The Extreme Gardener

Experiments in permaculture and
other gardening adventures in northeastern Vermont

Sasya yoga


In Sanskrit, sasya means “plant”. As a tantric yogi, my particular path involves a life style in which I engage intimately with the natural world, particularly the plant kingdom. Most of my childhood was spent in a very rural area where I happily spent as much time as possible roaming forests and fields on my own, and being with and learning about plant life, so I have a strong rapport with these creatures.

Tantra yoga is a process of intentional evolution, movement towards integration of inner and outer life, and of intellect and intuition. To put it bluntly, it is about becoming more psychic and using one’s psychic faculties to live and act responsibly in all the realms of our existence: physical, mental, astral. The practice of tantra is not confined to what most people think of as meditation – sitting quietly, performing breathing exercises and chanting mantra, etc. It involves those things, of course, but also the rest of life in its entirety. Since there is far more to life than what we are able to perceive with our physical senses, developing our non-physical senses, our psychic abilities, is necessary for us to mature into “spiritual” adulthood, if you will.

Through most of our evolution, most humans have lived in close relationship with complex communities of living plants. These plants have evolved with us, both from our intentional manipulation of them, and from our unintentional impact on them as they adapt (or fail to adapt) to our presence on the planet. With the global rise of industrialization, plant communities are becoming less and less complex and diverse, and humans are having less and less interaction with fewer and fewer plants. Even most gardeners and farmers no longer experience the full life cycle of the plants that are most important to them.

A basket of the four elements.

Solve et coagula
Shiva/Shakti in action

From the stones at our feet, the rain that falls, the fire that warms, the air we breathe, to all our fellow creatures, all of manifestation is the dancing of Shiva and Shakti and has the potential to elevate and expand our conciousness if we learn how to listen deeply, and how to relate.

One of my favorites of the ancient texts of India, the Vrikshayurveda (literally “Knowledge of Plant Life”) of Surapala, states that “..one should plant trees because trees yield the means of attaining the four aims of life: dharma (harmonious behavior), artha (material prosperity), kama (the aesthetic enjoyment of life) and moksha (liberation),” and also that “planting 5 trees is better than giving birth to 10 sons.”


Extreme Purple potato, one of my children, in bloom.

I watch, listen and act – I respond to my plants, the plants respond to me. In those relationships are gateways to the greater cosmos – microcosms playing out the cyclical nature of time before my eyes, over and over again – growth, decline, death, renewal. Each cycle played out increases my awareness and understanding of the karmic trajectories of each movement made in time and space.

And this is where tantric ethics come from. Such ethics do not come from a book or a guru. There is no list of “good” and “bad” things; things you must do, things you must not do. It is simply that as you grow in your psychic awareness, you become more and more broadly aware of the impacts and consequences of your actions (and thinking and emoting is action just as much as physical movement is).

I grew up in a culture transitioning from a very provincial (northeastern Vermont) world view to a more global perpective. When I was a child, a significant percentage of the population here still had a life style that equates with the modern concept of “Permaculture” – outside of the larger towns, most people farmed, gardened, worked the woods and foraged, meeting at least part of their needs for “making a living” in those ways. But people’s intimacy with the land they lived on was on the wane, as petroleum-based technology and economy became ubiquitous.

My power equipment of choice – a flame weeder, which, along with a good digging fork, takes the place of a roto-tiller.

When humans use noisy, stinky, powerful motorized equipment outdoors, their sensitivity to other creatures in the environment is considerably diminished. I’m not saying it’s evil to use power equipment. I love our chainsaw and lawnmowers; but if the only way you ever do stuff outdoors is with power equipment, you probably have no idea of the extent of the effects you’re having on your immediate surroundings, and the greater planetary ecosystem. You’re also missing opportunities to relate in a more friendly way to our fellow species on the planet, which I think is one of the most delightful aspects of being here – slugs, mosquitoes, blackflies, voles and woodchucks notwithstanding.

Dramas of Shakespearean proportions are played out daily in our gardens and yards, and the gardener who learns it’s not a really a monologue starring them will have rich experiences. And if you learn to approach your relationship to the creatures in your garden as meditation, you’ll be led to places you can’t even imagine.

Above, a naturalized patch of goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, introduced to our land by us. It is officially endangered in the wild in Vermont.

Sweetgrass, Hierochloe odorata,
in meadow areas maintained by scything.