Thursday, March 31, 2016

Aging Easter Lily

My sweetie is a church organist. Last Sunday, he forgot to pick up his Easter lily, so by the time he got it, it was the runt of the litter--bent over like an old woman, with two brown buds and a couple of hopeful-looking ones. He propped it up, using chopsticks as a crutch, and set Lily in a sunny window, hoping that would straighten her up a bit.

The message of Easter is suffering, death, and resurrection. My sweetie was dismayed to receive a rather ugly Easter lily with two dead buds. He is treating it compassionately, helping Lily in her old age.

Next week, i will bury her in the ground to wait for next summer's resurrection.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Tamarind pods
While i was in Florida last week, i visited my friend Annette, who has a tiny permaculture farm. In her backyard, she is growing mangoes, avocados, lychees, grapefruit, lemon, key lime, and tamarind. Permaculture is sustainable agriculture, and we can all do this in our own backyard, our front yard, and our gardens.

Here in the North Country, i don't have the mouth-watering selection of tropical fruits that Annette has. I have two old apple trees in my backyard, which a pruner has encouraged into production. I canned a couple of gallons of applesauce last fall.

To live sustainably on our little plot of ground is to live simply. We use what Mother Nature provides. I think of a line from the Metta sutta: "contented and easily satisfied."

Can i be content with my gnarly apples? Can i be easily satisfied with second best?

Annette gave me 3 tamarind pods. When they ripen, i'll be satisfied with that sweet-sour taste of tamarind.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Blooming from the Heart

I was in Florida last week, visiting my Aunt Polly. She showed me the crepe myrtle in her front yard. Right now, it is bare sticks (and rather ugly), but in July, it will be a glorious purple.

When we prune our own life--downsize our possessions, simplify, or scale back our responsibilities--we can focus on what is most truly meaningful to us: living from the heart. Our heart can bloom.

What one thing can you let go of today?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

That Garden is Gone

I was so happy to see that the garden behind the church has been demolished.

Odd words from a meditative gardener, i know. Here's the back story:
My sweetie belonged to a tiny church that was living on its endowment and failing to make ends meet. Three ladies installed a garden in the back yard of the church. In that garden they planted some beautiful invasives--burning bush, honeysuckle, and purple loosestrife.

I offered to buy the plants from them if they would take them out. "They're invasives!" i said. (I planned to destroy the plants.)
"Oh, we'll keep an eye on them," said one of the church ladies.

The church closed its doors a few years later, due to lack of money. It was bought by the town's historical society, and, by this time, the back yard garden was unkempt and overgrown.

Fortunately, the building became an arts venue for concerts and plays. It received several grants to improve the falling-apart, paint-peeling church. In the process of adding a "green room" behind the stage (the former altar), the garden of invasives was destroyed.

We too think we can live with and control or at least contain various bad habits--drinking, talking about people behind their back, overspending, living on our credit card. But those unskillful actions pollute our minds. It really is better to root out those unwise actions now, while we have the energy and the clear vision to see the long-term effects on our very own karma.

Because, one day, we too, like the church and the garden behind it, will be gone.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hyacinths in a Pot

I planted some hyacinths in pots, kept them in the garage for 3 months, and now they are blooming. (Not in the garage!)

What a blast to see 7 hyacinths crowded into a pot and smelling heavenly. This is one way i can really see them--up close on the kitchen table.

My sweetie complains that i planted too many tulips in pots, but he is not complaining about too many potted hyacinths. (Six pots still to bloom.)

In truth, he's happy to have tulips on the deck, tulips on the front step, and tulips to give away. Being Scotch, he's a bit more thrifty or frugal or sometimes stingy than i am.

The hyacinths bring me joy, and giving them away gives me even more joy.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Primroses on the Front Step

With the warmish weather, i've been dying for pansies, which won't be on sale until mid-April. However, i did find primroses at the garden store. I bought four, which i grouped together in a pot on the front step. What a nice bit of cheery color to greet me every time i leave or return home.

By putting them in a flowerpot, i can bring them indoors on the freezing nights we are having and take them outdoors again during the day.

Primroses may look prim. Perhaps we feel a bit prim when we stick to the 5th precept of refraining from intoxicants while, all around us, friends are drinking their wine or beer.

So here's my question: what's the difference between being a prude and being prudent?

Though others may judge us as prim and prudish when we politely refuse alcohol. "Oh, i'll have a glass of fizzy water, please." Perhaps we are simply being prudent.

Or could we say that alcohol leads us down the primrose path?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Amaryllis Blooming

My amaryllis are blooming one by one. Lovely pink Susan is fading. Now a white-and-green-and-pink one is blooming (Rembrandt?) on a stem that is 3 feet (!) tall.

Sometimes people complain to me that their amaryllis didn't bloom at Christmas. Well, neither does mine. I keep my from year to year, and left to their own devices, they seem to bloom, one by one, from December into April, although someone told me their amaryllis bloomed in July.

Our meditation practice doesn't unfold on time schedule we want. Hey, our life doesn't unfold on the time schedule we wanted either.

Life unfolds. Simply be with the beauty of that.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pulmonaria is Blooming

Pulmonaria is blooming! In a very protected spot. That's good, because nighttime temperatures, which have been almost warm, are falling back into down to 20 degrees.

Pulmonaria, also called lungwort, is so-named because it's spotted leaves supposedly look like lungs. The lovely flower begins as a pink bud, but becomes blue as it ages.

A leopard may not be able to change its spots, but we, fortunately, can change our outlook on life.

Recently, my sweetie was recalling an incident from 20 years ago in which i behaved poorly. "That was cruel," he said. Gee, i never thought of such behavior as cruel; it was just the way my dad brought me up.

On second thought, i realized that my behavior had been unkind on that day so long ago. "Please forgive me," i said to him.

I'm trying to change the color of my mind, from unthinking to thoughtful.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Bear in the Compost Pile

The last time i looked, it was full to the brim. Hmmmm.
I'm pretty sure the bear finally got into my compost pile. My square 4-pallet bin was filled to the top with garden debris--dead leaves and last year's stems--plus a few kitchen scraps--onion skins, banana peels, grapefruit rinds, and coffee filters.

Earlier this week, i really looked at my compost pile, and it was a foot below the top. Someone had smashed it down. Not me. And, at first glance, i couldn't see any kitchen scraps at all, not even a teabag.

Somebody's been in my compost bin.

So, now i'm dividing our kitchen scraps into 2 buckets: one marked "for the bear" and one marked "for the chickens." The bear gets the onion skins, coffee grounds, and teabags. My neighbor's chickens get the vegetable matter.

The Buddha recommends dividing your thoughts and actions into 2 piles: wholesome and unwholesome.
Try it. For a few minutes or a few hours.

This exercise is a great way to become aware of those bugbear thoughts, the thoughtless zingers that trip off our tongue, and our kind and unkind actions.

It's time to stop feeding the bear!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Crocuses on the Septic Tank

Leaves on top of the rock marking the septic tank lid. (Upper left)
The crocuses on the septic tank are blooming. That's the warmest spot in the lawn. Yippee! It's official. Spring is here. These septic tank crocuses are the very first spring flower, and they don't seem to mind being the leader. They shine in all their glory.

Sometimes, we have to take the lead in certain situations. For some, this is easy; for some, taking the lead is unwanted and unsought. Still, taking the lead in kindness and generosity is beneficial for everyone involved, even if you are the only one practicing it.

Kindness and generosity are two beautiful mind states, blooming in the warmth of friendliness.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Unbending the Hook

L-hook (foreground) and ?-hook (background) They used to be identical.
I'm fascinated by the bent hook that the bird feeder used to hang on. It used to be a question mark, and now it's an L. Wow! It takes a lot of power to straighten out one of those hooks. I've tried manipulating them with pliers and been frustrated.

All the bear had to do was hang on the bird feeder. Amazingly, it's hanger held (though bent from a C to a /\. And the ?-hook bent like butter. That bear has super-human strength. And it is hungry. Really hungry.

Would that our own "hooks" could be unbent so easily.

Which of the main 3 hooks is your biggest? (We all have all of them, so don't worry. You'll get to work on the others later.)

Greedy--desire for the pleasant--for stuff or for pleasant states of mind.
Aversive--pushing away the unpleasant--perhaps critical, impatient, or irritable
Delusional--confused or wishy-washy

Then relax. And practice loving-kindness toward yourself.

Read pages 77-79 of The Meditative Gardener for a fun quiz to figure this out.
Here's an example:

G I always store my trowel in the same place.
A I leave my trowel lying around.
D Hmmm. I don’t remember where I left my trowel.
G My tools are organized.
A My tools are in a jumble.
D Tools?
G My tools are color-coordinated.
G My garden gloves are color-coordinated with my garden boots (or
garden clogs).
A I never wear gloves.
D I can’t find my gloves.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bear in the Bird Feeder

Oh-oh. My birdfeeder is on the ground, minus its cover. The bird feeder is empty. Totally cleaned out. It's arcing hanger is bent into a V. And the C-hook it was hanging on has been straightened out by somebody heavy.

My bird feeder is squirrel-proof, but it is not bear-proof.

The bears are awake and trundling through the garden. No kidding. It is definitely time to stop feeding the birds and store the bird feeders away until it snows again next December.

Don't feed the bears.
And don't feed the bear of a problem that lives in your mind either.

First of all identify the food with which you are nourishing that bear of a problem: worry? anxiety? impatience? anger? frustration?

Notice that "nourishment" every time it arises. Simply notice it.
Then feel how that worry-anxiety-impatience-anger feels in your body.
Really become interested in the sensations of that uncomfortable, unpleasant, grrrr feeling.
Label those body sensations.
Keep your attention on the sensations.
Notice the changes.

When you're ready, practice some self-compassion.

Note the hanger, bent from a C to a V. Somebody was hanging on the bird feeder!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Heat of Living Things

As the snow was melting, i watched patches of bare earth come to light. A circle of ground around a tree indicates to me that it's sugaring season--the sap is flowing in the maple trees.

But this year i noticed, bare spots around plants in the garden. Wow! Plants must exude some small amount of heat? I can imagine that they are "thirsty" when they wake up from their l-o-n-g winter's sleep, so melted snow would "taste" delicious.

Must be that mysterious "life force." We ourselves require "fire" (heat) to bind our own earth, water, and wind together. When the "fire" leaves, the other "elements" fall apart.

Now winter is falling apart as patches of snow melt into the earth.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Life Force of Snowdrops

Snowdrops are blooming! Wow. March 8th does feel early, but then, the snow has mostly melted, and there's no snow forecast for the rest of the month. It seems winter is over. The harbingers of spring are here, two weeks before the official starting date.

The ground is still frozen. Just imagine the strength in those little green leaves as they lift the weight of several inches of frozen soil to emerge into warm sunlight and chill air.

This amazing life force binds my very own earth, water, and wind together into the person I call "me." Small children have so much life force, they run in circles with it. Old people limp along with it. Then it mysteriously disappears, and we grieve its loss.

The life force is arriving now, day by day, sweeping us along with it, and reminding us of our interconnectedness with all of life.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rooting Wholesome Qualities

When i gave all my houseplants a haircut last month, i rooted the cuttings in water. Why? Because i'm an inveterate plant starter. Well, if you're reading this, you probably are too. But now i've found a way to use all those cuttings--as bedding plants.

Several years ago, while we were on vacation in Tobago, i saw a 20-foot square patch of zebrina (wandering jew). Beautiful!
Zebrina (Tradescantia)

So i take cuttings from all my wandering jews--the purple, the striped purple.

Eventually, i had 30 jars of cuttings. Free plants!

Let's root the wholesome qualities in our life. What's on your short list of wholesome qualities?

While you're at it, make another list of unwholesome qualities. These aren't bad. More likely, they're bad for you--like drinking too much, smoking, or eating junk food. They aren't evil, in and of themselves, but their effects are... Well, those aren't the effects we wanted, after all.

I'm rooting for patience and generosity.
Purple wandering jew (Tradescantia)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Houseplant Haircut

While i was on my month-long retreat here at home, i took cuttings from most of my houseplants. Boy, they really look better, all trimmed down and very neat. Less is more. Less plant is more beautiful, in this case.

Another chore i did while on retreat was to go through my attic, one box at a time. The attic is looking "thinned out" too.

Reliquishing stuff is one of the qualities of a bodhisattva.

Simplifying my possessions or my houseplants feels so good. Counter-intuitively, having less feels good. Amazingly, having less feels better than wanting more. Take a look, feel for yourself.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Amaryllis Susan

Two months ago, as i was checking out of the garden store, i espied an amaryllis bulb named "Susan." Ooh. I liked that. I have a cousin named Susan, and several friends named Susan. But at $15.99 per bulb, i just couldn't justify spending that much money.

Then the check-out lady said, "Oh, i could give them to you for half-price." After all, it was January. And they were the last two amaryllis bulbs on the shelf. I bit. I bought them.

Now "Susan" is blooming, and she is beautiful.

My inner accountant is amortizing the cost of the bulbs. At 2 stems per bulb and 4 flowers per stem, that's $1.00 per flower. If they bloom again next year (never a sure thing), the cost goes down again.

On the other hand, the beautiful flowers are priceless.

The Buddha's teachings are also priceless. Even though we offer dana (a donation) to our meditation teachers, the Dharma cannot really be bought and sold. Peace of mind is priceless.

I gaze at Susan and feel content.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Chickadee as My Totem Animal

When i was writing my book, Following the Nez Perce Trail, i collected a few dozen first-person Native American accounts of their traditional lives. Pretty Shield, Medicine Woman of the Crows reported that her mother's totem animal was the chickadee who was always nearby while her mother was tanning buffalo hides--the chickadee nipping in and grabbing bits of meat and fat.

I'd like to take the chickadee as my totem animal, my avatar of friendliness and generosity.

One method of practicing loving-kindness meditation is to visualize an embodiment of the goodness we aspire to. That could be the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Jesus, any of the saints, or, for me, a chickadee.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chickadee Generosity

I love the generosity of chickadees. They fly to the bird feeder and pick up a seed or two. Sometimes, they throw seeds out of the feeder, onto the ground below. Shortly afterward, the ground feeders arrive--juncos, cardinals, and squirrels. And, well, oh heck, other chickadees aren't picky, they'll eat off the ground as well.

Bird feeders are all very well and good for perching birds, such as chickadees, goldfinches, and woodpeckers. But cardinals are shelf feeders; they generally don't go to a perching bird feeder. And juncos scavenge whatever is on the ground. Fortunately, there is something on the ground, thanks to the chickadees, who offer quite a good proportion of their own meal to whoever comes next.

What if we offered a third or a quarter or even ten percent of our assets to others who could really use a decent meal?

The chickadee doesn't know, for sure, that sunflower seeds will be in the feeder tomorrow. (Sometimes, we do go on vacation.) Every third visit or so, they fly off with two seeds in their beak, which they may "bank" in the bark or crotch or hole of a nearby tree. But they are giving away far more than they put in the "bank."

I aspire to be as generous as a chickadee.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Friendliest of Birds

I consider chickadees to be the friendliest of birds, and here's why: they are almost fearless. They arrive at the bird feeder while i am putting the sunflower seeds in it. Yesterday, one chickadee made a touch-and-go landing on my outstretched hand full of sunflower seeds. You really have to mindful to feel the glorious happiness of a small puff of feathers clutching your finger for less than a moment.

Compared to other birds, the chickadee is foremost in friendliness. The tufted titmice are skittish. The goldfinches, still in their winter olive drab, travel in flocks and scatter at the mere breath of wind. The cardinals zoom off if you so much as move your eyes.

Metta is often translated as loving-kindness, but it stems from the word maitri, the Sanskrit word for "friend." It is just as accurate to translate metta as friendliness or loving-friendliness. One aspect of friendliness is freedom from fear. In other words, fearlessness.

As tiny little fears poke their way into my mind--anxiety, worry, uncertainty, unease, dread, jitters, or what have you--can i respond like a chickadee? Can i fly right into the heart of the unknown?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sweetheart. Sweetheart.

The chickadees started singing their spring song--their "phoeee-beeeee" song--on February 4.  I wanted to shout with happiness and tell you, but i was in cyber-silence (on retreat) for the month of February and had to wait until now.

At my first metta (loving-kindness) retreat, which was in February, around Valentine's Day, many years ago, i heard one of the other chickadee calls as "Sweetheart." "Sweetheart."

Chickadees are, to me, real love birds--conveying friendliness, kindness, and love wherever they go. Or maybe it's just that i'm a sucker for anyone who calls me "sweetheart."