Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jade Flowers

My jade plant is blooming. Visitors are surprised to see the clusters of white star-like flowers.

"Well, that's what happens when you don't water it in September and October," i say. Also, the cool--well, okay, shivering--night temperatures of October also helped. My houseplants didn't come indoors until mid-October. I was on retreat that month, so no one was paying any attention to the jade plant, and that neglect helped it flower.

Creating the right conditions for our own flowering can take some experimenting. As it turns out, having everything is simply stressful. My month-long retreat in October--with no phone, no internet, no books, no writing, and 2 meals a day--created the conditions for calm and open awareness to arise.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Does a Bear S**t in the Woods?

Does a bear s**t in the woods? Apparently not. This morning my neighbor reports a big pile of doo-doo in her driveway.

We have all learned from our forester neighbor to pick scat apart with a stick to see what the critter was eating. At first glance, we might guess Thanksgiving dinner. (Just kidding!)

The clue you can't see is that this pile of scat is about 100 feet from the dumpster shared by 10 households. The 2 dumpster divers on our private road keep begging people to wash out their food containers, and, please, don't put food-infused paper (e.g., pizza boxes or used microwave paper towels) in the recycling dumpster, which sits right beside our trash dumpster.

A fed bear is a dead bear, because a fed bear becomes a nuisance to the neighborhood, and then....

The bear is trolling her usual food sources (including our dumpsters), just like we shoppers troll our favorite stores, the places where, in the past, we found something that we like.

Unfortunately, our mind trolls our problems, turning them over and over and over and ..... Even if they are a pile of s**t.  Er, "scat," i mean.

As one Tibetan teacher says, "Have a good time with your bad time."

Eventually, we do realize that whatever s**t we are putting up with, it's just not worth it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Lone Flower

One of my Christmas cactuses bloomed a single bloom for Thanksgiving. I placed it so that it would be the star of the show in my solarium.

It's only a single bloom on a single plant, yet with that narrowed focus i am more aware of the joy arising in me as i walk by the lone flower several times a day.

This is our challenge: to savor the beautiful in our lives, no matter how small. To savor the beautiful several times each day in order to re-wire our neural networks.

Happiness arises at the sight of a single flower.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Leaf Covered Path

I spent the weekend at Southern Dharma Retreat Center (SDRC), teaching at the Fall Clean Up Retreat. Eighteen people came from Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina to rake leaves and shovel rain-washed gravel out of the ditches and back onto the narrow mountain road leading to the retreat center.

Driving to the center, I crept my car along the leaf-covered one-lane road, which looked pretty similar to the nearby woods. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish exactly where our path is. In the steep Blue Ridge Mountains, a wrong turn can head you terrifyingly downhill.

As meditators, we try to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, which at times may seem to have more folds than path. How do you respond with kindness in a difficult situation? Is your livelihood harmless? Is your (and my) retirement portfolio harmless? The path is not straight-forward, after all.

I arrived safely at SDRC. The Eightfold Path leads us to safety of a different sort--safety of heart and mind.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Coconut Chia Seed Pudding

Last year, i spent Thanksgiving on retreat in Maui. I loved meditating outdoors most of the day surrounded by bougainvillea, palm trees, and chirping birds.

The vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. For dessert, we had delicious coconut chia seed pudding. In memory of that delicious meal, i made the same pudding at home this year.

Here's the recipe:
1 can of coconut milk
1/3 cup chia seeds
a tablespoon or so of your favorite sweetener (i use maple syrup)

Refrigerate and it's ready in 20 minutes.

When i'm on retreat, i often eat three prunes every morning for regularity. A day's worth of sitting plus not drinking enough water means that my internal digestive tract often slows down and dries out. At a wilderness retreat in 2016, the cook served chia seeds with every meal--no prunes at all. To my surprise, i had lovely visits to the outhouse. Therefore, i'm a big fan of chia seeds, which are high in Omega-3s.

What goes in--so deliciously--comes out in an unrecognizable form. Smooth move.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Days of Giving Thanks

The day of giving thanks is not over, even though Thanksgiving was yesterday. Every day is a day for gratitude, and this day after Thanksgiving is a day to remember.

Gratitude is an antidote to greed. Greed often comes from a sense of not having enough, or at least not having as much as everyone else has. Gratitude assures us that what we have is enough; greed and gratitude cannot peacefully coexist.

Desire is a strong emotion. Today, Black Friday, is a great opportunity to watch desire in action. "I want...." "I want...." Simply watch desire, and, if you can remember, say a few words of gratitude and feel what happens.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Dynamite Cranberry Relish

I made a delicious cranberry relish for Thanksgiving dinner. So easy! This from a person who has avoided cranberry sauce for decades.

I chopped up (via the food processor) 1 apple, 1 clementine with peel, and 2 cups of cranberries. I added a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup, but you can use your favorite sweetener.


How many things do we feel rather lukewarm about until we actually try them?

My friends tell me they could never meditate, never be silent, never go on retreat, never have a quiet mind.

You don't know until you try it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Multi-use Herb Garden

Running over the chocolate mint.
Every November, my sweetie and i disagree about my herb garden. Since it's at the back door, he wants to back up the truck full of firewood right to the back door. "But it's a garden," i plead to no avail. In truth, it's a multi-use area. For 5 days in November, my herb garden is a driveway for our truck.

Can you see how i get myself into this feeling of ill-will?

1) i resist what is happening: a truck with firewood.
2) i believe the word "herb garden." In true truth, it's an ever-changing patch of dirt. As soon as i give it a label, i create a concept, which i can then believe. The world becomes dualistic--this? or that? If it's an herb garden, then it can't or shouldn't be a driveway. But, in fact, both are happening.

Our woodshed is filled to the brim with firewood for the winter. The chocolate mint, the onions, the thyme have survived.

The kale stays out of the way of those tires.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lovely Jasmine Tea

I'm drinking a cup of jasmine tea as i write. I love the smell of the jasmine as much as the taste of the green tea. But then i wonder why i do not like Earl Grey, which is black tea infused with bergamot (which is not bee balm but a bergamot orange).

Jasmine tea is pleasant.
Earl Grey unpleasant.

Perhaps you find Earl Grey pleasant and jasmine tea unpleasant.

No matter. We actually don't have a choice about this perception. It simply occurs. Pleasant or unpleasant. Then we have a choice whether to simply let it be--a sense perception arising and just as quickly ceasing. Or whether to believe our perception and make it into a view, an opinion.

Views. Opinions. Judgments. There be dragons. And suffering.

Much safer to simply notice pleasant and let it go.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Don't Supersize My Cyclamen

Today i bought 2 little pots of cyclamen for the holidays. Little because cyclamen doesn't last that long for me. I have tried to keep them for next winter, and succeeded, but they were really looking quite elderly by their second Christmas.

Being a bit thrifty, i opted for small as opposed to large. Truthfully, the small pot gives me as much happiness as the larger pot. I don't need to super-size my cyclamen.

A line from the metta sutta says
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.

I can be content with a small cyclamen. I can be easily satisfied with this small cyclamen. And yes, call me frugal--an unpopular word. I might prefer thrifty. Not stingy. Simply opting for the simple cyclamen, the small one.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Birdhouse Gourds

I grew birdhouse gourds this past summer. In October, i put the fun, pale green gourds on my front step. In November, they are turning tan, so i'm bringing them indoors to dry out. By January, i should hear the seeds rattling around inside, and that's when i can begin creating actual birdhouses.

When our own bodies dry out and begin to rattle (creaky joints, clicking knees, cracking necks), the green and growing part of our lives has passed, but we still have a lot of "use" remaining. We have even more room in our hearts for the problems of the world, and more elasticity for the problems of those we love.

I like thinking about little birdies living in the heart of these birdhouse gourds.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Forcing Paperwhites

Yesterday, i gave a gardening talk on forcing holiday bulbs--paperwhites, amaryllis, hyacinths, and tulips. I brought bulbs and vases so people could create their own containers and take them home. Even though we are full-grown, mature adults, it's still fun to come home from class with something we've created.

I had some leftover bulbs, so i created my own containers of paperwhites this morning and set them on a cool windowsill.

I may think i am creating something, but really i am simply taking raw materials and putting them together. Bulbs, vases, marble chips--all come from the earth. The glass vase is make of the element silica; the marble chips are a form of calcium; the bulbs are a softer form of elements.

And every bit of it recycled and recycling. The bulbs will go into the compost in January, to become dirt by spring. I keep using the same marble chips year after year, but they too will erode after some centuries. And the glass vase will break when it breaks.

All so temporary. All so beautiful.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sumac Staghorns

Speaking of Rhus, today i drove by a big patch of staghorn sumac, brilliantly red in the gleaming low sun.

Coincidentally, i bought a pint of staghorn "berries" to make tea at the Farmers Market in September. Recently, i decided to add sumac to my daily green tea. Delicious, herbal, and it might even be a remedy. A few years ago, i made sumac staghorn tea because it is high in vitamin C. Now i'm trying it as an anti-itch potion.

Right now, i view sumac as healing; i used to think it was a weed tree. This type of either/or thinking blinds us to one side or the other. The answer is both/and--a place where the mind does not rest comfortably. Both? Both.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Homeopathic Remedy

After trying every anti-itch salve in the house for my poison ivy, my acupuncturist told me about the homeopathic remedy Rhus Tox. Rhus is sumac and toxicodendron is poison ivy, so i'm not sure exactly what is actually in Rhus Toxicodendron, but i can tell you this: It works. Itches went from front-row fiery to distant pings. How tiny sugar pills can do that remains a mystery to me.

Mindfulness can have that effect. We sit down with worry, anxiety, or sadness. We begin to watch our breath or sensations in the body. If we can keep our attention circling around or near our meditation object, those dark thoughts become like scattered clouds in the sky with periods of sunshine. We recall some sweetness in our lives--gratitude, love, or kindness--and taste that tiny taste.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fiery Sky

The sky is on fire this morning, perhaps warning of us of.... What? Weather, yes, but something else?

The Buddha encouraged us to meditate as if our hair is on fire. Life is short. Too short.Meditate right now, right where you are sitting. Take a 3-breath trip into mindfulness.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Poison Ivy

I have poison ivy for the first time in my life. It's lasted for 2 weeks. I got it while pulling invasive bittersweet. I thought i was doing a good deed, but the poison ivy got the better of me.

Despite being good and doing good,
karma does not have to reward us.

Often being good and doing good does lead to good karma, but you just never know.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

First Frost

We had our first frost of the season last night. November 9. It's a shock to the system. Suddenly, it's November. It's actually November.

This is a great example of how delusion works. "What? It's November???"

We've been ignoring a fact of life. In this case, we just turned over the calendar page last week. The new calendar page said "November."

But we were having fun with the seemingly never-ending autumn. Maybe we could have winter without winter?

Ignoring the facts of life makes us ignorant. Ouch!

The frost is on the punkin on my front step.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Flowering Kale

The mums on the front step are nearly dead, so i've replaced them with flowering kale, which is on sale for half price--$3.49. The kale might last for 2 weeks or 2 months; it all depends on the weather.

None of us know how much time we have left--a year or a decade or several decades. It all depends on unknown circumstances. An 80-year-old friend who has been healthy as a horse his whole life suddenly has lung cancer. Our past good fortune does not necessarily predict our future.

Today, the flowering kale is beautiful.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Old Mums

My 6-week old mums in pots are looking quite bedraggled now. By being on retreat for the month of October, i missed almost their entire lifespan.

It's sort of like falling in love with a child in your life; then the next time you see them, they are middle-aged. Ahhh, they were so cute and fresh and full of life energy back then. Now, their body is showing the effects of their good or bad habits. This person who was so easy to love back then has developed habits, personality, and character since the last time you saw them, and, well....

Aging. We start aging the minute we are born. For the first couple of decade, children are very cute, perhaps adorable. The second decade--the teenage years, they spring into adult form and lose their pliability, but gain a definite personality. Etcetera.

The peculiar thing is, even though we see people aging all around us, we never think it's going to happen to us. Until it does.

My mums are old.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sprouting Onions

My onion harvest this fall was disappointing--a lot of little onions. Now some of them are sprouting in the basement, despite my best efforts to dry them in the dark.

Despite the fact that half of the onions are rotten, i'm able to "harvest" the green sprouts and saute them with other veggies. Cooking with my own home-grown vegetables--even the unexpected ones like onion greens--gives me a thrill.

You can call this making lemonade out of lemons. Seeing the good--even in the rotten--and savoring those sauteed onion greens (which smell heavenly) rewires the brain and makes me happier.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

November Iris

Irises are blooming in my garden! It's November. It's a mystery. My theory is that our British weather has contributed to the re-bloom of the iris and several other flowers. Cool, damp, and no frost here yet.

I'd love to re-bloom in the November of my life. I wonder what that would look like.

For now, meditation every day and awareness of the interbeing of life brings me to my knees with gratitude.