Thursday, March 31, 2011


Now--during the change of seasons--is a good time to notice the micro-climates around your house.

Yesterday, the first 2 crocus bloomed on the southeast corner of my house where it is not only sunny, but well-protected from the prevailing northwesterly winds. That hillside on the east side of my house is always the first to lose the snow; it's not only well-protected, the slope is the right angle to catch the sun's rays. (Think of the angle of greenhouse windows, for example.)

I've been toying around with the idea of a cold frame, and that warm, sun-collecting place, protected (by the house) from spring's northwest winds is a perfect and easily accessible place.

What's the micro-climate you need for your meditation? Quiet? Warm? Cool? (A warm room puts me to sleep.) Outdoors? Indoors? Early? Late? Mid-afternoon?

Find the place in your home where the conditions are just right for growing your meditation practice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Raking the Driveway

I was so desperate to do something outdoors yesterday that i raked the driveway.

Since i live in the woods, a winter's worth of sticks, pine needles, and pine cones have accumulated along the edges. These informal "gutters" need to be kept clear of debris so that the meltwater and spring rain water can flow freely downhill and not "pond" or become diverted into the garage. :(

Our minds also accumulate debris every day, as our attention is diverted from mindfulness of the flow of life and instead runs in to the house of the ego. "But what about me?" churns the mind into thinking.

Rake your attention toward the underlying feelings of bother or anticipation of just plain don't-know-ness. Soak into the discomfort, the un-ease. And notice that life continues to flow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Snowdrops in the Snow

Snowdrops are blooming--in the snow, of course. Despite 16 degree mornings and breezy, chilly (though sunny) afternoons, this little flower breaks through winter's dying crust and flowers now.

Even in our coldest times, we may see a sprig of green. A friend called for help yesterday. Her 33-year-old son is paranoid and depressed, and she is 3,200 miles away.

Perhaps you have lived through such a bleak time, as I have too. In the dark night of the psyche, such as when a relationship has withered and died, it's hard to believe the sun will ever shine again. This is when i began meditating. Sometimes the calm, the relief from severe anxiety, would last for 5 minutes. Sometimes it would last for 5 hours.

The cold winds blow. A tiny flower blooms.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Onion Seedlings

The onion seeds that i planted a week ago on the full moon have sprouted. Now i can count 20-30 onion-lings in each flat. Hard to imagine that this one-inch grassy-looking leaflet is going to grow into something substantial enough to flavor the entree of a main meal.

When we first begin meditating, it's hard to believe that our fledgling intention--of calm, of kindness, of awakening joy--will grow into something that flavors our entire life. And yet....

A few years ago, i was in a politcal study group, learning about shenanigans that would hit the front page of the newspapers about 6 months later. My meditation friends asked me why i went. "Doesn't it just make you mad?"
But politics fascinates me, so i continued in the group. One day, one of my classmates said, "You're one of the 2 most peaceful people i've ever met."

I'd been caught--red-open-hearted.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rebalancing Flower Pots--and Meditation

In the fall, i bring indoors the flowering pots that have been sitting beside the front door all summer. In the winter greenhouse, some of the individual plants thrive--like the geraniums; other plants limp along or are lost altogether.

Now i'm trying to "rebalance" whatever remains in the big pots. Trim back the 2-foot tall geranium. What to do with the variegated ivy? Shall i swirl the 4-foot long trailing vine around the pot? One variegated impatiens survived, and i'm rooting cuttings of it because i love its deep-pink double flowers (that match the magenta trim on my house :)

Sometimes we have to rebalance our meditation practice. When irritation gets the best of us, we practice loving-kindness. When the woes of the world overwhelm us, practice compassion toward yourself. When the mind refuses to settle down, give it something to contemplate.

In these ways, we rebalance and freshen up our meditation so that it can rebloom.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bare Ground Attention

I can see bare ground out the back door! This may not sound like much to you, but i've felt stranded in my island of a house this month. Right now my front yard is both ankle-deep in mud and knee-deep in snow. The septic tank melted yesterday--a neat rectangle in the snow. And now, finally, i can actually see part of my herb garden out the back door. Hallelujah!

Of course, i have to wade through thigh-deep snow out the back door on the north side of the house to get to the bare earth, and the dirt looks raw and un-beautiful. But i am overjoyed.

When we are meditating, we can sometimes sink under the cover of mind chatter and simply pay bare attention to what's happening in the body, and the breath, and even in the mind. Bare attention means plain vanilla attention with no judgments, no allergic reactions to unpleasant things, and no grasping for pleasant other things.

Just pay attention to the raw data of the senses. Pay attention to your life unfolding moment-by-moment.

Perhaps joy will quietly melt into you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Planting Seeds of Mindfulness

I much prefer onion plants to onion sets. Onion sets are the teeny-tiny onions you can buy at the garden store anytime during the next couple of months. When i planted those, i was lucky to harvest onions the size of ping-pong balls.

One year i started onions from seed, and that year harvested lots of tennis-ball onions. After that i ordered onion plants for several years. This year i'm starting onion seeds again. I planted them in little trays on Sunday, the day after the full moon.

According to the Farmers' Almanac, the seeds of below-ground crops should be started on the full moon to take advantage of the energy of the waning moon. Seeds of above-ground crops should be started in the dark of the moon (the new moon) so that the energy of the waxing moon will increase the growing energy of the seedlings as well.

The Biodynamic system of Rudolf Steiner is more complex, but i can't often organize my life on that day-by-day, moon-by-moon basis. I was just lucky to have the onion seeds, the seed starter mix, and the time to be able to start onion seeds on the new moon this week.

Sometimes we have to simplify our life so that we can plant ourselves on the meditation cushion. All we need is the cushion (or chair), a timer (cell phone or microwave), and the time.

Plant yourself today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Snow on Daffodils

Earlier this week, 4 inches of snow fell on top of daffodil shoots and tulip leaves peeking up through the mud.

"Oh no! What's going to happen to my daffodils?" a friend worried.

I could say, "Don't worry." (But when has that ever stopped a worrywart?) "The crocus and daffodils and hyacinths have it all worked out. They've been growing up through snow and mud for centuries. They don't say, "Oh, no!" They "know" to slow down when it's cold and to take advantage of warm days to spread their foliage."

These late snows are called "poor man's fertilizer" because snow (and rain) capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and spread it right into the earth. Everything will be spring-greener as a result.

Sometimes our meditation is assailed by the 5 Hindrances of desire, ill-will, anxiety/worry, sleepiness/lethargy, and doubt. Simply being mindful of these obstacles as they appear builds our meditation stamina. These dark clouds can fertilize our practice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring of Springs

Spring has sprung, and around here, springs are gushing. Many of these rivulets begin at seasonal springs that form seasonal streams--rills--that dry up in April and don't start running again until mud season next March.

These dancing, energetic watery children grow into swift-flowing creeks, and run on into slower rivers. Streams around my home flow into Salmon Brook, which hasn't seen any salmon in a couple of hundred years.

Salmon can taste their home water and return there to spawn and die.

We too can taste the flavors of calm, of joy, of love, and of compassion.
When we begin to recognize these tastes we can sit down to meditate and head straight toward home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Flower Show Gizmos

I went to the Boston Flower Show last Friday. What beautiful installations! And such spectacular stonework! The bog garden at the very back of the show calmed me; i just wanted to walk right into that 20 x 20-foot patch of forest with shrubs growing out of every stump.

The lush mini-gardens were surrounded by 3 aisles of vendors, and i bought a lot of gizmos, some having nothing to do with gardening.

The It's a Cinch plant hangers do suspend hanging plants with minimum visual interference. But that special purple cleaner that defogs windows and repels dust--is that just colored Windex in an expensive bottle?

How many times are we dissatisfied with the products we buy? They turn out to be somehow not quite as we imagined. Dissatisfaction actually occurs quite often, every day. Every time we leave something or someone we love, we experience a twinge of dissatisfaction. Every time we wish things were different than they are (Why DID i buy that expensive cleaner?), we experience dissatisfaction.

Take a look today. Perhaps tally up those shards of dissatisfaction.
Let me know what you find.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time to Ditch the Christmas Tree

O K. O K. It's time to take the Christmas wreath off the front door. And while i'm at it, i should take the Christmas tree down. Really. I would if i could.

The wreath is easy. Take off the pine cones and the bow so i can use them when my women's group has its annual wreath-making party in early December.

But the Christmas tree.... Well, after i took those decorations off in January, i stuck the bare tree, still in its stand, in the snow in the front garden. It's rather nice to have an evergreen suddenly sprout full grown, near the front door. But then it got buried in a snowdrift, so that only the top 10 inches of green peeked out. Now the top 2 feet of brown is showing, while the bottom 3 feet is still packed in ice.

Sometimes our bad habits are like this. We're ready to offload them. We can see the browning effect smoking has on our health or that anger has on our nearest and dearest. Credit card debt singes our relationship with the other person whose name is on our checking account. But how the heck do you dislodge these habits?

Begin by practicing compassion for yourself. You might only aim compassion straight at your very own heart for quite a while or you might include your dear ones.

Place your hand on your heart. Right now. "Oh yes, my dear. I know you are suffering. May you rest in compassion."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cutting Back

I'm busy taking cuttings of my houseplants because i'm thinking of May when i can edge my white garden with little spider plants. Near the Japanese painted fern i edge with purple-leaved wandering jew. I could buy one plant at the nearby flower nursery for $4, or i could root a dozen cuttings in a glass today.

Begonias, geraniums and variegated impatiens are all rooting, as well as cryptotenia and purple sweet potato vine (VERY easy).

The parent plants have been severed pruned, but 2 months from now they'll have sprouted new green growth and look great.

Pruning our own lives by practicing renunciation can have the same effect on us. Renouncing busy-ness for a week-long retreat reinvigorates my meditation practice. Renouncing impulsive buying means less clutter in the house and therefore more energy (due to less maintenance and more free "flow" in the house itself.)

It's a funny thing abut renunciation--it looks like less, but it's actually more--more time, more energy, and more peace of mind.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seed Starting

I went to the garden store yesterday for bags of seed starting mix. Since i've reorganized my packets of seeds into little boxes labeled "March," "April," and "May," it seemed like it was time to plant the March seeds indoors.

Which ones? Basil, of course. And tomatoes: grape tomatoes and my favorite Italian tomato, San Marzano. Do i really want to try eggplant again? I live in the woods in the north country, and eggplants really need sun.

Let's get an early start on morning glories and zinnias. But why do i have Apricot Blush zinnias? That's not really "my" color.

When we sit down to meditate, we have many choices. What shall we cultivate today? Mindfulness of the breath? Mindfulness of the body via a body scan? Loving-kindness? Compassion for ourselves and for earthquake survivors?

The possibilities are many*. Just for today, choose one. Plant that seed. And relax.

*For more possibilities, consult The Meditative Gardener: Cultivating Mindfulness of Body, Feelings, and Mind.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Cleaning of the Body and Mind

In the early, early spring, my grandmother took her paring knife out to the front yard and dug up tiny dandelion greens for her family of 12. My father continued this tradition of dandelion green salad, wilted with a hot dressing, and served with radishes, and slices of hard-boiled egg.

I just ended a week-long meditation retreat in Virginia, and the yard at the retreat center is loaded with dandelion greens and a little wild onion scattered all over fields as well as lawns. I'm ready to cook up a mess of dandelion greens and spring onions. A century ago, these were tonics for a spring cleaning of the body. The first fresh greens in 4 or 5 months were thought to clear the winter sludge out of the body.

The week-long retreat has served as my spring cleaning of the mind. I focused on a simple sense meditation all week--seeing, hearing, and feeling (both externally AND the internal senses of "hearing" thoughts, "seeing" (some) thoughts, and "feeling" emotions). Viewing my world through these sense doors of seeing, hearing, and feeling brings me a refreshing understanding of now--the only moment we ever have.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Town Meeting and Tomatoes

Shall i start seedlings? Or not?

The first Tuesday in March is Town Meeting Day in Vermont. 200 or so of our town's 1,570 voters sit on metal chairs in the school gymnasium to decide, among other things, whether the town should spend $75,000 for a 1/3 share of a gravel pit. The Town Highway Department needs sand for winter's icy roads.

More importantly, Town Meeting Day is the day to start your tomato seeds.

I bow to tradition by at least looking at a bag of seed starter mix at the garden store. I wonder how my honey would feel about flats of 6-packs on the dining room table?

What seeds would you like to plant and water in your inner garden? Kindness? Patience? Compassion for yourself? Generosity?

Choose one. Plant it today, and water it every day this week.

Let me know what seed you're choosing, and how the watering goes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Localvoring in Your Own Freezer

What garden goodies do you have hiding in your freezer?

Although i've eaten my way through about half of it, there a a few items that i never seem to get around to. Another bag of frozen (grated) zucchini? Oh, no.

Since that's an unpleasant feeling, i quickly move my attention to something else. But actually, it's time to use some ingenuity and become creative with those frozen blocks of flavor and vitamins.

Beans, broccoli, spinach, and kale are easy to use. Open up your favorite cookbook, and voila!

But what to do with the dozen containers of basil pesto?

Pesto Rice Pilaf

Saute onions and rice in a tablespoon of oil.
When they're browned, add a bit of stock, put on the lid; add a little more stock, put on the lid;
and then add all the stock and simmer.

Meanwhile, toast some pine nuts in a skillet in a tablespoon of olive oil.

When the rice is "al dente," add your basil pesto from the freezer
plus a handful of sun-dried tomatoes and the toasted pine nuts.

I also have Garlic Scape Pesto hiding in my freezer, so I add 8 ounces of this "green garlic" as well.

Enjoy this full-bodied combination of satisfying flavors! (Pleasant! Very pleasant indeed.)