Thursday, June 22, 2017

Black Lace Elderberry

This week, the plant i'm in love with is Black Lace Elderberry with its creamy pink flowers.

A few years ago, i gave up gardening on one of my hillside gardens. Of course, i didn't exactly give it up altogether. I planted shrubs, so i could let the understory do whatever it wants.

I placed the dark burgundy foliage of Black Lace next to the chartreuse foliage of physocarpus, aka nine-bark. The effect is spectacular. And i don't have to do anything. I'm not weeding in there.

This is the benefit of renunciation. In this case, less gardening is more pleasure. Beautiful.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

North Wind Maple

For the past month, i've been talking about and shopping around for a Japanese maple for my moss garden. I finally bought a threadleaf  variety a couple of weeks ago.

Last week, while i was on retreat, my sweetie reported to me that a box with a Japanese maple had arrived in the mail. Wow! I better watch out what i ask for! I don't think of myself as a "manifester," but it has happened a few times this past year. My brother, who prays to God for an hour and a half every morning, can manifest amazing things, but i don't have that kind of relationship with the divine.

Because i'm a member of the national Garden Writers Association, a nursery in Oregon sent its members (its northern members?), a cold-hardy North Wind Maple. This is a cross between a Korean maple and a Japanese maple, but
I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

An unexpected gift is a gift. Thank you Iseli Nursery!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Broken Bowls

Two of my grandmother's everyday-china bowls broke last night. For the first many years after she died, i kept these bowls as heirlooms to pass on to her great-grandchildren--my nieces and nephews. Then, during one meditation retreat ten years later, i realized that although my grandmother's china brings up feelings of nostalgia and sweet memories for me, those same bowls and plates would be neutral for her great-grandchildren. They wouldn't really be interested.

I came home from that retreat and began using Nonnie's china. Since the red strawberry motif didn't match a single thing i had, i put the plates and little dessert bowls under houseplants.

Last night, 30years after Nonnie died, two of the bowls broke.

This story is told about Ajahn Chah, a Thai Forest master:
A monk-attendant was cleaning Ajahn Chah's little cabin and saw a beautiful cup. Since monks live an extremely simple life, a renunciant life, the novice monk commented on the beautiful cup. Ajahn Chah said, "I see that beautiful cup as already broken."

Can we see everything we "own" as already broken, already worn out, already decomposing in the  landfill?

Everything i cherish will perish.
All things are impermanent.
Everything dear and delightful to me will change. Even my memories of my grandmother.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Peter Rabbit in the Lettuce Patch

The retreat center has a large organic garden, thanks to the housekeeper Dawn, who is making sure that retreatants have probiotic kim chi and pickles, fresh lettuce salads, and, soon, fresh tomatoes from 100 heirloom tomato plants.

I saw Peter Rabbit in the lettuce patch yesterday. In a place like this, which deeply practices "doing no harm to any sentient being," the next challenge may be putting in a fence. The current fence is beautiful, hand-made from branches of pine and birch trees.

When we begin our meditation practice, we may take the 5 precepts sort of half-heartedly.

I intend to 
  • do no harm to anyone
  • take nothing that is not freely giving
  • speak truthfully and helpfully
  • use my sensual energy wisely, and
  • keep my mind clear.
 We might interpret the precepts loosely, and, of course, we cheat a little, here and there. We keep the big no-nos out, but there are those cute little rascals--a little gossip, a third glass of wine, flirting with someone else's partner. Those things are fun. And they do bother our mind.

Eventually, we renounce those rascally behaviors, and keep the rabbits out of the lettuce patch with stronger determination.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Chipmunk Life

Last evening, our group of meditation teachers talked about what we were doing, if anything, regarding fear in our various communities. Activist groups have arisen in some practice communities, and other communities aren't talking about the great divide since that's not their main message.

One of my more political friends talked about what is going on on college campuses, and i could feel fear begin to zing around in my body. Oh, no, i thought. I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a ruminating mind if i don't fully experience this fear right now.

An hour later, as i was lying in bed, i thought about all the cute chipmunks that are darting around these New England stone walls, chasing each other, and diving into their holes under the lilac bushes. A mother fox with 5 kits has a den in the stone wall a hundred feet away. The chipmunks don't appear to be afraid. They are simply living their chipmunk lives. Can i live my chipmunk life?

And then, i fell asleep.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Which Aging Model Do You Subscribe To?

cartoon by Cecigian
Last evening, David Chernikoff led a workshop on Aging for us. He outlined 4 different models of aging. Which one do you most relate to?
  • The socio-medical model in which aging is a collection of symptoms and a litany of diminishments.
  • The productive model. This is the use-it-or-lose-it approach for people who want to die in the saddle. An extended middle-age.
  • The consumer model says,"I paid my dues. Now it's my turn." These people go on cruises, play golf, spend time at the mall, and retire to the sunny South in communities of like-minded people.
  • The transpersonal, spiritual model changes the conversation from aging to sageing, assuming that an elder is still growing and thriving and still interested in the future. The task here is to synthesize their personal wisdom and pay it forward in the form of a legacy or by mentoring.
I think i'll take a spoonful of each of the first three and let my cup runneth over with the last one.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Mental Weeds

I'm on retreat at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. It's an annual seminar-retreat with 20 other meditation teachers, so i can be on my computer and writing this blog. Even though we're all talking to friends from across the country whom we haven't seen for a year or three, even though we are all connecting through cyberspace, there's still a feeling of retreat--silence from 9 p.m. until after breakfast, 3 meditation periods a day, a daily chore (I'm washing pots after lunch), and living out of a small suitcase for 5 days.

Gardening is one of the things i have renounced for the time being. This is hard for me, so i pull a few invasives (buckthorn or bittersweet) on my daily walks.

I pull a few weeds in the garden, and learn more about the mental weeds that sometimes slip by unawares.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Subtle White on White

My Wolf Eyes kousa dogwood is blooming. Since it has variegated leaves, the creamy flowers are almost lost in the light green foliage. But if you look closely, eventually you see a whole branch full of flowers. And then another, and another.

One of my meditation teachers, Shinzen Young, says, "Subtle is significant."

That little drop of calm, that tiny tickle of joy--these are the bread crumbs that show us the way on our spiritual path.

Sometimes it may feel like looking at white on white. Keep looking for the subtle variations. Like the Wolf Eyes dogwood.

That Cedar Smell

In 1949, my dad built the limestone ranch house i grew up in, and he lined all the 2-foot-by-5-foot closets with cedar. As a child, i loved opening the closet door and smelling cedar.

I just ordered organic anti-tick spray from CedarCidel. I apply the spray to my ankles, wrists, and neck, and then i smell like my mother's cedar hope chest. Ahhh.

Every morning, i vow not to harm anyone or anything. Of course, this vow is broken in teeny-tiny ways every day. And then sometimes, i break the precept in a big way. That's the reason i remind myself every day: Today i intend to do no harm to anyone.

I intend to do no harm to anyone, not even ticks. If i can prevent them from biting me, i am saving their life as well as my own.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Green Mulch

Out into the garden at 6 a.m., having meditated just as the birds were starting to sing their early morning symphony. Now i'm concentrating on the vegetable garden, which is chock-full of volunteers. Mustards and lambs quarters--i suppose i could call them my cover crop. I pull them up by the handfuls and lay them to rest on bare dirt where they become "green mulch"--sort of like green burial. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and earth to earth in a few short weeks.

The great cycle of life is right there in the garden, right before my very eyes--birth, life, death.

The second planting of pole beans seeds are just beginning to sprout. Such dear babies--full of hope and promise. I carefully arrange my green mulch of weeds around them to keep down the weeds. I use weeds to discourage weeds. We use the mind to spring the mind loose from its habitual patterns. Otherwise, the mind is just a weed patch.

Pull a few mind weeds today, label them, let them go, and notice what happens.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Too Hot to Garden

Ninety degrees is too hot to garden. Time to hang up my trowel, roll out the hoses, and water, water, water. (Not one of my favorite chores.)

Some brief gardening might happen at 5 a.m. or at 7 p.m., but in between, it's time to focus on something else. One of those something elses for me is that i'm going on retreat this week. It's time to leave the garden on its own.

To everything there is a season.

A time to plant,
and a time to water.

A time to garden,
and a time to refrain from gardening.

A time to weed,
and a time to let it all grow.

Let it go. Let it be. Let it grow.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Simple Garden

Yesterday, i went to my Dharma friend Delia's house for a day-long retreat. She has a Japanese garden between the driveway and her front door. So simple. She's a busy woman, and gardening is not a priority for her. so her gardening goal is simplicity. A few plants here and there, and 2 chairs under the Japanese maple to relax in.

So what am i doing with 32 flowerbeds, plus a vegetable garden? Whatever it is, it is not simple, even though it's lovely.

I'm selling a condo that's for the downsizing phase of life, the simpler era. More than one looker has sighed and said, "I'm just not ready to give up my house. I want something big enough for the children and grandchildren to visit."

Voluntary simplicity takes a while to adjust to. It feels like giving up, but actually, it's giving up stress in order to have more time to focus on your true purpose on life--which i assume is not maintaining a big and mostly empty house.

Your choice. More means more stress. And less means less stress. Even in the garden.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Alyssum Surprises

Seven weeks ago, i scattered alyssum seeds all along my walkways and patio. Now they are blooming, often in surprising places. One is between 2 steps on a hillside. A few others are between 2 flagstones on a walkway.

Our friends bloom in surprising spiritual places. There is no one-size-fits-all, though our small minds would love it if everything and everyone was the same.

As a Chinese Chan master said:
"There are an infinite number of ways in which people suffer. Therefore, there have to be an infinite number of ways in which the Dharma is made available to them."

This blog is just one of those.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Last Call for Transplanting

Today is the day to transplant all of those plants malingering near your front door. The hottest 90 days of the year begin today, and the temperature is headed for the 90s soon. But first, a thunderstorm to do all your watering for you.

Those plants or seedlings that you don't know what to do with, don't know where to put them? Put them somewhere right now.

Doubt is a hindrance on our spiritual path--this? or that? But the middle ground of not choosing isn't really middle ground; it's middle spaciness. Doubt is also an obstacle in our gardening. Here? Or there? It doesn't matter. Just put those plants into the soil.

I have a couple of nursery beds, and if i really can't make up my mind, i plop them in there. Ahhh. Everything planted.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Big Fish in a Small Pond

Last November, my little fishpond had 19 goldfish who were all 6 years old and about 4 inches long. This spring, one remained. I found no dead bodies, which leads me to suspect the great blue heron fished them out last fall when i wasn't looking.

Two weeks ago, i bought a dozen 19-cent goldfish, one inch long, at the pet store. The frogs ate them for dinner. Last week, i went to a bigger pet store, which had 35-cent goldfish, almost 2 inches long. I bought 2 dozen.

The remaining large goldfish hides under a rock. I suspect she is depressed, having spent 6 months in solitude. But now, a week after the teenage goldfish arrived, she is swimming about, leading the school of smaller fish. I suspect the big fish in my small pond is blind because she can smell the fish food, but she can't see it.

We too are blind to the "waters" we swim in. Cosmic consciousness is all around us and through us, but we can't see it or feel it because we're so caught up in the details of life.

Relax. And stay alert. Rest in life.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Scarlet Tanager

A scarlet tanager landed on my deck and hung around for about 5 minutes. Wow! Tanagers are treetop birds that i hear every day, but this is only the third time in 35 years that i've seen one.

We hear or read the teachings of the Buddha, but when an insight comes, an insight that transcends mere knowledge, an insight that, though brief or even very brief, is known with the whole body, all you can say is Wow as tears of joy flow from your eyes.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Death of a Raindrop

Sunday afternoon, our local hospice held its annual memorial garden planting ceremony. People were invited to plant flowers in the hospice garden in memory of a dearly departed one.

The service began at 4:00 with a forecast of rain. The rain date was Tuesday, but the forecast was for 3 days of rain, so better to take our chances with Sunday afternoon. As luck would have it, the overcast sky sprinkled but did not pour.

Late Sunday night, a heavy downpour woke me up, and i smiled to think of all those flowers being "rained into" the garden. The rain both watered them and tamped down the earth around them.

We grieve when we think of the friends and relatives who are no longer living. Teardrops fall out of our eyes and run down our cheeks.

Each raindrop dies into the earth, into a puddle, into a stream. Yet no one cries for the death of a raindrop.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Milk Carton Collars

My neighbor walked over in her pajamas at 6 a.m. to deliver a couple of empty milk cartons. I cut off the top and bottom of milk cartons and use them as a "collar" around little broccoli, kale, pepper, eggplant, and tomato plants to defend those taste treats from voles. Those critters managed to sneak under a couple of carton-collars and polish off the pepper plant inside each one.

From the outside, the milk cartons may look like a barricade (to the voles--I hope!). The plants inside have the ability to grow big and strong.

We too grow stronger in our spiritual practice when we take time to close our self off from the world--through 20 minutes of meditation, perhaps, or through going on retreat. Meditation retreats strengthen our practice so that we can taste the fruits (or vegetables) of the spiritual life.

If we allow cyberspace to sneak into our retreat or into our morning meditation, our peace of mind will be nibbled away.

Protect your practice. Protect yourself.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Old Peonies

Yesterday i went to Susan's memorial service with several friends. Peonies and mountain laurel made a spectacular bouquet on the altar. The flowers were especially touching because Susan had many heirloom peonies from her grandfather--old fashioned peonies.

I saw people i hadn't seen in years. Or decades. And to my surprise, everyone is old. Not one person has escaped the ravages of age. We are all wrinkled with gray or graying hair.  Even the "children," in their mid-30s, look old.

At the memorial service, people talked about Susan and how straight-forward and forthright she was.

Meanwhile, we were all skirting the issue at hand. We are next. One by one. Knowing this, our relationships with each other become sweeter and sweeter as time goes on.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Hand-Painted Irises

At a Farmer's Market in Fairbanks, Alaska, I bought a hand-painted t-shirt with irises. The shirt is a bit over-sized, since that was popular in 2003, and it is stained. So it's part of my gardening wardrobe now, and i love wearing it, especially now that irises are blooming.

When we are by ourselves, at home or in the garden, we can be our authentic selves. We don't have to "put on" a self to please others; we don't have to dress to please others; we don't have to speak to please others. I can wear my big, old, stained t-shirt and feel perfectly happy because the irises in the garden don't care what I'm wearing.

Solitude can be a relief, and this is partly why going on retreat nourishes the real you, despite what other people may say or think.

When's your next retreat?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Beech Arbor

My sweetie surprised me with the gift of an arbor on my private path to the vegetable garden. He sawed off twin beech trees on opposite sides of the path at about 8 feet up. Then he twined their branches together to make the arbor.

This natural arbor is especially sweet since we "married" each other under another natural arbor on Havasu Creek at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with only mountain goats as witnesses several years ago.

An arbor is a gateway, our entrance into another place, another state of mind, another intention. Committing to a spiritual path is an entrance to holiness. What's yours?

Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Veery Flute Duet

The veery is my favorite bird here in the North Country. It looks like just another brown bird--it's a small thrush. But its song is heavenly--it sounds like a trilling flute.

Some summers i can hear the veery on my neighbor's land. This year, 2 veerys have taken up residence very near my house, one on each side of my lawn. Oh, my. A flute duet every early morning and every late evening, right here. Actually, since a single veery sounds like a duet all by itself, two veerys sound like a flute quartet.

Hearing the Dharma is another kind of sweet sound. It has so much common sense and so much uncommon sense at the same time. What a duet!

This coming Sunday I'm giving a talk on verse 5 of The Dhammapada.
Hatred never ceases through hatred,
But by love alone is healed.

Another way to say this is "Hatred begets hatred. Kindness begets kindness."
Still another way to say it is " Throwing a hot potato at someone invites them to throw a hot potato back at you." Now, why would you do that? Yet we all do it frequently.

I listen to the lovely sound of the veery singing 2 notes at the same time in the woods.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Compost in Flower Pots

I'm just now getting around to filling up the flower pots on the front step. My innovation this year is to fill the flower pot 3/4 full with sifted compost, then add 3-4" of potting soil. That way, i'm not spending a lot of money on potting soil.

I sift my compost through a flat with smallish holes. The result looks beautiful and feels so smooth. I'm hoping the compost will provide nourishment for the petunias and other plants i put in the pots, while the potting soil will hold the moisture.

If we could fill ourselves up with even 3/4 of mindfulness, just think how much smoother our lives would run. For instance, fewer forgotten things--because we were paying attention.

Let's grow mindfulness in our everyday lives.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

British Weather

I hear people complaining about the cloudy, rainy weather we've had this month of May. I didn't even notice. I've been enjoying the cool, misty, cloudy British weather. What conditions give rise to those beautiful British gardens? Cool, misty, cloudy weather.

What conditions give rise to our own internal weather?

A smile works wonders. Just a little Buddha smile on the lips. While you're at it, smile with your eyes--the sign of a true smile. Place a smile in your heart and a smile in your mind.

I feel better already.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Petunia Night Sky

I fell in love with Petunia Night Sky as soon as i saw it in someone else's wagon at the nursery. Even though a single plant cost $5.95, i plopped one in my wagon too.

I lead a loving-kindness meditation called Breath In Peace and Breath Out Love. The initial instruction is "Breathe in peace from wherever you think peace resides: a still mountain lake, a meadow filled with wild flowers, the trees in the forest, or the night sky with the moon and the stars."

I imagine peace in the night sky. Breathing in peace, i breathe out love. Petunia Night Sky reminds me.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Is Sumac Really a Weed Tree?

In the past month, 3 people have said to me, "Sumac is a weed tree. I've got to get rid of it."

Sumac is a weed tree? Sez who?

Sumac has many wonderful benefits:
  • It has beautiful red, yellow, green foliage in the fall.
  • The sumac staghorns provide food for birds all winter long.
  • The 12-foot tall sumac provides a nice intermediary between the 3-foot tall garden and the 60-foot trees in the woods.
  • Sumacs have an interesting airy architecture. They are a nice background tree.

Yes, sumacs sucker, but around here, i seldom see vast stands of sumac. Mostly, i see small patches.

A weed is something growing where you don't want it, but are you really going to plant a garden in the place where the sumacs are? They are usually growing in a waste place, a place no one has paid attention to for quite a while. Are you the one who is going to roll up her sleeves and pay a lot of attention to that area? Really?

Saying what everyone else says might be true. Or it might not. Investigate for yourself. Inquire deeply into what is true for you.

Investigation is the second factor of enlightenment. We look deeply into the delusion that is all around us, and call it by its true name: Delusion.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Landscape Fabric

While transplanting yesterday, i dug up a piece of landscape fabric. Oh yeah. 15 years ago, there was a path here. I put down landscape fabric so weeds wouldn't grow in the path. Now the path is 3 feet farther downhill.

Landscape fabric is for gardeners who don't garden. Landscape fabric is trying ever so hard to make the garden stay the same--just as it is today. But guess what! The garden moves. The garden moves so incrementally, you don't notice it. My yard has a slight incline, and the dirt moves downhill ever so slowly.

If you're never going to move a single plant, never going to divide an overgrown plant, never going to dig in your garden, then you might consider landscape fabric. But, really, what's the purpose of landscape fabric, or black plastic? I'm betting you want to keep the weeds down. If you want to keep the weeds down, mulch! Mulch is very pretty, and you can dig around in it all you want.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Catbird Seat

The catbird seems to be my totem animal this spring. I'm not that familiar with catbirds, but one is often within about 8 feet of me as i'm gardening. I can just sit on the ground and listen to it sing its double phrase song. I wish i could speak as many languages as the catbird! (Or the mockingbird or the thrasher, to which it is related.)

But maybe it's not languages per se that the catbird represents. Maybe i am learning to read people more easily, and not take what they say personally.

My meditation teacher, who had a spontaneous awakening experience when he was 30, says that awakenings enable the person to "see through" people who are less proficient on the spiritual path. No judgment here. Simply an "Oh," which leads to compassion for that other person's suffering and an equanimity of accepting things as they are in the moment.

I'm not making any claims about my own awakening. Once in a while i feel awake for a few seconds, but mostly, i'm muddling along with everyone else.

The catbird is sitting pretty, and i am pretty happy to be graced with its song.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Eggshell Water

89-year-old Margot is watering her hibiscus with eggshell water, and it has the biggest, most beautiful blooms ever. "I have an egg for breakfast every morning," she says, "so collecting the eggshells is easy."

Eggshell water? Put 3 eggshells in a glass, and smoosh to smithereens. Cover with 2 cups of boiling water and let it sit all day. This leaches the calcium and other minerals out of the eggshells and into the water.

Water your houseplants the following morning, and let me know what your results are. You can even drink the (taste-free) eggshell water.

The reason we take calcium is that ever so slowly, minerals are leaching out of our bodies. Without even noticing, our bones are becoming porous. Earth elements are invisibly returning to earth, even while we think we are our same old selves. Ha!

We can replenish ourselves--or our plants--with eggshell water or some other form of calcium. It's a temporary fix that works for years, hopefully decades. But eventually, our own bodies will be broken eggshells headed for the compost pile.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Big Purple Balls

 My grandmother had flower beds all the way around the brick ranch house that she and my grandfather moved into in 1955. Every Saturday, while mother went grocery shopping, we kids stayed at Nonnie's, and she gave us a tour around her flower bed. Very boring for this teenager, but I now take pleasure in what pleased her. One of her unusual specimens was 3 alliums that bloomed with a big purple ball on a three-foot-tall bare stalk.
My purple allium balls are blooming this week—very eye-catching as they stand naked above everything else that's going on in the flower bed.

The tall things, the big things get our attention in life because they are so remarkable and give us so much pleasure.

Can we continue to pay attention as the remarkable thing fades and becomes ugly? Can we notice that all things are impermanent? My grandmother's garden—long gone.
Allium comes, and allium goes. And so do we.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Blame Game

My morning meditation group is reading a book on forgiveness. Yesterday we read a chapter on The Blame Game, which i think i would like to memorize. Then yesterday afternoon, as i was teaching meditation at the county jail, one of my students talked about her relationship with another woman inmate, and how they were just playing a hurtful blame game with each other.

The blame game starts with you-statements. This is a way of throwing a hot potato at someone. Usually, the other person will throw it right back at you with another you-statement, and then the two of you are off to the races.

It takes extreme mindfulness to hold on to the hot potato and notice that it is hot and burning and that you feel angry or frustrated and that you want to say whatever is on the tip of your tongue. Stop. Stop and notice all those pains. Count to 10. Give yourself a moment to cool down. Try to drop the hot potato. Keep trying to let go of that hot-hot-hot potato.

Of course your feelings hurt. That is your pain. Notice that "they" did not cause your pain. You are causing your own pain by holding on to a painful idea. They condemned you. So what?

It's time for you to make a change. A change of habit. Probably a change in relationship. The pain will cease. But only when you stop resisting it.

The Blame Game is a game you are sure to lose. So stop playing it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trillium Gets Me Out of Bed

Trillium got me out of bed this morning. I was lying in my warm bed, listening to the rain, various thoughts sprinkling in my mind, when i noticed that the rain had stopped.  Trillium! I thought. It's time to transplant trillium. I sprang out of bed, rushed into my clothes, and sprinted outdoors.

I set an intention years ago to landscape the edges of my woodsy driveway with wildflowers. There are still a few bare spots, one of which i designated in my mind for trillium. As someone recently said to me, "Trillium likes to grow on the edges."

Among all the give-away plants I have been trucking around this past week are a couple of broken trillium. Only a true gardener could see the promise of a bare broken green stem, so those orphans remained with me.

As i planted the 2 trillium, the rain began in earnest again, so i hurried back indoors. Happy. Happy to have fulfilled that long ago intention. That bubbling joy lasted for 20 minutes.

We set an intention to walk our spiritual path, but sometimes we don't get around to it. We follow various other rabbit trails in life. Then, one day, we remember our intention, and we head in that direction. Yes! Our heart sings. Yes!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Allegheny Pachysandra

I'm ripping apart one flower bed that is covered with 2 ground covers.  The lamium is easy to rip out and throw in the compost. But now i am face to face with Allegheny pachysandra. I have it in another bed, where it has slowly colonized, but it has suburbanized this shady bed.

I thought that Allegheny pachysandra would be good because it is native to the North American continent. But it's still pachysandra!

Now is the time to remember my long-term goal: once i know a wildflower can survive, i can dare to transplant the colony into the woods. I have a long-term construction project with the Allegheny pachysandra. There's enough that I can landscape most of my woodland trails with it.

Now is the time to remember my long-term spiritual goal. Landscape my life with kindness, mindfulness, and patience.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

How Stress Crumbles

The Garden Club had its plant sale today. I took 2 truckloads of perennials, and brought home one truckload. Now what am i going to do with them?

The easy answer would be throw them in the compost, but i can't quite bring myself to do that. I could re-plant some of them in different places, and cross my fingers for rain--which is supposed to be coming in a couple of days.

This week and next week are the time to transplant before early summer arrives, and it gets too hot to transplant. So i've got my work cut out for me. I believe that's called stress.

I balance that stress with the joy of contributing one truckload of plants to the sales for the Garden Club. And if i focus on the joy, the stress starts crumbling. Happy, happy, happy.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shoveling Manure

Last week, it was "too cold" to garden (according to some), and this week, it is too hot--96 degrees. I really intended to be out in the garden from 6 a.m. to about 10 and then retire for the day, but i didn't have my logistics quite right. At 7:30 this morning, i picked up a truckload of manure. Since i needed the truck to carry a load of plants to the Perennial Swappers meeting at 6 p.m., i needed to unload the truck in the heat of the day.

We have our plans, and then they (or we) go astray. Life doesn't go the way we expect it will. Life doesn't go the way we want it to.

Can i accept life just as it is? Without complaint? Shoveling hot, steaming manure in the mid-day sun?

I could shovel the manure of the mind along with the manure in the truck. Or I could just shovel manure.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Pulling Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard, a biennial invasive, is blooming its tiny white flowers this week. Last evening, while waiting to meet a friend for dinner, i spent 5 minutes pulling garlic mustard on the nearby rail trail. Someone stopped to ask me what i was doing. "Practicing random acts of gardening," i said.

It's a small thing. Pulling garlic mustard on the roadside for 5 minutes. Today, i pulled Japanese knotweed near a stream for 10 minutes.

Yet this is what we do when we pull the weed of impatience for a minute as we sit at a stoplight patiently. We weed an unkind thought and replace it with kindness.

What would you weed? Irritation? Desire? Resentment? Envy?

Simply being mindful of these unskillful mind states leaves us, for a moment, with the spaciousness of mindfulness.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Cool May

May's refrigerator weather is keeping the daffodils in bloom even as the next roll-out of mid-spring blooms arrive--tulips, money plant, apple trees. The result is a feast for the eyes. Flowers everywhere you look.

As much as some people lament the cool weather, this British-style climates gives us British-style gardens: Everything blooming at the same time.

Keeping our cool is a learned skill for most of us, and it requires changing our perception, specifically changing our belief about something unpleasant.

Something unpleasant happens (cool weather), and we gripe and complain and wish for something different from what is. We can change our perception simply by practicing gratitude. It's so fabulously May out there! Keep up the gratitude for at least 30 seconds, and re-install every time the mind drifts into snarkiness.

This is one way we can learn to keep our cool and enjoy the cool weather of May.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Too Cold to Garden

"It's too cold to garden," says the Exercise Queen.

You nearly have to drag me to exercise class, yet i gladly go outdoors in layers of wool and fleece with neck warmer and hat in order to dig in the dirt. Within 10 minutes, off comes the hat and the second layer of fleece. I'm trudging from garden to garden, digging, dividing, transplanting, and warming up.

I guess it all depends on what you find unpleasant. She finds cold unpleasant. I find exercise unpleasant. She finds exercise pleasant. I find trudging around the garden, all bundled up and covered in dirt, to be pleasant.

Really, pleasant and unpleasant drive our actions. So after exercise class, i went directly to the garden and started digging.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Postage Stamp Garden

Just a year ago, i took a truckload of plants to a 34-year-old former neighbor, Kristin, who now lives in Somerville, Massachusetts--the most densely populated city in New England. Her garden area is just 12'x10'--a postage stamp of a garden.

While we were planting, several neighbors stopped to see what we were doing and to admire the baby garden.

Here's how the toddler garden looks, a year later. The rhubarb hides the foundation neatly and makes a nice backdrop for red tulips.

Alas,  Kristin's life is in transition. She and her sweetie are moving to Maine this summer, so that he can go to medical school. Good-bye sweet little garden. All things are impermanent.

Hello new garden, wherever you may be.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What Gets You Into the Garden?

At exercise class yesterday, Hilary said she would rather exercise for 4 hours than garden for 4 hours. And then some of us are inveterate gardeners.

What is it, exactly, that gets you out in the garden? The solitude? The planting? The weeding? The artistry of the garden? The harvesting? The outdoors? Some people love one thing, but don't like the other aspects of gardening. For me, it's dividing my plants so that i can have the joy of giving them away. I do get the side benefit of the artistry of pleasing balance and color combinations.

It's different strokes for different folks. While teaching meditation yesterday at the county jail, one inmate told another, "You have to find an approach, a meditation that appeals to you." Then M explained to me that her friend was detoxing from addiction, so her friend's body was very frazzled. "So she might prefer meditation in motion, such as tai chi, qi gong, yoga, or any of the martial arts," i said.

M nodded. "I have anxiety," she said. "So i need calming meditation."

Each person has to discover their own special blend of meditation and exercise.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Letting Hate Be

I've received a couple of pieces of hate mail recently. Ouch! That hurts!

The mind wants to get going on a story and all sorts of rebuttals about the other person's point of view. I hate to be blamed. Yet blame is inevitable. Someone will not see things the way i see them. Someone will lash out. This is life. I much prefer praise, but you can't have one (praise) without the other (blame).

So where do i find happiness despite the outer conditions of ugly letters? I've been practicing forgiveness, toward myself, first of all. I forgive myself for not understanding this situation before i got into it.

I seek refuge in the Dharma--in patience and kindness, toward myself first of all.

And i notice the pain of remembering the letters. Can i just sink into that pain and watch it release?

The sender of the hate mail is living in a mental hell realm. By creating their own false story and then sticking to it, i can practically see the narrowed mind, the mind closed to relationship and to additional facts.

Oh, well. My job is to let the story go. Let it be as it is. To sink into the truth of silence. And feel compassionate toward all the political people who are receiving much worse hate mail from more people.

Here's a verse from the Dhammapada:

Those who are contentious 
have forgotten that we all die;
for the wise, who reflect on this fact,
there are no quarrels.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Naked Gardening Day

Today is World Naked Gardening Day. Just you and your garden, together in the buff. No one other than the tulips and rhubarb needs to see you.

Naked Gardening Day is not about beautiful bodies. It could be about noticing that even beautiful bodies are not actually beautiful. The bag of skin holds muscles and bones together. Muscles look like meat, which is not particularly beautiful. And bones look like skeletons, which are not beautiful either.

The body serves us well for all these decades. If we take a close look, we might realize that our 70 percent water bodies are not different from the water out of the tap, in the hose, or in the birdbath. The air that passes into our nostrils and bodies is no different than the air that surrounds us. The "earth" element of our bodies--including calcium, phosphorus, and batches of trace minerals--are no different than the chemical elements around us.

So, why exactly, do we compare our body with anyone else's body? What's the point? Rather, compare your body to a river or to your garden, because all of our bodies are composed of the same material elements.

Be one with Nature, today!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Opinions About Rain

It's raining today. Raining steadily. The forecast for the coming week is cloudy and rainy. I'm hearing lots of complaints. We want Spring! We want May! We want blooming flowers. We want to be outdoors in the garden.

Do you notice how we resist the present moment? This wet present moment.

The rain may be unpleasant--it's chilly; it's wet; it's raw. Not liking it only adds to our suffering and increases our stress.

We don't need to have any opinion at all. Imagine that! It's raining. Period. No opinion. No judgment. Only the feeling of unpleasantness.

I gaze out the window with a cup of tea in my hand. Raindrops dying in quick succession.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pleasing Combinations

This evening, Perennial Swappers come to tour my garden, and, i must say, it is spectacular. The early-season daffodils are fading, but the late-season daffodils are just now blooming. The yellow and white daffodils sit above various blue-blooming perennials--pulmonaria, brunnera, and forget-me-nots. Yellow and blue make a very pleasing-to-the-eye color combination.

What's the pleasing combination for our lives? What's the right mix of social life and solitude? What's the right mix of work and play? It's too easy for over-balancing one way or the other.

A mother of five recently came to me for meditation instruction. She said she gave up a lot of friendships in order to have children. And as a career mother, she's not quite sure where meditation might fit in her life, though she's sure it would be good for her health and for the stress in her life.

Sometimes, it's time to restructure our lives--or our gardens--for the most pleasing combination of solitude.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rainbow Garden

I try to arrange May so that i am out in the garden for several hours each day. I love the days when i stay home all day, even though this sometimes means playing hookey from various meetings and exercise classes. I rationalize it by assuming that walking for six hours in the garden, back and forth, must add up to a few miles. Gardening is as good as exercise, isn't it? Plus, gardening is so calming.

Yesterday's day in the garden ended with a sprinkle of rain while the sun was shining. That meant a double rainbow in the east.

The rainbow reminds me that my self and my garden are as real as a rainbow. Here today. Gone tomorrow. But, oh so beautiful right now.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dividing Daffodils

My grandmother died 30 years ago, and, in her will, she gave each grandchild $600. I spent my entire inheritance on daffodil bulbs, so that, every year, on her birthday in early May, i can remember my Nonnie.

This year, i am really focusing on dividing clumps of bulbs and giving away my extras. I'm passing on my grandmother's legacy of spring flowers.

Joy in the blooming. Joy in the memory of my grandmother. Joy in the giving of flower bulbs.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dancing in the May

This morning, before dawn, i walked to the top of a local mountain where Morris Dancers were dancing in the month of May. The dancers wear bells on their shins, have sticks to tap the ground, and lots of ribbons on their shirts. These English folk dances feel like a great way to welcome in the May.

For late risers, the men's team and the women's team danced again in the parking lot of the Town Hall at 6:45 a.m.

We take time to ceremonially welcome in a change of season--in this case, the month of May. Even though everything is impermanent, everything is in constant and continual change, we pause for a moment to welcome spring.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Barred Owls Calling

Barred owls have been calling, not only at night, but during the day as well. I assumed they were teaching their babies how to sing: "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?," but apparently the raucous caterwauling is just part of their repertoire.

When we are new to the Dharma, we begin to learn a new language, a new way of looking at life. We've spent so much time trying to arrange outer conditions to our own personal liking, that it comes as an astounding surprise that we can be happy despite outer conditions. Our happiness depends on our view.

The barred owls sit high in the trees with a clear view of happiness.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Little Spring Bulbs

Pink Chionodoxa and Pushkinia
I have always wanted a flower garden with all the early spring little bulbs.  Finally, i have a lightly strewn carpet of pale pinks and pale blues.

It didn't happen overnight. It's taken four years to fill up a small flower bed with miniature daffodils, chionodoxa, squill, pushkinia, and small wild tulips. What has worked is to buy the bulbs in the fall, start them in flowerpots in my garage, and then place them in the flowerbed in early April when i can see what else is blooming where.

We start filling up our daily routine with mindfulness--a little mindfulness here, a little mindfulness there, and pretty soon, we have a whole garden, a whole hour, a whole day guided by mindfulness.