One of the participants in Charlie and Edie Seashore’s course at the Cape Cod Institute last week spoke of a particularly entrenched dynamic in her life and concluded with a sigh, “It is what it is.”
“Or is it?” Edie replied, to much laughter.
It was a reminder of how easily we fall back into seeing our circumstances in habitual ways that don’t serve us well.
I didn’t realize just how much I needed it until the course ended and the very next day the full weight of summer descended upon me—tourist gridlock in the grocery store, a calendar complicated by trying to juggle family visits and client sessions, my own competing desires to get things done and still have enough time and energy left over to enjoy summer.
By taking the time to learn more about another form of life instead of immediately rejecting it, I have tried, as the Dalai Lama suggests to “walk all the way around a problem.”
And if all that wasn’t enough, there was slime mold. It was the last straw!
I’d stepped out into the cool night air to get my thinking to a better place. Seeing my Martha Washington germaniums blooming in a pot on the front stoop brought some relief, but as I paused to enjoy them I was confronted by a pizza sized, florescent yellow mass in the mulch next to the steps. There, shining in the moonlight, was a disgusting glob of what is commonly referred to as the dog vomit variety of slime mold, physarum polycephalum.
Not surprisingly, given my do-what-you-have-to-do-to-get-through-it state of mind, I decided to make war on the yucky stuff. I hit it with the hose and a chocolate brown powder burst into the air like smoke from a factory chimney.
I enlisted my husband to do some research on the Internet and find out how to get rid of it, and he reported back to me that you can’t. It’s been around for a billion years and has reached a state of what scientists call, “evolutionary perfection.”
And that powder I saw when I used the hose on it—it was countless tiny spores that have now burrowed into the mulch and are awaiting the right conditions to become active.
“It is what it is,” I said.
Or is it?
As it turns out, slime mold is not mold at all but a single-celled amoeba-like creature with millions of tiny nuclei. And it has some remarkable abilities.
For example, when presented with a number of nutritional choices, it touches upon all of them and, based on its needs, either “decides” to move toward one or splits itself among many. In one experiment, slime mold was provided with food particles arranged in a pattern similar to Tokyo and its surrounding cities and the creature fed itself by constructing a pattern of tubes strikingly similar to the Japanese railway system.
Slime mold has the amazing capacity to “flow toward things it likes … and away from things it doesn’t … without a single conscious thought.”
When I stop to consider that I’m trying, with mixed success, to use my superior cognitive functions to achieve the same results—growth through feeding on nourishing thoughts and actions—I have much to learn from this brainless blob, especially when the spores of negativity that reside in me are activated by fatigue, stress and vulnerability, and heightened by economic concerns, political controversies, here and throughout the world, and the extreme weather that is increasingly a part of all our lives.
My summer lament is minor compared to what so many people are experiencing, but the choice of what to feed on is the same.
When a woman in a fire-ravaged part of Colorado, standing among the piles of ash which represent all that is left of her home, can speak about the tree that survived in the yard she is bearing witness to this power of choice.
I have no idea what we’ll do about the unwelcome invader in front of our house, but I do know that, by taking the time to learn more about another form of life instead of immediately rejecting it, I have tried, as the Dalai Lama suggests to “walk all the way around a problem.” Doing so has made me feel lighter and that’s a much better way to start the summer.