Sunday, October 27, 2013

Meditation in the Woods by Guest Blogger, Dawn Downey

I sit on a ridge two hundred feet above a river. On its surface, glints of sunlight play with shadows cast by passing clouds. I close my eyes to meditate, the river disappearing into the midnight behind my eyelids. Wisps of laughter float by. I peek. A raft is drifting downstream, its occupants specs of confetti at the bottom of the bluff. An oak leaf leaps from a branch and swirls downward, until an updraft reverses its direction. It lands in a pine that towers above me. A river disappears. Confetti laughs. A leaf falls up. Is this reality, or a magic trick?

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The show stopper in my solarium is Iresina, also called Bloodleaf with good reason: it's leaves are magenta. I love it as a bedding plant because it matches the trim on my house. I've brought 3 of them indoors for the winter, because this is a plant from the Brazilian jungle.

A neighbor dropped by yesterday for tea and as we were sitting on the sofa, her eyes kept being drawn to Iresina. She told me the story of her grandmother who had a near death experience while giving birth to her mother. People gravitated to the grandmother, wanted to be near her. Perhaps we could assume they had some feeling of well-being in her presence.

We gravitate toward love and acceptance. Accepting things just as they are. Accepting people just as they are. It's the feeling of coming home.

I love my neighbor, and, with a smile, i accept that she wasn't paying attention to me, but to Iresina.

Photo from

Friday, October 25, 2013


The gazing globe broke. While pulling weeds nearby, the gazing ball toppled off its stand and smashed into smithereens.

Gone. This is a concept I have been struggling with since I was 4 years old. We came home from vacation to find our gazing ball broken. How could that have happened? Broken. Gone.

A novice monk cleaning the room of Thai Forest master Ajaan Chah asked the master why he had such a beautiful cup. After all, monks are ascetics with extremely few possessions. "I see the cup as already broken," Ajaan Chah replied.

So far, every gazing globe that I have called "mine" has broken. This is what gazing globes do. They break. Every mug in my kitchen will eventually break. Every piece of furniture in my home. Even the house itself.

We, like any 4-year-old, would prefer to believe in stability, in un-change-ing-ness. But that is not what really happens.

Lift your eyes. Let them rest on the nearest object, perhaps your nearest and dearest. Seeing that object as already broken, can you love it to pieces right now?

Photos from and

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Still no frost. Frost is predicted every night this week, and still it doesn't freeze. Today feels like a reprieve from a death sentence. A rally during the death vigil. How much longer?

For death is coming to the garden. How could it not? Last evening, I made my last batch of basil pesto. The basil is gone. Well and truly gone.

But today, we have one more day, this day to enjoy the tender annuals. One more day to pick zinnia and dahlia bouquets. One more day to glean vegetables from the garden.

If you had one more day to live, how would you spend it? What would you do? How would you be?

That one day is today. This moment. Now.

Photos from and

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Too Much

The houseplants are all indoors, including the flowerpots from the front step. My solarium looks like a jungle. I love the lushness.

"Too many," says mys sweetie. He prefers that each plant stand alone so that it can be seen in its fullness. This is the "specimen" approach to gardening, and i certainly know gardeners who do not want their plants to touch each other.

Myself, i prefer the collage of the cottage garden--way too many plants in a small space. When something blooms, i bring it front and center for the spotlight of attention. Until then, it's standing in the wings, awaiting its turn. And, yes, some of my plants are professional wallflowers; they always stand against the wall.

Some phrases from the Loving-Kindness chant that i sometimes contemplate are:
"humble and not conceited,
contented and easily satisfied...
not proud and demanding in nature...."

How can i be humble?
In what ways does my ego get the better of me and make me yearn for the spotlight?

What does it mean to be "contented and easily satisfied"?
Can i be easily satisfied with second best?
Can i be easily satisfied with something i don't particularly want?
Can i cut my out-loud complaining?

What am i proud of? How does pride show up in my life?
In what ways am i demanding?

Sometimes we are called upon to stand in the spotlight. Sometimes we are called upon to be a supporter in the shadows. Neither one is better than the other. How can we walk the middle path?

At the end of your meditation, take a few minutes and contemplate one of these phrases. How does it apply to your life?

My houseplants are standing, some at the back, some at the front. They have no preferences.

Photos from and

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It Takes a Village to...

Frost tonight, so i'm finally bringing in the flowerpots from the front step. Hefting the heavy ones is a chore that requires ingenuity. I need to use a dolly.

I was thinking about buying a dolly, but then i sent an email to my 10 neighbors and Voila! Several dollies already live in my neighborhood. Rather than clutter up my garage with one more piece of seldom-used equipment, i can borrow a dolly for half an hour. I won't need it again until next May.

I value Voluntary Simplicity--keeping life simple and uncluttered. But my self-reliant do-it-yourself-er is often at odds with my own values of community. In this case, i tell myself, "It takes a village to ... move my flowerpots."

Photo from

Monday, October 21, 2013

Unintended Consequences

I've never dried beans until now. I didn't intend for my green beans to get so old and dry, but they got away from me. As i was tearing apart my pole bean tepee, i saw several pods of dried rattlesnake beans. Well, why not glean those beans? i thought.

We plant many things in our lives that we intended to do differently, but then we get to the end of the season, and, well....

My mother, an alcoholic, said, a month before she died, " I didn't intend for it to turn out this way. But that's what happens when you mistreat life."

Let's look closely at our intentions. Let's treat life as if it really matters. It's the only life we have. Today is the only day we have. This minute is the only minute we have.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gleaning Season

The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet, 1857

'Tis the season for gleaning. Around here, volunteers comb through fields of vegetables after the farmers have harvested and glean the remainders for the food bank. Carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, broccoli, apples.

I'm out gleaning my own vegetable garden. Gathering the last of the cherry tomatoes, the last broccoli side shoots, a few more tomatillos and ground cherries. I'm also gleaning pine cones from the woods because they make such excellent fire starters for the wood stove and fireplace. My little old apple tree actually has apples, so i'm gathering them up in order to not encourage the deer to come and eat them.

We glean what we can from various spiritual paths. Perhaps we are attracted to one path, and, bit by bit, we gather its wisdom.

More than simply following our own intuitive sense of right and wrong, some aspects of wisdom can be counter-intuitive. We don't follow traditions simply because they are traditions or because that's the way we want life to be. Instead, we test our view against the results it yields. Do we have less stress in our lives? Are we happier?

Little by little we glean wisdom from seeing things as they really are.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bringing the Flowerpots Indoors

It's time to bring the flowerpots in from the front step and the back step. The first frost is coming in a few days. I have so enjoyed the luxuriant "welcome home" this summer.

Bringing the pots indoors is like putting them in a nursing home or a rehab center. Several of the plants get weaker and weaker over the winter, and finally give up the ghost. But many will survive in the solarium.

My gardening friend Ruth had a hip replacement 5 years ago and a knee replacement 3 years ago. She's working outdoors in her garden every hour that she can.  She knows what the rehab center looks like--cooped up indoors for months.

Let's go out
to our garden now.
And feel grateful for every minute we spend outdoors.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Surprise Fruit

I went over to my gardening mentor, Ruth's, garden to pick up a white fall anemone, but, of course, she had lots of other interesting things to look at. Her kousa dogwood tree is loaded with red fruit.

"They're edible," Ruth said.

I picked one of the strawberry-sized fruit and split it open with just a slight pressure. I squeezed the creamy innards into my mouth. Seedy, but tasty. Sort of like paw-paws.
"Wow. Put these through a food mill and you have dessert," I said.

The fruits of our spiritual practice are also very "tasty." A bit of calm, less irritation, less judgmental, kinder, less stressed.

And you know what "stressed" spells backwards? Desserts!
Kousa Dogwood

Photos from and

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Judging Mind

At the Garden Club meeting, on Monday evening, Frankie asked me to help her judge the flower arrangements members had brought in. The assignment was simple: a single flower or stem of  flowers in a vase.

"But I don't know how to judge," I said.
"I'll teach you," said Frankie. "I have macular degeneration, and I can't see very well in this church basement."

I acceded because I realized she was asking me to be her eyes.

We all have a lifetime's worth of experience in judging. Our comparing mind is judging everything. Some of us really dig in and enjoy having judgments and opinions; it puffs up our sense of self. We think we are what we know, just as Descartes' famously stated, "I know, therefore I am."

A friend's 4-year-old asks her, "What's that, Mom?" and after her mother answers, the 4-year-old says, "Yes, Mom. I know." We love knowing the answer.

Judging things, whether it's flowers or people, makes us feel like we are right. That we know. Quite often these judgments and opinions simply lead us straight to stress.

As another spiritual friend said, when we were talking about our families, "I don't really need to have an opinion. What good is it anyway?"

I didn't need to have an opinion about any of the flower arrangements. I simply described what i saw to Frankie--That one has a bug-eaten hole. This one is just past its prime.--and let Frankie do the judging.

Photos from and

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Fall Garden

Broccoli is blooming in the vegetable garden. Now that the summer garden has been pulled out (tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and summer squash), i can actually see the fall garden--broccoli, kale, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and chard.

When we retire from the summer of our busy lives, we can see the fruits of our labors more clearly. We can enjoy the harvest of grandchildren or volunteer jobs or our spiritual practice. Now we have time for the activities that gladden our hearts.

Let's eat lots of cancer-preventing broccoli and cholesterol-lowering kale. The fall garden is so much more relaxing than the summer garden.

Photo from

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stopped Flowering

The geraniums in flowerpots outdoors have stopped flowering. I suspect their non-verbal message to me is, Brrr. It's too cool out here. If i can't have more light, at least give me some more heat.

I'm seeing a 95-year-old hospice client. Her hands are cold, so she has a heating pad muff to warm them up. She loves to fold clothes, hot out of the dryer. Her vision is so-so. And her mind is mostly gone. She's a sweet woman, and she keeps saying, "I want to go home."

Just like my geraniums.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ageratum Spreads

A few years ago, my Hoosier cousin gave me some seeds from her perennial ageratum, which she considered a weed in her tomato patch.

Now those few plants are a solid mass of blooming blue, about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. This zone 6 ageratum is a spreader all right. I'm transplanting it out of the nursery bed and into various flower beds. The farther away from the house, the bigger the clumps of flowers. And i have one hillside in which i am happy to let the spreaders spread (bee balm, phlox, gooseneck loosestrife, etc.)

What spreads and takes over our life? Children? Work? Facebook? Or other social media?

Perhaps we are content to be extending compassionate care to children or aging parents. That's just the way life is right now. But sometimes, busy-ness spreads all over our life, and it's time to move those responsibilities somewhere else, onto someone else.

Take a close look at how busy-ness spreads. What one thing can you let go of today?

Photos from and

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Grateful for Houseplants

I received an actual letter in the mail yesterday. A little card that says,

If it weren't for great people like you,
there wouldn't be grateful people like me.

It was signed "Ellen," and she wrote a note, "Thanks for the plants!"

Ellen came over a few days ago, and took home 2 boxes full of houseplants.

You may recall that, late last winter, i was rooting 25 jars of houseplants, which i then used as edging for various flower beds. Now that it's October, those houseplant edgings have a short life expectancy, so i'm offering them to all my gardening friends.

Gratefulness is another word for gratitude. And gratitude is an expression of the heart, a whole body feeling, an at-one-ness with the way things are, and the recognition that in this moment, things are very good indeed.

Look around you. Look in your garden. What's one thing you can be grateful for right now?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Delicious Kiwis

Due to the lack of frost, i'm still buying local kiwis at the farmstand. Since it's a new fruit, the farmstand markets them as "kiwi berries" and has a sample basket next to the cash register. "Try one."

Still, people hesitate to try something new. My sweetie, Bill encouraged a mother to try one, but she gave it to her 10-year-old son. "Interesting," he said. Then Bill offered another one to the mom. "Mmmm," she said, and he gently placed a little tub of kiwis in her shopping basket. (He's a born salesman, that Bill.)

We hesitate when we encounter a new path. We're afraid of something--distaste, harm, or "wrong-ness."

That's the reason, we venture onto the path of meditation one step at a time. First, we sit down, close our eyes, and watch our breath for a few minutes. Our mind has other ideas. Lots of them. We feel we're doing something wrong. We consult a book, a YouTube, a teacher, and find we are exactly in the right place.

As we build confidence, in kiwi berries or in meditation, we walk farther and farther down the path. Eventually, we might even admit: it's delicious, that calm.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Peak Foliage

It's peak foliage season right now. Today. After 2 years of so-so foliage, this fall foliage is spectacular. The red and yellow leaves against a blue sky are so pleasant to gaze at.

People travel from far and wide just to see the sights and have a peak experience of autumn color. In the past two days, i've met tourists from California, Louisiana, and Switzerland.

We expend a lot of energy to travel. We see the sights, and then they're gone. We are left with a memory that fades with time, a few photos that we don't look at again for quite a while, and a few feelings of happiness, fun, or relaxation.

And then, they are gone--the seeing, the hearing, the feeling--along with the colorful leaves that rain down to the ground in the next gust of wind.

We are searching for something, and we call it "travel." Perhaps we will find "it" there. Or there.

And all the time, it's traveling with us, in us, beside us, through us--a peaceful, joy-filled awareness.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grateful Generosity

Several years ago, i bought a variegated forsythia. I didn't have a place to plant it, so i stashed it in my nursery bed. And there it stayed. One little shrub-let became 4 good-sized bushes. You know how forsythia multiply: a long branch touches the ground and roots. Pretty soon you have a forest of forsythia.

I transplanted two of them. Then i put the word out to sister gardeners: Come and get them.

Today, the last one departs for another home and garden.

Giving away forsythia may sound like generosity-in-action. But i feel the recipients are doing me as big a favor as i am doing them. They're cleaning out a corner of my nursery bed, and for that i am very grateful.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Scarf of Many Colors

Margot gave me a pot of pink mums! What a delightful act of generosity.

I see 84-year-old Margot every week at writing group, and we often compliment each other on our clothes or earrings because we love the same bright colors. Last November, i was wearing a multi-colored scarf that coordinated well with my personal Joseph's-coat-of-many-colors, and Margot exclaimed, "I love your scarf!" I took it off and draped it around her neck. When she protested, i said, "You wear it this winter. I'll wear it next winter."

At this week's writing group, Margot returned the scarf to me for the season. She also gave me a pot of pink mums, which i had just been silently wishing for. Pretty soon, we won't even remember who the scarf "really" belongs to.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Butternut Stress and Butternut Calm

Harvesting winter squash and pumpkins is sort of like looking for Easter eggs. The long vines winding off into the tall grass that had grown up around them meant i missed a few butternuts. After my sweetie mowed that tall grass, i found a perfectly good squash that had been sheared right in half by the lawn mower.

So we had Butternut Black Bean Burritos for dinner. Delicious!

Our meditation practice can get lost in the tall grass of our busy life. Then some sort of unexpected stress(es) come along, and there's nothing left for us to do but meditate. Today. Now.

Taste just a moment of delicious calm that reminds us that, yes, we are indeed sane. Behind the chatter or the downright meanness of the monkey mind lies one second of peace. That tiny second is our relaxing vacation from "The Mind," which is trying to overwhelm us with its false beliefs, over and over and over. In that jungle mind, there is a still forest pool. Under that tidal wave of beliefs, the ocean is calm. And so are we.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Generosity Grows

My neighbor, Connie, gave me a dozen butternut seedlings in early June. To begin with, they looked puny, then i lost track of them. But enough survived so that i have a couple dozen butternut squashes. So does Connie, So does our neighbor, Whit, who only planted 2 of Connie's seedlings.

We are all looking for winter squash recipes, so help! Send me your recipe.

Whit's wife, Tonia, is taking most of their squash harvest to her exercise class, and the women there are very grateful.

Generosity (Connie's) begets generosity (Tonia's). Who knows who the ripples of generosity will touch next? Connie has already given me some of her last night's squash casserole with sunflower seeds.

Our actions do not happen in a vacuum. Our actions ripple out to affect everyone around us. Sometimes our unskillful actions come back to bite us in the behind. So, choose your actions wisely. Generosity is a great place to begin.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Stink of Life

While slicing and dicing vegetables for salsa (a.k.a. Garden in a Bowl. See the recipe below.), i contemplated a few rotten tomatoes, rotten onions, and rotten peppers. Usually, the rot was just beginning. I cut off the smelly, brown part and salvaged half the tomato or pepper.

It's amazing, isn't it? Out of that smelly rot springs new life. Green onion tops were growing out of stinky brown, gushy onion layers.

In our culture, we've mostly lost the smelliness of life. I grew up taking one or two baths a week with Mom washing my hair once a week. Now everyone showers every day, and we forget the smelliness of life unless we're alone in the bathroom with our bodies.

We begin to believe in the beauty of the body. We believe that cleanliness is the natural state and feel quite uncomfortable with our sweat and other natural by-products of the body.

Living stinks (bad breath, farts, post-sex juices, underarms, crotches, feet). Before we erase this lesson from consciousness with the ease of a shower and some
fragrant shampoo, we have the opportunity to look life square in the eye, smell life square in the nose, and stop deluding ourselves about beauty.
Even if we are beautiful.

Garden in a Bowl
Dice 1 cucumber into a bowl.
Add 1/4 cup umeboshi vinegar. (Or cider vinegar plus salt.)
Dice 1 onion.
Dice 1 pepper.
Mash 2 cloves of garlic.
Dice as many tomatoes as you wish.

You might also add cilantro.
In late summer, i also add tomatillos.

You can also add corn, black beans, mango, or shrimp.

Photo from