Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heavenly Scented Irises

Irises are blooming now. Even though they don't last long, they are one of my favorite flowers. I stick to the old-fashioned ones that have a heavenly scent; i try not to be tempted by the new varieties of large pink or blue ruffles.

In meditation, we also stick to the basics without adding anything fancy. We watch the breath or we focus on hearing or we soak into the sensations of the body. We could also practice the Heavenly Homes of loving-kindness or compassion--toward ourselves first of all and then toward others.

Eventually, we relax into the present moment and experience the flavor of calm.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Geranium macrorrhizum (big-root geranium) is a great perennial groundcover that is blooming right now. I have the usual pink, as well a magenta, and white (for the white garden, of course.)

Besides wonderfully fragrant leaves, another attribute is that Geranium macrorhizum grows anywhere--sun or shade, wet or dry. This geranium teaches us to "Bloom where you are planted."

We spend our mind moments, our days, our lives grabbing for the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant or just being confused about what the heck we should do.

We could just bloom with love, joy, and patience right here, right now. One of these days, we will learn that when we argue with reality, we lose. So we could drop that inner-wrestling, and transplant love and joy into our lives right now.

Of course, if reality is intolerable (e.g., a job, a relationship), we need to move toward loving ourselves and cultivating joy--and perhaps leaving that situation.

But most of us live lives of high-end samsara*. Life is good. We just want that one other thing. Or we just want this other one thing to go away. We want it badly enough that we wake up in the middle of the night thinking about these very things.

If the other person isn't going to change (and they aren't) or if "it" isn't going to change today (e.g., something regarding our health), then it's time to bloom despite adverse conditions. Just like Geranium macrorrhizum.

*Samsara is the wheel of death and rebirth to which we humans are bound. This includes moment-t0-moment "death" or "gone-ness" of a situation or event, and the immediate rebirth of the next moment as something new unfolds.
(Also called "The Great Mandala" in the Peter, Paul, and Mary song.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The "Bones" of the Garden--or of Meditation

Yesterday was the first garden tour fund-raiser of the season around here. After the several plant sale fund-raisers of last weekend, many other small non-profit organizations offer garden tours throughout the course of the summer.

These garden tours are a great way to sneak a peek into gardens you would never otherwise see and meet the owners, whom you would not otherwise meet.

These 6 gardens (for $25) all had beautiful "bones" of stonework that defines various garden "rooms" (often including a terrace) and brings a sense of orderliness to the great outdoors.

The Dharma offers us the framework to build a beautiful mind, bringing a sense of orderliness and calm to the jungle through which the monkey mind swings all day long.

Open up your copy of The Meditative Gardener or any inspirational book now. Begin there with whatever page you open to. Begin your summer with a feeling of calm.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Aging Garden Bench

One of my garden benches sags when you sit on it and feels like it's going to collapse underneath you. That was enough of an excuse to buy a patio glider on sale at the nearby lumberyard.

I love gliders, even more than rocking chairs. I suppose it's that calming vestibular motion.

After we replaced the creaky bench, we took a good look at it and realized the center cross-support, underneath the seat, had rotted out, but could be salvaged by sistering-up adjacent little boards of the same width and nailing everything together.

"Our bodies are of the nature to age," and so is our garden furniture. One neighbor had a hip replacement last fall, and another friend is having a knee replacement on June 8.

This old garden bench just needs a "hip" replacement, and it will be good for several more years.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I'd Rather Be....

Company's coming on Sunday, so i'm prissing around the flower beds when i'd really rather be out in the vegetable garden trying to get it under control. (As if that were possible.)

This double-mindedness afflicts our every waking moment and is summed up by those bumper stickers that say, "I'd rather be...."

Sometimes we don't get around to meditating because we'd rather stay in bed (in the morning) or watch TV (in the evening). We think we're reducing our stress by doing something pleasant, but the real stress reduction comes from calm and tranquil mindfulness, not from mindless vegging out.

When in the flower bed, just flower. When in the veggie garden, just veg.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Flower In Your Heart

During a book signing at Misty Valley Books on Sunday afternoon, i led a guided meditation on "A Flower In Your Heart." ( See page 11 of The Meditative Gardener or listen here.) We visualized a large fragrant flower and then offered a flower from our heart to our nearest and dearest.

Just as the meditation ended, before i had run the ending bell, i heard the door to the bookstore open in the adjacent room, and someone walk into the store. The 30-something woman in the back row got up and left. I rang the bell, and as we all opened our eyes, the back-row mom returned holding a bouquet of lilacs and apple blossoms.

"My daughter picked these for me and said she felt she had to give them to me right now."

Apparently the mother-daughter mirror neurons were at work.
Joy and love are just as contagious as anger and impatience.
Which one shall we cultivate?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Praise for The Meditative Gardener

The Meditative Gardener won a Nautilus Award, given to books that promote spiritual growth and conscious living.

The Meditative Gardener also won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association.

The book is a finalist in 2 categories (Best Overall Design; Religion) from Next Generation Indie Awards.

While all this praise is very self-gratifying, it is also fleeting.

Like our gardens that bloom magnificently one week and then sag the next, praise is an intangible that cannot be held on to.

I was thrilled to be at Book Expo America in New York City yesterday. Now i am home, leading an everyday life.

Praise is fleeting. Blame (the opposite of praise) is also fleeting, believe it or not.

We try ever so hard to build a "self" up with praise (or tear our-"selves" down with blame). Yet praise and blame simply blow through our lives like a breeze or like a tornado. Then they are gone. Gone. Really gone.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I subscribe to Wordsmith's Word-A-Day in hopes of improving my vocabulary, and today's word is mysophobia--fear of dirt. As gardeners, we have to love dirt--let's call it soil to delete the pejorative connotation of "dirty."

The noun "soil" doesn't seem to be "soiled" by its verb form, but "dirt" is "dirtied" by both its verb and adjective ("dirty") forms.

As gardeners, we know that soil is the basis of our gardens. We might think that mysophobics don't know what they are missing!

We improve our soil to improve our crops of flowers or vegetables. Soil is part of the cycle of life. We couldn't exist, we couldn't live without it.

So what's the use of being afraid of dirt?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Present of Watercress

Last evening after my weekly meditation group, a Dharma friend, Eva, offered me some watercress from the stream that flows through her garden. I imagined a fist-sized bunch like i buy at the food coop. I was not prepared for 3-foot tall watercress with leaves the size of my palm. Now there's a salad! A sandwich! Enough soup to last a week.

"It's about to bloom," she said. "I get 3 crops a year."

At home, i hacked off the top half for salads (or whatever) and am planting the bottom half with the roots in the trickle that leads into and out of my fishpond.

There's enough that i'm giving a handful to my neighbor Connie who has a tiny streamlet at the bottom of her yard.

Watercress likes to grow in clear, running water, and so do we. When we surrender to the flow of life, joy naturally arises.

And with this watercress, there's the joy of receiving an unexpected gift, and the joy of giving, of passing it on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Babies in the Greenhouse

Having a greenhouse is like having a baby. You have to carry it psychically with you at all times and be mindful of its hourly health.

At nighttime, you don't want it to become too chilly, so you make sure it's warm enough and add extra heat if necessary. During the day, you don't want it to become overheated, so you might have to open all the vents, windows, and doors.

Water at least 2 times a day on sunny days. And protect those baby seedlings from catching any bugs. Give them vitamins (e.g., fish emulsion) so that they'll grow strong.

There's a lot of "doing" associated with a greenhouse--and with gardening. Our challenge is to simply "be" in the garden with as much mindfulness as we can muster.

Sometimes the "being" is simply "being with doing." Simply being with a young May garden requires a lot of our attention.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Peony Supports

I am remembering to put tomato cages (the smallest ones) around my peonies. Tomato cages may not be scenic, but they are 1/10th the price of those fancy green metal plant supports. Besides, i have dozens of tomato cages and only a couple of plant supports.

Peonies droop with their heavy blossoms or in the wind or rain. The tomato cages look rather out of place now while the peonies are growing, but within 2 weeks, they will be invisible.

When we are new to meditation, we also need supports. Guided meditations--on a CD or downloaded on your iPod--are good for keeping you on track and on the cushion. You might go to Dharma Seed (great name!) to find a teacher or subject that interests you.

Meditating with friends once a week is a wonderful support. Do you even have a certain friend or few that you could share a moment of silence with--when you see each other or on the phone or before eating a meal? "Let's just share a moment of silence together, because i really want to be HERE with you."

Reading inspirational books is another support.

Yes, at first, these supports may feel as clunky as tomato cages, but in just a couple of weeks, they'll be your "Dharma friend," supporting you on the path to a more peaceful life.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Revolution in the House & Garden

A revolution has occurred in my house and gardens. The seasons have revolved, as they do--a complete turning of the wheel of life.

Houseplants have moved outdoors for the summer. Some seedlings, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and onions have been planted. Others are leaving the house today for their outdoor kindergarten, usually called hardening off, to toughen up the tomato plants, the zinnias, and the cosmos.

My solarium, which has been growing green since last fall, now looks bereft, as half of its inhabitants are on summer vacation. The other half leave today.

Aren't we all looking for some internal revolution? Some turning when we will finally feel at home and comfortable in our own skins. Some release of the pressures of anxiety, worry, or frustration.

Here's the catch: the revolution doesn't happen by doing nor by going.

Stop. Sit. Meditate. Watch the seasons revolve of their own accord. Notice the internal turning toward peace.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"My Body Can't Keep Up With My Mind"

I went to pick up a truckload of manure from Charlie at Sweet Tree Farm yesterday. We talked about the beautiful weather, and about all the things we'd like to get done.

"My body can't keep up with my mind," he said. "Yesterday, i only got about half the things done that i wanted to."

He's right. The mind drives the body incessantly. "Do this." "Go there." "Make this." The body silently obeys until it just simply cannot do or go anymore, and we collapse--in front of the TV or into bed. Or into old age.

Contemplate this relationship between mind and body today while you are considering your "To Do" list.

I'll contemplate it while i'm spreading that truckload of manure in the garden. IF i get around to it today.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Relax into Spring

If there is such a thing as full spring, these days, this week is it. Cool and breezy with a sun warm enough to help you shed your outer layer. Fruit trees in bloom--pink cherry blossoms and white pear trees looking like a blizzard landed in their branches. Birds singing and building their nests in those branches.

Meditation helps us shed our outer layer--that first layer of armor--defensiveness, anxiety, worry, bother, frustration, or irritation. Whatever your particular flavor of armor against the world, the first meditation instruction could just as well be: Relax. Relax the body and allow the mind to remain alert. The body doesn't need to be on alert. The body doesn't need to be vigilant. The body doesn't have to be poised to spring.

The first loving-kindness phrase is "May i feel safe."

Feel safe now. In your body. In the room where you are. In your home. In your garden. In your neighborhood. On your street. In your community.

Relax into spring. Relax into the kind friendliness that is all around you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What's Your Micro-climate?

My grandmother's birthday was May 1, and my sister and i always went into the woods to gather a wildflower bouquet for her--spring beauties, jack in the pulpit, and dutchmen's breeches. I still love these ephemeral wildflowers that only bloom for a few days.

Over the years i have tried transplanting wildflowers into my woods, but i now live in a dry, pine-y woods that is slightly acidic. The wildflowers i love grow in a damp, calcium-rich soil.

Transplanting a meditation practice into our lives, we need to find one that will grow in our very own internal micro-climate. The formality of Zen? The "Catholic-ness" of the Tibetan tradition? The no-frills approach of Theravadin? Or perhaps we add meditation to the tradition we grew up in--Christian, Jewish, or Moslem. Maybe we add meditation to our heart path of Nature-based spirituality. The Buddha's teachings form an internally-consistent hologram that can deepen our foundational practice.

Sometimes meditation practice just doesn't "take." A plant needs a particular combination of sun, water, and soil. So do we.

Keep experimenting.

I keep moving my wildflowers from bed to bed. Now, dutchmen's breeches have spread all over my wildflower nursery bed. That's the habitat they like, and i'm not moving them. They can stay right there where they are multiplying. I'll find another nursery bed for the other wildflowers.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Something Stinky

This evening a local garden club is coming to tour my gardens. Since it rained all day yesterday, i wasn't able to do my final clean-up-before-company-comes. So a big pile of stinky bunny poop is sitting beside the driveway, not too far from the front door.

Today's schedule managed to fill itself to the brim, so i have no time to distribute the manure unless i do it right now, in the dark of the morning, instead of writing this blog.

I want things to be different than they are.

This discontent, this dissatisfaction is caused by comparing what is--a pile of poop--to what could be--a disappeared pile. I don't want what is; i want something different.

How many times do we have something stinky and unpleasant near us--a thought, a situation, a person--that we want to get rid of?

This discontent with the way things are--how much i weigh, how i look, that co-worker!--causes all the ruckus in our otherwise well-being.

Every time we argue with reality, with what is, we lose.

The antidote to discontent is gratitude for what we DO have--beautiful gardens, health, and a peaceful living situation.

And aren't i fortunate to have had a truckload of bunny manure delivered to my garden?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Asparagus Meditation

Several years ago, i planted an asparagus bed--a row on both sides of a 4-foot wide strip. Since asparagus requires 3 years of growing before you can pick it, my inner gardener couldn't resist that long bare bed in the middle going to waste. I started using the middle as a holding bed.

Last week, my gardener Elisha and i spent an hour and a half digging a 5-foot tall redbud, with an extensive root system, out of the asparagus bed. In the process, Elisha dug up 3 asparagus roots and wondered what those thick spider-y root globs were.

This over-planting happens in our life too. We clear away a space for meditation, yoga, or tai chi, then we overplant that time with a few extra winks in the morning, an errand that needs to be run, or spending our precious time social networking. Pretty soon, our time for meditation is overgrown with the busy-ness of life.

Begin again, as i am doing with my asparagus bed. Clear some space, some time in your day, and resolve to keep this time-space clear.

Like asparagus, it may take some months or even years before you harvest the fruits (or vegetables) of your meditation practice. Meanwhile you not only have something that will sustain you, you have a beautiful background of calmness. After it shoots up, asparagus turns into a tall, airy, ferny plant that makes a nice background plant.

Meditation gives your mind a beautiful background from which to see the world as it really is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Companion Planting

I recently talked to a young woman who works as a receptionist in a clinic.
"It's a female culture," she said, shaking her head.
"Back-biting?" i asked.
She sighed.

Planting ourselves among companions we admire is THE most important thing on our spiritual path. Admirable friends inspire us to act nobly, even in difficult situations.

While we may not be able to have much effect on the culture of our workplace, all the more reason to rely on our spiritual companions to support us when we are straggling and to help us repel the "bug-gy" mind states that pester us.

Plant yourself in a beautiful garden today.