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.


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.)