Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Body Water

79 degrees with humidity is my melting point. I like to get my gardening done before the thermometer reaches 79 degrees. Above that, i just want to collapse into water, go to a lake, or paddle away in my kayak. I can limp on in the garden though, if i'm working in the shade.

What a relief to have an excuse to walk into my 60 degree basement where there's a toilet, as well as various gardening paraphernalia, such as bamboo stakes for tall plants that look like they are melting toward the ground.

Using the cool toilet when i am hot and sweaty is a delightful exercise in mindfulness. There's all that coolness to notice. Ahhh. Pleasant. Pleasant. Pleasant.

And then there's the precipitation falling out of the body. Or the composted material.

Another opportunity to reflect on the innards garden before i return to the outer garden.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Believe it or not, i've been washing rocks. Boulders, i mean, ranging in size from beach balls to big double Swiss balls. The excavator unearthed several glacial erratics, which hadn't seen the light of day in thousands of years.

One granite boulder is fine-grained, smooth, and nearly blue. Another has layers of quartz "icing" in between thing layers of granite "cake." And still another exfoliates large grains of quartz "salt" well mixed with smaller-grained biotite "pepper."

I'll place these boulders (1 cubic yard = 1 ton) along my woodland walks for interest.

We want to anchor our mindfulness practice into our daily lives. We do this by practicing sitting meditation as our foundational practice. During the day, we can practice walking, standing, or driving meditation as well as showering, dish-washing, and tooth-brushing practice.

I practice walking meditation on my woodland paths, nodding at the boulders i meet there.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weeding the Cracks

I'm using my weeder--a long, pointy metal dowel with a handle--to weed between the cracks of my fieldstone walkways.

I like creeping thyme or Irish moss or cute little mazus growing in the cracks. But the flowers (or weeds) that volunteer there are more likely to be tall phlox or prolific spiderwort. Bleeding heart likes to grow in the racks of my stone steps.

The weeder is a great narrow tool for getting down int those spots where a trowel won't go. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. The soil loosens, and the plant pops out with its roots attached. Whew!

What are the weeds that grow in the cracks of our lives? I'm sure you know these "familiars"--complaining, judging, desiring, anticipating, hoping, dreaming.

First, we use the tool of mindfulness to identify that weed (a plant growing in the wrong place or a stressful thought). Sometimes, just noticing "Irritation. Irritation." or "Hi, Judge" is sufficient for the thought to dissipate.

But there are some thoughts that come back and back and back. Here's where we need the "weeder" to pry into that thought. How does that thought feel in the body? Where in the body do you feel that thought? Focus, really focus on the sensations of that thought/feeling. What do you notice?

Sink into that sensation/feeling. Allow your attention to be completely consumed by it. What happens?

One by one, we pry stressful thoughts out of our lives. One step at a time, we become happier.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thriving in the Right-for-Us Location

Three years ago, i transplanted saruma to a different location, under the eaves of the house on the north side. In that complete and total shade, it has multiplied into a couple of dozen babies.

Meanwhile, i seem to have lost the "mother plant" in the original location.

In order to bloom, we have to be in the right-for-us location. No one else, or almost no one else, may be there. Many, many other plants would languish under the eaves on the north side, but saruma thrives. I thrive in a situation with just a few social contacts. My meditation practice thrives when i have less "to-do" in my life.

Where do you thrive? Where and when does your meditation practice thrive?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The library is having a Book & Plant Sale this weekend. What a great opportunity to give them a pile of books i am not going to read again :)

And it's also an excellent opportunity for me to stroll through the garden, trowel in hand, and dig up plants that are too crowded or that have volunteered in the "wrong" place. In the vegetable garden, i have 4 square feet of dill. That's a LOT of dill that reseeded itself. I pot it up into 2 flats of 6-packs.

Generosity, giving things away, cancels out greed.  I used to collect books. I thought more books was good. Then i took a hard look at my wall of books. It wasn't really very pretty. Is that what i thought my brain looked like?

I used to collect plants, but my flowerbeds are full to overflowing. In order to put something in, i have to take something--or a few somethings--out.

Let's take several things out of the flower and vegetable gardens and give them away. Let them multiply in someone else's garden, and the joy of giving will multiply in our heart.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The garden has entered another season. The lettuce-green of early spring has intensified to the rich chlorphyll-green of mid-spring. Daffodils have faded away. Now giant purple allium balls and iris provide the pick-up and interest in the flowerbeds.

What provides the interest in your meditation? Sometimes our interest in the breath fades. Sometimes our loving-kindness meditation feels flat. We are practicing the skill of mindfulness, and like learning any skill--driving, a musical instrument, or a new sport--we have to figure out ways to keep ourselves interested in the subject. What would happen if i....?  Experiment. My book, The Meditative Gardener, offers a hundred possible meditations and contemplations to keep the mind interested.

We have entered a new season, a new week, a new day. Look with new eyes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bluebird of Happiness

I have installed several bluebird houses out near my vegetable garden because it's the most open area i have here in the woods. You're supposed to put 2 houses within 10 feet of each other, so the swallows can have one and the bluebirds the other. Otherwise, the swallows will take over and defend their territory.

I bolt the bluebird house to an 8-foot long PVC pipe, then slide the pipe down over a fencepost, like a sleeve. Usually chickadees take up residence, or sometimes a mouse family.

Yesterday i saw an actual bluebird on one fencepost and 2 swallows on 2 other fenceposts. What a festival of blue birds :) I was thrilled to see the bluebird of happiness. And i was equally thrilled to have a rare sighting (for me) of sleek swallows.

Thrill. Joy. Happiness. Really, any bird can touch the happiness chord in us. Stop. Feel what happiness feels like. Allow it to permeate your body. Soak in happiness for at least 30 seconds--this "soaking" will retrain your brain so that you'll have easier access to happiness.

Somewhere over the rainbow,
Bluebirds fly.

Our hearts can fly over the rainbow too.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Graceful Viburnum

Double-file viburnums are in bloom. These architectural-looking shrubs grow up to 8 feet tall. Their "arms" stretch out to about 8 feet wide, and clusters of white wrist corsages cover their arms, all the way to the "shoulder."

The dancer-like grace of this shrub thrills every visitor.

I planted this white-blooming shrub in between a magenta rhododendron and a raspberry-colored rhododendron. Wasn't i just complaining about the magenta-raspberry color combination 2 days ago? White "cures" it. Place white between any 2 "hard" colors, and it's remarkable how they suddenly get along with each other. We could say white is a cure-all.

Mindfulness is the cure-all we can bring to any situation. Mindfulness "cures" us (one moment at a time) of the next desire or the next hard judgment we were about lay on someone. Mindfulness adds grace to our words and to our actions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

70% Humidity

Rain. Fog. Mist. Drizzle. Overcast.

The humidity today is about 70%. Since the body is 70% water, perhaps we could say that the "humidity" of the body is 70%.

What if we could "see" the mist of the body? Mist has no boundaries, but permeates everything, everywhere.

What if the boundary of our body blurred into our surroundings/ What if we could not see any difference between the mist "here" and the mist over "there," or the mist sitting next to us?

What if we could see that there is no such thing as "my" water?
What if we noticed that "my" water is the same as all the other water i see?
What if we saw "my" water flowing into the world around us and water from the world around us flowing into us?

Rain. Fog. Mist. Drizzle. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to call "mine."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I am a lover of bright colors--my living room is teal and the adjacent dining room is purple. My office is shocking pink, and the trim on my house is magenta.

But seeing a mass of lamium bloom magenta under a crabapple with raspberry-colored blossoms, well, that magenta-raspberry combination just sets my teeth on edge. The little tree looks more or less permanent, so yesterday i literally rolled up the carpet of lamium onto 3 sleds (which are very useful for hauling masses of plants).

Magenta and raspberry next to each other = Unpleasant.
What a relief to see bare ground = Pleasant

We want to push away The Unpleasant (or, in my case, haul it away).
We want more of The Pleasant. Now i can transplant some wildflowers into the shade of the crabapple. Won't that look lovely?

Pleasant and Unpleasant drive us incessantly, minute after minute, day after day, as we try to escape The Unpleasant and as we chase The Pleasant.

Notice this today while you are in your garden.

I think i'll plant some blue forget-me-nots amongst another patch of lamium because that is a color combination that i find very pleasant :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I Hire a Gardener

In order to go on a 6-week retreat one September, I had to abandon my vegetable garden. I gave away 20 pounds of onions, 30 pounds of tomatoes, and a couple of dozen peppers.

Every day on retreat, i did walking meditation beside the retreat center's little vegetable/flower garden. And i watched my mind garden, even though i was restraining my body from pulling weeds or picking cherry tomatoes. Day after day, i silently worried, Is anyone going to pick those cherry tomatoes before it frosts?

The advantage of all those hours of sitting on a cushion and calming the mind enabled me to notice that my mind focuses first and foremost on The Unpleasant: a weed, unpicked vegetables, dead flower heads.

Yet it is the pleasantness of the garden--a ripe cherry tomato--that leads me to joy, happiness, and more calmness. How could i more easily focus on Pleasantness?

I decided to hire a gardener. Elisha comes for 7 or 8 hours a week. She weeds, she edges, she deadheads. I return from a week away, and the gardens look great. Elisha does the heavy lifting work of mulch and manure. She wrestles shrubs out of holding beds so that we can replant them in a more permanent location. She takes the stress out of gardening.

Hiring a gardener is a win-win-win situation. She receives a paycheck. The gardens bloom profusely. And i enjoy the pleasantness of beautiful gardens, which bring me happiness and peace.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Grew It From Seed

The redbud tree has been cut down, and only its purple-pink "buds" remain, scattered on the ground, like my tears.

"I grew it from seed," i lament.
As if that were possible.

I collected the seeds from a redbud tree in the yard of the house i grew up in, in Indiana.
I scattered the seeds in a flowerbed.
I waited.

The seeds grew themselves.
"I" had nothing to do with it, except that i recognized the sprouts and didn't pull them out, thinking they were weeds.

Every spring i scatter thousands of seeds.
And now i lament the death of one of those seeds i planted.

Which seed was it?
I have no idea.

I had a 2-gallon container full of redbud seeds. I didn't pick out one seed, and say "You're going to become a tree." Hundreds of those seeds never sprouted, but about a dozen did.

Those seeds grew themselves.
I had very little to do with it.

Isn't it funny how language can warp our perception?

"I" grew it from seed.
Therefore it belongs to "me."
Thus i cry over losing something that is "mine."

I-me-mine is just an idea, just a concept.

The seeds grow themselves.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hide It in Plain View

The process of construction has deconstructed my compost bins, so i put my kitchen waste into a 5-gallon bucket and eventually haul it to the compost piles out behind the vegetable garden. If the raccoons don't get to the bucket before it do.

This experience proves my point: Your compost pile needs to be easily accessible. Otherwise, you won't go there.

The corollary to "easily accessible" is: Hide it in plain view.

My usual compost bin is right beside the spot where i park my car, off to the left side of the driveway. The visitor who drives into the driveway is looking straight ahead at an arbor and at the house with magenta trim (now, there's a focal point!) on the right side. Their eyes are not taking in what's on the left side. Many people don't even see that there's a place to park their car, right beside my car! Instead they park in front of the garage door.

Many wise insights are likewise "hidden in plain view." One of these days, our own bodies will be going to the compost pile. Nevertheless, we avoid making our will or filling out our advance directives (such as living will, durable power of attorney for health care, and a regular power of attorney). We avoid talking to our nearest and dearest about what we would want to happen if we were disabled in a car crash today.

The mind thinks: "Oh, surely not today." "Other people die, but i won't."

If you don't want the raccoons raiding your compost pile or your loved ones dithering in the event of an emergency, make a trip to your compost pile now and take a good long look at it. Everything decays. Everything. And everyone.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Now that the daffodils are finishing blooming, tulips usually take up the slack. But i gave up planting tulips years ago because i was tired of waging war on bulb-eating chipmunks. I so much more enjoy watching them scamper around the flower beds than growling at them for their culinary predilections.

Money plant (Lunaria) and leucojum are blooming all over my garden now. They been flowering for 3 weeks and will continue for another 3 weeks. I do like flowers that last a long time.

Money plant is also called Honesty. This concept of Honesty leads us directly to 2 of the 5 precepts:
  • not taking what isn't offered
  • speaking truthfully and helpfully
Honesty, or truth-telling, needs to be balanced with being beneficial. What we are about to say may be true, but is it helpful?

The Metta Sutta (the sutra on loving-kindness) says "straight-forward and gentle in speech."

Sometimes we refrain from honesty in order not to hurt the other person's feelings. This intention is a very fine line to walk, so i frequently reflect on how "straight-forward and gentle" applies to my current situation. We don't sacrifice honesty for gentleness nor do we sacrifice gentleness for truth.

Honesty "holds" the bloom in my garden during this mid-spring season. I work on holding the bloom of honesty in all my relationships.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Big Rocks

I collect football-sized river rocks to line the path through my wildflower woodland. The excavation has unearthed a dozen of these plus a few small boulders--all left behind from the glacial wash-out of the last Ice Age.

Have you heard the story about the master who fills a large jar with fist-sized rocks and then asks the student, "Can i fit any more in here?"
The student says, "No."
The master then takes some gravel and shakes it into the spaces between the rocks. Then he asks the student, "Can i fit any more in here?"
The student says, "Well, i suppose so."
The master then uses sand, which sifts into the spaces between the gravel. Then he asks the student, "Can i fit any more in here?"
The student shakes his head doubtfully.
The master fills the jar with water. "Now," he asks, "what's the lesson here?"
"Well, you can always fit more in," the student sighs.
"No," says the master.  "Put the big rocks in first."

We live our lives as if we can always fit more in.
What are your "big rocks"?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Curtailing the Impulse to Buy, Buy, Buy

This spring, with so much construction happening and so much deconstruction of the herb garden, i'm renouncing buying plants. Well, let's say, i'm renouncing going overboard. So far, i have bought pansies, onion plants, grape cherry tomatoes, and 1 variegated impatiens.

I bring my small haul home and don't stop at the garden center again until i've planted what i have. This step-by-step method really slows down my purchasing. The fringe benefit is that it's good for my pocketbook.

Curtailing my impulse to buy, buy, buy feels like going against the grain. Desire wants to spring into sprig with all its hope and promise. Desire doesn't have our best interests at heart. My heart rests easier with less planting to do. My heart is happier with less.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Wisdom of Solomon

The gardener dug out a clump of Solomon's seal so large that 30 visiting gardeners could take as much as they wanted. Some walked off with an armload of it. :) And i still have leftovers.

Solomon's seal is a wildflower that grows in dry shade, of which i have plenty. It took me years to find something that would grow under a pine tree or a maple tree. I am happy to give away my extras. Generosity is one aspect of wisdom.

Now it's time to skip into the woods and plant my leftovers.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Earth Shaking

The excavator arrived at 3:00 yesterday afternoon and pulled 12 stumps out of the ground. He was just shaking the dirt off the last one when Perennial Swappers arrived to tour my spring gardens at 6:00.

The gardener, Elisha, and i worked all day to prepare for this earth-shaking event--digging plants, transplanting them, moving delicious black soil out of the herb garden because it's about to buried.

When the earth shakes under our feet, we can hold on for dear life. In order to hold on, we grasp, we cling.

Or we can allow ourselves to be shaken to the core, allow ourselves to be shaken out of the comfortable delusions and the uncomfortable beliefs that bind us to the "great mandala" of samsara (stress).

Look up. Notice the wide open sky.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Herb Garden Changes--and Vanishes

The local garden club is touring my spring garden this evening. Does my garden look good? Of course. It's spring! I have lots of spring-blooming flowers--leucojum (summer snowflake), lunaria (money plant), and phlox divercata (woodland phlox) accent the spaces between the narcissus and jonquils.

Do i feel ready for the garden tour? Of course not. My herb garden is half torn apart due to excavation, which will start tomorrow.

Everything i cherish will change and vanish. My dear herb garden is changing and vanishing. Next month, 2 trenches will be dug through it to connect utilities from the house to the little guest room attached to the garage. Tomorrow, a 4-foot pile of dirt will be piled on top of the back half of the herb garden. It will be a mess out there. Now, it's just a pre-mess.

Everything i cherish will change and vanish, including myself. These "little"changes are just preparing me for the big event.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Needing Support

Now that a dozen trees have been cut down, and the site for a new garage has been staked out, i see that one slender maple looks to be a bit close to the northwest corner. My forester neighbor tells me trees should be about 1/3 crown (i.e., branches & leaves), but this tree is about 1/6 crown.

As i looked up and up its tall trunk, i noticed that the tree was swaying, (There was no breeze.) while all its neighbors stood still. Formerly this maple was a woods tree; now it stands alone at the edge of the woods without the support of its neighbors.

Our meditation practice requires the support of good and upright people--people we admire, friends who keep us walking our walk, people who are "straight" with us.

Even if we don't have actual spiritual friends, chances are we rely on reading books or listening to talks as our spiritual supports.

Who and what supports you in your spiritual practice?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sweet Hoya

My hoya plant is blooming, so, after dinner, when i'm yearning for something sweet, but not too sweet, i walk into my solarium and lick the hoya flowers.

Each waxy umbel has about 30 very small, star-shaped flowers, and each flower secretes 1 drop of nectar, which smells like perfume. That's 30 drops of sweetness :)

Bees drink nectar and produce honey. With the hoya, we humans can also go straight to the source.

The source for our spiritual practice is our sense of integrity. We feel more integral with all of life when we abide close to the 5 precepts:
Today i intend to:
do no harm to anyone,
take nothing that is not freely given,
use my sexual energy wisely,
speak truthfully and helpfully,
and keep my mind clear.

This ethical behavior sweetens our actions.