Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Curly Hose

Last fall, my sweetie brought home a curly hose that looks like a giant-sized old-style telephone cord. I had been looking at these hoses in the gardening supply catalog for a few years, but i wasn't sure it would be quite right for my solarium.

Once the automatically-coiled hose appeared in my life, however, i immediately put it to use. But first, i had to buy a faucet-to-hose adapter at the hardware store, which is very easy to install. Suddenly, i could neatly water my 50 houseplants, even the ones that are 20 feet away from the sink.

There's a lot of meditation paraphernalia in the catalogs. How do you decide which cushion? Which bench? Which statue? Which shawl? We buy beautiful things hoping they will help us calm our mind.

Mostly, i have waited for items to appear in my life. My meditation cushion is a pillow, shaped like a turtle, that my sister made for me a couple of years before i started meditating. My nephew bought me a shawl in Nepal.

In a sense, the paraphernalia hardly matters because once we close our eyes, we are face-to-face with our own minds regardless of the outer regalia. We only need enough to be comfortable.

I do love watering my houseplants with the curly hose. And my purple shawl keeps me warm in the quiet hours of an early morning meditation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Flowerpot Inventory

How many flowerpots do you have? And where do you keep them?

Because i give away hundreds of plants each year, i have an extensive inventory of used pots. I keep the nice-looking ones, the hanging baskets, and the terra-cotta pots in the cellar. The run-of-the-mill plastic pots, i hide behind my compost piles for easy access because my usual routine is
  1. pick up a pot
  2. plop in a plant
  3. fill with compost
  4. water
My sweetie has object to my helter-skelter collection of pots because it looks messy. "But," i say, "you and i are the only ones who see them because they're hidden from public view by the compost bins, which are themselves hidden."

Yesterday i stacked the whole mess of pots neatly and stored them in the woodshed. The impetus? A tree leaning at a 60 degree angle next to the compost pile is going to be cut down.

I know my flowerpot collection is valuable only to me. If i died tomorrow they would all be thrown in a dumpster, or better, taken back to the recycling program where i got them in the first place.

All our collections are slated for dispersal--our knick-knacks, our housewares, our furniture. Even our collection of friends shifts and changes slightly from year to year as people move away; or we ourselves move or change jobs.

Everything i cherish will change and vanish. Even my collection of flowerpots.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Proliferating Spider Plant

It's time to clip all the "spiders" off my prolific spider plant and root them in a jar of water. They root so easily. Then, in a couple of months, i will use the little plants as an edging in my white garden.

Yes, we usually think that a spider plant is a houseplant that belongs in a hanging basket, but why not use it as an annual in the flowerbed?

As we become more familiar with joy, and that it naturally arises from a lack of desire, we find that joy proliferates, and we can "plant" it all over our life.

Time to take cuttings of the spider plant so it can proliferate :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Frozen Snake

A friend went for a walk in the woods the other day and found a frozen garter snake. What's a snake doing outdoors in February? This one was seeking warmth under a cover of leaves, but on the previous night of 18 degrees, a few leaves were not warm enough. A warm sunny day (48 degrees) had lured the garter snake into spring, but the frost that night was killing.

Sometimes a warm, cozy bed lures me into lolling around when i could just as well be meditating. The dark of pre-dawn is an excellent quiet time for the solitude of meditation. Yes, the house is chilly, but i have my fleece pants and tops all laid out, ready to hop into.

When the chill of a killing frost comes to us, where will we find our warmth of mind?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Watering Houseplants

While i was away on retreat last week, i relied on my sweetie to water the houseplants. He is a diligent person, so he faithfully carried out the chore. However, he was happy to hand the responsibility back to me the moment i walked in the door Sunday night.

Sometimes our meditation can feel like a chore. It's a routine task we have set for ourselves. Sometimes we go about it cheerfully; we look forward to watering our friends, the plants, or to watering our practice. Sometimes we think, "Oh, no. I don't want to do it." Anticipation has turned from pleasant to unpleasant.

Take a closer look at the unpleasant thoughts and feelings of anticipation.

Because we do know that once we have the watering can in hand and are communicating with our houseplants, or once we have actually sat ourselves down on the meditation cushion, our feelings are rather pleasant. We are growing happiness.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tapping into Happiness

With daytime temperatures above freezing and nighttime temperatures below freezing, the sap is starting to run. It's time to tap the sugar maples.

My Dharma friend, Vera tapped 22 trees in her yard yesterday. My farmer-neighbor taps 147 trees on my property while he himself has thousands of taps. It takes 40 gallons of sap to boil down to 1 luscious golden gallon of maple syrup.

Sometimes, it feels like it takes 40 years of life to distill ourselves into the person we want to be, but haven't quite dared.

My life began at 40 when i followed my bliss and wrote a book. For my friend, Trudy, life began at 60 when she left an abusive marriage.

Do we just let dissatisfaction boil our lives away? How do we finally tap into sweet happiness?

There are 2 kinds of happiness:
Surface Happiness--when we get what we want, and
the Deep Happiness of contentment with life, regardless of our outer circumstances.

The first step to finding deep happiness is to practice gratitude every day. Notice, really notice the people, things, and situations in your life for which you are truly grateful.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bluebirds of Happiness

I just returned from a retreat in Virginia where bluebirds were flirting with each other. It's time to clean out your bluebird houses because they will be here sooner than you think.

Bluebird houses should be located in an open field or lawn, preferably not on a tree. Place 2 bluebird houses on fence posts (for example) about 15 feet apart. Sparrows will live in one, but due to defending their territory, the bluebirds can live in the other.

Bluebirds like to perch on high (but it doesn't have to be too high) so they can see what's happening below. The ones i saw perched on the backs of Adirondack chairs, then dove to the ground for a worm or insect.

Bluebirds bring happiness when we see them, but if we really look, we will notice that feeding birds, whatever color they are, and hearing birds sing also brings us the happiness of joy.

Cultivating joy is just that easy: Stop and notice the birds in your life. Stop and feel happiness.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cutting Trees

To cut a tree down? Or not?

Living in the woods eventually presents the conundrum of shade--shade (and all those tree roots) in the garden and a shady (i.e., dark) house. We come to the forest for the trees, yet living in the shade, we yearn for sun.

A neighbor is having logger cut down a swath of the pine plantation that a farmer planted in 1939. She recently had solar-voltaic panels installed, so the logging project began as a quest for more sunlight. Now, the logging truck has made 4 trips to the carry logs to the local sawmill.

But we love our trees. The ones in our yard nearly acquire personalities. I've been parking my car under a hemlock for 20 years. I call it my Hemlock Garage for the protection it provides from snow and from sun. Who needs a garage with 4 walls when you have hemlock boughs overhead? Soon this hemlock will be cut down to make way for a real garage.

Trees too are of the nature to die--sometimes not of natural causes. We privilege our own viewpoint and our own human needs.

And the tree says nothing.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I bought the cutest garden shed about 10 years ago. A shed that has windows on the south side, so i thought i could use it as a greenhouse. Oh, the lure of a greenhouse.

As it works out, March nights are freezing in the little sunshed, and April days are sweltering. The plants perish if i forget to water them every forenoon and every afternoon. So the sunshed becomes simply a storage shed with a lot of south-facing windows.

Desire does funny things to our minds and feelings. The garden shed is still cute except that all those windows enable a passerby to look in and see all the junk stored in there. Piles of flower pots and stacks of garden stakes are not very scenic.

How many, many things we buy that don't quite live up to our dreams and expectations. I now buy things knowing that my probability of giving them away is higher than my probability of keeping them. I try to watch the feeling of desire in my body, and the tricks desire plays with my mind.

I have thought about giving the sunshed away or selling it at half-price. But then where would i store my gardening paraphernalia?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day! Candlemas. Or in the Gaelic tradition, Imbolc (meaning "in the belly" = the pregnancy of ewes with those little lambs-to-be). However you think of today, the sun is halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. Already the increase of light feels substantial. We have one hour more daylight than we did 6 weeks ago.

The spirits that returned to earth on November 1 (All Souls Day, also called Dia de los Muertos) and were deep underground on December 21 (Persephone, Queen of the Underworld) are supposedly peeking up today to see if it's safe. Is spring here yet? Will the groundhog see her shadow?

It certainly feels like spring with muddy roads and 50 degrees yesterday. In fact, most of this winter has felt more like pre-spring. Here in the North Country, we've had only one week of zero degree temperatures and only a thin coverlet of snow.

So, during these next 7 weeks until spring equinox, what are we pregnant with? What's our deepest longing?

Even though we are aiming toward non-attachment, the Buddha gave a talk about "One Fortunate Attachment." Fortunately, we have desire for the Dharma, otherwise we would not be on this path.

What's your Dharma desire?
I'm spending 5 of the next 7 weeks on silent retreat. Consider taking just one day of silence yourself.

As Father Thomas Keating, an ecumenical contemplative says,
Silence is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Air Quality in the Home

Houseplants improve our indoor air quality. In these winter days, when our windows and doors are closed tight, it's good to know we can get "fresh" air from our houseplants. Philodendron, dracena, spider plant, English ivy, Ficus, and peace lily are particularly good at converting toxins from household cleaners and poly-urethaned floors.

For the average house (under 2,000 square feet), we need at least 15 houseplants. Do we gardeners need any better excuse for our indoor gardening?

How about improving the quality of our inner "air"? Particularly the air time that our mind gives to various dissatisfactions--at home or work--and irritating neighbors.

Plant some loving-kindness in your mind right now. Begin with your self.
May i feel safe.
May i feel happy.
May i feel healthy. (Thank you my dear houseplants :)
May i feel peaceful.

Send loving-kindness to your nearest and dearest (even if they do have 4 legs :)
And yes, send loving-kindness to that difficult person.

There's the distinct possibility that you will feel neither loving nor kind. That's OK.
This is a practice and we are practicing.

Go ahead. Improve your inner air quality right now.