Monday, October 29, 2012

Mum Meditation

The mums on the front step are looking well-worn, so i plant them into the garden. Ah, yes--the ever-hopeful gardener. Will they survive the winter?

Most will not, but one or two might. My garden is just now coming into bloom with mums i planted years ago. I pick a bouquet, and it last 3 weeks :)

Often these late mums don't have much of a season, but these late October days are warmish with temperatures in the 50s, so the perennial mums are smiling.

It's never too late to plant ourselves in meditation. If we get an early start, we may bloom early, but some of us don't get started meditating until late in the season of our lives. Still, our meditation practice can bloom:)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oak Leaf Lessons

Oak leaves are floating down to earth today. A breeze rattles them, shaking them off their branches.

Earth returns to earth.

We know that last spring, the branches were bare. Sap made of ground water and minerals (i.e., an aspect of earth) rose into the tree and branches, and oak leaves unfurled. Now their 6-month life span is over, and these leaves, made of earth and water are returning to earth. Oak leaves are already pretty crunchy, having lost most of the water element that made them glisten red just a week ago.

Our very own earth element returns to earth, every single day. Dead skin cells, nail parings, poop. The fruits of the earth come into our bodies via our mouths and leave via our back-sides. What of this can we claim as "me?"

We walk through piles of leaves, piles of dead leaf bodies. Our compost is a pile of dead plant bodies. And the earth we walk on, the dust on our shoes, the dirt under our fingernails are the remains of hundreds and thousands of dead bodies.

Oak trees are baring their secret selves to us now--skeletons against the sky.
And our secret self? Earth, water, air just passing through.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mint Meditation

With the uproar of construction this past summer, and the deconstruction of my herb garden, i got out of the habit of making mint iced tea every day.

My mint patch is supposed to be about 8 feet long and 2 feet wide, but mint oversteps its bounds when no one is looking. So i pull 4 or 5 mint stems out of the ground, cut off the root, smoosh the tall "sprigs" of mint into a big glass pitcher, and pour boiling water over them. My sweetie calls this "iced mint water."

The mint is still vigorous and green, and cold mint tea in the fridge offers variety to my attempt to drink 8 glasses of water each day.

In the uproar of your life, pull out your old meditation practice. You remember how to do it. It's sitting there with you right this moment, just waiting to refresh you.

Photo from

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Woodland Walk

My woodland walk is covered with dead leaves so that you can no longer tell where the path is. The beginning and end of the path are lined with big rocks, which point the way. Then what?

Sometimes, our path is not clear. Our daily life gets covered up by too many things to do.

Mindfulness is the ground we walk on. Mindfulness is NOT one more thing we try to add on to our too-busy lives. We simply change our attitude toward every mundane moment.

Get out of bed mindfully.
Pee mindfully.
Brush your teeth mindfully.
Get dressed mindfully.
Drink your cup of tea or coffee mindfully.
Eat breakfast mindfully.
Walk to your car mindfully.
Feel and hear the crush of fallen leaves under your feet.
Drive mindfully.
That way you'll be safer and so will everyone else around you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shrub Season

Except for oaks and beeches, most trees have lost their leaves. The landscape begins to look rather bare, but around the edge of the lawn, shrubs are shining red, orange, yellow, and even pink. Thank goodness for shrubs!

We love our shrubs when they bloom in the spring. Now they draw our attention again as their late autumn leaves color our personal landscape. Spectacular Japanese maples redden or else yellow into orange. Weeping cherries and magnolias are yellow. Double-file viburnums turn dark red. Even that lazy old forsythia, who has been resting on its early laurels for six months, finally DOES something as its leaves tinge toward red potato skin.

The lives of many octogenarians are weakening of failing as their limbs stand bare in anticipation of the coming deep freeze. But some few of these 80-somethings are still going full steam, and they draw our attention. I want to be like that, we think, as if we have the choice.

Our choice is now, while we are young: daily exercise, a nourishing diet, and mindfulness.

When the body finally becomes completely bare of energy in the late autumn of our lives, mindfulness is the only thing that remains.

As one dying friend quipped: her life is now only "Bed, Bath, and soon to be Beyond."

Her advice: Be present.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Glorious Oaks

Two weeks ago, we thought foliage season was a bust, but now that the tourists have gone home, the hills are alive with the colors of oaks--crimson, russet, gold.

Some hillsides are bare of leaves, and some shine oak-ly against the blue sky. The light is delightful, as the naturally shiny oak leaves reflect and refract the sun's brightness. The late afternoon light slants low across the sky illuminating the hills gloriously.

When i take pictures of fall leaves (for this blog), i see that every leaf is aged with black spots, brown spots, or barnacles. Sort of like my aging skin.

From a distance, the aging forest, the aging leaves are beautiful. Up close, we see a leaf's moles and blemishes.

Everything is aging.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Harvest Basket is Gone

In the summer, i keep my harvest basket near the front door. While harvest season isn't over exactly--kale, chard, and bok choy are still growing happily--it's time for my harvest basket to go south for the winter, into the basement, and be replaced with a basket of slippers for visitors to my home.

The summer harvest is over. Done (whether or not it got "done.") Gone.

We could just spend the rest of the day noticing "Gone."
Noticing everything that changes (which is everything).
Reading this blog. Gone.
Moving the mouse. Gone.
Pushing keys on the keyboard. Gone.
The blink of an eye, and for a split-second, sight is gone.
Breath. Gone.
Heartbeat. Gone.
Saliva swallowed. Gone.

Go on. Notice "gone."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Tender Annuals Are Dead

The tender annuals are dead--basil, tomatoes, morning glories, and marigolds.
But other annuals still live--alyssum, petunias, nicotiana.

I read the obituaries every day, and note when people my age (or younger) have died. It feels like a mystery. Even though i don't know them, i feel my cohort--the group i was born with--is disappearing. The tenderest annuals have died.

With foresight, i can see that death is coming to me as well. I was at a workshop on Friday, and the presenter asked, "Who here is going to die?" About 10% of the people raised their hands.

We really don't think (or don't want to think) that WE are going to die. Those other people, but not me.

I'm going out to the garden now to pull out the dead and take them to their compost pile grave.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Grateful for "No"

I drove to Boston yesterday to see the Dalai Lama in dialogue with Father Thomas Keating (an architect of Centering Prayer) and Brother David Steindl-Rast (

The Dalai Lama encouraged us to cultivate seeds of compassion. I passed out free seed packets from The Meditative Gardener, which say "Planting Seeds of Kindness and Mindfulness." (I'm happy to send you a free seed packet :)

I was surprised and a bit put-off by the number of urbanites who gave their well-practiced lines, "I'm good" (meaning "No thanks") as they put their right hand up, palm-out, as a shield between our eyes.

And then i remembered to be grateful to them for not taking seed packets, (which cost me 35 cents apiece) which they weren't going to use.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First Frost

The first frost felled the annuals last night. And yesterday, i signed up for my Medicare supplement. In the world of meaning-making, (and i do love metaphors), i might cogitate on the season of frost arriving in my body and in my hair.

Today dawned clear and sunny; it's a beautiful day, and i am happy to be alive. My body runs well; i take it in for preventive maintenance (exercise, massage, physical exams) on a regular basis.  I eat vegetables straight from the garden.

The next frost isn't forecast for 2 more weeks. My body could run 2 more weeks, 2 more months, 2 more years, or 2 more decades before the "frost" falls on it.

You just never know.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Muted Foliage

This year's fashions come in bright, bold colors. This year's foliage is muted around here. Rare is the sight of the brilliant red/orange sugar maple. The predominant colors are yellows and greens accented with a few dusty reds.

We are disappointed.

Disappointed is another word for stress. We wanted one thing--brilliant foliage; we experience something else--hillsides of yellow and green.
We want one thing, life unfolds as it is.

Wouldn't it be so much easier and so much less stress to simply accept things as they are?

Let's bask in the beauty of what is.
Green & gold.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In the Midst of Devastation, a Flower Blooms

I just discovered a petunia blooming at the corner of our new garage.

When i think of the trees that were felled in April, the excavation, earth-moving, concrete pouring, and backfilling of June, the back-and-forth tromping of carpenters to build the frame in June, the painting of the siding (and paint spills by yours truly) of July, the baking of the August sun, and the still-unfinished final grading of September--amidst all this devastation, a flower blooms.

The ground is a desert of gravel, rocky subsoil, and cement-truck runoff for a radius of 15 feet, and a flower blooms there.

When we are devastated, when the loss is deep and great, or when we feel a desert has encroached upon our heart and we have been desertified, even then, a flower can bloom.

The Dharma is the soil; daily meditation is the sunshine that lightens up the bleekness; meditating once a week with a friend provides the rain for a flower to bloom in your heart.

And this shocking-pink petunia perfectly matches the trim on the new garage :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Good Advice

My mother told me never to wear red and purple together, but a purple morning glory twining around red salvia is absolutely eye-popping. I quite like it, and i keep looking out the window at it because it's so satisfying.

My mother gave me a lot of good advice--like "Smile with your eyes"--but some of her advice was either wrong or woefully insufficient.

Once we are launched into adulthood, who do we turn to for good advice? Where do we find our sources of wisdom?

Friends. The media. Magazines. The internet. Peers. I find most of the usual sources at least somewhat unsatisfactory.

The Buddha said that our Noble Friends and the Noble Conversations we have with them are ALL of the spiritual life. Who are our Noble Friends? With whom can we have Noble Conversations?

Sorry, Mom. I really like red with purple.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Internal Weather

We're living in a rain forest this week. Or as they call it in Costa Rica, a cloud forest. Mist and drizzle has been nearly continuous for several days.

Usually, a steady mist makes things green--as it does in the Pacific Northwest and in Ireland--but we are in the red/orange/yellow time of year here in the North Country--colors that look great against a blue sky.

Even though temperatures in in the 60s, i feel cool in this misty, cloudy weather, and wear long sleeves and long pants.

What mood permeates your own internal weather? Neuroscientists have delineated 6 emotional styles* that they can "see" in their pictures of the brain.

Do you bounce back quickly from upsets and downturns?
Or do you have a slow recovery such that upsets and downturns continue to bother and worry and plague you for hours or days?

Are you a bright optimist?
Or a dark pessimist?
(Or somewhere in between?)

Social Intuition:
Are you frequently puzzled by the actions and words of people around you?
Or do you have the ability to see right through people and thereby navigate toward what you want?

Are you unable to put words to how you feel? How do you feel anyway?
Or are you quite aware of your emotions and articulate?

Sensitivity to Context:
Are you tuned out to your environment? (Perhaps like the absent-minded professor?)
Or are you tuned in to the needs and requirements of social situations?

Does your attention wander? Is it unfocused?
Are you able to focus in and concentrate easily?

What's your internal weather?

Mindfulness meditation can help us shift our natural tendencies. The ADHD person begins to feel calmer. The dark pessimist begins to brighten.

Today, i think i'll turn up the internal brightness by expressing gratitude and sending loving-kindness to myself.

*The 6 Emotional Styles come from the work of Richard Davidson and his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Change of Seasons

Yesterday i refurbished my front step. I brought all the flowering pots indoors, swept off the stoop and the steps, and began arranging pots of mums, a pumpkin, and 2 dozen birdhouse gourds. This rearrangement is my formal acknowledgment of the change of seasons.

The lush pots of overflowing flowers and vines, of many varieties, are now inside. Outside, the front steps look rather like a monoculture by comparison.

Isn't this what we hope for as our own seasons change? By the time we reach the autumn of our life, our exterior may look only nominally like it used to. But inside, we want a lush harvest of wisdom, calm, and equanimity.

Living an authentic life and living an ethical life leads us closer to our intention. Practicing kindness--to ourselves and others--is the first step to awakening in our lives.

I'm going to be kind to my solarium full of plants and water them this sunny day.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Unannounced Visitors

Red Russian kale has reseeded itself in a flowerbed near the vegetable garden. What a surprise to see this vegetable volunteering to grow where it wasn't planted. I quite like these "perennial" vegetables (and herbs like cilantro) that just show up unannounced, like a surprise visit from a good friend walking in the front door. "Yoo-hoo. Anybody home?"

Yes, the garden looks rather higgledy-piggledy--kale (and mustard and arugula and tomatillos and cilantro) in a flowerbed. My goodness!

The goodness that our meditation inspires begins to show up in all the corners of our lives.
Calmness in the face of multi-tasking.
Patience when you're stuck in traffic.
Not catching the hot potato of irritation or blame that your nearest and dearest throws at you.

These beneficial qualities show up unannounced.
And our practice flowers.

Photo from