Friday, May 30, 2014

Manure Happens

My compost is young--less than a year old--and i'm going through it way too fast. I predict i could reach the bottom of my current pile in about a month, and then i'll be ready for the third pile, which i only finished last week. I am certain that a month-old pile will not be ready for me!

What to do? Install a temporary 4th compost bin. It was easier to convince my sweetie than i expected. He said "Yes" immediately. Into the new bin went a truckload of manure i had picked up last Saturday morning. I was going to use the manure to "finish" the other two piles, but that idea will have to wait for some other truckload.

I now have a compost pile completely made of manure. My hope is that, in a month, it will have decomposed into nice rich dirt.

Sometimes, it takes a while for us to compost the experience of our life. Images of the past come back to haunt us like the garbage in our compost pile. Then, years later, we wonder what all the fuss was about. Sigh.  I spent weeks, months, years of my life on that? What a "waste" of time.

We all just need to age a little.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I reached the bottom of one compost pile. Oh, how wonderful to finally see that black plastic "floor." I put the "gate" (the fourth pallet) back on that bin and immediately began filling it up again. Sunday, my gardening friend Melissa and i hauled 2 garden cart loads of lamium to that bin, so it's about one-third full already.

Now i'm screening my way through the middle bin, using the compost to pot up plants i've thinned out of my flower beds.

I feel a certain sense of accomplishment when i finish a project--or finish a compost bin. There. That's done. But, of course, it isn't done. It's gone. That compost pile is gone. The other thing that's gone is my desire to finish, to accomplish that particular thing. Desire has evaporated, and it feels so good to be desireless for a moment.

So what do i do? Start all over again. New compost pile. New desire. New wanting-to-finish. New stress, mild though it may be.

Simply recognize stress, in all its disguises. Recognize the truth of life.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Gardening Friends

My friend Melissa came over and helped me in my garden for 3 hours yesterday. Well, we did take an hour break for iced tea and talking about her upcoming trip to Norway.

In the garden, we ripped out a big patch of lamium, which is very good as a ground cover. But i want to do something else in the shade under the weeping cherry tree--a pink and white garden. Many hands make light work.

Melissa invites me over to visit her garden every spring, and we review her plantings and her plans. Now she "repays" me by helping me in my garden.

She has another friend, Carolyn, with whom she also trades garden time. Yesterday morning, they planted a peach tree at Melissa's.

Our gardening friends are one example of sangha, which means community or assembly, but can also refer to the confluence of two rivers. For an hour or two, our lives flow together with a friend. We can have worldly conversations or uplifting conversations.

The Buddha says that our spiritual friends and our spiritual conversations are all of the spiritual life.

If living in accord with your highest intentions and purpose is important to you, then follow your heart of hearts and spend some time with a friend you admire soon.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Too Many Oranges

I've been wondering what to do with the tiny oranges on the ornamental orange tree, especially now that the new orange blossoms have budded.

I moved the tree outdoors for the summer, and now a chipmunk dashes back and forth, from the stone wall, across the terrace, to the orange tree. Sometimes, i find a tiny orange (the size of a big marble) on the stone wall. But now i'm finding orange peels underneath the little tree.

I can tell you these oranges are extremely sour. I love kumquats, but these little oranges are way beyond kumquat sourness. Maybe the chipmunk doesn't have the tastebuds for sour?

When we have too much, of anything, it's good to offer it to someone else, even if it is a chipmunk.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Garden Clothes Fashion Statement

I went to my morning meditation group dressed in my gardening clothes. Well, okay, my socks don't match. They're gardening socks, after all.

I've recently adopted a new fashion statement: tucking my pantlegs into my socks. I live in tick territory. I go outdoors. I garden.

The very first tick prevention is to tuck your pantlegs into your socks, and now i do it every day. I've developed a new habit, an unfashionable habit. I have to dare to be different, to look different than almost everyone else. (Diana, who walks through the woods to morning meditation group, always tucks her pantlegs into her socks too.)

I'm adopting this new habit for my health.

When we adopt meditation, we have to dare to do something different, something our family and friends probably are not doing. We meditate for our health--our mental health, certainly, and sometimes for the effects on our physical health as well--lower blood pressure perhaps.

I'm going out to the garden where the ticks live, and where i live too. I tuck my pantlegs into my socks for my health, but also for the health of the ticks who will certainly die if i have to extract them from my skin.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Recycling the Cycle of Life

I'm looking forward to the bottom of the compost pile i'm using. I can see part of the black plastic i laid down as the floor of the pile so the tree roots wouldn't grow into the bottom of the pile.

Every day i fill the wheelbarrow with lovely screened compost that looks rich and delicious. Every day i pot up two or three dozen plants for the Plant Sale at the library this Saturday. Today i'm hauling a truckload of plants to the library. On Friday, i'll take another truckload.

Donating plants gives me a delicious satisfaction:
--Dividing plants in my garden and giving away the extras.
--Potting the extras up with recycled pots from the Saturday Swap Program at the landfill and with recycled compost from my garden.

Recycling the cycle of life: plants to compost to plants.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Compost to the Brim

My compost pile is full. Fortunately, every day it sinks an inch, like a freshly dug grave.

The compost pile i'm subtracting from is young. I can still see the remains of last summer's clean-up when i ripped out a sizable patch of pachysandra and yanked out galloping ostrich ferns. The rhizomes of both are still completely recognizable. Only the green leaves have decomposed and disappeared.

I screen the young compost into a wheelbarrow and throw the chunky remains into the new compost pile. Every day i fill it to the brim. Every night, the heap sinks as if it's exhaling its last breath.

One of these days we too will be on the compost pile of life, with our cremains spread on land or water.

Until then, i'll enjoy the feel of the fresh, rich compost sifting through my fingers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gardener's Nose

I went to the dermatologist last week to have her freeze a couple of spots on my face--a scaly spot and a red bump, both of which were pre-cancerous. I asked her to look at my nose, which feels a bit rough. "Oh, you've got gardener's nose," she said.

The skin, it turns out, is not beautiful. It's bumpy, scaly, rough in patches, and mine, of course, is a bit wrinkly. Look, really look at your skin with a magnifying glass.

At a recent meditation retreat, the monk/teacher led us through an abbreviated body meditation. He led us through a visualization of our skin. "Not beautiful." Then a visualization of our flesh. All i could imagine was the meat department at the grocery store. "Not beautiful," he said. Then our bones. "Not beautiful," he repeated.

Our skin is the saran wrap in which our body is covered. It peels, it scales off, it sweats, it wrinkles its nose. Our skin is the bag that holds the innards of our body together. Your bag looks like that; my bag looks like this.

I'm taking my bag and my gardener's nose out to the garden to sniff the spring air and smell the flowers while i may.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hemlock and Quince

My friend Myrtle lives at an intersection on a busy road. Recently, she to have the hemlock at the corner of her house cut down because it was dead.

"That hemlock was my garage," she sighs. "I parked my car under it for 40 years. It's always been there. And it protected that corner of the house." Myrtle is quite unhappy about the change to her lawn and garden. She misses that hemlock tree dreadfully.

She sighs again, and we walk from the stump to the nearby quince. "It's never bloomed so fully before," she says. "Oh, i love this quince."

Change happens.

When we resist change, we feel stress and unhappiness.
When we embrace change, we feel beautiful happiness.

The choice is yours.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Ungardened Mind

We know what happens when we stop gardening in our our garden: the harvest will be pathetic.

The same thing happens in our unguarded/ungardened mind. Mindlessness prevails. Our harvest of happiness will be slim or shallow or accompanied by a great deal of stress.

So guard and garden your mind by practicing mindfulness while you are pulling a few weeds.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Germander. Gone.

NOT my knot-garden
I'm just now ripping germander out of my patio garden. It's a good little edging, adaptable to poor and dry soils. I originally liked it because it is an evergreen herb used in European knot gardens. But the fact is, germander is toxic as an herb, and i don't have a knot garden nor a British garden.

Germander has tiny pink flowers briefly, and then it's green. It just does not provide enough sense pleasure.

Sense pleasures are quite temporary, lasting only a few seconds. Then they are gone. Basing our happiness on more and new sense pleasures takes a lot of effort, and sometimes (often?), we don't get what we want. Not getting what we want causes dissatisfaction, which is the First Noble Truth: Dissatisfaction exists.

Deep happiness also exists, and we can shift our course to aim more precisely at the happiness that is available even if outer circumstances are poor and dry.

My deep happiness comes from the practice of generosity. I'm giving away my germander to someone who really wants it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bumbling into the Glass Ceiling

Before my sweetie put the screen doors on, i was traipsing in and out of the solarium, taking the houseplants outdoors for their summer vacation. The next time i was in the solarium, i heard Bzzzz, bzzzz. A big, old bumblebee was searching for a way out.  He kept hitting up against the glass. The outdoors looked so close.

We too hit up against the glass of our own stress, not even recognizing stress as stress. In my 20s and 30s, i thought i could practice sexual freedom as i called it. Pain and suffering inevitably followed. Still, i bumbled on, hitting up against the glass of stress. Why couldn't i just get through it? Other people seemed to have a lot of fun. It took years to understand my experience. It took years to begin to practice refraining from sexual misconduct.

We worry about loved ones and call that worry "love." Worry is stress; love is stress-free.

Eventually, i captured the bumblebee under a glass and whisked him outdoors.
Let's allow our minds the freedom of true love--wide open and spacious.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Naturalizing Mindfulness

The Dutchmen's breeches have jumped into another flower bed, about a hundred feet away from where i am carefully colonizing them. This process of naturalizing a wildflower makes me very happy.

I grew up in a rich woods in the Midwest. On May Day, my sister and i picked bouquets of Dutchmen's breeches, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild phlox, and spring beauties.

When i moved to my home in the dry pine woods of the Northeast, i tried repeatedly to grow the wildflowers of my childhood. No luck.

Eventually one of my shaded nursery beds, under an old apple tree, turned out to be the perfect place for Dutchmen's breeches. I stopped planting other wildflowers in that bed and just let the Dutchmen's breeches have free rein.

We try to naturalize mindfulness in our lives. It isn't easy. It's hard enough to be mindful when we're practicing sitting meditation. How can we possibly practice mindfulness at work or in the car or on the phone or on the computer?

We keep meditating, practicing mindfulness, and then, one day, it pops up while we are taking a walk. There it is. Mindfulness in our daily life, naturalizing itself.

I am delighted that the Dutchmen's breeches have naturalized into the woodland. Mindfulness is another name for happiness.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Suddenly Hot

Suddenly, it's hot by midday. I dash out to the garden in the early daylight to work while it's cool. By 11:00, i change from sweatpants into long cotton pants. Then, an hour later, i change into shorts.

My neighbor, Whit, doesn't like to change clothes during the day, so i sometimes see him in shorts at 43 degrees. I'm covered up
in a fleece jacket, hat, and gloves while he's in short sleeves.

Some of us like change; some of us don't.

Right now, i'm waiting for my broccoli seeds to change into seedlings. Meanwhile, the daffodils are wilting and changing into deadheads.

Change is happening every moment, whether we like it or not.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Asparagus Change

Asparagus spears are poking their heads out of the ground. Often, i pick them and eat them, raw, on the spot. A few make it into the kitchen, where i steam them for a couple of minutes. Sometimes i eat them long; sometimes i chop them to bits into a salad.

Raw or cooked, whole or sliced, asparagus tastes like spring. It's one of the first vegetables of the new growing season. Gone are last year's vegetables--carrots, leeks, parsnips.

Out with the old; in with the new is another way to say change is happening. We are so happy to see the changes that spring brings. One delight after another. One sense pleasure after another. Happy, happy, happy.

On the other hand, change is happening. Nothing stays the same. Especially not us. Since we too are constantly changing, just where is that creation of the mind called "I"?

Look at the asparagus. We call it "asparagus" whether it's one inch tall or four feet tall, yet it is not the same as it was yesterday. "Asparagus" is a concept.

And so is "I".

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Treetop View

My sweetie loves the guys at the tree service, and is always thinking of one more job for them. He is especially enthralled with Bob, the monkey who climbs to the tops of trees with his chainsaw in hand and starts limbing a tree from the top.

Bob not only carries his chainsaw, he also carries a camera, so we received this photo of our back sidewalk and terrace.

That's my sweetie, Bill, with his arm around Dan, in the orange hard hat, who owns the tree service. The blue mist on the terrace are the outdoor chairs and the purple mist is the outdoor table.

The treetop view, the long view, the big picture, a bird's-eye view--these are all names for equanimity.

When i'm down on my hands and knees in the dirt by the gazing globe, all i notice are the weeds.
Bob, the treetop climber, can see the beauty of the big picture.

The beauty of the big picture that is our life.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wildflower Walk

I offered a Wildflower Walk to our sangha on Sunday. No one came to the windy parking lot where we were supposed to meet, so i sighed, and drove myself to the nearby dead-end road. Another car was just parking. Mary and Mary were there for the wildflower walk!

Our walk on the trail beyond the dead-end went along a brook on one side and a steep hillside on the other, absolutely loaded with trillium, dutchmen's breeches, and wild leeks. We saw a few hepatica, some tiny saxifrage, and the occasional blue cohosh.

Mary was an Environmental Studies major, so we had a great time identifying wildflowers and trading names with each other. She was a birder as well.

This is a form of happiness:
  • wildflowers--pleasant, pleasant, pleasant.
  • naming them--pleasant, pleasant
  • taking a walk in the woods--pleasant

These worldly forms of happiness are sense pleasures--seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, thinking.
These sense pleasures come and go, which puts us in the uncomfortable position of wanting more or wanting the pleasant to continue. Wanting. Wanting.

The Buddha offers us the possibility of a deep happiness that we can abide in, no matter the outer circumstances. Sort of like having our eye on the bigger picture. Knowing, in our bones, that everything changes, we float in the river of life content with the constantly changing scenery.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Gardening Until Dark

Gardening in the morning,
Gardening in the evening,
Gardening at suppertime.

I gardened until dark last evening. What a joy to be outdoors until 8:15! So much better than sitting in the house or at the computer.

Some mornings i'm out in the garden at 5:00 a.m., immersed in bird song, the cool damp, and the light in the eastern sky.

This is what happiness feels like. En-joy-ment. Grateful to be in the garden. A little fountain of love running over. Sweet.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Well-Composted Manure

On Saturday, i drove to a nearby farm and picked up a truckload of manure. I intended to top off my compost piles, but the manure was already so well composted that i decided to throw it directly onto my vegetable garden and the surrounding strip beds.

There is the occasional undecomposed woody stem. I've been to Farmer Charlie's manure piles often enough to recognize the remains of a 3-foot tall lamb's quarters or other weed. Yes, there are probably a zillion weed seeds in this gorgeous composed manure.

We go shopping. We find something beautiful. We buy it and bring it home. We don't recognize the stress that is inherent in this new thing, which turns into clutter or becomes something we don't even see. New clothes! How wonderful! Until our drawers are overflowing, and our closets are stuffed. In the morning, we lie in bed for an extra 15 or 30 minutes just trying to figure out what to wear. New clothes are stress in sheep's clothing.

But for now, the vegetable garden is beautiful with its cover of rich, dark, well-composted manure.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stealing Iris

This morning, before meditation, Paula told me that someone is stealing her perennials. At first, she thought critters were digging up her plants. She and her husband would find a hole here and there. Then this week, her husband found a clump of iris sliced through with a straight edge.

"They probably don't consider it stealing," Paula said.

The Buddha said, "I vow to refrain from taking that which is not freely offered." I repeat this precept every morning, and over time, it sinks in.

One of my teachers doesn't even pick up a penny on the sidewalk because no one has offered it to him. Knowing this about him makes me trust him very deeply with my spiritual life.

We are aiming to be trustworthy people. We don't take what isn't offered. Not even a pen from work. Not even a seed pod from our neighbor's garden.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Too Many .......

I have piles of gardening paraphernalia that i use once a year:
  • forcing vases for hyacinths (November)
  • big flowerpots for forcing tulips (November)
  • 6-packs for starting seeds and rooting cuttings (February-March)
  • trays to put the 6-packs in (February-March)
  • yogurt and hummus containers i save to use for potting plants (May-September)
  • half-pint containers i save for freezing pesto (September)

For 10 months of the year, these objects sit in a neat pile, waiting for their season to come around.  Sort of like holiday decorations. There they sit for 11 months out of the year, waiting their turn of season.

At about month 8, the person i live with becomes exasperated by one pile or another. "You have way too many ____________ (fill in the blank). You've got to get rid of these."

This statement throws me into a panic, "No! No! I don't have too many." When the time comes, i'm always hunting around for more forcing vases or more half-pint containers.

He thinks i'm a squirrel, and he's right. I do squirrel away all sorts of things. And i also really try to give away the extras of what i do not use.

I follow the maxim: If i haven't used it in the past year, it's time to pass it on.

Today, i'm dividing plants, potting them up in those yogurt and hummus containers, and passing them on.

What are you passing along?

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Possibility of My Own Awakening

When I tend the garden where my Buddha statue sits, I find that I naturally become more mindful of my work—transplanting vegetable seedlings, cultivating roses, weeding, or cutting flowers. No matter what I’m doing, I find I pay closer attention, as if the Buddha were watching me.

Actually my own Buddha-nature is watching me. Then I remember: I am going for refuge in the possibility of my own Awakening.

page 232

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Young Compost

Last spring and summer, i used all my compost--5 bins of it. Fortunately fall clean-up provided an excellent opportunity to fill up the bins, and i topped off each one with a thick layer of manure from a nearby farm.

This spring, i have young compost--all gangly with stems and undecomposed flotsam. So i'm screening my compost by using a flat (tray) and shaking it over the wheelbarrow. I particularly like a flat that has solid sides and holes that are not too big. Shake, shake, shake. Then i throw the over-sized debris into the newest compost bin. The screened compost, which i used for potting up extra plants, is really beautiful.

Wisdom is our understood experience. Sometimes it takes us years or even decades to understand our experience--of grief, of trauma, of plain-vanilla suffering or stress.

When i was young, i thought morality was old-fashioned. I thought i could get away with all sorts of little cheats, white lies, and a little sexual misconduct here and there. I didn't realize i was just hurting myself. I did not understand my own experience. Not really.

Eventually the compost pile of my life built up. All that stress has decomposed and become the ground in which kindness and compassion now grow.

Nowadays i sift my thoughts and words and deeds through the screen of "Is this beneficial?"
Nowadays, i grow happiness.