In the first chapters of “The Botany of Desire,” Michael Pollan offers a revisionist twist to the apocryphal tale of Johnny Appleseed. Turns out, Johnny was a shrewd businessman who, consciously or not, capitalized on the universal human desire for sweetness and alcohol to amass a real-estate empire.
In Johnny’s time apples weren’t for eating – they were too tart. Apples grown then went into cider production. A little cider at the end of the day would have taken the edge off what must have been a hard life, plus it was sweet. Even more fundamental than our attraction to alcohol is the human craving for things that taste sweet and cider was one of the only sources early Americans had for sweetness. Old Johnny paved the way for European expansion in North America by ensuring there would be something sweet waiting for the pioneers when they arrived.
Humans everywhere crave sweetness. We are instinctively drawn to it because it’s a sign of potential life-giving nurturance. We move toward light or warmth in the same way. There is a wisdom operating in us, in the universe that is always moving toward life, seeking sweetness and light. For humans, and maybe for the trees and spiders too, mere survival isn’t enough. We want to thrive, to live well. That’s what we call finding our path. Everyone’s path is unique and the map for it lies within our individual experience. But the context for everyone’s path is in the community that we create through our call and response relationships as we each wander around looking for more sweetness and light.
In the Buddhist tradition, practitioners take refuge in the three jewels: Buddha, dharma and sangha. The three jewels are a kind of sweetness and light. They are the basic nutrients necessary to go beyond a reactionary survival mode and ease into the clarity and joy of the life well lived.
- Buddha refers an innate wisdom, born of instinct and discernment that we are all endowed with;
- Dharma is the perfection of wisdom expressed through the phenomenal world;
- Sangha is the nurturing community formed when Buddha and dharma perfectly reflect each other.
Buddhists take refuge in the three jewels to remember where true sweetness and light come from and create a habit of turning always in that direction.
As we move into the fall and the unfolding of another year of M2 programs and activities I want to encourage all of you to consider your own needs for sweetness and light. What are you taking refuge in, what is your deepest intention, are you clear about the direction you are going and are you steadfastly moving in that direction? We are all both Johnny Appleseed and the pioneers that followed. We are all paving the way for others to find a true home and we are all dependent on others to help us find our place in the world.
All M2 programming, The Urban Monk programs, Rhythm of the Saints and the trainings and events of our new Zen Village offerings are designed to provide you with the support, encouragement and accountability necessary to move toward true sweetness and light. Join me in the fall training period, attend one of our retreats, make it a habit to attend one of the many meditation sessions offered through the year.
Create a world in which you are actively moving toward sweetness and light and you will naturally be creating a world where that is more likely for others. The seeds you plant with your own practice bear fruit for those that come after you.