Saturday, July 16, 2011

Milkweed Roots

My friend Melissa spent 3 hours yesterday digging milkweed roots out of her flowerbed. First, she dug down about a foot into clay, which she doesn't otherwise find in her garden. Then she followed the root, which can run for up to 7 feet. All along the strand of root, buds are forming, which will become plants next year.

Our unskillful habits are also deeply rooted. Rather than becoming dismayed by all the weeds in your garden, choose just one to focus on and become acquainted with.

Lust? Impulse buying? Complaining? Impatience? Zinger opinions? Wishy-washiness?

Spend an hour, or 3, noticing when this habit arises. Don't just tug on it when it comes over you--that's like pulling up milkweed. The results are temporary, and the root is still sprouting below ground. Instead, pay attention and become interested enough that you follow the root feeling. Feel how this habit feels in your body. Relax into that uncomfortable place.

Milkweed is a little bit toxic and can cause dermatitis in some people. Notice if you are "allergic" to the emotion behind the habit.

Rooting out unskillful habits takes patience. It also requires renunciation of the path of least resistance. Neurons that fire together wire together, and our unskillful habits have laid down a well-worn neuronal pathway that is actually impersonal.

Beating up on yourself for an unskillful habit only lays down the tracks for beating up on yourself. What's the use of that?

Practice the kindness of mindfulness. With mindfulness, we weed our garden, one weed at a time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Children in the Garden

Children are coming to the garden this weekend, and i feel like Santa's elf. Or maybe the Easter bunny's elf? I'm forgoing my own harvest for a couple of days, so the children can have the joy finding cherry tomatoes! Green beans! Going out to the garden with children turns into a treasure hunt.

11-year-old Chloe has been a serious cook for the past 5 years, so she will enjoy finding bok choy, kale, and the various greens such as mizuna and cress.

We will probably pull an onion and a garlic for flavor.

Before they leave, we will pick bouquets of flowers that their mother can take home with her.

Sharing the garden and the joy of the garden is a form of generosity. The joy of giving from the garden is so easy. And it will circle right back into all of us when Chloe prepares the Saturday evening meal.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harvesting Tomatoes--and Mindfulness

I picked my first Sungold cherry tomato yesterday. Delicious!

Popping one of these yellow-orange babies into your mouth smells like summer. This is the reason i planted those tiny seeds 5 months ago.

Every time we practice mindfulness in our daily lives, we are planting a tiny seed. Sometimes that 1/16-inch wide seed looks pathetically small compared to the avalanche of thoughts and feelings and incoming information.

We keep that seed warm by adding kind-heartedness toward ourselves, and voila! Mindfulness sprouts 2 "leaves" and for 2 seconds we leave judgments and opinions aside and simply acknowledge the present moment.

We water mindfulness daily simply by paying attention to what we are doing/saying/thinking. Five months later, that tiny tomato seed is 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and producing a handful of tomatoes, each one filled with tiny, juicy seeds.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vitamins for Tomatoes

I have 2 trugs of manure tea in the vegetable garden.
"Manure tea?" Visitors to my garden wrinkle their noses, as if this tea is a medicine they should take.
"For the tomatoes," i explain, and their faces relax.
"Oh," they say, as they exhale with relief.

I make manure tea by filling a trug (or bucket) 1/3 full of manure, then topping off with water and letting it steep for several days. After "watering" the plants, i refill the trug with water again.

The tomato plants don't tell me how manure tea tastes, but the adolescent plants are just beginning to bud with fruit and they are all gangling out of their 4-foot tall cages. I'm guessing their dose of liquid vitamins works.

We take our daily vitamins too to keep our bodies strong. A daily dose of meditation has a positive effect on our daily life. Vitamin c (for calm), vitamin h (for happiness). Maybe you notice the effect of vitamin a- (for anxiety reduction). I especially like the effect of vitamin i- because it reduces my irritation, particularly with the person i live with.

Let's fertilize our positive qualities by quelling the unskillful ones.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flower Pots at the Front Door

Now that summer has heated up, plants in containers need daily watering. How do you feel about the daily watering? Pleasant? Or unpleasant?

Some mornings, watering the 9 pots at the front door is fun. I fuss over the pink polka-dot plant, picking off yellowing leaves, or i turn the magenta geranium so that the flowers show off their blossoms to visitors.

Some days, watering the plants is a chore. Two containers in particular have soil that dries out fast. On those unpleasant days, i plot how i wouldn't have to water so often if the containers didn't have holes in the bottoms of their pots.

Chances are, the personality that sees the daily watering as pleasant is constantly chasing after the pleasant, always adjusting the inner thermostat to "pleasant." This so-called "greedy" personality type might decide to practice the antidotes of generosity or renunciation.

The personality who hates watering or tries to avoid it is constantly pushing away the unpleasant. This so-called aversive personality type might decide to practice loving-kindness, compassion (for oneself!) or patience.

However you diagnose your personality, the trick is not to be averse to the aversion (or to greed). Simply hold that thought (and it is only a thought) with mindfulness, without judgment. How does that thought feel? How does wanting more feel? How does pushing away the unpleasant feel?

I'm enjoying the flowerpots at the front door, and my inner artist likes to slightly rearrange the picture every morning.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Proliferation of Mint

Mint seems like such a tasty herb to plant, but how many people have i warned? "Don't plant it!"

Mint is a spreader par excellence. When i started my herb garden, i wanted a mint of every type. But then i seldom used them. I actually prefer apple mint, which has a fuzzy leaf, to make iced tea with. Someone gave me chocolate mint, and that's a nice addition, but i think the apple mint has overrun it.

My method of keeping the mint patch under control is to make mint iced tea every day. On these hot days, i "pick" mint in the afternoon, which is to say i pull it up by as much root as i can and clip off the root. When i have a big handful of stems, i rinse them under the faucet and stuff them into a half-gallon glass pitcher. Add boiling water, and let it cool.

Put the pitcher into the refrigerator by evening, and the next day, you have cold mint tea all day long to cool you and refresh you.

This is how we work with our hindrances too. Sense desire, ill-will, sleepiness, anxiety, or doubt will proliferate and overrun our lives. We apply mindfulness every day. One by one, we pull back on desiring, expressing a zinger, collapsing, worrying, or doubting. We take a close look at the presenting circumstance, and in this way, we clip the root of that momentary hindrance.

We ourselves are refreshed and able to relax into the next moment. Maybe with a glass of cold mint tea in hand.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wilting in the Heat of Ill-Will

Summer has arrived, so i have to sneak my gardening in by late morning, before the sun becomes too hot. When the temperature rises above 79 degrees, i begin to wilt.

5 things wilt our mindfulness:
  • sense desire
  • ill-will
  • sleepiness & lethargy,
  • restlessness & anxiety
  • doubt

Over time we become familiar with these 5 hindrances, and in particular, our own "likely suspects."

My 2 most common visitors are ill-will and sleepiness. Recently i spent most of a 45-minute sit lost in thoughts of unfairness (a.k.a. ill-will toward someone).

Then it's time to water the present moment with mindfulness. "Oh. This is what ill-will feels like," noticing the contraction in my left buttocks as i think the same thought over and over again.

Relax into the present moment where there is no fear and nothing to be irritated at. Really. Take a close look at that repetitious thought in the shade of your closed eyes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Death in the Garden

My neighbor's 8-foot tall shrub, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, has died. Now i can really see the architecture of its twisty twigs.

Sometimes we are surprised by a sudden death--in our garden or of someone close to our heart. A friend's sister went to the emergency room with "stomach pains." As she got up off the CRT table, she dropped dead of a heart aneurism. Shocking. The acceptance/denial comes in waves. I'm taking a bouquet of flowers to my friend.

And i've taken a dozen morning (mourning?) glory plants to my neighbor, so they can clamber over the skeleton of Harry Lauder's Walking Stick.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pollinating Our Meditation Practice

Opium poppies (Papaver somniflorum) are blooming magnificently, and i cut a bucketful every morning. By the time i arrive at the cutting bed, dozens of honeybees are buzzing around the flowers and rolling around in these watermelon-colored poppies.

These flowers are so beautiful, i'd roll around in them too, if i could.

How do we pollinate our meditation practice? If we want our practice to bear fruit, which is a really tasty way to disperse seeds, then we study and we practice.

"Study" may be as simple as reading this blog or my book The Meditative Gardener. You probably already read other inspirational books as well. Download a Dharma talk and listen to it in the car or while you are preparing dinner.

Practice includes daily sitting, a weekly meditation with other people, and an annual meditation retreat of at least 7 days. (I commit to a month-long retreat and four 5-day retreats every year.)

We also practice wholesome qualities such as patience, generosity, and kindness. Pollinating these flowers helps us bloom where we are planted.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vegetables in the Flower Garden

A year ago, solar-voltaic panels were installed on the roof of our house. Since i live in the woods, the peak efficiency in July would be 70%. But if we cut down the red maple near the front door, we could increase the efficiency by 4%.

Thus began the semi-annual visits by the tree service, the decrease of nearby trees, and the increase of sun on the solar-voltaics on the roof and the flower beds on the ground. Partial shade has morphed into full sun.

Because my house was built into a bowl of a little hillside, the south side of the house is a warmer microclimate than elsewhere. It's the last place to get frost, whereas the vegetable garden is the first. Hmmm.

Sun + warmer microclimate = vegetable garden.
Maybe it's time to start growing vegetables in my patio garden?

This revolutionary idea would change the aesthetic of my landscape. It's really quite shocking.

Sometimes change drifts along so slowly, we barely notice it or simply find the slight change of scenery and circumstances pleasant. Then we come to a waterfall; this one feels like a Class II (out of 5), and that is exciting and scary enough.

I think i'll start by planting rainbow chard beside the pulmonaria.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

I finally managed to overwhelm the Thursday evening meeting of Perennial Swappers. I took a triple-decker truckload of plants and came home with merely a truckload.

Now i'm going to overwhelm my "add-to" compost bin that has already reached the top.

Too much of a good thing shows us yet another angle on how the pleasant can become unpleasant. Perennial Swappers is a fun meeting where gardeners can give away whatever they have too much of. Last evening everyone filled their buckets and bags, their trunks and station wagons. The first-timer new gardener went home with enough to keep her busy this holiday weekend.

New plants = pleasant
Free new plants = pleasant
Too many plants = a lot of work = unpleasant
For me, too many plants = a lot of hauling = unpleasant

After Perennial Swappers, i stopped at a friend's house.
"I need a plant for this area," she said, pointing to a little patch of shady bare earth.
"I've got something for you," i said, leading her to my truck, laden with pre-compost plants. "Here. Have a Pulmonaria," i said with a smile.

One more plant shared with a friend = pleasant.