Doing Your “Ministry”

Last week, I watched the film, Hallelujah, about the life of Leonard Cohen and the journey of the song that he wrote, Hallelujah. A documentary, I was drawn quickly into the film. The soulful closeups of Cohen were mesmerizing. His deep bass voice seemed to touch a chord that my whole body responded to. And the words, his words are soulful. When I left the theater, the thought that rang true was
“He was doing his ministry.”

There was a period of five years when Cohen lived in a Buddhist Monastery. It was during the end of that period that he discovered that his manager had embezzled most of his money and sold the publishing rights to his songs. This forced Cohen out of retirement to recoup his losses. Those last years of touring around the world to sell-out crowds, in my estimation, brought out the quintessential minister/entertainer that he was. There was an added profundity, humor and presence to his performances. The audiences responded to his charisma.

All of this to wonder…how do I do my ministry? How do you do your ministry? What does that look like? In previous blogs, I’ve written about my Conversations with Daniel…a man with whom I had extensive intimate conversations about male/female relationships. For three months, we met weekly. I recorded our conversations and gave him a copy of the recording to review before the next meeting. The intention, was that we could witness how we communicated as a man and a woman in conversation.

Daniel quickly established himself as the teacher and that left me in the role of the student. However, in reviewing the recordings, he witnessed his ways of dominating the conversations. He made his best effort at being less imposing. He also had a lot of knowledge, wisdom and passion and a strong desire to impart that. It was challenging for him not to interrupt and insert himself frequently. Towards the last of our twelve weeks of conversations, I noted that I was doing at least an equal amount of talking and there seemed to be more of a balance.

Daniel passed away yesterday, suddenly. I got the news last night by telephone from an acquaintance. It was like dropping a mini-bomb in the midst of my bumpy life. Today, the day after, I can’t quite believe it. I was listening to one of our recordings last week. I put his name on my to-do list “Call Daniel!” I got so busy preparing for an upcoming art exhibit that I didn’t call him. And then the finality of the news, the phone call– “I’ve got some sad news. Daniel died.” The shock and immediate protest on my part. “No!” I wanted to turn back the hands of time by even one day so that I could call him without hesitation and without an excuse.

The reason I bring Daniel into this is that he was doing his ministry. His life was his ministry. His journey and sharing it with others was his proclamation. “I’m here!”
In the last ten to fifteen years, Daniel became a quieter man, following a spiritual teacher and doing a daily meditation. He was himself always, through his various stages of evolution. He was a poet, a writer, an actor, a friend. And likely more that I don’t know. His lived life was his ministry.

I sometimes collect quotes. This one appeared in my paper pile yesterday:

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you,
and that you will work with these stories from your life–
your life–not someone else’s life–water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.
That is the work, The only work.”

author unknown

This quote reminded me what a ministry might look like. Being you is your only purpose and a brilliant one at that.

I dedicate this post to my friend, Daniel.

“…I Use Both”

“I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”

Patricia Schroeder

In these times, and probably throughout time, women are called upon to show that they are more than wind-up dolls who look pretty in a box on a shelf or as foldouts in men’s magazines. And, to prove that they are so much more than a free labor force solely intended to care for a man’s needs and their children’s needs. Also, in my opinion, women are called upon to re-value themselves in whatever capacity that they show up in their lives.

That seems to be at the core…the ways in which we value ourselves, the beliefs that we hold about our value as human beings are central to our forward evolution as women in these times. My mother, through her lived life, believed in her second class status. Her parents, my father, her religion and the world of her era reinforced this belief. That’s nothing new.

In my generation, we found ourselves trying to break out of the well-crafted muzzles and find our voices, singly and collectively. We had to prove that having a monthly cycle didn’t mean that we were less capable at that time of the month. Nor did it make us less wise or under-the-influence of escalating emotions. We had to prove that what we were contributing in the workforce was at least equal to what any man was contributing and that we deserved equal remunerations for it. And that we could advance in the workplace and hold our own. Today, we continue to strive for this. And we’ve discovered that any forward strides that we might have made regarding our rights are not set in stone. What is given can be taken away.

The quote above, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.” makes me consider testosterone-driven men. How does the level of testosterone influence high-powered executives or political leaders? Have there been scientific studies? Should this unharnessed hormonal influence be considered when we vote for our leaders? I haven’t heard that this governing male hormone has even been taken into consideration over the course of history. Men advance in their jobs and we applaud their forward thrust. When we see that in women, there is not necessarily scorn, but it isn’t valued in the same way…because it doesn’t fit within the box where a society continually tries to place women. Men are hormonal most of their lives. With women, our hormones are cyclical.

This last paragraph is written tongue-in-cheek (or not). It’s just so ridiculous not to take the wholeness of our masculine and feminine natures and apply them to the challenges that we have created for ourselves today. A collaborative effort is a way to go…if only we could learn how to effectively collaborate. Matching the driven nature of the masculine with the tempering effect of the feminine. Each one bringing their own genius, wisdom and expertise is where we would ideally be going. A marriage of sorts.

Basically, value yourself, do your best and carry on.

Getting to “the bones”

I read Women Who Run with the Wolves many years ago. It was one of those books that, when I spied it standing solo on a little pedestal at the East West Bookshop in Palo Alto, California, I felt compelled to pick it up and open it. It was a new release at that time (1992) and only in hardback and expensive for my budget.
I opened to any page and read a paragraph and was surprised to see the relevance to a current situation in my life. Yet, that wasn’t reason enough to spend $28.00 on it! I walked around this very engaging shop and all sorts of book covers caught my attention. However, I gravitated back to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book. Again, I opened the book to any page. The words jumped out at me and I was riveted.

Recently, I had met a stranger at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I was weaving in and out of the water as the ruffled waves washed gently on the shore. A man’s voice behind me inquired “Isn’t it cold?” I replied that “Yes, it is and I love it.” He asked if he could walk with me. I agreed and we walked and talked on a very deep level for the next several hours. It wasn’t like we were strangers. It was as if we had met lifetimes ago and then designed to meet each other at this time and place and share our life-findings so far.

As we talked, we became vulnerable to each other. The sharing was personal, sometimes intimate and philosophical. As the sun dipped behind the clouds, I began to shiver. He casually placed his red hooded sweatshirt over my shoulders. He was a handsome man, slender, blonde hair cut in a stylish clip for the times. He gave me a large rose quartz stone to hold in my hand as we walked beside the sea. “To calm you,” he said. The entire experience felt comforting, as if I was walking with my Guardian Angel.

We had walked a length of beach and then, finally, turned around to return the way we had come. When we got back to our cars, he gave me his phone number and softly, like a butterfly, brushed a kiss across my cheek. I thanked him and went home feeling loved, guided, protected. I was married and although there was tension in my marriage, I had no intention of leaving my husband at that time. I wasn’t planning on calling the phone number. There was nowhere this relationship could go. Although, I did call it once and got his message machine. I never called it again.

When I opened the book in the bookstore that day, this was the quote that I read:

The Passing Stranger

“…The person who might take us out of the ice, who might even psychically free us from our lack of feeling is not necessarily going to be the one to whom we belong. It may be…another of those magical but fleeing events that again came along when we least expected it, an act of kindness from a passing stranger….Then a something that is sustaining appears out of nowhere to assist you, and then disappears into the night, leaving you wondering, Was that a person or a spirit?”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes from Women Who Run with the Wolves

I bought the book.

“…The Courage to Start All Over Again”

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For the past two weeks, I’ve been tackling a lifetime of family photos. There are picture puddles all over my living room floor and stacks on and around my dining room table. There are albums that I’ve started and others that are yet to be decided upon. This is truly an intense immersion and not for the faint of heart. It invokes time travel and then grounding back into present time.

These photos commemorate a thirty-year marriage that finally ended in a divorce. They take me through all the stages of my two daughters’ growth–the birthdays, holidays, graduations, sports, scouts, family gatherings, siblings, the feasts I prepared…and then, the remembrance of the dearly beloved departures. These moments in time preserved in photos. And when I see them, I remember the stories that surrounded them. The mother-in-law who held tightly onto her son, my husband and her jealousy that seeped into our relationship. The father-in-law who always had to assert his macho superiority. The ex-husband who danced between his anger and sentimentality. The adorable daughters discovering themselves and the world. My dear siblings, there were nine of us, and our highly dysfunctional parents. And photos of me, young, pretty, naïve , trying to find my way through the chaos of the past and the then present.

There are times that I’m judgmental of myself–were there things that I could have done differently? Were there choices I could have made that would have improved the quality of my life and those closest to me? Yes, there are some regrets. But didn’t I do the best that I could with what I knew? I see how I can fall headfirst into that Pandora’s box of photos and spiral down with that undertow of regret. And then, don’t forget the generational trauma that has been added to the mix. Truly, there’s always that which is bigger than the small picture frame through which I’m viewing my life. There’s always a vaster landscape. I’m not alone on this wild journey. We all have our boxes and albums of family photos, and today there are the digital ones.

It seems like human frailty, vulnerability, happenstance and more are part of the whole. They are right beside courage, victory, endurance, determination, love. In life we co-exist with everything both inside of us and outside of us. There’s so much we don’t know about the soul’s journey. So much.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a young woman who had lots of struggles in her early life. She had been full of self-blame and there was early trauma involved. It touched me when I heard her say that she had cultivated a way of sending a beam of love to those hurting places within herself. Beaming love to those memories, losses and old trauma. I think that’s a good practice.

With all of that said and all that goes unsaid, I turn to the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” And I want to add, bring reverence to your whole experience, make it sacred.

What do Women Want?

My ex-boyfriend and I occasionally discussed the age-old question “What do women want?” He believed (as did my ex-husband) that women want to have power over men. Freud thought that women wanted to be men! And others have said that women want to be desired by men. For more years than I can remember, I have wanted to have sovereignty over my own life–even within the establishment of a marriage. I didn’t care to compete with men in the marketplace. Although, I would expect equal pay for equal work. My time is valuable, my job qualifications and experience have spoken for themselves when I worked in the fields of business or education. What I really want is to be able to freely choose and direct the course of my own life. That with respect towards all men, women, beings and subservient to nothing but my woman’s soul.

Within a marriage, I wanted an equal partnership. I wanted both my husband and myself to feel free to express our love for one another. I didn’t want to have to earn love and affection. My ex-husband was stifled in the way he expressed love and care. Although those were his limitations, I took it personally and tried harder for too many years. He was from a culture steeped in machismo. Therefore, he had to dominate in some way. His anger was an accessible emotion (along with his physical strength) to keep the woman (me) in her place!

This is one of those microcosm-macrocosm models. My relationship patterns are reflected in the larger world. The insecure male ego has to dominate the female. That power-over inequality is built into our cultures, religions, politics, the governing laws, etc.

My ex-husband used to believe that I wanted to control him. He brought this perception from his childhood forward into our marriage without examining it. He acted as if it were true. His behaviors towards me from the start proved his belief…I don’t think he understood this until many years later–after we’d been divorced for awhile. I think he got it before he died in 2019. However, those early embedded beliefs are so difficult to release.

In the world today, the opinions and input of approximately 50% of the world’s population, women, goes unheard, unappreciated and not included in decisions that are affecting the whole. That’s astonishing to me! Fifty per-cent of the population isn’t weighing in on how we use the world, whether or not we go to war, decisions about growing and distributing food, healthcare, economics, and every other element of living in this human-made world.

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The third month of every year is Women’s History Month, celebrated in America. International Women’s Day is March 8th this year. As I retrace the scant history that we have of women heroines as compared to men, I recover part of my ancestry. Revaluing women’s contributions throughout history is a powerful exercise for women in present time. As women, it’s important that we reclaim our roots and remember that they go deeper than our immediate family. Studying these roots, we also reclaim our self-esteem and our personal power.

We can’t wait for men to elevate our status. Individually, we have to claim it daily in how we lead our lives. We have to decide what is acceptable in our relationships, in our jobs, in how we show up in the world. We have to value the work that we do, not just the jobs we hold. We have to value ourselves.

I came across this three-minute animated film and thought that it was worth sharing.


Wasteful War

Wasteful War
© by Christine O’Brien

Allow the earth to drown you in her beauty.
Then there’ll be less desire for wasteful war.
Without restraint, succumb to her bounty
Such a complete surrender, do not abhor.

Why do we march to the battlefield still
Inventing disagreements to stoke the fire
What inside of us do we try to quell
If we win, are we right and they the liar?

What, pray tell, is the point of any war?
What victory so sweet that sheds blood?
Are we being true to some ancient lore?
Can we decide midstream to change this plot?

Please drown me earth in your beautiful flood
This cause of death I’d deem worthy, I would.

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Yesterday, I took a walk in nature. I walk daily, weather permitting. I walked beside a lake, Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta, CA. Along this trail, they have placed one picnic table with benches. I stopped to sit and gaze at the sparkling water, a few ducks, the trees. I had a little book with me, Sanditon by Jane Austen. Apparently, this is her last work and incomplete. I’d been watching the series on PBS and wanted to see how close they stayed to her book, at least the beginning of it.

Sitting there, having this momentary leisure of time and the beauty of place, I felt fortunate. I could feel what it is to have an experience of peace in beauty. I desired this, something like this, for everyone. I guess I was imagining then a world without war. A world where we are satisfied with caring for what we have and we don’t have the need for conquest and acquiring more.

Today, I walked by the lake again, a different trail. I met a man walking his dog…a stranger. We had a casual conversation and before long, I could see he appreciated nature and longed for peace. I said something to him like “We need leaders who love the earth and value all of life,” and I added, “like you.” He laughed and said that could be his campaign slogan. And then he said that someone who favored burning coal would say “We’re not voting for you because you’re going to undermine our industry.” And I said that his response could be “Let me offer you an alternative.” Isn’t life strange?

My brother, Bob, is a musician and poet and has worked for the Oceanographic Society. For most of his adult life, Bob has protested against war, fought for nuclear disarmament and has been an animal rights advocate. All of these combine to show a man who lives his values. He was out there this past weekend joining with others to protest war.

It’s sad to witness how there are a few men at the top who hold the world hostage.


The Inferior Sex

Women are often portrayed as the weaker sex, the dependents, the victims. Generally, women unconsciously, and consciously, assent to these designated classifications. While I have come to realize that the ascribed descriptives are false, it is the framework within which we live our lives. We thereby, allow our partners, the presumed-to-be stronger or wiser ones, to get away with things they should be called on. We allow them to remain immature and therefore irresponsible or not responsible for their actions. Women have a huge part to play in the maturation of human life on this planet. One way that we can do this is by holding men accountable for their behaviors. We must stop being the sweepers and fixers–sweeping it under the carpet and trying to make it all better. I want this to be a better world for our daughters and our sons than it was for me or my mother.

As women who are the awakeners of men, we need to begin to conduct ourselves as the goddesses that we are. I use this word to elevate us to our own authentic stature. Within this awareness is total equality. What does a goddess look like? How does she behave? How does she walk in the world when she has been disrespected for eons? This woman has unerring values and speaks her non-negotiable truth. She serves no man–she serves wisdom’s truth acquired through her lived experience. Within a relationship, she can choose to make a compromise without compromising her truth or values. For example, if you are with a partner who does not value monogamy and you do, and he isn’t ready to re-evaluate his position, you don’t belong together. What you value is not negotiable.

There is a sacredness in the womanly arts. Women’s work, while portrayed as mundane, is an art. I know about the womanly arts. Throughout history, women who were oppressed found ways to express through craft, cooking, gardening, quilting, embroidery, weaving textiles, dressing their family and more. Some things were done out of necessity, others were done from a deeper place–the need to express her own experience in some unique-to-her way. There was never a problem with women’s work aside from the fact that it is constant. That very constancy allows a woman to deepen her innate wisdom. The problem is that a dysfunctional patriarchal paradigm minimizes and devalues her work. Yet, it is the very backbone that consistently supports all of life. I don’t want to be a woman doing a man’s job. I don’t want to compete with men in a male-constructed market place. I want what I do to be properly respected, valued, elevated…and compensated. HA!

I believe that women should be included at any political bargaining table where war is being discussed. Women who are mothers and grandmothers should be adequately represented. Traditionally, there is and has been an imbalance in their representation. In some indigenous cultures, it is the women who determine whether or not their tribe is to go to battle.

Last evening, I viewed a film celebrating Women’s History Month. It’s called Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a model of a woman staying true to her values even under duress.

Said Eleanor…

I was considering writing an essay addressed to women based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-stated observation “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then, I waivered for a few reasons. The main one being, I personally know how hard it is to rise above the belief of one’s own inferior status when you are surrounded by a culture, religion or family system that operates from a built-in gender inequality model. And, when your finances are tied in with your male counterpart this compounds the situation.

How does a woman activate within herself the powerful being that has been in dormancy for eons? How does she, despite everything that is pushing against this, rise into her own (uncomfortable) power? How does she source her power in a male-dominated world where “might makes right” and she is hostage to her fears? And as a woman, how does she safely proclaim her feminine prowess when what she brings to the table is unappreciated, minimized and even ridiculed?

At the time that I wrote the following, my mother was eighty-two years old, born in 1920. She married my father in 1941. He won the grand prize, her. She quit her secretarial job, as was expected, bore nine children and lived a life of absolute servitude to him. I heard from one of my sister’s a few days ago. She said that our mom was sitting in a chair in our parents’ house. She just keeled over, fell to the floor and laid their conscious but shocked. Somehow, she got herself up. Shortly thereafter, she went outside to tell my father. He wanted to take her to the hospital. She declined.

My mother runs a household for my father the same as she has since 1941, except that she no longer has her children to help with all of the household tasks. My father does not lift a finger. In his letter to me, he said they eat two meals a day. This preparation is hard on my mom. She doesn’t just throw a porkchop in the broiler. He requires labor-intensive meals and my mom complies. They have two refrigerators stocked with food that she has prepared and other staple ingredients. This is her job, her role–I once asked her “Mom, when do you get to retire?” She answered sheepishly, “I never thought of that.” In questioning her daily routine, I asked her “Do you ever stop, take a bath with bath salts or essential oils and just relax.” She said “I don’t have time for that.” When the facts of his physical and other abuses came to light, I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you get angry?” Her response was “I can’t be bothered with that.”

Where did her anger go? Years later, I realized that part of her anger went into guilt and shame because she didn’t protect her children or herself so well.

Contrary to an enduring belief–men are not intended to be the kings in their castles with women serfs out in the field doing the labor, birthing the children and caring for all things that revolve around home. And in this model, she is also excluded from the decision-making even with things that directly affect her.

So, while I agree in theory with Eleanor’s quote…in practice, after years of ongoing spousal abuse and mental manipulations, my mom had lost the power to make healthy choices for herself when it came to this long-endured relationship. She had been made to feel inferior, probably from birth. And this sense of inferiority carried on right through her marriage to a narcistic man.

Looking at the world at large, I do think that there are some narcistic male leaders making decisions for all of us. As a woman, how does my voice even get heard to affect change in a system that is intent with keeping her in her place? Until a woman can break the ties that bind her to a false sense of herself and comes to realize her personal power, the same games are going to play out. Men continue to dominate. Women continue to take a back seat. We’ve seen a few models of powerful women, but not enough. A surge of woman’s power has to happen en masse to affect real change for the better.

The Roots of Story

A garden cannot be hurried. It needs watering–daily, in hot, wilting weather like we’re having. Again, the desire to move is surfacing. There aren’t any likely places available at this time. So, I worked in the garden most of the day, planting herbs in the redwood planter that Philip built for me. It is full and beautiful! It is three square tiers angled one above the other giving me thirteen little plots for herbs. It’s a lovely sculpture for the garden. Now that it’s planted, it’s immoveable.

When I work in the garden, my mind meanders. Today I thought about stories. Have you noticed how stories have a way of sticking with us even after they have outworn their usefulness? Stories upon stories, layered, so sticky thick and that we’ve made seamless through the retelling. We think they are necessary, even the ones that are redundant, like the necessity of war in order to keep peace. Such a multitude of stories all woven in upon the other. Throughout time, we’ve created a whole logjam of stories. Was it because we couldn’t stand the wondrous, bare bones truth of a mysterious existence? Is story intended to protect our vulnerable selves? We do seem to crave complexity. We’ve taken a perfectly fine planet earth and twisted and contorted it into a Disneyland of another sort showing how very difficult we can make things given little or no incentive!

Roger Housden, author of Ten Poems to Change Your Life and many other books, tells a story about visiting Iran to gather information for a book he was writing. As he was about to board a plane at the airport in Iran, he was detained by security. Up until that time, Roger had believed a story that as an Englishman in these times, he had an inherent superiority of sorts…that he lead a charmed life and was exempt from harm. Upon being detained by security, that belief was shed as they took his passport, tossed it in the garbage and told him that it was worthless there. He could die and no one would ever know what happened to him. They offered him two choices–he could work with them or spend the next five years in prison. His long-held story fell away and was replaced by the awareness of his own real vulnerability, creating in him a humility and compassion that has remained with him.

In my own life, there has been an ongoing quest. I try to figure life out or, when I can’t, I might latch onto a story that satisfies me momentarily. Someone once called earth “the planet of story.” Stories in flesh and bone, is that what we are? Drop the stories and then, are we flattened like a steam-rolled cartoon character?

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I’m alone tonight, although I called Timothy at the last minute to invite him to watch a movie–a story to escape from thinking about my story. I was about to say that I’m glad he’s not coming over when he called to say, “Yeah, I’d like to watch a movie with you.” No longer lovers, we both state clearly (with a little longing and then definitely not on my part). I guess, I wish he was a platonic friend, a playmate. Can we transform our relationship into a mild flirtation short of temptation?

While outside, the garden stands, persisting through my naivete or ignorance. The garden. Tomorrow I’ll plant some flowers along a fence.

Goddess of the earth, help me to let go of the stories that aren’t helpful so that I can see the path forward clearly.

88 Degrees in the Shade

It’s nearly 2:00 p.m. It’s hot–almost 88 degrees in the shade! I turned the hose upward to rain down upon me a few times. Now, I’m eating a piece of my famous chocolate cake as I write this. I planted two tomato plants and an Anaheim Chile Pepper. I watered everything. I won’t plant the herbs until my friend, Philip, is finished building the three-tiered redwood herb bed for my garden.

Today, it seems, I’m aware of choices–choosing for myself. I chose not to go to improv at Rochelle’s. I chose to go to Mary’s with Polly and friends to write poetry tonight. I chose to walk a wooded path up and down Stellar Way for over an hour. I then came home, grabbed a bite to eat, made phone calls and yes, gardening. Maybe I’ll paint the fence for half-an-hour and then take a bath. I have chosen to dismiss Timothy as my lover. I think that it’s right; however, there’s a big blank space where he once was. I have longings to create home and family. How would that look at this time of my life, I wonder. The garden is my teacher (and life is my teacher).

A deer thundered through the brush when I got too close on my hike. A big, tawny, beautiful, strong, watchful deer. Gentle is the word attributed to deer. I would say they are a powerful form of gentle.

What is the garden teaching me? The soil is volcanic, red, softened slightly with watering and soil enhancers. Weeds grow easiest when the soil has been watered over several days. Is the soil clay or is it only very dry? Why do humans crave family and solitude simultaneously? Who do we live our lives for in solitude? Is it enough to keep a garden and live for oneself? And yes, we need to know how to be alone, yet… I received an invitation to Jana’s, my niece’s, graduation. These special times. These special, dissolving times. Is my life over before I realize why I’m here? What is the secret to this every-dayness? How do we carry on despite the wars that are being waged around the world?

The garden is so lovely in this season, in Spring, lavishing its beauty on me, on Sara the cat and any friendly birds and insects. The garden is welcoming. I’ll continue to plant here until I move somewhere else. It’s not only Timothy I miss, it’s the loneliness of not having a daily someone with whom to interact. Why not Timothy? He’s not partner material. I wanted him to be as I don’t enjoy the search for a mate. However, he’s not the one.

The garden is patient and it trusts that it’ll flower and fruit at the right time. It doesn’t have a mental process. It takes in nurturance and preens in the sun and waits for what’s next.