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Picking Raspberries

Today I'm going to write about the many benefits of picking raspberries. Not only is there the potential gain of eating the sweet fruit, in all its freshness and anti-oxidant richness, there is also the lesson of how to know when something is enough. Last, the simple act of raspberry picking offers many moments to cultivate noble qualities such as self control and trust.

I have much to say about raspberries. In fact, a favorite hobby of mine involves inserting relatively obscure botanical knowledge, which I picked up from a botany course in college, into any social situation, especially if it is not warranted. And so, I will note here that berries, in botanical terms, are any fruits that have soft, leathery flesh, skin, and seeds. With this definition, oranges, bananas, and watermelons can all be considered berries, leaving raspberries to be instead categorized as aggregate fruit, fruits made up of smaller fruits.

Yet, it becomes apparent that changing the taxonomical categorization of a fruit does not change its essence, and here is where we draw upon the first truth from picking raspberries: that the known self is not the true self. I am not a Buddhist scholar, and by no means well versed on the Buddhist notion of anatta, or non-self, but I can say from my own experience that over-identification with any kind of self-can result in confusion and almost always some form of suffering. Yet, my own experience is not focus for this entry—we are here to talk about raspberries. So this is just to say that, like humans, the raspberry also has a true self, one that cannot be intellectualized, one that remains true regardless of what it is called, and it is this true raspberry-self that we look for when picking them.

The raspberries I picked this summer grow inside a community orchard almost right next to my house. In the mornings, after doing Qi Gong in the garden, I would head over to the row of raspberry bushes, filled with excitement and anticipation to see how many would be ready for picking. Over time, thanks to my partner, I learned a couple of ways to tell if a raspberry was ripe: first, to understand that a red raspberry is not the same as a ripe raspberry, and second, that a ripe raspberry will fall off the bush at the slightest touch.

With these tips at hand, I began to dedicate more time to each raspberry, twisting each raspberry gently between my fingers to observe the color on all sides, noting the amount of pressure I exerted, and using that awareness to gauge whether the fruit was truly ripe or if I was tugging slightly to make it fall off the bush. Each fruit provided an moment to practice open awareness, for me to see the fruit as it is—ripe or not ripe—and not what I wanted it to be, which was always ripe. Eventually, and inevitably, insight arose from this practice.

It occurred to me one morning that the ability to know when a raspberry is ripe can only come from honest, experiential exploration, and not from any degree of intellectualizing. Whenever I tried to think about whether a raspberry was ready, the more likely I was to incorrectly convince myself that it was ripe, which would lead to eating an unsatisfying fruit and also receiving some degree of playful scorn from my partner. On the other hand, if I just rested on the visual and tactile interactions with the fruit, I would more likely arrive at its true essence as a raspberry, which then could only point to it being ripe or not ripe.

From this place of quiet knowing, there is no need for clever intellectualizing, no need to continue deliberating with thoughts like, "Well, it isn't falling off the bush right away, but it's red on all sides, so it must be almost ripe enough, and tomorrow it's going to rain anyways so I might as well just pick it now." There is no need for further debating because I simply knew whether it was enough or not enough. And if it was not ripe enough, there was no need to argue otherwise because, well, enough is enough!

My practice of berry picking also helped me cultivate other virtues, from disciplining myself to not pick more berries that I needed and trusting that the ones I didn't pick would not go to waste, finding themselves enjoyed by all the other animals and humans who shared this community garden.

After I began to pick only the raspberries that were truly ripe, I found myself walking back home with a smaller mound of berries in my hand, yet with a bigger smile and a lighter heart. I felt like I had shown the raspberries more respect by not being greedy, and in turn they had thanked me. In fact, I found myself letting go a lot when one morning I came back to find all the raspberries gone, having been picked clean by a group of children who also lived in the neighborhood. This time, it was my partner who became frustrated, and I was grateful for the opportunity to remind him, with some degree of playful scorn, that the raspberries were part of a community garden.

Raspberry season is over now, I am looking forward to deepening my understanding of these lessons as the seasons move forward. Blackberries are coming up next, and soon enough it will be time to harvest the budding fruits and vegetables growing steadily in this garden. And with that, I thank you for reading and invite you to share any of your own experiences and insights from harvesting!


Some questions for reflection:

  • What aspects of your life are ripe to harvest right now? Which ones are not?

  • In what ways do you hold onto a certain kind of self?

Feel free to comment below or send me a message! May all beings be happy.

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