Some years ago, I was privileged to participate in a strawberry communion. It was in a church community, a small, very liberal one. The minister and his family had picked strawberries the day before, and on Sunday morning, everyone present was asked to take one and hold it. Everyone ate their strawberries together. This was a powerful experience for me, many years before I had any knowledge of mindful practices or had even heard the phrase, “being present.” Even without those contemporary tags, here was this strawberry communion.
So today, when I tackled the job of getting our annual strawberry supply, I thought to try to make the work my practice for the day. It wasn’t quite as simple as sitting on a cushion or doing bioenergetic exercises! However, I want to really be where I am, so I persisted in bringing my attention back, over and over, to what I was actually experiencing.
I could tune in to the sensory aspects of the work, feeling my knees or seat on the ground, noticing the berries in my hand, the various degrees of effort to twist and tug the berry from the stem, the texture of the berry in my hand. I noticed how coyly some berries hide themselves away, tucked under a leaf or two, requiring my full attention to locate them. And then I had a thought about the nature of these berries, gorgeous deep red, contrasting with the green leaves, provocative and eye-catching. This is no accident. These berries are red because we can see them, can distinguish them from the leaves (well, most of us can. People with red-green colour-blindness would be exceptions), and can pick them, eat them, and conveniently NOT digest their seeds. We are a seed-dispersal system for strawberries. We are being manipulated by the luscious aroma, the rich colour, the melting softness, into eating these berries. It is a pretty near perfect system. And yet the strawberry gardener or farmer thinks that he or she is in control…that the plants are grown to make berries for me to pick, and to pay the farmer for those berries. True, of course, but not the whole picture. Then, because I was practicing, I noticed that I was thinking (“thinking”) and brought attention back to what was right in front of me. Ah, yes, berries. And children and parents, birds singing, a light breeze (my mind goes to gratitude for that softening of the heat)…and oops, back to paying attention!
I also held awareness, while picking, that I was holding onto summer for winter. At our house, we pick berries to freeze, to be turned into jam at a particular cold winter time. That taste of summer in winter means a lot, and knowing that I picked and processed the berries and my dear partner made the jam, and that this is a pattern of our lives together brought me a sense of continuity and wholeness, independent of any discomfort of berry picking. I could feel some sort of sensation in my midsection as I became aware of those thoughts. There was a fullness…or maybe I had been eating too many strawberries.
When I got home, I had berries to process for the freezer. Lots of berries! I scooped up handsful to rinse in the sink. Even an hour after coming home, the berries in the tray retained their warmth. I felt the warm berries on my hands, knowing that the sun had warmed them, as it had warmed me. I stopped for a moment to be aware of that warmth, to take it into my body through my hands. Now those berries, sun-warmed and sun-ripened, are stashed away against the days getting colder (as they will) and the nights growing long (as they will).
What I have, though, besides berries, is the body memory of picking in the warm sun, feeling the stems and fruit and the occasional squishy one, the smells of soil and overripe berries, and the inner peacefulness of being part of a greater whole. And while my mind is a busy place, monkeying around everywhere, the moments I come back to the present are the ones where I feel most fully alive.