crawling under the rock all the time. When I first came to live in Oregon people like me were often asked this question: “When are you going back?”  I thought I was putting down roots, but apparently, I was quite foreign. Looking back now, I realize what the term micro-aggression means. “Do you live here or work here?” – a playgroup Mom visiting my home.

Examine your prejudices. I had to confront mine. (Why weren’t Islamic leaders more vocal about condemning terrorist attacks?) Until a cashier at a grocery store confronted me after a terrorist attack.  I got the feeling that she felt “my people” were responsible. A couple of months ago I participated in a rally to support Muslims.

MuslimRally

Is it possible that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is actually holding a mirror to the Voldemort in all of us?

You are not your story.

They say grief has different stages.  Whatever this dark beast was also had stages for me – Disbelief, Acceptance, Sadness, Outrage, Anger, Personalization.  Yes, suddenly it was all about me.

It’s easier to rail against a common enemy then battle with your inner demons. But actually, our own stories hurt us the most. They change all the time – good, bad, ugly, wondrous. Love, Betrayal, Fame and Misfortune. Characters come and go. Some are there only in the first Act, some last to the end. All the world’s a stage, and we must play our part.

Write a new script.

We don’t have to be victims, though.

Below the surface of our rocky mind is a stillness. And there we can write our new stories and allow them to unfold in their own time. A life force can emerge out of a dead, abandoned stick.

Meanwhile, walk on a sandy beach, teach a class, bake a vegan, paleo chocolate cake.

Egret

There is a flutter of wings and suddenly I see it – an egret so big! I whip out my cell-phone, just a little terrified. It stares, almost as if it wants to advance towards me. In a second, it changes its mind and it’s gone – small now – up in the sky, white against a cornflower blue.

Btw, before you go, stop sharing every @#$&ing thing on social media.

Wow. I didn’t know a willow could cuss like a sailor.

And listen, hey, don’t walk away from me!! Get your $#@ together.

When are you ever going to write that book. What about your online energy healing community idea?

I know, I know, stop nagging me. It’s just that my life is so complex!! Time is like a thick sweet syrup, trickling sluggishly into a drain. I have insomnia I wake up tired and then drink a lot of coffee and then I can’t sleep at night. And then.

Excuses, Excuses. Never mind. It’s Ok.  Life is not an Amazing Race. Nothing to prove to anyone. Just be.

Photographs: Lakshmi Jagannathan

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lakshmi jagannathan

Lakshmi Jagannathan

Trees seem to be a theme in my life, says Lakshmi Jagannathan.

“As a grad student many years ago at the University of Massachusetts I developed techniques to propagate a tree in vitro – Paulownia tomentosa, the Empress Tree. Revered in Japan, bridal chests were made from its wood. Later, long before social media, I attempted the creation of a portal for authors and their readers called Gulmohar (aka Flame Tree – a tropical tree with bright red flowers).

Now it’s a Willow Tree that inspires me to create a community to nurture emotional and mental wellness. If you are interested in knowing more or offering your expertise, contact me.

Join this Facebook page: fb.me/WillowTreeTalk

Visit my blog: Living La Vida Pura

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Editor’s note:  I met Lakshmi in the fall of 2007, when she was one of a dozen people selected for The Oregonian’s Community Writer program. Her love of the natural world is evident in this piece, as is her sense of humility and her striving for a more equitable world.

Tomorrow: Emily Zell, Organizing my way back into life

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The Lady and the Lotus

LJ lotus

In Asia, the delicate, beautiful lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence.

By Lakshmi Jagannathan

The flat round leaves, anchored with bulbous stems, float gently in the water like giant saucers. A black-and-white bird steps on a leaf delicately with one leg, walks on water and gently skitters on to another leaf.  Scattered throughout the floating barge of green are ethereal blooms of water lily radiant in the morning light – pale yellow, pink or with a peach colored hue. In Asia, the lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence – of purity rising from the muddy waters.

I am in a cottage on stilts on Lake Inle in Myanmar. The lotus-filled water stretches out for miles to hills in the distance.  It could easily be the time of the King Anawrahta, who founded a kingdom by developing an irrigation system in a dry land and turning it into the rice granary of the region. In a way, this trip is also a quest for roots. A great uncle lived in Rangoon in the early part of the 20th century. At that time, Burma was a province of British India. An aggressive Burmese king had prompted the conquest, not to mention the need for teak and rubies.

LJ lake inle

A cottage on Inle Lake in Myanmar evokes a feeling of serenity, a world away from urban stresses.

I hear the gentle splish-splash of a boatman who stands on a stick and uses his leg to row the boat. It’s far away from a world of mass shootings and barbaric terrorist attacks. No traffic gridlock, no phone calls or appointments. It is life reduced to the bare elements, water, sunshine, air and lotus. Except for one thing – the 4G here is better than in the U.S. For years the country was undeveloped because of military rule, but now, since there was no slow evolution of technology here, cutting edge mobile connectivity is instantly available. So I post my lotus picture on Instagram – not so much for validation, but in a feeble attempt to freeze the present moment.

I love that the women seem empowered, somehow, in their fitted blouses and stylishly draped longyi skirts. No hiding hair with scarves or hunching behind veils to cover their breasts.  Whether it’s a village woman cleaning fish on the banks of the lake or a smart businesswoman in the capital, they seem confident and are treated with respect. The only restrictions are in pagodas. For some reason, the management is obsessed with “spaghetti straps” and there are warning signs everywhere not to wear them. Or shorts. And women are not allowed in the inner sanctum.

Lotus cloth is a big industry in Lake Inle and designers from Europe pay big money for this cloth more expensive than silk. I can see why as a woman at a weaving house extracts lotus fiber from a stem – the process is very labor intensive. And the end result is cool like cotton – not smooth and fine, but a great alternative if you have ethical concerns about silk.

LJ pagoda

A couple worshipping at the Shwedegon Pagoda sport their longyis, traditional Burmese attire.

The night sky feels primeval as a full moon shines over the lake. This phase of the moon is considered holy, and there is chanting all night in the monastery across the water.

Coincidentally, the next day is also a major national holiday – Martyr’s Day – the day the “Father of the Nation,” General Aung San, was assassinated by a political rival. When we get back to Yangon we discover that admission is free at the Bogyoke Aung San museum (his former home) because of the holiday.

From the crowds that throng the house, it is obvious how much the brilliant statesman is still venerated. There are pictures of him with world leaders.  I read a letter he has written to the British government announcing Burma’s choice for independence. A picture of him playing joyfully with his young kids shows so much hope and promise, that it’s sad to see the following one –  of his wife weeping over him on his last day. The sadness seems to permeate the house even now.

At the doorway, you have to take your shoes off and carry them (this is something you have to do a lot in Burma – in temples and, apparently, sometimes even in offices). The furnishings are stark and simple – a teak bed with a mosquito-net stand, a coat rack and a glass cabinet displaying the leaders uniform. A wedding picture graces the wall.

LJ General Aung San

A wedding portrait of Burmese General Aung San, “the father of the nation” and his wife.

Another bedroom contains Aung San Suu Kyi’s crib. As it is with Burmese names, her name actually consists of her father’s first name, her mother’s (Kyi) and a grandmother’s – Suu. I can relate to this because in South India – we don’t have last names either. It’s hard for me to understand the sacrifices Suu Kyi was willing to make. She refused to leave the country to see her dying husband because she knew the military regime would never allow her back. But her prioritizing country over family can be explained by her spiritual beliefs – the Buddhist concept of embracing suffering as a meditation practice.  It might also explain the patience and gentle demeanor of the people that we encounter everywhere, despite the poverty and the hardship they must have endured.

Even though Suu Kyi’s party won a historic election in 2015, rules concocted by the military did not allow her to become the President.  Instead, she is the “State Counselor” and also has to share power with the military which retains 25% of the seats in parliament. She is poised to implement agricultural and infrastructural reforms so Myanmar can join the global economy, but the path could be difficult since democracy is so new. Another serious issue is the persecution of religious minorities and armed ethnic tension.  I learn that for an American NGO based in Yangon, conflict management education is an important task.

LJ. weaver

Lakshmi Jagannathan with a woman who is a weaver and also teaches the skill to guests.

On the last day of our stay there is a heavy downpour – it’s peak monsoon season. We are in a fancy new pizza place, that serves microgreens, but when it’s time to leave, the compound is flooded. “No problem” says the manager. A taxi is hailed and people place benches on the water so we can step across and sit in the car seat. Burmese hospitality at its best.

Ever since Aung San Suu Kyi came into office, expectations are very high for her, but the challenges are many.  I hope the peace they have now lasts and the country continues on its path of reform and accomplishes its goal of a brighter future for its people.

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Lakshmi Jagannathan is a writer, startup cheerleader, reiki healer/counselor and tree-hugger. “Lately,” she says, “I have found that if I call myself a writer I get asked too many questions by immigration officials in different ports, so now my official occupation on application forms is ‘counselor.’ It works — the junta left me alone in Myanmar.” Follow her @BeavertonWriter. Read her Living La Vida Pura blog on WordPress and her Veggie Travel posts on Facebook.

Editor’s note: I met Lakshmi in the fall of 2007, when she was one of a dozen people selected for The Oregonian’s Community Writers program. Then and now, I’ve admired her intelligence and writing ability, her multicultural sensitivity and love of the natural world. Through her VOA posts, I feel as if I’ve traveled to multiple Asian and African countries.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde, A haven for political junkies

Friday flashback: ‘A purpose-driven life’

mother cheetah

Mother Cheetah and her brood.

As the fifth annual Voices of August guest blogging project approaches a month from today, I’m pleased to revisit a piece by one of my favorite contributors: Lakshmi Jagannathan.

Thanks to my well-traveled friend, I’ve experienced snippets of what it’s like to visit certain places in India and East Africa. I like the way she connects her observations to past and present, as an immigrant, a mother, a visitor, a lover of animals.

lakshmi jagannathan

Lakshmi Jagannathan

In a 2013 post, she described a day trip on the border of Kenya and Tanzania and the life lesson she drew from watching a mother on the hunt.

She began her piece this way:

“Pink sunlight filters through the dust. A cool breeze cuts through the windows of our jeep as it curves through a dirt track. We see her first in the distance — a quick movement in the bushes. A mother cheetah.”

Beautiful.

Read the entire post here: “A purpose-driven life”