Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Money is like Manure

Money is like manure;
it's not worth a thing
unless it's spread around
encouraging young things to grow.

--Thornton Wilder

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Garden of Generosity by Guest Bloggers--the staff of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies has planted a garden.

Apart from how pretty it is and how much fun to walk around in and pull weeds from and play in the dirt of, it also provides lettuce, beets, tomatoes, radishes, squash, flowers.

The mind, too, is a garden.

And if the teachings of the Buddha are planted and properly cared for, they can yield rae and wonderful fruit.

Vegetables and flowers grow by themselves, but not without a little rain, a little sun, and a kind someone to clear the weeds away.

The heart-mind bends and tends towards wisdom and compassion, but not without proper guidance, study, and practice.

Just so, BCBS--this garden of gardens--cannot do what it does without the generosity of its many gardeners.

Please offer your financial support so that BCBS can continue to nurture and inspire and support all the heart-minds that come here to plant themselves in rows and in circles--to practice, to study, to connect, and to awaken.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Giving, by Guest Blogger -- Lynn Kelly

Christmas Giving

by Lynn Kelly on her blog: The Buddha's Advice to Laypeople
As my holiday gift to you, I share this story, slightly edited. It was written by Pearl S. Buck and it evokes in me an experience of being undone by boundless love:

He was fifteen years old and still on his father's farm. He loved his father. He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.
"Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He's growing so fast and he needs his sleep. If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up! I wish I could manage alone."
"Well, you can't, Adam." His mother's voice was brisk. "Besides, he isn't a child anymore. It's time he took his turn."
"Yes," his father said slowly. "But I sure do hate to wake him."
When he heard these words, something in him spoke: his father loved him! He had never thought of that before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children--they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on the farm.
Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up after that, stumbling blindly in his sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes shut, but he got up.
And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was fifteen, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and mince pies his mother made. His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought him something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book. And he saved and bought them each something, too.
He wished, that Christmas when he was fifteen, he had a better present for his father. As usual he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie. It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas. He looked out of his attic window, the stars were bright.
"Dad," he had once asked when he was a little boy, "What is a stable?"
"It's just a barn," his father had replied, "like ours."
Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds had come...
The thought struck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn? He could get up early, earlier than four o'clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He'd do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking he'd see it all done. And he would know who had done it. He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars. It was what he would do, and he musn't sleep too soundly.
He must have waked twenty times, scratching a match each time to look at his old watch -- midnight, and half past one, and then two o'clock.
At a quarter to three he got up and put on his clothes. He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised. It was early for them, too.
He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He kept thinking about his father's surprise. His father would come in and get him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed. He'd go to the barn, open the door, and then he'd go get the two big empty milk cans. But they wouldn't be waiting or empty, they'd be standing in the milk-house, filled.
"What the--," he could hear his father exclaiming.
He smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant.
The task went more easily than he had ever known it to go before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him. He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milk-house door carefully, making sure of the latch.
Back in his room he had only a minute to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up. He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.
"Rob!" His father called. "We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas."
"Aw-right," he said sleepily.
The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.
The minutes were endless -- ten, fifteen, he did not know how many -- and he heard his father's footsteps again. The door opened and he lay still.
"Yes, Dad--"
His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of laugh.
"Thought you'd fool me, did you?" His father was standing by his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the cover.
"It's for Christmas, Dad!"
He found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father's arms go around him. It was dark and they could not see each other's faces.
"Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing--"
"Oh, Dad, I want you to know -- I do want to be good!" The words broke from him of their own will. He did not know what to say. His heart was bursting with love.
He got up and pulled on his clothes again and they went down to the Christmas tree. Oh what a Christmas, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.
"The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I'll remember it, son every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Only Child in the December Garden

I love harvesting vegetables from the snowy winter garden. There's not much out there, true. But fresh, really fresh vegetables in December? It's a miracle. Even if it is kale, kale, kale.

Oh, i complained about kale just a year ago, but i've made my peace with it. After all, it's my only child, right now. My December-garden child.

A line from the Metta Sutta on loving-kindness says,
Even as a mother protects with her life,
her child, her only child,
so with a boundless heart,
should one cherish all living beings.

That includes cherishing kale.

Who is one person you are not so fond of whom you could practice (i said "practice") cherishing today. Imagine this irritating person as a child--as a baby, as a 3-year-old, as a first-grader, as a 10-year-old.

It's difficult to love them at their current age, but look past that into their inner child. They may have forgotten their inner child, but that's no reason for you not to see them as they were. And, at some level, still are. Hurting, and acting unskillfully, perhaps.

I am loving my kale, even with its strong flavor.

Monday, December 22, 2014


The winter solstice bonfire warmed us all last night. About 25 friends and neighbors arrived for a convivial potluck in our candle-lit home. The food tasted delicious. Then we went outdoors to light the bonfire, whose flames rose up 20 feet.

I use a bundle of sage to smudge each person. Smudging is a purifying smoke bath used by Native Americans. It seems counter-intuitive to think of smoke as a bath, and a purifying one at that. Yet, think of smoky fires that drive away mosquitoes and other pesky insects or smudgepots in orchards that keep the frost off of blossoming trees. As the smoke rises, it carries our prayers to the Great Mystery.

Sacred herbs such as sage, sweetgrass, and cedar are used for smudging, for cleansing our energies.

Here are the instructions from one website:

Rub your hands in the smoke to cleanse them; 
scoop the smoke into your hands and bring it 
to your head, so you will think good thoughts - no anger, jealousy, hate; 
to the eyes so you will see the world around you in a good way; 
to the throat so you will speak always in kindness and in non-judgmental ways; 
to the ears, so that you will listen truly listen to each other instead of 'waiting to speak';
to the heart so you feel connected to all living beings in a loving way; 
to the solar plexus so your emotions connect with the Earth Mother; 
to the womb, so your life giving energies go out into the world in balance and harmony; 
under the feet, this way your dark side and the world will not follow in your footsteps.

No matter what our spiritual beliefs, our intentions are to act as harmlessly as possible, and smudging is just one outer manifestation to remind us, once more, of our inner and honorable intentions.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Recycled Christmas Cards

I'm sending out my Christmas cards. First, let me tell you about my cards. Every year, i recycle the Christmas cards i receive by cutting off the message half of the card and throwing it away. I keep the picturesque part of the card, which now looks like a postcard. The following Christmas i send these Christmas "postcards" to my friends. I really enjoy both the recycling of the cards and the saving of several dollars by not buying new cards. Recycling is another form of voluntary simplicity--simplifying my life by not buying more paper products, by not going shopping.

Sometimes, i even send the postcard back to the person who send it in the first place. If they liked it once, they might like to look at it again.

These Christmas postcards mean i have to write my own message. Here's the one that i'm using this year:

  Happy Holidays and a healthy New Year!

You recognize these wishes as loving-kindness in disguise. The essence of what i'm writing is May you feel happy. May you feel healthy. Two commonly-used loving-kindness phrases. Sometimes, i'm writing this on a card whose message is Peace. May you feel peaceful is another traditional loving-kindness phrase.

Christmas-card writing becomes another opportunity to practice loving-kindness.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lost, but Found

Lost, but Found, my annual book of reflections, is available now on Amazon.
Paperback or Kindle.

From the Introduction:
The upside of losing things is having enough space in your life to find something else. I don’t know about you, but for myself, I’ve always had to close the door on the past good and tight before a new door opens, revealing a possibility I had never imagined. Lose the old, so that there’s enough breathing space for the new to make its appearance, to be “found.”.

Read about the adventures of Cheryl and Bill during this past year.
Browse through the Best of this Blog.

And relax into a few, brief Dharma talks.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

I steamed one of my little pie pumpkins, so i could make pumpkin-black bean tostadas. But first, i had to clean the seeds out of the pumpkin.

I put them in a colander and then rushed out the door. When i returned home, my sweetie had cleaned them up and put them on a plate to dry. Oh, sweet man!

I put them onto a little baking sheet, with a rim, doused them with soy sauce, and put them in the toaster oven for 40 minutes. I was in and out of the house, so i asked my sweetie to look at them when the timer rang. He turned them and then worried about them. How much longer? They were still sticky. What were they supposed to look like?

Dealing with the pumpkin seeds was causing him a lot of stress, mostly in the form of worry and anxiety, and also (i suspect) some irritation at me because i wasn't doing "my" job.

I don't like to see him suffering, so i went into problem-solving mode. "Just stop, honey." What i meant was just-stop-stressing-out over the pumpkin seeds, stop looking at them, stop caring about them. We can ease our suffering in any moment, simply by being mindful--of what we are doing, what we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we are saying.

My sweetie likes to make me happy. (Note: His stress was not making me happy.) So he tried to perform a job he didn't really want to do. He doesn't even like tamari pumpkin seeds because they're tough and hard to chew.

The end result is that the pumpkin seeds are roasted; they are delicious; and i am happy. And he is happy because i am happy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Little Spring Bulbs

They say animals return to places where they have previously found food. Bears will return to your compost pile. I can vouch that raccoons and squirrels return to the birdfeeder.

Myself? I return to the garden center to buy a few more winter bulbs to pot up. I'm done with Dutch tulips. I've found one nursery that still has a supply of small bulbs--scilla, puschkinia, and those dwarf Turkish tulips that i love.

This shopping for bulbs has all the hallmarks of craving: I plan where and when i'm going to the garden center days in advance; I make sure i have enough time to stop, that i'm not in a hurry; I buy just a few packages of bulbs, trying to fool myself into thinking i have control over the situation.

Oh, i have a wonderful rationale, which my mind just latched on to: If i plant these bulbs in pots, then i can put them exactly where i want them in the spring. You have to admit: that's a very good rationalization.

I am craving spring flowers.

Simply notice that.
Puschkinia and Scilla (Siberian squill)
Tulip violacea

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Repotting Brand-New Houseplants

While i had my potting soil within easy reach, i repotted some plants i recently bought.

  • Two  little cyclamen looked like they were crammed into their little plastic pot; they were difficult to water. 
  • A little poinsettia, as i suspected, had its roots constrained by a tiny 2" peat pot. I peeled the peat pot off to let the roots spread out. 
  • A little anthurium had thick roots and was very nearly root-bound.
These brand-new plants looked so beautiful at the garden center. They had been pruned and fertilized to maximum growth. They looked ideal. And therein lie the seeds of suffering.

Once these plants arrive at my house, they come face to face with the reality of dry air, sporadic watering, and no fertilizing.

We compare ourselves--or our plants--to some imaginary ideal. I should look like.... And my plants should look like they did when i bought them. If they start to look pale and wan and lose leaves, it must be my fault. I'm not as good a gardener as some imagined ideal gardener. Oh! If only i were perfect.

Reality is that plants live, wilt, peter out, and die. When we can accept things as they are and simply watch life as it unfolds, there we can find peace.

Acceptance doesn't mean that we just roll over. I rolled my plants into bigger pots and hope that more room to grow enables them to live a better life.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Right Potting Soil

I've been buying half-price tulip bulbs and planting them in pots. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many.

I've been having a good time making my own potting soil by starting with 1/2 bucket of manure mixed with 2 quarts of vermiculite. Then add an equal amount of potting soil. Then, depending on how it looks, i might add a quart of perlite for water retention.

I'm a bit skittish about potting soil, since last winter i used potting mix out of a bag, and everything i planted withered and died.

The 8-month old manure doesn't smell anymore and gives the potting soil moistness as well as fertility. I always add vermiculite to my potting soil. After last winter's fiasco, i bought perlite for my next round, to double my chances that the potting soil stays moist enough.

We have to be careful where we plant ourselves--in front of the TV, at the movies, or in the lunch room full of catty remarks. Even though the place, the situation, the event may be recommended by many people, we can sometimes find ourselves in situations that wither our good intentions.

The potted tulips are in my garage, right beside where i park my car. I almost trip over them when i get out of the car. This is to remind me to water them once a month this winter, by shoveling some snow on top of them.

May all our best intentions flower. Hopefully in the spring!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Stunting Effects of Alcohol

I'm forcing some paperwhites. The bulbs are sitting in a bowl filled with rocks and water. The surprising instructions for these bulbs say that when the green shoot is 1 to 2 inches tall, pour off the water and replace it with a solution of 5% alcohol. You can use isopropyl alcohol or hard liquor. Wine and beer have too many sugars.

The result is that the leaves are half as tall as usual, while the flowers are the same size.

This is what alcohol does to us as well: it stunts our personal growth. We may feel more lively and fun with some alcohol in our system, but in fact, we are stunting our real liveliness; we are stunting our life. While we look the same to everyone around us, and even to ourselves, alcohol is slowly, invisibly killing our innards.

For my alcoholic mother, it was her liver and the nerves in her feet. For some, it's diabetes. For others, it's high blood pressure, fibrillation, or other heart disease. For others, it's pancreatitis and diarrhea.

Drinking more than 1 or 2 glasses of wine a day is death on the installment plan.

1st drink--The woman takes a drink.
2nd drink--The drink takes a drink.
3rd drink--The drink takes the woman.

May you bloom as beautifully as your paperwhites.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Footprints in the Snow

Even though the coldest 90 days of the year began on December 9, temperatures here are hovering just above freezing during the day and just below freezing at night. This creates a lovely white winter with snow cover but no ice underfoot. Crunchy not slushy. Crusty not slippery. A dusting of snow every few days keeps the snow looking fresh.

In the snow on the back step, I saw footprints--of a cat, which puzzles me since none of my neighbors have cats nor have we seen a feral cat lurking around. These footprints came right to the back door.

The other night, when I was home alone, an outdoor floodlight, which has a motion detector, flashed on. I startled and felt the adrenalin of fear in my body even as my mind immediately started talking myself out of it. Just a wild animal. At the back door? Probably a raccoon. What if it's a person?

My body felt afraid. My mind wanted to ignore the body and pretend nothing was happening. We do this all the time--ignore the signals our body sends us. We ignore all sorts of emotions--fear, sadness, irritation, impatience. You could call it denial. You could call it avoidance. You could call it ignor-ance.

Wild animals make their living by listening to their bodies. One false step and it's over. We don't live in such a precarious position. We use our minds to argue with our bodies constantly.

Fear in my body felt very uncomfortable. I wanted to get away from it, so i used my mind to talk me out of it. I could have simply been present with fear and discomfort. It ends of its own accord. Even fear is impermanent.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Better Late Than Never

Mike's girlfriend wanted compost bins for her summer birthday, so Mike researched the possibilities and finally decided to build them himself. Since his girlfriend is a renter, the landlord had to approve the location and design. Mike knew he'd need a couple of days to bang the white cedar bins together, and he did, the day before Thanksgiving. And more importantly, just before the foot of snow that fell that day!

We have our good intentions--for ourselves or for those we dearly love. Yet the press of the daily grind reorders our priorities. We are consumed by the day, by the small stuff, by the ego wanting comfort right now, right now, right now.

Our good intentions take us out of our comfort zone into effort, making an effort, using our energy. And when we finally do, we are so happy, with the deep happiness of living in line with our intentions. A happiness deeper than the surface happiness of just doing what's easy or comfortable.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Symphony of the Soil

We gardeners dig in the dirt every chance we get. When you stop to think about it, soil is a miracle. Soil is very rare on planets, and there's a thin, thin layer of it here on Earth.

The UN has designated 2015 as the International Year of the Soils. You can stream the beautiful documentary, Symphony of Soil, for free this week.

Take a deep look at soil--what it is and where it comes from. And deeply appreciate the precious gift of soil.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Improve with Age

My neighbor, Lynn, whom i meditate with 5 mornings a week, made me a birthday card--a picture of a composter and a meditator.
Two things improve with age:    Yep. You're one of them.

Inside, the card says:
Two things improve with age.
Yep. You're one of them.

The other thing that improves with age is compost.

Not everyone we know improves with age. Wisdom, a quality you and i aspire to, depends on understanding our experience. Society and the media fog our vision and clog our ears so that we can't see or hear the truth of Life.

Mindfulness is the first step toward wisdom.  Sitting down and meditating enables us to slowly, over time, compost our life experience into wisdom.

Compost improves with age. And so do we.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Butterfly Birthday

My December birthday day dawned a sunny 11 degrees with snow cover frozen into a white shield on the lawn and driveway. I wore STABILicers on my boots in order to walk the quarter-mile to my neighbor's for meditation at 8 a.m.

Back at home, sitting at the breakfast table, a butterfly fluttered against the window, trying to get closer to the sun. A butterfly? Inside the house? In December?

A butterfly is the best birthday present i've ever received.

The evanescent life of the butterfly, so short, so beautiful. Our lives, too, are too short and becoming shorter by the year. 

I love the metaphor of metamorphosis: the complete and utter change-of-being from caterpillar to butterfly. Miraculous! We too have the opportunity to experience an utter change of being: from born to unborn, from believing in death to the experience of the deathless. There are no words to describe this. The non-dual can only be spoken of in metaphor.

Practice meditation now, so that you too may experience the unborn, the deathless in the most unexpected way.

STABILicer--studded snow tires for your feet

Monday, December 8, 2014

Staking Up a Tall Amaryllis

My first amaryllis is blooming on a 3-foot tall stalk. I'm staking it up with a green bamboo stake from the garden and green twisty-ties.

Sometimes we need a little staking up in our meditation practice. Maybe we're the only meditator we know--alone by ourselves in a room. A sangha, a community of meditating friends, supports us in our practice.

Last Saturday, Vera came over, and we watched a day-long retreat with Shinzen Young via streaming on the computer. Vera said if she'd done it on her own, she would have sat for 10 minutes before she got distracted by something around the house. Ditto for me.

Vera came over and we meditated for several hours. We staked up each other's intention to meditate. Just the fact of the other person's presence staked us down on the cushion.

At the end, Vera and i were both smiling.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Planting Tulips in the Snow

The ground isn't frozen, but it's covered with snow. I could plant bulbs, but i can't see where to put them.

I feel frustrated. I've been buying bulbs at half price. But now what?

I've resigned myself to planting tulips in pots because chipmunks and voles eat tulip bulbs. Since i am now thinking of tulips as an annual, i can make the effort if i want to have tulips in the spring. Now, i can see the easiest thing to do is to start the other bulbs in pots too. Then, in the spring, when everything else is blooming, i'll know exactly where to put them.

Oops. Do i have enough pots for this project?

Stress comes in many disguises: snow cover, bulb planting, potting bulbs, chipmunks and voles.

Despite it all, i am driven by the image of beautiful tulips sitting in pots on my front step. Eustress--the stress of happiness.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Treating My Shoulder Gingerly

I strained my right shoulder, whether by shoveling snow or in my trapeze class or a combination of the two. I'm dropping out of trapeze class for the remainder of the semester, (Ouch!) but i did gingerly go to my Stretching 101 class at the circus school last night.

The physical therapist suggested i take ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory, for a few days. But the circus pros each gave me a pep talk on the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger and turmeric. After class, i stopped at the food coop and bought ginger root, which i needed anyway, and ground turmeric, which i just ran out of. I also bought 2 small bottles of ginger juice.

As soon as i arrived home, i mixed up Ginger Cordial:
1 bottle of ginger juice
an equal amount of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of maple syrup (You can use honey.)

I poured myself a glass of fizzy water, and added enough Ginger Cordial to empower it. Oh, such an easy way to drink my ginger.

Our bodies are of the nature to become ill, or in my case, a bit disabled. I have no control over it. And it happens at an inconvenient time: two weeks before the end of the semester for trapeze class! And just as snow-shoveling season begins.

There's no need to feel incensed about the injustice of life. That just adds mental inflammation. Instead, act cordially toward illness or disability.

I'm going for another ginger cordial, right now.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fox Tracks in the Snow

Walking down the lightly-snowed road to morning meditation group at my neighbor's house this morning, i followed fox tracks. First she walked on one side of the road, then the other, then she switched again. She veered off into another neighbor's driveway. But a few hundred feet later, as i turned right, here came another straight line of fox tracks up the road, which also turned into the meditation neighbor's long driveway. These tracks veered off into the woods, making a beeline for my neighbor's compost.

When i returned home after meditation, i followed "my" fox tracks directly to my compost pile, where it suddenly looked like a fox trot party had happened last night. Broccoli stems and carrot peelings, onion skins and a coffee filter inside the compost bin didn't look that appetizing to me. I wonder what the fox was after? It did not look like the fox had jumped into the pile as a large dog will sometimes do. I remain puzzled as to what they are eating, although i can understand that the foxes are cold and hungry at this time of year.

What are we hungry for? And how far will we travel to find it?

When the ordinary food of our busy daily lives no longer sustains our heart, what kind of soul food can we find? And where can we find it?

I am fed by the teachings of the Buddha. And you? What is your "soul" food?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Flowers. Who Cares?

This morning, after aerial yoga class, Jen and I were talking about forcing tulips.

One of the other women said, "Flowers. Who cares?"
Another woman agreed. "I never really notice flowers," she said.

How do we feel when someone doesn't care about our loved one? When our neighbor doesn't love our dog? Our parents don't love our husband? Our husband doesn't like our friends?

Usually, we feel personally insulted, as if their lack of love is an attack on us. Actually, it's our attachment that is under attack. The other person's lack of feeling for our love object has nothing at all to do with us. It actually has nothing to do with our loved one either. It's all about them, the one who is lacking in love.

I could have blurted out "But I love flowers!" and laid the groundwork for a little civil war between us. "Well, i don't."  But what is the purpose of that conversation? Why argue with reality?

Hatred never ceases through hatred, the Buddha tells us.
Hatred is healed only by love.
This is an eternal law.

Dislike (theirs) never ceases by dislike (ours).
Irritation never ceases by getting irritated back at them.
The war within ourselves or with someone else never ceases by making war on them (or our self).

Can I open my heart to the non-lover of flowers?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands

Winter squash come in all shapes and sizes and colors. But i've never before seen a Yugoslavian Finger Squash. Until tonight. There's one sitting on the volunteer table here at the Homeless Shelter where 27 people are sleeping on the floor of the Baptist church.

This squash sort of looks like "He's got the whole world in His hands."

And, indeed, perhaps that's what the 27 people who are staying warm tonight think too. Every week when i volunteer, from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., i receive so much gratitude from so many of them.

Thanks to the community, the church and its members, the volunteers, and the homeless themselves, who keep this sleeping shelter in good working order. Thanks to all of us and to all of our helping hands.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Out of the Box

An amaryllis is growing out of its box at the garden store. "Help! Let me out of here," I can almost hear it crying. It wants to be planted in soil in a pot. The soil and the pot are in the box with the almost-flowering bulb. So near and yet so far.

Sometimes we'd like to break out of the box of our small lives. We'd like to grow into wide open space. When we' re young, we can travel--rootless, open, available. We can try on new personas, new jobs, new places.

Eventually, we do root into our adult lives--some of us younger, some later. We plant ourselves willingly, with a person or in a place or in a career. Meanwhile, the purpose of our lives wants out of the small place we confine ourselves to.

Look deeply. What's the purpose of your life?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

I'm living inside a Christmas card. Snow lays on the bare branches of trees and cloaks all the evergreens in white. The temperature is just below freezing; cold enough to hold the snow but still feel pleasant. The foot of powdery snow on the ground is light enough to shovel--neither too wet nor too frozen nor too icy. It's beginning to look a lot like....

"Looking like" is not the actual thing. What we call love is usually attachment in disguise. Love expects nothing in return. Nothing. (If reading this sentence feels like "Ouch! That hurts." Then that's the feeling of attachment. Attachment hurts.)

Attachment wants something. There's a quid pro quo. I'll make you special if you make me special. The emotional state we call "true love" is usually true attachment or true lust. True love lets go. True love doesn't hold on.

Love looks like wide open space. And it's all around us.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pure Green

I made almost a gallon of parsley pesto and stored it in half pint containers. That means I have a dozen containers in the freezer, which translates into a dozen meals of parsley pesto pasta this winter.

Parsley pesto--just the paste of parsley plus olive oil that comes out of the food processor--is so green. It's St. Patrick's Day green. In contrast to basil pesto, which turns brownish-green when it comes in contact with the air. (i.e., almost immediately). Parsley pesto loses its strong parsley flavor and fades into the background, mixing very comfortably with garlic and Parmesan.

I'd like to emulate these qualities of parsley--it maintains its purity in the company of others. It even antidotes the garlic!

Too often, in the company of others, we are carried away by their unskillful behaviors--gossiping, complaining, drinking. We pledge ourselves to act more in accord with our conscience, but then.... Belonging to the group overrides our best intentions. Sigh. Our behavior turns a bit brown around the edges.

One verse of the Greatest Blessings Sutta that I read for 2 different Thanksgiving services, says:
Avoiding those of foolish ways,
Associating with the wise...
These are the greatest blessings.

Perhaps we can't or don't really want to totally "avoid those of foolish ways." They may be people that we dearly love. So, for balance, we spend more time associating ourselves with wise people. Oh, that feels so much better, even though we "only" feel friendly; we don't love them particularly.

"The wise" can give us the strength of character that we need to practice our good intentions in public. We might even, in an unseen or low-key way, antidote the unskillful behavior of others.

Oh, that pure green parsley pesto is so beautiful.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Substituting Kindness for Complaining

Since we went to a community Thanksgiving dinner, we don't have any leftovers. So I tried parsley pesto pasta for dinner. So delicious! And so green-green.

Instead of basil, I substituted a half pint of the parsley paste I made 2 days ago. Instead of pine nuts, I used walnuts. As usual, I used garlic, Parmesan, and my own sun-dried tomatoes.

When we substitute a good habit for a bad habit, we develop our strategy before the bad habit strikes (again). For instance, we substitute loving-kindness for irritation, impatience, and frustration.

Lauren, my step-daughter, has Asperger's syndrome and is very sensation sensitive. In her new apartment (and she has had 3 new apartments in the past few months), the downstairs neighbor, an old man, turns his TV quite loud. Instead of complaining to the management,  Lauren took him a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. (She's a very good cook!) She chatted with him and noticed that his TV is not loud in his  living room. She substituted kindness for her usual why-don't-people-understand-what-I-need attitude.

What a delicious and refreshing change of habit, change of heart.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Heavy Snow This Morning

Heavy snow is coming this morning. It's the last chance to clean up the garden and put away the paraphernalia that's lying around because very soon it will all be covered with a big thick white blanket.

I want to harvest another gallon of parsley, the last shreds of chard, a few pathetic cabbages, and some more kale. I wonder how much of that will actually get done?

Last week, a friend lamented that her friend who had done tons of research in his (and her) field of interest had died. Before she got over to his apartment, his heirs had thrown out all his papers in black trash bags.

What is it that we really want to do, but don't quite get around to? We are distracted by daily life. We are in denial that the snows of winter are coming.

This cleaning up of loose ends is one of the reasons i publish an annual book of my writings. I used to think that the administrator of my estate could hire someone to go through my writing, but now i see how unrealistic that idea was. All my writings, all my notebooks, will be thrown out in black trash bags, and my computer, and all its files, will be scrapped. That's the reason to publish now. Because i will perish one of these days. Maybe today.

This year's manuscript is almost ready to go to the book designer. So she'll have something to do when she's snowed in today.

Here's a list of some of my previous books:
Every Good Thing
Impermanent Immortality
At the Mercy of the Elements
That Rascal Mind

Monday, November 24, 2014

Just a Spoonful of Parsley

I bought a 6-pack of parsley in the spring, and each one developed into a nice bushy plant. What to do with gallons of parsley? Obviously, i need to use it as more than a garnish.

Since i can't bear to let anything in the garden go to waste, i cut it yesterday and made parsley pesto, which i am freezing in little containers.

Parsley is the antidote for garlic breath, and because we eat a lot of garlic in this household, we can probably use all the parsley. I just have to get into the habit of using it :)

Our bad habits also have antidotes. The way to stop a bad habit is not to directly stop it, but to replace it with a good habit.

When we feel irritable, worried, or anxious, we practice loving-kindness.
When we desire something, want something, yearn for something, we practice generosity of spirit.
When we are confused, doubtful, and lacking self-confidence, we practice wisdom.

I'm keeping one container of parsley pesto in the refrigerator, so i can dip into it, a spoonful at a time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Slippery Oak Leaves

Going for a walk in the woods is a bit slippery in November. Those beautiful rust-red oak leaves fall to earth at the very end of October, and then paths become slick with these tough, shiny leaves. Walking uphill or downhill (and we do have hills here in New England) feels a bit hazardous. It's always good to have the walking poles for balance, even for a short, easy walk.

What are the slick and slippery places in our lives? The places where we lose our balance?

For me, it's my grudge-list. Once i get started down that slippery slope, i feel very off-center.

We regain our balance with a moment of mindfulness. Oh, these thoughts are not really beneficial--to me or to the other person. A moment of mindfulness is enough, followed by another moment of mindfulness Hmm. So that's how begrudging feels in my body. Contracted, tense, tight. This thought is a moment of suffering.

We might then take the next step and antidote these resentful, irritating thoughts with some self-compassion. May i be kind to myself. Or May i accept myself as i am. Or May i treat myself as i would treat my best friend.

I'm not begrudging those darn slippery oak leaves, which are covering the body of Mother Earth for her long winter sleep.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kale Icicles

It was 22 degrees at ten o'clock last night when i went outdoors with a flashlight to pick some lacinato kale for this morning's breakfast quiche. The kale leaves snapped off like icicles, so gathering a handful was a lot of fun.

My thought was to saute the kale and some onions before bedtime, so that this morning, all i have to do is add the eggs and (goat) cheese.

It's not easy to slice icicles, even with my big, sharp Julia-Child-style chopping knife.

Oh, how we yearn for stability in our lives. In order to do this, we sometimes make our lives small so that they will be predictable. We try to freeze people, places, and things into place and then believe "that's how things are." Actually, it's just our story about them and about ourselves.

We can become so crystallized in our views and opinions that not even the sword of wisdom can cut through. "Cheryl, why do you talk about aging and death so often? Can't you say something positive for a change?" or "Not-self? How ridiculous." or "Of course time exists."

We are all caught in a collective delusion.

Melt into the present moment and report on what you find there. Sitting. Reading. Drinking. Eating. That is all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Enjoying the Company of Kale

November cold and quiet is visiting for a few days. The sky is blue, and the winds of change are blowing.

It's time to harvest my lacinato kale, the so-called dinosaur kale. Most people say this wrinkly, narrow-leaved kale is the sweetest. From past experience, i expect it to last for just 2 more weeks, so i try to harvest some every day. Yesterday i cooked Tuscan kale-white bean-miso soup. Today kale quiche in a skillet (without the crust) with 3 kinds of goat cheese.

When we know one of our friends doesn't have much time left, we want to spend as much time as we can with them. We want to enjoy their company.

My lacinato kale has chunks of icy snow caught between the leaves and the stems. It's getting cold out there. Time to enjoy kale's company before it goes quiet.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Meditative Gardener is on Retreat

I'm at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

I'll return to this blog on Monday, November 17.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The White Garden in November

The white garden at my front door looks especially lovely this November. White alyssum and several variegated white-and-green leaves help it retain a verdant look in this season of brown leaves and bare trees. This one little garden looks like it is still alive. Still living.

This early morning, it is extra white with a thin glaze of light frost.

In the white-haired stage of our lives, we too look lovely when life shines through us. Even if we do have a thin glaze of light frost on our body.