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Balancing Peace in Chaos

mediating between the wild and the cultivated

June 22, 2010 by Paris

This week at Lightwaves, we are investigating the meaning of local and global sustainability. We will post three reflections of two yoginis and a yogi who are integrating spiritual practice into their lives and work, and offering back their inner Light through selfless service.

We begin this thematic week with Paris Marshall Smith, Yasodhara Ashram’s garden manager, as she explores her own re-acquaintance with the land she nurtured last year.

I have returned again to the Yasodhara Ashram garden, stumbling back from the rush and frenzy of school and urban life; and like anything seen again, it is not the same. The deep intimacy that I nurtured for four months last year seems distant. I feel like I am meeting my lover after a long separation, and must take the time to walk gently inward, and tenderly open up to the potential of what could be.

In my mind, the potential includes how the Ashram garden can best serve our guests and our community. How we, as stewards of this place, can best serve the garden, this land entrusted into our care. Through my work at school, I have been investigating food systems for a post-carbon world and am seeking to integrate what I have learned with my work in the garden. I am rethinking my understanding of agriculture and how food production manifests in relationship to land.

From the immediacy of the garden, my mind roams to the global connections and implications of trade, access, seeds, technology, and sovereignty. In an attempt to help navigate through the enormity of this topic, I am working on principles that can guide the planning and re-integration of food within our communities.

Mediating between the wild and the cultivated

Bringing my mind back to the garden, my inquiry focuses first on questions like: how can food be produced with minimal impact and intrusion? How can I build a relationship that works in tandem with natural systems — seeing myself less as a manager and more as a facilitator — mediating between the wild and the cultivated?

It is tricky, because we (plants, animals, insects) are all interested in our own survival; too much lenience and suddenly the couch/crab grass and dandelions have taken over. Too much order and the robust bounty of soil’s unseen life is thwarted.

Can I let go of some of my need for control — order and familiarity — and allow plants to find their own resilience in the conditions of this place? By taking my investigation to a deeper place, can I nurture systems that tread lightly, shifting to new concepts of time and work? Order and chaos? Beauty and balance?

I am willing to stretch my own perceptions of what is right and wrong, allowing greater flexibility to recognize benefit where there may not have been at first glance (those tall weeds bring shade and moisture to the soil) and finding light and freedom in the necessity of discipline and diligence (those weeds can also become host to pesky pests like flea beetle and pea weevil).

More often than not, my responses while drawing from experience and knowledge are intuitive and do not necessarily follow a logical path. As I go back to structure over and over — 2 rows of beets, 6 inches apart — I often see myself deviating from the lines and changing the system. A row of cucumbers for instance, finds its home in between the beets, because intuitively I felt like they needed to go somewhere else. So my practice is balance: finding a place of peace amongst the chaos.

Paris' Garden Perspective

This balance between order and chaos is very much present in all aspects of my life. I enter into a new situation (place, job, relationship) and seek to know the rules, the structure, the system, while at the very same time, I am learning to push boundaries, and create new openings to transcend stale patterns.

There is an edge on which I am learning to navigate. I slip and stumble, and then kneeling down, my senses sing as my body leans in to offer my hands and heart in service. I am alive and grateful for the space to dig deep into this soil, this body. I walk slowly, finding a path forward.

Paris Marshall Smith has returned for her second year as the Ashram’s garden manager. Devoted to maintaining sustainable agricultural practices, and integrating her education in Community Planning, Paris has committed to taking an innovative approach to see the garden flourish over the next few years.

This article has been featured as part of our June 2010 sustainability week.


  1. Thank you for sharing this lovely reflection. When I visit the ashram next and taste our home grown food, I will be even more grateful for the thoughtful process that produces the “best food ever” : )

    Comment by Sheila — June 22, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

  2. I am here in Toronto, with the hype of the world leaders, media, security, protestors, native elders and voyeurs arriving in full self-expression. I yearn to reconnect with the Ashram’s garden and here you are Paris. Thank you for the vivid connection awakening all my senses as if I am there. Your presence then and now comfort and inspire me as I navigate my urban garden and begin to cultivate food amidst the wild edibles and medicinals here. Namaste

    Comment by Karuna — June 22, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

  3. Thanks for your reflections Paris. Order and chaos have been of interest to me for a long time (my book report topic in 1998 and ongoing). At our Creekside gardens we are in an ongoing balance between how much time and energy people have to offer to food production and also the balance of supporting the many local growers we have in the Comox Valley.

    My peas are ready now which is a delight to me!

    Comment by Sharon Haave — June 27, 2010 @ 10:54 am

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