Friday, March 31, 2017

Gray Water

Our Airbnb casa here near Big Bend National Park drains kitchen dishwater directly into the tiny garden outside the kitchen window. This morning I saw a toad sitting happily in the 3-inch wide PVC drainpipe in a very small puddle of water. Bill was washing breakfast dishes, so more water was coming out. When I leaned over to take a photo, the toad hopped away.

Using gray water to water plants is a must in this climate that receives 10 niches of rain per year. Conserving water is the name of the game here in the Chuhuahuan desert. The gray water creates a tiny habitat where plants grow happily.

At the end of the drain pipe, several things are growing--some sort of mallow, a small yellow daisy thing, and a large yucca.

We meditators need to create habitats for ourselves where we are well-watered. Depending on our larger environment--family, political, work--our refuge may be quite small, yet sufficient for us to grow and bloom. Or sit happily and comfortably like the toad.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ghost Town

We are in Terlingua, Texas, a ghost town, staying at an Airbnb mining ruin. This miner's hut has been artfully refurbished with all the modern conveniences. Nearby stand ruins of other rock huts--two-room falling-down houses without their roofs.

The Buddha refers to our six senses as a ghost town. Specifically he is referring to our internal senses, which I would call the virtual reality of our thoughts. We see/hear/feel our thoughts and take them to be reality. But when you look more closely, you find only empty huts of seeing thoughts, empty huts of hearing thoughts, empty huts of feeling thoughts. All here and gone in a flash. But continuous enough to feel real, to feel that we ourselves have some reality.

But really, it's all a ghost town.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dust in My Eyes

Our secluded Airbnb casita in Marfa, Texas, had a blooming honey locust arching over the patio. The Casita Centro was quite cute although its landscaping, like all of its neighbors, looked brown and dry and blown to bits by the wind.

The wind had been blowing hard all day. In fact, while we were exploring town, we noticed the sky had turned a golden pink-brown. Beautiful! And peculiar. And then I realized, a dust storm was fast approaching.

Dust began to blow into my eyes (always bad for someone who wears contact lenses), and I began to feel the sting of sand pelting my skin, as if I were being sand-blasted. My sweetie and I ran the three blocks back to our stalwart casita.

After the Buddha was enlightened, he thought he would not teach because explaining the Dharma to people would be too vexing. But then, a deity begged him to teach, saying there are people with little dust in their eyes. So for the sake of those with little dust in their eyes, the Buddha taught for 45 years.

Jesus said something similar when he said, "Those who have ears, let them hear."

Sometimes we feel we have a lot of dust in our eyes. We just can't see past whatever is blocking our view. But sometimes, our hearts are open, our eyes can see clearly now, and we can smell the fragrance of the sweet Dharma.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Driving across southwest Texas, we kept seeing mirages of water on the road in front of us. A mirage is a peculiar trick. It looks like water across the road, but as you drive closer, it disappears.

The Buddha says

Form* is like a glob of foam; 
feeling, a bubble; 
perception, a mirage; 
mental fabrications, a banana tree**; consciousness, a magic trick.

However you observe them, 
appropriately examine them, 
they're empty, 
to whoever sees them appropriately.

Our self is a mirage. Like a rainbow, it seems to exist, but then it doesn't.

* the body
**a banana tree has no heartwood, no core

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Nutrition No One Uses

As i walked in to the Atlanta airport terminal this morning, we passed two giant-sized planters full of beautiful kale. An airport terminal is a busy place, people coming and going every minute, every few seconds. Thousands of people walk by this kale, yet no one harvests it. These nutritious kale leaves are purely decorative.

How often do i leave my good-for-me yoga mat sitting by itself in a corner? My meditation cushion languishes on a chair, ready and waiting to go outdoors and sit on the deck in the early, early morning. Weights, a hula hoop, a mini-trampoline, a trapeze--all this equipment waits for me, yet i keep walking by it. I know it's all good for me, yet..... 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

All Lives are Impermanent

Well, spring arrived a week ago, so to celebrate the season, i defrocked the Christmas wreath on the front door and sent the wreath itself to the compost pile. I'll find its "skeleton" in a couple of years--the thin steel metal ring with a slinky spiral of green wire wrapped around and around and around and....

The wreath still looked mostly fir-green, though the yew sprigs were more yellow than green, and the spruce sprigs were turning brown. This is how old age looks on us--a bit paler and frailer than we used to be. Not quite as "much" of us as there used to be.

Friday evening, i attended a Living Memorial service for a friend who is dying. She was the mother of our local Interfaith Initiative, and a representative from each of her favorite traditions spoke, chanted, or danced. A Sufi whirling dervish, the Jewish cantor with a spectacular voice, a pan-eurhythmy dance celebrating sunset, and i offered a Buddhist chant.

The season of my interfaith friend's life is passing away.
And so is mine.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Giving Brings Joy

Tomorrow we leave for a 2-week vacation. I've given away a dozen pots of blooming tulips. Now 3 amaryllis are budding, so it would be nice to find homestays for them so that someone else can enjoy their blooms while we are away.

Giving flowers is a form of generosity where it is so easy to feel the Buddha's words.

“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. 
  • We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. 
  • We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. 
  • And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”
I've got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cool Tulips

My pots of tulips that i forced in the garage over the winter are blooming. Every day, i put them outside on the front step for a day of early spring temperatures, a bit of breeze, and a sprinkle. Every evening as temperatures drop below freezing, i bring a dozen pots indoors to spend the night in my mud room, which is a bit cooler than the rest of the house.

My pots of tulips are like silent pets. All this in-and-out, back-and-forth makes the tulips last for 3 weeks instead of 1 week. They like to be cool, and when they're hot, they shrug off their petals like we shrug off our sweaters when we get too warm.

When you get hot under the collar, how do you cool down? Breathe. And notice you are breathing. Take a 1-minute mini-meditation break. Notice the mood of the mind.

We don't meditate in order to chill. We meditate in order to notice the stress in our lives. We meditate to notice suffering. We don't have to do anything about it. The "doing" will happen on its own once we become aware of the sources of our suffering--news, work, relationships. We probably need less of those particular stressors in our lives.

Take a closer look. Go outdoors for a mindful walk and enjoy the cool spring breezes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Importance of Migrants

Hilary--friendly and curious
In our state, 3 men with Hispanic names have been arrested by ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement). These 3 men were working for the organization Migrant Justice.

The farmers in our state rely on migrant labor. At Town Meeting two weeks ago, one farmer stood up to remind us of the importance of migrants to his livelihood and to our state economy.  Since this farmer had a pig named Hilary a few years ago, i had assumed that told me something about his politics. (Hilary herself was so friendly and curious that i fell in love with her immediately.)

Regardless of politics, migrants are important in order for certain local foods to appear my table.

The Buddha himself was a wanderer, a homeless person, a migrant of a sort (though he did no physical labor nor did he earn any money).

Now is the time to practice right speech and speak up--kindly and gently. I have written postcards to ICE asking for the release of these 3 men.

During meditation, i express gratitude for the migrants who pick my neighbor's apples, the migrants who harvest oh-so-many fruits and vegetables. We need our migrant workers.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Celebrating Spring Equinox

Susan sends a Spring Equinox postcard instead of a Christmas card. This year's postcard includes the poem The Coming of Spring by Francis Duggan.

The spring in gown of green came at midnight
and stole along the parkland in moonlight
and people of suburbia fast asleep
when Spring from tree to garden tree did creep.

The Spring came in at midnight in her green.
A welcome guest though she has not been seen.
In still of night she shuffled down the street,
and no one heard her pass on silent feet.

It's official: Winter is over. Gone. Impermanence rules.
Welcome Spring. You impermanent and changeable creature you.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


I'm the email secretary for our little local gardening group, Perennial Swappers. Maybe you could call it a club, but the only business is that Bonnie arranges the bi-weekly garden tours. Then every 2 weeks during the spring and summer, we meet at 6:00, give our extra plants away (takes about 10 minutes), and head off for a garden tour of a local, ordinary garden. I am amazed by the variety of gardens within a 5-mile radius of my house!

As email secretary, i pass along emails i receive that are of gardening interest. The Smith College bulb show, the Mt. Holyoke College greenhouse open house, an Ikebana workshop, a gardening seminar.

I send these emails out to the 133 people in the Perennial Swappers group. Maybe 10 or 20 come to any one meeting, and you usually see the same faces. Still, it's fun to trade gardening stories and to get together with other good gardeners to discuss plant problems and garden questions.

Today, i received 2 thank-you emails--notes of appreciation for letting people know about these gardening events.

Appreciation is all the pay i get for this volunteer job of email secretary, which i do enjoy doing. It pays to appreciate everyone we see today.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Walking the Labyrinth on Snowshoes

What to do with 15 inches of snow? One of my neighbors decided to snowshoe a labyrinth in the snow.

A labyrinth was, historically, more like a maze--a complex pattern, which, once you enter it, is difficult to escape. Perhaps you feel this way about a particular situation or relationship in your life.

Yet, if you keep walking, keep following the path, the answer finally comes. You reach the center of the quest, the center of the question, a small still point. Honestly, there's no need for rancor or impatience, frustration or hurt feelings. The answer is right there in front of you, if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other with an open mind.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Expressing Gratitude

My neighbors are having their kitchen redone, and their downstairs bathroom accessible-ized in preparation for old, old age. Meanwhile, they are staying in our guest suite, nicknamed The Sweet, where they can cook, be warm, and sleep comfortably.

In gratitude, Diana gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Expressing gratitude reminds us to not take things for granted, to not take life for granted. When we are young, we think things are going to stay the same. After all, that's the only way we've known life to be. We expect our grandparents will continue to be there, just like they have always been. As grandparents, we know the end is coming, and we prepare for it as best we can--like taking out the bathtub and putting in a shower with handrails.

If we were really in touch with life and aliveness, we would express our gratitude for just about everything--even the difficult things which force us to loosen our grasp on something or someone or other.

In the end, we have to let it all go anyway--flowers, friends, grandparents, and handrails.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blooming Tulips

For Valentine's Day, i gave my gardening friend Paul a pot of tulips that i had been forcing in my garage over the winter. After a month of living in the warm indoors, they are blooming.

We plant ourselves in meditation. Maybe at first, it looks like nothing is happening. But as our roots are established, as we notice the warmth of what we are doing, an insight sprouts and blooms.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Climbing Rhododendrons

The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are thick with big old rhododendrons. When i stopped in Blowing Rock, a woman told me that she and her sister used to climb rhododendrons as kids. What a great place to play!

I don't spend enough time outdoors, and i don't spend enough time playing. My do-er likes to be doing something in the garden. That's my adult form of play--rearranging and neatening up the flower beds, trimming branches off shrubs. All to make a more beautiful landscape, which will soon enough revert to its wild state when i can no longer care for it.

Rhododendrons grow tall. Children grow up. And i grow old.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Roadside Redbud

Driving across the state of North Carolina--length-wise--the interstate was lined with redbud trees for a hundred miles, until the highway gained elevation and entered a different climate zone.

Oh, what a breath of spring! I love redbud trees, which are native ornamental trees that grow wild, usually on the edge of the woods.

I was on my way to Southern Dharma Retreat Center, high up (2700') in the Great Smoky Mountains, where it snowed both Friday and Saturday nights.

Although we long for certainty, conditions are variable, changeable--sometimes wildly so. From spring to winter in just a few hours, a few miles, a few hundred feet of altitude. Conditions constantly change. It's never the same, even if it sort of looks/feels the same.

Redbuds bloom. Snow falls. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Taste for What's Good for You

My friend Samantha took me to the Duke Gardens today. We practically swam through five terraces of daffodils and tulips. So much spring packed in to these gardens. I particularly liked the red ruffled kale tucked in with the pink tulips.

It took me many years to develop a taste for kale. It always tasted too green and nutritious.Then someone told me about kale chips, and i was hooked. I love kale chips and kale salad.

Mindfulness also seemed like one of those things that's "good for you" and therefore, boring. It took a few years for me to develop a taste for mindfulness and realize the subsequent calmness really felt pretty nice.

Now i love mindfulness. Especially when i'm eating kale chips.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Calm

I flew to North Carolina today to visit my friend Samantha before i go to Southern Dharma Retreat Center this weekend for Spring Clean-Up. Yes, it really is spring here in zone 8. Redbuds are blooming in the woods, which itself is tinged with green. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths smile in lawns. Oh, my. This weekend, at my home in zone 5, temperatures will drop into the single digits.

Samantha said that since she's let go of her expectations of her family, she feels so calm. She had been so accustomed to feeling anxious that feeling calm is a brand-new sensation. Calm is possible! Calm is possible once you let go (let go, let go) of those stressors you've been carrying around with you like extra weight. You don't realize how weighty that extra is until you let go and feel a heck of a lot lighter.

But actually, all anyone can do is report to you from a different climate zone. It's spring down here. And calm feels really, really light. This is something you have to see/feel for yourself.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In Memory of Florence

The first Tuesday of March is Town Meeting Day here in Vermont--a day when a couple of hundred town citizens (about 10% of our town's population) sit on metal folding chairs in the gymnasium of the K-8 school and vote on spending money on a new road grader or buying a new fire truck or passing the school budget.

Today's Town Meeting began with a roll call of those who had died in the past year, followed by a moment of silence. The last name was Florence H. who always sat in the front row at Town Meeting.

I blogged about Florence a year ago. In memory of her, i'm reprinting part of that blog here:

When i was checking out of our local farm and garden store, i saw a lovely hand-drawn card of flowers taped to Florence's cash register. Florence has been a clerk at the store for as long as i've been going there--a few decades. "What a lovely card," i said.
"Oh, that was for my birthday," she said. "Last August."

"So, how old are you, if i may ask?"

"93," said Florence. "Sometimes, it's a bit scary."

Yes, living in an aging body is scary. You're on a roller-coaster ride, and you don't know what's going to happen next.

We are all living in an aging body, and no one knows what's going to happen next. Another friend, aged 75, sent an emissary to Town Meeting to propose that our little bitsy town sign the Charter of Compassion. That friend will not live to see our next Town Meeting.

Compassion is one of the best antidotes for fear.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pruning the Orange Tree

When we returned from 3 weeks in London in mid-January, the orange tree looked pathetic. It's always been a challenge to keep that little tree watered. The soil dries out extra fast.

Usually i put the orange tree up front so i can see it and remember to water it. But somehow it was standing in the back row of houseplants, its green leaves dry and curled up. No amount of water rejuvenated the leaves, so i asked my sweetie to prune it while i left the room. Bill is an excellent pruner, but i can't bear to watch. The finished product looked like a gangly teenager--tall and skinny--with a mop of green leaf "hair" at the top. Not really attractive.

Two weeks later, orange blossoms perfume the air and little green leaves sprout from what remains of the branches.

Sometimes, we have to prune off the dead wood of our lives, the dead branches, so that we can flower. This past week, I've thrown away my scrapbooks from the 1960s and 1970s. Gone. Well, it was already gone. Long gone. Now, even the nostalgia is gone, and the memories are gone too. As i realize that the memory takes place in the present moment.

photo by EugeneZelenko

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Glory of the Snow

I planted spring bulbs in pots and put them in the garage in early December. Three weeks ago, i began bringing pots into the house. The first to bloom is Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa; chion = snow; doxa = glory).

I love these little bulbs. They multiply on their own and show up in unexpected places. And this hardy little flower likes it cool.

How do we grow ourselves in cool times? How do we flourish and multiply even when the climate is chilly?

First of all, we rely on our spiritual friends. Just like Glory of Snow, we thrive in a colony, even if we do prefer our solitude. In hard times, we can count on our spiritual friends to keep us from straying into the bushes.

photo by color line

Saturday, March 4, 2017

It Looks Like Winter

Even though it's five degrees outdoors right now, the sun is shining. It feels like winter, but winter is being eroded by the sun, drop by drop.

Birds are arriving from the south, silently and invisibly. Suddenly, there's a robin despite the dusting of snow last night. Next week, the bluebirds arrive. The week after that, the great blue herons. And the last week of March, the phoebes.

The practice of meditation erodes our bad habits, bit by bit, as we bring mindfulness into our daily lives. We zip our lips instead of zinging off an opinion, and we speak up, truthfully and helpfully in all heartfulness, when we need to.

It looks like winter outdoors, but the heart of spring is arriving drop by drop.

Photo by scubadive67

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lamb & Lion

March came in like a lamb--all misty, drizzling, warmish, and feeling like spring. But the night of March 1, the winds began to blow, the temperatures dropped below freezing, which, due to wind chill, felt frigid.

Here is our challenge: to speak softly and gently when the situation warrants. And to speak like a lion when needed. Could we even speak like a lion and still have the heart of a lamb?

Now, and for the foreseeable future is the time to speak up, to speak out. Speak like a lion when necessary. And remember your lamb's heart.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Delicious Smell of Skunk

I walk out the door to drizzle and melting snow, and i smell skunk. That's a definite indicator of spring.

Smell of skunk: unpleasant. The thought of spring: pleasant. It's interesting and even fun to notice the pleasant arising so quickly after the unpleasant.

The smell of skunk is deliciously awful. Stinky yes. But the skunks are mating right outside the door, somewhere in the woods nearby and have left their pee-yew pheromones for us to sniff. And smile.