Monday, October 31, 2011

When We Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Driving home from Boston late Saturday afternoon in the pouring snow and without snow tires :( we found a B&B in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and homed in for the night. Sunday morning dawned with a blue sky and melting-wet roads.

We drove home through the spectacular beauty of snow-laden pine trees interspersed with khaki green, gold-brown oak trees that still have all their leaves. The combination made for beautiful mottled hillsides. I really had no idea of the dense oak population in New Hampshire forests.

We often can't see the forest for the trees. We are so focused on the thoughts in the mind that we don't notice the mind itself. We "believe" our thoughts and think they are real when they are but momentary firings of neurons, passing through quickly. And then they are gone.

We've had 10,000 thoughts in the past 24 hours. Where are they now?

We've been so intent on the trees (i.e., our thoughts), that we haven't noticed the forest of the mind just being there.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Beech Leaves

The first snow has fallen here in the North country. And, finally, the first frost this morning--31 degrees--which had the effect of freezing the wet snow.

Beech leaves have been beautiful this past week--apple green in the understory, changing to shades of yellow-golden above eye-level, topped off by coppery tan above. Now snow encrusts leaves and branches.

The pale green beech leaves almost fooled us into feeling spring, yet now their aging is truly apparent.

Friends in their 60s and 70s, who seem young at heart, nevertheless wrestle with their aging bodies. A 53-year-old friend has terminal cancer.

The end of harvest season gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on our own end-of season as wintry frost creeps up on us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kiwis in the North

My favorite fruits are berries. When berry season begins, i buy a pint of berries a day at our local farmstand, and ssshhh, don't tell anyone: Sometimes i eat an entire pint of red raspberries before i arrive home, 2 miles away.

Strawberries, red raspberries, black raspberries, cherries, blueberries. The season is all over by early September. For solace, i buy ground cherries, also known as Cape gooseberries. These little yellow-orange "berries" hide inside a tomatillo-type paper husk. They are slightly tart and also sweet.

Then, the last week of September, it's kiwi season in the north country! Kiwis in zone 4? Yep. These grape-sized "berries" have a smooth skin and taste exactly like their big-cousin kiwis. If you daintily slice one open, you'll find green fruit and teensy black seeds. Kiwis only last until frost, so usually the season is just a week or 10 days long. This year, kiwi season has lasted an entire month :)

In our meditation practice, we may yearn for the "big fruit" of en-lighten-ment. In our day after day practice, little insights--the little fruits of our practice--gradually add up. Eventually the light will shine through.

Meanwhile, let's enjoy the fruit(s) that we can taste right now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Melting, Melting

My garden still has not had a frost, though the forecast calls for freezing temperatures at night later this week.

These warm (for October) temperatures make me think that, somewhere, glaciers and icecaps are melting. A Bermuda-sized iceberg just broke off of the Greenland ice-sheet.

These icebergs won't raise sea level, like melting ice cubes in your drink don't raise the water level in your glass. The inland melting of glaciers into rivers and into oceans raises the water level. Bangkok is flooded with more water than it has ever seen. Even the houses on stilts have had to be evacuated.

Change--climate change--is happening relatively fast. Our children will live in a warmer climate zone than we do, and their children in a warmer one still.

Notice this day's warmth and coolness. There'll never be another day just like it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Topping Off the Compost Bin

The end of gardening season is creeping up on me. To entertain myself, i prep the beds for next spring when the garden becomes a hive of activity. It's good to do as many of those spring chores as possible NOW, sort of like prepping for a big dinner party by doing some things days ahead.

I picked up a load of manure on Saturday and used it to "top off" 3 bins of compost that had already reached the brim with fall clean-up. Now they can sit and "cook" all winter.

This is the effect meditation has on us. We pile on 20 minutes in the morning, and unnoticed by us, it "cooks" our mind during the rest of the day. Perhaps we can keep our fingers on the pulse of calm for a few hours. Or maybe irritation stays at bay.

What effect does meditation have on you? And on your day?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Clump of Bulbs

When i dug plants out of the white garden to save them from the trenching, i found a big clump of daffodils, already sprouted and ready to keep on growing. This "find" provides the perfect opportunity to divide the overcrowded clump of bulbs and even give some of them away.

Our lives become overcrowded with busy-ness. One activity spawns another. Every new material item requires some sort of maintenance, such as dusting or washing or finding a place to store the darn thing. Things pile up on top of each other. Responsibilities proliferate.

It's time to divide those responsibilities. Give items away. Hand over responsibility to someone else (even though this is very hard.)

After a period of rest this winter, you too will bloom.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I am overcome with gratitude, all because my front sidewalk is back in place.

The gardener, Elisha, and i re-leveled two of the big stones, but the last one--3 feet x 3 feet--was daunting. And really, really heavy.

When the 28-year-old Green Mountain Well guy came by, he and Elisha worked on the last stone. Now the walkway looks as good as new. Thank goodness for young backs!

Begin your meditation with a minute of gratitude. Recall people, situations, places, or events that you are grateful for.

Open your heart to the unfolding of life.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bedraggled Mums

The mums at the front door are looking somewhat bedraggled. Too much heavy rain has flattened various aging stems.

I'll cut these mums back and plant them in my flowerbed. About a third will survive the winter and settle into their new home.

Now, when there's not much color remaining in the garden, i have splotches of previous years' mums blooming in their full glory. I cut mum bouquets that last for 3 weeks.

Sometimes, when we are feeling bedraggled by life, it's time to plant ourselves at a retreat. If we can't actually go on a retreat this week, then begin by pruning back activities. Make space for yourself. Take a walk outdoors instead of going shopping and watch your heart bloom.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The 6-foot trench has been filled in. The excavator has moved the dirt, but the contours of the garden and yard have been changed. The flower bed, the strip of lawn, and the edging of shrubs just don't look like they used to.

It's another form of impermanence, sort of like someone who's had a major operation. Afterward, they feel worse, at first, and maybe their loved ones feel they are just a little bit different somehow. Perhaps the anesthesia has induced a shred of mental confusion. How did things used to be?

Life and the garden shifts slowly, sometimes subtly, over time, as they organically evolve. But this re-contouring is a big change from one day to the next. And it's not the way i want it; it's the way it happened.

Another lesson in impermanence, the stress of wanting things to be different than they are, and the emptiness of the word "garden," which meant one thing yesterday and a different thing today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Price of Progress

We are having a heat pump installed in our well in order to use the geothermal heat of the water to heat two rooms of our house. It's difficult to understand how 55-degree water is going to heat a room comfortably, but the electricity the heat pump uses will cost much less than the propane for the hot-water baseboard.

The price of progress? A 6-foot deep trench through my white garden beside the front door.

It didn't actually take long to dig out the important plants that were in the way, but deconstructing a garden does bring a level of stress, of anxiety about the future, and of wistfulness for the beautiful garden, now gone.

These revolutions also happen in our lives when children leave home, when we change jobs, or move homes. We assume the future will be brighter, and to that end, we willingly undergo the stresses of anxiety, of not-knowing, or of wistfulness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Surprise Visitor

A surprise visitor came to my garden yesterday: the neighbor's pig and 2 of her little piggies. She was a sizable brown sow with a snout darkened by rooting in the earth.

My sweetie had already complained about her previous 4 visits. She has plowed substantial sections of our lawn and meadow, looking for grubs, i assume, and leaving an uneven mess behind.

Fortunately, she doesn't seem as interested in the flower beds as she is in my wood chip paths.

Impermanence: What was smooth is now rough.

Dissatisfaction: What was smooth is now rough.

Emptiness: The lawn is composed of not-lawn elements (e.g., grubs, dirt, grass). Lawn is just an idea i have, a concept that proves to be empty of meaning.

Maybe i should dub this porcine teacher of the Dharma "Buddha."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Our Native Habitat

I just spent a week at a retreat in the woods of Virginia where sweet gum and dogwood grow prolifically.

Here in Vermont, we have 1 grove of sweet gum, just a couple of miles north of the Massachusetts border. Dogwood (Cornus florida) will grow in people's yards, but is rarely seen in the wild. Vermont is a different habitat than Virginia.

We compare our habits to, let's say, our friend Virginia. She's so sweet and pretty too. And we..... Well, we just don't look like that or act like that.

We each have our habits of mind, our own habitats. Some qualities grow natively there, and some do not.

What's the use of comparing ourselves to anyone else? We are unique individuals. Every single one of us.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Meditative Gardener is on Retreat

I'll return on October 17.

Enjoy autumn wherever you are.

Fall Colors

The garden chores have slowed to a crawl. This sunny day is a day to take a walk in the woods, shuffle through those crunchy leaves and smell those dry leaves that are now just five or six feet from our noses (instead of fifty or sixty feet). The leaves are changing color fast now, as chlorophyll production slows to a halt, leaving the yellow color that has been there all along, but invisible to our eyes.

We may think our mind is colored by red anger, green envy, blue melancholy, or yellow cowardice.

Meditation eventually calms us sufficiently so that we catch a glimpse of the clearness of mind. That clarity has been there all along, just covered over by the colors of our emotions.

Let's take a walk today and really pay attention to the clarity of the fall colors.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Plant Garlic Now

Now is the time to plant garlic. It needs about 6 weeks to establish its root system before the ground freezes, , but before it has an opportunity sprout green.

Choose the largest heads from this year's garlic crop. This is the hard part. Those best, fattest cloves are going into the ground, not into a soup or spaghetti sauce, nor into the oven for roasting.

Let the best go in order to multiply for next year's crop.

Wouldn't we rather keep the best for ourselves and give away our ratty-tatty stuff? Wouldn't we rather keep the new and give our used stuff to a thrift store or the church rummage sale?

The highest form of generosity is raja (think: maharaja), or kingly, giving. Queenly giving gives open-handedly, open-heartedly, and even without letting anyone know where the gift comes from.

In the case of garlic, we are giving to ourselves. Choose the best cloves, plant them, and harvest a king's ransom of garlic next August.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Still Alive

The garden did not die last night. I awoke this morning to 34 degrees and a clear sky, but no frost. Meanwhile, gardens near me have died. My neighbor, Connie, lower down our road, had frost yesterday morning.

The mystery of life and death. My garden, my life goes on. Someone else, an acquaintance, dies unexpectedly. Suddenly she is gone. Gone. Her family is shocked.

Meanwhile, i am still preparing for my own demise. It's time to plant spring bulbs for next spring's resurrection.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

24 Hours to Live

The garden had a reprieve from its death sentence of frost last night, and so did the gardener (moi:).

Today i can aim to do what didn't get done yesterday: cut the last zinnia bouquet and harvest the holy basil (aka tulsi).

What would you do if you knew you had 24 hours to live?

I would go sit in the garden and not do a thing. Assuming good-byes had been said in expectation of yesterday's death, i'd take a walk in the woods, sit by a stream, and watch the river of life flow on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Frost Tonight

The forecast of frost tonight puts me in high gear to bring in all the tender things today. Pick the last of the basil and the tomatillos. Pot up the last begonia or impatiens. For tomorrow they will all be dead.

Friends who have cancer and the prognosis of death take care of business: will, living will, durable power of attorney for health care, and power of attorney for financial matters.

I have taken care of most of this business, but i lack the Power of Attorney for financial matters, which a friend just brought to my attention last week. I've called the lawyer to make an appointment.

Hopefully, the "frost" won't fall on me for a long time, but stories of friends having sudden collisions with distracted drivers lights the fire under my intention.

Let's act as if the frost is coming tonight.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Fall Garden

The fall garden is blooming now with indigo monkshood, yellow mums, pink turtlehead (Chelone), and white burnet (Sanguisorba). Overhead, green is receding from the leaves on the trees that are turning yellow, red, and eventually, orange. Those same colorful leaves float down like confetti and add careless color to the lawn, the paths, and the flowerbeds.

The landscape is aging fast now, like vibrant 60-, 70-, and even 80-year-olds, capable of leading a colorful life while the body returns its strength (earth), flexibility (liquid), and even its air-y gases (ahem) to the world. These qualities, that we thought belonged to us, turn out to have been borrowed. In fact, our entire body has been loaned to us by the universe, and is not really "ours" at all.

In the fall, the river of life rushes on.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Redecorating the Entrance to Your Home

Now it's time to redecorate the front step. Time to bring the plants of annual flowers into the solarium and wonder how many will survive the cool dryness of decreasing light.

Replace the planters with pots of mums, flowering kale, or pumpkins and gourds.

While we're at it, we'd like to redecorate our personalities. Take that irksome characteristic of ours straight to the compost pile, and replace it with something bright and cheery and socially acceptable. Or maybe we'd just like to forget about it and wish it would go away all by itself.

If we are using our ego to strongarm ourselves into a new mold, it isn't going to work. The ego has learned to survive as it is, thank you very much. Using one sub-personality to dislodge another sub-personality? They each have their own turf.

Instead, bring mindfulness to that unskillful aspect. Bring that "unfortunate" quality into your heart this winter, and simply be mindful of it each time it appears. Feel what irritation feels like in the body. Feel what the thought, "I'm so stupid" feels like. Notice confusion when it arises and feel the discomfort that comes with it.

Notice these traits or your own particular idiosyncracies. Live with them, really live with them for the next month or two as if they were an unruly puppy.

Practice this loving-kindness meditation toward yourself:
I love myself as i am, angry.
I love myself as i am, confused.
I love myself as i am, feeling stupid.

Use your own words.
Be kind to yourself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


A bluebird house is attached to one of the fence posts in the vegetable garden. No bluebirds have taken up residence there, but it's often the home of chickadees or wrens.

Yesterday i saw a surplus of nesting material pushing out of the easy-to-open front panel (so you can spy on baby birds). Since nesting season is over, and the summer birds have flown south, i flipped open the front wall and raked out the grapefruit-sized nest.

Out fell a mother mouse with 7 suckling teenage mice. She landed on a leaf and lay there for a minute looking extremely weary and perhaps stunned by the sudden eviction from her comfy home.

Then she dragged herself and her 7 cute, gray attachments off to hide under other nearby leaves.

Attachment, sometimes called craving, is the source of our on-going sense of unease with ourselves, our friends, and our world.

How does attachment feel?

Attachment to material possessions yields a sense of "mine." Mine, and you can't have it.

Attachment to people is an important developmental stage for babies (and baby mice too!)
As adults, attachment masquerades as love. Yet would love really be dissatisfied when the object of its affection is absent or distant or choosing her or his own path? Would love be disappointed? How could love be heart-broken? Love, by definition, is heart-open. How could love hurt?

Attachment suffers, but love does not.

Still, we drag our attachments around with us like the mother mouse dragging her 7 nearly full-grown children. Like her, we are worn out and panting from our burden of attachment, but how can we lay it down?