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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Walla Walla Onions

I had a fantastic onion harvest in August.  My Walla Walla (Vidalia) onions were as big as softballs. No kidding!  But those big onion-ring type onions have a short shelf life. So I'm cooking up as many onion recipes as I can. Onion soup. Onion quiche with bacon bits. What's your favorite recipe that uses a lot of onions?

These big onions are surprisingly mild and sweet. We think of onions as causing us some distress, bringing tears to our eyes. But not these. People in Walla Walla eat these onions like apples. Crunch!

 Several things on our Buddhist path may initially make us put up our right hand like a stop sign. "No thanks. I don't want any of that."

For instance, the 5th precept of not taking intoxicants. Oh a little glass of wine never hurt anybody. Or the third perfection of renunciation. No thanks. I want more not less. Or the third characteristic of existence: Not-self. Of course i have a self! Or the 5 daily reflections on aging, illness, and death, followed by impermanence and karma. Really, do we have to talk about those? What a bore.

Yet when we bite into any one of these teachings, we find our life becomes sweeter.

So send me your onion recipes Sweetie.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Purple Leaf Plum

I was just admiring my purple leaf plum tree a couple of days ago. It still retained its full deep purple foliage. This frosty morning, just a few shriveled leaves remain.

I went to sit vigil with a hospice client last evening. At 89, she was still living at home, when she fell and broke her hip. After the operation, she got pneumonia, and, suddenly, she is on her way out of this life.

One day we are in full foliage, and then....

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sweet and Sour

Yesterday, i sweetened acid soil with lime. Today it's time to "sour" the soil around the acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, hydrangeas, dogwoods, blueberries, and camellias.

You might think, that living in New England, my soil is already acid enough due to a carpet of pine needles and acid rain. After all, acid soil is formed from granite and shale (and coal). But the granite is across the river in New Hampshire, the Granite State. Three miles west, here in Vermont, i live atop schist and a band of brown limestone. Lime-stone, as in the lime that sweetens acid soil. So my soil actually has a neutral pH.

Thus, i add acid, in the form of sulfur, to the soil around the acid-loving plants. I especially pay attention to the rhododendron at the corner of the house because the cement foundation leaches lime into the soil.

Lilacs love lime, but some plants require a more acid soil. In order to bloom where we are planted, we need the right balance of sweet and sour.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Acid Soil or Acid Tongue

Now that the garden chores are slowing to a crawl, it's time to do some annual maintenance. Today, it's time to sweeten the lawn and gardens with lime.

 Here in New England, we typically have acid soil, due to pine needles and acid rain blowing east from the smokestacks of the West and the Midwest.

Certain plants love acid soil and grow well here in New England--ferns, pachysandra, begonias. Certain weeds also tell us that the soil is acid--dandelions, stinging nettles, lambs quarters, and sheep sorrel, among others.

Lime is slow-acting and eventually "sweetens" acid soil.

We too can sweeten our own acidic and acerbic tendencies by practicing gratitude and kindness. Feeling like a sourpuss doesn't really feel good anyway. As much as we might love to zing out a tart reply when our feelings are hurt, a zinger is meant to sting the other person into recognizing us. Speaking harshly only pushes people away.

Let's sweeten our own inner soil with some gratitude right now. Name 3 things you are grateful for.

That's the way to grow friendliness.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The End of Chard Season

The end of Swiss chard season is fast approaching, and my sweetie is picking grocery bags full of rainbow chard. This morning i used half a bag to make Eggs Florentine. It's a good thing chard cooks down from a heaping mound to barely half-a-skillet-ful.

I caramelized some onions and garlic, chopped the chard, and let it simmer with a lid on. Then i added bits of feta cheese and made nests in the chard for 4 eggs. Ten minutes later, we were eating a delicious breakfast.

Chard is a good substitute for spinach, which i have never successfully grown. Chard lasts and lasts, from May into November, and it doesn't bolt. The flavor is a bit stronger than spinach; chard is in the beet family.

Some of us choose meditation as a substitute for our previous religious tradition. And some of us still practice both.

Meditation has lasted me more than half my lifetime. And i usually have it before breakfast.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Hard Nut to Crack

My 93-year-old neighbor Esther has a butternut tree in her front yard. Butternut is also called "white walnut" (as opposed to "black walnut.")

This year must have been a mast year for the nuts, because Esther said she had thousands of butternuts littering her yard. She filled dozens of containers, and finally gave them away to Martin, who filled the bed of his truck with Esther's butternut harvest.

Martin rakes the nuts onto a concrete pad, covers them with metal roofing, and then runs over them with his tractor to crack the fragrant green shells. Then he shovels that mess into a cement mixer, using a lot of water to wash them all clean. Butternuts are hard nuts to crack.

We ourselves can be a hard nut to crack, especially when we get going on one of our favorite grudges. How do we loosen the shell when we've hardened our heart against someone? Sometimes, life will grind us up until there's nothing left for us to do but let go. Let be.

But more often, we just keep grinding away on our grudge. "He shouldn't have...." "That's not fair." "She should...."

We wash that grudge clean in the water of loving-kindness. Simply rinse your mind with your favorite phrase. "May i feel safe." "May i have ease of well-being." It will take a while. Days perhaps. Or even months.

Simply keep rinsing your mind with loving-kindness until your heart cracks open.