Friday, December 7, 2018

Flower Quilt

I bought a quilt wall hanging at a church Christmas bazaar. It's colorful and flowery. It's beautiful. I love it. Now what am i going to do with it?

For the moment, it's my winter flower garden in the living room. But i so-o-o don't need any more stuff. This is the stress of desire.

I saw the little quilt. Pleasant. I bought it. Pleasant. And now what? (Unpleasant.) Not knowing is stressful. Not wanting clutter is stressful. Wanting and not wanting. (Stressful.)

Maybe i'll go to the living room and smile when i look at it.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Older and Wiser (?)

My sweetie has been bothered by an incomplete pruning job for the past few weeks. So he belted on my pruning saw, climbed up a ladder, and into the hemlock tree.

Yes, that's an 83-year-old man hanging by one hand in a tree--20 feet off the ground. All for the aesthetics of sawing off one offending branch.

Is this an example of "older and wiser"?

What is wiser, anyway? What is wisdom?

Part of wisdom is having good judgment. Judgment doesn't necessarily need to be good or bad, right or wrong.

Wisdom can simply discriminate between what is a skillful action and what is an unskillful action.

My sweetie had an exciting time climbing the tree, and he was very pleased with how the tree looks now--minus one branch.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Seed Savers

Image result for nuthatch on side of houseOne morning last week, my sweetie and i were sitting outdoors in the hot tub when a nuthatch lands on our board-and-batten sided house. He pecks at the siding a few times.

Odd, i thought. Is he looking for bugs, as the woodpeckers do? In this cold weather?

Then he extracts a sunflower seed from between a batten and a board.

Aha! He uses our house to "bank" his seeds, so that when he's hungry, he can make a withdrawal from his savings account.

Now when i hear a light tap-tap-tap (3 taps) on the side of our house, i smile because i know the nuthatch is making a deposit into or a withdrawal from his seed-savings account.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Berry Bowl

The church Christmas bazaar season has begun, so i went to one of my favorites--the Unitarian-Universalist meeting house. I like to buy a couple of berry bowls--little terrariums filled with moss and partridge berries with cling wrap over the top to keep the humidity inside.

I'll be going on retreat from January 1 to mid-March. I'll be in my own mini-micro-climate--meditating for several hours each day here at home. Letting the outer world go. Becoming calm and quiet, and seeing what beautiful mind states grow.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Blood Spatter

There's blood on the railing of the deck. Right where we scatter sunflower seeds for the birds. And the squirrels.

Is it a murder mystery? Blood spatter? Or is it the estrus cycle of the female gray squirrel?

Death? Or birth? (It's seems too early and way too cold to be thinking of little squirrel kittens.)

Just in case it's death, i pause for a moment at the sacrificial altar of the railing where we feed the birds. Such easy pickings for a predator.

It's easy to imagine an owl swooping down in the cold winter night.

Death is certain. The time of death is uncertain.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Prayer

Image result for thanksgiving prayer coots

Max Coots’ Thanksgiving Prayer

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:
For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are….
For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Undone Projects

Image result for snow before thanksgivingIt has snowed 3 times in the past week--all before Thanksgiving. I keep thinking, Oh, it will melt, but temperatures here are dropping into the teens. The ground will freeze, and that's the definite end of gardening season.

Oh, the projects left undone. Things not put away. Stalks and stems not cut down. Bulbs not planted. Sigh.

We thought we had a future, but the future turns out differently than we expected. The future was a figment of our imagination. And now we are disappointed that reality doesn't match imagination?

The future is always in the imagination. The future is only in the imagination.

We live and breathe in the present moment, and every new moment is a surprise.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Brown Waterfall

Walking across a bridge, i looked at the brown water falling over the nearby little dam. The water is brown not from dirt or erosion but from tannin. The oak leaves that fell off the trees in the recent snowstorm are loaded with tannin. Tannins are part of nature's fermentation process, resulting from decaying vegetation or peaty soils. Surface water, such as ponds and rivers, that have a lot of tannin turn the color of iced tea.

How often do i judge appearances because that person doesn't look "normal" (whatever that might be)? I have to give myself an inner pep talk. That person looks how they look. Period. They can't help how they look. If i find it unpleasant, that's my problem. P.S. Cheryl: Look at yourself and stop sticking your nose in someone else's business.

The brown waterfall is beautiful.



Saturday, November 17, 2018

Deer in the Yard

It's snowing today, and a beautiful buck visited my garden.

What a collision of thoughts and feelings!

  • Bambi!
  • deer ticks
  • So beautiful.
  • Lyme disease
  • Wow! A deer!
  • Is he eating my garden?
  • Way too many deer in the neighborhood
  • It's hunting season.
  • He knows he's safe in our yard.


All these thoughts cause a variety of emotions: happiness, irritation, anger (at the ticks), fear (at Lyme disease), anxiety, desire for him to stick around, sadness when he leaves.

It's not that one thought or one feeling is right and the other(s) is wrong. The challenge is to feel them all and keep breathing.




Friday, November 16, 2018

Who is Freeloading?

My sweetie is training the chickadees to eat sunflower seeds out of his hand. This has the side effect of the chickadees eating out of my hand too. Such joy!

We give the chickadees a handout. Why is it so much easier to give them some food than it is to give to the panhandlers in town?

A friend who works with the homeless says she never gives money, but she might offer a snack of some sort. Sometimes, i buy an extra bag of chips so that i can give it to a panhandler near the grocery store. I also quiz him on whether he's had lunch at the church. Two churches in town offer lunches 5 days a week. The Overnight Shelter offers supper 7 nights a week.

Freeloaders irritate us. Freeloading goes against the grain. How do we distinguish between freeloading and genuine need?

We are confident that the chickadees are not freeloading. If we didn't have an opinion about the panhandlers, we wouldn't be stressed by thoughts such as They're freeloading. He should get a job. Get away from me!

We are the ones who are uncomfortable, yet we blame our discomfort on "them."
When we feel joy, we "blame" our joy on them--the chickadees.

Can i treat the next panhandler as a chickadee, give him a little bit to eat, and feel the joy of my generosity?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tetanus Shot

Image result for tetanus for gardeners
I went to the doctor for my annual physical exam and received a tetanus shot. It's a good idea for gardeners to get a tetanus booster every 10 years, since 30 percent of tetanus injuries occur in the yard and garden and another 25 percent occur somewhere else outdoors. There's enough rusty garden paraphernalia around my property, and occasional manure too, that a tetanus shot seems like a good idea to me.

Of course, some people don't believe in vaccinations or suspect them of harboring some danger. Yes, there is a minuscule risk. On the other hand, when i hear about a 3-year-old child dying of tetanus because his parents didn't believe in the vaccinations, well, i feel very sad.

How can we inoculate ourselves against the vagaries of life? Can we feel happiness despite conditions?

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

How can it be that looking, deeply, at arising and passing away brings us happiness?




Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Few Remaining Leaves

Related image
Leaves have mostly fallen off the trees, with a few exceptions:

  • oak leaves are still clinging to their branches, but should fall any day.
  • beech leaves stay on trees all winter until the end of April
  • buckthorn leaves are just now turning yellow.


Oh, that rascal buckthorn--an invasive shrubby tree with tasty berries. But those berries are like eating chocolate Ex-Lax. After all, buckthorn's Latin name is cathartica.

Now is an excellent time to take a walk in the woods or along the roadside and play I Spy with yourself. You can easily find those buckthorn culprits, and pull them out.

Stress is like the buckthorn--hiding in plain view, even seeming to be tasty. But beware! Those tasty pleasant people or experiences or situations can be stress in disguise. We so easily focus on the pleasant, it can be difficult to even see the unpleasant.

Every pleasant thing comes to an end--friends fade away, relationships end, homes are sold, children grow up and move away. Each beautiful thing turns into stress.

If we can recognize those culprit stresses, we can rise above the pleasant--unpleasant dichotomy, enjoying the pleasant, but not clinging to it; noticing the unpleasant and not wishing for anything different.

The buckthorn are turning yellow in the woods. Can i pull them with equanimity?


Monday, November 12, 2018

Homemade Suet for the Birds

Image result for suet feeder
I fry bacon once or twice a year--maybe in deep tomato season for a BLT sandwich. What to do with all that bacon grease?

My mother used to cook with bacon grease, but that's not politically correct any more. 50% of bacon grease is the good-for-you unsaturated fat, but another 40% is the bad-for-you saturated fat.

Last summer, i poured my extra bacon grease into a half-pint plastic container filled with shelled sunflower seeds. Then i put it in the freezer, where i just re-discovered it. Time to get out the suet feeder! The chickadees and nuthatches are loving this homemade suet.

Our meditation practice is a homemade project. What's the delicious recipe that works for you?

Right now, i Skype at 6 a.m. with a woman i met at a meditation retreat last year. Then i meditate with my neighbors at 8 a.m. for 20 minutes. Right now, i'm teaching 2 or 3 meditation classes a week, and i sit at our local meditation center about once a week.

Just like the chickadees, i keep coming back to meditation.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bread of Flowers


When i saw Le Pain des Fleurs at the food coop, well, i just had to try it. The Bread of Flowers--that sounds like the staff of life for gardeners.

I'm always looking for a non-gluten alternative because wheat makes me sleepy. If i succumb to home-baked bread or delicious pizza, 2 hours later, i just have to take a quick nap.

This is the way of craving. We grasp something (whatever it may be) out of habit or because it's pleasant. Later on, we pay the price of that desire.

I don't want to sleep through my life. I want to wake up to my life. It's the one and only life i have.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Clean Out Birdhouses Now

Image result for bluebird house
It's time to clean out your birdhouses. Yes, it's a bit counter-intuitive. You might think that birds would use nests to keep warm in the winter. No, they don't. Nests are for nesting in the spring. During the winter, birds are looking for places to roost, perhaps with others of their own kind. So clean those old nests out of the birdhouses now.

I'm always surprised to see bluebirds checking out my bluebird houses in March. Wait a minute! It's not even spring yet. I haven't done my spring cleaning and cleaned out the bluebird house. By the time i get around to it, later that day, or the next day, or the next week, Mrs. Bluebird has made her decision. She likes a nice clean house. That's the reason we want to clean out our birdhouses right now, while we are thinking about it and while we don't have much else to do in the garden.

Now is also a good time to clean out our own house. Time to let stuff go. Time to downsize. Time to give away stuff we haven't used in how many years?

Everything we cherish will change and vanish. Sometimes we make it vanish on purpose. Give away the too-small clothes. Pass some of those heirlooms on to the next generation.

Then the bluebirds of happiness will be much more likely to stick around.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Image result for yellow maple leavesSugar maples stand out now with their beautiful yellow foliage, especially this late in the season. Peak foliage, about a month ago, was rather muted. But now that there have been some frosts, the yellow maple leaves against the blue sky look spectacular.

Sometimes, it's not until the "first frost" falls on us that we take this ending of the season seriously. A friend who had a heart valve replacement earlier this year is selling her house and moving into a retirement community. She was out of commission for six months after surgery and realized that house upkeep is not how she wants to spend her remaining life energy. She is loving downsizing.

The yellow maple leaves are beautiful. And short-lived.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

High View

I was on retreat last weekend, visiting the Bhavana Society in High View, West Virginia. I love the name of the town--High View.

It reminds me to take the high road, the path with the high view.

Wise View is the first step on the 8-fold Path. Wise View is the view that leads to non-suffering. Any view, opinion, or judgment that causes stress is not Wise View.

Having a "high view" also alludes to seeing the big picture. Little details fade as you see the overall scheme of things. A big-picture view leads to equanimity.

On this post-election day, as i feel bits of sadness and fear, i search around for the stressful view, the unwise, unskillful view that gives rise to those unpleasant emotions. If i find it, i apply the acupressure of mindfulness to that very spot.

If i don't find it, i apply the temporary relief of an antidote: loving-kindness and self-compassion.

May i be free from fear.
May i be free from anxiety.
May i have ease of well-being.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Pieris andromeda, also known as Japanese andromeda, is looking quite lovely right now, with a mist of next year's pale pink flower buds.

I do like a shrub that "blooms" in October and November (!!!) (even though it is not literally blooming).

Pieris has glossy, evergreen leaves and grows in partial shade. It blooms for 2 months in the early spring. All this to say that this shrub has multi-seasonal interest from October through May.

During these darkening months of fall and winter, we need some bright spots in the garden.

During dark times, we need to look on the bright side of our everyday lives. This brightness can give us the courage to do what needs to be done, when the time comes.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Columns of Water

This weekend i visited a greenhouse that has plexiglass columns of water as its inside wall. During the day, the sun heats up the greenhouse, the tile floor, and the columns of water. During the night, the tile floor and the water columns release their accumulated heat back into the room full of houseplants.

These columns of water emit a translucence of light from the adjoining room.

We practice meditation and warm our heart with loving-kindness meditation that warms the people around us.

Be a beacon of light in these cold-hearted times. Warm yourself and others with kindness. Let your heart light shine.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Half-Price Tulips

I succumbed. I bought 2 packages of tulip bulbs at the hardware store. Usually, i don't buy bulbs until they go on sale for half price after Thanksgiving. After all, the chipmunks are going to eat the bulbs, so how much do i want to pay for chipmunk food?

But the bags of bulbs at the hardware store were already half the usual price i pay for bulbs. Yes, i know. Bulbs at the hardware store are likely to be second-class, second-rate bulbs. Small bulbs, not full-size. Well, the chipmunks won't care. And i do like the colors--a blend of pink-and-white bulbs.

So i feel good; i feel happy about buying the bulbs. And i feel unhappy as i tell myself i "shouldn't" have done that. At least, not yet.

This is one daily example of the civil war of the mind. Yes-No. Good-Bad. Should-Shouldn't. Now-Later.

Then there's the second-guessing. Let it go, Cheryl. The bulbs have been paid for. You are happy about that. You are just unhappy with your mind. Going back and forth between should and shouldn't is useless. Really useless.

Plant the blooming bulbs and be done with it. Let the bulbs and yourself rest.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Glass Wall

My neighbors have a greenhouse attached to their kitchen, and it is looking spectacularly summer-ish right now. Impatiens, begonias, and verbena are still blooming. Add 2 dashes of mums--pink and yellow-- and i smile every time i look into the greenhouse.

Just outside the glass walls and glass roof, the temperatures are below freezing. The greenhouse is cool, yes, and the flowers love it.

One description of the meditative absorptions (jhanas) is that it's like sitting under a glass jar: Outer sounds are muted, and body sensations drift away to a distance, so the sense of the body becomes rather amorphous.

"Inside" the meditative absorptions feels happy and calm despite whatever may be going on outside.

The greenhouse is a protected space. So is meditation.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Day of the Dead

Image result for "day of the dead" garden
Photo credit: Eneas de Troya via Flickr
It's the Day of the Dead, a Mexican celebration, which is slowly becoming more popular in the rest of North America.

So much dead vegetation surrounds us in this season. Annual flowers are brown and gone. Summer vegetables have bought the farm. Leaves have fallen, are falling from trees, which themselves look like timber skeletons reaching toward the sky. The compost pile is full of garden detritus and resting in repose.

Spend this day considering death--of the garden, of friends, of you yourself.

You might consider downloading the WeCroak app on your smart device to receive 5 daily reminders of death.

Find happiness by contemplating your mortality.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Finger of Death

Image result for orange fingers fungi
Just in time for Halloween, orange fingers of the stinkhorn fungus are poking out of the ground as if some rotten body is trying to escape its grave.

Since we ourselves know that we are walking toward our own graves, where do we find escape?

Some religions have beautiful stories about spending eternity with your loved ones. Or perhaps we might imagine sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, and strumming "for ten thousand years," as the beautiful song Amazing Grace suggests.

Those of us with a more materialistic view may lift an eyebrow when we hear these happy-ever-after "stories".

Pema Chodron has a book entitled The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness. If we recognize that we have no escape from the ups and downs of life, and no escape from the grave, then our only recourse is the Golden Rule: Being as kind to others as we want them to be to us.

The orange finger fungus poking out of the ground points upward.

Relax into the space that is all around you.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Glowing Gazing Globe

In lieu of a jack-o-lantern, i've installed a glowing gazing globe on the front step. I stuffed one string of white fairy lights into the ball, and plugged the extension cord into a timer so that the lights go on at sunset and stay on until bedtime.

I live at the end of a dirt road, and our neighborhood trick-or-treaters long ago aged out of wearing costumes. No one rings my doorbell on Halloween.

I much prefer this glowing globe to turning on the front porch light. It's a bit dim, but still, it's enough light to welcome us home or welcome visitors to the front door.

Welcoming is one form of kindness. We extend a welcome to friends and strangers who aren't that strange, after all. The Buddha greeted everyone as "Friend." I wonder if i could do the same.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sweet Flowering Kale

The mums on the front step are going, going, about to be gone, but the flowering kale looks fantastic.

Flowering kale is holding the fort for the month of November and on to the first heavy snowfall. Kale is a vegetable that becomes sweeter when the weather gets cold.

This is our own personal challenge: Can we become sweeter as conditions around us become cool and even chilly?

When life gets tough--whether at home, in the community, or on the national scene--how do we "flower" and become sweeter? How do we become sweeter, even when faced with hatred or anger?

First, we cultivate kindness toward ourselves. Maybe we don't really tolerate a cold shoulder that well. Maybe we have to retreat to safety early on.

Second, we cultivate compassion--toward ourselves and toward others who are suffering.

Third, we cultivate equanimity as the strong winds of blame, gusts of disgust, and temper tornadoes swirl around us. Yes, our bodies may shake with fear, but we do what needs to be done.

May sweetness prevail.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Ornamental Sweet Potatoes

My brother asks whether he can eat the sweet potatoes he found in his hanging pot with a sweet potato vine. The tubers are radish red, but shaped like a potato.

Yes, they are edible--if you haven't fertilized your hanging plant with chemicals. These "ornamental" sweet potatoes aren't as tasty as regular sweet potatoes that are bred for sweetness. But i daresay, that wouldn't matter much in a side dish of roasted roots, for example.

Harvesting vegetables from your flower pots feels like a 2-for-1 deal--beautiful vines in the hanging flower pot all summer, and, after frost, a harvest of vegetables.

This reminds me of Pascal's Wager. The seventeenth century philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, Blaise Pascal, says that a rational person should live as though God exists. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some worldly pleasures), whereas she stands to receive infinite gains (represented by eternity in heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in hell).

We could fine-tune Pascal's Wager by recognizing that unwholesome, unskillful conduct leads to stress in the here and now. Yes, unskillful conduct can feel like fun, but our conscience knows. We don't even need to believe (or not believe) in God. The proof of Pascal's Wager lies in our very own emotional bodies.

If we act with wholesome intentions, we can harvest the flowers and the vegetables of a life well-lived.





Saturday, October 27, 2018

Multiplying Mums

Notice the roots in the vase.
As i was unloading mums from the trunk of my car earlier this month, a few flower stems broke off. I put the stems in water, and went on vacation. Three weeks later, the stems have sprouted. Now I'm planting the mums in a nursery bed to see if they will over-winter.

I do love taking cuttings, though usually i am trying to root houseplants.

We try to "root" wholesome qualities in our lives--patience, generosity, and kindness, to name just a few.

Some root and some don't, but we keep trying because these wholesome qualities are stress-free as opposed to their stressful opposites: frustration instead of patience, for instance, or tight-fistedness instead of generosity.

What one wholesome quality would you like to plant in your "inner garden" today?

I'm planting kindness toward all beings--even the grouchy ones.




Friday, October 26, 2018

Majestic Moose

Image result for moose
Yesterday my sweetie saw a moose in the backyard, next to our little fishpond. He said it looked majestic, that it looked large, and made our yard suddenly look small. Then the visiting moose sauntered into the woods.

I wasn't home. My first response was jealousy. Wanh! I want to see a moose. I want to see a moose in my own backyard.

Feel the distress of not getting what you want.

An alternative emotion is to feel happiness for my sweetie's good fortune at seeing the moose. I simply was not in the right place at the right time. Why be envious of his good luck? Sometimes, I have my own good luck.

May your good fortune continue, my dear.

And dear reader, my your good fortune continue--whether it is small as a mouse or big as a moose.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Glorious Gourds

The bedraggled mums on the front step are being replaced gourds. Glorious gourds. Colorful gourds. Weird gourds. They are pretty in their own strange ways. But i start to wonder, What's the purpose of gourds anyway?
Gourds used to be used as tools, as implements, as kitchenware--cups and dippers. But nowadays we put them on our front door step in October or perhaps on the Thanksgiving table. Then it's good-bye gourds.

Gourds are impermanent--here this month and gone next month. It took five months for them to grow. I use them for two months, and then good-bye.

For now, i enjoy the beautiful gourds and know that their life span is short.

And so is mine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Looking For.... What?

I visited a friend yesterday, and she showed me the decorative gourds in her apartment. One i particularly liked looked like a serpent blindly searching for.... What?

What is it we are blindly searching for? What is missing from our lives of plenty? Not enough.... What?

This sense of lack, of insufficiency afflicts all of us.

Some of us channel the lack into the desire for money or consumer goods. More, more. more. Or perhaps into fame--who has the most friends on Facebook? the most followers on Twitter? Some of us channel the insufficiency into a spiritual search. This meditation? Or that path? Or maybe that guru over there?

The ego can never fill up this empty hole of "something is missing." More children? More love? More stuff?

Counter-intuitively, what "fills" this sense of lack is giving not getting. Giving--generosity, kindness, compassion--brings us home to ourselves.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Bedraggled Mums

The mums on the front step are beginning to look bedraggled due to frost, rain, and age. Ah, yes. Mums deteriorate, just as we ourselves do.

A British friend describes her mother's aging process as a sort of pool-and-drop river. Her mum's health remains steady for a while, then there's a small or big emergency. Her mother recovers, but loses some functioning, and never returns to her previous state of health. We could call this aging process "weathering the storms of the body"--frost, rain, and age.

This is what bodies do: Deteriorate. How can we feel happy despite the fact that the body feels lousy?

Mindfulness can lead us, breath by breath, into our calm place, into contentment with this present moment. Not comparing this moment to any other moment. Simply happy to be alive, no matter what we look like.

Mums age and die.
Sigh.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Warty Pumpkin

Pumpkins are appearing on front steps. Pretty orange pumpkins, multi-colored gourds, and some strange-looking pumpkins too--white or warty.

I find the warty pumpkins rather fascinating. Perhaps because my aging skin has mysterious warts on my feet, my legs, my arms, my torso.

Every time i feel the rough spot of the wart, i use it as a meditation object. Skin--not beautiful.

Of course, i want my skin to be smooth and blemish free, but my body is oxidizing from the inside out. I can see the oxidation in brown spots, red spots, barnacles, and warts.

My skin is not beautiful. But the mind that is at peace with un-beautiful skin is a beautiful mind.

Those warty pumpkins are weirdly beautiful, in their own way.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Winter Garden

Now that the first frost has sent annuals to their compost-grave, we can see more clearly what remains in the winter garden. Curly red kale, for instance. It's beautiful.

Here at the writing retreat, we are served kale every day--kale in the minestrone soup, kale-quinoa salad. It's delicious.

As our bodies deteriorate, and we lose this small function and then that one, we can see more clearly what remains. For my own "winter garden" i've been cultivating calm and acceptance. After all, my happiness does not depend on how I feel.

Cool weather is here. I realize i cannot see or hear as well as i used to. I need reading glasses for everything. I can no longer eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

Nevertheless, my happiness does not depend on how i feel about these situations.

The winter garden is beautiful.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Less is More

Here at the writing retreat center are several end-of-the-season hydrangea bouquets. It only takes 3 or 5 flowers to fill a vase and look fabulous.

Perhaps we could learn this lesson (that we already "know") that less is more.

Less stuff is more time. Fewer commitments also create more time. Here at the writing retreat, fewer distractions (such as no news and no social media) also create more time. No appointments. No grocery shopping because the meals here are delicious!

The writing retreat forces me to cut out distractions and focus on writing (and editing)--activities i actually enjoy.

My writing flowers.

Friday, October 19, 2018

From A to Z

I'm on a writing retreat the day after the first frost. Yesterday, the retreat manager cut all the blooming flowers and put them in the kitchen sink. She was going to put bouquets of ageratum and zinnias in each bedroom, but first she had to make 30 beds. Needless to say, the beds got made but the bouquets did not. So the flowers remain in the kitchen sink.

Ah, yes. We have too many things to do on our to-do list. One writer friend said she had planned to do four things yesterday, but only accomplished two.

So, there's the stress. The mind says one thing; the body says another. Which one are you going to believe?

The mind wants A through Z (ageratum through zinnia). The mind wants the whole kitchen sink. The body just can't do it.

The mind thinks it is the boss and has a conniption fit when the body-slave doesn't jump to its command.

Listen to the body. Slow down. Enjoy the zero stress of ageratum and zinnias just standing in the kitchen sink and looking beautiful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Flowering Twice

Image result for heptacodium
My favorite October shrub is "blooming" right now. Actually, heptacodium (seven-son flower) blooms white in September. This month the red sepals of those gone-by flowers make it look like it's blooming again. I love this late bloomer, partly because it's the only shrub that is blooming this late in the season.

It's never too late to begin meditation practice. Some of us discover meditation at a young age; others when we are older. I recently saw a 90-year-old friend at a retreat. What an inspiration!

Mindfulness practice helps us bloom with kindness, patience, and acceptance. Better late than never.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Not Too Much Harvest This Year

by Guest Blogger, Laura Evans

Not too much harvest to worry about this year—alas. Something—maybe moles? Or voles?—found even onions tasty, munching on them from underneath. The onion would look nice and plump with its papery gold-brown top showing above ground, waiting for its stalks to flop over, indicating readiness for pulling. Then when you'd pull it, it would seem to fly out of the ground with no effort on your part, and you realized it was a trick: no roots and no onion left at all. As for other things, some never germinated or were devoured in infancy. Some seedlings were eaten early by rabbits, which we'd never had before in our 35 years of hillside gardening.

Birds, as always, loved the red “razzles,” but many got moldy before quite ripening. Chipmunks enjoyed the cherry tomatoes. I watched a squirrel delighting in our plump blackberries. The deer greatly appreciated our kale and the tops of tomato plants. Blight and tomato hornworms also joined in the tomato decimation. Weeks of rain were part of the picture too. So, we got little or no cukes, cabbage, broccoli, or squash (summer or winter).

Then there are (were) the apples. Doug comes in the door with deep red ones from the biggest tree—all five held easily in his cupped hands. I look up from chopping store-bought veggies as he announces, “Well, here's the Jonathan crop for this year.” He sets the gnarled knobby little things on the counter. Horrified at first, I grew fond of them over a few days, finding them humorous and cute—like the shrunken little old heads of apple dolls—no drying needed.

Last year, the apples did okay, and a year or two before that, even though we don't spray them, the branches were groaning under the weight of big flawless fruit. Pears too, that year; same thing. And peaches.

This year, the small seckel pears were plentiful and coming along until, after a few days away, we came back to find them just not there. Along with the hordes of squirrels, we think a gray fox participated in the feast. We saw it soon after, apparently looking through the grass below the tree for any it might have missed. (Unlike their red fox cousins, they can climb trees.) 

I love seckel pears best of all, but the glimpses of that gray fox almost made up for the losses.

Image result for gray fox climb trees



Laura Evans is memoir writer and an early childhood educator who lives with her gardening husband in Vermont.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Negativity Bias of the Mind

Image result for velcro for the negative teflon
Pam's question about the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes of September demonstrates an interesting fact about our minds.

Our minds are like Velcro for the negative and like Teflon for the positive.

Millennia of evolution have created our brains to be on the look-out for danger, so, of course, we are alert to heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. This is called the Negativity Bias. It enabled our cave woman ancestors to survive.

For some of us, a positive outlook goes against the grain. So it takes some mind-training to accent-u-ate the positive.

Begin by noticing the little good things--people, events, situations--in your life. These are probably very ordinary. Write down 3 gratitudes. Right now.

Today the purple asters are blooming.
The chickadees eat seeds out of Bill's hand.
We are going on vacation.

Feel into each one of gratitudes. Savor it. Soak into it in the body.
Smile.

Keep it up.
In time, this positivity and happiness will become natural. But in the meantime, fake it till you make it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Image result for always look on the bright side of life lyrics
And now for one more angle on Pam's question about heat, humidity, and mosquitoes in the September garden, along with dire thoughts of climate change.

As Monty Python sang in "The Life of Brian,"
Always look on the bright side of life.


Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say.
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle!
And this'll help things turn out for the best
And 

Always look on the bright side of life!
Always look on the bright side of life.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There's something you've forgotten!
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you're feeling in the dumps,
Don't be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle -- that's the thing!
 
And always look on the bright side of life
Come on!
Always look on the bright side of life
 
For life is quite absurd,
And death's the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow!
Forget about your sin -- give the audience a grin,
Enjoy it, it's the last chance anyhow!
So always look on the bright side of death!
Just before you draw your terminal breath.
Life's a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true,
You'll see it's all a show,
Keep 'em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!
 
And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
Come on guys, cheer up
Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
Worse things happen at sea you know
Always look on the bright side of life
I mean, what have you got to lose?
you know, you come from nothing
you're going back to nothing
what have you lost? Nothing!



Always look on the bright side of life.
     Songwriter: Eric Idle

Sunday, October 7, 2018

September Gardening Was Awful

Image result for mosquitoI want to return to yesterday's post and Pam Baxter's real question: What about gardening when conditions are hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes?

First of all, notice the unpleasantness. Hot--unpleasant. Humid-unpleasant. Sweltering--unpleasant. Mosquito bites--unpleasant.

The mind has a difficult time just leaving the raw data of experience alone. Unpleasant. Unpleasant.

So the mind compares this unpleasant moment to another pleasant moment, and feels dissatisfied with what this present moment is offering. Notice this comparing mind--the one that compares this very seeing-hearing-feeling vivid reality moment with some dream idea, some virtual reality. Feel the dissonance. Feel the dissatisfaction. Feel the unpleasantness of the dissatisfaction. (Oh-oh. Is there an feedback loop of unpleasantness going here?)

The mind might go so far as making up a story. After all, the mind likes stories. Sometimes the mind wants a story, so that we don't have to feel our unpleasant emotions. Stories such as "This hot humidity is the result of climate change. I know it," spark more unpleasantness. Even if that story is true (and maybe it's not quite true), what can we small gardeners do about it? We are already doing our best. We do our best, and allow Life to take care of itself.

Rest in your caring compassion for the Earth and your caring compassion for yourself. Go ahead, have a good cry about it, then drink some water, and go sit in your beautiful just-as-it-is garden.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

September is Gone

Image result for september gardenPam Baxter, who writes a gardening column for the Delaware County Times in Pennsylvania, recently read my newest book Garden Wisdom 365 Days. She wondered what i would say about the September gardens and September gardening--heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.

The first thing i would say is "Gone." (Although i know that's not a very satisfactory answer.)

Look closely. This is an important lesson that's hard to see. September is gone. Heat is gone. Humidity is gone. Mosquitoes are gone. In fact, every moment of our lives is "gone." The only moment we have is this very moment. This moment of reading. This breath. This hearing. This feeling of or in your body.

Impermanence is the name of the game of life. It's an important insight to see that everything is passing away. This is not a morbid thought. Once you realize the sweetness of the present moment, this very moment, then life becomes very precious, indeed.






Friday, October 5, 2018

Swimming Squirrels

Image result for squirrels swimming across riverA few people have reported seeing squirrels swimming across the Connecticut River--about a quarter of a mile wide--the boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire.

One friend reported seeing 4 gray squirrels swimming from New Hampshire to Vermont and one red squirrel swimming from Vermont to New Hampshire. Is that a political statement?

In these days of rampant tribalism (red vs blue; mine vs yours; white vs black), it can be hard to hold on to the idea (and thereby hold your tongue) that, in reality, we are all one. This is not a cliche. Just ask your deity. I've seen it during meditation, and i cannot un-see it. Boundary-less and boundless.

We are all just waves in the ocean, or, in this case, in the river. Just waves being carried to shore, where we kiss the earth and soak into our oneness. Thus has it ever been.




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Gaura Re-blooms

Image result for gauraIn June, i bought a gaura, also known as beeblossom. I love the gaura's little flowers on 2-foot tall stalks, which look like the flowers are dancing in mid-air.

This was the fourth or fifth gaura i had bought over the years. If i planted it directly into a flowerbed, i could already predict that that would be the last time i would see it.

So i put it in a "nursery" bed, near the back door, so i could keep an eye on it. To my surprise, it is now re-blooming. I like plants that bloom twice in one year!

When we are learning meditation, we may try it again and again, but it doesn't "take." But when we carefully attend to our meditation by taking a class, for instance, or by sitting regularly with other meditators, then our practice blooms. Or re-blooms.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Aloha Hummingbird

When we were in Hawai'i a couple of years ago, i bought a locally-made pillow that says, "Aloha served daily."

I love the idea of aloha being served daily. Aloha means much more than hello and farewell. Aloha feels friendly; aloha feels affectionate; aloha feels like welcome.

These mornings, i meditate on the deck for an hour at 6:00 a.m. Every morning i can hear a hummingbird whirring nearby. She comes to check out my pillow. It looks like flowers, but....

Welcome, dear hummingbird. And zip, away she goes. Aloha, my dear.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Monarch in Ochre

Image result for monarch butterflyAn abundance of monarch butterflies flutter around the flower garden this late summer.

The Buddha was a monarch (the prince of a small kingdom) before he left home at age 29 and became an ascetic wearing ochre robes.

Though very few of us would choose such a lifestyle, we can simplify our lives, especially when we recognize the stresses--large and small--of our busy lives.

We too have the possibility of transforming our minds from caterpillars to butterflies, which do not even have the same DNA as their previous incarnation.

It's a mystery.




Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Turkeys in the Lawn

Image result for wild turkey and poultsI glanced out the window and saw a mother turkey and ten poults slowly pecking their way through the grass. Good, i thought, they are eating ticks.

I was happy for the turkeys and happy for myself, but a bit too gleeful about the demise of the ticks.

As we delve down in our feelings of happiness, we can contemplate whether a certain situation is good for everyone concerned. Does my child's benefit cost another child something?

My happiness for the turkeys is perhaps mostly for my own benefit: fewer ticks. This sort of happiness looks like the real thing, but it has the tinge of self-interest. We could call it the "near enemy" because of its decoy nature.

On the other hand, this is Nature: turkeys eat ticks. And equanimity is accepting life as it is. Right here, right now. Without any opinions.


Monday, August 27, 2018

Veronicastrum

Image result for veronicastrumVeronicastrum is blooming now. It's one of the late summer plants that add color and interest to the garden when most other summer flowers are fading.

Its spikes of white racemes point heavenward, but i am always fascinated by the whorl of 5 leaves around the stem.

This 5-pointed star of leaves reminds me of the 5 precepts--the guiding star of my daily thoughts, words, and deeds.

The first precept is to do no harm--to anyone or to any being.

The second precept is to refrain from taking that which is not offered. Yes, that means not stealing, but it is also a more nuanced guidance.

The third precept is to refrain from sexual and sensual misconduct. This instruction too can be deepened to refraining from flirting, and thereby acting as a trustworthy person.

The fourth precept is to speak truthfully and helpfully--gently and straightforwardly.

And finally, keeping the mind clear, which is no small task nowadays.

I take these precepts every morning to remind myself to act honorably in the world. And what do you know? When the mind isn't bothered by little, tiny misconducts, the mind settles easily into meditation and flowers.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Refuge from the Storm

I stopped at the Farmers Market in St Albans, Vermont on my way to vacation on Lake Champlain and again when i was returning from the lake. Both times i bought birdhouses. A creative woodworker named Ron puts together some really inventive birdhouses. I liked the one that looks like a tree cavity. (Notice the shelf mushroom perch.) What a lovely refuge for a bird or some other creature.

Where do you take refuge from the storms of life?

Friends are the first place i go--usually Dharma friends. I can talk through the distress of the moment. My friends encourage me to keep my mind and my intention on the high road. They discourage me from snarky remarks. Thank you, dear friends.

Another refuge is the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. The Dharma lays out an ingenious path. And the Buddha's response is, "See for yourself. Don't take my word for it." (Don't take my word for it either. :)

It's tempting to take refuge in the internet, TV, shopping, food, or your other favorite addiction. But the refuges that stand the test of time are Dharma friends, the Dharma, and, if it's not a stretch for you, the Buddha. The Buddha beckons us to see for ourselves.