Monday, April 30, 2012

Chasing the Pleasant

My plants are like pets this week. Outdoors. Indoors. Outdoors. Indoors. Now that the freezing weather has ended, they can go outdoors again and stay there.

People around here are returning from a week of spring vacation, but for my plants, summer vacation is beginning.

Our own constant motion is an attempt to find a pleasant place to abide. But pleasantness is fleeting. Out bodies keep chasing warmth--sometimes flying thousands of miles to find it. Or we chase coolness. We chase comfort. When we sit still, the body in meditation, our mind continues to chase pleasantness by daydreaming or dozing.

Come home to your body. Rest right here in its changing sensations.
Come home to the mind and its kaleidoscope of changing thoughts.

Allow pleasantness to come and go, just like it always does.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Forsythia Stress

All forsythias are not created equal. The yellows vary from lemon peel to butter to golden. My neighbors' forsythia radiantly reaches its arms to the sun. Mine droops and is finished blooming.

I'm dissatisfied (= stress). I want one of those really yellow forsythias (= stress).

Let's see. I could rip out the forsythia i have (= stress), and ask my neighbor for a sucker from his forsythia, and then wait a few years (= stress) for it to grow into glory.

Or maybe my location isn't sunny enough? (= more stress)

The dissatisfied mind tries to problem-solve its way out of stress and thereby fails to notice the 1st Noble Truth: Stress exists.

The problem is stressful, and the problem-solving is stressful.

Relax into the is-ness of this moment.
This moment.
Just as it is.

Short-Lived Redbud

Several years ago i brought home a gallon of redbud seeds from the woods near the house i grew up in, in Indiana. Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are a delightful little spring-blooming tree, whose pinky-red "buds" are followed by heart-shaped leaves.

I now live on the northernmost edge of the range of redbud, so i planted my little seedlings in the sunniest location i have, on the edge of the woods, facing south.

One of these redbuds now overarches a third of my herb garden. And it looks like it will fall victim to the new construction of a garage.

Something dear and delightful is going to die--very soon.
Everything we cherish will perish.

We could take the attitude "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die," but this intemperateness trades desperation for momentary pleasure.

Seeing clearly the desperateness of our situation, we could instead feel grateful for what we have. Gratefulness leads to joy, and joy feels like love.

I love my redbud tree.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Up in Smoke

I burned 3 BIG brush piles yesterday. The wages of 12 felled trees is death by fire. 12 trees have a lot of branches!

I now smell like wood smoke. My clothes, my hands. I did wash my hair before going to dinner at my neighbors last evening. But they probably didn't notice since the wind blew the smoke in the direction of their house for much of the day.

In smoke we can "see" all 4 elements--air, fire, earth, and water. We can--unusually--see air, which is otherwise invisible. We can see waves of heat. Dark smoke is tiny particles of earth (or solidity) flying up in sparks. White smoke is the water element being released from pine needles and maple leaves.

One day our own bodies will go up in smoke, and all that will be left will be a pile of ashes.

Next summer, the grass that grows where the brush piles were will be oh-so-green.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Believing What the Mind Says

I should listen--i mean, really listen--to my neighbor Connie. Two days ago, she asked me, "Will a poinsettia survive a frost?" She pointed to her big, beautiful, red-red poinsettia.

And then i said, "Oh, it's not going to freeze again." And i really believed my own opinion.

It's 32 degrees this morning.

After a 30-year friendship, you would think i would know: Connie is intuitive. She "knows" things, and the charming thing is, she doesn't even know she knows.

Meanwhile, i continue to believe whatever opinion i have, as if it is the truth.

Believing a thought is a form of craving. We believe everything that goes through our mind, as if we are little children believing every word our parents tell us. In fact, that soothing voice of the parent is the reason our mind thinks--it's trying to soothe us. (Just think of a 3-year-old repeating, to herself, what Mommy said: "Don't touch the prickers. Don't touch the prickers.")

More likely, the mind is soothsaying. And if you believe what it's saying, there's a freezer in Alaska i'd like to sell you. :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eye-catching Gold

The shrub Physocarpus (a.k.a. Ninebark) is leafing out. I have 2 varieties.  Dart's Gold looks like forsythia from a distance with its bright yellow-green leaves, but the color last weeks longer than forsythia flowers which are already dropping to the ground.

My other variety is called "Summer Wine" and its red-purple leaves create a nice accent in an otherwise green background.

I particularly like the eye-catching yellow-green leaves of Dart's Gold, which draw my attention, no matter where i am in the garden. The rest of the garden is spring-beautiful and delightful to walk around in, yet Physocarpus overwhelms my visual field and completely stops my wandering eyes.

As we approach concentration in our meditation, our attention is captured by something pleasant and delightful in the body-mind. When joy arises, delight in it, fill yourself with it. Joy comes before concentration.

Wake up joy and wake yourself up :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blooming Temperature

In this strange, prolonged spring of hot and cool weather, tulips are blooming at the same time as daffodils. Refrigerator weather "saves" the early blooms, and warm weather entices the mid-season bloomers.

Finding the right temperature for our meditation can be a matter of fine-tuning. While on my month-long retreat, the woman next to me wore 3 blankets, a hat, a neck scarf, mittens, toasty slippers and a blanket over her feet.

I took off my socks and sat barefoot with a cotton shawl draped loosely on my shoulders so that my arms and hands were free. I was aiming toward a temperature just above goose bumps because warmth wilts my meditation. Socks = sleepiness.

Each person's and each flower's thermostat is different.
At what temperature does your meditation bloom?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Creeping Time

During this dry weather, my moss garden looks pathetic. The moss itself is dark green/brown and desiccated.

After a sprinkle the other night, the moss looked fabulous in the morning mist, but by noon it had returned to its parched appearance.

My moss garden is an artifact of a time when it grew in the shady woods. But the trees around it were cut 20 years ago, and it's been located in nearly full sun ever since.

I've interplanted thyme among the moss--an unusual combination, but the the location and conditions are actually more suited to a thyme garden than a moss garden.

The moss lacks the element of water and looks old, brittle, and patchy brown. Our own skin ages in a similar manner as our bodies desiccate, decade by decade. Time creeps over our skin, into our muscles, and silently leaches calcium from our bones.

Since life is short, how do we spend our precious time?
What is most important to you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Desire Drives Us--Straight to the Garden Center

In this dry, dry weather, i'm working hard to NOT buy flowers or shrubs. Transplanting anything right now will require the constant maintenance of daily watering.

Renouncing the sense desire of buying beautiful plants is not easy. For the moment, i'm distracting myself by transplanting some of my houseplants into the flowerbeds.

I begin with the annuals: Begonias thrive in dry soil, so i plant several of them under an overhang where the soil is sandy and protected from rain. Geraniums remain in their pots, but are showing their stuff beside the front door.

Diamond Frost euphorbia, a perpetual bloomer of scattered white petals, has returned to its summer home in the white garden.

Our desire for sense pleasures--sights, sounds, tastes, and touches--drives us, drives our feelings, drives our minds. Sometimes that desire drives us straight to the garden center.

Notice the stress hiding behind or inside of desire. Feel desire pounding in your heart and rationalizing in your mind. Feel the stress in your body.

Go ahead and buy if you must in order to really teach yourself this lesson

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring Springs Up

Fiddlehead ferns are unfurling. It's time to eat spring.

In the herb garden, the French sorrel is ready to leap into a lemony soup, and the Egyptian (or walking) onions somersault into salads, stir-fry skillets, and sauces of all sorts.

The lawn grows violets and dandelion greens in profusion--perfect for a spring-tonic salad.

In pockets of lime-rich soil in the woods, wild leeks grow in abundance.

Change is happening at a rapid rate as spring springs up all around us.
How do you feel about change?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Impermanence has struck again. The logger cut down 6 trees yesterday, and my side "yard," which was really only an herb garden, is now quite spacious and airy.

Sometimes, it's time to clear away portions of our life--relinquish a toxic relationship, turn loose of some responsibilities or a volunteer job, renounce an addictive habit, opt out of e-mail newsletters.

Even though letting go is difficult, we are rewarded with a feeling of "Ahhh." Now we can breathe again. Now we can see the forest for the trees.

In my side yard, some trees have been sacrificed. Now i can see more clearly.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Taking Our Meditation Outdoors

I took my hanging plants outdoors yesterday for their summer vacation. For the next 5 months, they'll live under a second-story deck where they'll be mostly shaded. It's so easy to care for them there; just turn on the hose and give them a shower on the days when it doesn't rain.

Perhaps it's time to take our meditation outdoors too. I love to sit on the deck in the early morning, bundled in a jacket and warm shawl. What a great opportunity to practice hearing meditation when the birds are singing their hearts out.

When our meditation is pleasant, then our hearts are happy, and for a moment, we can sit in the calm of natural meditation.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gasping Gardens

The garden is gasping. Although we've had 3 sprinkles since the beginning of April, rainfall adds up to 1/10 of an inch so far this month. In March, we had 1/2 inch of rain, and in February 1". The soil feels like powder.

Fortunately my well produces 12 gallons/minute, so i have begun watering the flowerbeds. These beds have a new covering of mulch, which serves to keep dampness in the soil (just in case there is any) and to prevent evaporation.

Aging drys our bodies up, as various lubricating fluids become scarce for the post-menopausal woman. The first thing that happened to me was frozen shoulders, where the synovial fluid in the joints disappears. A year of daily therapy or yoga (on each side) eventually restored mobility.

For now, the gardens are living on their store of energy, and our bodies do the same. The garden looks the same as in a rainy spring, and i look less and less like i did in the springtime of my life.

Let's go get a drink of water and recognize that the water in the glass is not different from the water in the body is not different from the water in a daffodil.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Momentary Fragrance of Easter Lilies

My sweetie plays the organ at church, and last Sunday he brought home an Ester lily. We've enjoyed its blooms all week, but the greatest pleasure is walking into the house at night. The deep fragrance of Easter lily hits our nostrils. It smells like heaven.

As we well know, the sense of smell very quickly acclimates, and, after a minute or two, we no longer smell the wonderful scent.

Our other physical senses--taste, touch, seeing, and hearing--also acclimate. We fill up on one taste, and think we are full, but we then mysteriously have room for dessert :) (A different flavor.) People who live near busy streets or airports or railroad tracks don't even hear the noise anymore.

We tune out 95 percent of our experience, so we can pay attention to whatever is changing. Our sixth sense--the mind--stays extremely busy, leading us from one train of thought to another. Our mind is always "changing," and that's where our attention goes. Some of us "live" in our mind.

One definition of mindfulness is "keeping mind together with body." Let's practice mindfulness today. Now.

Bring the mind to the body sitting. Notice what your hands are doing. Pay attention to your feet. Notice reading and the movement of the eyes.

Notice life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Smiling Pansies

I transplanted three 6-packs of pansies into 2 flowerpots on my front step. This way i can see a pansy blast every time i walk toward the front door. I can't help but smile when i look at their smiling little pansy faces.

I used to buy a flat of pansies and scatter them throughout 3 or 4 flowerbeds, but i soon lost track of them in the midst of the burgeoning growth of spring. The advantage to a flowerpot of pansies is the concentration of blooming happy faces for 3 months, until July's heat wilts them.

Sometimes we scatter our spiritual practice around, trying first one teacher then another, trying one spiritual path and then another.

Our meditation practice can lead us to smiles if we concentrate our efforts. Focus on the path with heart.

What is your path? Where does your heart resonate?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Goodbye, Dear Hemlock

For years, i've been parking my car under a hemlock tree. I call it my "hemlock garage" because its evergreen branches keep the snow off my car in the winter and the sun off my car in the summer.

Today a logger is coming to cut down the hemlock (and 10 other trees), in preparation for building an actual garage.

Goodbye dear hemlock.

Change is difficult, even when we bring it upon ourselves. We want, and we don't want. On the horns of this dilemma, the mind fights a civil war with itself, and peace is nowhere to be found.

Change is happening every minute, every second. When we recognize this truth, we begin to break through the illusion that we call "reality." We begin to break out of the dream state we walk around in.

I'm going outdoors now to wrap my arms around my dear hemlock tree.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Beauties

We hiked Mt. Greylock yesterday, the highest mountain in Massachusetts. The trail began with half a mile of spring beauties peeping at us through the leaf litter of last fall's dead leaves. These beautiful little flowers carpeted the forest floor, acres and acres of them.

Spring beauties are another ephemeral wildflower. Here today, gone next week.

We are also here today and gone in a few decades. None of us will live to see the 22nd century. Probably our children will not live that long either. Even my grandchildren (born in 2000 and 2003) are unlikely to see the next century.

Ouch! That unpleasant thought is an indicator of stress. That pang in the heart is the feeling of stress.

Everything that is born grows old and dies. The "spring" of life and beautiful bodies can last until almost 40. Then aging begins to become apparent, little by little, and oh-so-slowly.

"Let's don't think about it" is one way to continue our delusion, which is certainly more pleasant than truth.

Life is ephemeral. Do we have the courage to face truth?
Or shall we continue to sleepwalk through our life?

"Life is not truly Life while the thought of death can still disturb it."
Karlfried Graf Durckheim

Monday, April 9, 2012

Look Stress Straight in the Eye

April showers are few and afar between this year. When rain does fall, as is forecast for today, it lives up to its name of "shower" and doesn't last long. My new Wellingtons remain unused.

Usually i rely on April's showers to do my watering for me when i plant and transplant, but this spring i am dragging the hose with one hand every time i have a trowel in the other hand.

This lack of rain is another example of stress in the garden: we want things to be different than they are. We want the weather to be different than it is. I don't want to carry the hose with me everywhere i go. I do want to wear my cute new Wellies.

I want.... I don't want....
Fill in those sentences for yourself, and look stress straight in the eye.

"I don't want stress" is just another stressor.

Look stress straight in the eye.
Feel it in your body.
Stick with it for 10 seconds and notice that it disappears of its own accord.

Welcome to another changeable day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Bloodroot has been blooming for 2 weeks. This is one of the spring ephemerals--so-called because the flower and even the leaves last just a short time. Usually bloodroot flowers for about 5 days. The leaves disappear by July, as the root goes dormant. Then we forget about them altogether until these wild-flowers spring up next April.

We too are ephemeral. When we are 20, we see life stretching out a long way in front of us. By the time we're 50, we can see the finish line, and when we're 80, we wonder where it all went so fast. Our friends, and maybe we, ourselves, sometimes fade too soon. My 53-year-old friend, Waew, has cancer for the third time.

Life is short.
What's most important to you?
Focus on that now.

This moment of beauty is the only one we have.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Transplanting Ourselves

You may recall that last October 19th, a 6-foot deep trench was dug from my well, through my flowerbed, to the house. The small-leaved PJM rhodendron that camoflaged the well-head was dug up, so i took pieces of it and planted them in the thinned-out woods where i have a woodland path.

Planting the little rhododendrons seemed if-fy since the woods soil is thin and full of roots and rocks. I'm happy to report that 4 of them survived, and only 1 skinny one died. I'm mulching them heavily now to sustain them through the summer, when the woods soil becomes dry. Also, because they are out-of-sight, out-of-mind and out-of-reach for the garden hose.

Sometimes, we ourselves suffer the stress of uprooting ourselves and moving to a different location: home, work, friends, or spiritual home. We replant ourselves in the new location, and hopefully we "take."

The PJMs are budded now and will bloom soon :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Amaryllis Patience

An amaryllis is blooming in my solarium. I bought this pot of 2 bulbs at a library plant sale. I've been watering their strappy green leaves for almost 2 years, and finally! Flowers!

Sometimes we feel like even though we consistently water our meditation practice, nothing is happening.

Patience, my dear friend.
Patience with your meditation.
Patience with your nearest and dearest.
Patience with your aging parents and with your co-workers.

Patience is one of the 10 supreme qualities (paramis or paramitas) that we practice, practice, practice. After all, practice makes perfect.

Patience is an antidote to irritation.
"Count to 10," your mother said.
Nowadays, you might count 10 breaths before you respond.

Patience is an antidote to desire.
Watch desire arise in the mind. Feel "I want" in your body.
Notice that it passes.
Even if the same desire re-posts itself in your mind 1/2 second later.

Patience is an antidote to confusion.
You don't actually need to know the answer to the question right this minute (although you may want the answer right now).
Feel confusion in your body.
Watch the ripples of confusion in your mind.

Patience is a remedy that cures many ills, many dis-eases of the mind.

Patience, my dear.
It has taken the amaryllis 2 years to bloom.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Behind Every Good Pleasure is a Modicum of Displeasure

I cleaned up my community garden plots yesterday, digging out the clover and the witch grass that sneaks in around the edges. I have two 9x12 plots. Even though i love their full-sun site, here's are some examples of the stress that sneaks in around the edges:

  • Driving to the garden. It's only 10 minutes away, and in a village where i often go to run errands, but, in another sense, it's "out of the way."
  • Since i am there infrequently--not more than once a week--i compare my raggedy plot to the neat, burgeoning plots of the women who live within walking distance.
  • Harvesting in a timely fashion.

Recognizing these shreds of stress, i willingly and even happily gave away one of my plots to a friend who is a more assiduous gardener than i.

More is not better. Sometimes we renounce even the things that bring us pleasure, because hiding behind the pleasure are tiny scraps of displeasure. We see the truth behind the pleasure and release our grasp.

What can you let go of today?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cold Wind

A cold front blew in its strong winds the other day, and tore tan beech leaves off the trees. The wind raked leaves across the lawn and into the woods, then changed its mind, switched directions, and blew them across the lawn to the other side. The air was thick with flying dead leaves.

Sometimes our cold heart rakes old, dead wrongs back and forth across our mind. The winds of blame and pain blow strong, and it seems we are at the mercy of our changeable mind.

Don't blame the trigger.
Let go.
Substitute the opposite.

Loving-kindness warms the heart and cools the mind.

Stopping the mind from the rampage of the cold front is a hard assignment. We may want to present our cold aloofness to the world with an unfeeling "Whatever."

Dare to feel that unpleasant oh-so-uncomfortable emotion.
Find the sensation in the body.
Sink into it.
Press into it like an acupressure point.
Watch the mind/pain let go of its own accord.
Apply the balm of loving-kindness.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Manna in the Garden

10 yards of mulch was delivered yesterday. I order a special "Manna Mix," which is half-compost and half-mulch.

Manna, which fell from heaven, fed the wandering Israelites in the desert for 40 years (Exodus 16:14-36). More prosaically, this manna mix feeds my flowerbeds, which in turn, delight my eyes and pleasure my mind.

What feeds us spiritually? A bit of quiet time, a moment of solitude, a stroll through our garden. Bringing mindfulness to this moment relaxes the body and relaxes the mind.

When we let down our guard, as we can safely do in the garden, we can be our authentic self. We come home to ourselves and are sustained by the manna of our garden.

Monday, April 2, 2012

To Plant? Or Not to Plant?

The itch to plant seeds is strong. Here in the North Country, we have another week of freezing nights ahead of us, so the questions is: to plant or not?

If you have a protected space, you can go ahead and plant spinach, lettuce, and other cold weather crops such as kale. My Russian Red kale has already self-seeded and sprouted its tiny dicot leaves.

What does "protected space" mean? South-facing or land inclined to the south, a cold-frame or a substitute cold-frame made of 2 hay bales on the north and west sides of your tiny seeding area. In short, you are looking for protection from the prevailing northwesterly winds.

Our meditation space needs a bit of protection too.

1) Write "meditate" on your daily calendar, so that you don't double-book your meditation time. Being naturally quiet, meditation will always lose out to its louder competitors for your time.

2) Vow to yourself to turn off the computer before meditation. Since i meditate in the early morning, my vow is not to turn on the computer until after i've meditated, after i've contemplated, and after i've hand-written this blog. (I still love pen and paper :)

3) Sit with friends at least once a week. Two people make a group. You only need one other person.

Protecting ourselves from the winds of life, meditation can sprout and grow.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sowing Poppy Seeds

I planted poppies yesterday. A friend told me to sow poppy seeds on top of the last snow. Since i was gone for a month, i may have missed the last snow, but you get the idea: Sow poppy seeds early!

Don't let life--or poppy planting season--pass you by.

Some of us get an early start on our spiritual life, and some of us come to meditation later in life. Fortunately a meditation practice can sprout, no matter what season of life you plant it.

Don't let life with all its delicious delusions pass you by. Meditate today. Meditate now :)