THE FIG TREE

The fig tree, doing its best to feed everybody. EVERYBODY.

The fig tree, doing its best to feed everybody. EVERYBODY.

We were so excited about the orange tree in our new backyard in Santa Rosa, we almost overlooked the fig tree. The orange tree had reverted to less appetizing oranges, probably from a failed graft, though one branch continues to product delicious oranges. The blossoms are sweet, and the oranges that are edible are wonderful. They ripen all at once, though, so there’s a feast of oranges for a day or two, and then….nada. (Although the orange tree also keeps its leaves all winter, so there’s that.)

The less-romantic fig tree, though, is quietly becoming more important to us. And I’m amazed by the also-quiet, yet deep life lessons it’s teaching me.

It loses its leaves in the fall, then leafs out again in the spring. I don’t remember the flowers. We had to learn when to pick the figs, though we’ve also learned that some people like figs at any stage of their ripening-ness. One friend even likes the withered ones that fall to the ground. He pinches out the insides and cooks them down a bit to make a jelly spread. I like the idea that the fruit of this tree can please so many people, all along its timeline.

It produces figs for well over a month or two, and lots of them. Every morning, I venture out to the back yard to harvest a small bowlful. Then a large bowlful. Now I’m at the grocery bag phase.

So the fig tree is generous with its fruit.

I give them to our neighbors, to friends of our neighbors, and to the crew down at Atlas Coffee Co.. Atlas Coffee was the first place we stopped on our first visit to Santa Rosa, in the heart of the city’s art district ( SOFA Arts District)long before we knew we’d be moving there. It was also our main station to look for our next home. We could hang out, chatting with the owner, James, and Sean, Cody and Ian, the coffee meisters. It was were we saw a sign in a window on the alley leading to the coffee shop, saying a studio space was available for rent. It was availabe soon, which is unusual for these popular spaces. I jumped at the opportunity, and I’m so glad I did.

So the figs are a wonderful way to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who first made us feel ‘at home’ here.

There are some drawbacks to a fig tree. But there are lessons there, as well.

I’m slightly allergic to the sap, which is milky. So after a round of fig-picking, I have to wash off my arms and face, anywhere I’ve had contact with the fruit or the leaves. It also drops a lot of overripe figs, which have to be picked up before the ants and flies go too crazy. And what’s really frustrating is, the best figs are at the very top of the tree, way out of reach without a ladder.

I’ve learned a little itchy is worth the quiet, calming pursuit of fig picking. It reminds me not to take blessings and gifts for granted.

The ants and the flies, well, they have a place in the world. (Just not in my house, please.) And the birds can have the figs at the top, because they’ve been so good about not eating ALL the figs.

And here’s the incredible thing I’ve learned about fig trees:

At first I used a small ladder to try to get more figs. But after a couple near-falls, I realized I was risking a lot just to gather even more figs than could be eaten in a day! I gave it up.

But those branches I can’t reach? As the season progresses, the tree branchs actually begin to bow down, a bit more each day. Soon, the figs that were out of reach, are close enough to snag. The branches are often small and supple, too. I can use a hooked stick to pull some of them down even further, and gather those last ripe figs.

It takes my breathe away, that the tree actually bends to my desires. Yes, it could be the weight of the figs, of course. Except that not every fig-laden branch lowers itself.

Here we go with my fig tree metaphor. You knew it was coming, right?

As my brain buzzes with fears of lack (“I’ve lost my best, most faithful customers!” “I’ve lost most of my income, even the other things that brought in a steady bit of money!” “I have to PAY for a studio space now, what if we can’t continue to afford that??”), I think of the fig tree. Simply doing what fig trees do, growing into its space, adapting, and making enough figs for everyone I care about.

When I’m worried I’ll never achieve my dreams of fame and fortune, I think of this single fig tree, hidden behind a modest little house in an old neighborhood, giving us, and other creatures, shade, food, beauty, every single day. (And to be truthful, I know now I don’t WANT fame.) (Although a LITTLE fortune would be nice.)

When I envy the success of others, and when I think my slice of pie is smaller because theirs is bigger, I think of how the tree makes enough figs for everyone.

When I feel like I’m not in synch with the universe, when I’m anxious because I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do next, I think of how that tree brings its branches just a little lower, so I can pick more figs. Just like the universe has a way of bending just a little, to meet me halfway. Or, in the case of this California move, bending more than just a little! That generous nature astonishes me. It lifts me up when I stumble, and soothes me when I’m fearful.

I don’t know how old our tree is. Our house is just over a hundred years old, in a neighborhood originally settled by Italians. So its probably been around awhile, and hopefully has many more years to go. It’s surely been here before I was born, and be here long after I die.

I hope its lessons will continue to ripen, like its delicious fruit.

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9 thoughts on “THE FIG TREE

  1. Oh what a lovely article ,and I feel that way sometimes too…like will I ever be famous..will I ever be completed organized…lol But yes the universe does bring us all the abundance we could ever want..(if we just believe).Thank you for once again showing us the light!

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  2. Hi Luan,

    I receive your posts and enjoy reading them. Thanks for sharing.

    Your fear of not knowing the future falls timely with another feed I receive. I beleive it might be of interest to you. The web site: http://zenhabits.net/start/

    But his most recent post reads:

    zen habits : breathe The Truth About Your Uncertain Life Path & Purpose BY LEO BABAUTA

    If you’re in your 20s or even 30s, you might feel a lot of uncertainty all the time — you aren’t sure what your life purpose is, or your uncertain about what path you should take in life.

    This is normal.

    We all want to know what our driving ambitions should be in life.

    We all want to have a certain life purpose.

    We all want to feel we’re on the right path.

    We all want to perfect our habits, our routines, our productivity.

    We all want to feel more certain, and perfect what we’re doing.

    The comfort of certainty and perfection vs. the fear of uncertainty and being suboptimal. This is the struggle.

    Let me let you in on a secret: no one is free from this struggle. Look at the most successful people you can think of — Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Obama, Taylor Swift. Do you think they have it all figured out? Do you think they have certainty and a feeling of reaching perfection? Not a chance. There is not one of us alive, not me or anyone else, who ever feels certainty about their purpose or path. If they do, they’re fooling themselves. But if they’re honest, they don’t feel that certainty.

    No one ever feels they’ve found the perfect productivity routine, the perfect version of themselves … because it doesn’t exist.

    With that in mind, I’ll make some recommendations — with the caveat that I haven’t figured all of this out myself, and that I’m uncertain about these recommendations:

    1. *Realize that it’s all uncertainty*. When you’re procrastinating, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you can do this). When you are jealous of what others are doing on Instagram, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you’re getting the most out of life). When you are feeling anxiety, it’s because of uncertainty (about the future). When you’re feeling guilty or bad about yourself, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you’re a good person, a disciplined person, as good as you can be, etc.). It’s all uncertainty. 2. *Realize that none of us like this uncertainty*. We all feel uncertainty, all day, and we all struggle with it. Some people have grown more comfortable with it than others, but in general no one likes uncertainty. If someone says they do, they’re probably not honest with themselves. We don’t like it, so we try to find certainty in some way — through finding something we’re more comfortable with, something we think we know. Distraction, pleasure food, shopping, alcohol, being surly with other people, shutting down. 3. *Notice when you’re feeling it*. Being aware of this feeling of uncertainty is actually a great skill to develop. As you work on this awareness, you’ll feel uncertainty about your awareness skill. Are you doing it right? Are you bad at it? You don’t know. This is just more uncertainty to be aware of. Just try this: when you feel any anxiety, fear, self-doubt, procrastination, need for distraction, anger with others … just label it “uncertainty.” See if you can tell what you’re being uncertain about. 4. *Stay with it*. This uncertainty you’re feeling is unpleasant. That’s perfectly OK, perfectly normal. Don’t run from it. Instead, stay with this uncomfortable, unappealing uncertainty. It’s here in you, a part of this moment, a part of you but not the whole of you. Just stay, stay. Be with it, like you’d be with a friend who is in tears. 5. *Turn to the moment, and find the excruciatingly beauty in it*. After staying with the uncertainty for awhile, realize that you’re trying to know the unknowable. You can’t know what the perfect path will be, you can’t know what the perfect you should be, you can’t know what your purpose in life is until it starts to uncover itself. You can’t know your destination until you get there. So instead of spinning your wheels with the unknowable, focus on what you actually have right in front of you. Look at the physical space around you, and feel the energy of this space. This includes the energy of what you’re feeling inside you, but also the fluid space around you, occupied by objects, light, people, sounds, movement. There is a crazy amount of beauty to be noticed here, if you pay attention, before it slips away.

    This is the practice. It isn’t easy. It isn’t certain. It is beautiful.

    SEE ALL POSTS »

    Join a million+ breath-taking readers: rss | email | twitter

    Cheers,

    Roderick Chen

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    • Hello Roderick, I’m delighted to know you enjoy my posts, and thank you for the link to Zen Habits. I used to subscribe to that blog, too! :^) For those of you who’d like to read the original Zen Habits post, you can find it here: Zen Habits: Uncertainty. (Your photography is amazing, Roderick!)

      I think the main reason I share my personal life learning experiences is because we all know what we SHOULD do. Sometimes that “should” doesn’t seem connected to what’s actually going on in our lives. The lizard brain (what I call our instinctive drive for survival) can be very sneaky and persistent! It catches me when my guard is down, when I am anxious, threatened, insecure, ashamed, and angry.

      You’re right, we never get to ‘the perfect place’ and certainly never stay there long! But just like walking, my emotional/spiritual self is a process of losing–and catching–my balance, over and over again, day after day, hour after hour. Sometimes minute by minute! I love the episode in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where she says, “You can stand anything for 10 seconds.”

      I share my walk through getting back to my better self in the everyday world. If I tell how a fig tree restores me to my practice, then maybe the next time someone is in a hard place, they, too, will be able to find a place to stand in the ordinary world, in the moment, too.

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