Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pruning Apple Trees

The apple tree pruner came yesterday and cut back the flowering crabapples. Interesting how a tree flowers and fruits more when it has less (branches).

How about us and our spiritual inclinations? We too can flower and fruit by trimming away excess in our life. Renunciation is the 3rd paramount quality (of 10) that the Buddha recommends.

Oh! It's hard. Renunciation is counter-intuitive. We want more. More food, more money, more stuff, more attention, more i-Toys, more friends on Facebook. More, more, more to wall our hearts off from the slings and arrows of the world.

Be honest with yourself. What's one thing you want more of?

And now ask yourself: How can i simplify my life? How can i allow more space for my true heart to simply open to life?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Petunia Beauty

My neighbors, Lynn and Cliff, have a small greenhouse attached to their house. The summer impatiens and zinnias froze to death in November, but the hanging petunia is still blooming. Wow!  How warm-cold is it in there anyway?

Here in my neighborhood, 3 mothers died last month. Cliff's mother was 87, Orly's mother was 83, and Carl's mother was 99. I do wonder if really old people become lonely for their cohorts in their 90s, or even their 100s. One friend's father died at 105 recently.

How does it feel to look around and see that all, or almost all, your friends are dead?

The impatiens and zinnias are tender. They died when the first frost fell on them. And the petunia blooms on. Sharing its beauty with all who simply look at it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


The wind blew all night long, making us restless sleepers. We assumed it was a cold front blowing in, and yet, this morning is (relatively) warm--34 degrees, which even feels warm.

Here in the North Country (of the east), we are not accustomed to the chinooks of northern Montana and southern Alberta--the warm, dry air that blows down the eastern slopes of the Rockies and melts a foot of snow by noon. Chinooks give  a mini-vacation from the Arctic deep-freeze, and then, winter returns, full blast.

The breath of winter is warm now. We could call it the January thaw, although, surprisingly, the skiing is still good (i.e., not icy).

Feel the warm air exhaling from your body right now.
Cool air in.
Warm air out.

Take a mini-vacation from stress.
The wind of your body, always changing, sometimes restless, sometimes calm.

And how is the wind that enlivens your body different from the wind that surrounds you?
That wind may be restless, or it may be calm.

The wind is blowing.
That is all.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Before i dare open up a seed catalog, i first take inventory of what i already have.
√ pole beans
√ zucchini
Then i know i can skip over those listings.

Now comes the hard question: Am i going to start seedlings this year? I will be home in March (which i often am not), so seed-starting is a possibility.

Desire wants every new, beautiful, shiny thing. Feel desire arising as you turn the pages of the seed and flower catalogs. The wanting is a strong magnetic pull, and it sticks like Velcro.

Desire is delicious and yet uncomfortable because we are happy to be rid of it. Usually we call that getting-rid-of "satisfying our desire." But the happiness does not come from having and holding the object of our desire. Rather happiness co-arises with the end of the desire. Really.

Take a closer look.
Let desire be. It will end of its own accord.
And we feel so happy when it's gone.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Latest Sunrise

Today is the day of the latest sunrise. Beginning tomorrow, we gain a few more seconds of daylight every morning.

Evenings already have 16 more minutes of daylight than they did on December 7, the day of the earliest sunset. Beginning tomorrow, we gain daylight at both ends of the day. Glorious daylight.

In our darkest days, we keep practicing mindfulness, sometimes through sheer faith. Then our faith is verified as we see occasional glimmers of light resulting from noticing the serenity of the present moment. In this moment, the mind calms and a flicker of happiness gleams for half a second. Notice this mini-vacation from darkness.

Could we take a vacation in the present moment? A stay-cation of staying at home in the here and the now.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On the coldest night of the year (so far), i went to the Some Like It Hot yoga studio for a yoga warm-up.

Afterwards, i walked into my mudroom and looked at the cyclamen on the windowsill. Some like it cold--cyclamen, for instance. In London, in January, you can find windowboxes filled with blooming cyclamen, and maybe a bit of 30 degree snow.

What's your inner climate when you sit down to meditate?

Really, we are just watching weather patterns blow through our mind. The scorching heat of anger. The chill of rebuff. The rains of grief or sadness. The tornado of too much change happening too fast.

We don't need to have an opinion (or a judgment) about any of these weather patterns of emotions. Just watch them come and go.

As they say here in New England, "You don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes. It'll change."

Photo from

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Tradition of Christmas Trees

"Did you grow up with a Christmas tree?" i asked my Jewish neighbor.

Lynn shook her head and frowned, as if to say, "No way!"

"So when did you start having a Christmas tree?" i asked.

"When our daughter was in kindergarten. She brought home Christmas tree ornaments."

Lynn's daughter is 31 now, but the Christmas tree is still adorned with elementary school style decorations.

Another Jewish friend said, "Christmas tree? Naw," and shook his head.

How do we feel about adopting a new tradition? Sometimes it slides in easily. Sometimes, it just doesn't fit.

We can try on the possibility of taking refuge, finding a sanctuary in our meditation practice. Formally, we could consider saying:
I go for refuge in the Buddha.
I go for refuge in the Dharma.
I go for refuge in the Sangha.

"I go for refuge in the Buddha" means considering the possibility of awakening. "Buddha" means "awakened." Do we have faith that awakening is possible, maybe just for one split-second at a time?

"I go for refuge in the Dharma" means going for refuge in the teaching of the Buddha. As a Christian neighbor says, "I prefer Jesus because he seems more compassionate. But i like the teachings of the Buddha because they are so internally consistent."

"I go for refuge to the Sangha" means our group of meditating friends. Sometimes that group is just 2 people, me and one other person. That's enough.

Try on this new tradition. See if it fits. Be a refugee from your busy life, and take refuge in the safety of the present moment.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Deep Freezing Pests

It's zero degrees this morning here in the North Country. A squirrel is shivering outdoors, and indoors, the furnace rumbles on and on just to keep a baseline temperature.

There is a good side to this really hard freeze: pests which have flown or walked or crawled north may not survive these deep-freeze temperatures. For instance, the hemlock wooly adelgid dies at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. This tiny 2 millimeter long insect sticks to birds' feet and has been carried farther and farther north as climate change warms our winters.  The wooly adelgid literally sucks the life out of hemlocks leaving them dead and brown.

I saw my first possum in the compost pile just a few years ago. Formerly, its northernmost range was the state south of here.

We might consider the "pests" that have invaded our daily life in the past few years and decades--mobile phones, internet, Facebook. While these applications have their uses, they also invade our private space. Getting away from them is nearly impossible.

This is one more reason to go on a meditation retreat. We can retreat to a protected space where the influx of inputs slows to a crawl. At last, we can catch up with ourselves. Ahhh.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Northern Orange Tree

A friend who was moving gave us his orange tree. Okay. Here in the North Country, "orange tree" means 3 feet tall in a pot with an orange (that is not yet orange) the size of a grape.

I place it next to my banana tree, which hasn't produced a banana or even a flower in 22 years.

We might imagine what a full-grown mediation practice looks like--a beatific smile on our always-calm faces. When really what we have is a very small practice, perhaps just 10 or 15 minutes at a time, not even every day.

The fruit of our spiritual life may seem quite small. Well, yes, i did hold my tongue in that situation. And i was kind to that person in the convenience store. And i did give some time to help a friend.

We start where we are. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The spiritual journey commences with a moment of mindfulness. Now.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Now


Happy New Moment!

We choose one moment and celebrate the change of name. We used to call the present moment 2012; now we call it 2013. It's still the present moment.

We are never anywhere else other than the present moment. The past is a dream. The future is a dream. Now we see that 2012 is a dream. But we don't yet see that 2013 is also just a dream. Because it is always Now. A nameless Now. Every Now different as Life unfolds according to its own whims.

The body ages, and as long as the mind keeps track of time (very useful for celebrating birthdays, for instance), we are caught in a cycle of birth, aging, an death.

Take my hand and step outside the whole meshugas with me now, into the Now, where there is no birth; there is no death.

Happy New Now.