Intention and Surrender

I am a moderately sub-par yogi. I know enough to understand the asannas, and the breathing that sounds somethings like an ocean wave. Beyond that, I defer to my friends who are more dedicated to the practice than I. Despite that, there is one particular lesson in yoga that I have learned which has absolutely changed my life. The first time I ever went to a yoga class, everyone seemed to be so centered and calm and yet moving way too fast for me to keep up. Despite this experience, you know if you have ever taken a yoga class that it is not about competition and judgment, but rather about trusting your own practice. Instructors frequently remind the class that yoga isn’t about forcing anything, but trusting the intention and the breath. This is not because there is an absence of techniques, tools, or goals in yoga – quite the contrary. But rather, it is never expected that an individual leans into those techniques and tools more heavily than their body allows. It is not a free for all that is void of any absolutes, and yet the goal is not the destination. The goal is only valuable inasmuch as it helps the process.

    The process of building a yoga practice is one led by surrender to our own body’s capacity rather than our intellectual or cognitive determination alone. It is an exercise in trusting the goodness, the strength, the honesty of the body – rather than our own brain forcing its expectation. It is the job of our rational mind to organize our schedule to create time, to show up, and then trust our body to do what it was birthed to do.

    Yoga is never about prescription. No one ever grows in their yoga practice from pushing beyond what they can do to achieve their destination. It doesn’t build from should or oughts. To do so is a disservice to both our own bodies and the art itself. It is by intention, about trusting the bodies’ capacity to tell us what it needs that we are actually able to advance in our practice.

    I use this imagery to create a parallel between how we approach the “problem” of our underdeveloped bodies to the “problems” of underdeveloped world. While it might seem crass to compare our physical limitations to get into half moon with global genocide and starvation, there is a certain corollary that can’t be missed. When presented with these problems, our choice is to first: make prescriptions, or accept them first before we move forward with intention. And prescription says that we already know what the problems are and we have to address them – because not doing so means we are doing nothing.  Prescription makes checklists, raises awareness, and develops strategies. Prescription begins holding plank for 30 breaths twice a day when our body is begging for child’s pose.

    In fields of social and environmental justice, and its corresponding world of growing non-profit work, many attempts are made toward health through prescription alone. It is present when the goal of the thing becomes more important than the process itself.  Bizzarely, no matter how much we desire, hope for, or crave the outcome, it is the intention of the process that must fuel the vehicle – not prescription of the outcome. As Paul Hawken says, “[altruism] is a reminder that constructive changes in human affairs rise from intention, not coercion.”

    If not prescription however, the necessary movement forward relies on our capacity to surrender. Intention is full of surrender, and the problem with this is that surrender is stupid. Surrender does not deny the problems, nor does it necessarily understand or even know the solutions. Surrender accepts the imperfections, and embraces them in all of their messiness. But surrender is terrifying.

Surrender is uncertainty.

Surrender is vulnerability.

Surrender means we own that we don’t have all the answers.

Surrender demands that we sometimes rest what we “know for absolute certainty” and trust the intention, the belief. While we know that many social movements in human history – establishment of unions, anti-apartheid in South Africa, civil rights, abolishment of slavery, womens’ rights – are a beautiful, honest and accurate embodiment of where we are moving towards as a species – what was necessary for their rooting and development was not prescription, or a specific determination, but rather an intention. A hope, a direction. Describing his approach to activism in the 1960’s, civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis says it this way:

“But later I discovered, I guess, that you have to have this sense of faith that what you're moving toward is already done. It's already happened… If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it's there, for you it is already there. And during the early days of the movement, I believed that the only true and real integration for that sense of the beloved community existed within the movement itself.”


What is more important than any other principle in any of our individual and corporate paradigm toward issues of justice is not our prescription, but rather our capacity to embrace that we are already there – even if we aren’t. The intention that surrounds our acceptance of our present realities begins as an invitation. We are invited to hold the paradox between what is – point A, and what is – intention toward point B. Surrender at point A is an invitation, it is not a demand.  As the revolutionary Che Gueverra said, “Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality.” Regardless of the facts, the data, and the totality of beginning, our only path forward is with an intention of love.  

This Holiday season, in the face of global and local hell of all sorts - rather than focus on prescriptions of what should be, may we all begin to live with intention, and through that intent, co-cultivate a world together that already sings the beauty that exists in the midst of its absence. May we set our intentions toward love, hope, and honesty even when the noise of chaos, pain, and suffering is deafening. May we pursue love and vulnerability in ourselves, our families, and our communities. 

The Farm Life

Recently, I was sitting with another friend who was bemoaning how he didn’t like his job. The pay is good, the hours are fine, the benefits are great, but he doesn’t feel alive when he works. He wonders how much longer he can do the thing that he does - upon which the rest of his life is built. And this friend has options, lots of options. 

The longer I am exposed to the life of of a farm, the more I realize how much of our lives gets broken up into tiny little pieces. These silos of decision-making often make things much easier to dissect. We enjoy breakingthese pieces down so much that sometimes we forget that we are not a series of disconnected computer chips merely performing a variety of tasks, but rather a whole human being - made up of millions and billions of interconnected parts. Our life full of “industries” -  how we acquire food, health, wealth, jobs, entertainment, and even education - enjoys working with all of these little pieces. 

Take for instance, all of the following assumptions - that you and I generally agree upon daily. 

Education happens in school.

Mental health happens in counseling. 

Work happens at our job.

Worship happens on holy days or times. 

Death happens at a funeral home.

Economy is what happens in the marketplace. 

Ecology is about trees and water and wilderness. 

Play happens when we are being entertained. 

While this system may appear to be the one that has existed since the dawn of time, it is actually quite new. For many people, throughout much of history, the lines between work, food, nature family, play, ritual, and worship were not as clear and defined as we like them. When people ate from the land, lived on the land, and had to “slow down to the speed of their senses”, life was hardly broken up into the categories that you and I daily live from. 

Interestingly enough, a farm is often where these lines and distinctions begin to cease. Where work, economy, food, family, nature and death all intermingle, dancing together without being shy about their differences. A farm has no corner offices, no exclusive membership, no walls, and it doesn’t consider the CEO more important than the shoeless child running around with a mud-smeared face. 

It is where a grown man has fun while pruning tomatoes even though he is accomplishing something. 

Where a begrudging teen finds themselves wishing they could plant just one more bed because they like talking with their peers in the sunshine during their school day. 

It is where the best meal you have ever is also the cheapest as you picked it from the tree and it comes with messiness of peace juice dripping down your chin. 

It is precisely at these moments that our silos began to break down. That we begin to realize that life is not a series of disconnected and compartmentalized activities, but rather that it is a whole human experience - waiting for us to dive in. 

Sometimes individuals make the mistake of imagining that our work about Urban Roots is about food. A place where food is produced to be sold on the marketplace at the market rate. 

What these same individuals miss is that we believe fully that growing food can be work, pleasure, economy, health, and spiritual all at the same time. And while it is, very much about food, to assume it is predominately about food is no more naive than to assume that a symphony is only about the violin solo. Of course it is. And yet, the symphony of life and activity that is cultivated at a farm is much richer than the simple act of just growing food could ever be. 

That is why we do it. 

This is the farm life.

As the soil warms...

Every year about this time, our growing restlessness, somewhat annoyed cabin fever and desperate need to fly to some exotic and warm destination reveals something about us. No matter what our winter has been, while her seemingly incessant fist perpetually pounds down upon us, something inside us begins to stir. Our days grow longer, we hear the intermittent chirp of the birds, and the soil that has laid fallow for the better part of a season begins to awaken with the hope of a new year. All the while our desire to walk barefoot on the soil, lay in the summer sun, and taste the ripeness of June strawberries begins to take hold.

At Urban Roots this winter we have been a flurry of activity, sowing literal and metaphorical roots in anticipation for this next season. Every day we are privileged to hear another story, make another connection, and sow more seeds into the work in in the Madison neighborhood of Grand Rapids and throughout our city. Seeds are planted. Greenhouses are being built. Workshops are put on the calendar. And the web of our connections to people and organizations further establish the strength and resiliency of this work that extends far beyond food, but to the people and stories that make up this place.

In 2016, we are privileged to take up space in Grand Rapids. With the growing connections that develop every day, we will begin working with Bethany Christian Services and piloting our YouthCorps education program. Working alongside a number of youth from our neighborhood, we will transform the fallow land to the south of us into a thriving agroecosystem, helping make a place out of what has been a quiet and underutilized piece of property for a number of years.

We are again offering farm shares through our CSA program to individuals in our neighborhood and our Grand Rapids community. Not solely just about purchasing vegetables, but rather about joining us in the belief that there is something more beautiful to be done in the world, individuals can participate in a redemptive narrative by purchasing a share and receiving a box of vegetables weekly throughout the summer. 

We will launch our Mobile Classroom program. Partnering with individuals from area schools, churches, and food pantries, we will join with the ever-growing interest, desire, and longing for thriving gardens throughout this city. Even now, our plans grow exponentially as we anticipate the times of growing, cultivating, irrigating, and harvesting this food for the body and the soul together throughout our entire city. 

Finally we will learn together. By offering a number of classes, workshops, and events, we will continue our journey of learning together about the stuff of life. Our education isn’t done, and we believe the best knowledge to be gained will come from continuing to listen to the teachers that we have all around us.

In all this, our anticipation grows not only for the warmth and growth that we will soon bear witness to, but also to the rich tastes, smells, and sounds of the harvest that remind us again why, “Food is the first wealth. Grow it right, and you feel insanely rich, no matter what you own.” Our appetite for both life and food will soon be satisfied by the cornucopia that is Michigan summers.

This year, consider joining us at Urban Roots. Join us not only buy buying a share, attending a workshop, or donating to help us continue our mobile classroom program, but join us by diving in to the awakening of your own heart this season. Whether planning to plant your first tomato, building the hives to house your buzzing spring beehives, or getting some much needed humus under your fingernails, be reminded this year of the richness and flurry that is life.

We are awaiting it with you.