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.