Monday, December 27, 2010

The Meditative Gardener is on Silent Retreat.

She will return to this blog on Groundhog Day.

A Thousand Miles of Snow

Friends who live in Michigan drove to New England for the holidays. A thousand miles of snow disappeared when they came down the mountain into town. The snow stopped at the town border. People around here have all marveled at the one-month delay in snow. We had a tan and brown Christmas. My car was so dusty, you couldn't read the license plate.

Until now. This morning, a foot of snow has fallen. The White-Christmas season that we dream of has arrived.

This is the beautiful death of the old year as we are no longer haunted by the ghost of growing seasons past. Now we have truly entered the land of snow and ice, a place that requires equanimity.

White stillness lays upon the land. May we relax our busy-ness long enough to notice the exquisite quietness that underlays the workaday mind.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Boiling Water Your Christmas Tree

An 89-year-old neighbor waters her Christmas tree every day with boiling water. By February (February?), her tree is sprouting new growth.

Although boiling water sounds extreme, the theory is that trees stop absorbing water because the pores of the stump become clogged with resin. Boiling water melts the resin, and thereby increases absorption.

In dark times, our own minds can become clogged with sticky thoughts that stress our mind and our body. The first step toward unclogging these sticky thoughts is simply mindfulness. Go ahead and write that thought down, because otherwise the mind is very slippery. Look at that thought. Does it meet the Buddha's qualifications for Right Speech? Is that thought true? useful? beneficial?

Is that thought true? Is it really, really true? Is it so true that you would stake your life on it?
Ask yourself: How does truth feel?

Truth feels like "Ahhh." "Yes." "Of course." Truth relaxes the sticky thoughts that are gumming up the mind. Truth brings peace to the mind and calmness to the body. Out of that tranquility springs the tender green shoots of creativity and kindness toward yourself.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Receiving Someone Else's Generosity

On Christmas Eve, i volunteered to be the "inn keeper" at a homeless shelter in the church in town that hosts the nativity scene in its front yard. I took the 1:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift, and that seems exactly the way Christmas Eve should be celebrated. I felt quite joyful, even though a few of the men sleeping on the floor rather smelled like a manger all to themselves.

I drove home through a pink cloud and powder blue sky dawn. But on the way i stopped at the branch of a local bank (in a local building materials store) that opens at 7:00. I believe i was their first customer of the newborn day.

"Take a poinsettia home with you," Jane the teller said. "We're giving them away to our first 25 customers."

"Perfect," i said. "We don't yet have a poinsettia at home."

'Tis the season of giving and receiving. Receiving the gift of the other person's generosity.

I would not have chosen a peach-colored poinsettia named DaVinci. But the object is not the point.

Graciously receiving a gift allows the giver to experience their own joy. And that too is a gift.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Green Winter Garden

Green plants are still growing in the winter garden. While rivers and streams are frozen hard enough to skate on, and therefore the water molecules of plants must also be frozen, the ferny foliage of feverfew grows green near my front door. The tough dark green leaves of hellebores look better now than they will in May. Fuzzy foxgloves and cool columbines lay low, but look like they are actually enjoying winter.

My sweetie suffered through a 24-hour tummy bug with chills the day that winter began. I had the opportunity to clean up after this usually fastidious person, as his gastrointestinal system revolted at both ends.

"I am of the nature to become ill. Illness is unavoidable." "My nearest and dearest are also of the nature to become ill." When they do, the excretions of the body may come directly into focus. Yes, those excretions are unpleasant, but we clean up out of love.

The frozen garden may feel unpleasant, as we yearn for its salad days of lushness and abundance. But we still care for it, out of love.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Light in the Darkness

I like to celebrate Winter Solstice. At this darkest time of year, i'm famished for light. So i string Christmas lights on the various evergreens along the driveway. (Mostly hemlocks that have been pruned into shape.) Then i place luminaria--plumbers candles in a bag with sand.

Sometimes meditators actually "see" light as the mind calms. (Others do not.) The inside of the eyelids usually looks darkish. Stray shapes and colors may come and go, but the sense of light can be mildly pleasant. Focus on that pleasantness and simply wait.

In this dark season, that's what i'm doing. Noticing light--Christmas lights or full moonlight. Feeling the pleasantness. And simply waiting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

White Lines

The Yard Magician came in early July to edge my flowerbeds. I was making the extra effort to prettify my garden because a wedding would soon be happening in my nearby field.

The wonderful wedding came and went. My summer gardens bloomed and ebbed. The fall garden flowered and faded. I stopped feeding the goldfish in mid-October.

Now the winter garden lies low, its green, then brown stalks cut to the ground. Only a dusting of snow decorates the landscape like a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar on a sheet cake. Bits of snow collect in the edging and the curves, pleasing to the eye, drawn not darker but lighter, whiter, separate lawn from flower bed.

The effort we put into our meditation practice also yields results. Perhaps in our busy workaday world, those results are only somewhat noticeable. But when the busy-ness of our lives recedes, when the clamor ceases, we will see the clean line that has been there all along, calling us to contentment with what is.

The Yard Magician's magic is still at work.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Scent of Balsam Fir

I'm particularly fond of balsam fir Christmas trees because they smell good. I walk into the house, and the fragrance permeates my nostrils. I breathe deeply, but within just a few breaths the lovely aroma disappears as the sense of smell becomes accustomed to that particular scent.

The smell arises. Ahhh! Pleasant. Very pleasant indeed.
The smell fades and ceases. Neutral.

Arising and ceasing. This is the practice that the Buddha recommended most frequently to householders. 2,500 years later, it's still a great practice for this holiday season of so many sights and sounds and smells.

Particularly while shopping, note "pleasant," "pleasant," "pleasant." How long does one pleasant last before it ceases? How long does the attention remain on "pleasant" before it starts to wander?

Look closely at this phenomenon during the next holiday party you attend or the next Christmas card you open.
Pleasant. Pleasant.
And then?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Old Year is Dying

The old year is dying. The body of Mother Earth is losing heat. Her joints of rivers and streams are freezing.

Monday she rallied, perhaps because some of her children were coming to visit her. She felt as young as springtime. Around here, temperatures soared to 48 degrees. Yes, of course, she still looked brown with a gray pallor sky overhead, but her youthful energy returned for about 24 hours as she remembered how she used to be.

Now she's lost that energy and recedes into the dementia of winter as some animals go into hibernation.

We, her Earth children, grieve the aging and sickness and the too-soon death of this year, this 2010, which we will never, in our entire lives, see again. We have fond memories, but this year, this garden is gone. Gone. Really gone.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seasons' Greenery

At the December meeting, the Garden Club had all the makings for wreaths and holiday centerpieces. Women with clippers in hand clustered around long tables in a church basement. Candles sat in the middle of evergreens. Swags of pine branches hung in mid-air as the creators looked at them from various angles. Vases of red and white carnations and alstromeria took shape.

Santa's workshop was in full swing, well fortified with holiday cookies.

One friend refrained from making anything. "I'm simplifying my life," she said.

Oh yes. The price of all this artistic creation is paid later. Dry needles accumulate and need to be brushed off the table or vacuumed off the floor. After Christmas, there's all the dismantling. I spend hours, perhaps days, decorating the house and then hours un-decorating the house 2 or 3 weeks later. I could simplify my life by minimizing the decorations.

Perhaps one candle surrounded by a small evergreen wreath on the table is sufficient.

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Blog Wins a Blogisattva Award!

http://www.blogisattva.org/p/2010-awards-table.html

Scroll about 2/3s down.

Best Achievement Blogging in Buddhist Practice or Dharma

Thanks to you, my faithful readers!


The Blogisattva Award nicely punctuates the intention i set for my book The Meditative Gardener: Cultivating Mindfulness of Body, Feelings, and Mind. Five years ago, i started writing the manuscript as my Bodhisattva project for the Community Dharma Leader training program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

I wanted to offer the Dharma via the metaphor of the garden: roots of suffering, planting seeds of kindness, etc. The Buddha himself often used agricultural similes in his teachings to the farmers/lay people who supported him.

Now my Bodhisattva project has turned into a Blogisattva project :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Frozen Garden

I harvested the last stalk--well, okay, it was the only stalk--of Brussels sprouts from the vegetable garden. The person i live with has officially declared the vegetable garden dead and left the garden gate open.

"But the deer will eat the kale," i protest.
"Cheryl. It's over," he says.

My grief is palpable. My inner protest to what is. Once more, i argue with reality and lose. The garden is no more, despite what i want.

And this is the garden too. The now-frozen desert of dirt that water cannot penetrate. The dryness, the aridness of winter.

I could start planning for the next growing season. I could loll around in the virtual reality of the mind. Yet that would be to take my eye off the present moment.

The garden gate is open. The garden spirits (4-legged or invisible) are free to come and go. It is cold. I hibernate--i winter-nate--in my house.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Begins

Meterological winter has arrived. The coldest 91 days begin on December 9. Temperatures drop to single digits as if to underscore this fact and bring it to our attention. Water loses its liquidity and becomes solid enough to walk on, slide on, fall on--or skate on. Gaseous vapors rise from patches of the still open water in the river; steam rises from the grates of sewer lines on their way to the nearest stream. The brief humidity quickly freezes onto our windshields.

It's a magic trick, when you stop to think about it. Gas and liquid converting to a solid state. Nothing is fixed, not even something as basic as water.

We fix these concepts with words: ice, water, steam; and we lose sight of their relationship to each other and their silent lessons for us.

Our own bodies are composed of solids, liquids, and gases. Bones, blood, and breath. Ever-flowing, ever-changing.

Where is my "me"?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Frozen Ground

The ground has been frozen hard for a couple of weeks now. I compare the firm feeling underneath my feet to the softness of spring, the shovel-ability of summer, and the crunch of fall.

Comparing one thing to another is just about all i have ever seen the mind doing. Of course, this comparison aids us in perception. "This trowel looks similar to and yet a little different than all the other trowels i have seen. Therefore it must be a trowel." Perceptions happen at such lightning speed, we don't even realize it.

Comparing my garden to my friend's garden though is actually useless. She has different conditions and proclivities. The 2 gardens simply exist. Like the seasons. Neither better than nor worse than. Each with its own qualities.

Winter freezes hard.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't Squash Generosity

My friend Fritze gave me a beautiful Australian butter squash from her community garden.

"We harvested 105 winter squashes," she said.

This squash is a foot in diameter with a beautiful peach-colored skin. I can't take my eyes off it. In fact, i'm storing it on the back of the toilet in my bathroom that is painted Pumpkin Bisque.

This gift is an act of generosity, of sharing the fruits of our labors with others. Generosity is the first of 10 paramount qualities. Supreme qualities of the heart and mind that we try to cultivate.

Don't squash your own tendency to give, to offer the fruits of your life to your friends.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Baked Kale Leaves

Kale is the only vegetable remaining in my garden, and i'm in a race with the deer to see who gets it first.

I heard about a recipe where you de-rib the kale, spray it with olive oil, and bake it in the oven for a few minutes. It comes out crunchy, and therefore fun to eat. Yes, it looks like i raked the lawn and put the pile of leaves in a salad bowl, but it definitely tastes like kale. Think of it as "kale chips." Pretty soon, i will acquire the taste for them and be sneaking into them for snacking.

We can bring this same inventiveness to our meditation practices. If you tire of watching the breath at the nostrils, watch the breath at your jaw, your throat, your gut. I like to watch the breath at my left shoulder because i can feel a thought coming on before it actually arrives. (Your body will be different.) My left shoulder is my early warning system, like the monitors at the train station that tell you how many minutes until the next train arrives. My left shoulder tells me the next train of thought will be arriving within 2 seconds.

Kale can get to be boring when it's the only vegetable on the dinner plate night after night.
Bake it! You'll like it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Garden Statues


Now that the gardens have been cut down, and before the snow falls, statuary becomes the focal point.

Aphrodite stands modestly nude beside the fish pond, just getting out of her bath. St Francis hold birds in his hands along a woodland path. A meditating Buddha sits in the moss garden under a now-bare Japanese maple. The classical musician i live with likes his "young Beethoven" who shivers in his 18th century jacket beside the front door.

The center of attention, though, is the fear-dispelling Buddha who stands in the garden near the front door. With one hand raised, palm out, in greeting, he welcomes me home day after day.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Frozen Manure

As i was unloading manure out of my truck and onto my garden on Saturday, snowflakes began to swirl around me.

Some years ago, i lent my truck to a friend, and she returned it to me with a load of manure. We hurried to unload it, because it was December 27 and chilly. Toward the end of our shoveling, the manure began to freeze onto the bed of the truck. Those last several shovelfuls stayed frozen until the January thaw a few weeks later.

All the more reason to practice meditation NOW. While we still have warmth in our bodies. NOW. While we have the strength of body and intention to follow through. NOW. Before the unfinished manure of our lives begins to clog and congeal onto a cooling body.

Taking Things For Granted

I drove my truck to the nearby farm yesterday to pick up one more load of manure.

"Don't know if i'll see you again till spring," i said to Charlie, the farmer.

"Yes," he said. "There's a woman who comes for manure who has said 4 times, "Well, i guess this is the last time."
"We just don't know if it's the last time or not."

My father came to visit me for the last time the Thanksgiving before he turned 75. Of course, at the time, i didn't know it was the last time.

Taking things for granted is a type of thoughtlessness, of mindlessness really, that results in ingratitude.

Since this is the season of giving thanks for the blessings of our lives, take time today to express gratitude--maybe for all the things you take for granted.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

The pumpkins that decorated the doorstep in October came indoors after Halloween and were beginning to look the worse for wear. So the day after Thanksgiving (go figure) i baked 2 of the pumpkins. I scraped out the flesh of one, pureed it, and froze it for future pumpkin soup.

The other--a white pumpkin--lent itself to dicing. So i sauteed a quarter of the pale yellow flesh with red onions and added dried cranberries for a festive look. Another quarter went into Thai curry with a coconut milk base. The remaining half is awaiting inspiration.

The Buddha said the mind without mindfulness is like a pumpkin. Placed on a river, the pumpkin soon floats away. The mind with mindfulness is like a stone that drops into water and sinks.

Tell me how pumpkin inspires you, and we'll both cook mindfully. Perhaps making a delicious "stone soup" by first of all adding pumpkin.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Chinese Sacred Lilies

I lived in Hawai'i briefly, and it was there i met the Chinese sacred lily. Sherman Tom, a friend of a friend, was forcing these narcissus for Chinese New Year.

Back on the Mainland, i became familiar with paperwhites, but many years passed before i found the Chinese sacred lily (Tazetta orientalis) for sale at our local garden center.

Chinese sacred lilies--which are not lilies at all--have fewer flowers than paperwhites. The Chinese sacred lily has pale yellow petals with a petite orange cup, while paperwhites are, well, white.

We might occasionally notice that our friend's meditation practice is showier than ours--there's more paraphernalia, more chanting, more men (where are the women?) in exotic clothing. Perhaps all we have is a cushion; or maybe just a chair.

That's really all we need. A place to sit quietly and root our practice, perhaps in the dark, behind closed eyes.

What i love about the Chinese sacred lily is its sweet fragrance--a big improvement over the smell of paperwhites. Our simple meditation practice can also yield a moment of deep pleasure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hunting Season

It's hunting season here in the north woods. Time to wear bright orange or dayglo yellow when i go for a walk. Neighbor dogs tie red bandanas around their necks so that they won't be mistaken for a deer or a bear.

The subject is deer. Those sweet Banbis who graze in our yards. They are so overpopulated (30 per square mile instead of the optimum 18) that they are desperate for food. Our rhododendrons suffer. My star magnolia has a "waist" at deer nose height where all the buds and branches have been nibbled.

Deer also carry deer ticks, which in turn carry Lyme disease. More and more people lose their energy due to Lyme disease. More and more people are afraid to walk in the woods--not because of the hunters, but because of a little creature the size of a pinhead.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Re-inventing Kale

The winter crops are few, but precious. If we subscribed to the macrobiotic view, we would be automatic localvores, eating only what is in season.

Kale becomes November's zucchini. How many ways can you cook or disguise kale?

I've just started de-ribbing the kale--stripping the leaf off the stem. This makes for a more spinachy-y look and feel (but not quite taste) when steamed or added to soup or to quiche.

The first year i grew kale, goats lived in the neighboring field. Feeding the extra kale to the goats was fun.

Our meditation practice needs some inventiveness to keep it interesting, to keep it fresh. I'm currently fascinated by the noting method of Shinzen Young. What keeps you interested? In gardening or in meditation?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Leaf Blower Meditation

Leaf blowers have arrived, if not in your yard, then perhaps in your neighbor's. You hear the sound, louder than a lawn mower. You roll your eyes or think nasty thoughts.

Listen mindfully. Practice hearing meditation. Feel the sound in your body. Soak into the sound as a whole body experience. Maybe you can feel your bones buzzing.

Does that increased amplitude of vibration in your body feel pleasant? Does it feel unpleasant? I assume it does not feel neutral.

Notice the mind. Is it complaining about the leaf blower?

Yet, what is actually happening? Your bones are buzzing unpleasantly. That's all. Really, that's all.

You don't have to believe what that trickster mind is telling you.
Unless you want to.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mum Season

This chilly, but not too freezing, season is perfect for mums. In September, i bought 2 pots for the front step. They petered out, and while i was on retreat at the end of October, my sweetie bought 2 more pots.

Every year, i plant the old mums somewhere in the garden. Once in a while they survive. This is the season when i reap my mum harvest and cut mum bouquets from my garden that last up to 3 weeks.

What meditation technique is best for me? This can be a nagging question for meditators. "Which ever technique works" is the flippant answer.

We try various approaches--Zen, Dzogchen, Vipassana. Breath meditation, body scan, mindful movement. Noting, open awareness, or concentration.

Like mums in the fall, we keep planting various techniques into our meditation. If we are diligent, after a while, we notice that one survives and blooms.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Thorny Tangle


Yesterday i spent an hour with 3 other friends pulling out invasives--barberry, burning bush, and multiflora rose. These invaders crowd out native plants.

I used my weed wrench to pry their roots out of the ground. The thorny branches of the Briar Rose gave me an appreciation for the tangle Sleeping Beauty's prince had to get through in order to wake her up.

Our views, beliefs, and opinions form the thorny tangle that keep us in a state of delusion. If we want to awaken--to the world around us and to our own native kindness and compassion--then we need to expend some effort and practice mindfulness as often as we can. Mindfulness helps us uproot unskillful thoughts and actions.

Of course, it helps to have some weed-pulling friends--a sangha--to encourage and support us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

First Seed Catalog

The first seed catalog arrived yesterday. Just as i was settling in to feeling the grief of the old garden, the major distraction of new life, new seeds arrives. It feels like getting a new puppy the day the old dog died.

Desire lands on the cover, turns the pages, egging me on to look, look, look, and buy, buy, buy. Distract myself from the ceasing of the old year, the old growing season. Paying as little attention as possible to the ceasing, focusing instead on the arising of desire for rebirth.

Can our between-lives (bardo in Tibetan) be any different?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grieving the Garden

I go out to the garden and wander around, clippers in hand. I walk my usual circuit, through the white garden, the bulb garden, the patio garden, toward the tiny fishpond. The flower beds have been pretty well put to bed for the winter. Maybe i find a few stalks to cut down. I feel i'm meandering aimlessly. I hang the clippers up.

I don't know what to do with myself. The feeling is a form of grief. Mild, to be sure. The usual things that provide the "juice" in my life--in this case, the garden--no longer require my attention.

The death of this year's garden may be just a little thing in the big picture, yet very instructive as i soak into the feeling of grief. Oh. This is what grief feels like.

Perhaps a little belief surfaces: "I don't want it to be like this." or "I want my garden." Soak into those feelings.

Yes, the mind already knows the futility of wanting November to be different than November ever is. The mind may think, "What a silly thing." Yet this simple experience of a mild grief gives us the opportunity to deconstruct grief and look at it, piece by piece. Sensation arises in the body. Thoughts arise in the mind. Drop into the sensation. Feel the effects of a thought in the body.

Our beautiful garden is gone. What are we going to do without it?
Our beautiful garden is gone. Whew! We don't have to work in it. Now we have a few months of vacation.

Bittersweet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Plant a Carrot, Get a Carrot

10-year-old Chloe pulled all the carrots out of the garden yesterday. The harvest amounted to about 20 beautiful carrots that the voles had not discovered.

Carrot seeds had a hard time this spring because the soil was dry. Tiny carrot seedlings are extremely sensitive--too much dryness or too much wetness will kill them. They germinate irregularly. I planted 3 packets of carrot seeds, so 20 carrots might not sound like much of a harvest.

When we practice random acts of kindness, we are planting seeds of generosity as well as kindness and perhaps compassion. We can't know how man of these seeds, if any, will root.

Yet we do know that by planting carrots we will harvest carrots (and not Brussel sprouts as the song from The Fantasticks tells us). Planting kindness enables us to harvest kindness.

The voles didn't eat the carrots, but Chloe will be feeding her share of the harvest with her hamsters.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

If It's Brown, Cut It Down

If it's brown,
cut it down.
If it's green,
it's clean.

Now is the time to put the gardens to bed--cutting down the brown stuff and leaving whatever is green. The advantage to cleaning up the garden now is that you won't have to do it next spring, when there's so much other stuff to do.

Ever since spring, our attention has been on what's arising in the garden--first the bulbs flower, then the shortest plants bloom, and later, the tallest plants flower. What's new in the garden revs us up and makes us happy.

Now our attention is almost all on ceasing. Flowers have died. Green leaves have curled up and turned brown. Now is the time to notice: "gone."

If we move our attention just a little closer to what feels like our center, we will notice that most things we think of as "ours" are also "gone," leaving us with only the virtual reality of memory.

All we really have is the present moment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Winter Raspberries

One of the local farm stands, Dutton Berry Farms, STILL has fresh raspberries for sale. The raspberries are dark red and practically shivering with cold. The supply is limited--maybe a dozen pints per day. But what a tasty gift for this time of year. Fresh raspberries, sprinkled on cereal in the morning or chocolate cake in the evening.

Our meditation practice, which begins to bear fruit in the summer of our lives, will continue producing fruit into the winter of our lives--if we tend it daily.

What joy to eat fresh, local raspberries! What joy can also be found in the calmed, meditative mind.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The End of Gardening Season

A gardener comes to work in my garden for a few hours each week. Elisha weeds and deadheads. In October, she helps my sweetie stack 5 cords of wood. Since he is particular and she is easy-going, and i am neither particular nor easy-going, this arrangement works well for all concerned.

Yesterday was Elisha's last day of work this year--my official sign that gardening season is over. It's always hard to let her go; i won't see her now for 5 months.

I decided to hire a gardener when i was on a 6-week silent retreat some years ago. I saw how much vicarious joy the vegetable and flower garden at the retreat center gave me. Yet, i also knew all too well, the daily dissatisfaction i experienced in my own garden because my body couldn't keep up with the desires of the mind. "Prune this." "Rake that." "Plant this." "Weed that."

Elisha does these tasks joyfully, and thereby allows me to en-joy the garden.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November Harvest

November's cold-weather crops still grow in the vegetable garden. The chard's ruddy cheeks invite me to pick its crisp leaves. The broccoli amazingly continues to send off side shoots, making it the longest-running crop of the year.

After years, and even decades of broccoli, this year a 5-month broccoli harvest has surprised me and pushed me beyond the usual broccoli recipes.

After years of meditation, your practice can take on a new vibrancy, ripening into tranquility as you harvest the benefits into your daily life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Vitamin M

I just returned from a one-week retreat in the Colorado Rockies. At 8,500 feet, we were still below snowline, although one morning i did wake up to a dusting of snow.

Every day i took a walk after lunch. Rosehips grew along the roadside, so i picked them and ate them "for dessert." Their red flesh was almost sweet. And then there were all those inedible seeds. Perhaps it doesn't seem worth it--several seconds of juicy flesh followed by a couple of minutes of spitting out tiny seeds.

I rationalized the rosehips by thinking of all the Vitamin C i was getting, in its raw form. As well as the Vitamin D directly from that hot Colorado sunshine.

Sometimes our meditation practice can seem like rosehips: a few moments of sweet tranquility followed by minutes of spitting out the seeds of wayward thoughts. Sigh. Is meditation really worth it?

Yet those few minutes of solitude provide us with our daily dose, our minimum daily requirement, of Vitamin M (for meditation.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Ant & the Grasshopper Meditate

In my house lives one gardener and one non-gardener. This gardener is constantly prettifying the landscape and growing, growing, growing. In the spring she is a busy bee. In the autumn, she is an ant getting ready for winter.

The non-gardener is a grasshopper as far as the garden is concerned--willing to eat flowers, fruits, and vegetables, but preferring to lie on a chaise longue in the sun while the ant toils nearby.

What is our attitude toward meditation? Sometimes we are fair-weather meditators; we meditate when conditions are good. But we let meditation go when fun or pleasant opportunities arise.

Some people meditate as if their lives depended on it. If we want to harvest the fruits of the spiritual life, then NOW is all there is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Localvore Stress

I store garlic, onions, tomatillos, and gladiola bulbs in my unfinished basement. My sweetie built a rack of open shelving that i can simply slide trays into. The open-air concept allows me to see when the onions start to sprout in April.

We have an apartment-sized refrigerator in the basement and that's where i keep my potato harvest and ziplock bags full of sun-dried tomatoes. An apartment-sized freezer is stuffed full of green beans, broccoli, and pesto from the garden. Last winter i held more tightly to the localvore concept and actually managed to clean everything out by June. Well, almost everything--i just peeled 50 heads of garlic and stored them in olive oil.

This localvore idea is rooted in the slogan: Act Locally; Think Globally. By eating locally, we can cut down on all the oil needed to transport vegetables from the West Coast to the East.

The fly in the ointment is this: The vegetables at the store are so much more beautiful than the ones in my freezer. And the grocery store has more variety too. Even the local food co-op that sells ONLY organic fruits and vegetables (and mostly local) has a more interesting selection than i do in my basement.

I may ascribe to the idea of Voluntary Simplicity, but how does it taste?

A little local chicken broth adds a lot of flavor to green beans. Grated zucchini turns into blond brownies, heavy on the chocolate chips and walnuts. Put sun-dried tomatoes in the pesto and deplete 2 storage items at the same time.

Next week: green beans, grated zucchini, some broccoli, and oh yes, winter squash--AGAIN. Repeat for 20 weeks.

By April, my sweetie is threatening to throw out the remaining 2 trays of tomatillos. Quick! Think Mexican. Green chili. Well, there's getting used to the color, but it actually tastes great. Simmer a pork tenderloin in tomatillos, onions, and garlic for chili verde.

Finally the cellar is bare. I can buy any vegetable i want at the Farmers' Market. But wait! Late April and it's time to pick fiddlehead ferns and wild leeks. Asparagus begins to poke up. I refuse to eat the dandelion green salads i grew up on. Last year's kale re-sprouts in the garden, and has enough tender leaves for 2 meals a week.

Just when i think i can cut loose from localvoring, the season begins again. Rhubarb, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers. The cornucopia overflows into ziplock bags, and, now that we're localvoring the sun and producing our own electricity with photovoltaics, it's time to buy a bigger freezer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peak (Peek) Season for Foliage

This week is the peak of foliage where i live. Up in the high country, trees are already bare, but here in the foothills, hillsides blaze with red-orange-yellow. This wave of color passing, passing, then passed as it continues traveling south.

Next comes the more subtle season of red-brown oak leaves and yellow-tan beech leaves.

After months of green, now the autumn colors pass in quick succession, each day gloriously warm in the sun, cool in the increasing shadows. Red-orange leaves against blue, blue sky--my eyes unable to drink it all in, no matter how long i look.

"Everything i cherish will change and vanish."

At no time during the year is this truth felt so intensely. Change is palpable as yellow leaves fall through the air, their last dance of the season as they circle gently and come to rest on lawn, flower bed, or road. Vast numbers of leaves crunch and swish underfoot. What was up above my head is now down below my feet. Green vanishes into red-orange-yellow which vanishes into brown.

Everything, everything changes, including our dearly beloved selves.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Race to Cook My Way to the End of the Garden

I am racing to cook my way to the end of the vegetable garden. Every day i fill my harvest basket. My daily goal is to cook everything that's in it, adding ingredients from failed attempts of preceding days. After all, how do you cook a crisper drawer full of eggplant in one go? I divvy the eggplant into various recipes--Italian, Indian, Thai, Israeli, Lebanese.

In the process of cooking these volumes, i create more leftovers than we can possibly eat. So i freeze a big batch of potato-chard soup, chile verde (made with tomatilloes), corned beef & cabbage.

Next week i leave for 2 weeks of retreat. My sweetie has almost inured himself to this sort of abandonment (as he feels it). Every night while i'm gone, he pulls a contain of love out of the freezer and warms it up to nourish himself.

Intellectually he knows that i return a calmer, wiser person. He just needs a daily reminder of my care and concern for him. And his menu is actually quite extensive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Collecting Seeds

The season of collecting seeds has arrived. Since i love to plant seeds, i also like to collect them. I hunt around the nasturtiums for little wrinkled tan balls that are smaller than peas. I shake annual poppy heads into a bowl and soon i have handfuls of black poppy seeds that i could bake with if i wanted to.

I make a special effort to collect seeds from the biennial plants i love--lupine, hollyhock, angelica, foxglove, sweet william. I want these flowers to return to my garden, so i boost my chances of seeing them again by nurturing their re-seeding.

Many seeds i simply lay in a nursery bed because i know they are hardy enough to raise themselves. A few, perhaps those that are new to me, i will start in 6-packs next late winter.

What are the seeds that we want to grow in our spiritual life? Patience? Generosity? Mindfulness? Go ahead. Plant your favorite seed now. Today. Plant the intention. Water daily, both in and out of meditation. Notice the tender sprouts.

May your gardens--inner and outer--be blessed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Harvesting Farmers Markets

Harvest Festivals abound this long weekend. Every small town around me has at least one. Also, as of this summer, each little town (population 2,000 more or less) has its own Farmers' Market. Friends--whom i wouldn't have suspected--have a booth selling basil chevre and "cinnful" rolls. Last week i bought a very local frozen chicken and a bag of pears.

These markets are as fun as markets have been for centuries. Visit friends and acquaintance while live toe-tapping music plays in the background. Sweet savories are sold at 2 or 3 booths. Then there's the Thai food booth--red curry, green curry, or fish curry--as well as Mexican tamales or burritos.

Right Livelihood is one step of the Noble 8-fold Path. By supporting our (usually) organic neighbors, we enable them to make a living while their localvore food sustains our own life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Elements of Nature

Jack Frost crept into the flower beds last night and laid down a freezing blanket over the low spots. Fortunately, i garden in the foothills, and my sweetie has created "frost drains" so that the cold air can continue flowing downhill instead of eddying on top of the vegetable garden.

Since air is (usually) invisible, it's intriguing to think of cold air flowing downhill like water, while warm air rises. When the land flattens out, cold air "ponds."

We think of our bodies simply as bodies. Yet water percolates through the rivers and (blood) streams of our body, "ponding" (in the stomach) and "bogging" (in the kidneys), until it finally drains out at the downhill end of the torso.

Air also circulates through the body. Just as our gardens are subject to the elements of heat, water, and wind, our bodies are also subject to the vagaries of heat, water, and air. The elements are inside our body as well as outside. So what's the difference? Does the apparent boundary of skin actually differentiate "my elements" from "others"? Aren't they all simply "ours"?

Friday, October 8, 2010

End of a Season

Peppers and eggplant like it hot. Now that cool weather has arrived with refrigerator nights, the peppers simply hang on their bushes. Many have turned red, thanks to the length of the season. Eggplants are small, and it's tempting to think they will continue to grow in size--but highly unlikely. Having seen marble-sized eggplant in Thailand, i pick even the thumb-size eggplants, knowing i can cook something with them.

This season reminds me of the end of my parents' lives. I couldn't imagine life leaving them, yet life was definitely waning. No medical intervention could stop that downhill slide.

No amount of hope can reverse the path of the sun as daylight slides into darkness earlier every day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Change of Season

The houseplants have come indoors after spending their summer in the great out-of-doors. The hot-weather vegetable plants--cucumber, tomato, pepper--are done for. Even the flower bed is looking rather piqued.

The change of season has been quietly announcing itself every day, but all of a sudden, change is quite noticeable--in the browning leaves, the cooler weather, the shorter days.

The body-mind also changes moment-to-moment, but we somehow don't "see" the change until it is marked. A girl blooms into a woman; a boy grows taller than his parents. Marriage, birth of a child, menopause, grandparenthood. Then the golden years turn into old, old age.

The garden has reached its old, old age, still creeping along, producing a few flowers, a few vegetables, until the life force is overwhelmed by the elements--cold, wind, lack of light--and dissipates by giving its own heat, its own earth body, its own 70% water, its own breath of air back to the earth.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Transplant NOW

Transplanting season has finally arrived. Slightly cooler weather or overcast skies, at least, plus a bit of rain--NOW is the time to move plants around.

Many gardeners may have thrown their hands up in the air weeks ago. "I give up." But October and into November are just as good for gardening as April and March.

Now when the full-court press is off the vegetable garden, and it simply goes on growing cool-weather crops, now is the time to return my attention to the flower gardens.

For those who stick to a meditation practice, the season comes when the habit of sitting has grown and become steady enough that we can turn our attention to insight practices. (Check out The Meditative Gardener for a whole book-ful of them.)

Now is when we harvest the fruits of our spiritual path and even plant seeds for fruits--and flowers--that will bloom in some other season of our lives.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Garden Surprise

It's a good thing i like surprises.

Last spring i took buckets of compost to my community garden plot. I only planted winter squash and pumpkins there, since i figured they wouldn't need much care.

By July i had a forest of tomatillos growing among the squash. That didn't surprise me. My compost has jillions of tomatillo seeds ust as our mind has a lifetime of habits and experiences from which grows our next thought, our next action, and the next words that spring off our tongues.

By August, the squash were thoroughly parched by the drought.

Now i'm harvesting--3 winter squash, bushels of tomatillos, and growing right beside the garden gate, ground cherries! Also called Cape gooseberries, these little yellow-orange globes combine the sweetness and size of berries with a hint of tangy tomato-pineapple. Hiding in a paper husk, these little treasures loved the heat that this summer excelled in.

I offer these surprises to my community garden mates and watch them smile.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Precious Rain

Rain. Precious rain. After 4 months of drought here in the Northeast, with wells drying up and trees yellowing and dying, rain has been drizzling over the landscape for the past 24 hours. Not enough rain for flooding nor even enough for a good soak. Just a shower so that you can practically see the plants and shrubs and trees say, "Ahhhh."

We depend on water for our very lives. Our 70%-water bodies must surely resonate with showers, tubs, rivers, and lakes.

The aging process has been noticeably stressing crops, shrubs, and trees this year. In my home state of Indiana, corn is so dry that farmers are picking it a month early.

If we look closely we can see the effects of water drying up in our very bodies. Wrinkles, for instance, as well as the various warts and barnacles of aging skin. Dry mouth. Dry skin. Dry hair. Juicy spots that now require lubrication. Frozen shoulders. The body dries to parchment in very old age as water in the body "dries up."

This very body is just another manifestation of the nature we see around us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Where Will You Be a Year From Now?

Expert garden writer and garden designer, Wayne Winterrowd died of heart failure last week at his home here in Vermont. Besides co-writing 3 gardening books and many articles for Horticulture magazine, he and his spouse, Joe Eck, designed many high-end gardens, including a 1-acre garden for my friend Florence.

Florence lives on a secluded "estate" of a few acres, about 35 minutes from town. She loves people and has, so far this year, attended 2 months of meditation retreats. When she saw Wayne and Joe last year, she told them she was putting her home and garden on the market.

"How could you?" Wayne asked. "Where are you going?"

Florence shrugged. She didn't know where she was going (and still doesn't).

"I know exactly where i'll be a year from now," Wayne said.

The mind really wants to believe that what it thinks is true. But thought is usually just a virtual reality having little to do with the facts of life. Death is one of those facts, one of those certainties. Only the time of death is uncertain.

Florence misses her friend and garden designer deeply. She continues to be haunted by that statement, "I know exactly where i'm going to be a year from now."

In the moment, it seemed that he was right, and she was wrong for not knowing, for wanting to sell her house in the first place. Yet he was not right, and she was not wrong. This is not to say that she was right, nor to say that he was wrong.

The mind wants to divide life into good and bad, right and wrong. But what if, what if there is simply is-ness?

Wayne Winterrowd is dead.
Florence still lives in her beautiful house and garden.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest: Bounty or Compost?

In this harvest season, i try to cook 2 or 3 vegetables from the garden for dinner every evening--broccoli or zucchini, chard or kale, and a salad entirely of tomatoes. I leave the leftovers in the fridge for my sweetie. When i return from a long weekend away, they're still there.

"You're supposed to have eaten these," i say, with one eye on the overflowing harvest basket i just brought in from the vegetable garden.

"Oh, i did," he says. "Except for that yellow squash. You deal with that."

This is when the bounty takes a dives into exasperation. Too much of a good thing leads to some form of suffering or other. I spend an hour after dinner slicing tomatoes for the food drier or blanching broccoli for the freezer.

Speaking of which, we're just about to buy a new 7-cubic-foot Energy Star freezer because we have too much food for the freezer.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Welcome Fall!

Welcome to Fall! Leaves are tinging yellow, orange, and ed here in the north country, hinting at the glorious colors to come.

When we first begin to meditate, we may receive just a taste of relaxation or joy. Then the mind gets busy and that luscious taste fades. "Oh, i can't do it right, we may think.

But anytime we take the time to pause in our lives--perhaps to sit with our eyes closed for just 5 minutes--we are developing the muscle of mindfulness that enables us to fall into calmness or happiness with grace.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Garden or Meditate Anywhere

This morning i woke up in a city, and after, meditation, went for a walk around the neighborhood. I saw gardens between the sidewalk and the curb, in the strip between the driveway and the house. Every few blocks i saw an entire front yard converted to garden. My host, a busy research psychiatrist, had a small vegetable patch in his backyard.

Gardens aren't limited as to placement and neither is our meditation. We can meditate on a cushion, in a chair, or while walking some blocks around the neighborhood. We can meditate while running or while standing in line at the grocery store. We can meditate while pumping gas or while driving. We might refer to these daily events as eyes-wide-open meditations.

This morning i meditated for 2 hours in an MRI. Lying absolutely still, my head sat in a harness, and my body was entirely inside a tube--a good place for an anxiety attack.

But anxiety is a hindrance to meditation, so i followed the instructions and meditated on my breath. A slow jack-hammer clanged around me, vibrating through my body.

Some runs later, the object of meditation changed to whatever i was noticing (also called choiceless awareness). The noise. The noise. The noise. Despite earplugs and earphones (so that i could hear the instructions from the technician and the researcher.) Well padded, yet inescapable noise that i simply sank into and found one tone that sounded like crickets in the yard.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mullein: Weed or Flower?

Some years ago, i noticed white mullein growing by the roadside near a defunct wildflower nursery. "An escapee," i thought. I gathered some seeds and sowed them in my nursery bed.

Mullein is a weed that often stands sentinel along the side of the road. Growing a single stalk 5 to 8 feet tall, it has a few small non-descript yellow flowers scattered over its fuzzy gray-green height.

White-flowered mullein is unusual; this is how a weed becomes a wildflower. When it blooms in early July, the stalk is covered with joyful 2-inch wide white flowers.

Now i have dozens of these mullein volunteering in my sunny beds. It's fascinating to notice over the years how some plants, which you might not necessarily choose, choose you. They like the soil, the sun, the microclimate--something.

We define our "self" by our likes and dislikes. Then something we don't feel any particular affinity for "likes" us. Hmmm. Do we like it (or them) back? Or do we ignore it (or them)?

This is a great opportunity to investigate pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.
Notice how something pleasant becomes neutral after a few moments.
Notice how something neutral might become pleasant. (Or perhaps unpleasant?)
Notice how something unpleasant becomes neutral if you keep your attention on it long enough instead of just reacting with "Ee-yoo."

Notice how that "weed" in your garden becomes beautiful once you notice its good qualities.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Giving Away Zucchinis

Zucchinis are a joke in my community. Once i found a big green dude strapped into my passenger seat with a seat belt. After a carpenter-friend had fixed some lighting in the bedroom, i found a baseball bat of a zucchini under my pillow. I myself have left zucchinis anonymously in neighbors' mailboxes.

You might call this generosity. Or you might not.

The Buddha defined 3 types of generosity: "cheapo" giving, which says, "I'm going to get rid of this anyway, so I might as well give it to you." Then there's the medium level of giving, which is sharing something that is valuable to you with others. However regal giving, or raja dana, is the most powerful form of giving. It is giving what is most precious to you.*

While putting junk zucchinis in unexpected places is good for a laugh, my heart feels happiest when I give my extra vegetables to the local food shelf.

*Thanks to Ajahn Amaro for this delineation of generosity.
www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha161.htm

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

End of Summer Vacation

It's the end of summer vacation for my houseplants. For the past 4 months, they've been lounging in the mottled shade under a second-story deck.

I've tanned; they've greened. My skin is less tender, and so is theirs. We're both healthier, more muscle-y. We both look downright tropical.

Now i bring them indoors, one by one, and line them up, according to height in my solarium

In ancient India, the Buddha instituted a 3-month long Rains Retreat, to keep the monks and nuns indoors during monsoon season. My plants and i retreat to the house to protect ourselves from the next 6 months of frosts.

My personal retreat season begins in October this year and continues intermittently into January.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dirt in the Trunk

Now is the season to make the last trip to the nursery or garden center to buy those perennials or shrubs that can hardly wait to shrug off their containers, like a coat grown too small.

Great deals are there for the spending, under the disguise of "Save 50%." We could save 100% by not buying anything, but desire trumps logic any day.

So we load plants into the trunk of our car, maybe overflowing onto the floor of the back seat. Some women carry the protection of an old shower curtain or an old rug, but i always was an au-naturel girl. After i arrive home and unload, crumbs of dirt and a dead leaf or two remind me day after day, week after week to clean up after myself.

Desire is the culprit that weakens our integrity, that pushes us to tell a white lie, to fudge a bit, to keep the incorrect change that is given, to kill pests because we hate them, to drink one too many glasses of wine.

Our conscience knows. Our conscience has the integrity to notice our crummy behavior. But we throw those thoughts into the trunks of our mind and try not to notice.

When we finally get around to cleaning up our act, we feel so much better. Ahhh. We can breathe again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dry Gardens; Dry Meditation

Ordinarily i would have begun transplanting perennials and shrubs 3 weeks ago. Dividing bunches of phlox and mums in half and merrily moving short or tall plants to their proper class-photo place in a flower bed. But we are still in a drought here in New England.

I heard that a backhoe digging down 4 feet found only dryness. Dug wells, 10 or 12 feet deep, have dried up as the water table has sunk, and the people in those homes are having to buy water. Quite an unusual event for this green state i live in.

My sweetie beseeches me to water the gardens--a daunting task that makes me wish i had irrigation.

Sometimes our meditation practice feels dry. This is just when people give up meditating. Maybe they decide to try something juicier--psychic reading, enneagrams, astrology, jogging.

How to water a dry practice? Find something interesting, change your object of meditation, or change your meditation posture.

Make walking or standing meditation your main form. Or if you are daring, lying down meditation; do a body scan.

Change your object of meditation to hearing or to sensations. Or spend a year practicing loving-kindness. If you experience a dry spell, move to compassion. If that dries up, practice appreciative joy. Then equanimity. And start again.

Commit to a teacher and call or e-mail them once a month. If you can, sign up for a retreat, even if it's only a day-long or a weekend.

My mind is such that i find investigation very interesting. Take a high-lighted or underlined phrase from the spiritual book you are reading, and spend your entire meditation session contemplating that. Go ahead and turn it over in your mind, word by word, phrase by phrase.

Water your practice now. Trust me. You will see blooms by next summer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Which Path?

My partner Bill and i go outdoors together and engage in parallel play. He does wood; i do dirt. He looks up to the trees around our house; i look down to flowers and weeds.

Occasionally we call to each other, "Hey! I need a consultation over here." We enjoy the bnefit of an extra set of eyes, another mind with creative ideas.

In the evening, after dinner, we stroll through the garden. He plans which branches to prune; i decide which plants i want to move. The effect is gracious as he subtracts trees at the edge of the woods, and i add flowering plants.

Our friends may follow a different spiritual path than we do, yet we still may gain from the cross-fertilization of meditation and contemplation. Although i am completely happy with my path of Theravadin Buddhism (from Southeast Asia), and i highly recommend it, i never cease to be amazed at the different doors that people walk through. One friend loves Thich Nhat Hanh. Another is so "Tibetan," that path obviously fits him better. And then there's that out-of-the box Zen friend.

Never mind that our minds don't work in the same ways. We can call on our spiritual friends for consultation in our lives when we need that. Our mutual goal is kindness.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Meditative Gardener is on a Writers' Retreat

Talk to you on Monday.

The Cricket-Piano Duet

My sweetie, Bill, is a concert pianist who practices the piano 2 - 4 hours a day. Meditation is also a skill that requires practice.

Last evening, Bill inadvertently left the outside door slightly ajar. As he played, a cricket hopped in and came to the piano to "sing along."

"That cricket wanted to mate with my piano," Bill said.

One of the effects of our own practice of meditation is that we find more access to beautiful states of mind. At first the joy, happiness, or calm may be only momentary, but, with practice, we find these beautiful states of mind living with us more often. Our friends feel even more comfortable with us. And, maybe even a cricket.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When Does Your Meditation Practice Bloom?

Although i have tried a wide variety of annuals--for color--over the years, i find i return to some that predictably bloom for me. Begonias in the sandy soil outside the basement door. Impatiens in the semi-shade of the north side of the house.

In my cutting beds, i rely on certain annuals to volunteer year after year--poppies, bachelor buttons, spider flower (Cleome), Nicotiana, love-in-a-mist (Nigella). In recent years i have planted zinnias for their reliability and range of color.

I have sort of given up on the annuals i love, but which just don't perform in my conditions. Cosmos bouquets disappoint me because they are so short-lived. For years, i thought geraniums and portulaca should bloom in a hot, dry spot; but they don't. I now put my geraniums in a pot on the front stoop, and think the Swiss are onto something with their geraniums in window boxes.

When we are learning to meditate, we may try various teachers and various approaches to meditation. Over time, we find that one of these schools of meditation fits us better even though our friends are on to something else. We let go of the approaches that don't quite bloom for us, even though they do for other people.

We feel more at home with particular teachings. We settle into our choice. And our own practice flowers.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Peppers Like It Hot

Returning from a hot vacation in the Southwest, i go out to the vegetable garden and find a dozen red peppers and another dozen somewhere on the green-yellow-red spectrum. In a northern garden, such as mine, i treasure red peppers. With a short growing season, green peppers are a cinch, but orange, yellow, purple or red are chancy because peppers like it hot. And this summer has been hot.

Given the proper conditions, our meditation practice will also ripen in time, and we can harvest the fruits (or vegetables) of a spiritual life.

The question is: How long is our growing season?

Since we don't really know when the frost will fall on our own life, the time to meditate is now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Master Gardener's Garden

I love going to Master Gardener meetings--once i actually get myself there. The idea of trundling out to someone's garden in the hills feels so out-of-the-way, so i've-got-other-things-to-do.

But i pull into the driveway and park beside 5 other cars. I walk into the 150-year-old little farmhouse that smells like muffins baking. Our host, Steve, is showing us the difference among the 5 tomatoes varieties he's growing this season. Moskowitz--a Russian variety--because it's early. Juliet--halfway between a grape tomato and an Italian tomato--because it's excellent for drying. He shows us his food dryer, which is about the size of a toaster oven.

Then we walk out to his vegetable garden, about 60 x 60. In other words, bigger than his house. New Zealand spinach is difficult to germinate, he says, but it's volunteering in 3 beds other than where it was planted. I taste its tangy, thick leaf.

The 8 people who have shown up ask intelligent questions, make astute observations and share experiences. I am among people who know more than i do about gardening, and i am fascinated.

Sometimes it's hard to drag ourselves to our meditation seat. The world is filled with "more important" things to do. Yet if we simply make the effort to do what we know is good for us, we put ourselves in a position to notice the joy of the inner garden and reap the fruits of mindfulness.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sweet Onions

This year my onions are all the size of baseballs. No weenie onions. Not one.

Of course, i expect the Walla Walla (Vidalia) onions to be that size, but the golden onions and the red onions are only marginally smaller and are at least the size of tennis balls. Maybe this summer's heat relaxed all of them into rotundness. After all the onion capitals of Walla Walla, Washington and Vidalia, Georgia are hot places. Whatever it was, the conditions were excellent for onions this year.

Sometimes the conditions are just right for the skillful habits we want to grow in our own minds. Years may go by when the fruits of our meditation practice seem rather piddly. Then one sit or one stressful situation, perhaps one where we feel hot under the collar, our new skillful habits save us. That's when we harvest the fruit of the spiritual life.

Did you know that some people eat those sweet Walla Walla onions (the onion-ring onion) like apples?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Harvest vs. Vacation

It happens every August and September: harvest season collides with vacation season.

Cherry tomatoes are dripping off the vine, and i leave home for 2 or 3 days to go to the lake or to the ocean. Green beans point their green fingers accusingly: Are you leaving us on our own--again? And do i dare leave the zucchini alone while i take a 10-day trip to the Grand Canyon?

The impermanence of fresh vegetables leads me straight to dukkha--wanting things to be different than they are. Wanting the vegetables to wait for me, wait until i'm ready for them. So i e-mail my neighbors. "I'm abandoning my garden until Labor Day. Feel free to pick anything you want--tomatoes, chard, beans, squash, cabbage, beets, kale, peppers, cucumbers."

Generosity salves the sting of my garden's surplus.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Raindrop Meditation

Yesterday i sat a day-long retreat with a teacher i've been studying with for 10 years. The gray day soon turned into sprinkling rain--a relief for our parched gardens and a sweet meditation object too. Listening to raindrops brings me straight into the present moment. The mind feels refreshed.

My inner naturalist becomes interested in the habits and habitats of raindrops. Each raindrop i hear is actually the death of the raindrop as it becomes something else--a puddle, a wet streak on a window, damp earth. That raindrop has disappeared. It has passed away. Now it's a rivulet running downhill into a storm sewer into a creek into a river into the ocean.

Our own breath exhales, passes away, passes out of our body and become the air that surrounds us. Air that is breathed by the person sitting next to us or transpired by the tree in the yard or the grass in the lawn.

Water. Air. It's me and mine for a moment. Then it's not. What happens to the me when it becomes the other?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pay It Forward

A Dharma Friend is coming this morning to cut flowers for her daughter's wedding. My flower garden might look bare tomorrow. Or i might not even be able to tell the difference.

Should i close my heart out of fear of the unknown? Shall i be close-fisted (also called grasping)?
Or shall i open my hand in friendliness and generosity?
What would you do?

I could pay it forward---as opposed to paying back the innumerable kindnesses that have been done to me. Just last week someone gave me 3 plants and 2 kinds of seed. I might or might not ever pay her back in plants, but i can pay the plants--or flowers--forward. Today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Cricket Serenade

Crickets are chirping--in my sweetie's car, in my Hospice client's living room, and in the bathroom at the meditation hall. (That one, at least, i managed to catch and release to the great outdoors.)

I actually rather like using cricket chirping as my meditation object--morning or evening, at home or at the meditation hall. The cricket serenade crescendos late summer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Life Feels Sandy

When my house was built, truckloads of gravelly sand were brought in to backfill around the foundation. Since the house was built on a slope, i have a daylight basement; the basement door opens next to a hill of sandy gravel that is well-shaded by the cantilevered solarium above.

For years i despaired over this sandpile that seemed to collect odds and ends and look generally disreputable. Then a few years ago, with a devil-may-care attitude, i planted a 6-pack of begonias there. They flourished! The next year i added impatiens and pink polka-dot plant. Now 2 varieties of bleeding hearts have volunteered to grow in this totally shaded, incorrigibly dry spot.

No matter how bleak our lives or meditation practice may look, a little creativity can suddenly create a spot of interest. This interested attitude creates in turn the energy for us to continue gardening--or continue meditating.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Fall-ing Garden

A misting rain this morning--perfect for our too-dry gardens that are limping into their old age of late summer. My body has the same sunburned, dried-out, curled-at-the edges look as the fading leaves of Solomon's seal.

The phlox and peegee hydrangea are just entering their heyday. The tall purple ironweed (Vernonia altissima) reigns supreme.

This is the time of year when many gardeners throw up their hands. "I've had it," they say. But some few of us are dedicated to enjoying the autumn of our lives. I've been cultivating a fall garden for some years, so for the next month, i'll have more and more blooms.

"Where do you get your energy?" my step-daughter recently asked.

Whether it's grandchildren, flowers, or life, i guess the answer is : Love.


This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.

Buddha

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stars and Star Flowers

We tried to catch the Perseid meteor shower 3 times. Tuesday night, thin clouds wafted overhead; Wednesday night--the main night--was completely overcast; finally last night we lay out in the hammock for an hour looking at the star bejeweled sky. We only saw a couple of meteors, but my, oh, my, the fragrance of nicotiana nearby was intoxicating.

Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) has simple star-shaped trumpet flowers that look rather plain-Jane all day. Then when the sun sets, they begin to pump out their perfume and fill the air with their sweet tropical scent.

The meteor shower was a source of dissatisfaction this year--weather conditions didn't permit us to see what we hoped to see. Yet what could be sweeter than lying under the open sky, star-gazing with my sweetie?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reducing Cherry Tomato Stress

It's cherry tomato season. Even though i have learned to limit my plants--3 sungolds and 2 grape tomatoes--i still harvest dozens every day. OK. I admit--at the last moment, at a plant sale supporting a youth program, i bought 3 pale yellow "cherry" tomato plants whose fruits are the size of golf balls.

This is the price of desire, that little voice that says, "Oh, i'll just have one or two more." Three months later, what do you do with a burgeoning crop?

I could complain about it as if it's someone else's fault that i'm overwhelmed by little tomatoes. But complaining is a form of aversion, and i really don't want to water those seeds of unskillful words--whether spoken aloud or silently in my mind.

I could give my extra cherry tomatoes away and practice generosity. That would be watering the seeds of skillful action. And i could have the joy of knowing someone else will en-joy them.

Here's what i actually do: i sun-dry the cherry tomatoes. Two racks of them are in the food dryer right now. My homemade food dryer is powered by 4 100-watt light bulbs. I've heard that you can "sun" dry tomatoes in a low oven (200 degrees) overnight, if you leave the oven door cracked.

You might call this approach making lemonade out of lemons. It's one way to reduce the stress of way too many cherry tomatoes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hummingbird Joy

These summer mornings i sit on my second-story deck to do my meditation. From there i have a great view of my lawn and gardens. A few years ago, we refurbished the deck and replaced the 2-board sides with 2 wires. The plastic-coated wire doesn't interrupt the view of the garden like the boards did, and the wires do give a feeling of enclosure.

This morning a hummingbird perched on a wire about 4 feet in front of me. He appeared to be a juvenile because his feathers were still mottled. His ruby throat was a bit patchy. And his beak was only an inch long.

Hummingbirds like to perch on bare (i.e., dead) branches--i guess that gives them a better view--and this morning the plastic-coated wire served the same purpose. I watched his tail move slightly up and down as if he were learning to balance. He cocked his head this way and that--one eye looking up at the sky, checking for danger. A chickadee landed nearby, but the baby boy hummingbird wasn't threatened.

Watching birds brings me a lot of joy. This joy calms the mind, which doesn't need to go looking elsewhere for momentary happiness. I close my eyes in mediation again, and express gratitude for my senses--i can see, i can hear the hummingbird buzz up to the nearby feeder and give tiny satisfied chirps. Hearing a hummingbird "talk" is also thrilling. Then it zooms off.

Ten minutes later, i hear the telltale chirp and open my eyes to see the little guy sitting near me again. Awake to the day. Awake to joy.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Very Small Garden

The staff at the retreat center has a small vegetable/flower garden, about 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. Two lawn chairs sit beside it, and that is where i go to make my daily phone call to my sweetie (since i'm not on a silent retreat).

Two tomato plants, 3 poles for pole beans, a squash plant, about 3 feet of carrots, 1 basil plant, sunflowers, and roses. In other words, this very small garden needs very little tending. Yet it brings great happiness, not only to the people who planted it, but to the string of people who go out there (at a distance from the retreat center's main buildings) to call home every day.

Our formal meditation practice can be like this: a small patch in our busy workday, at a slight distance from the people and activities of our life. If we tend our small practice daily, the results will make us happy, and, after a short time, bear the fruit (or vegetables) of the spiritual life.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flower Teachings

I made a commitment to gladiolas about a dozen years: they are the only annual bulb (corm, actually) that i am willing to plant in the spring, dig up in the fall, and store during the winter.

Gladiolas start blooming in mid-July and flower though the end of August. Life daffodils, there are early season varieties, mid-season, and late season.

Early this week i harvested a bumper crop of glads, and my sweetie told me to take some of them to the retreat center when i left home on Tuesday. What a good idea! An offering--a form of generosity--unusual in the West, but an everyday occurrence at every temple in Asia.

I put the vase of a dozen blooming stalks of gladiolas on the retreat center manager's desk, and she promptly arranged them beautifully and placed them in the room where we met with Rinpoche. While he gave us mind-bending teachings on egolessness, the flowers offered their own simple lesson in impermanence. Every day the bottom flower on the stalk wilts, just as every day, every moment of our experience also wilts and fades away.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Meditative Gardener is on Retreat until August 1, then on vacation until August 12.

Sweet Plumeria

When i was 24, i lived in Hawai'i for 6 months and learned a smidgen of tropical flora. My first and favorite acquaintance was plumeria, which is also called frangipani. This very fragrant, usually white-with-a-yellow-center flower is used for making leis.

Nowadays my token plumeria blooms fitfully, sometimes in March, sometimes in September. Perhaps it has a few blossoms, then all its leaves fall off, and it goes dormant for months. This year it began blooming when i moved it outdoors in May, and it's still blooming. Go figure.

Sometimes our meditation practice is like this. It blooms unexpectedly, then goes through long dry spells when we even stop watering our practice by stopping sitting altogether. This is when we need a modicum of faith. I keep watering the bare branches of the plumeria for months. Sometimes it surprises me and blooms and blooms and blooms.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sleeping Better and Waking Better

There's another great advantage to turning off the computer an hour before bedtime. I not only sleep better, i wake better.

The computer is such a seductive date in the evening. Just one more e-mail, one more Google, one more Facebook. I break this addiction one evening at a time, knowing that the craving lies in wait with its oh-so-logical rationale of "doing just one more thing." I have to keep my eye on the long-term benefit rather than the short-term gain that turns out to have a hidden loss (of sleep and then morning alertness) associated with it.

I know very good and well what my bedtime is--10:00 p.m. Dullness sets in an hour beforehand. As a "morning person," i can work so much more efficiently in the morning. If i'm with a group of people, i become quiet at 9:00.

Ostensibly i want to turn off my computer by 9:00 p.m. because i want to have time to meditate. By that hour, i need a sort of rote meditation, such as loving-kindness, because my mind is moving slowly. In fact, my biorhythm makes 7:30 p.m. a better meditation time, thereby decreasing my evening computer contact even further.

My sweetie watches TV from 10:00 to 11:00 every night and has bad dreams 5 nights out of 7. My dreams are sometimes sweet, occasionally funny, and, once in a while, helping figures teach me something or assist in solving problems. The Buddha said that sweet dreams are one of the benefits of loving-kindness practice. Maybe this intention will guide me out of my evening dream-state on the computer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deep Summer

Deep summer has arrived. Crickets call this to our attention. Even though the temperature has been in the 90s for many more days than usual, and rivers, lakes, and ponds are quite comfortable for swimming, now is the mid-summer of deep tans and ripe tomatoes.

The great tomato race begins. They spill off the window sill in the kitchen onto the counter. Red cherry tomatoes in a green bowl; sungolds in a blue bowl. Eat tomatoes for all 3 meals and snack on them too. Salsa, BLTs, bruschetta, tomato and cucumber salad. The cucumbers are multiplying when our backs are turned. Now the full adulthood of the garden produces.

We en-joy this stage of garden life when vegetables are fresh and bountiful. Spread the joy: give the extras to friends or to the food shelf. Now is the time to feel deep gratitude for the abundance of our garden.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tall Plant Season

It is the season of tall plants blooming. Phlox, bee balm, and all manner of yellow sunflower-y looking things. In April and May, the short ones bloom--little ground cover type things. Johnny jump-ups and forget-me-nots. Some plants are so short that you may not even notice or recognize them--draba or mazus or arabis. What welcome patches of color they offer in early spring.

Now, after months of inching up, butterfly bush, eupatorium, and verbascum are taller than i am.

Meditation practice also varies from person to person. Some, few, bloom early on. Most of the rest of us, grow and grow, inching along before flowering. Whatever our own personal growth habit, let us simply be content with growing in our practice, knowing that we too can reap the fruits of the spiritual life.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Different Gardening Styles

When i go outdoors in the mornings, i stroll around my flowerbeds, clippers in one hand, bucket in the other. I'm dead-heading and propping up flowers, and generally tidying up some flowerbed or other.

At 7:45, i arrive for meditation at my neighbor Connie's, and there she is in her nightgown hauling foot-tall (or more!) weeds out of her vegetable gardens, her hands caked with dirt, and her white nightie pretty well smudged.

For me flowers are the priority; for her vegetables.

The mind loves to compare. So far as i can see, that's all the mind actually does. And in this comparison, the mind wants to divide the world into good and bad, black and white, better and worse. Yet here are Connie and i, two old friends with very different gardening styles, both reaping joy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are feasting on my zinnias and potatoes, creating leaf lacework. They copulate on a marriage bed of creamy white marigolds. The beetles themselves are beautiful--iridescent blue-green and bronze shimmering in July's hot sun.

One friend, Kai, goes out to her vegetable garden every morning and picks off the beetles. It's a "weeding" out of bugs. A preventative measure protecting the life of the plant.

This sort of steady attention is a quality we bring to meditation. Every day, we spend some time sitting quietly. At first, we simply notice the weeds in our mind and identify them one by one: irritation, desire, confusion. Eventually we apply the antidotes: loving-kindness for irritation, generosity for desire, and wisdom for confusion.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Summer Sag

I call this season the summer sag. I look out my windows, and all i see in my flowerbeds is green. Where are the flowers? They must be blooming in someone else's full sun garden because they are not blossoming here in partial shade.

I confess: i still haven't mastered the art of rolling bloom--a little garden that is constantly full of flowers. Apparently i'm in good company. When the Garden Club toured my garden last week, i sighed about this, and the president said, "Who has mastered it?"

Those photos in gardening magazines and books are so beautiful. And the British make it sound so simple. "Just cut back the pulmonaria (or the doronicum or the....), and they will bloom again. They will bloom again in July if your summer high temperature is 70 degrees, but our weather on this side of the pond has been cooking for the past several weeks.

This is the delusion, whose spell we fall under: we can have a flower-filled garden like the ones in the photos. But the reality is that some season comes, the color sags, and all we see is green.

We live our lives in these sorts of hopeful delusions for the future that don't quite work out as we had planned. We are disappointed or disgusted. Perhaps we complain. This is just one example of suffering (also called stress). We want more of the pleasant (flowers) and less of the unpleasant (plain green). We stay in constant motion, tweaking our environment--inner or outer--and in order to do this tweaking we need an ego; we assume a self.

We can reduce our stress. In fact we can even become free of stress.

The first step is mindfulness. Let's begin there today by simply walking through our garden and noticing the pleasant. And noticing the unpleasant.

Let me know what you find out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bug Joy

After strolling around my garden in my nightgown this morning, i came back indoors and felt something crawling on my leg. Even though the weather is too hot for ticks, i live in deer tick country, so i looked carefully. About twice the size of a wood tick, this 6-legged insect looked like a beetle.

A baby lightning bug! About half an inch long, it spread its wings and flew away.

So that's the result of the flurry of fireflies in June. The males flying their flashers around, and the females lying in the grass glowing back.

Lightning bugs bring joy--to young children chasing them and to grown-ups lying in a hammock at 10 p.m. looking at the night sky full of stars and fireflies.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Meditative Gardener is on Retreat until July 20

I'll Make You Special, If You Make Me Special

Here's the deal: I'll make you special if you make me special.

This is the quid pro quo i have with my garden. If i make it a special garden, then it will make me a special gardener. People will (and do) come to stroll around my garden, and then they think well of me. "Wow. What a great gardener Cheryl is."

We also have this deal with our best beloved people. "I'll make you special, if you make me special." Marriage partners, family and close friends--we make each other special in return for them making us special. When this unspoken deal fails--for instance, during infidelity or talking behind someone's back--a LOT of suffering, heartache, and stress results.

Sometimes the deal fails in small ways: someone we care about and want to spend time with doesn't want to spend time with us. If the heart doesn't exactly break, it does at least crack.

This is the price of attachment. This is the cost of something that looks like love, but actually has small clinging tendrils wrapping themselves around our hearts. This deal-making opens the heart to some dear ones, but closes it off to others.

What we are aiming for in our spiritual practice is an experience of the naturally open heart. Once upon a time, our hearts were as big as the world. They still are.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Taking Over the Garden

When one neighbor got married 21 years ago, a friend put in a small garden near the front door as a wedding present. Neither of the couple gardens, and they have spent a number of years on international assignments. Today all that remains in that garden is houttuniya. It covers an area as large as 2 children's swimming pools.

I once toyed with buying houttuniya for its beautiful cream, red, and green variegated heart-shaped leaves. Now i see very few of the multi-colored leaves because the plant reverted to plain green leaves and began to gallop. Only the lawn mower keeps it in check.

Sometimes we toy with unskillful behaviors--a white lie, a little cheat, the "borrowing" of something we never return, wine with dinner after we've promised ourselves to abstain. "It won't hurt anyone," we tell ourselves. These behaviors may even look quite attractive, like the variegated houttuniya.

When those behaviors become habitual, the flowers and fruits of the spiritual life are overrun. Our bad habits run over our best intentions. In my friends' garden, one lone cranesbill geranium pokes its pink head above the mass of houttuniya.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Allergic to Mindfulness

My sweetie has been taking a spoonful of local bee pollen since March in an effort to mow down his summer allergies. So far, it's working. He doesn't really like the taste of the bee pollen, which he chases with a glass of fruit juice.

I have to confess that for many years, decades even, i was allergic to mindfulness. On the one hand i could see that it was good medicine for the ills of daily life, but as long as i was feeling good, mindfulness seemed, well, SO boring.

Besides, i loved the way my mind worked. My particular mind is very good at problem-solving, and its form of creativity gives insights into how people and the world work. Oh! How i love that playground. Why rein the mind in to the narrow constriction of mindfulness?

Now i see that i was chafing against the subject-object duality of noting practice. If hearing was happening, there must be a hearer. If walking was happening, the walker should notice walking. (Yawn.)

Letting the mind run loose was so much more fun and interesting than keeping it fenced in with boring old mindfulness.

Then a teacher introduced me to contemplations, and my meditation practice bloomed. Contemplations interest my mind, but the way to get to them is to walk down the path of mindfulness. Now i begin to intuit the non-duality that lies behind this facade of mindfulness--the key i need to open the gate to the secret garden.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gardening Clothes

This morning, as i do almost every morning, i get out of bed and throw on my gardening clothes. "Throw on" doesn't sound very mindful, but today i was deeply appreciating my 22-year old shorts. In 1988, short-shorts were in fashion, and i still prefer short-shorts, even though my body, as well as these shabby black shorts, are 22 years older.

Shantideva suggests wearing old clothes until they are rags to remind ourselves that the body itself becomes raggedy and patched together as it ages. Today's "patches" are pretty nifty and almost seamless--hip and knee replacements for instance. Yet the deeper lesson remains: the Earth element of the body--the bones and teeth, for example, are aging and sometimes becoming painful.

Meanwhile i wear my faded old shorts and body out to the garden happily.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dry and Hot

July is dry and hot. Sometimes our meditation practice feels dry too. The same thing. Again. Boring.

Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to refresh our practice. He's been teaching the same things for decades yet always finds a new and beautiful way to say it.

To refresh your practice, read one page from The Meditative Gardener. Or stroll through your garden, after meditation, perhaps with a cup of tea in hand. Notice one thing. Feel one feeling. Hear one sound.

Simple be present for just one thing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Harmless Toads

I caught a toad in desert camo out in my white garden this morning, which is, come to think of it, the best place for camouflage if you're a white toad with a few brown and gray markings. My amphibian book tells me this is Fowler's toad, and that it croaks like a bleating sheep with a cold.

Catching a toad requires mindfulness and intention. There's no time for sissy reactions of "Eew" nor for the pseudo-compassion of "Poor thing, I don't want to hurt him."

Toad-catching requires a warrior's complete attention and intention. The Buddha himself was of the warrior class and brought these qualities to the practice of harmlessness in all aspects of life. A naga (a cobra-looking serpent) visited and protected the Buddha in the fourth week after his enlightenment. Compared to that, a toad seems pretty harmless.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cultivating Beauty

A neighbor's daughter is having her wedding in my meadow next week, and i've been prissing up the strip beds near the vegetable garden all spring. These beds are simply 3-foot wide strips of flowers separated by 3 feet of grass that my sweetie can mow in one pass on his riding mower.

Usually i use these 17 strip beds for cutting flowers; they're filled with reseeding annuals that volunteer every year to prettify the meadow. This year i'm out there every day, dead-heading and weeding.

These reseeding annuals are not so different from the effect of meditation on our lives. We cultivate beautiful states of mind such as kindness, compassion, generosity, and patience. The seeds of these divine qualities flower and reseed themselves in our lives, sometimes showing up in unexpected places.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Chilly Start to July

The first day of July was cooler than the first day of May, and even, this year, chillier than the first day of April. Sometimes this loss of heat happens in the middle of our lives or the life of someone we know. The body systems cool into some debilitating disease. The heat we generate by running around in our lives begins to dissipate.

Wait! That's not how it's supposed to be, we protest. As if our small minds know better than life how to live it.

Seeing things the way they are. This is the purpose and the challenge of meditation.

This summer day is cool, even downright chilly. Life reminding us that our energies too may cool at any time. That's the reason to take advantage of our good fortune right now and meditate. Today and every day.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Beautiful Songs

Sitting on the deck this morning, i listen to birds singing. My forester neighbor, Lynn Levine told me yesterday how to distinguish between a wood thrush and a hermit thrust. The hermit's song begins with a solitary note before moving on to a complicated and then melancholy flute trill. The wood thrush sings, "Ee-oh-lay."

We also distinguish among beautiful states of mind--loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy--in order to become more familiar with them. Loving-kindness is the heart's natural response to another person. Think of 3-year-olds at a park. They immediately make friends with one another, without even knowing each others' names.

Compassion is the heart's natural response to suffering. Think of 1-year-olds who start crying when they hear another child crying in the grocery store.

We all still have these natural openings of the heart, these divine emotions, but now our beliefs often clog their expression. "Big girls don't cry."

It's time to listen closely to our hearts to hear these songs of love. There's no better place to hear these quiet songs than the calmness in our gardens

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Fragrance of the Silktree

While on retreat last week, i tried not to practice random acts of gardening, but sometimes i just had to reach out and deadhead a tiger lily. By the fourth day of 95 degree heat in Virginia, i couldn't bear to look at the wilting impatiens under an oak tree. I poured my 20-ounce water bottle over it that evening, and it looked considerably better the next morning.

My greatest joy was to walk in the cool of the early morning or the late evening as far as the silktree with its pink powderpuff blossoms (stamens actually) that emitted a delightfully sweet fragrance.

This tree is native to northern India and ranges from Iran to China. Like the silktree, Buddhism is now naturalizing in the United States, spreading the sweet fragrance of the Dharma.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Meditative Gardener is on Retreat until June 28

When the Birds Begin to Sing

At 4:20 a.m., when the sky is Maxfield Parrish blue, only Venus remains in the sky, watching over 2 bats mating in mid-air to a chorus of birds singing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Favorite Varieties

Driving home from teaching meditation at the assisted living facility, i stop at Kindle Farm, a farm school for troubled adolescents. Their single greenhouse is 3/4 full of overgrown and blooming plants. The eggplants are a foot tall and already have tiny fruit. I gave up on eggplants a few years ago, but i can't resist these well-muscled plants that might do very well in the full sun of my community garden plot.

I also buy my favorite Italian tomato--San Marzano--a long meaty paste tomato. And there's Marble Arch! A lovely purple and pink annual salvia. And Lemon Gem marigolds! (Also Tangerine Gem.) I love these gems because you can eat them in salads. These are exactly the varieties i used to grow from seed, but they're hard to find, even at the Farmers' Market.

I buy 2 flats, even though i know i've said it's too hot to transplant. Today is overcast and sprinkling, so I conveniently forget my own advice, my own words of wisdom.

I buy these 8 dozen plants because i know i'm supporting a good cause--young people with an interest in growing things (including themselves). Plants and young people--i'm doubling my joy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mosquito Repellent from Thailand

We went to Thailand 3 years ago, and one of the things i brought home as a souvenir was mosquito repellent. I figured that if anyone knows how to deal with mosquitoes, it would be people who live in a tropical country that has monsoons for 3 months and flooding for another 3 months.

I couldn't read the label that had a picture of lemon grass, but the spray bottle and the citronella scent appealed to me.

In May and June, i close my eyes and spray around my hairline, which is where the tiny blackflies like to bite me. Now that deer ticks are rampant, i also spray my cuffs at my wrists and ankles.

Mindfulness has the effect of repelling bothersome thoughts. Sure, you can still hear them buzzing around, and they may even land for a while. But soon they take off of their own accord without you swatting them.

Who knows? Maybe they're on their way to bother someone else.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Valerian. Or is that Heliotrope?

At the garden club meeting last evening, we watched a florist arrange flowers for about an hour--amazing things she did with such simple materials. Then we tried arranging the buckets of flowers we had brought.

"What's this?" someone asked holding up a tall stem topped by tiny, tight, white flowers.

"Does it smell good?" i asked. "It's valerian."

She continued to walk around with her stem and ask other women what this flower was. Someone else said, "Heliotrope."

Valerian is sometimes called garden heliotrope because of its sweet smell, even though it is not related to heliotrope.

I collect factoids--such as flower names--because it's easy for me, and because i like to be right. I do not like being wrong. The duality of right/wrong is an abyss that, as we know, can lead to war. A more skillful duality is harm/harmless. Do these words or this behavior harm someone? Or is it harmless?

It is actually harmless to call a flower by an inappropriate name. There may be a mix-up of understanding, but it is kinder--more harmless--to allow others to express their opinions. It may feel unpleasant to me, but that is a passing feeling, unless i proliferate about it and wallow in the unpleasantness. That's just me making myself uncomfortable.

Whatever its name, the sweet-smelling tall stem with a white flower looks beautiful in a bouquet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Avocado Squirrels

As i walked toward the compost last month, i saw a red squirrel jump out of the compost bin and on to a nearby pine tree with an avocado shell in its mouth. Up the tree it dashed, leaving me with the image of a red squirrel in a sombrero eating guacamole and chittering "Ai-yi-yi-yi."

This train of thought, or free association, is called proliferation in Buddhist psychology. In fact, all i saw was a red squirrel carrying the husk of an avocado. The image was pleasant (a "feeling" in Buddhist lingo). Desiring (or craving) more of the fun "feeling", the mind proliferated into a story about the red squirrel that also felt pleasant; then i desired more of the pleasant; etcetera.

While this may seem like over-analysis of a mundane situation, it clearly shows just how the wheel of samsara--the great mandala--turns and keeps turning. No train of thought has the destination of nirvana; all trains of thought are headed toward samsara.

Still when i go out to the compost pile and see 3 avocado shells on the ground nearby (instead of in the compost pile where i put them), i begin to proliferate about the culprit. I wonder how that avocado pit from the tropics, with all the fresh chew marks on it, tastes to a northern squirrel.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Artificial Flowers

I attended a day-long retreat yesterday with Taraniya (Gloria Ambrosia) on the subject of clinging. The first of the 4 different forms of clinging is sensual desire.

The retreat took place at a church on a rainy day. During walking meditation in the big open multi-purpose room next to the kitchen, the end of my walking lane brought me face-to-face with a big bouquet of flowers--daffodils, lilacs and pink hydrangeas, interspersed with tulips. The arrangement was artificial, of course, as i mentally labeled the month each flower blooms--April, June, and August.

In real life, such a combination of flowers from our own garden would be impossible. A florist might do it by having access to flowers from the four corners of the globe. With artificial flowers, we can artificially arrange the world just as we like it, without the mess of water and leaves today or drooping flowers tomorrow. We can put our bouquet on automatic pilot and be pleased by its beauty for years to come.

Life is messy sometimes. This is the first noble truth. Wanting only beauty, desiring sensual pleasures is part of the second noble truth.

"So what's the harm of a few artificial flowers?" you might ask. "They're neat, clean, beautiful, and they last for years."

This is the seduction of delusion. What's the harm in that?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pine Needle Mulch

The white pine trees are shedding their golden needles like a shaggy dog shaking off water. A uniform layer of pine needle mulch carpets one side of the driveway. The driveway itself shows parallel tire tracks leading through a snowfall of tan needles.

A fungus is causing this unusual--for June--shower of pine needles. Now i see why Southerners prefer pine needles as mulch. They're so soft and natural-looking.

Like us, these giant trees of our northern forest are of the nature to become sick--this year with fungus. Perhaps some other year with some other bug. Dis-ease is unavoidable.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Peonies

I'm writing to you from my peony-colored office. I've never been able to describe the color of the 4 walls that surround me, but now that peonies are blooming, i see their color is an exact match. You might wonder why i didn't realize this before now?

The one-word answer is "mulch." Over the years, soil built up around the peonies as a result of mulching every year. Peonies are very particular. Their "eyes" need to be 2 inches below the ground. Any more or any less, and they won't bloom. My neighbor who never mulches has consistently beautiful blooms on his 30-year-old peonies.

Two years ago i moved my peonies out from under a redbud tree that i had started from seed. Although the peonies originally stood in a sunny location, after a few years, they were shaded by the spreading redbud.

Now peonies line my garden path. They are happily blooming, and i am happy that they are happy.

Stress is the incompleteness of not having what you want--like not having blooming peonies.

The end of stress is not wanting things to be different than they are.

The peonies bloom, i'm happy. Then it rains, and the heavy blossoms fall down. What shall i choose? The stress of wanting things to be different? Or the release of accepting things just as they are?