Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Celtic Knot

At Dublin Castle, we visited the Dubh Linn gardens, which double as a helicopter landing pad. The Celtic knot is unmistakable from the sky for landing visiting dignitaries.

While Celtic knots are beautiful, they are also knotty. This knot is best seen from a high point, an overview. When you're walking at ground level, you don't realize the tangle you're in.

We often don't realize how the enticements of life entangle us. Desire can feel delicious. Anger can feel so wonderfully self-righteous. Delusion is beautifully dreamy. We meander through life, entangling ourselves, and then wondering just how we got ourselves tied up in knots over some person or situation.

Wisdom is the high point from which we can see the overview. Oh.....

The name of the game is disentangling. Even though the knot is fun and beautiful, freedom lies outside the tangle.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Snake's Tongue

Our hotel room in Dublin, Ireland has a sansevieria plant on a table near the window. Commonly called snake tongue, this plant is undemanding and very easy to keep alive.

In these days, when hateful speech so easily flies off the tongues of those around us and various media personalities, it's good to remember to keep our own tongues in check with Wise Speech. Using our tongues and our words skillfully is not an easy assignment.

In the days after the election, i decided to listen, really listen to someone who voted differently than i did. She went on a 30-minute rant, while my sweetie and i kept our mouths shut. I had asked for a different point of view, and i got it! I could feel in my body, how good the rant was feeling to her in the moment--very fizzy and charged with adrenalin.

After she left for an appointment, i told my sweetie, "That hatred felt great in the moment, but she's going to feel ashamed of herself for the rest of the day." Sure enough, when we saw her that evening, she tried to make amends, which we graciously accepted. "You have one news source," my husband said, "and we have other news sources."

In the days ahead, we are going to be called on to speak truthfully, straight-forwardly, and kindly. That's a difficult recipe to follow.
But when anger and hatred is so easy to grow and so seductive, it's time for us to put our nerves between our teeth, and hold our own sharp snake-like tongue.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Shining Brightly

Here is a contemplation of Empathetic Joy from Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an organization that cultivates compassionate social action.

I notice and delight in the happiness of others--
from the bright, beaming smile of a child,
to youth and elders rising up, incandescent,
for Black lives, gender justice, immigrant rights, queer love,
sacred Earth,
and more.

I shine brightest when others shine too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Winds of Loving-Kindness

Here's a lovely loving-kindness meditation from Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an organization that cultivates compassionate social action.

I send goodwill everywhere on the winds:
to myself, my loved ones, community,
and maybe even my enemies,
while compassionately confronting oppression
with all my heart.

May the winds of loving-kindness fill my sails as I work to better this world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Dark Rich Soil of Compassion

Here's a compassion contemplation from Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an organization that cultivates compassionate social action.

Knowing that we are interconnected,
I open my heart to the suffering of others.
In the rich, dark soil of compassion,
I nurture deep roots of solidarity,
finding those tender, alive places
where our struggles interweave.

From rootedness i grow toward peace, justice, and collective liberation.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Orchid Whisperer

Claire calls herself an orchid whisperer. Ever since a friend gave her an orchid a few years ago, and then another friend gave her another orchid, Claire has had ever-blooming success with her orchids.

My comparing mind jumps in and thinks about how pathetic my own orchid looks. That's orchid singular, since the other one died.

The comparing mind judges good/bad, right/wrong, up/down, right/left, which often leaves us in the one-down positions struggling to regain our one-upsmanship. What a useless waste of mental energy.

We could just whisper kindly and gently to ourselves, "There, there, my dear. Your orchid died. All conditioned things are impermanent. And your orchid did not have the right conditions to live." Sigh.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Nothing Special

I've de-Christmased our little hemlock Christmas tree. After i took off its one strand of lights, i stuck the bare little tree in a snow drift near the front door.  Instant landscaping! That waving branch of green looks pretty good in the snow.

For a couple of weeks, that little tree was a "somebody." A somebody that many people noticed and commented on. Now that little tree has become a nobody--nothing special, very ordinary.

Oh, how we ourselves yearn to be a somebody--perhaps a big somebody or perhaps "only" a somebody to someone. And all along we are actually nobodies. Not the depressing sort of nobody that we might look down our nose at. Just an ordinary nobody of a tree--nothing special and of no importance--as we take our place in the family of humankind.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tulip Bulbs in Pots

On my birthday, 2 weeks ago, i admitted my guilty pleasure to you--buying tulip bulbs to force in pots in the garage. Well, what with one thing and then another, including a tiny post-election depression, those tulip bulbs were still sitting in their bags. Until today.

Today, i'm potting up tulip bulbs as fast as i can. So far, i have 16 pots. And i am feeling happy. Potting tulips is definitely the remedy for draggy spirits.

Next March, when the tulips are blooming in their pots on the front step, i'll be very happy about this birthday/Christmas present to myself.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Flowing with Equanimity

I received a mailing from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship with a lovely brochure about the Four Immeasurables--loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. The brochure relates each of these divine emotions to one of the four elements.

Equanimity, for instance, is associated with the water element.

Flowing in a wide stream of bold, beautiful social movements throughout space and time, 
i know i am not alone. 
Seeing the truth of impermanence, 
i recall that nothing lasts forever.

From this place of balance,
I use my gifts to take action
for what I believe is right.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Longest Night

In high school, i wrote a paper about Stonehenge. And i visited it a month after i graduated from college, back before it was a tourist destination. The last time i was there, we arrived at 6:00 p.m., just after the gates had closed. Nevertheless, as i walked toward the chain-link fence, i began to cry. That's how happy i was to see Stonehenge, even from a distance.

So, perhaps it's not surprising that i hosted my 30th winter solstice bonfire last evening. I love celebrating these ceremonies that observe the cycles of the earth.

If we stop to notice, our bodies are in tune with the tides, in sync with sunrise and sunset, on the same wavelength with light and dark. Our bodies are earth, water, air, and fire.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

18-Year-Old Geraniums

My neighbor had the same geraniums on her window sill, in the same pots, for 18 years! She did this by giving her geranium plants a haircut every fall, cutting them all the way down to ground level.

Geraniums are prone to get leggy and woody. Cutting them back, way back, keeps fresh green growth coming.

We can clutter our lives up with too much stuff. Sometimes, it's good to have a thorough house-cleaning.

Clean out a drawer today. Or one shelf. Don't wait to find the perfect person to give it to. Send it along to your favorite thrift store. (Mine is the hospice shop.) Someone you don't even know will love your treasure.

Freshen up your life with the random act of kindness of giving your stuff away.Your geraniums love it, and you will too.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Things Change Unexpectedly

The snowplow has been doing my gardening for me--again. While plowing my driveway last week, the plow nicked some epimedium out of the edge and tossed it into a snowbank.

Ah yes. Things change. Unexpectedly. Sigh. That sigh is the grief of letting go. Even letting go of something as small as epimedium.

I wanted epimedium (barrenwort) as an edging along my driveway, but now there's a dent in my plans.

An 85-year-old friend left me a phone message last Wednesday; her daughter found her in bed the next morning, unresponsive due to a stroke.

Things change. And we mourn that change.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bound Up Poinsettia

I gave a talk recently about caring for your holiday houseplants. I took in a recently purchased poinsettia, and pulled it out of its pot. The pot was still full of soil. The roots were bound in the one-inch peat pot that the poinsettia had been started in.

In the past 2 days, i've talked with 2 women, who recently told a man in their life (friendly ex-husband; father) to stop ladling out the criticism. Each woman said, "I am not going to take this any more."

One woman feels that her standing up (for the first time in this relationship) is a direct result of the recent election. She, as a woman, is not going to take it from this man any longer.

As women, we have been trained to be bound. For Chinese women, it was bound feet. For women in the last century, it was corsets and girdles. Nowadays, women bind themselves with an image of the perfect body, which, of course, is impossible to achieve.

The Metta Sutta directs us to be "straight-forward and gentle in speech." So many women have accented the gentle that they have lost straight-forwardness. If there can be tough love, how about tough gentleness? Tough kindness?

By calling their dear men out, these women are both moving toward truer-to-themselves relationship.

Unbind your tongue, woman, in the name of kindness.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Birthday Trowel

My sister gave me a trowel for my birthday. Since it has a purple handle, it was love at first sight. This birthday trowel also has a narrow blade, which i love. I'm not sure why i prefer a narrow trowel; perhaps it feels more precise.

I'd like to go use my birthday trowel right now, but the ground is frozen solid since it was -4 degrees F. this morning. So i'll have to wait for spring. I'll have to practice patience. Patience aids us in not succumbing to fear, discouragement, and doubt, of which there is plenty nowadays.

If you are going to take up only one practice, let it be patience.

I patiently await the coming of spring.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Kale Icicles

At 16 degrees F., i break kale leaves off the plant like icicles. It really is time to harvest the kale--wearing mittens.

Kale salad, kale chips, kale smoothies, kale stir-fry. Kale is good for you, but how much kale can you eat in one day?

Meditation is good for you, but much meditation can you do in one day? Maybe not that much. After all, life calls.

Mindfulness is good for you, and you can do that every minute of the day. As U Tejaniya, a Burmese monk, says, "Relaxed and relentless." That's the key to good mental health.

And kale is good nutrition of the health of our physical body.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hemlock Christmas Tree

Since we are leaving for vacation the day after Christmas, i wanted a little tabletop Christmas tree. By the time we got around to buying one, we looked at each other and said "$35?" "Nah."

We live in the woods with lots of evergreens--white pines and hemlocks. When i was single, throughout my 20s and 30s, i used to take my saw into the woods and cut down a sort-of-full little hemlock. "How about a hemlock?" i asked Bill. To my surprise, he agreed.

We found our woodsy hemlock (read: thin) and now we have this 3-foot tall "branch" sitting on a table. "It's a real Charlie Brown tree," says Bill. I admit. It is a pathetic looking Christmas tree.

We may judge our meditation efforts as being rather pathetic. Still, a 3-minute meditation is a meditation. A minute of loving-kindness is a minute of wholesomeness.

Even a  little Christmas tree can bring light into my life. Even a little mindfulness, a little kindness can light up your life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rose Petals

I took the wilted rose out of my birthday bouquet. The bouquet of mums and a fragrant star-gazer lily still looks beautiful even though it's missing a member.

Isn't this the mystery of death? Life goes on even though we feel a loss, an emptiness. Wait a minute! we may want to scream. My loved one is gone! Don't you see? Can't you pause for a minute? Here you are going on, as if nothing has happened. But something important has happened. My loved one is missing. S/he isn't here anymore. I'm crying. We should all be crying.

Life rolls on, just as it always has.We took our refuge in the seeming unchangingness of our loved one.  But, alas, they were changing too all along. Everything is changing, and i'm not ready. Stop. Stop. I want what was. I don't want what is.

Change. Impermanence. The impermanence of the rose. The impermanence of each and every one of us.

I placed the wilted rose petals in a bowl. Their brief fragrance infuses my breath. Lovely.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Wilting Rose

My sweetie gave me a bouquet of flowers for my birthday last week. Already the rose is wilting and drooping.

Another reminder. Everything changes.

As Mary Oliver writes:
Doesn't everything die,
at last
and too soon?

Oh, do you have to go so soon?

Too soon for me, but maybe not for the rose, which is unwinding according to the conditions of its life.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Diamond Frost in Hawai'i

While standing outside my B&B in Maui last month, i admired an 8-foot tall shrub with white lacy flowers that looked sort of familiar. The name clicked the next day. Diamond Frost euphorbia--an 8-inch tall annual that i use as an edging plant. I also like to winter it over because of the constant bloom of those white lacy flowers.

I broke off a familiarly-shaped leaf to confirm my suspicions, and the stem bled a milky white sap. Yep. Euphorbia--with a two-inch thick trunk. How many years old is this shrub? Much, much older than my little plants in flowerpots on the front step.

When we place our minds in the right conditions, our mind will bloom profusely. That's what happened to me while i was on retreat in Maui.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Really Big Pine Cones

When we were traveling in northern, northern California and southern Oregon last summer, i stopped on the roadside and picked up some pine cones. Really big pine cones that were 16 inches long! These are the cones of the sugar pine.

My women's group has an annual wreath making party, so i took my bag of sugar pine cones and big fat Jeffrey pine cones to give to my dear women friends.

One sugar pine cone remained. I brought it home and spray-painted it with silver glitter. Add one bow and some Christmas balls, and voila! A centerpiece, which i gave to my step-daughter's family as a Christmas present, since we've already had our Christmas with them.

The joy of giving. And i especially love giving homemade gifts, made with love.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Laying Down Tracks

It snowed a couple of days ago, and i rushed out of the house before i shoveled the front step. A day later, my footprint is frozen in place.

This trace of yesterday's step is a good description of karma. We are laying down the tracks for our neural networks all the time. Listen to the news, feel afraid or angry, and thereby build the habit of fear or anger. Feel grateful for the blessings of your life today--beautiful snow, for instance. Spend 30 seconds enjoying the snow and begin to build the habit of joy and happiness.

What track, what trace do you want to leave behind for tomorrow? And the day after that? And the year after that?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mums Still Blooming

My neighbor's mums are still blooming beautifully on her front porch. My mums are long since dead and thrown onto the compost pile.

Some of us live a long time and outlast others of our generation. My 94-year-old hospice client complains that she only has one friend remaining--her beautician who lives 3 hours away in the town they both grew up in.

These beautiful mums still bloom.