Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Spiritual Friend

I'm in Olympia, Washington for a couple of days, visiting a spiritual friend. We are on different paths--she's a Quaker; i'm a Buddhist--but i love our deep conversations. Plus, i'm in the Pacific Northwest, which grows beautiful roses.

Spiritual friends. Life doesn't get any better than this, no matter how free-wheeling our conversations.

Who is your spiritual friend?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monarch on a Zinnia Throne

Monarch butterfly on zinnia.I saw a monarch butterfly this afternoon, sipping nectar from a zinnia, not far from a stand of milkweed.

Yesterday, i found 2 monarch caterpillars on the underside of a milkweed leaf. Although i've heard that there aren't enough milkweed, i have plenty growing in my cutting flower beds.

When is a weed a weed? And when is a flower a flower? It's all in the eye of the beholder. It all rests with your personal judgment. Every judgment is a judgment, dividing the world into good and bad, yes and no.

Or we could practice non-judgmental awareness. "Oh. It's like this."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Chicken-of-the-Woods Mushrooms

At the farmers market today, i bought chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. Oh, my gosh, they are delicious as well as beautiful. The texture is, well, chicken-y.

I love supporting our local farmers, who are growing crops you won't find at the grocery store. They are practicing Right Livelihood (whether or not they know it), and i really enjoy supporting them in their efforts.

Besides, local mushrooms make me a locavore.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Meditating with a Hummingbird

Two photos taken in our patio.  I saw a hummingbird a few days ago and so purchased a feeder and sure enough they have been regular visitors since.  

Comments are always welcomed and enjoyed.

The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) ...This morning, i sat on my deck and meditated with a hummingbird. She sat on the wire railing, looking this way and that. I watched her breathe.

She came over to sit just 2 feet away from me--so glittery green, this tiny bird-queen.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Groundhog is the Grass

Visite rare dans mon jardin, ce matin (24 juin).
Infrequent visitor to my backyard, this morning.

Marmotte commune -- Woodchuck

Order Rodentia -- Family Sciuridae

Bas-Saint-Laurent -- Province de Québec -- Canada

Canon PowerShot A6...We looked out the kitchen window to see a cute roly-poly groundhog grazing on the grass just 10 feet away from the house. Eventually, we walked out on the deck, and the groundhog ran right into my flowerbed. Ahem.

Today, Bill and i went exploring in the flowerbed and found a big groundhog hole right in the middle. Fortunately, i had some used kitty litter, which i immediately dumped into the hole. Would you go home if used kitty litter was scattered all over your front step?

What do we do when varmints take up residence in our minds?

First of all, watch it with mindfulness, interest, and curiosity. Where does this "varmint" live?
Eventually, you can apply the antidote of kindness. This might be called "killing it with kindness." That's really the only way to invite it to live somewhere else.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Minced Garlic

The garlic harvest is in, and i still have 4 dozen heads of last year's garlic that are starting to sprout. I'm rich in garlic, but what to do with it all?

One evening, after turning off the computer at 9:00 p.m., i peel all that garlic and throw it into the food processor. That makes a quart of minced garlic, which i cover in olive oil and store in the refrigerator. This jar of minced garlic will keep longer than the raw garlic, some heads of which had already turned brown.

We, ourselves, don't last forever. One writer-friend tells me that, at 80, she's forgetting many of the names she wants to write about in her memoir about back-to-the-land in the 1960s.

Now is the time to sprout your meditation practice or your own creativity. Don't wait. Life doesn't last forever.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Garlic Harvest

Time to harvest the garlic! I pulled mine yesterday, cut off the top stalks and the roots at the bottom. Now they are resting in a dark, dry place for a couple of weeks before i store them in the basement. In fact, they are stored in my woodshed, which is attached to my garage, and the garage smells like garlic. Fresh garlic.

The smell of garlic pervades my woodshed and garage. In our meditation, we pervade the world--or our little corner of it--with loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Choose one, and for today, just try pervading your body with the smell, with the taste of loving-friendliness, for instance. Can the people you meet "smell" your friendliness? Can they "taste" your friendliness?

We know garlic is good for us, and friendliness is also very good for us.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Shrinking Garden

It's too hot to garden, so i go out to the flowerbeds in the early light with my clippers to deadhead. Actually, "deadhead" means cut the whole plant down to the ground. Bucket by bucket, cart by cart, i am hauling my entire garden to the compost pile.

The entire verdant, blooming garden shrinks to the size of a compile pile. For me, that's 3'x3'x3'. It's mind-boggling. My entire landscape shrivels into dirt.

I can see it, if i pay attention. I fill a compost bin up to the top, overflowing even. By the end of the week, it's shrunk to 6" from the top. I fill it up again. Same thing. Shrinking and changing before my very eyes.

Sort of like my own body. Shrinking. I've lost more than an inch of height. And i don't want to look too closely at the shriveling part.

The garden ages. And so do i.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sharing the Hay

Last evening, i went to pick-up some mulch hay. As usual, Farmer Bonnie knew exactly how to stack 21 bales into my little pick-up truck.

I delivered 10 bales to my neighbor. My gardener wants 6 bales for her goats, which leaves me with 5 bales. Just the right amount for mulching the vegetable garden.

I love sharing the hay.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Beach Erosion

  Just 2 blocks farther down the beach from where we are staying, the so-called beach turns into a jetty of giant-sized slabs of granite preceded by gigunda sandbags that are each a hundred feet long. A few of the ocean-front houses look precarious.

The ocean is washing the beach away--perhaps due, partially, to the lack of beach grass holding the little hillocks of dunes in place.

Change. Trying to stop the change of erosion with the change of sandbags and rocks.

We try to stop our own personal erosion by exercising and eating healthy foods. Still, the tide of life will have its way, no matter how we sandbag our minds with "not yet" or "not me."

The ocean is calm today. This beautiful sunny day.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


This week, i am teaching mindfulness at a Unitarian-Universalist summer camp in Maine for families. It's a fun retreat because my sweetie, Bill, is here with me. (Usually i leave him at home while i go on retreat for 8 or 10 weeks a year.)

Last evening, he sang in the choir at the evening Vespers service, and someone asked me what vespers means. Vespers is cognate with our word "west," so it's the church service that happens around the time of the setting sun. Bill, who went to an Episcopal school and sang in the boys' choir, calls it Evensong.

While being on retreat with my sweetie this week is unique, one of the things that keeps us together is our parallel spiritual paths. We have many of the same values and are continually teaching each other how to be kinder to the world around us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sunrise on the Beach

I took a walk on the beach this morning to see the sun rise. A new day begins. My footprints are erased by the next wave of the ocean.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Safe = Love

This week i'm teaching mindfulness at Ferry Beach Camp & Conference Center in Maine--a Unitarian-Universalist multi-generational summer camp.

The great thing about summer camp is that everyone has a chance to be a kid again. And the place is safe. Doors are not locked. Pairs and groups of children immediately bond and run loose without supervision. Just imagine feeling that safe.

Safety is an expression of love--whether that's you feeling safe in a place or people feeling safe with you.

May we all feel safe.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Middle-Aged Garden

One friend says she goes out to her garden every morning and deadheads. I take my garden cart and cut back the foliage of plants that have finished blooming. Now, in the middle of the season, plants are tall; they are middle-aged plants. Soon i have a cart full of dead bodies, which i haul to the compost pile.

Rupa dancing her way out of her living memorial service, cane in hand
Some friends die young. Rupa, a 75-year-old friend died 2 weeks ago. She was so vivacious and full of life. Yet i heard her say last winter that she was ready to go. I'm the one who wasn't ready for her to go.

Here's the chant i learned especially for Rupa's living memorial service 3 months ago--a memorial service that she attended and danced her way out of.

All things are impermanent.
They arise and they pass away.
To live in harmony with this truth
brings great happiness.

Flowers arising and passing.
Friends arising and passing away.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Aging Butterfly

I walked out the front door and almost stepped on a bedraggled monarch butterfly--quite the worse for wear. It flapped its wings lethargically. It didn't fly away. I moved it over to the flowers in a flowerpot on the front step.

This is what an aging butterfly looks like. It limps around. Its "skin" is faded and spotty.

I too am of the nature to grow old, just like this butterfly.

I just hope i look as beautiful as this monarch butterfly.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nibbled Broccoli

Look closely to see the 3 nibbled-off stems
Since my vegetable garden is looking quite disreputable this summer, i bought a 6-pack of broccoli for 99 cents. I put it on my front step, and when i went to plant it 3 days later, 3 seedlings were nothing but stems.

Oh, those rascal chipmunks! They didn't even wait until i planted the broccoli. And really, why should they? It's so much handier to nibble them in the 6-pack. After all, we buy things in 6-packs at the grocery too.

Our good intentions to meditate every day get nibbled off by this to-do and that to-do.

If we are ever going to harvest the insights of our spiritual life, we have to plant ourselves on the cushion. Today.

Today i'm planting all those broccoli. Even the nibbled-off stems.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

White Poppies

Annual poppies (Papaver somniflorum) have reseeded themselves in my cutting garden for years. I cut these watermelon-colored beauties every morning during the last week of June and the first 2 weeks of July.

When i saw a 6-pack of white poppies, i grabbed them for my white garden. They are blooming now--big, beautiful blooms that the bees love. I counted 7 bees in each flower rushing around through the forest of stamens as if they wanted to be first. "Me first. Me first." As if they were drunk on desire. More. More. More.

I often feel this way myself about food. Eating out, a beautiful plate is delivered to my table, and i'm already making plans to order more. In reality, i can't even eat everything on my plate. I always take food home.

I can also feel this way about shopping, though i tire of clothes shopping quite quickly. Plant shopping is my major downfall. Perhaps you know something about this yourself.

Notice desire in the body, the rush toward more and more. It's delicious! But then notice that it stops tasting delicious; a numbness sets in; and habit impels us forward into more. What was pleasant has become slightly unpleasant. Notice this little detail.

The busy bees are buzzing. More. More. More

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hail the Size of Beans

Hail pounded my metal roof a couple of days ago, making an awful racket. The hail was the size of beans, although it looked like mothballs bouncing around in the rain.

I was surprised the hail didn't damage more plants. Some plants, like my annual poppies, stand straight up, while various weeds lay on the ground looking pummeled.

What keeps us straight and steady when stress is hailing down all around us? Yet another friend has lung cancer. Someone else is having a replacement heart valve replaced again.

These super-stress events call for compassion and equanimity. The pummeling hurts, and it is impermanent. Weather changes--it comes and goes. Our internal weather also changes.

But while it's hailing, it hurts. Place your hand on your heart. And breathe.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Forest Skyline

A few years ago, I bought a cup on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands in Washington state. This is my favorite cup, though its colors are not my usual colors.

And then, this week, I "saw" for the first time that this cup is the same colors as the sky and the forest. In fact, its abstract edginess even looks like the forest skyline.

This is what perception does: enables us to re-cognize something familiar, something with which we have associations. In reality, the cup is about sky and forest as much as a cloud looks like a camel. Perception comes and goes and enables us to get along in the world, but when you look closely has no real reality.

Never mind. I still love this smallish cup of green and blue.

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.