Thursday, December 31, 2015

Chickadee Joy

My sweetie Bill is having so much fun with the chickadees. When he goes out to the deck to put sunflower seed on the railing, one or two of them come land on his fingers. This sort of fun is called joy.

Have you noticed how joy clears out the mind of other extraneous trash? While joy is present, happiness pervades the body. Marinate in that feeling of happiness. Notice it. Drink it in.

Winter has arrived with its snow and ice. And joy is sitting right outside our door, eating sunflower seeds.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Skills You Can Keep

Recently, one of my circus teachers said, "Some skills you can keep--like riding a unicycle or juggling. But if you don't keep working on your splits, you'll lose them."

I was thinking about this at the gym this morning. Several people were there working out, lifting heavy, heavy weights. I, too, was there exercising for the purpose of strengthening my bones.

We pay so much attention to this body, yet, the minute we stop working out, we lose it. I could do splits 50 years ago, but not now.

Skills we can keep include training our minds, like we do in meditation.

Really, shouldn't we be spending as much time meditating as exercising?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Red and Green on the Front Step

The decoration on my front step is a flowerpot filled with greens and a gazing globe. I used red-twig dogwood for a spark of red, and i discovered some red maple saplings sprouting out of a stump. I hung some tarnished Christmas balls on the reddish twigs, and voila! Christmas decorations.

The red-twig dogwood is especially decorative in this season, and shows up particularly well on this, our first, snowy day.

I do like a plant that performs in at least two seasons, and, preferably, three.  Red-twig dogwood has red twigs for winter and spring and variegated leaves for summer and fall.

We want a spiritual path that is going to support us in all the seasons of our life, particularly the season of cold and dark.
Red-twig dogwood

Monday, December 28, 2015

Invisible Impermanence

My concert pianist sweetie has lyre-back dining room chairs. (Just think of them as musical chairs.) I recently had their seats recovered, since the old seats were beginning to fray.

Somehow, i managed to make just one trip to the fabric store. Even though i came home with a floral pattern, he approved. The last time i did this, i made 3 trips to the fabric store and could not twist his arm into flowers. We finally agreed on trees.

He actually likes the new seat covers. Whew!

The seat covers slowly, surreptitiously, become worn and tattered. Invisible impermanence. Our bodies, too, slowly, invisibly unraveling and sliding into tatters. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Garden Apron

My sister gave me a gardening apron for Christmas. Made from re-purposed blue jeans (actually purple jeans! how perfect!) I love the colors. I love any form of re-use. And, of course, i love gardening. And now i will have enough pockets to stash things in.

An apron is supposed to keep our clothes clean while we are in the kitchen--or in the garden. How do we keep our minds clean? By spending some time each day focusing on positive qualities--kindness, patience, generosity, compassion.  Take your pick. Do it now. Clean up your act. You know what i'm talking about.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Losing Your Marbles

My friend Karen gave me marbles for Christmas, to use with my paperwhites. These are her 60-year-old aggies.

Before we lose our marbles, let's meditate!

The Buddha said, "Meditate like your hair is on fire," which means meditate before you lose your marbles.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Cleaning Up

As i mentioned yesterday, i have too much lead, one of the earth's elements, in my body. Really, due to our industrial society, we probably all have some sort of body burden--an excess of some element or other in our bodies.

Chelation is the method of removing heavy metals from the body. I'm using green clay, another earth element, to chelate the lead, to draw it out of the body.

Green clay looks like powdered wasabi; just add water and smear it onto the body. In this way, eventually, the body can be purified of the toxic elements.

Our minds, too, can be purified of toxins by practicing qualities of kindness, compassion, joy, generosity, and the cure-all, patience.

Choose your poison. I'm sure you already know your very familiar poisoner of the mind--a grudge, impatience, anger, wishy-washiness, greed.
Then choose the antidote. (Message me if you need some help with this.)

Let's clean up our act. Clean up our body, but even more importantly, clean up our mind.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Copper Bullets

We've all heard stories about too many deer. Deer eat our gardens, sometimes to the nubbins. And deer carry deer ticks. Lyme disease is now rampant, though still unrecognized in many places.

As Buddhists, we take the precept every day to do no harm. That doesn't stop other people from hunting deer, which are overpopulating our forests and towns. Some hunters are using copper bullets instead of lead bullets. Since i just learned that the level of lead in my body is 4 times higher than normal, i am very interested in reducing the use of lead in our environment.

One farmer set up a wildlife camera to see what happens to the hunted deer on his property. As you can see, he caught an eagle, a crow, and a red-tailed hawk eating the deer. And no one was eating lead bullets.

The circle of life goes on around us. What we put into that circle comes full circle eventually. If hunters tested the level of lead in their own bodies, they might feel differently about using lead bullets.

We are all so vastly interconnected.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

El Nino Winter

Here in the Northeast, far, far away from the Pacific Ocean, we are having an El Nino winter. Literally, a little winter. Or in other words, very little of winter since it is 40 degrees every day, and maybe 60 on Christmas day.

Sleep is sometimes called the little death. I try to practice mindfulness of falling asleep, but, usually, falling asleep gets the upper hand, and, before i know it, z-z-z-z-z.

I'll tell you what i experience when i do pay attention, and i hope you'll tell me what your experience is so we can compare notes and learn from each other.

I turn out the light, and the discursive mind keeps chatting for a little while.
Then it shuts up. (Maybe the discursive mind goes to sleep?)
I experience a few (sometimes, very few) seconds of quiet mind.
I often have an image, right here in the quiet mind, of a night sky with some thin, white clouds. This is the place where i try to effortlessly pay attention. Too much effort kills this open space-spaciousness.
When that image dissipates, i might notice what Shinzen Young calls "word salad," as if i just picked up three stray pieces of magnetic poetry words. Three utterly unrelated words.
Then i begin to see images--sometimes like a slide show of black-and-white photos from a previous century, sometimes the sense of hordes of people on the move. Just images with no feeling attached.
When the images become vivid, like a movie screen inside my head, i know i am just seconds away from sleep.

Mindfulness of falling asleep seems like a good practice for mindfulness of dying. Mindfulness of when the elements are entirely out of balance as they seem to be in this El Nino winter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flowering Kale

Our local farmstand closed the day before Thanksgiving, so i stopped and bought 4 flowering kale, on sale. I knew i was taking my chances because the season of hard freezes was (i thought) coming soon.

One month later, our El Nino warm winter has given us lovely temperate weather, so the flowering kale are still blooming on my front step. A tiny flower garden greets me every time i walk in the front door.

It's never too late to start meditating. One friend says she's given up on meditation; her daily practice is joy. Another friend, who meditates 20 minutes a day, says her practice is gratitude.

I feel grateful for these lovely flowering kale, which bring me a lot of joy.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sitting with the Dark Light

Winter Solstice! The sun has gone as far south as it can go. Now it's time to pull it back to the north. Today is the shortest day, and i am, unusually, short on energy. I just want to be a groundhog and sleep.

Wait for the dark, my dear. Then notice the light. The fulling moon. A bonfire with friends gathered round. The house lit with only candles.

Sitting with the dark light.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cherry Tomatoes for Breakfast

A cherry tomato plant grew in my compost pile. Two months ago, at the first frost, i picked the (mostly) green tomatoes and brought them in to the kitchen, where they've been ripening ever since. My sweetie fries a few tomatoes for breakfast every morning, so he's almost at the end of our surplus. Good thing, because the tomatoes are beginning to wrinkle.

It brings us great joy to still have a summer harvest as winter begins, in earnest, tomorrow. A taste of summer. A taste of joy.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

True Generosity

Three weeks ago, Jane brought me a bouquet of flowers for Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks Jane, for the gift that keeps on giving! These white mums are still making me smile.

This is what generosity feels like--ripples of happiness are still tickling me.

True generosity from the heart. Not to be confused, in this season, with spending more money.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Forcing Bulbs for the Holidays

One month later: Blooms!
A month ago, i offered a mini-workshop on forcing bulbs for the holidays. I brought in a collection of vases along with some half-price bulbs, and a dozen of us spent an hour talking about paperwhites, hyacinths, and amaryllis.

Nancy, who was there, sent me a photo of her paperwhites, which are now blooming. The hyacinths will take longer.

The paperwhites are so rewarding. They are quick and easy. Sometimes our meditation is quick and easy. Sometimes, we, like the hyacinths, need some time to contemplate the winter of aging.

Take your meditation seat and simply notice what arises.

Hyacinth growing roots.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lights in the Season of Darkness

Our Christmas tree is up. This year i'm decorating it only with lights--no ornaments. An uncluttered look, emphasizing lights in this season of darkness.

Where do we find our inner light in dark times? Meditation. Meditation. Meditation.

The other evening a Dharma friend talked about finding happiness in the midst of pain. Very early in my meditation practice, after the break-up of a relationship, i noted "Sorrow. Sorrow. Joy. Sorrow." and was completely surprised by that one-half second "vacation" of joy.

The blackness of the dark times turns out not to be as solid as we had imagined.

Light up the dark with mindfulness.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Amaryllis Blooms

My first amaryllis of the season bloomed today! I have about a dozen amaryllis bulbs in pots that i carry over from year to year.  Last year, i had an amaryllis blooming every week from Christmas into April.

I've made a commitment to amaryllis despite their strappy foliage. I "hide" the plants in my sweetie's music studio in the basement until they come into bloom. Then i bring the blooming bulb upstairs to the kitchen where it can stand alone on center stage and where i can see it every time i walk through the kitchen.

What's one quality that you would like to work toward? This month, i'm practicing compassion. You might choose kindness or generosity or patience or....

Put that quality in the center of your meditation--today or this week. Find little opportunities for it to take center stage. Then one day, it will bloom when you weren't even expecting it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


We're having a Pacific Northwest winter here in the Northeast. Foggy, misty, and in the forties. Snow and ice is nowhere in sight. Alyssum is still blooming.

It's blooming in a protected spot; it's half dead. But it's half alive too.

A friend who sings in our local hospice choir tells of visiting a man who was skin-and-bones and just hours away from death. The choir sang, "I still have joy. I still have joy. After all the things i've been through, i still have joy." The man smiled; he obviously still had joy, even though he was what we would call half-dead.

Even half-dead things are still half-alive, and they can still bring us joy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Round-Robin Generosity

A neighbor left 3 forcing vases and 5 shallow bowls of rocks (for forcing narcissus) for me. Last winter, i gave her a forcing vase with a blooming hyacinth, and a couple of weeks later, another one. Now she returns the vases to me. I bet you can guess what i will give her, come February.

This round-robin of generosity builds the muscle of generosity in each of us.

Pass it on.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Garlic Turkey Broth

Garlic Scape Pesto
I have a cold, so i'm eating garlic, lots of it, every day. Last night's dinner was a quart of turkey bone broth with a half-pint of garlic scape pesto. It's strong. I'm hoping the bone broth makes my own bones strong.

Garlic is a strong taste, somewhat unpleasant. Yet, the thought of garlic is pleasant, since I trust the healing powers of garlic.

Pleasant. Unpleasant. These feelings, these impressions simply arise and pass away. The rest is story.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Earliest Sunset

Today is the earliest sunset of the year. Of course, as we are approaching solstice (sun standing still), it looks like the sun is setting at the same time all week.

Here at 43 degrees north (not quite half-way between the equator and the North Pole), the sun sets at 4:16 p.m.. It's dark at 4:30. Evenings at home last a long time.

 We think many things in our life are standing still--our body, our steady relationship, our house, our car. But really, really, things are changing every second. You have to look closely to notice this.

By winter solstice, we will have gained three minutes at the end of the day. Three tiny minutes in two weeks isn't even glacial speed, yet the earth keeps turning. Notice the light.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Beautiful Junk

My wind catcher ornament fell apart last night. The outer rim is now separated from all that glorious prismatic metallic color. Aided, i assume, by a 4-footed creature--either a squirrel or a raccoon.

Another garden ornament, gone. And now that it's in pieces, i realized i've always had a certain dissatisfaction with it. The location i put it in wasn't that windy, so it very seldom spun. Truth be told, it had been a long while since i actually noticed it.

Gone, just like everything goes.
A vague dissatisfaction, like so many other things.
Beauty. And now, the not beautiful. Or should i say, the beautiful junk?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Chinese Sacred Lilies

My Chinese sacred lily bulbs arrived in the mail today. These are my favorite paperwhites. Most paperwhites are Ziva, but i prefer the heavenly fragrance of the Tazetta narcissus.

Although i've collected several containers, i'm not sure i have enough. And i've already run out of stones, so this project comes to a halt until i go buy a large bag of white granite chips.

Yesterday, at the craft store, i was eyeing bags of marbles. Oh, they are so attractive, and i'd love to be the type of person who uses those so artistically. But, having bought those marbles before, and then watched them sit in the shed for years, i refrained.

Oh, the self we imagine for ourselves is beautiful or thin or artistic or creative or.... Well, you can fill in the blanks with your own self that you want to be.

The self that we desire to be, but.... Well, really, we can't fit it all in, can we? There's too much stuff, too much information, too much of too much.

I ordered too much of Chinese sacred lilies (50 bulbs). And now i am slightly stressed due to not enough containers and not enough rocks.

Just notice that little stress. All in the name of pursuing happiness.