Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Yoga Retreat Begins

Our yoga retreat has begun. My neighbors flew down yesterday (and avoided a big New England snowstorm). Now 10 of us are living at an Italian villa here in Puerto Rico.

The top floor is our yoga room / balcony. The middle floor is a 3-bedroom condo, which sleeps six. And the bottom floor is a 2-bedroom condo, which sleeps 4.

We had our first yoga class at 9 this morning--a leisurely hour-and-a-half. What a great way to start the day. Actually, one neighbor and i meditated at 7. That's how we started our day.

Meditation. Yoga. Meals with friends. Relaxing in the warmth and grateful for this blessing of neighborly love.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

In Honor of Mary Oliver 1935-2019

Related image

Red Hibiscus

Puerto Rico's national flower is the red hibiscus--a beautiful flower that lasts for one day.

We can relate to temporary beauty. Our own beauty also lasts just a short time. Dating may be hot and heavy in our twenties, then dry to a trickle in our thirties, even though we still look great. By 50, we are no longer sex objects, and by 60, we have become invisible to all genders and all ages.

Outer beauty fades, but inner beauty still shines.

The hibiscus last for a day. Then it is gone.

We last for a few brief decades, and then poof! Gone.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Tree Spirits

This morning, i again meditated out in the "paradise" parking lot behind the condo where we are staying. My Rhode Island meditation friend, with whom i Skype-meditate every morning at 6 a.m., said that she saw how perception worked this morning. She was looking at the Skype image of the trees in the woods, and she saw a face. A sad face with deep compassionate eyes. A face of benevolence.

People of the Buddha's time believed in tree spirits. Cultures who have had animistic beliefs still have many of those old beliefs. Thai people provide spirit houses for the tree spirits to live in after their tree homes have been cut down.

Our culture doesn't believe in such spirits. Perhaps it's more accurate to say, we don't see such spirits. Our perception has been trained to see trees, so we see trees.

Unless you see something else.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Paved Paradise

Our Airbnb condo in Puerto Rico faces a beach park, so we are in a great location. But every time we go out the back door to the parking lot to get in the car, we slow down and listen. It's so quiet back there. The parking lot faces a woodsy low land of about 5 acres. It feels like a bird sanctuary. The parking lot is not only quiet and spacious, we hear birds singing, and we feel.... What is that? Paradise?

How can a parking lot be paradise? I am reminded of the Joni Mitchell song, "They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot." That's what this parking lot feels like.

This morning i took a beach chair out behind the industrial-sized generator and sat there for an hour meditating, gazing at the woods, and listening to the birds of paradise singing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Meditating on the Beach

This morning in Puerto Rico, i meditated on the beach, listening to the little waves breaking on the sandy shore.

Hearing. Hearing.
Also hearing some distant traffic noise.
Also hearing the constant ringing in my ears that i live with.
Hearing occasional bird calls. Doves. Mynah birds.

Everything in constant flux. No one thing staying the same for a second. The light moved gradually across the sand into full sun.

Water flowing, back and forth. Not unlike the tides of my own body with every pulse. I can't see the constant change inside the body. I see the outer "earth" element of the body, which like the sand appears stable.

And i am fooled into believing there is permanence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"House" Plants Living Outside the House

We are in Puerto Rico for a yoga retreat. Walking into town for breakfast, we passed by this collection of "house"plants--all living outdoors, suspended on a tree.

The Buddha suggests that meditators seclude themselves in an empty hut or at the base of tree. These potted plants are secluded from the heat of the sun by the shade of this big tree in someone's front yard.

I am renting an Airbnb condo, which is not exactly a secluded hut, but at 7:00 in the morning, i Skype with a meditation friend, and we sit together in cyberspace for an hour--secluded from all the possibilities that life has to offer.

In this way, we clear away the clutter of life to make time for what really matters.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Walking on Ice

Baby, it's cold outside. 
It was 8 degrees this morning. The driveway has turned into a rutted ice sheet, which fortunately has been sanded. Still, i strap grippers onto the bottom of my boots, just in case. Last week, Bill slipped on a patch of ice hiding under snow, and ka-boom, was suddenly lying on his back. Our 81-year-old neighbor strapped on his ice skates for the first time this season, fell on the ice 5 minutes later, and broke his elbow. Ouch!

I'm very grateful that Bill was unscathed from his fall. We are leaving soon for a tropical vacation, so i'm thankful Life didn't throw me a curve ball last week. For the moment, we can go on pretending that we are in charge of our lives.

I walk across the ice gingerly--never knowing, for sure, what will happen with the next mindful step.

Saturday, January 12, 2019


My father died 16 years ago, but today is his birthday, so I'm thinking of him. He had absolutely no
idea about flowers, but, as a farmer, he knew his grasses, something I do not know. He could identify
wheat, rye, oats, and timothy. And he knew alfalfa and the clovers that he cut for hay 3 times every

His idea of gardening was to plow up a quarter-acre with a small Massey-Ferguson tractor, then put
us kids to work with hoes while he went to jog his harness horses. He himself was not much of a
gardener, having plowed too many fields barefoot with horses during the Great Depression. He liked
to move earth with equipment of any sort.

He did like to grow tomatoes and cucumbers though. That was his idea of a garden, out behind the
horse barn, fertilized with horse manure, and growing plenty of weeds.

Three of his four kids (including me) got the gardening gene. The other one got the mechanical gene.

My father is gone now, but the fruit of his actions lives on. Three of us will be starting tomato
seedlings sometime soon.

Friday, January 11, 2019


The garden catalogs are tumbling into the mailbox. I leafed through a spring bulb catalog, and was
immediately caught by delicious possibilities. I lingered over Amaryllis belladonna (Naked
Ladies)a bulb whose spring leaves die back and then blooms unexpectedly in August. I already have
Amaryllis belladonna, and have even divided them to scatter them around other flowerbeds. I don't
need to buy any more. Exactly what am I yearning for?

For those of us with chipmunks who eat oriental and Asiatic lily bulbs, Naked Ladies are a good
substitute. My friend Anne, in Maryland, says Naked Ladies are a weed for her, springing up helter
skelter in her lawn.

Perhaps what I am yearning for is that A. belladonna would perform as beautifully as its photos. They
are short bloomers, and in August, they have often gone by before I've even noticed them. Am I
thinking that if I only had more, then I would have more blooms, more pleasure, that I would notice
them more?

Life is brief. Everything we cherish perishes. Sometimes, much too soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


I attended a writing retreat yesterday at a New England inn. The centerpiece of the front courtyard
was a group of 3 river birch--the largest i have ever seen. I remarked on their beautiful cinnamon
bark, especially noticeable at this time of year.

"Oh, they're so messy," said the innkeeper. The windy, rainy day had pruned a dozen twiggy
branches that were now lying on the snow beneath the birches. Every wind, every rain, every snow
brings down more branches. In the spring, there are the catkins--the birch tree flowers.

When we are full of desire--for a person or a thing or a situation--can we stand back and look at the
unbeautiful that comes along with the beautiful?

For his lustful young and middle-aged monks, the Buddha recommended imagining the excrement of
their dark-eyed beauty fantasies. Before he himself embarked on the ascetic path, Siddhartha Gotama
had seen the drooling, heard the flatulence, smelled the bodies of the sleeping women in his harem
and become dispassionate about them. 

The river birch are beautiful. And they are messy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


With the departure of the Christmas tree, there's suddenly more space in the solarium.Sweeping up all
those fir needles also means that it's clean. Our energy flows more fluidly in a clean space. The
solarium is a place I want to be.

I took the Christmas clean-up as a time to "depart" a few more Christmas trimmings. The Christmas
closet itself is beginning to look rather airy. The white ceramic Christmas tree made by my
grandmother is being shipped off to a nephew. I've enjoyed it and enjoyed remembering my
grandmother for 25 years. Now, it's time to pass this memento along to the next generation.

"Less is more." More space, more energy, more time, more calm.

Make more room in your life. What one thing can you give away today? What one "to-do" can you
give up today?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


We took down the Christmas tree and carried it outdoors. And there we set it up again in a snowbank, known in other seasons as my white garden. Now that garden is well and truly white--with snow. For the next ten weeks, we have a tree standing near the front door, sort of defining the white garden with a bit of vertical greenery. Instant landscaping!

We did this while the temperature was still above freezing and the wet snow could be shoveled and
then banked around the base of the tree. Two hours later, the temperature dropped below freezing and
now the tree  and its stand are frozen solidly into the icy snow for the next three days as
temperatures drop back into the single numbers.

We think of our words and actions as changeable, pliable, melting away on the next breath.

Yet, if we repeat the same thought or the same action over and over, the neural pathway forms a rut,
and a habit becomes frozen in place. A habit becomes part of our inner landscape, and we start to
believe that's who we really are.

Let's watch our thoughts and actions carefully and make sure that they are in accord with our highest
intentions. Let's plant mindfulness right at the front door of our mouth.


Monday, January 7, 2019


Near my hotel in London, the Phoenix Garden is hidden away, a quiet oasis in the city. Even though the garden is closed for renovation, as I approached yesterday, i could suddenly hear birds singing. Birdsong immediately relaxed my heart.

In the city, in this busy city, I am usually walking with some tension and intention. So many things are unknown: Where am I going? How do I get there? Can I cross the street now? I have to remember, have to remember to look in the "wrong" direction for oncoming traffic. I have to be constantly alert, which adds up to stress.

Then, once in a while, I find a garden in the city, on some quiet back street. A place where birds sing. And I can relax.

Sunday, January 6, 2019


My variegated Dracaena is blooming for the first time. A first-grade teacher gave it to me 7 years ago after i spent the school year as a volunteer in her classroom once a week helping children learn to read. That 5-inch plant is now 5 feet tall, so last summer I placed it beside my front door in the white garden. Its green-and-white leaves added interested to the shady and therefore mostly leafy flowerbed.

This particular plant seems to like to be wet, so I put it in a glazed flowerpot that had no hole in the bottom. Then it rained for 25 days in June and another 25 days in July. The flowerpot overflowed with water.

The Dracaena was so well camouflaged among the variegated Solomon's seal that I nearly forgot to bring it indoors. Then I "saw" it in early October and hurried it into the solarium. Now, for the first time in its life, it's blooming.

We all need the right conditions for our meditation practice to bloom. Some of us need to be inundated--perhaps by going on long retreats; some, like geraniums, need the soil to dry out in between waterings. I like to meditate in the wee hours of the morning; others prefer afternoons or evenings. I like study AND practice; others prefer mostly practice; and those with a sporadic practice obtain deep benefit from studying in a weekly class.

It takes time to discover our own perfect microclimate that fosters our own blooming.

Image result for dracena


Saturday, January 5, 2019


In the fall, I transplant some annuals into flowerpots. Begonias, polka-dot plant, and geraniums perform well in a sunny window, but by January, the begonias are tall and leggy and looking a bit ragged. So I cut them back, all the way back to the base of each stem, and put the cuttings in a glass of water, hoping they will root. Meanwhile, I have a "bouquet" of pink begonias on the windowsill in the kitchen to cheer me up while i'm washing dishes.

The potted begonia begins to look great a couple of weeks later with compact, shiny green foliage and lots of fresh pink flowers.

More is not always better. More of the begonia plant looks unruly. Sometimes we have to renounce desire, prune our cravings back in order that we ourselves become lush and blooming.

Friday, January 4, 2019


 A crimson cardinal perches in a snow-covered apple tree, considering whether he will fly to the bird feeder. Chickadees flit from tree to feeder and back again; they are not shy. But the cardinal is a shelf feeder, and this bird feeder is for perching birds.

Nuthatches--which my partner calls upside-down birds--hop up or down a nearby wild cherry tree. Gravity doesn't seems to concern them.

The cardinal launches himself toward the house and grabs a bite to eat.

I smile. Winter bird-watching feeds my own joy.

Thursday, January 3, 2019


With winter in full blast, I become acutely aware of the wind chill factor. Air blowing down from the Arctic decreases the already low temperature to tundra-like conditions. Even though I purposely left a small stand of white pines and hemlocks to protect the house from the prevailing northwesterlies, I can sometimes hear the wind whistling around the corners of the house.

Lying in my cozy bed at night, I hear the deepest wind chime bonging--a reminder to watch the air moving in my own body. Breathing in. Breathing out.




Image result for winter wind

With winter in full blast, I become acutely aware of the wind chill factor. Air blowing down from the Arctic decreases the already low temperature to tundra-like conditions. Even though I purposely left a small stand of white pines and hemlocks to protect the house from the prevailing northwesterlies, I can sometimes hear the wind whistling around the corners of the house.

Lying in my cozy bed at night, i hear the deepest wind chime bonging--a reminder to watch the air moving in my own body. Breathing in. Breathing out.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Autumn Joy becomes Winter Joy

I subscribe to the idea of cleaning up the garden in the fall, so i won't have to do it the following the spring.

Oftentimes, though, the body just doesn't keep up with what the mind has planned for it, so when the first snow falls, i notice various tall brown stems sticking out of the snow. "Hmmm," i think. The mind gets busy again, trying to bend the body to its will. "I should go out there in the freezing cold and cut those down."

A few dead plants actually look good in the winter garden. One is a tall grass, variegated green and white in summer, and now tan with a thin layer of snow. The leaves rustle gracefully in the breeze, and the seed plumes wave.

My friend Frances left her Autumn Joy sedum standing on purpose--the flowerheads retaining a bit of the maroon color. Now an inch of snow sits atop each flowerhead, making them look as if they've bloomed again, and bringing Frances winter joy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cyclamen Joy

Image result for cyclamen in window boxes
When I went to London one January, I was amazed to see cyclamen growing in window boxes. There I was, wearing my coat from the Pacific Northwest--a polar fleece jacket zipped into a Gortex shell, whilst red and white and pink cyclamen were expressing the joy of the season by being in full bloom.

This experience transformed the way I treat cyclamen. I now keep them in the coolest room in the house--the entry. I send them outdoors to flower on the front step in April. They stop blooming in June and endure the heat of summer hiding amongst my other house plants. But in September, when I bring everything else indoors, I return the cyclamens to the front step until warnings of a hard frost drive them indoors. The cool weather seems to re-energize them, and soon they are blooming again.

Like the cyclamen, I need to be physically cool while meditating. Otherwise, I start to doze off. When I sit, I take off my socks. I very seldom wear a meditation shawl because coziness dulls my mind.

If I want to be alert, I have to act like a cyclamen: knowing that coolness triggers flowering, I endure a shiver or two until joy energizes the body and warms it up.

Oh, I love those beautiful cyclamen.

The Meditative Gardener is On Retreat

I'm on self-retreat, here at home until January 13.

During these next 2 weeks, you'll be reading "re-runs" from 2010. Wow! Have i been writing this blog that long?

While i enjoy the silence of cyber-space, you will continue to receive reminders of mindfulness. Enjoy!