Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Aloe for Sunburn

After a week on the beach in Aruba, i have a slight sunburn. Pinkish skin that doesn't turn tan overnight is re-exposed to more sunshine the following day. I need aloe, but i forgot to bring aloe gel from home.

Here I am on an island with an aloe factory, and it takes me a week to realize i can just break a leaf off of an aloe plant in the landscape and rub the pale green gel directly on my burned skin. Instant relief!

Aruba aloe is a bigger plant, and the leaves have more spines than our houseplant aloe, but the inner succulence is the same.

The Dharma teaches us some hard lessons. But if we continue past that spiny first noble truth that suffering exists, we come to the sweet inner truth that heals our constant, niggling dissatisfaction.

I'm applying more aloe to my sunburned skin.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cactus Fence

Aruba has a dry climate with trade winds constantly blowing from the east. It is in fact a desert island. (Though it is definitely not deserted!) Outside of the tropical landscaping in Tourist Central, the landscape consists of 3 species of cactus and the invasive and thorny acacia shrub.

While driving around the island, we saw cactus fences, which look very good at keeping something out (wild goats or wild donkeys) or something in.

We all know prickly people whose main mode of protecting themselves is thorny comments and stinging judgments. People who bristle easily. People for whom aversion is their predominant defense against the world and their own suffering.

It took me several decades to recognize my own bristly tendencies and to commit to taking down my own inner cactus fences. A much more useful form of protection is loving-kindness, because metta deals with the fear that underlies the felt need for protection. After all, what are we protecting ourselves from? A perceived danger.

It turns out that bristling, thorns, and stings just perpetuate dissatisfaction rather than relieving it.

Let's build our open-gated fence with kindness and compassion.

Monday, January 29, 2018


Ixora is blooming right outside the front door of our Airbnb condo. Due to its evergreen leaves and constant blooms, ixora is used often and everywhere in the tropical landscape.

The one blooming outside our front door is a beautiful sunset color. The young blooms are yellow; the middle aged blooms have streaks of pinky-orange; and the old blooms become almost completely salmon-colored. Sort of like an aging sunset, which begins sunny yellow and morphs into a pink-orange sky.

We too age and our skin changes color. Our skin starts off clear and unblemished, then becomes splotchy and more colored as we age.

In our culture, our eyes prefer the "young" color and fail to see the beauty of the "old" color.

Can we look without judgment? Can we see nonjudgmentally?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Changing Our DNA

We went to a Butterfly Garden yesterday and saw 35 different species of Lepidoptera. The tour began at the pupa case where many beautiful chrysalises were hanging.

The guide told us that the DNA of a caterpillar is completely different than the DNA of a butterfly. What a brain twister! How is that even possible?

A two-week "retreat" into the solitude of a chrysalis and the creature becomes completely different.

A two-week meditation retreat of solitude can change our minds, change our mental habits in ways we never dreamed of.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Safety of Uniformity

Just outside our Airbnb condo in a gated community in Aruba, Nicola is trimming a hedge of silver-gray foliage. He shears off the straggly foliage and shapes the shrubbery into a rectangular box. This uniformity helps create the feeling of safety in our surroundings.

Our senses are constantly scanning the outer world for difference. Is that difference something that i need to pay attention to? Is that difference dangerous?

Because Nicola is a gardener, and i am a gardener, I feel safe and secure with someone who is doing an admirable job.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

AstroTurf in the Backyard

The Airbnb condo we are staying at in Aruba has a backyard covered with AstroTurf. I've never lived with AstroTurf before, but it's a great solution for this enclosed yard that's the size of a living room and in a desert climate.

Of course, AstroTurf looks fake. It looks like green carpet, which it is. And i have to say, it looks boring because it's so uniform. Yet, the green (plastic) grass feels cool and inviting.

This is just the formula for how we are seduced into things / people / situations that we think will make us happy. It (whatever "it" is) looks lovely and inviting. Not until we are walking on it or with it or through it do we realize "it" is fake--that mundane happiness doesn't last.

Yes, this mundane happiness of vacation in Aruba won't last either.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

National Rhubarb Pie Day

It's National Rhubarb Pie day. Now that sounds like a delicious holiday to me. Time to take the rhubarb out of the freezer and bake up something with rhubarb. I like Rhubarb Squares--a rhubarb filling on top of a shortbread crust. Or maybe a rhubarb crumble? Mmmmm. Sometimes, I sneak rhubarb into my sweetie's pancakes, where he barely notices it.

Rhubarb is one of those tastes that you either love or you avoid. And i might even say the taste for rhubarb is a bit like the taste for the Dharma. At first, the Dharma seems like a bitter pill to swallow. The first Noble Truth is suffering?????

But when we look closely at our lives the sweetness of this sour truth tastes true. Yes, dukkha (suffering, stress, dissatisfaction) is all around us. And once we recognize that, well, the Dharma fixes everything.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pumpkin in the Bathtub

I'm storing my last pumpkin in my bathtub. Why? you might ask.

Three pumpkins and one butternut squash were sitting on a shelf in the basement when my sweetie noticed that someone was eating them from the backside. The seeds were neatly piled up to one side.

He set mousetraps and caught 5 mice, but the pumpkin-eating continued. He set a hav-a-heart trap with bird seed. Rat? Squirrel? Chipmunk? (Chipmunks are supposed to be sleeping this month.) No answer.

I decided to store my one remaining pumpkin in the bathtub. If the rodent went for the pumpkin, he would have a hard time escaping the bathtub.

So far, the pumpkin is safe.

What's eating you? Come on. 'Fess up. I know there's something, though you don't have to tell me.

How do you just "let go"? Start with forgiving yourself. "I forgive myself for not understanding...."

I forgive myself for not understanding just how delicious a pumpkin is to a hungry rodent.
I forgive myself for not understanding how the rodent gets into my house in the first place.
I forgive myself for not understanding....

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

No Blame

At the Martin Luther King interfaith celebration last evening, I read the following quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, whom MLK nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. 

"Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. 

"No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Applause is Short-Lived

My sweetie played a piano concert yesterday afternoon at the Brattleboro Music Center. The program was easy classical--Debussy, Ravel, Moussorgsky, and well, Rachmaninoff too. The tenor sang short songs in English by Vaughn Williams, Aaron Copland, and Randall Thompson.

When the short concert ended, while the audience was applauding, the tenor's wife and i presented the tenor and the pianist with flowers. Lucky for me, the pianist's flowers are now sitting on my kitchen table.

Flowers for the performers teaches us a great lesson about praise: It doesn't last long. Applause only lasts for a minute or so. The flowers, a bit longer.

During the performance, every musical piece was applauded, and the audience enjoyed the performers as well as the music. Then, an hour later, it was all over. This performance, which my sweetie has been rehearsing and committing to memory for the last 9 months--Done. Gone.

Praise is short-lived. Now back to our regular scheduled program of daily life.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saving Ourselves

A garden club member died suddenly last week, and the club members want to make a contribution to one of the organizations she loved--the women's shelter, the animal shelter, or her church. Each member is voting by email as to which organization our contribution should go to.

As i reflected on this woman during meditation, i realized that the women's shelter saves women from abusive marriages, the animal shelter saves animals from abusive homes, and the church saves souls. All 3 are worthy.

How do we save ourselves from suffering, perhaps deep and painful suffering? Where do we find shelter from the storm that rages in our life or that rages all around us?

Take shelter in the present moment. This very moment. Notice the body sitting, reading. Notice seeing. Notice hearing. Notice the mood, even if you can't put a word to it. Notice the breath. This moment. Now.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Every Woman Knows the Smell of Her Mother's Face Cream

Cheryl's purple birthday presents
Before my morning meditation group got started, my neighbor Connie asked about cracked fingers;, and another neighbor mentioned hangnails. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small tube of hand cream to pass around the group. The scent was Crabtree & Evelyn's Evelyn Rose, which i received last week as a birthday present.

Connie took one look at it and said she had just talked with her daughter about the nostalgia of smells. Her 35-year-old daughter remembers her grandmother (Connie's mother) every time she smells Crabtree & Evelyn's Rose Water. Connie's mother died 24 years ago.

Connie smiled as she applied the hand cream to her finger tips. We all smiled to remember Connie's mother, who spoke so forthrightly, yet kindly.

Our reading for the morning was on Right Speech. Our role model for wise speech used rose water scented face cream.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One-Legged Dove

A one-legged dove has been visiting our bird feeder all winter long. It hops along the deck railing where we scatter sunflower seeds each morning. Every time it loses its balance (often), it flutters its wings and resettles itself.

Our equanimity can be like this--subject to the worldly winds of pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute. Just when we are about to lose our balance in one direction or another, mindfulness comes to our aid and settles us into this present moment. This very moment.

Ahhh. I feel steadiness again.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Let Your Light Shine

Our hospice thrift store has a "quarter shelf"--everything (that has been in the shop for over a month) for a quarter. Last week, i found a used pillar candle, hand-painted with roses and lilacs. I tried to talk myself out of it since i'm not that fond of pillar candles, but then i talked myself into it. After all, it was only a quarter. Also, the hospice shop is one place you cannot have second thoughts--if you come back the next day to buy that thing you liked, it will be gone. Gone. And there aren't any more like it.

I like the candle. Now that i'm using it on the kitchen table on these dark evenings, i like it even more.

We each have one unique and only life. Choose the life you have. Let your light shine, even in the darkness.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Shining a Grow Light on Our Meditation.

My brother has a grow light for his indoor geranium, which is sitting near a south-facing window. The geranium has steadily flowered since fall.

What’s the light that helps us grow when days are dark? Meditation pulled me out of a black pit when I was 25. Twenty minutes of serenity meditation coupled with a contemplation on not-self. Calm and insight continue to be my favorites all these years later.

Shine a grow light on your meditation with something that makes you happy.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Borrowed Landscape

I’m visiting my brother in Indiana. Behind his backyard is a pasture with four riding horses, one pony, and one donkey. Watching the animals is a never-ending entertainment. Although my brother fantasizes about having a mini-farm here in the suburbs, I advise him to feel content with the borrowed landscape of his backyard—all the joy and none of the labor of that heavily padded man who is pushing a wheelbarrow of manure from one barn to another in this sub-zero weather.

We don’t actually need to own everything ourselves. There’s a lot to be said for living in community where you can freely borrow from your neighbors. My stepdaughter borrows her neighbor's dog, who spends more time across the street at her house than the dog spends in its own home.

Sharing--whatever we may have--dogs, food, landscape, or garden produce is a form of generosity. The neighboring riding stable shares their pastures and the animals without even trying. We are all interconnected.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Same-Same is Different-Different

I’m on the western edge of the Eastern time zone, visiting family in Indiana. The sun rises and sets an hour later here than it does in Vermont, on the eastern edge of the Eastern time zone.

We call it Eastern time, but that covers a lot of territory. At the same time, it’s light in Vermont, it’s dark in Indiana and vice-versa during these transition times at the edges of daylight. The same time, but not the same light. The same light but not at the same time.

Maybe it’s never the same. Never.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Flower Basket Day

It's Flower Basket Day, a holiday i've never heard of. Cynically, i might say it's a holiday dreamed up by florists and purveyors of greeting cards. Open-heartedly, i might say it's a good reminder to give flowers to someone who isn't expecting them. Today, and every day, is a good day to be unexpectedly generous.

Though flowers are sparse here in the North Country, i might give a houseplant to someone. Or maybe a little vase of cuttings from my houseplants so that i can locavore this holiday instead of having flowers flown in from southern countries. By using local plants (from my windowsill), i can be generous to the Earth.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

No One Wants to be Old

Nobody wants to be called “old” or to think of themselves as old. All the alternative words have failed: elder, senior citizen, golden age, codger, geezer, etc. I do like “super senior” which the ticket seller at the movies called me last month, but I doubt that it will “sell.”

A fashion industry woman who specializes in clothes for older women (ahem) is using the word “perennials,” which is a word we gardeners can give a nod to. Perennials keep coming (except when they don’t).

If we experiment with the Buddha’s daily reflection on aging which typically says “I am of the nature to grow old. Aging is inevitable” could we say “I am of the nature to be a perennial”?

We gardeners know what that means: we keep coming back year after year, until one hard-freeze winter. And then we don't.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Good Luck Food Potluck

On New Year's Day i attended a neighborhood potluck. The theme was Good Luck food, a legacy from a Southerner who died a few years ago. The hostess cooked up the black-eyed peas. I brought boiled cabbage from my German heritage. Long noodles (meaning long life) were on the table, as well as a kale salad. Greens represent life and living things. Pork, which was once reserved for the Chinese elite, symbolizes wealth and prosperity. A lentil salad because lentils look like coins.

Luck seems like a roll of the dice, a turn of the wheel of fortune. I'm placing my bets on karma--acting as skillfully, wholesomely, and compassionately as i can right now, because this moment conditions the next moment. Compassion begets compassion. Kindness builds the habit of kindness.

These beautiful qualities are our true wealth any day of the year.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 is Dead

2017 is history, and as much as i love history (I wrote a history book!), we could just as well say, "2017 is dead."

We have memories of last year, though many are quite indistinct now. My sweetie and i can't even remember what we were doing last New Year's Eve. I was pretty sure we were in Dublin eating dinner at the Hairy Lemon; he thought we were in London.

If we could notice the little deaths that are happening every moment, every day, every year, we might realize that the big death is just more of the same.

This moment is alive. It's the only moment we have. We happen to call it 2018, but that's just an idea. Sometimes, it's a stressful idea.

Live this moment. It's the only moment you have.

Time is a cliff
You come to in the dark. Though you might fall
As easily as on a feather bed,
It is a sad farewell. You loved it all.
You dream that you might keep it in your head.
But memories, where can you take them to?
Take one last look at them. They end with you.

Clive James, an Australian poet