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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cyclamen: Warm & Chilly

On the left: Kept in the kitchen. On the right: Kept in a chilly room.
In December, i gave a talk on holiday plants. I encouraged people to keep their cyclamen in a cool spot. Joanna did an experiment. She bought 2 cyclamens at the same time.She placed one cyclamen in her kitchen, near the wood stove. The other one she put in her study, which is too chilly for her to use in the winter. Three months later, here are the results. The leggy cyclamen with no flowers is the warm one. The compact fabulously blooming cyclamen has been living at 50 degrees.

It's counter-intuitive that warmth would lead to legginess and no blooms at all, and that chilly leads to continued blooming. It's almost as though too much pleasantness leads to a "lazy" plant. Resilience comes from a seemingly difficult climate.

This conforms to my experience. My siblings and i have a high level of resilience, perhaps partly due to a slightly chilly upbringing. Children who are accustomed to having everything provided for them lose their vigor. Uber-protection can lead to a lack of resilience.

Resilience is a key factor in happiness--happiness despite outer conditions.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Dog Who Loves Flowers

a poem by Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk
with its fragrance

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen

hovered -
and easily
she adored
every blossom

not in the serious
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom

the way we praise or don't praise -
the way we love
or don't love -
but the way

we long to be -
that happy
in the heaven of earth -
that wild, that loving.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hostess Gift: A Bottle of....

We went over to a friend's home for Easter dinner. Although my sweetie and our host couple drink wine, i do not, and i don't feel quite right about bringing a bottle of wine to dinner. I finally solved my little problem: I now take a bottle of olive oil. The bottle sometimes looks like a bottle of wine, and yesterday's olive oil came from a company that also sells wine.

I can't tell you how happy i am to have put this niggling not-quite-rightness to rest.

As we go through our day, we have all sorts of trifling little ruffles of our conscience. We may breeze over most of them. No one else may even notice, but in our hearts, we know something is not quite right.

Living a skillful life calls on us to be true to ourselves, whether or not anyone else notices.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Weed-Free Garden

I recently gave a talk about how to have a weed-free garden: Mulch! Now!

Now, while there's nice bare ground. But don't let that bare ground fool you. There are thousands of weed seeds per square foot of dirt, just waiting for the right conditions to spring up. Apply mulch now, and then they will remain dormant.

We do the same thing with our mind. There are all sorts of unskillful thoughts waiting to spring up. We mulch our mind with meditation. We create the right conditions for kindness, friendliness, and
patience to grow in our minds and in our actions.

Mulch your flower beds soon. Enjoy the flowers without those pesky weeds.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

All Snow is Impermanent

Raking Around the Snow
Big piles of snowplowed snow are disappearing fast--evaporating from the top and melting on the bottom. This means the ground is rather soggy. Squish, squish, squish. Add in yesterday's April showers, and i am surrounded by various forms of water--in the air, on the ground in puddles, and in the ground as mud. Fortunately, there's more air than water, so i can breathe comfortably. (And my west Texas dry skin has softened considerably now that i'm home in the North Country; my lips are no longer chapped.)    
All things are impermanent. I've been learning this chant, and applying it to many events in my life. All snow is impermanent. All mud puddles are impermanent. All the gold fish in my pond are impermanent--20 of them have disappeared, leaving only one. All lives are impermanent. All bodies are impermanent. I hum this chant throughout the day. 

All things are impermanent, including me.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Florist & Cafe

While we were in Marfa, Texas, we had breakfast at Buns 'n Roses--cafe & florist. Now that is my type of cafe. Being Texas, the cafe/florist shared its place of business with a welding and wrecker service.

The breakfast was delicious, and the decor inside the cafe in the quonset hut was a florist's refrigerator, a table of potted plants, and a wall of vases and gifts.

Although i think immediately of the Joan Baez song Bread and Roses, I suppose the name of the cafe is a nod to the hard rock band Guns N' Roses. How do we reconcile the use of guns to kill people, with the roses that decorate a funeral casket? Perhaps we are trying to come to terms with the use of really big guns to bomb Syria, the resulting loss of lives, and the very disabling results of nerve gas among the survivors.

Fear drives defensiveness. To act fearlessly does not mean that we are entirely vulnerable. Now is the time to act from our heart--a beautiful rose, which nevertheless protects itself with thorns. Now is the time to respond with non-violence.

Fear has two meanings.  
Forget everything and run 
Face everything and rise.
--  Zig Ziglar 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Elements

I've returned home to the North Country, skin tanned by the west Texas sun, hair blown wild by the wind, and the body slightly dehydrated from the heat. The elements of heat and wind (air) showed their strength, but didn't arm-wrestle me to the rocky ground, though most plants looked parched. Surprisingly, standing in a 105 degree hot spring beside the Rio Grande on a 101 degree day felt really good on my bare feet..

Here in the North Country, the day is chilly, the sky is clouded, and mud and mud puddles are drying up. Green begins to twinkle in my brown gardens, inviting me outdoors.

Hot/cold, sun/clouds, heat/chill, wet/dry--our skin feels all of these. Some are pleasant; others unpleasant; and we react accordingly.

Really, the air is blowing through us. We breathe air, which is never ours anyway, and let it go when we exhale. We marinate in the temperature du jour--the sensations of our skin responding as it loses or gains heat continually. We drink water from the tap (from a well, from the city water tanks, which come from rivers and reservoirs). Our body feels solid, yet is ever-changing as water, heat, air, and solids enter, pass through the body, and exit via the trap doors at the base of the torso.

We ourselves are plain old elements, recombined.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Marfa Lights

Last night i went to bed early, so i could get up in the middle of the night and go look for the Marfa Lights. Marfa is a town in west Texas that has ghost lights. Looking out across the scrub desert, with no houses or towns within sight, unexplained lights can appear.

The phenomenon has a few explanations, but nothing has been proven. The lights can vary from a few lights in the distance (which i saw) to dancing colorful lights that spin and twirl.

Standing on the viewing platform at midnight, another woman walked onto the dimly lit deck and told me about her experiences with the Marfa Lights. She said her daughter thinks it's all a bunch of bunk, and she's not buying this ghostly phenomena story.

This is an example of skeptical doubt. This form of doubt dismisses possibilities without taking the time and energy to really investigate them. Some people don't even get started on a spiritual path because of skeptical doubt.

What we need is a scientist's mind: just enough doubt to investigate to see if something is true. Investigating for yourself the broad extent of stress and suffering in your life. Investigate to notice that your very life is as evanescent as the Marfa Lights.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

They Call the Wind Mariah

Our latest adventure with Airbnb is staying in a 32-foot long house trailer, the 1970s type that has now been replaced by RVs. Last night the wind moaned and sighed and buffeted the trailer a bit. I was reminded of one of my favorite songs from childhood--They Call the Wind Mariah. Before spending time in west Texas, i never realized that the wind could be a felt personality.

The song is about a miner, longing for his girlfriend, and since i'm staying in the mining town of Terlingua, Texas, the lyrics seem very appropriate.

Yearning for anything--a girlfriend, distant children, more money--is another word for stress, suffering, and distress. Not that you have do anything about it, except simply notice the longing and how it feels in your body. Notice the wishing, the hoping, the non-acceptance of life as it is, right this minute.

Wind blowing, sun shining. Alone, but not lonely.

Way out west, they got a name
For rain and wind and fire.
The rain is Tess, the fire is Joe and
they call the wind Mariah.

 Mariah blows the stars around
And sends the clouds a-flying.
Mariah makes the mountain sounds
Like folks were up there dying.
Mariah, They call the wind Mariah

Now before I knew Mariah's name
And heard her wail and whining,
I had a gal and she had me
and the sun was always shining.

O, but then one day I left my gal.
I left her far behind me.
And now I'm lost, I'm oh so lost
Not even God can find me.

Mariah, O, Mariah,
They call the wind Mariah

I hear they got a name for rain
And wind and fire only
But when you're lost and all alone,
there ain't no words but lonely.

And I'm a lost and lonely man,
without a star to guide me.
Mariah, blow my love to me.
I need my gal beside me.

Mariah, Mariah.
I'm lonely can't you see?

Mariah, O, Mariah
Please blow my love to me
Mariah, blow my love to me

Lyrics and music by Lerner and Loew
from the musical Paint Your Wagon

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lost (I-Me) Mine Trail

We had just started hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, when a volunteer park ranger passed us with a plastic bag in his hand. He was picking up trash along the trail (of which there was none), and his long athletic legs soon outpaced us.

I saw him again 2.4 miles and 1200 vertical feet later; he was on his way back down.
"Find any trash?" i asked.
"Cremains," he said.
"Cremains?" I wasn't sure i had heard him correctly.
"Yes, two sets of cremains. I cleaned up the areas, but i didn't get them all. Really, if you're going to scatter cremains in a national park, don't do it on a public trail. Do it somewhere where they're not going to be seen. There's a place where cremains were scattered five years ago, and you can still see them. If you know what to look for."

I couldn't help but think about the families of the cremains. To them, the cremains signified a person, a life, and a lot of memories. To the ranger, the cremains were ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust. Really, the ranger is right. If we could lose our sense of I-me-mine, even for a second, we would see that we are all just heaps of dust walking around. Some of us on the hopefully-named Lost (I-Me-) Mine Trail.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Window of Opportunity

We are staying at the National Park lodge in Big Bend, tucked into an old volcanic crater called "the basin," surrounded by the Chisos Mountains. Like all craters, this one has a low point called "The Window." Looking out the windows of the lodge dining room, we have a fantastic view of The Window, which offers a view of the world beyond this fortress of mountains with high peaks all around us.

When we are surrounded by so-called reality of family, work, and home, and the virtual reality of cyberspace, it's quite difficult to see the view beyond our ordinary daily lives. Meditation offers us the calmness, the space, the solitude in which to notice this larger view.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Hip Bone's Connected to the Leg Bone

My sweetie is wearing his los muertos shirt every evening that we go out to dinner in the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas. I like to point out the skeleton playing the (upright) piano on his shirt, since my sweetie is a concert pianist. His shirt also features a skeleton mariachi band, a male skeleton drinking beer, and a lady skeleton dancing.

"Seeing" the skeleton in yourself as well as in everyone else is one of the meditations on the body recommended by the Buddha. An easy form of the "32 Parts of the Body" meditation is to simply become aware of 3 of the parts--skin, flesh, and bones. Try it during your next meditation. Become aware of skin. Then imagine the flesh, muscle, tendons, ligaments, and fascia--perhaps rather quickly. Finally, become aware of the bones underneath the flesh. I do a quick scan from cranium down the neck bones to the shoulder bones all the way down to the toe bones.

When you stop to think about it, our skeleton might last a heck of a lot longer than our fleshly bodies. Let's stop taking it for granted, and simply notice that we are all walking-talking skeletons.