Monday, November 26, 2012

I love my herb garden most of all, and i collect herb plants. Some years ago, i found horehound.

When i was young, Dad would occasionally bring horehound candy home--an old-fashioned hard brown candy (i.e., mostly sugar) in the shape of a lozenge. Horehound is a bitter herb used in traditional cough medicines and for upper respiratory conditions.

A few years after i planted horehound in my herb garden, i found horehound seedlings sprouting nearby. I potted up the extras, but since gardeners don't know what horehound is, they didn't take them. I couldn't give the horehound away.

This fall, i decided to plant the ruffly gray-green foliage in the white garden. It looks rather nice as an edging. Conveniently, it has small white flowers.

Sometimes we can't give away our advice about the spiritual path that has remedied our dis-ease. All we can do is "show and don't tell." "Show, don't tell" is not only excellent advice for writers, it's also good advice for those of us with a spiritual practice. We act with kindness and integrity, and wait for people to ask us, "Hey, what's that attractive plant growing there on the edge of your garden?"

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Stress of Shopping

My policy is not to engage in Black Friday shopping, but today i am looking for half-price hyacinth bulbs. I like to force hyacinths and give them away in February like a breath of spring.

Whether or not you shop-till-you-drop today, notice the stress of shopping. While it's fun on the one hand, on the other hand keep a tally of various stressors--driving to the store, parking, crowds, waiting in line, and even getting tired of shopping. Simply conduct this scientific experiment today. Notice stress and notice happiness.

I'm going outdoors for a walk in the woods.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Dis-ease of the Body

I picked up a load of manure on Saturday. Farmer Charlie said he has Lyme disease, and thinks he's had it for a few years. This is a man whose very life is physical activity from dawn to dusk.

We are all subject to illness, no matter that we eat organic, grass-fed beef or that we eat only organic vegetables. We  are all subject to dis-ease. Whether it's a cold that hangs on weeks or the aching of the body, the body does become sick.

We are pretty clear that "I have a body, but i am not my body" until illness strikes us with aches, pains, and discomfort. Then we are overwhelmed by sensations and claim them as "mine." "I" hurt, "I" feel awful, "I" want things to be different than they are. "I" want my old self back; "I" want a healthy body, not a sick one.

The body is doing its best to survive. The physical organism responds to its needs. The body is a vehicle.

And we? We are awareness--a non-complaining, simple awareness.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Puny Cabbage

I harvest my last cabbage from the garden. It's a puny cabbage, but i'm grateful that the voles left a couple of cabbages for me. (Remember last May, the voles demolished my 36 broccoli seedlings.)

On her 50th birthday, my friend Mary Beth said to me, "Is this it? Is this all there is?"

Sometimes, our life's harvest looks rather puny. Children grow up and have their problems; we separate or are separated from loved ones; we feel daunted by the prospect of 4,000 more days of work until retirement with only 160 vacation days to break the monotony. Is this it?

This moment is it. I'm grateful for my pathetic cabbage, which i boil into soup to warm me on a chilly evening.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Sorrel Soup

French sorrel is enjoying this cool weather. I collect a bunch of the spinach-looking leaves to boil in chicken broth and then puree for a delicious lemony soup.

I usually think of sorrel soup as a spring tonic, but the sorrel is performing much better since i transplanted it into my spring/fall garden--a south-facing inclined microclimate that is protected from the prevailing northwesterly winds.

How can we transplant ourselves into a microclimate that supports our mindfulness practice? Our protected area may be as close as the other side of the house, sheltered from the prevailing winds of family life or of the media.

Plant yourself in your meditation area for a few minutes every day, and in a few months, you may be surprised by your own harvest. Taste delicious calm.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mint Spreads

Mint is still growing green in the herb garden. In the summer, i use it to make iced tea. Now that ice forms on the birdbath every morning, i cut mint for a cup of hot tea.

Mint is a spreader. It will take over, if left to its own devices. That's the reason i pull it up by its roots when i go out to harvest 3 or 4 sprigs for tea.

Our obligations and responsibilities, our anxieties and planning can spread over our day-to-day life. We cannot cram it all in.

We could pull each one up by the roots and look closely at it. Is it really worth our time, money, and frustration to read the newspaper? to stop and buy a cup of coffee? to race off to the supermarket for one or two items?

What--really--is most important to us?

I'm going to the mint patch now to pull 4 plants out by their roots, then sit down on the deck, have a cup of tea, and enjoy this beautiful sunny day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Planting Bulbs

November is bulb-planting season. It's time to dig holes in the earth and bury little treasures in them, confident that our effort will repay us with interest 6 months from now.

We plant meditation in our lives, perhaps uncertain as to what it will yield. We may even forget we have made a down payment on calm or happiness. Yet incubating our meditation practice for some months produces a lily growing in the field of life.

I'll meet you there.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pruning Stuff

Those sneaky forsythias entice us with the first-of-the-season early yellow bloom, then they meld into the background greenery for 7 months where they branch out and root, unnoticed. A single bush becomes an ever-widening mound. Today is a good day to prune that forsythia. Actually, i'm going to rip one out entirely.

I don't really expect to win. This is just the first round in decreasing the reach of a single multiplex of forsythia.

Possessions sneak into our house in the guise of loveliness. Soon we're drowning in stuff that we don't know where to put. That's when lovely becomes clutter.

Too much forsythia and too much stuff. One day, it's time to wade in and prune.

Today, i'm passing my grandmother's crocheted afghans along to my nieces. I'm keeping 2 and giving 4 away. Then one drawer will have space.

Ahhh. Beautiful space. Now i can breathe.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Winter Garden

The winter vegetable garden still abounds with bok choy, kale, mustard greens, arugula, parsnips, and leeks. In the basement, at the ready, are butternut squash, onions, garlic, tomatillos, and Jerusalem artichokes.

The winter of our lives is still fresh for the harvest of wisdom. No longer are we a hot tomato, nor perhaps cool as a cucumber.

Now, with equanimity, born of seeing things as they really are, seeing life as it really is, we can relax into the unfolding of life. Precious life.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Crunchy Jerusalem Artichokes

I did it! I popped a raw Jerusalem artichoke into my mouth and chewed. The flavor is ever-so-slightly sweet, and the crunch--like a water chestnut--is fun. I'm making raw kale/raw Jerusalem artichoke salad today.

Sometimes we prefer to hear the Buddha's teachings as they've been "cooked" by popular teachers. Sometimes, we're ready to read the raw words straight from the scriptures of the Pali Canon.

The phrase i've been crunching on this week comes from the Buddha's list of improper topics of conversation (for monks, anyway). The list begins, "Kings, robbers, ministers of state..." It doesn't take much to translate that into "Presidents, lobbyists, and Congress" or "Presidents, white collar crime, super PACs, and international affairs."

In this election week, it's hard to refrain from all the juicy news, so i limit my intake. Yes, friends bend my ear with their political views (Are any of these Wise View?). I listen to their fear, their anger, their relief.

It's an excellent opportunity to practice compassion--for everyone.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Decreasing Stuff

The cold has wilted the Swiss chard. The Rainbow Lights mixture that delights me with its beautiful colored leaves is not as hardy as the white-stemmed variety. I wonder if i could remember to plant the white-stemmed Fordhook's Giant next August?

Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard
The cooling of the fires of desire causes us to look twice at the beautiful things we collected in our salad days. Some os us start to thin out our collections, prune back on our belongings.

Right now, i'm ready to part with my great-grandmother's rocking chair and my grandmother's sheets with the crocheted top edges.

Notice how our collections of stuff are constantly changing. This includes the collection that constitutes our body.

My collection of winter veggies from the garden has just decreased by one row of wilted Swiss chard.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Crowding Mindfulness into Our Day

The gardener cut down the 7-foot tall greenery of the Jerusalem artichokes last week. The 3' x 3' patch was beyond crowded. This week she harvested 3 grocery bags full of the sweet tubers that are bumpier than potatoes.

I give small bagfuls to the carpenter and to 2 neighbors. Now it's time to get creative with recipes. Last night, hash browns; today, mashed. Tomorrow, soup. Then there's eating them raw in a salad with their water chestnut-like crunch.

This week, i finished teaching 2 classes of Introduction to Insight Meditation. I'm delighted to see how mindfulness has rooted itself in people's lives, whether or not they've managed to establish a formal meditation practice.

Over the course of 7 or 8 weeks, we practiced
mindfulness of walking (perhaps with the dog),
mindfulness of standing (in line at the grocery store or at the kitchen sink),
mindfulness of lying down (a body scan while awake in the middle of the night),
mindfulness of driving (by practicing loving-kindness toward other drivers),
mindfulness of eating (probably a snack), and
mindfulness of a daily activity, such as showering or walking through a doorway.

By crowding our days with mindfulness, the mind calms down and doesn't leave much space for worry and anxiety, and not much space for obsessing.

I love giving away bagfuls of mindfulness :)

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Who Can Last the Longest?

I'm in a race with my last zinnia bouquet to see who can last the longest. Them? Or me?

They've been standing in a vase for 3 weeks--since before the first hard frost that killed the zinnia plants. If i could pick a fresh zinnia bouquet, i would, but that's no longer a choice.

The 5 remaining zinnias still look like zinnias while their many compatriots have shriveled and turned brown. But the survivors are pale. They don't look fresh, young, and colorful. Sort of like us as we age.

Around us, people shrivel and die, but we are still vibrant. Maybe we don't look as good as the fresh young things, but we still have plenty of life left in us.

I appreciate my zinnia bouquet more and more with each passing day.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sweet Alyssum

In April, i buy 3 packets of sweet alyssum seed and sprinkle them alongside the walkways and edges of my white garden, the patio, and the little terrace beside the tiny fishpond. Then i forget about them until i see tiny alyssum seedlings a couple of weeks later.

The Farmers Markets open in early May, and i may be tempted to buy a 6-pack of alyssum, but by late May, my seed-sown alyssum start to bloom, and in early June catch up with the plants from the 6-packs.

For 5 months, alyssum are just a frothy white edging like he hem of the flower-ful garden bed. But now, in November, each sweet alyssum is a mound of white foam, and nothing remains in the flower bed to distract me from these steady 6-month bloomers.

Last evening at a hospice fundraiser, a friend listed the friends who have fallen ill or died recently. "So many," she said. "What's happening?"

What's happening is that we, like our flower beds, are aging. Some of us still bloom--like the sweet alyssum.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mum Impermanence

The mums beside the front door lasted a good long time, but after 6 weeks, they've faded and turned brown. Another example of impermanence. Those flowers are gone. It's past time to plant them somewhere in the garden (and cross my fingers that they live).

Meanwhile, my fingers turned the steering wheel into the parking lot of the a nearby farmstand, and i bought 2 more pots of glorious mums.

I tried to talk myself out of it, but "30 days hath November." 30 days of late fall plus possibly a few days of early December. I handed over $10 for 2 pots of fresh mums. It seemed a small price to pay for a few weeks of flowers on the front step.

Impermanence always wins. These beautiful flowers will also come to an end, perhaps even very soon. We can easily see the impermanence of mums and mum "bodies". How about the impermanence of our bodies?

Set your impartial, equanimous mindfulness on the subject of the body to simply notice impermanence. Hairs fall out; skin flakes off; noses are picked; water flows into and out of the body; solid food flows into the body and solid waste flows out. A moment ago, these bits seemed to be "me," but now i see they are not me. The body is constantly changing--breath, heartbeat, eyeblinks. Yet, here i am, walking, talking, and breathing. What a miracle!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Growing Quietly Underground

I love cold weather crops :) Garlic is growing in the garden. How delightful and how rare to see small green shoots in these days of early dark.

Garlic is the only bulb that's sprouting. Well, the onions that escaped the hide-and-seek of harvest are also sprouting. Now that they've revealed their hiding places, i may pluck them any time for a soup or a stir-fry.

Many other bulbs are growing quietly underground. In fact, we gardeners may even be planting some--daffodils, snowdrops, or squill.

As we enter the darkest quarter of the year (October 31 to February 2), what is growing underground in your heart? Perhaps it's time to practice self-compassion.

For some of us, the outer darkness is reflected by an inner darkness, an inner heaviness or feeling of blah. Now is the time to practice the equanimity of "Hello, my old friend blah." Invite heaviness in for a cup of tea, and just listen to what she has to say. You don't have to believe every word she says. Simply be a good friend. Be a good friend to yourself.

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