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.

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.

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

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.