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!

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.