Saturday, June 30, 2012

It's a Good Year for Weeds

Oxalis, Smartweed, and Purslane
"It's a good year for weeds," Sarah says, when i walk into my weekly writing group.
Isn't every year a good year for weeds?

At the beginning of June, at have the illusion that the gardens are under control. My control. Ha! By the beginning of July, everything, and i mean everything is growing fast. I weed one day, and the next day, more weeds have sprouted in that very spot that was bare the day before.

Mulch is the #1 weed control. I layer it on the flower beds in April, so there are no weeds to speak of there. In the vegetable garden, my only hope is that the weeds camouflage the vegetable plants from the voles. Too much weeding, and there's nothing left but veggie plants a.k.a. vole food.

Weedy thoughts and weedy behaviors abound in our daily lives. Yesterday morning i was drawn into chitchat--talking about people. It's so enticing; it's so fun; it's so useless.

Or how about the nettles i exhibit toward the person i share my house with when he disagrees with me?

It's time to mulch with mindfulness.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Astilbes are blooming. These lovely, airy, partial-shade plants delight the eye with their feather plumes and deeply cut foliage. After about a week's bloom time, the plume begin to turn brown from the bottom up, and the show is over.

Many people exclaim over the beauty of astilbe, but i have never collected them, and only have them because people have given them to me.

Going ga-ga over astilbes is like being entranced by a beautiful young woman. Then she ages, and she still has 50 or 60 years to live. Our gaze falls on the next young beauty.

This is the week for astilbe beauty. Enjoy it now, because all too soon, it is gone.

Photo from

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Refreshing the Front Step

This summer my front step is burgeoning with flowerpots. I've found a discount store where i can buy big glazed flowerpots from Vietnam for $15-$25. Since i bring the potted plants indoors in September, and since about 70 percent of them survive the winter in my solarium, i now have quite a collection of colorful plants.

Still, it's time to refurbish the two pansy pots. They looked good in April, but July is too hot for cool-weather pansies. So i've been tucking various colorful leaves into the pansy pots and even another flower or two. Pulling out live flowers goes against my grain, but the pansies are leggy, wilty, and blooming sporadically. I want the flowers at the front door to look happy and welcoming.

When we get strung out, wilted, or only bloom sporadically, we know that we, like the pansies, are stressed. A friend with an intense summer job sometimes goes to bed at 7:30 in order to refresh herself. Her intention to meditate daily has gotten lost in the daily crush of work. Ironically, she took this summer job so she can afford to go on a month-long retreat next February. :) She will be pulling herself out of this stressful job come September.

What are your stressors? What stressful situations are you in right now? Is there some situation or some relationship that you can pull yourself out of? Or maybe it's as "simple" as a stressful thought.

Let go. Let go of stress. Relax into summer. Relax into your garden.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Perking Up Our Flower Bed

My fenced-in vegetable garden is surrounded by strip beds. The strips are about 3 feet wide and separated by a lawn-mower's width of grass.

Some of the strip beds have vegetables that don't need to be fenced--garlic, onions, leeks, rhubarb, asparagus, and winter squash. Other strips are flower beds filled with re-seeding annuals, such as annual poppies, nigella, nicotiana, and silene. But in April, i also sow larkspur and whatever else tickles my fancy.

Since we are having thunderstorms this week, after a 2-week drought, i am hurriedly transplanting these annuals into the gardens near my house. The extra color really perks up my perennial beds, some of which have sagged into green, in this in-between season.

What perks up your meditation?

This morning i was practicing the restful states--see rest, hear rest, and feel rest.

I feel quite ho-hum about see rest: with my eyes closed, it's just sort of dark behind the eyelids and it doesn't change much.

I do like the moments when internal chatter dies down--"hear rest."

But "feel rest" is the state that draws my attention because it feels pleasant, even really pleasant. Feel rest perks up my meditation.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Namaste Mary

I stopped at a new statuary store and came home with 2 statues. One is called Mary and she carries a rosary on her arm. Her hands are in prayer position, so it looks like she is saying "Namaste." I call her Namaste Mary.

I've placed her on the spiritual loop of my woodland walk along with St. Francis and Kuan Yin.

The other statue is a modernistic Native American woman (probably Southwestern) holding a pot.

My husband is designing his Greek nymph walk through the woods, making stumps into pedestals for very young women dressed in sheer cement.

The statues invite the eye into the woods. Hopefully, visitors will stroll these short paths through the woods.

When you sit down to meditate, what draws your attention?
Sounds? Sensations of the body? The breath? The chattering mind?

The mind can be used as a meditation object, which yields very interesting insights. Because the mind is an extremely slippery object, it is not usually recommended as a meditation object. But if you have built up the muscle of mindfulness you can experiment with watching the mind. It's very helpful to label each distraction to remind you that you are watching the thought and not hopping on that particular train of thought.

Stop now. Maybe close your eyes for just one minute. Meditate on whatever draws your attention.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cereus Angels

My night-blooming cereus bloomed last night. It begins to unfold about 7 p.m. By morning, the blossom has wilted.

The interior of this 5-inch wide flower--the hundred white pistils standing on a platform of petals--looks like a choir of angels. If there's a "tunnel of light" at the end of life, i think it will look like the night-blooming cereus.

I keep this straggly succulent plant all year for the joy of this one blossom. (Only one this year. The friend who gave me this plant is having 7.)

Sometimes our meditation feels like this--all straggly with our mind going every which way. Humming with activity the way the night-blooming cereus vibrates on its stem as the sepals and then the petals spring open in slow motion. But then, once in a while, we happen onto or into a place that feels heavenly.

Angels and Imagination by William Blake
We can increase our chances of finding the "heavenly abodes" by practicing them during meditation. Loving-kindness. Compassion. Appreciative Joy. The tranquility of Equanimity. Marinate in one of these for at least two or three minutes during every meditation period.

Practice now, before life wilts.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Outer and Inner Climate

I am fortunate to have my own well that produces 12 gallons a minutes. So the only cost of watering the gardens for hours and hours on these sweltering days is the cost of electricity.

On these sunny days, our electricity comes from solar-voltaics, which is to say, the sun. So my electricity is "free."

Friends who live in town have a brook running around the back of their property, so they put a little pump in the brook, attach it to their hose, and water their gardens from the brook in order to avoid a startlingly high water bill.

The combination of sun, water, and rich earth means the plants in the veggie garden are growing by leaps and bounds.

In the 90+ degree afternoons, i drive to nearby ponds or rivers to immerse myself for relief from the sun's heat. Ahhh. Cool water refreshes the body.

When our inner climate heats up with irritation or desire, how do we cool ourselves down?
Mindfulness is the cool water that refreshes our senses.

Yes, we may still have to suffer a bit with the inner heat of "I can't believe they...." or "I want....." Feel where those thoughts reside in your body.
Put your attention on those sensations like an acupressure point.
Hold your attention on that tender spot.
Hold it. Hold it.
Tears may come to your eyes.
This is the water that cools down the inner climate.

Friday, June 22, 2012

More is More Stress

Yesterday a friend brought me 2 huge Hogheart (paste) tomato plants. Friends who came for dinner brought me a 6-pack of Thai basil with about 2 dozen seedlings in it. My vegetable garden is already bursting at the seams. Where am i going to put these new plants?

This is the stress of stuff. More seems like better, but then what are you going to do with it? Stress over it :)

I stash my to-be-planted plants on my front step so i'll remember to (a) plant them and (b) water them. My front step is looking cluttered. That's another stress of stuff.

Less is more.
More free time. More relaxing. More money in your pocket. More time for meditation and mindfulness.

I'm giving away half of my Thai basil to a Thai-speaking friend. Ahh. There's the joy of giving.

Photo from

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Solstice Bonfire

I bought an organic chicken at the Farmers' Market and boiled it up to make chicken soup and chicken salad. But what to do with the skin and bones? You're not supposed to compost them, though my compost is full of chicken bones and spare ribs. In the winter, i cremate the bones in my wood stove.

Now that it's summer solstice, i'll have to have a bone-fire. Yes, that's where the word bonfire comes from--burning.... Well, maybe we don't want to think too closely about who was being burned.  Women. Enemies. Burning bones to make lime.

In India, people are cremated in bonfires on platforms along the Ganges River and its tributaries.

So, celebrate the summer solstice with a bonfire as the long summer days begin to die in length.

Photo by Lani Wright

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gladiolous Stress

The Farmers' Market in a nearby village is located right next to the community garden. Each of the 30 little plots is completely different from its neighbors, and each one is beautiful.

A narrow flower bed separates the garden from a wide swath of grass where the Farmers' Market sets up on Sunday afternoon.

Last Sunday, i was sitting on the grass, eating dim sum, and enjoying my eye-level view of coreopsis and peonies, when Gladys rushed over and tried to prop up a broken gladiolus.

"Why can't people control their children?" she muttered. Then, seeing me, she said, "The world need more meditation."

In fact, we can't control our children. We can't control our minds. And we can't control the world.
Wanting control only leads to stress and distress.

Why do we want control? We want to stabilize our world. We want to plant a gladiolus and see it flower. But some of them won't We can't control the gladiolus, Nor the children nor the dogs who walk over them.

We can only watch the world unfold, constantly changing, according to its nature and NOT according to our wishes.

Wanting things to be different than they are is stressful. This is what's happening. Right now. Life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Caught Red-Handed in the Red Cabbage

While i'm in the vegetable garden, i see a dark shadow dart near my new red cabbage plants. I freeze. A vole peeks out from under a nearby foxglove's skirt of velvety leaves, dashes through the fence, and grabs the lowest leaf off the red cabbage. It drags the palm-sized leaf through the fence back to its hiding place. I hope that's enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A nearby cabbage has 7 leaves. The plant that the vole is de-limbing has 3 leaves remaining.

I feel generous. I'm not going to eat those lower leaves. The vole raider can have it, as long as it leaves the stem for me. How high can a vole reach anyway?

Maybe that's the strategy: Buy plants that are taller than 5-inch long voles.

The Buddha says:
With one's wealth collected justly,
won through one's own efforts,
one shares both food and drink
with beings who are in need.

I am rich in cabbage and broccoli plants. And i am sharing my food with a vole-being who needs to feed her babies.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Croaking Frog

A single bullfrog croaks once every 5-10 seconds all night long. Is he snoring? Is he tick-tocking a very slow Nature's clock? Is he serenading his lady friend? Or talking in his sleep?

When someone dies, we say, "He croaked." Supposedly the death rattle sounds like croaking, but that must be a different species of frog from the tenor frog i'm hearing.

Perhaps this croaking frog is reminding me to reflect on death every day (and night) as the Buddha recommended. Life is short. Life is precious. Life is fleeting. And then, it's gone.

The frog croaks.

Photo from

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Voles 30. Cheryl 6.

OK. The voles win. They have scored more of my 3-inch broccoli seedlings than i have. Nibbled off at the stem.

And in the game of cabbages, it's
Voles 12. Cheryl 0.
My little cabbage seedlings have completely disappeared, even the 4 red cabbage 6-inch seedlings that i bought at a farmstand.

I'm going to the Farmers' Market to buy 6-packs of broccoli, green cabbage, red cabbage, and while i'm at it, Brussels sprouts. I want those muscular 10" tall plants so that a vole will need a chainsaw to cut down a broccoli tree.

Voles are quick, dark gerbil-sized creatures that look like a shadow darting through the Swiss chard, which they have also nibbled to the nubbins.

A fellow Master Gardener has made several Vol-inators: He covers a little wooden Clementine box with bark to make it look like a burrow, but he furnishes it with mousetraps.

I just cannot do it. Every morning i take a vow to not harm creatures. I guess this includes the team of voles living around my garden. I'd rather feed the voles my entire crop of cabbage.

But i do have a strategy for our game next season :)

Photo from

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Honor System

A nearby farmer loaded 26 bales of mulch hay onto my Toyota Tacoma pick-up truck. Wow! She really know how to stack hay! She did this while she as milking her handful of sweet brown Jersey cows. Every Monday, i pick up a half gallon of raw milk from her. While i'm there, i may get a dozen eggs, a pound of butter, or some cream for whipping. It's all stored in a refrigerator along with a cash box in a tiny shed, so i can go there any time of the day or night. Everyone pays on the honor system.

If you look closely, you see that we all depend on the honor system. 99.9% of our interpersonal transactions with each other are indeed honorable. We don't take what isn't freely offered. We pay our share.

We feel right when we do the right thing, when we act honorably. Our conscience bothers us when we act dishonorably. We may dismiss our little cheat with a shrug of the shoulders, and think, "They'll never notice." But WE notice. We know of our own dishonesty. We are our own judges. We charge ourselves with dishonorable conduct. No one else may ever judge us for that little, tiny cheat. But if you were dying a few hours later, would you feel absolved? Or would you feel regret and remorse?

Acting honorably puts our mind at ease.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Transplanting Habits of Mind

Thanks to the rain, i walk out to the vegetable garden in the mist and transplant some squash seedlings. It's a good morning for transplanting, so i busy myself with moving plants from here to there.  The larkspur, feverfew, and white mallow are lounging over a walkway, so i uproot them from their home and move them back a couple of feet. Maybe i stake them upright to keep them from getting too relaxed.

What are the habits of mind we would like to transplant into our inner gardens?
Love? Joy? Calm? Gratitude?
We do this, not under the full-sun scorching heat of our critical minds, but with the gentle attitude of kindness.
"Oh, this habit of complaining doesn't really change anything."
"Oh, this habit of desire actually leads to stress."

Look closely at some of your favorite habits-of-mind.
Are they actually getting in your way? Casually lounging over your path? Preventing you from walking your walk?
Recognize them for what they are: stress (probably in disguise).
Be kind to yourself.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Spectacular Fireflies

Fireflies this year are especially spectacular. My sweetie and i lie in the hammock at night for 20 minutes before bedtime and watch these "shooting stars" streak across the dark lawn. They are twinkling to the female glowworms in the grass. Rapidly turning our flashlight on and off once results in the grass lighting up like Christmas lights as the ladies all turn on to us.

This relaxation and en-JOY-ment stimulates the rest-and-digest function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a good antidote to stress.

When you're stressed, where do you find refuge? Many people find refuge outdoors in nature or with their pets.

What's the place, person, or situation where you feel safe and secure?
Go there--in your mind--now.

Take a break from stress and practice "natural" meditation.

Photo from

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Replanting Good Intentions

Photo by Lynne Weinstein
I'm doing a second planting of beets and chard. If i could figure out where to put it, i'd do a second planting of bush beans because the bean plants exhaust themselves in early August, and it would be nice to have a fresh supply of green beans about then.

I have a commit-to-sit going with 2 friends i met recently on a retreat. Our commitment is 2 hours a day. This is proving to be fairly easy for one woman, and nearly non-existent for the one who just took an all-consuming summer teaching job. I myself wax and wane wildly, depending on whether i sit for an hour before the birds starting singing at dawn.

It's time for me to replant my intention. This might mean going to bed earlier. Someone recently told me that the hours you sleep before midnight count double. I'll plant myself in bed before 10:00 tonight.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'm teaching a class on The Neuroscience of Love, Happiness, and Wisdom, and, in the first chapter of our textbook, it says,
Neurons that fire together wire together.

In case you are allergic to the word "science," let me translate that statement into gardener's language:
"You reap what you sow."

In our stressed-out society (read: S.O.S.), we are all planting worry, anxiety, fear, irritation, and doubt. Of course, all of our inner gardens look different, but generally we harvest the same crops: stress and distress.

Our body-mind was built to respond to a sabertooth tiger once a week or once a day, not several times every minute. Our mind responds to its paper tigers with the same fight-or-flight-or-freeze response that our ancestors used for real, live tigers. The cortisol and adrenalin that squirts into our system activates our big muscle groups to get ready to fight or flee. To do this, it cheats our other systems of nourishment--our immune system, gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system, and endocrine system. After a few decades, the cheated system starts to limp along with high blood pressure, colitis, or chronic fatigue.

Let's use our big muscle groups to take us out to the garden where we can relax our body and calm our mind. Give stress a vacation (for at least a few minutes). Sit on your deck and breathe.

Photo from

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Thinning Out

A friend gave me 2 zucchini plants yesterday. Her two hills had each sprouted 4 plants, so she needed to thin them.

Isn't thinning out hard to get around to? It goes against the grain to pull out little green plants. This is the reason i now have 3 dozen broccoli seedlings, spaced a foot apart, in my vegetable garden. I did manage to give away one 6-pack of broccoli. Maybe i should give away some more. What am i going to do with 3 dozen (or even 2 dozen) broccoli? Give them away.

No matter which way i turn, giving away is the answer to the problem. Give them away now or give them away later. What would you choose?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My summer squash seeds still have not sprouted. Well, they were packed in 2004, so i expected a low germination rate. I just hoped it wouldn't be 0%. Oh well, it's time to replant.

I just finished teaching an 8-week class called Begin Again. The students all had previous meditation experience, but meditation had fallen away from their lives. So they began again, as we all do, every time we sit down on the cushion.

It's time to replant our intention to meditate.

What do you aspire to?

In the garden, i aspire to a crop of summer squash (my favorite!)
In meditation, i aspire to daily sitting. I am inspired by the Dalai Lama who arises at 3 a.m. and meditates for 3 hours before turning on the BBC World News at 7:00 a.m. What a great way to start the day.

I've already started my day with a long sit and with writing this Dharma blog. Now it's time to walk out into this summer day and plant summer squash :)

Photo from

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Red-bellied Woodpecker

A red-bellied woodpecker lives nearby. This is a southern bird that i've never seen before in our neighborhood. At first, i thought it was a flicker (they're on succeeding pages of my bird book), but then i looked more carefully at the distinguishing marks. Surprise! It's a red-bellied woodpecker.

Our mind can fool us too. Then we look more closely at a particular thought, or a type of thought, and we find out it's not what we thought it was.

Desire feels good. But look closely at those desiring thoughts--desires for your children or grandchildren, desire for a vacation. We recall the pleasantness and bring it to mind time and again. Then we realize: desire is a stressful thought. It's not as pleasant as we thought it was :)

Take a closer look. Work on identifying those thoughts. Are they useful? Or useless?

Things are not as they seem. Let's aim to see life as it really is.

Photo from

All Balled Up

7 years ago, i bought 3 little 6-inch tall PJM rhododendrons and put them in my holding bed. I transplanted one, one died, and the other one has limped along looking quite puny.

I found that puny one yanked out (by a deer?) and lying on the ground. No wonder the small-leaved rhododendron was still only 6 inches tall. Its roots were growing in a circle, as if it were still confined to a three-inch pot.

Sometimes we confine ourselves--our emotions, our activities--to a very small space. Perhaps we were trained by authoritarian parents or suffered from a trauma that caused us to contract. Our own "rootball" may be confined to a very small space.

Notice how contraction feels in the body.
The mind may believe it's safer to stay small and fly under the radar.
Question that belief.

Life is calling you.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Simplify Your Flowerbed

My theory of flowerbeds is small clumps near the house, which can become larger the farther you go away from the house. Near the house, a clump of flowers can be about a foot in diameter; farther away, 2-3 feet in diameter.

In practice this means on-going division and taking "spreaders" (such as bee balm or phlox) out of the neat little beds altogether. It all depends on your tolerance for dividing. Some gardeners can't bear to divide their clumps at all.

Flowers can overwhelm our little gardens, stuff can overwhelm our house, and multi-tasking can overwhelm our lives.

Simplify your garden, your house, and your to-do list. Create some breathing space for your plants and yourself.

What one thing can you let go of today?

Photo from

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The need to pee? Your cat? Your dog?
The desire to go out to the garden?
The chirp of a bird calling you to put out a few sunflower seeds for its breakfast? (But no more than 2 tablespoons, so you won't attract bears.)

What wakes us up in our spiritual life?
Usually some form of stress, sorrow, or heartbreak calls our attention to a spiritual path. We are seeking relief. We want to reduce our stress.

We learn to practice mindfulness and begin to gain insight into the workings of our mind. We begin to see that our culture, our society normalizes greed, aggression, and delusion. Naively, we thought that was how the world was supposed to operate.

But our tender hearts were right all along. We want to follow the path with heart.
That's what will wake us up to Life.

Photo from

Friday, June 1, 2012


Since i can't bear to throw plants away, i pot up my extras to give away. Then i use popsicle sticks to label them. "Yellow daylily" or "Russian sage." Sometimes i use the Latin name "Brunnera macrophylla" or "papaver somniflorum."

In meditation, we label our distracting thoughts. We have several systems available to us:

  • We can label thoughts simply by naming them "past" or "future."
  • We can label thoughts with words such as "planning," "worrying," "dreaming," etc.
  • We can use the 5 Hindrances as a forced-choice exercise. By sorting every thought into one of these 5 categories, we gain insight into what, in particular, hinders our meditation.
sense desire
lethargy & sleepiness
restlessness & worry

 Labeling thoughts increases our mindfulness. Labeling plants helps the recipient to know what plants they are receiving.