Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Time for Compost

My neighbor complains that her compost pile barely produces any compost. She piles up all the brown stuff in the fall, and in the spring, it's still brown. After 45 minutes of sorting through all the phlox stems and squash vines from last year, she finally finds some compost--just enough to fill a wheel barrow.

"Your compost looks so great," she tells me. "How do you do it?"

"Time" is my answer.

I build a compost pile and leave it alone for 2-3 years. I do not pull it apart the following spring.

This means i need 3 compost bins: 1 for this year, 1 for last year, and 1 for the year before that. Actually, the bin i'm using now was put together 3 years ago; i know this because i just found the not-yet-decomposed bamboo plates from another neighbors' daughter's outdoor wedding in 2010. I pitched those flimsy remains into the current 2013 bin.

The soil in my compost bin is rich and dark, and there's plenty of it. And it's 3 years old.

Sometimes we compare our meditation results with our friend's. They report rich states of calmness or kindness. Meanwhile, we sit on the cushion and sort through the detritus of our minds. Maybe we find a moment of calm, but we feel we are reaping puny results.

More time in meditation, my dear. Meditate every day. Go on retreat. Don't stint. There's a lot of refuse to recognize and let go.

As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says: The subconscious is like a flooded basement. When you meditate, the water level starts going down.

There's a lot of yucky stuff in our flooded-basement subconscious. Pitch it into the compost pile, and it turns into rich soil in which to grow your meditation practice.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Repairing the Garden Hoses

I spent 2 hours repairing hoses yesterday. Rarely do i experience such a combination of patience, diligence, and determination on the task at hand.

On the way home from giving a Dharma talk, i stopped at our fabulous hometown hardware store and bought 3 new female ends for hoses that i had already cut the worn, hole-y, or squirting ends off of. By using these lengths of old hose and not simply buying a brand-new hose, i was practicing the voluntary simplicity of "reduce, re-use, recycle." I had tried to recycle the hoses on Saturday at the Swap Shop at the landfill, but they didn't accept them. So now i am "re-using" them :) Sometimes i need just a short length of hose.

In this simple act of repairing hoses, i was practicing half (or more) of the 10 paramis (a.k.a. paramitas). These supreme qualities are the ones we need to perfect if we aspire to be a Bodhisattva or to live a life of service.
  1. Generosity
  2. Virtue, morality,integrity
  3. Renunciation (voluntary simplicity)
  4. Wisdom, insight
  5. Energy, diligence, vigour, effort
  6. Patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
  7. Truthfulness, honesty
  8. Determination, resolution
  9. Loving-kindness
  10. Equanimity, serenity

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Eating Out--doors

I've harvested wild leeks (a.k.a ramps) three times this past week. Last evening, i went to a potluck and ate ramp dip, ramp pesto, and ramps sauteed with bacon.

The landscape is beginning to feed not only our eyes, but also our taste buds and stomach.

What feeds that amorphous spiritual hunger that we all have?
  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Spending time in solitude (even if it's only in the bathroom.)
  • Meditation or prayer.
In Nature, we can be our authentic selves. We don't have to pretend anything or satisfy anyone else.

Take a mindful walk today--in your garden, in the woods, or around the block. You never can tell what you might find to eat out there.*

*For instance, dandelions, violets, morels, sheep sorrel, lambs quarters

Photos from theforagerpress.com

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Yard Work

Dawn Downey, Guest Blogger
When spring temperatures soared to sixty, I ventured on to the patio.

My pots bore the corpses of last summer's annuals and milkweed competed with dandelions and thatch where there ought to be grass and my hoses sprawled in muddy tangles and our ground cover (cultivated from ivy sprigs out of Julie's yard, although she warned me against the idea) sneaked under the neighbor's fence and . . . .

In the film, Into Great Silence, a monk sweeps a monastery walkway. The seasons pass. He rakes leaves, shovels snow, and in the spring, he sweeps again. Doesn't suffer. Sweeps.

Lost in Great Noise, I suffer.

Visit Dawn Downey's blog.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Content with Hellebore

Hellebore orientalis
While many gardeners love hellebore (orientalis), my favorite hellebore is niger. Hellebore orientalis is also called Lenten Rose, but that must be someone else's Lent because it doesn't bloom here until weeks after Lent.

Hellebore niger is called Christmas Rose and blooms earlier than orientalis. Hellebore niger is hard to find at the nursery, so i have to be content with my single clump.

Contentment is a form of wishlessness, not longing for things to be different.

Hellebore niger
I say i have to be content with my single clump, but underneath, i am longing for more, more, more Hellebore niger. That is not contentment.

Contentment sees Hellebore niger and loves what is, whether or not there is ever any more, more, more.

Monday, April 22, 2013

An Amaryllis and the 4 Directions

My amaryllis are blooming with their 4 wonderful, large flowers, facing in the 4 directions.

If you have lived (or stayed in a hotel) near a mosque, you know the P.A. system booms out a resonant call to prayer 5 times a day. No matter which direction you live in, you can hear the call a half-a-mile away. This reminder of our spirituality pervades the entire area around the mosque.

My amaryllis is silent, but it reminds me to send loving-kindness out to the 4 directions. As the Buddha said,

     I will abide pervading one-quarter* with a mind imbued with loving-kindness,
     Likewise the second**, likewise the third, likewise the fourth.
     So above and below, around and everywhere,
     and to all as to myself.

     I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness,
     Abundant, exalted, immeasurable,
     without hostility, and without ill-will.

To hear this chant, listen here.

* one-quarter of the universe ( I think of this as one of the cardinal directions.)
** the second quarter (I think of this as the next cardinal direction, etc.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Potted Tulips

Three weeks ago i bought some potted tulips. I knew if i kept them indoors they would last about a week. So i placed them on the table on the deck, and they are still blooming. They've been rained on, snowed on, and iced up. Still, they bloom. They're more comfortable outdoors than in.

We need to be comfortable when we sit down to meditate, otherwise we won't want to sit. Where's your comfortable place? What's your comfortable position?

We could say the tulips are in a restricted environment: they lack the warmth, the electric lights, and the gadgets of the indoors. It helps our meditation if we restrict our environment. Turn off the devices and let yourself bloom.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Christmas Wreath

While i was away from home yesterday, my sweetie took the Christmas wreath off the front door. He very kindly picked off the pine cones and shiny pink balls so that i can re-use them again in December. When i arrived home, the bare wreath was in the compost pile.

I know your eyebrows are raised or you're shaking your head. Well, duh.

But you'd be surprised how long we keep old, unskillful habits of mind (or just plain clutter around the house) with the rationale That's just who i am.

Peek under the corner of such a thought to find resistance to change. We like our particular brand of stress, maybe because it's so familiar--anxiety, complaining, irritation, unfairness, desire for beauty.

So keep your particular brand, even though it's outdated. Just watch the mind go around and around.
Then, one day, when you've had enough, it will just disappear.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Watering Mindfulness

My friend, Fair, grows fantastic tomato seedlings. They're whoppers by the time she brings her extras to me. Her secret, she says is to use fish emulsion every time she waters.

What makes our practice grow? Adding mindfulness every time we water ourselves.

Practice mindfulness with every glass of water, every glug from your water bottle.
Become aware of the sensation that leads to reaching for the water bottle.
Notice reaching, the feel of the bottle (plastic? metal? glass?).
Feel the water on your lips and in your mouth.
Notice swallowing.

Grow your mindfulness practice.

Photo from changeanything.com

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Grow-Light of Love

I started some seeds 3 weeks ago. At first, i put them in a warm place beside the wood stove. (The top of the refrigerator is also an excellent warm place as the heat wafts up from the coils behind the fridge.)

As soon as the seeds sprouted, i moved them to my solarium which has radiant heat in its slate floor. And i strung up fluorescent lights so that they hang just inches above the seedlings. The shop work lights can be found at your local hardware store and are quite inexpensive. What's not cheap are the fluorescent grow-light bulbs ($13 each; 2 per fixture).

When my sweetie helps me string up the lights  (in the solarium in April or storing them by hanging them from the basement ceiling in late May), bulbs tend to roll out of their ballasts and crash to the floor. He and the material world often seem at odds with each other.

We can be at odds with our material form, our very own body. Perhaps we don't like the way it looks. I visited a friend with an auto-immune disease yesterday.

Others of us ignore our body's warning signals and push through. A neighbor had a cardiac arrest at the gym on Friday, which, fortunately, had a defibrillator. He thought he had fainted, and when he "woke up," he thought he was fine and was ready to go home. "Not so fast," said the doctor.

We call it "mind over matter" and think that it's good to get what our master-minds wants by pushing our slave-of-a-body in the direction the master-mind wants it to go--faster, thinner, younger, prettier. We actually do not have that kind of control, but our ego-mind insists on having its way.

Let's grow the seeds of kindness toward ourselves and our bodies. Shine the grow-light of love and acceptance in your own heart.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hepatica Are Blooming

Hepatica are blooming in the woods. This first wildflower pokes out of a carpet of dead leaves to dance in the spring breeze.

I have 1 little patch of them in my 10 acres. I have never seen any in my neighbors' surrounding 75 acres.

I have something you don't have. Nah-nah-nah nah-nah-nah.

How we long to take credit for situations as if they belonged to us. How we love to bolster I/me/mine.

But does the hepatica "belong" to me? It was there when i moved here 33 years ago, and with luck, it will probably be there when i die. Does that make it mine?

How we take pride in our bodies:
  • I didn't need reading glasses until i was 56.
  • I weigh the same as i did in high school.*
  • When i bend over, my hands touch the floor.
 We say these things as if we controlled our bodies, but control doesn't work like that. Yes, we can set up some lifestyle conditions--a good diet, exercise, preventive maintenance--but unexpected things happen. That's when we know, that really, we are not in control.

Meanwhile, hepatica are blooming in the woods, spring is happening, and we are alive in such bodies as we have.

*  Not me! But i've heard a friend say this.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Turning a Weed Patch into a Garden

A friend moved into a new apartment with a weed patch for a front yard. She asked the landlord's permission to turn the front yard into a garden. Now she's looking for a rototiller to borrow.

I do not have a rototiller. I love my turning fork, but a weed patch might prove to be a wrestling match for a turning fork.

If she has patience (and for a gardener in April, patience can feel like holding a team of wild horses),
  1. cover the area with black plastic this summer OR
  2. use the lasagna method and layer on whatever you have--newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves, manure if you can get it, compost, old wood chips, mulch hay OR
  3. combine #2 and #1. Do the lasagna method and then cover it with black plastic. Or an old carpet (preferably wool).
When we want to turn the weed patch of our busy minds into a garden that gives us happiness and contentment, we can begin by allowing our bodies to rest in meditation. This requires some patience because our weedy minds have a lot of seeds that suddenly sprout up.

We may try to turn over a new leaf, beginning right now, but we actually do not have that sort of control over our minds.

Mulch your mind with meditation, practice patience, and a year from now you will have a garden of happiness.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How Much is Too Much?

Now that the change of season is well and truly here, i'm focusing on eating garlic--a lot of it--every day. My belief is that "A head of garlic a day keeps the colds away."

The freezer has several half-pint containers of garlic scape pesto AND i have 106 heads of garlic to eat in the next 90 days, before the garlic harvest comes in mid-July.

How much is too much?

Okay, i admit it. I have too much garlic, but can you imagine someone saying, "I have too much money"?

Generosity comes from realizing we have enough for our own basic requirements. We can share our excess.

On the other hand, i could "treat myself," and spend all my garlic on the most deserving person i know: Me.

Photo from beacholiveoils.com
Photo from profitableplants.com

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Transplant now! While April showers will do the work of watering for you :)

I'm planting creeping thyme between the rocks in the new path behind the house. I rip up creeping thyme from the terrace and tug it into smaller bits. Then i dig into the sure-pac around the stones, lay in the thyme, and mostly cover it with soil. Hopefully, some of the plugs will root in during the next 6 weeks, before the hot weather fries those tender roots.

The next window for transplanting creeping thyme will be September.

When are we going to transplant ourselves into meditation? Life is burgeoning all around us, and it is glorious. Today, this season, i have my health; i have enough to get by on; and i feel good. Isn't that enough?

Look deeply into your heart. Your heart-of-hearts already knows the answer. Your heart-of-hearts speaks softly, too quietly to be heard above the din of all the media we are plugged into. Unplug yourself, and plug into your heart-of-hearts.

Sit. Listen. Feel. Look.
That is all.

Thyme photo from madaboutgardening.com
Heart photo from timstreehousenurseryandfloral.com

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Moonlight and Moon-dark

Today the waning moon begins to grow at 4:06 p.m. (EDT) According to the planting-by-the-moon theory, you plant above-ground crops in the dark of the moon so that the waxing/growing moon can "pull" the seedlings up. You plant root crops at the full moon, so that the waning moon can "pull" their roots down.

I usually don't have time to organize my life to plant according to the moon, but today i do. So i'll plant kale, chard, spinach and other cold-weather crops today here in the North Country where patchy snow still lingers in the woods.

On new moon and full moon days, Buddhists all over the world take the 8 precepts for the day and don't eat after the noon meal. The Buddha and his followers (and monastics, still today) meditate all night long.

It's hard to organize our lives according to a lunar calendar, when life around us rushes on as if the moon doesn't exist or isn't important enough to notice. Yet, perhaps today, we could meditate for an extra 5 minutes. Or simply look up at the stars shining brightly in the dark sky.

Photo from earthsky.org

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Gardening Clothes

It's a good day when i can step directly into my gardening clothes first thing in the morning.

My gardening clothes are ratty old things. The sweatpants i'm wearing right now are pulling apart at the back seam, revealing my underwear. I ripped the turtle off my 1975 light blue turtleneck, and over it, i wear a paint-spattered purple long-underwear shirt from the thrift store. I've ripped the hole-y cuff off of one sleeve.

By putting on gardening clothes, i set an intention: I am going out to the garden this morning.

How about setting our spiritual intentions?
  • I get up early so i can meditate.
  • I'm registering for a retreat.
  • I take the 5 precepts* this morning to remind me to live ethically today.

We set intentions as guards against the temptation to slack off. Because, in the moment, we actually believe our minds when it says, "Oh, it doesn't matter..." if i miss meditation, if i tell a white lie, if i cheat a little bit on my taxes.

Let's don our intentions in the calm of a clear-sighted morning, before the fog of busy-ness sets in.

I'm wearing gardening clothes. I'm going out to the garden this morning.

* The 5 precepts are: 

Today i intend to:
  1. do no harm to anyone
  2. take nothing that is not freely given
  3. speak truthfully and helpfully
  4. use my sexual energy wisely
  5. and keep my mind clear.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Welcome Spring

It didn't freeze last night.
  • Sugaring season is finally over.
  • And mud season has very nearly dried up.
  • The small patches of snow on north-facing slopes will melt today.

Dare i say it? Spring is here!

Change is happening fast, and we welcome every single one. A load of manu-mix mulch was delivered Friday. The gardener begins working today. I've started transplanting herbs out of their holding bed and back into the new garden that  was a construction site last spring.

Welcome Change!

How often do we dig in our heels and resist change? Relationships, job, friends, community, deaths of loved one.

The cold is dying. Welcome Spring.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Cleaning

It's time for spring cleaning of garden paraphernalia.

I bought these great ideas, but due to some glitch, they don't work. I don't throw them away because:
#1.  i can't believe i spent that much money on something that doesn't work
#2.  maybe, if i sit down some year, i can repair it.

  • The mister for hummingbirds attaches to the bird bath. It worked the first year, but then the 1/8 inch tube for water for the mister got holes in it. (from gnawing raccoons?)
  • The battery-operating bird feeder that begins spinning when it senses the weight of a squirrel and flings the squirrel off. (Don't i wish!) A raccoon overloaded its battery power the very first night. Now it's stuck. I spent $50 to have a bird feeder cluttering up my garage.

It's time to renounce bad ideas and desires that lead to suffering (see #1 and #2 above).

Spring cleaning--a great time to practice the third supreme quality of a Bodhisattva and simplify our life.

Photo from hanover.wbu.com

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rooting? Or Rotting?

Some of those cuttings i took 2 weeks ago have rooted and are ready to be potted into 6-packs. Others.... Well, other cuttings look like they are just rotting in the jars of water.

Rooting? Or rotting?

Do we take root on our spiritual path? Or do we sort of forget to meditate?

Eventually everything, and i mean everyone, rots away. Given that impetus, what shall we do today? Meditate or dilly-dally?

The baby begonias are beautiful.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Daffodils Bloom

Daffodils are blooming in New York City. Yesterday i went to the U.N. to see a Lao young man who lost an arm when he was 8 years old. He was digging bamboo shoots when his knife hit a "bombie"--a bomb the size of a baseball--and it exploded.

The U.S. carpet-bombed Laos for 9 years, dumping millions of tons of bombs and bombies. 30 percent did not explode. Now they are buried in the underbrush, and they are still exploding. The legacy of the Vietnam War is still killing a hundred Laotian people every year and maiming several dozen others.

The karma of our actions lies dormant until one day it explodes or blooms in our face.

And daffodils grow.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beauty and Wisdom

Leucojum -- Summer Snowflake 
The flowerbeds are popping. All of a sudden flowers are blooming--crocus, iris reticulata, and leucojeum. Morning temperatures still drop into the 20s, so the bloomers seem to be hugging the ground for warmth. Even leucojeum (summer snowflake), which is generally 16 inches tall, is blooming at 4 inches.

"Youth is wasted on the young," they say. Youth is beautiful and naive and takes health and wealth (e.g., an allowance) for granted.
Iris reticulata

Our young gardens are beginning to bloom into heart-opening beauty. Perhaps we take the health and bounty of our flowerbeds for granted at this season as we begin to plant our dream garden.

Wisdom has the equanimity of enjoying beauty and at the same time seeing that the body is just a bag of stuff, that beauty ages and shrinks. How could it be otherwise?

We may be old ourselves, but we can bloom with wisdom even as we hug the ground.

Iris photo from ellishollow.remarc.com

Monday, April 1, 2013

Shedding Leaves

A broom on retreat in Burma.
Sweeping teak leaves on retreat last month gave me a new attitude about the houseplants in my solarium. Just like the teak trees, my plants are constantly shedding leaves. Leaf debris is not neat and tidy like i like my home to look.

Actually, sweeping teak leaves gave me a new outlook on my broom. Now i'm much more likely to take the broom out of the closet and sweep up the houseplant detritus in the solarium. I'd rake up dead leaves if i were outdoors, so i may as well do it indoors as well.

We spend a lot of time "sweeping" our outer appearance so that it looks neat and tidy and as young as possible.

How about spending even more time "sweeping" our inner experience--sensations and thoughts in particular. Simply pay attention to your experience. Thoughts fall into the mind and are swept away. That's all.

Aaron from Redwood City at Chanmyay Myaing in Yangon