Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Water Your Fruit Tree by Guest Blogger, Rick Hanson

What would bear lots of fruit?

The Practice 
Water your fruit tree.

If you don't nourish the things that nourish you, they wither away like a plant in dry stony ground.

Looking to the year ahead for you - a year that can begin whenever you want - what's one key thing that will bear lots of fruit for you if you take care of it?

There is usually one thing - or two or three - that you know in your heart is a key factor in your well-being, functioning, and how you treat others. It's often a seemingly small thing in the rush and complexity of a typical day. It could be getting that 15 minute break each day with a cup of tea and no interruptions . . . or writing in your journal . . . or feeling grateful for three blessings in your life before falling asleep . . . or asking your partner questions about his or her day and really listening . . . or taking your vitamins or eating protein with every meal . . . or getting home in time for dinner with the kids unless you're traveling . . . or getting up an hour earlier each day to start writing that book. It could be finally now making that shift for which your heart has been longing.

For me, one thing that pops off the page is going to bed early enough to get enough sleep plus be able to get up in time to meditate. Doing this sets up my whole day and makes it better.

As you know, most New Year's resolutions are worse than useless: they don't lead to real change and we feel bad about not sticking to them. But if you think of this as feeding yourself, being good to yourself, giving yourself a big wonderful gift each day, nourishing something that will pay off big for you . . . well, it sure is a lot easier to keep treating yourself well in this way.

What's on your own short list of the things that would make a big difference for you? Perhaps you, too, would benefit from getting to bed earlier. Or from listening to someone for five minutes or more each day with no expectations. Or from regular exercise, meditation, or prayer. Or from dropping one bad habit, or from picking up that guitar again. Perhaps making art would make a big difference for you, or staying calm with the kids, or finally beginning to spend a few hours each week on starting your new business.

Take a moment to imagine the rewards to you and others if you did this one good thing for yourself tomorrow. How would you feel at the end of the day? What would be the benefits? And then imagine those benefits coming to you and others the day after tomorrow . . . and the days and weeks and months after that.

Of course, all you can do is tend to the causes; you can't control the results. You can water a fruit tree but you can't make it give you an apple. But no matter what happens, you know you have tried your best.

Keep coming back to the feeling of nurturing yourself. It's OK to take care of yourself in this way. Try to feel the warmth for yourself, the strength to gently guide your future self - the one who will be doing this one good thing tomorrow, and the days after that - to keep watering this particular fruit tree.

And know that you can water more than one tree. But it helps to zero in on just one or a few things to focus on for a year.

And then a year from now, looking back to this day, you'll likely be enjoying a beautiful sweet rich harvest! 

Rick Hanson is the author of Buddha's Brain. He publishes a weekly newsletter, Just One Thing, from which today's blog is excerpted.

He also publishes a quarterly Wise Brain Bulletin.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Water Your Fruit Tree by Guest Blogger, Rick Hanson

A saying has been rattling around in my mind for many years, and it's kind of a running theme for me: water your fruit tree. I think it's a good way to look at the New Year. If you don't tend to the things that feed you - especially the one or two or three that make a really big difference - your life doesn't bear all the fruit that it could for you and others.

This practice is a way of approaching "resolutions" that feels much more warm-hearted and bottom-up than bossing oneself top-down - Go to the gym! Stop eating sweets! Practice gratitude! - as we usually do . . . to little effect.

What's that one thing which really sets your life right, lifts your whole state of being, and makes a big difference for you?

What could happen this year if you regularly watered this particular fruit tree?

Rick Hanson is the author of Buddha's Brain. He publishes a weekly newsletter, Just One Thing, from which today's blog is excerpted.

He also publishes a quarterly Wise Brain Bulletin.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Grass is Greener....

"The grass is greener
where you water it."

Neuroscience says it this way:
Neurons that fire together, wire together.

We could call it "cause and effect." We could call it "habit." We could call it "in a rut."
Or we could call it "karma," because our present actions determine our future.

 What "grass" do you water? Anxiety? Worry? Judgment? Impatience? Irritation?

What "grass" would you like to water? Open-heartedness? Balance? Patience? Kindness?
Name one.

The first step in practicing the quality you want to be is simply to be mindful of that bothersome habit.
Label it out-loud every time you see it.
Call out its name as if you are seeing an old friend.
Repeat its name until it disappears. Until it slinks into hiding.
And you smile.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fertilizing Houseplants

I'm just now feeding my houseplants for the first time since November. During the days of little light, i allow them to rest for a couple of months. But now that light is increasing both in the morning and in the evening, i add some fertilizer to the watering can.

We too need a rest period, a retreat from the go-go-go of growing our lives, our jobs, and our responsibilities.

I have a couple of retreats planned for March, before gardening season begins in earnest.

And you? How and where do you take your solitude? When do you rest your mind? When do you soak the filters so that you can see in full technicolor and hear in full surround sound again?

Photo from

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Juncos in the Christmas Tree

The birds are loving the Christmas tree that provided my "instant landscaping" near the front door. I see juncos hiding in the balsam fir, looking for protection from winter winds and high-flying hawks.

We too are subtly looking for protection as we go through our daily lives. We want to be safe, and we do this by going places we know and being with people we know via texting or phoning.

We could simply be safe in the here and the now, in the unk-now-n. Because every moment is new.

Really every moment is unknown. And we are safe.

Photo from

Friday, January 17, 2014

Rooting Dieffenbachia

My dieffenbachia came in a planter when my mother died, fourteen years ago today. Eventually, the plants outgrew their container, and i separated them into their own individual pots. The little dieffenbachia has limped along, always shedding its bottom leaves, and looking a bit undernourished in winter, but regaining its health every summer outdoors.

This week, i looked at it carefully and saw about 20 sprouts coming out of the pot, so i've cut off the leggy ones. Half i am rooting in water; the other half in soil.

Dieffenbachia was named to honor the head gardener of the Vienna Botanical Garden, Joseph Dieffenbach, in the mid-nineteenth century.

We honor the memory of our loved ones who have died, knowing that we, too, will follow them. 

"Death is certain.
The time of death is uncertain."

Knowing this, what's the most important thing for you to do today?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Death in Paradise

My bird-of-paradise is blooming its eye-popping orange and blue "birds." This particular tropical plant reminds me of my uncle who lived in Hawai'i and who died ten years ago today. He always sent the most spectacular tropical floral arrangements to funerals, although he made it a policy never to attend funerals himself, beginning with his own mother's funeral, when he was 34.

Four years before he died, i gave him the phone number of my mother's sister who was dying, and whom he had dated when they were teenagers. My mother was dying at the same time, and he felt very affectionate toward her, his ex-sister-in-law. He did not call her either.

None of us wants to carry on a conversation about death or look at death too closely. Yet the Buddha recommends that we contemplate death every day.

Death comes. Even in paradise.

Photo from

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Father's Legacy

My father died 16 years ago, but today is his birthday, so i'm thinking of him. He had absolutely no idea about flowers, but, as a farmer, he knew his grasses, something i do not know. He could identify wheat, rye, oats, and timothy. And he knew alfalfa and the clovers that he cut for hay 3 times every summer.

His idea of gardening was to plow up a quarter-acre with a small Massey-Ferguson tractor, then put us kids to work with hoes while he went to jog his harness horses. He himself was not much of a gardener, having plowed too many fields barefoot with horses during the Great Depression. He liked to move earth with equipment of any sort.

He did like to grow tomatoes and cucumbers though. That was his idea of a garden, out behind the horse barn, fertilized with horse manure, and growing plenty of weeds.

Three of his four kids (including me) got the gardening gene. The other one got the mechanical gene.

My father is gone now, but the fruit of his actions lives on. Three of us will be starting tomato seedlings sometime soon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wanting What I Already Have

The garden catalogs are tumbling into the mailbox. I leafed through a spring bulb catalog, and was immediately caught by delicious possibilities. I lingered over Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies)--a bulb whose spring leaves die back and then blooms unexpectedly in August. I already have A. belladonna, and have even divided them to scatter them around other flowerbeds. I don't need to buy any more. Exactly what am i yearning for?

For those of us with chipmunks who eat oriental and Asiatic lily bulbs, Naked Ladies are a good substitute. My friend Anne, in Maryland, says Naked Ladies are a weed for her, springing up helter-skelter in her lawn.

Perhaps what i am yearning for is that A. belladonna would perform as beautifully as its photos. They are short bloomers, and in August, they have often gone by before i've even noticed them. Am i thinking that if i only had more, then i would have more blooms, more pleasure, that i would notice them more?

Life is brief. Everything we cherish perishes. Sometimes, much too soon.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Beautiful River Birch

I attended a writing retreat yesterday at a New England inn. The centerpiece of the front courtyard was a group of 3 river birch--the largest i have ever seen. I remarked on their beautiful cinnamon bark, especially noticeable at this time of year.

"Oh, they're so messy," said the innkeeper. The windy, rainy day had pruned a dozen twiggy branches that were now lying on the snow beneath the birches. Every wind, every rain, every snow brings down more branches. In the spring, there are the catkins--the birch tree flowers.

River birch catkins
When we are full of desire--for a person or a thing or a situation--can we stand back and look at the unbeautiful that comes along with the beautiful?
For his lustful young and middle-aged monks, the Buddha recommended imagining the excrement of their dark-eyed beauty fantasies. Before he himself embarked on the ascetic path, Siddhartha Gotama had seen the drooling, heard the flatulence, smelled the bodies of the sleeping women in his harem and become dispassionate about them.

The river birch are beautiful. And they are messy.

Photo from

Friday, January 10, 2014

More Space

With the departure of the Christmas tree, there's suddenly more space in the solarium. Sweeping up all those fir needles also means that it's clean. Our energy flows more fluidly in a clean space. The solarium is a place i want to be.

I took the Christmas clean-up as a time to "depart" a few more Christmas trimmings. The Christmas closet itself is beginning to look rather airy. The white ceramic Christmas tree made by my grandmother is being shipped off to a nephew. I've enjoyed it and enjoyed remembering my grandmother for 25 years. Now, it's time to pass this memento along to the next generation.

"Less is more." More space, more energy, more time, more calm.

Make more room in your life. What one thing can you give away today? What one "to-do" can you give up today?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christmas Tree Redux

We took down the Christmas tree and carried it outdoors. And there we set it up again in a snowbank, known in other seasons as my white garden. Now that garden is well and truly white--with snow. For the next ten weeks, we have a tree standing near the front door, sort of defining the white garden with a bit of vertical greenery. Instant landscaping!

We did this while the temperature was still above freezing and the wet snow could be shoveled and then banked around the base of the tree. Two hours later, the temperature dropped below freezing and now the tree  and its stand are frozen solidly into the icy snow for the next three days as temperatures drop back into the single numbers.

We think of our words and actions as changeable, pliable, melting away on the next breath.

Yet, if we repeat the same thought or the same action over and over, the neural pathway forms a rut, and a habit becomes frozen in place. A habit becomes part of our inner landscape, and we start to believe that's who we really are.

Let's watch our thoughts and actions carefully and make sure that they are in accord with our highest intentions. Let's plant mindfulness right at the front door of our mouth.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pleasant Fades

The holiday centerpiece that i made 4 weeks ago at Garden Club is starting to look a bit stale. It's still green, but.... What? I'm tired of it? It looks like Christmas, and Christmas is gone?

The 3 carnations "passed" a couple of weeks ago and were carried out to the compost pile. The baby's breath has dried out, and their color has shifted from white to off-white, but they're still okay as a dried flower.

In the cleaning up of holiday decorations, the centerpiece has gone outdoors, to live next to the ornamental flowerpot of greens and a gazing globe. The centerpiece is a bit small for the job, but adequate for this supporting role of greenery.

And so life goes. From pleasant to neutral to unpleasant and back again. First, the centerpiece was pleasant. Then i stopped seeing it as it faded to neutral. Then i began "seeing" it again, only now it looked slightly unpleasant. Untimely. Unfresh.

Pleasant--we want it.
Unpleasant--we don't want it.

Are we at the mercy of pleasant and unpleasant?
Grasping every pretty, pleasant thing.
Pushing away every unsightly, unpleasant thing.

As if we could arrive at a place where everything is pleasant.
But even the pleasant fades to neutral, as we tire of it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Party Time

Party Time is blooming! The tiny white astilbe-like flowers are unremarkable on this hot pink-and-green foliage. Also called Pink-and-Green Joseph's Coat, you'll probably choose one of these names instead of the Latin name Alternanthera.

I bought Party Time instead of impatiens last summer and then brought one plant indoors in the fall. It makes me very happy every time i look at it.

The Pali word metta (Sanskrit: maitri) is often translated as loving-kindness. Sometimes it is called loving-friendliness or goodwill. Other possibilities include amity or benevolence.

We can choose the translation that resonates with us. Because whichever word we choose, metta makes us happy.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Squash to Pie

In the basement, while putting away extension cords from the holidays, i discovered 2 butternut squashes going south. I brought them up to the chopping block in the kitchen, cut off the brown parts, and soon had 3 bags of cubed squash for the freezer, as well as sauteed squash-apples-onions for dinner. My sweetie had been begging for a pumpkin pie, so i made a squash pie instead. (It looks the same.)

Illness surprises us. We go to the doctor for a check-up and find something not quite right. My 47-year-old step-daughter just emerged from a week in the hospital and a bout with inflamed colitis. My 96-year-old hospice client has leukemia, but she subsists on a diet of Pepperidge Farm cookies and Boost, a nutritional drink.

My middle-aged winter squashes had begun to bruise and brown. Most of my friends in their 60s have had skin cancers removed. The women almost all have osteopenia, the predecessor of osteoporosis. Bones begin to weaken inside, unnoticed.

The body only lasts so long. And what it does is beyond our control, no matter how well we take care of it.

Knowing this, knowing that Life consumes Life, what's the harvest of our life? What do we make of our "one wild and precious life"?

Pie photo from

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Below Zero

It's 10 below zero on this beautiful, cloud-strewn morning. The birds at the bird feeder have fluffed their feathers so that they look like round balls instead of sleek birds. (And what wind chill do they feel when they fly through the already wind-chilled air?)

Minus ten delineates zone 4 from zone 5. If i buy plants that are hardy in zone 5, that means they'll survive down to -10 degrees. That's today.

I try to buy zone 4 plants that are hardy down to -20. Then i can be pretty sure they will survive the winter.

These very cold temperatures can also have an effect on invasives of all kinds, which have been creeping northward as our climate warms. Lyme ticks are not as prevalent in the northern part of the state, which is mostly zone 4, but also zone 3, and even zone 2 on the mountain tops.

Tree pests such as the hemlock wooly adelgid, which will eventually wipe out our hemlock tree population, can't survive below -10. But we need several days of -10, and only this one is predicted.

We try to knock out our own bad habits by giving them the cold shoulder, but this cold-heartedness only puts them into the deep freeze of repression.

Warmth is the remedy. Feel kindness for yourself and for the bad habit.
I love myself as i am.... (Fill in the blank with the name of your bad habit.)
I love myself as i am, impatient.
I love myself as i am, cold-hearted.
I love myself as i am, feeling unloveable.

Morning sun is streaming into our passive solar house and warming us up on this wind-chilly day.

Photo from

Friday, January 3, 2014

Oranges on the Orange Tree

When our friend David moved out of his apartment a year ago, he gave me his potted orange tree. In the summer, i set it outdoors with the other houseplants. Now, it is loaded with little oranges the size of big marbles. These "oranges" don't actually taste good; they're all skin. But it is fun to see a little 3-foot tree loaded with little oranges.

Outdoors, during the summer, the wonderful-smelling orange blossoms were naturally pollinated; something that happened indoors only with the aid of a Q-tip.

When we are first beginning our meditation practice, it may feel as awkward as pollinating orange blossoms. Is this the way you do it? Eventually, we find our meditation community, and then things start to happen "naturally" as we surround ourselves with the Dharma and people who talk about Wise Action. In several more months, we begin to see the fruits of our practice. A bit more calm. Fewer regrettable words. Labeling our emotions. Practicing kindness.

Tropical fruit to warm our hearts, even on a cold and snowy winter day.
Photo from

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Gay, the pruner, came yesterday to prune the crabapple and the apple trees. She just shows up, sometime in January or February, and an hour later, 4 trees are pruned.

Under her care and guidance, the 2 old apple trees, that were growing in the woods when i bought this land 35 years ago, have actually produced apples. Our crabapple trees are loaded with blossoms in May.

Pruning goes to show us that less is more. Fewer branches means more flowers and more fruit.

What can we prune from our lives so that we have more fruit in our lives? And fewer busy detouring branches? So that we have more time for meditation. So that we have more calm. More mindfulness. (And maybe more money too.)

I just "pruned" one pile of paper last night. In less than an hour, an area of of two square feet was decluttered. Ahhh. That feels good.
Gay, the pruner

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Flat Plastic Vase

For the New Year's Eve sit at Vermont Insight Meditation Center last night, Drew brought a bouquet of alstromeria and a flat plastic vase. How handy! And easy to carry on an icy night. Just puff out the plastic, fill it with water, and the plastic holds its vase shape.

We ourselves hold the shape of our past actions. By this time in life, we've acquired lots of habits--gestures, ways of thinking, manners of speech, and a raft of opinions and judgments. We call this collection of habits "I."

Really, our physical container is puffed up with 60% water. Our container may be naturally good looking, or maybe not so much. But really it is just a container that will one day be flattened by death.

Our habits, our actions are the only thing we own. In this new year of 2014, let's focus on skillful and wholesome and beautiful actions.

I'm beginning by being grateful to Drew for the beautiful bouquet.